Growing up on the South Side of Chicago, rapper Vic Mensa started selling cannabis as a side hustle at 14, which not only helped fund the start of his music career but also set the blueprint for his future in the cannabis industry.
Mensa, 29, started releasing music on a global scale when he was 19 years old, and since then, he has performed worldwide. While he says music is his "passion" and "primary form of self-expression," he knew he wanted to enter the cannabis industry legally as soon as Illinois legalized it for adult-use in 2019.
"As soon as the industry began to turn and legislation began to turn in Illinois, I started focusing on entering the industry. Creating a brand has always been the sector of the industry that I am most interested in, and my personal brand and mission of who I am as a human being is always intrinsically linked with the people," he says.
And now, Mensa is building 93 Boyz, an Illinois-based, equity-focused cannabis company that aims to reinvest in and serve communities most impacted by the war on drugs.
"The subjects that I make music about and the programs I create with my organization so often take the form of social justice, and that's because that's who I am as a human being," he says. "And in the creation of 93 Boyz, I felt that it is imperative to make it not just a self-serving venture, but to also be a vehicle for freedom because the criminalization of cannabis has stolen freedom from so many of us."
93 Boyz did a "soft launch" on April 20—typically referred to as "4/20" amongst cannabis consumers—Mensa says, which included launching a select line of prerolls. Since then, the brand has made its way onto dispensary shelves in five storefronts in Illinois and has already expanded its product line to eighths and vape cartridges.
Mensa says 93 Boyz sources its product from ariez, an Illinois-based cultivator and producer that uses an aeroponic growing technique, which is a "process that uses a recyclable grow medium instead of soil," according to the company's website.
While the the company's long-term goals are to eventually vertically integrate its operations and venture into other state markets, Mensa says right now, it's focused on building the company in his hometown and giving back to underserved communities.
Making a Difference
"The structure of 93 Boyz is that we are earmarking a portion of all the proceeds to be used for different socially minded initiatives, and the first one that we're launching with is a program that I'm calling 'Books Before Bars,'" he says.
Books Before Bars will be a nonprofit organization that provides prisons and jails in Illinois with books.
In addition, 93 Boyz is also collaborating with Mensa's nonprofit organization, 'SaveMoneySaveLife' (SMSL), "and will sponsor [the organization's] initiatives aimed at prison reform and equity in the cannabis space," according to its website.
Mensa started SMSL in 2018 and says, "it's really a vessel for creative strategies to address the problems faced by our people. And for most of its existence, it's been focused on the issues we face in Chicago."
SMSL has done social justice initiatives such as giving away millions of dollars’ worth of shoes to underserved communities and addressing gun violence by training and equipping people to be first responders in the acts of violence in Chicago, Mensa says. The organization also recently completed a program where it took a group of teenagers from Chicago on an all-expenses-paid trip.
In addition to other community-based initiatives, Mensa says the company's goal is to build an indoor skate park in the Chicago area eventually.
"[That's] one project that has been on my mind since the inception of 93 Boyz," he says. "Growing up a skateboarder, we have an obstacle in the winter that kind of prevents our local skateboarders from reaching some of those levels that are possible elsewhere."
Looking ahead, Mensa says he hopes to eventually "build a phenomenal team of different influential individuals.”
"I'm really inspired by the trajectory of the nation's largest Black-owned cannabis brand, which is Viola, and they are mentors to me," he says. "The ways in which they've just brought in so many power players to build such a strong team is something that inspires me heavily."