Since 1995, Dwayne Carter, better known to the world as rapper Lil Wayne, has become the definition of growth. Starting with his days as part of the Hip-Hop group Hot Boys and eventually going solo, Wayne would go on to become known as one of the most creative, influential lyricists of the past 20+ years. Few acts have been able to grow their music and style and have it translate to new audiences over and over again like Wayne has. From rap and R&B to rock, Wayne has set trends. Alongside T-Pain, he helped pioneer the use of auto-tune in rap. Minus Wayne, names like Drake and Nicki Minaj might still be indie fan favorites rather than the megastars they are now.
Even as an early emcee, veterans in the industry were already taking notice of his talent.
"Wayne is the golden child,” said former No Limit recording artist Mia X. “I watched and listened to him for almost 3 decades. First heard him on B.G. True Story. By the time the Hot Boys released their debut album, I told Slim [Williams, co-founder of Cash Money Records], ‘Lil Wayne is going to be the rock star of this group.’ He is original, honest and truly talented.”
Two decades later, Wayne can boast three number one singles, 24 Top Ten singles and 163 Billboard Top 100 entries. Add to that 62 gold and platinum certifications to date.
Often controversial, Weezy has never been one to hold back his tongue. Whether it was speaking about Black Lives Matter, his support for Trump or even his exit from his first label Cash Money Records, Wayne has never ducked controversy or the chance to stand-out from the crowd.
“Weezy can be considered one of rap’s first unapologetic rock stars,” said cultural critic Candace McDuffie, author of 50 Rappers Who Changed the World. “We see what younger hip hop artists are doing now—the face tattoos, the crazy, colorful dreads, the skater wardrobe; Lil Wayne pioneered that entire image. When he made his ‘rock’ album Rebirth back in 2010, the world literally didn’t know what to do with it. He consistently values artistry and creativity above loyalty to genres. Wayne has always been his authentic self despite criticism from the music industry—that’s what I most admire about him.”
So, it really should be no shock that as Lil Wayne gets deeper in age, the “greatest rapper alive” found new ways to adapt to an ever-changing world without compromising his voice.
His latest evolution involves bringing his style and voice to an industry that, in many ways, was built on the backs of people like him. For decades, Black and Brown people have been part of a government smear campaign to criminalize the plant. Even terms like marijuana were created to make cannabis seem like something “un-American.”
Today, Wayne and many others can now capitalize off what once would’ve been a danger. Launched in 2019 in California, Wayne’s GKUA Ultra Premium Cannabis line is a reflection of the artist himself. Like his lyrics, GKUA works with the best growers to create strains that are very potent and very limited.
Wayne is one of the many rappers that are finding their place in the cannabis space. It’s only right. Hip-hop and cannabis go hand-in-hand.
“Music and cannabis have always gone together,” he said. “Does one influence the other? Of course, both are part of life. Does rap make cannabis more acceptable? To who[m]? It's all personal…everyone has their own feelings and way of living. Rap is not about acceptable, it’s an expression, its art. Yeah, maybe for some people, the music has changed the way they think about cannabis…and that’s a good thing.”
Being a cannabis connoisseur, GKUA is really like a dream come true for Wayne.
“I love everything GKUA… some of these hybrid strains are insane. The beauty is, each strain is different, every time you think you have a favorite, bam a new one drops and you gotta check that out too and feel that experience. I know our growers are working on new strains, doing what they do.”
The early success of the brand is largely due to Wayne’s influence. Having launched successfully in California, Michigan, and Colorado, GKUA next plans on planting their flag in Oklahoma. GKUA Ultra Premium entered Oklahoma on March 23, hot on the heels of their Colorado debut, and comes to the state just as it’s evolving into a hotbed for new business.
Oklahoma residents voted in 2020 for recreational legalization. In the Sooner state, 1 out of 13 Oklahoma residents have a medical marijuana card and more than 2200 licensed dispensaries sell cannabis products, one can expect GKUA to do well in its latest locale.
“We just dropped GKUA Kush in Oklahoma, a strain developed locally that hits all the key points for ultra premium flower,” Wayne declared. The brand is also set to enter Nevada this year.
