When Karanja Crews was a kid hunting down an autograph from legendary ‘90s hip-hop duo X-Clan at a Portland record shop, he never would have pictured himself owning a store just up the block. Now, Crews and his business partner, fellow Northeast Portland native Nicole Kennedy, are living out that very dream and paying homage to the era and artform they love so dearly, in the form of their new hip hop-themed cannabis dispensary, Green Hop.
The unmissable bright green-and-yellow-trimmed Victorian home-turned-weed-shop just off Northeast Killingsworth Street is the place where their dream has taken root
“Buying Back the Block” in Northeast Portland
“One Stop Records was one of the only record shops in Portland that was Black-owned that artists were actually showing up to,” Crews says, recalling a time before social-media marketing, when face-to-face relationships were crucial for artists trying to get their music heard.
“I remember standing in that line [and getting] my little CD signed by X-Clan. At the time, I didn’t even know what the ankh [they were wearing] meant; I was a kid. But it was hella Black and that was during a time when Blackness and the level of consciousness was at an all-time high,” Crew says.
Now a seasoned teacher and entrepreneur, when Crews landed the opportunity to set up his new business in Northeast Portland’s King neighborhood — a historically Black area named after Martin Luther King Jr. — he was immediately struck with a wave of nostalgia.
“It was like — oh wow, I can actually come back to the neighborhood where I used to ride my little dirt bike … and had my first fist fights,” he says. “I get to come back to the neighborhood I was systematically displaced out of.”
Crews and Kennedy see their re-entry to the historic Albina district as more than symbolic, but as part of a movement in hip-hop to “buy back the block.” Multi-platinum stars like Rick Ross and Nipsey Hussle are helping lead this new charge to re-invest in neighborhoods by purchasing real estate, opening new business endeavors and starting STEM centers in their old stomping grounds.
“It’s to show the young people we’re coming back,” Crews says of the movement. “We’re here to re-invest back into the community we were taken out of.”
Legal Cannabis Career Training
Not taking the role of the world’s “first historical hip-hop dispensary” lightly, Green Hop is about much more than music (though there is certainly plenty of that). Golden-era classics from the likes of DJ Kool Herc and Wu Tang Clan play back-to-back with newer staples like Kendrick Lamar and J. Cole.
Crews’ background as an educator is especially evident in Green Hop’s workforce development academy, developed in partnership with the Portland Opportunities Industrialization Center. The program’s goal is to help primarily Black youth (aged 21–24) break into the legal cannabis industry.
It’s a worthy goal; currently, only 1–4% of cannabis dispensaries are owned by Black entrepreneurs — a statistic made more concerning, Kennedy says, by the fact that Black individuals account for about 40% of cannabis-related incarcerations.
“The academy is a way for us to get more people of color in this industry,” she explains. “This industry is highly network-based and highly white-washed.” The 10-week program is essentially a “101” of the legal cannabis industry. Participants learn how to get licensed, discover opportunities to specialize in the industry and getthe must-knows of breaking into the “wild west” of legalized recreational cannabis.
After completing the first 10 weeks, pupils get an apprenticeship that covers growing, processing and developing their own edibles and working in a lab. “If you’re just entry level and have never budtended, it’s really hard for a person of color to get a job in a dispensary or grow site,” says Kennedy. “You can put this on your resume and get into this industry.”
Building Community at Green Hop
The duo’s work to bridge historic gaps was cemented when Mayor Ted Wheeler and Senator Earl Blumenauer helped cut the ribbon at Green Hop’s June 2018 grand opening ceremony. This move follows a growing push for hip-hop in all its forms to be recognized as a viable business vehicle in Portland, especially after a 2015 report determined the city needed to improve its relationship with the hip-hop community after decades of tension. Crews and Kennedy say it was important for elected officials to see their community in order to cultivate long term relationships.
In another nod to the now defunct One Stop records, Green Hop carries albums by both local and national acts. A love of local hip-hop is evident in Green Hop’s cannabis products, as well; in addition to carrying locally inspired strains like Killingsworth and Albina OG, Green Hop plans to name certain strains after its favorite Rose City wordsmiths.
“I won’t reveal the names right now,” Crews says with a chuckle. Crews sees the shop as a potential bridge to the national hip-hop market as their business grows, spotlighting homegrown talent — which he considers some of the best the genre has to offer.
It’s already off to a good start. On Aug. 18, 2018, Green Hop hosted a block party in front of the shop. The event was headlined by world-famous duo Dead Prez, with support from some of the Northwest’s premier talent, including Fountaine, Blossom, Risky Star and semi-retired “King of the Northwest” HANIF (formerly Luck-One), among others.
Ultimately, Green Hop, if you ask Kennedy and Crews, is about much-needed representation. “We’re just repping — repping us, and being unapologetic about it,” says Crews.