Christopher Jordan “CJ” Wallace is a force of personality. When you talk to the young actor and social entrepreneur, co-founder of the brands Think BIG and Frank White, he’s calm and collected, but he speaks with such a formidable charisma and wise-beyond-his-years knowledge of humanity that it’s spellbinding. He inherited this star power from his late father, legendary hip hop artist Christopher George Latore Wallace, AKA The Notorious B.I.G. or Biggie Smalls, AKA Frank White, and his mother, R&B singer and songstress Faith Evans. Today, CJ uses that very mix of creative magic and social justice to further his companies’ mission and establish new equitable standards in the cannabis and entertainment industries.
Honeysuckle caught up with Wallace in an exclusive interview to discuss the future of Think BIG and Frank White, which he co-founded with noted social entrepreneur, creative director, photographer and brand marketing guru Willie Mack, and award winning music executive and record producer Todd Russaw (Faith’s second husband after Biggie, Russaw is CJ’s dad, the man who raised him). Over an enlightening hour, CJ shared with us his passion for changing the narrative on cannabis-related stigmas, how Frank White is uplifting artists of color, the potential for New York’s emerging market, and his efforts to further the evergreen legacy of The Notorious One. There’s nobody more suited to carry the mantle.
CJ Wallace on Frank White, Hip Hop and The Notorious BIG's Legacy
HONEYSUCKLE MAGAZINE: What are your plans as you prepare to bring Frank White into New York retail?
CJ WALLACE: I can’t wait. We’re looking at a couple different spaces. I feel like Frank White as a brand would thrive the most in New York, ‘cause my father’s and my family’s overall connection to New York is larger than life. I’m happy we stayed patient and waited it out for New York to get the regulations right. Built relationships with all the assembly leaders and all the government officials, everybody in power. We've just been trying to build those relationships with everyone and getting a license was always second secondary. It was really just building the community, making sure that Black and brown people are represented in the space and showing them all the work that the other states did to neglect all of that. Making sure New York did it the right way, with an emphasis on representation.
There’s not a lot of Black and brown owners in the space. That’s always been my main thing, educating people so that they can be involved in and be owners in this space. So many people assume that because they don’t have the money or the connections, they can’t even be a part of it. We need to encourage people to be part of this space ‘cause we need more representation, period. It’s been a long fight, but this is my entire life. I’ve got a lot of talent and I’m still young, so I’m really, really excited for New York.
When I spoke to Willie Mack, he mentioned that your plans for a Frank White retail operation in New York will include a kind of museum or display of your dad’s personal effects. Can you tell me more about that?
I've been collecting a lot of my dad's clothes and awards, unseen photos, just so much stuff around Christopher George Latore Wallace that I've been collecting since I was a kid. I never really knew what I was going to do with it, but I knew I just had to have all of this stuff. As my grandma was getting older – this is probably when I was like around 15, 16 years old – that’s when she first started telling me to take stuff from her house. Me and my sister call it the Biggie Museum ‘cause it's all just Biggie photos everywhere. His awards, accomplishments, everything you can imagine is there…
Growing up with my mom, obviously we had photos, but it wasn’t like we had a shrine to Big. [Everything] was always at my grandma’s house. So when she told me, “Take everything, I don’t want it to sit here,” I went up in my grandma’s attic and got a bunch of his clothes. I had to go and buy suitcases. I’m happy I had an assistant with me because it was like eight suitcases full of clothes and it looked like the scene in Coming to America where they’re walking through the airport.
But I was always just trying to celebrate my dad in a special way. Last year was his 50th birthday, and next year we’ve got the 50th anniversary of hip hop approaching. So I’ve always wanted to do some sort of museum exhibition. The Contact High exhibition [at the Annenberg Center in L.A.] was beautiful.
And then the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) is doing a 50th anniversary tribute to hip hop.
There's so much stuff happening. For us, when the time comes [for the retail store], that’ll be my iteration of what Big looks like to me, what my family looks like to me, and showcasing all of the art my family’s been collecting. My dad was an art collector as well. He had a lot of different art pieces and me and my sister have been fighting over who gets what. (Laughs) It’s so funny ‘cause she has a house in New York. I live in L.A… I’ve got to get on a plane so it’s going to be tougher for me to travel with certain things, and easier for her to just drive stuff to her house. We’ve been figuring out how to celebrate and showcase all of this for the past 10 years.
Next year will be amazing with the FIT exhibit [and] Rock the Bells doing a lot with the Universal Hip Hop Museum. Those will be the first iterations of what’s to come at our store eventually. I’m really looking forward to showing the world all this stuff – a lot of popular clothing pieces, items that he wore in videos, never-seen awards and plaques. I’m eager to show the world all that we’ve been holding as a family.
