A 4/20 Special: Sour Matt on Bringing Cannabis, Hip-Hop and Branding Together

Sour Matt might be one of the most mysterious yet well-respected figures in the cannabis industry, as well as a growing force in the music business with which it intersects. With more than 100,000 followers on Instagram alone, he describes himself as “someone who likes to connect the dots, working with other creatives to build powerful energies.”

Aside from working with a slew of interesting musicians and brands, the New York-bred, L.A.-based creative serves as Backwood Cigars’ creative director, CEO to Lit Marketing andWest Coast Cure’s go-to plug. Whether it’s consulting, creative directing, plugging artists with exclusive product and gear, putting together events, or A&R-ing studio sessions with some of hip-hop’s biggest names, the cannabis connoisseur has worked his way up through fostering genuine relationships in the industry, and upholding an organic strategy on how to build a social media platform.

“I put 90% of my awake hours, if not 98% of my awake hours, into my work,” says Sour Matt (pictured with one of his artist clients, Sfrea, above). And for anyone curious, he blows roughly an ounce a day.

What does 4/20 mean to you?

It means a lot of work —  a really busy day for me where I have so many activations, so many different things for all my brands, it’s just a major day. I don’t really subscribe to holidays in general. Over the last decade, there’s not one holiday that I celebrated — not one New Year’s Day or Christmas. I like to celebrate accomplishments. So 4/20 to me is more of a day to commercially celebrate something, which I’m cool with. But me personally, I don’t celebrate 4/20. It’s a day to engage the brand to the community.

What cannabis brands do you do marketing for?

West Coast Cure is the premier brand I’m working with right now. My favorite brand as well, just from a consumer standpoint. I like their consistency and flavor profiles. I work with Backwoods Cigars even though it’s not a cannabis brand per say, but a lot of cannabis consumers use Backwoods. I come up with creative strategies — the direction the brand will take communicating with influencers and the fanbase, doing brand-to-artists collaborations, artist relations, events, etc.

You lived in Thailand and Spain for years, right?

Being in Spain for three-plus years is where I really developed my skill sets when it came to product placement marketing. I did an enormous amount of street art activations. Taking objects and shapes on the street and turning them into something else. Taking a garbage can and turning it into R2-D2, or turning a pothole cover into a pizza or a golf ball. A lot of people liked my artwork because I wasn’t destroying property. I was taking dilapidated items on the street and rejuvenating them, putting some life into them. I’d do a piece on the street, then send it to an artist or a brand and have them repost it. I just started seeing what types of imagery brands wanted to represent them.

Is that were the artist Sour Matt came from?

Yeah, ‘cause I’d tag all my stuff “Sour.” That’s how I built a lot of my Instagram. It  got to a point where I was worried, like, “Damn, all of my shit’s all over these streets. They could give me a crazy fine.” One day, we went on the buses. Every bus, they’d done a little exposé on my artwork and put it in the country’s marketing campaign for tourists. It was on every subway and every bus in the whole control, [highlighting my] artwork being a cool thing about Spain when you visit. So I was like, “Damn, I guess they’re not really hating on me.”

I thought “Sour” was for Sour Diesel [the weed strain].

At the beginning, it was.

You never pass your blunt — why is that?

I’m just super germaphobic. I never pass blunts, ever. I hate someone taking a big hit of my blunt and it’s hot the rest of the time. I smoke my blunt softly and enjoy it. You pass it to someone, they take the biggest rip ever because they know they’re not gonna get to hit it again. The whole rest of your blunt tastes like shit. But I’ll give someone weed if I know them and say, “Roll up your own weed.”

Do you have to explain that to  every rapper you’re around?

No, ‘cause a lot of people just get it. If they see me roll up a blunt, they see how much passion and dedication I put into each one and how serious I am about rolling. A lot of times I start off meeting someone by giving them a blunt or a joint, then smoking mine after I’ve given them something to smoke. They realize, “Hey that’s for you, this is for me,” and I’d like us to start the relationship smoking our own blunts and continue that.

How much do you smoke a day?

Close to an ounce. I put an eighth in each Backwood and I smoke at least eight Backwoods a day. I’ve already smoked four times today and it’s not even lunch.

How has marijuana legalization changed the industry in your eyes?

It’s brought in a lot of big business, which is dope. Over the last couple years, a lot of big corporations outside of cannabis — tobacco, alcohol, food & beverage, technology — all these other industries were hovering around cannabis, peeking their head over the fence, almost hanging on the fence the entire year, trying to see everything they could, but not hopping over and jumping on the field. They were so ready to get in, but now they’re in.