GKUA’s co-founder and president Beau Golob went on to affirm Wayne’s statements about the great quality and attention to detail the brand takes with their products: “We partner with teams in each state we launch, to ensure that our ultra premium products are produced with the highest standards and meet the level of quality, purity and potency that is GKUA Ultra Premium. It is an intense process, working with our local growers and manufactures to replicate the level of products we deliver to our customers in each market. We take the time to source the highest quality flower from the most experienced growers, in each state. It has to be right and meet not just our standards but the standards of the ultimate cannabis connoisseur, Wayne himself. We mean it when we say Best High of Your Life, that’s truly what we want you to enjoy!”
What a great world we live in. Cannabis is legal in various states across the country, approval ratings for adult-cannabis use is up to 68 percent of all Americans surveyed (the highest it’s been in the nation’s history), and the stigma over being a cannabis user is starting to die down. Too bad that’s not the case for many.
While the business of bud seems like all fun and games, we all know that it’s not that way for everybody. Last year, the ACLU conducted a study showing that Black people are still 3.64 times more likely than White people to be arrested for cannabis possession despite similar usage rates.
“The use of cannabis and how it is perceived changes based on your race,” said McDuffie. “It’s ok[ay] to get stoned and be high if you’re white; if you’re Black you are met with dangerous stereotypes that essentially imply that you’re a criminal or a drug addict. Weezy’s blatant use of marijuana (how many times have we heard him spark a blunt before he starts his verse on a track?) eradicates these biases and is ultimately another extension of his authentic self.”
And with that in mind, Wayne is putting his cannabis line to extend yet another facet of himself, seeking to help his fellow man. With many Black faces still locked behind bars due to possession or sale of the plant, GKUA has decided to do their part to help bring awareness. They’ve teamed up with The Last Prisoner Project (LPP), a nonprofit founded by veteran activists Steve and Andrew DeAngelo that aids in repairing the damage done to marginalized communities by cannabis criminalization, including working to free cannabis prisoners and provide resources for formerly incarcerated citizens. Together LPP and GKUA have created a “Share the Love” monthly social media campaign to directly fund LPP’s ongoing initiatives to bring restorative justice to those who have suffered under cannabis criminalization.
The collaboration kicked off in February with a “Share the Love” fundraiser and social media campaign tied to Valentine’s Day. In March, the campaign highlighted women making a difference in the cannabis community and industry in honor of Women’s History Month.
Some, like McDuffie, react to this development with healthy skepticism. “Despite my love of Lil Wayne, he is not above reproach,” she stated. “I was disheartened when he remarked that he didn’t feel connected to the Black Lives Matter movement back in 2016. I was also upset when he showed public support for Trump in the 2020 presidential election. However, Trump pardoned Weezy of all the criminal charges he faced before he left office (he pardoned Kodak Black as well). These two instances show the power of capitalism, the benefits of being aligned with power despite still coming from a marginalized group. I challenge Lil Wayne fans to explore how his political affiliations are part of a larger narrative—especially when it comes to how Black folks are treated in America on a daily basis.”
To that end, we should all understand that there’s more to do when it comes to bringing real restorative justice to those who have been imprisoned over years for cannabis. That starts with those in Washington.
Even Wayne himself emphasizes that our society has a major problem with legalization of and access to the plant, which particularly impacts people of color. “To all those who don’t understand, this foolishness needs to end…cannabis should be legal period. Having it legal in some places and not in others makes no sense. Everyone deserves access and no one should be going to prison for it. I think soon it won’t be an issue.”
In April 2021, GKUA announced a monumental agreement with the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum for all 4/20 events, for years to come. As part of the partnership, GKUA will host experiential and interactive parties, performances, and additional festivities for in-person and streaming audiences.
