“Hip hop and weed go together like peanut butter and jelly.”

That’s what OG Illa, a self-described man of ambition, believes. Born to a teenage mother who lacked the resources to properly care for him, OG was placed in foster care at the age of 10. He carried from his early upbringing a love for the 90’s rap, gospel and R&B music that his mom would play constantly around the house during his childhood. After transitioning from a life of poverty to one surrounded by prestige in the city’s affluent West End, the budding lyricist was inspired to leverage his passions toward building a better life on his own terms. His entrepreneurial pursuits eventually led him to gigs in hip hop booking and promotion for a local nightclub, along with “greener” ventures:

“Marijuana taught me how to hustle. It also helped me slow down cause my mind is sometimes all over the place,” said OG. The title of his first full-length project is an ode to a series of transformative experiences induced in commission with quintuple-leaved plant.

The album’s 11 tracks–all of which OG Illa co-produced–are less about marijuana per se, and more about experiences that were shaped under and around its influence. These smoking stories range in subject matter from hustling, to stunting, family, to personal battles with insomnia. Standout tracks include “Blurred,” which invites listeners on a cynically-reflective trip through OG’s altered state of consciousness:

M-m-m-my mind’s blurred
They say it’s too much herb
But I’m so unsure
I think it’s so much more

Conversely, the video for “Dear Tony” is a creative visualization of the song’s emotional reminiscence, crafted in tribute to a close friend who passed away. The more upbeat “Broad Street Elite” resonates with OG’s pride for his city, a stratified paradigm of stark socioeconomic class division. He alludes to this in the line “from Shockoe to Short Pump,” a reference to his humble beginnings in Richmond’s soggy and impoverished East-side neighborhoods and the continual mission to gain footing among the West-side upper crust.

 His job in hip hop event booking gave OG a distinct advantage by allowing him to share stages with a roster of notable independent artists that include Riff Raff, Lil B, Ace Hood, Action Bronson, Hopsin, Dizzy Wright, Los, Vinny Cash, Kid Daytona, Jarren Benton, Phil Ade, and Cory Gunz. OG also plays a hand in cultivating lesser-known local artists through his full-service video and graphics production company, Aura HD.

“People say hip hop is dead, but it’s really evolving,” says OG. He sees independent artists as helming the forefront of rap music’s changing landscape, themes and cultural significance. That grassroots movement seems almost perfectly analogous to the voter-passed ballot initiatives that have been having a similar effect on social perceptions and acceptance of cannabis.

It makes 4/20 a perfect day to celebrate both.

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