Jam Master Jay’s sons Jesse and TJ Mizell on their new cannabis line and honoring their father’s legacy.
“JMJ was a heavy smoker,” Jesse said during a phone call in late March. “He consumed cannabis every single day.” Of course, this was a different era. Nowadays, fans are used to rappers and marijuana being synonymous; not only are rappers open with their marijuana use but, as laws around the legality of cannabis are rapidly changing in the United States, they have also been able to get into the business of weed, with artists from Ice Cube to JAY-Z launching their own cannabis lines. But conventions of the ’80s — where drugs were frequently used but stigmatized and rarely explicitly mentioned in the art — prevented Run-DMC from making weed part of their music.
“They were the first Black people to break down that wall and let people learn about our culture,” Jesse said. “So they didn’t want to go too gung-ho and use cuss words, or drop the N-word or talk about smoking weed, because that was taboo. They wanted to make sure that they were gonna get their image and their style and their message to everyone, and it wasn’t gonna get censored.”
More than 35 years after Run-DMC’s debut, the legacy of Jam Master Jay got a belated addition after his sons Jesse and TJ launched an innovative new cannabis brand named after the legendary DJ.
Every year, Jesse finds a new way to recognize the date of his father’s passing, and last year he did it by introducing to the world the brand he, his brother TJ, and his business partner Tanner have been plotting for years. Jam Master Jays officially launched on Oct. 30, 2020, 18 years to the day after the legendary DJ was shot and killed in a Queens recording studio, and two months after his alleged killers were indicted for the crime.
So far, Jam Master Jays can be found in five shops in California, including Cookies, which is the store they launched with last year. On April 17, they introduced the brand to Colorado. By next year, they want to be in five markets, and they’re looking to eventually open a Jam Master Jays store of their own. The brand is known for its distinct packaging, which features a cassette with four pre-rolled joints — two Tahoe OG Indica joints and two East Coast Alien Sativa Joints.
While Jam Master Jays has the branding down, it was important to TJ and Jesse that the content was also strong.
“Jam Master Jay was not smoking trash weed, so there’s no way we’d put trash weed in a product that we’re branding with his name,” TJ said.
With a new brand to run, and the mission to keep their father’s legacy going, TJ and Jesse are making big moves, and they’re doing so with a noble purpose. Phoning in from New York and California respectively, Jesse and TJ talked about Jam Master Jays, the indictment of his father’s alleged killers, and how they plan to continue to build on the legacy their father left behind.
What is it that makes Jam Master Jays unique?
Jesse: High Times, Berner, B-Real, some of cannabis’ heaviest and most influential brands and names have already said that this is the most innovative weed packaging they’ve seen to date. So that alone is how we’ve separated ourselves. Similar to how Run-DMC came out to be the first rap group to do a full rap-rock collab. We just came out and did something totally different. I think that’s what separates us from the beginning.
TJ: As far as the actual cannabis is concerned, we did a lot of research. Trying to figure out what the conversation is like on pre-roll on the market. We’re heavy smokers. Jesse and I, people in our crew, we’re conscious of what we enjoy, what we like to smoke. As far as a pre-roll, this… is the best on the market when it comes to a packaged pre-roll.
When did you guys first start talking about launching Jam Master Jays?
Jesse: We came up with the idea in business class in high school. We had a senior project: the project was to create a business. We ended up coming up with that name. We obviously couldn’t have used that as our business. But once that struck, we were like, “Oh, that’s a great name. It’s a cool play on words.” And then, eight years later, he had the cultivation, and we’re still like, “Yo, we definitely want to launch the business.” We wanted to make sure it wasn’t us attaching this legendary brand to a cannabis product and not really do it justice. So, after he got his cultivation, it took us a couple of years to come up with the design and really dial in what we wanted the flower to be. Once that happened, it moved pretty quickly as soon as we figured out what we wanted it to be.
How many strains of Jam Master Jays are there? Is it one strain?
Jesse: As of now, yes. It’s one strain. Since it’s pre-roll, it’s a blend of what we would hope to ultimately create a specific phenotype, which is a specific flower profile. So that process could take, if you know exactly what you want to do, nine months. If you’re experimenting and picking out like how we’re doing, it’s probably going to take a couple of years. We’ve already been in the process for about a year, so I think we’re getting close to a specific strain. For right now, in California, it’s a mix of Tahoe OG and Mendo Breath. In Colorado, since there are four joints in one pack, we’re doing a mix. That mix is gonna be East Coast Alien, which is a Sativa-dominant strain, and then we’re gonna mix that with Tahoe OG because that’s what we like, and what we’re doing in California is an Indica-dominant strain.