The debut event, UPROAR, VIP Party and Performances, at The Torch at the LA Memorial Coliseum, featuring Lil Wayne, Young Money and Friends, will take place on August 13, 2021 and is set to be a grand opening of the nearly century-old Coliseum after a multi-million renovation. The Los Angeles civic institution is known as “The Greatest Stadium in the World” thanks to a legacy that includes playing host to two Summer Olympics, appearances by six U.S. presidents, and concerts by music icons ranging from the Rolling Stones to U2 to Bruce
In-person tickets for the August 13th UPROAR at The Torch at the LA Memorial Coliseum, went on sale from Tuesday, April 20 onward at Ticketmaster.com. Along with the legendary Lil Wayne himself, fans can expect an epic line-up reflecting years of Lil Wayne’s iconic collaborations and relationships in the hip-hop world, along with interactive experiences for in-person attendees and worldwide streaming audiences.
“We are creating an experience that will allow you to party with some of the greatest hip-hop artists of our times and all your best friends,” said GKUA Creative Director Baqi Kopelman. “Whether you are able to attend in-person and be part of the celebration or you are viewing the event at home, this will be an intimate party and show in a fully immersive environment that will provide direct interaction with the artists and the designed experiences at the venue.”
UPROAR will include all-access environments and additional VIP areas and experiences, both in-person and virtual. From the VIP club area to the dance floor and backstage areas, to the vendor tents and club-like spaces, this event will offer attendees a chance to party with their favorite artists.
“GKUA is about feeling inspired,” said Lil Wayne. “I’m looking forward to sharing that GKUA inspiration from the LA Coliseum. It is time to celebrate with friends.”
Coinciding with this milestone event, GKUA has signed a multi-year agreement to host in-person and worldwide streaming events at The Torch at LA Memorial Coliseum every April 20 (aka 4/20) beginning 2022. GKUA will also celebrate 4/20 across the country by producing GKUA VIP Parties and Performances in other major cities and for in-person and virtual audiences.
“GKUA’s multi-year agreement with the LA Memorial Coliseum is historic; it epitomizes the intersection between hip-hop and the nightlife culture that defines LA,” said Golob. “GKUA aims to curate immersive activations that go above and beyond to celebrate 4/20 lifestyles. UPROAR at The Torch will be truly experiential; it will be like going to the world’s largest nightclub, where you dance and party with your friends, not sit in a seat. And this is just the beginning of GKUA parties across America.”
UPROAR at The Torch will follow all recommended health and safety guidelines put forth by officials. GKUA and Young Money fans who are unable to attend the debut party in person this August will have a chance to experience the interactive festivities virtually – stay tuned for more details on that front.
In advance of UPROAR, Wayne and GKUA continued to make 4/20 history with a stunning Diversity in Cannabis Times Square billboard campaign. Celebrating the 50th anniversary of 4/20, as well as New York's sweeping social equity-focused Marijuana Regulation and Tax Act legalization, the Wayne-GKUA-Honeysuckle initiative featured all BIPOC and women-owned cannabis brands, including the first international Indigenous cannabis collaboration ever. Two brand partners were the First Nations retailer Legacy 420, located in Ontario's Mohawk Territory, and THC (Tribal Hemp & Cannabis) Magazine, a publication of the Idaho-based nonprofit Indigenous Cannabis Coalition. Female-led brands My Bud Vase™, Hamptons Medi Spa, Green Bee Life, The Herb Somm, and HighTea.Today joined the campaign in an unforgettable awareness initiative.
The future is certainly bright for Wayne. Despite not netting a Grammy nod in 2020, his last album Funeral was met with rave reviews from critics and fans; outside of music, GKUA is set to make even more moves.
“We are dropping new products, launching new states and getting ready to throw some parties,” the artist exclaimed. “So, when you ask, what am I looking forward to, I say everything!”
To RSVP for early access ticketing, and for additional information and updates about UPROAR at The Torch on August 13, 2021 visit UPROAR420.com. To enter the UPROAR Dance Competition with host Samantha Long and guest judges Jon Boogz and Lil Buck, follow @GKUAOfficial and @Uproardancecompetition. Post a dance video on Instagram, tag @Uproardancecompetition @samantha_long_ @lilbuckdalegend @jonboogz and use #uproardancecompetition. Entrants must also DM a video to @Uproardancecompetition.