That’s what Frank White is, right? It’s the combination of cannabis and creativity and exploring the Flow State.
Right. I’ve just in the past few years been able to understand the impact that cannabis has had, not only on my family, but my life in general. We could talk all day about my dad and mom’s ability to maintain that Flow State and using cannabis as a tool to get [there]. They didn’t even known they were doing this at the time. In the 90s, they were smoking just because it helped calm you down. It obviously had benefits, but it really did help them tap into a different side of their creativity that they didn’t even know. My mom and dad always used cannabis when they were in the studio. Most of the time, if the weed didn’t come, the session didn’t happen.
So many instances of my life growing up, I didn’t even realize how much cannabis [impacted] my family. For me to actually be exploring these conversations and building this relationship with Steven Kotler [of the Flow Research Collective] and talking about how the science behind cannabis is helping us, it’s amazing. You can’t fake these kinds of stories. It’s just beautiful the way things line up over time. I really wish my dad was here to be able to witness all of this amazing stuff because he would be like, “I told you so! I knew it!” (Laughs)
Growing Up with Cannabis: Stigmas, Conversations, and Community Impact
What we’re seeing now with the cannabis market in New York, and people realizing the vital role that artists and creators will play in its evolution, it’s very clear that that’s going to make a huge difference in connecting the plant to the public. Frank White is going to be very valuable in your ability to communicate all of these different stories.
I can’t agree more. It’s unfortunate that the main character of our story isn’t here, but I definitely will be the person to continue those stories and sort of pick up where he left off. There’s so many people that he impacted and that impacted him as well, that he didn’t get to thank or they him, so to be able to build that bridge is going to be beautiful. It’s already started in the past five or six years, just me asking uncles and aunts certain questions about who my dad was and figuring out, “Oh wow, he was exactly like me.” We were the same person, just that I grew up in L.A. and he grew up in New York. So for me to actually have this experience in the cannabis space – I’ve been privy to the L.A. cannabis scene since 2004. I’ve watched my parents use cannabis and they had their secret fridge where they kept all their stuff downstairs. We always knew, “Don’t go in that fridge.” It was a conversation that we respected – you respect your parents and you listen to them – but you also want to ask questions like, “Why are we hiding? Why is this something that we can’t really talk about?”
But we know what the smell of cannabis is versus the smell of a cigarette. I have since I was little. Being able to tell these stories and actually talk about them is going to be really fun. (Laughs)
You’ve also been able to step up for your brother Ryder in a big way.
Yeah. That was huge in understanding the power of cannabis. I was probably about 15 years old when we first started using CBD products with Ryder. It was taboo ‘cause at that time the cannabis space in California was not as regulated as it is now. There were so many hit or miss products. You could get a product today and then the next week it’s a totally different product. So I was testing out products before we would give them to Ryder very early. My mom and dad can attest to that. They were scared [of] giving their child anything that wasn’t technically safe. But it was either that or watch him struggle.
I’m very thankful that I do have parents who believe in plant medicine and want my brother to live the most comfortable life. Those were the earliest moments for me, and really seeing the power of the plant and realizing [what it can do]. I smoke recreationally and at the time I was just starting to smoke… and my parents did a great job in educating me on the plant. “Don’t just smoke with anybody.” “Know who you’re enjoying the plant with and always be safe.” “I’d rather you do it in the house than anywhere else.” And it should be that conversation for every family. Me and Willie, we’re talking about, we have the birds and the bees. But we’ve got to have the buds and booze conversation now.
This is a huge conversation that so many families neglect and assume their kids are going to just figure it out. I remember my dad gave me a beer when I was… way too fucking young to be having a beer. [I took a sip and went], “Okay, this is disgusting. I don’t ever want to drink.” (Laughs) Why is that such a regular conversation, particularly in non-Black and brown households? I had a lot of friends who were white and drank with their parents before they were drinking age and it was a regular thing. It was a ritual for their families. It’s funny ‘cause in Black and brown households, it’s not like that. We were so hesitant in opening up on these things. I feel like at Frank White, I’ve been called to challenge that conversation.
It makes sense with the history of systemic racism and overcriminalization in the War on Drugs why Black and brown communities aren’t embracing this conversation. But how do we address the stigma?
That education process [is always interesting], letting people know the difference between self-medication and abusing the plant. Obviously people do abuse the plant, but my parents were self-medicating before they knew that they were. My dad growing up in poverty in Brooklyn, seeing [my grandma] struggle with breast cancer. I’m sure he was just trying to calm himself down like, “How can I enjoy this day?” That’s basically the main reason why people smoked weed back in the day. It made it more enjoyable. It was less stress on you throughout the day if you got a little bit of THC in your system. And for my mom, the same thing, growing up in New Jersey and not particularly the most beautiful part of the world.
