Inside Noah "40" Shebib and Drake's Cannabis Brand Bullrider

Grammy-winning producer 40 talks about his and Drake's weed brand Bullrider, their new flagship store in Brampton, and how much cannabis influences his beats.

Drake and Noah "40" Shebib smiling at a Toronto Raptors game

Image via Getty/Noel Vasquez/GC Images

Drake and Noah "40" Shebib smiling at a Toronto Raptors game

The recording sessions for Drake’s sixth album Certified Lover Boy were kept fairly under wraps, but this much I am certain of: the studio reeked of Afghani Bullrider

That’s the cannabis strain of choice for Noah “40” Shebib, Drizzy’s right-hand producer and engineer, and the sonic landscaper behind the last decade of hip-hop. The 38-year-old Grammy winner swears by the bud. He smokes it while crafting beats, doing household chores, and chilling with the OVO crew (who he says all swear by the strain as well). He even sparks a fat joint of the stuff in the middle of our Zoom interview.

40 speaks of Bullrider and its role in his life with a fervent, mile-a-minute energy. He says the strain gives him a “third eye” into the music he creates, helping him zero in on certain frequencies he couldn’t hear before. More crucially, smoking it mitigates the harsh side effects of the medication he takes to treat his multiple sclerosis, which he was diagnosed with at 22. And it does so while allowing him to continue making chart-topping hits.

“I can smoke that weed and still function. I’m very cognitive, aware, on point, organized—like, it doesn’t slow me down,” 40 tells Complex Canada. “So I think it was able to help me treat my side effects, but still let me be able to function at an incredibly high level.”

Never one to bogart a spliff, 40 wants to share the strain’s benefits with the Canadian pot-smoking public. He co-founded a cannabis brand—named Bullrider, naturally—with Jef Tek, a venerated grower who’s bred the strain to perfection over the years. So good is the shit that even Drake is on board.

“The same energy that me and Drake get here in this studio is going to be congruent to the actual store itself.”

Earlier this month, The Boy joined Bullrider as an investor, partner, and strategic advisor. “I’ve always viewed 40 as the expert when it comes to cannabis so I’m very excited to invest, partner, and contribute to setting a new standard for a premium cannabis experience,” the rapper said when the announcement was made.

In other words, if you’re gonna take weed recos from anyone, 40’s your guy. “Drake knows firsthand how passionate I am about cannabis and its use both medicinally and creatively,” the producer tells us. “Bringing him on as a partner felt like a natural next step and is a monumental moment for the brand. I’m excited to have his support on this journey.”

Now, Bullrider is gearing up to launch its very first flagship store. Located in Brampton, Ontario (67 Selby Rd), the shop is an immaculate vibe, featuring steel armature sculptures and trippy murals by Toronto graffiti artist Kwest, who’s also done the artwork for Drake’s studios throughout the years. Besides the fresh aesthetic, it offers fresh flower too. Its industrial site will eventually allow it to operate as one of Ontario’s only farm-gate cannabis stores, selling Bullrider—along with other high-end strains, like Wedding Cake—directly to the consumer from the spot where it’s made. It’ll also be the first retail store in the country with an in-house hash lab. “We can do really cool shit there that nobody else can do,” 40 says.

We caught up with 40, along with Bullrider’s CEO Max Zavet and president Lorne Greenberg, to chat about the new shop, the relationship between weed and creativity, and the OVO crew’s undisputed strain of choice. The interview, edited and condensed for clarity, is below.

So 40, it’s been a pretty big fall for you! Certified Lover Boy dropped and now you’ve got the Bullrider flagship store opening, both after long gestation periods. How does it feel to finally get it all out there at once? 
Noah “40” Shebib: I mean, it’s cool. Albums are like a regular part of my existence over the last 10 years. That’s the cycle of my life—it follows the cycle of albums, I suppose. But the store opening is a little different. The brand has been standing on its own feet for a while now, so it was incredible to launch Bullrider and start that journey. But this store is the first flagship-moment definitive move for us as a brand. So it’s pretty exciting bringing reality to a space and an actual consumer experience. That’s sort of unique and stands alone to something like an album, which is, as I said, that’s like my actual entire existence. 