Because of that, a lot of things have changed. Companies start day one without even having a product on the shelf, spending millions of dollars advertising something that’s not even available. The budgets, the way people are marketing, the type of infrastructure people are investing into is a major thing. Before it was legal, people weren’t spending millions of dollars on facilities because there was a chance they could lose that facility. People were trying to do stuff a little more frugally, more noncommittal if you will, because there was a lot more risk. There was a large chance they could lose what they were investing in.

But now people are like, “We’re safe. Let’s spend X amount and get the place that we could retire in, the place that our company could live for the 20 years and be dope.” People are jumping right to that with these mega-facilities, headquarters, marketing centers, creative spaces, influencer lounges — it’s pretty nuts. That’s probably the largest change, the money that’s coming into the industry. The money comes from people who have a strong business acumen and are classically and traditionally trained, so they’re adding a element of professionalism to the industry with their insurgence of funds.

How did it affect your business and clients?

Now there’s a lot of regulation, but we do know what we can and cannot do. Before, it was more of gray area. The marketing things we know we can do now, we’re going hard on. It’s been positive because everyone is safer and secure. There’s more money, more sales, more investors. The brands I work with are flourishing because we’re able to market it to even an broader consumer base than last year.

How is West Coast Cure connecting with the music industry?

They do so much for the culture outside of being a cannabis brand. Studio time, music videos, connecting artists with producers, artists with artists, trying to get people into certain festivals, bookings, interviews.

There’s such a crossover in music and weed — talk about bridging that gap.

When I started doing Backwoods five years ago, we wanted to connect with independent artists who have high potential to be incredible entertainers and musicians, and intersect them at a very early stage in their career. They know at that point we’re not there for the clout, but to actually help them build something. We work with these people and eventually their status on all these social platforms increases. We develop these relationships very early, like an artist incubator program, where we try to empower artists to stay independent longer — give them skill sets of how to understand what a brand might want. We show them: “Hey, rather than going to a label and having them spend money to generate your project, why don’t you work with a couple brands, developing micro-budgets from these brands? Put that together and make a project that’s done off the strength of your personal brand and your connection with these people.”

A lot of people using their own budgets to creatively put stuff together put way more into it than if someone just pays for it. If your mom pays for you to go college, you care about it less than if you pay and go. You’d study more for those classes. When we show artists how to do it themselves, they generally care more. Their music IQ is elevated tremendously because now they understand these different facets of the industry. By the time it does come for them to do a deal, their stock is up, their level of skill is increased, and the diversity of things they can do for themselves behind the scenes of the music is higher. The label values and knows that, but also, it’s harder to pull one over on them.

Who are some artists you’ve worked with?

I’ve worked closely with Hoodrich Pablo Juan, Einer Bankz, Smooky MarGielaa, 600Breezy, Blocboy JB. Sometimes, I work with an artist on a song-by-song basis. Sometimes, we’ll just set up a studio session and create one song, three songs, five songs. Sometimes that one song will be really dope, then we’ll shoot a music video. I’ll help them promote that song. Other situations have gone so well, we end up doing more songs, an album, or a mixtape. We just become general allies in life for everything that we need each other to do.

And D Savage, Sosamann, Bali Baby, Ridiculously Ryan… The first time I heard her [Ryan] rap, she didn’t have any music out. Then she started to get in the studio because we did a Backwoods 16 Bars Challenge. She won and got to perform at SXSW. Your first performance being on stage at SXSW? We got her some press, and part of her winning was we got her some studio time. We helped direct the music video. In less than one year, she got signed to a record deal (Trina’s Rockstarr Music Group). She did it 100% on her own, but she did have some support from the brands that maybe helped build some confidence, and we gave her certain resources necessary in those moments. 

Talk about your A&R work.

I’m not classically trained in music. It’s something I’ve been passionate about and learned as I went. That’s probably how a lot of people do it because there’s not really a textbook or one place you can go to for all the information. No one ever really gave me the perfect definition of what an A&R is. I Googled it once or twice. When someone asks me to A&R something, I set up an artist or producer with other creatives. Not just connecting the producer and the artists, but informing them about each other prior to the meeting. When they do meet, I like to direct energy a certain way, to make sure they’re gonna have a fruitful relationship. From that point forward, I like to instruct or advise, give some feedback on how to roll it out and work together to promote it. A&R-ing is not just putting two people in the same room, it’s also what happens after that, being there at certain key moments to form the relationship in a positive way.

How do you react to artists who don’t smoke?

Totally the same. I f— with plenty of artists who don’t. Gashi is one of the first artists I ever connected with probably six, seven years ago. He never smoked, ever, and we’ve always been great friends this entire time. I might not hotbox a car with him; I might have a little more consideration and open a window, or smoke outside. It’s totally cool for me because