It can be tough. You see a lot of people, your family and friends, struggling. Cannabis has always been that tool for us; it was key to start dreaming. It helps you think about ways to get out of your situation. So I do enjoy educating as many people as I can on the difference between the high you get from cannabis versus drinking an entire bottle of whatever it is. You know, no one has died from cannabis, and I think people forget that.
What was your first time smoking cannabis like?
Wow. The first time I smoked and I actually remember getting high – the first time it was like ten of us and we were all sharing one joint. I probably hit it wrong; I hit it and then blew it out immediately, so I don’t think I got high from it. But the first time I actually remember getting high, it was very funny. I was at my friend Ryan’s house. He lived in Culver City. We would bike over to his house and play video games, chill, get food. This one particular time, we all had a consensus that “We’re gonna smoke weed today, and we’re gonna try it out of a bong this time.” (Laughs) Back in high school, you do crazy adventurous stuff. We climbed on top of the roof of his house just to go smoke weed. He lived at this apartment complex where it had ladders on the side of the all the apartments for you to climb on the roof.
It was probably five or six of us sitting in a circle. The bong gets passed to me, fresh bowl of green weed in there. I don’t remember what kind of weed it was, but I got so high that day. I remember going to Burger King and ordered three sandwiches and I ate everything. But I definitely remember how happy I was, how much I enjoyed being outdoors when I smoked weed, just being connected to nature and enjoying camaraderie and being with my friends at the time. It was the beginning of what would be the rest of my life – trying to find good weed, hang out with my friends, be creative, figure how we can actually achieve something today other than just sitting and smoking weed. We would bike all the way to downtown L.A. or to the beach or to Malibu, just trying to accomplish something that we didn’t think we could do, unless we smoked weed.
CJ Wallace on Frank White, Think BIG and the Cannabis Industry's Community Reinvestment
But don’t you think that’s kind of unique to how the cannabis space is now? Even though it’s a grind, everyone seems to have fun building their brand.
Exactly. It’s the most fun industry. We’re learning so much about the plant every day and unlocking all this research while enjoying the plant and educating people. I just love going into a grow and seeing all the beautiful plants and watching the entire process from seed to sale. It’s amazing being a part of it and seeing your genetics and all the people’s different genetics. It’s really the coolest industry to be in.
What are you most looking forward to on the community reinvestment side?
I can’t wait until we have a presence in New York and we have the ability to create that community board or town hall meeting or whatever it is calling all artists. Not only artists. Me and Willie talk about this all the time – there are so many job opportunities in the cannabis space that people are very quick to forget, whether it’s a security guard or architects, graphic designers, photographers, all of these things are going to be needed in the cannabis space.
I feel like people are so quick to assume that you have to start a cannabis brand or grow operation or get into manufacturing and distribution. No. Whatever you’re doing right now in your life, you can apply that to the cannabis space. For us, being able to build that community of people in New York that are supporting one another – Black, brown, white, whatever color – we need as many people as possible supporting each other. I’m most excited about building that community. Obviously I can’t wait until we have our retail space – clothing meets dispensary meets museum. It's going to be all those things in one, not to mention when they get laws figured out to see what consumption lounges look like. It’ll look like Frank White.
With both Think Big and Frank White, you’re inviting many new partners into the sector. How are you identifying who you want to collaborate with, and the artists and smaller businesses you want to support?
When it comes to the right partners, we’re in no rush. We’ve always just believed in building the relationship first. If I can hang out with you and feel comfortable, if we can support each other separate from finishing a business deal, if I can see that you support the brand from afar and we haven’t even signed any paperwork, or you’re constantly introducing me to people to get me on different networks. I notice those things, and they really mean everything, especially in the cannabis space. I’m appreciative of that… ‘cause there’s so many people withholding information in this space. Sharing information is the most important thing. When it comes to partners and partnerships, I’m all about the long game – we’re looking for the right fit at all times. I’m already thinking in terms of Q4 of 2024, because we have to be ready. When it come to the cannabis space, anything can happen, anything can change.
With artists and relationships with creatives, I’m always tapped in. I try to listen to people who are actually on the ground doing the work, doing the research. But I’ve also spent a lot of time seeing who’s doing the cool creative shit today, who’s changing the game. We were just at Complex Con and it’s ridiculous, the amount of cool brands out there that know about us. We’re focused on New York and thinking about that, but so much of Frank White is about fashion and having involvement in these different industries. You never know who you can meet. So I love being involved on the creative side and any way I can expand or find inspiration.