Was there any particular business model or person that inspired your approach to Jam Master Jays?
Jesse: Honestly, I would look at JMJ as my inspiration. Not really by popular understanding — you can fact-check me — but I think he was the first legit artist that branched out and decided, “Hey, I’m gonna go corporate first and I’m gonna become an executive.” [Editors note: Andre Harrell was a member of Dr. Jeckyll & Mr. Hyde before starting Uptown Records in 1986.] Jam Master Jay founded JMJ Records [in 1989]… where they found 50 Cent and then later Jayo Felony, Fam-Lee, and a couple of other acts — Onyx being his first act. They went platinum. JMJ saw, “Hey, my influence with my creativity can only lead me so far. I need to start to really be the person who frameworks this. I want someone who’s frame-working the creativity that’s being put out into the ether.” That’s the main inspiration.
TJ: I would say the same as Jesse. There definitely are some trailblazers… As far as having stuff to look up to, as far as the marijuana business, I feel like we’re kinda just seeing what we can do to make Jam Master Jays right. Berner probably has one of the coolest brands on the market. That’s a global business. But as far as what we’re doing, as far as branding a pre-roll with a full marketing plan that you can actually hold onto, there aren’t many like us.
Looking ahead five years from now, where do you want the brand to be?
Jesse: Hopefully in five years it’s federally legal and Jam Master Jays are consumed everywhere how cassettes were consumed in the late ’90s. That was a moment in time where sharing music, right before online digital streaming, sharing music gave you an impact outside of just the music. It gave you a sense of like, hustling your music. The sense of what hip-hop really means. I think that’s what the weed culture is. Just because it might go federally legal or New York’s legal doesn’t mean that people aren’t still gonna be hustling, and I think that this product will represent that kinda space even when you can buy it in CVS, when you can go to the local pharmacy and buy a pack of weed. In five years I would hope for us to be in every legal market, and a product that everybody can say, “Nah, this is a product for the culture.”
TJ: We want to make sure that people are consuming marijuana at the quality that Jam Master Jay was. [He] was smoking weed from California in New York in the late ’80s and early ’90s. That was something that people really aren’t doing now.
You guys launched this brand a couple of months after Karl Jordan Jr. and Ronald Washington were indicted for the murder of Jam Master Jay. Do their arrests give you any closure?
Jesse: I’m not really too informed on how the justice system works, but I am aware that indictments are not verdicts. So, whether that indictment will stick or not, I know there’s a lot of instances where people get indicted and they walk from it. I know from reading the report, he had some other cases on him and they had some strong witnesses that say that he may or may not have been the one that pulled the trigger. But until we find out, there really isn’t any closure. Just the NYPD and just the government, they do a lot of things to maybe, like, divert attention. I’m also not a conspiracy theorist, but they came out with that information in August, and it’s however many months later and there still isn’t any more information on it. So, it hasn’t really provided any closure, no.
TJ: I second that. There’s no closure until we actually get a verdict and know what the truth is. There’ve just been a bunch of stories that we’ve heard for the longest time. This one seems to be the most likely.
Obviously, Jam Master Jay is a hip-hop legend and has contributed to culture in a lot of ways. What part of JMJ’s legacy are you most proud of?
Jesse: That’s a crazy question because I’m just so proud to be his son. Honestly, I would say being one of the first African Americans to really break down a predominantly caucasian space, which is media. You could say Michael Jackson because [“Billie Jean“] was the first video on MTV with a Black person on it. But months after that, Run-DMC’s “Rock Box” was the first video, and I’d say that’s more of an embodiment of African American culture. Not that Michael Jackson didn’t do a ton for the community, but Run-DMC was wearing jeans and coats — how they dressed on the streets when they were hustling. And, Michael Jackson wasn’t; he was a pop star. I think that did leaps and bounds. That really pushed us far.
TJ: Definitely, Jesse nailed it as well. Just being a DJ, renowned in this industry, knowing what the DJ means to the world, and just understanding that Jam Master Jay was the one who was the pioneer behind this. Just seeing how fun DJ’ing is and like, “Damn, this man pioneered this.”
Are you guys planning to use the JMJ likeness for anything else?
Jesse: I would say yeah. We’re trying to expand in all the ways that are organic to us. You know, Run-DMC’s gonna keep building. We’re gonna continue helping that legacy grow. As we continue to build our personal brand, we would love JMJ to be a focal point of this.
TJ: We’re gonna keep growing and growing, and we’re doing all of this in Jam Master Jay’s name.
Peter is a writer and editor who covers music, movies, and all things dope. Catch him in the Hyperbolic Take Chamber on Twitter @pellz_.