The Jay-Z-owned cannabis company Monogram launched in 2020 amid a global pandemic. Head of Product DeAndre Watson discusses how far the brand has come in the past three years.
Every day, it seems like a new celebrity cannabis brand pops up with the hope of capitalizing on a $27 billion industry. Some are just flash-in-the-pan licensing deals, while others plant roots in the ground of both the culture and industry with full-on brand blowouts. One of the more interesting brands is the Jay-Z-owned Monogram. Unlike figures like Snoop Dogg (Death Row Cannabis) and Wiz Khalifa (Khalifa Kush), Jay has never been super vocal or public about his cannabis usage, which creates a bit of mystery about Monogram’s operations and also their goals in the wide world of weed.
Recently, Boardroom was able to speak with Monogram’s Head of Product, DeAndre Watson, better known as D or Black D, about those operations and goals. Watson is a South Central LA native whose history in cannabis and longtime relationship with Roc Nation’s Emory Jones has led to tremendous opportunities with Monogram. We spoke about how Monogram came to exist, the brand’s product offerings, and what Monogram hopes to accomplish in the near future.
Danté Jordan: What is your official position?
DeAndre Watson: Head of Product [for Monogram]. Anything that goes into the can, I’m the one who’s smoking it, going through it, and talking to the people about the product, explaining the product.
DJ: What is your history in cannabis that led to this point?
DW: What’s so crazy bro, my legacy market history over 25-30 years, since I was like 16 years old; I’m 48 now. Playing around and hustling to get clothes, go on dates, go out and have fun, it turned into a lifestyle. I liked smoking on the business side, but I also liked the people side of it. And I saw that I could use it as a vehicle to get me through my life. I got through a lot of doors that I wouldn’t be in without cannabis.
DJ: How did this opportunity with Monogram come about for you?
DW: It happened three years ago. I was around the [Roc Nation] family. They were cooking up something before I even knew. It was the universe really aligning. I still to this day can’t believe that I’m in it. How can I really be 25-30 years into something? How did I know I was preparing myself for this moment? Who would’ve thought that me, my personality, being a people person, the way I carry myself, the way I market myself, would align with this job right here?
DJ: What positions have you held?
DW: Just product. I don’t get into the branding. Over here, we stay in our lanes. I’m a wide receiver, I run my route, and I wait for the ball. I roll joints good, I smoke good, and know good weed and good weed for other people.
Note: D was formerly Monogram’s Culture & Cultivation Ambassador before being promoted to Head of Product.
DJ: What year was Monogram born? Which market was your first?
DW: 2020. We went through the whole pandemic through this. We’re just in California, NorCal and SoCal right now. We didn’t want to be in a lot of markets, rushing out. We just curate from the inside out, one step at a time. That’s how cannabis should be built anyway, one step at a time. It can all change so much with the characteristics of the customer; it fluctuates. It takes time for [people] to catch onto you.
DJ: What products do y’all have currently?
DW: We have [0.4g] prerolls and the [1.5g] OG handrolls. The OG handroll is a signature that we wanted to set aside from saying a preroll. A preroll is usually shake and twisted by a machine. A handroll is small buds crumbled up by hand, and hand rolled so it can burn slow like a cigar.
Note: In addition to their joints, Monogram also has 2G and 4G jars of flower.
DJ: Why do you use numbers instead of strain names?
DW: We wanted to use numbers because who really knows the name of the weed? Once you get it, you can name it yourself. I’ve been in farms and places where people say they grew a certain strain and then once someone bought it, they changed [the strain name] to something else. If you go in the store, and we were to put Gelato #44, you’re going to compare us to someone else. If you don’t have anything to compare it to, what can you say?
That’s where people are going wrong. You’re naming the same weed 10 times. All we need to know is some good weed, man.
DJ: Tell me about the light, medium, and heavy distinctions? How are those defined/decided?
DW: We wanted to go with the narrative of legacy. We didn’t want to get away from what people were used to before [cannabis] started going corporate. You never went to [the weed man] and asked what the strain name was. The industry now is going off of THC, and just because [a product is] 32% THC, 37% THC, doesn’t mean that it’s better than an [18% THC product]. What we wanted to do was smoke our own weed for a week, sit on it, and designate how the high made you feel. Was it a light high, medium high, or heavy high? We wanted to be different, because we didn’t want our customers judging our weed based on THC percentage.
DJ: Who is Monogram’s customer base/audience? How do you reach them and inform them about the brand?
DW: To us, we didn’t want to choose a customer, we let the customer choose us. You can put yourself in a box by saying I only want this, I only want that. With Monogram, try us one time, everybody.
DJ: How has Jay-Z been involved with the brand thus far? How will he be involved moving forward?
DW: He’s involved from top to bottom. You think he’s not going to taste some Ace of Spades or D’ussé before it comes out? You think he’s not going to listen to that song or that album before it hits? That man is buttoned up.
DJ: We’ve spoken about expansion in New York before. Are you still in wait-and-see mode out there?
DW: Right now, I think [Monogram] is probably waiting to see what’s going on. I’m on calls for product, calls with farms, calls with certain growers, calls about certain recipes, and certain calls about direction in keeping this product right, to where I don’t even like to get into the mode of where we’ll go next or what we’re going to do, and then I get overexcited and it’s not ready yet. I would love to be in Vegas, I would love to be in New York right now.
DJ: Are there any plans for Monogram to enter the consumption lounge space?
DW: We for sure want to create a vibe and a lifestyle, period. I would love to [have a Monogram consumption lounge]. I would love to create a vibe and have people come through and smoke with me. You in town? Come to the lounge. I would love that. We had talked about it a year ago, but it was just talks.
DJ: What type of feedback have you received about the products thus far?
DW: Once somebody really lives with the Monogram products, on a scale of 1-10, we get a good 9. Honestly. Not being biased, honestly, because I would really be feeling a certain way about it. I wouldn’t be posting it, or having my chest out, if I don’t really feel it was that. If I’m smoking, I want to be smoking something good, for real.
DJ: What have been some of Monogram’s highest accomplishments thus far?
DW: Reaching people and building us up through a pandemic. For us to go through a pandemic, I think we did really well at making an impact [on customers] organically, with the resources we had, when people couldn’t throw parties, no dinners, none of that.
DJ: How many (California) stores are y’all in?
DW: In over 20, easy.
DJ: What is your hope for the future of Monogram, in terms of impact in both the culture and the industry?
DW: My hope with Monogram is to [create] an understanding of real weed. Let’s not let the corporate talk, the THC, the terpenes, get in the way of what we really came to this weed for. It was peace, love, it brought people together. It’s not so much the numbers, we’re looking for the longevity of the brand. We’re not looking at we did [a million in sales] this year; no, we’re looking at we had [500,000] people talk about us this year, go home with us. We want to be the brand of the people. We never want to get into the disconnect of me just selling you weed without a conversation or a lifestyle behind it.
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