Doing It for the Art: CJ Wallace on Creative Inspiration, Family Roots in Jamaica, and What's Next for the Cannabis Industry
What are you most drawn to when you’re out and about seeking inspiration?
That’s a really good question. When it comes to artistic styles that pull me, I can’t even say there is one specific thing. I’m really into architectural design and anybody that’s challenging the regularities of the world. I love when people challenge the status quo… ‘cause I’ve had to do that my entire life, fight against what people think I am. When people were looking for the trends in 2022, I was looking for the trends in 2023.
There’s an overwhelming amount of artists that have inspired Frank White alone. But I can’t give you a specific style or genre or anything. I am always drawn to beautiful architecture and warmth. Whenever there’s authenticity, it speaks volumes. Anything that’s individual. It’s very easy for me to feel something that’s authentic or came out of nowhere. So those moments where the shock factor just kind of takes me, I know that’s something that I’m interested in. I can’t even name one artist in particular ‘cause there are too many and I don’t want to [shortchange] anyone.
What are some future projects that you can talk about coming up?
We have a lot of cool fashion collaborations coming up. A close friend of mine named TMark does these new-era fitted hats and T-shirts and hoodies. I’ve wanted to do a collab with him for years now and we’re getting something together for next year that I’m excited about. On the cannabis side, we’ve been talking to geneticists, a lot of cool brands, and there’s stuff happening in Jamaica that we’ll be announcing very soon. Frank White Jamaican Genetics will be coming to the U.S., and we will be bringing some Frank White products to Jamaica as well. I can’t say more than that yet, but know Jamaica is definitely happening.
Is that because your family has roots in Jamaica?
Yes. I have a lot of family in Jamaica. My great-grandmother lives there and she just turned 100 in July. She reached that century mark, so a lot of the next year is going to be celebrating that, talking about Jamaica and the Wallace history. That’s one of the more special projects that I’m really looking forward to talking about, celebrating the Wallace family.
You’re also developing a documentary.
We’ve been documenting this entire process that I’ve been doing for the past four years of building Frank White, Think BIG and working with NYS on cannabis legalization. We’re still figuring out the best way to share this story, as the opportunities for content sharing are endless now, but we’re being as creative as possible with that. So many ideas are on the horizon.
What would you like to see happen in the next phase of the cannabis industry?
Top priority for me, get everybody out of prison. Everyone that’s ever been arrested for any nonviolent cannabis offenses should not be locked up. That’s step one. Once that happens, we can really talk about proper reinvestment into communities most harmed by prohibition and what restorative justice looks like. I’m just thinking of all the other areas where cannabis has affected so many families, and it’s caused a lot of people to not even do the research and understand what it can do for them.
We also have to make sure the industry REALLY focuses on how Black people and minorities can have the tools, support, resources when it comes to legalization to ensure we can be successful and how we make sure the true legacy market operators can work in the legal market. That is going to take SAFE banking, less taxes, more investment, grants, loans, and education to the customers on why the legal market success is a joint effort.
I feel like the most important factor in this space is actually caring. So much of the cannabis space is about healing and helping people who have gone through some pretty serious things: PTSD, autism, epilepsy, cancer. Sadly, until people go through these hardships, we won’t really see that huge influx of support. But as long as we’re constantly talking about it, as long as hip hop is going to keep climbing the charts and becoming that number-one genre of music in the world, it’s always going to be in the conversation because you can’t have these things without cannabis.
That’s a beautiful way to bring it full-circle back to hip hop. We know that cannabis is creative and spiritual. I have to ask – can you feel your dad’s presence when you work with the plant?
Oh, one hundred percent. I feel like the plant doesn’t even have to be involved for me to feel his spirit. Honestly, I can literally be anywhere in the world. I’ve been to some places that I’m sure my dad has never been, and I’ve felt his presence there. So he’s definitely always with me in every sense, every step of the way. The older I get, the more I start to go into spaces, I know he was dreaming about being in certain places where I am today. Being able to do partnerships with Lexus and Mitchell & Ness and build these beautiful relationships with different brands, I know this is exactly what he was dreaming of.
And whenever cannabis is involved, I just start drifting into a totally different dimension and asking those crazy questions, wondering what he would’ve been doing today. How he would feel, what companies he would’ve built by now, how many different artists he would’ve inspired to this day, had he still been here. But cannabis doesn’t even need to be involved for me to start feeling that spirit. The curiosity is always there. But when cannabis is involved, it’s heightened ten times. At the end of the day, to be able to have those conversations [about] life after death and the 25th anniversary of his passing… That’s his superpower, that he continues to inspire artists and brands, even in spirit. He continues to inspire so much.
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Featured image: Christopher Jordan "CJ" Wallace, co-founder of Think BIG and Frank White (C) Frank White Co.