And then with the involvement of Kwest, who’s my longtime artistic partner, he’s done all the artwork for my studios and the artwork for Drake’s studio. He came and designed much of the store as well. So the same energy that me and Drake get here in this studio is going to be congruent to the actual store itself. 

Does Drake smoke Bullrider?
Alex, c’mon. That’s the only thing that gets smoked in the crew! I brought Jef [Tek] to a show at the ACC, and it was honestly like—I’ll refrain from using a biblical reference—but it was like bringing a superhero to a grade school birthday party. It was intense. People were bowing down. Hush had a classic line, he was like, “This is one of the greatest moments of my life. Meeting Jef Tek while I’m smoking Bullrider! This is like when I was at a bar and Gary Payton came up to me and I shared a beer with him!” [Laughs] Jef is a sports hero to these guys because he is the creator and founder of the Afghani Bullrider strain, which unanimously on our team, it’s the greatest strain of all time. It’s what Drake wants. It’s what he requests. It’s what everybody on the team wants. It’s a thing. When people come into town, my phone rings and it’s like, “40, can you hook us up?”

Noah "40" Shebib and Toronto graffiti artist Kwest

You’re the plug! Well, at least people can go to the store now instead of calling you. Why are you guys opening it in Brampton of all places?
Max Zavet:
The Canadian landscape is quite intricate and we wanted to come out with a store that also had the ability to create its own supply chain, create its own products, grow its own weed, and sell directly retail. So we needed an industrial site that was still in a neighborhood that wasn’t too far from Toronto. If we just had a store in downtown Toronto, we couldn’t do the same things. As 40’s always trying to build better iterations of beats, we’re always looking to bring a better cannabis experience to the consumer.

40: Yeah, it just gives us way more flexibility in terms of what we’re doing there and how we can bring products to market that we can really roll out from farm to table, ensuring that quality, following that line. We can streamline it all right there and make changes to our products to make them healthier and better.

Lorne Greenberg: Also, with Afghani Bullrider, what we learned is it’s a tougher strain to commercialize, so we really need to put it in a craft setting and give it more TLC and post-process attention. And that’s something we can do in Brampton and really tell that story of how unique the strain is and that we have to grow it in this craft capacity in order to bring it to the public the way it should be.

That’s cool. Well, 40, it certainly sounds like the production stuff is keeping you pretty busy. What made you want to devote the time to launching a cannabis brand?
The strain Afghani Bullrider and the grower, Jef. He’s a pretty incredible character, just his mentality of making things better and being that smart and scientific about the way he approaches things. And the story of Michelle Rainey and her journey through her medical condition with Afghani Bullrider [the late marijuana activist suffered from Crohn’s disease and cancer], and my experiences with it with my medical condition.

Aside from that, it’s my favourite marijuana flower to smoke on the entire planet. And I’ve smoked it all. Like Alex, I’ve been everywhere, my brother. I’ve been smoking stuff for a long time, so I’ve seen everything. I know what quality is and to me, it is just the highest-level quality of medicine, and I just want to help bring it to people.

"I believe I am a musician and I can create with or without it [cannabis], but I would just much, much, much rather create with it. Much rather." -40
Drake and 40's Bullrider flagship store in Brampton

Can you tell me what makes this strain so special? What does it do for you?
It’s a little bit unique in the sense that it doesn’t have the highest THC content in the world. But it’s the way my brain reacts to it. I feel like it attacks different receptors in the brain, like that’s my nonclinical, nonscientific opinion [laughs]. I don’t know why or how, but with every other weed that you smoke it’s the same cloudiness. But for me, smoking Bullrider is like woo! I can see everything, I can hear everything, I can understand everything, it’s a very different experience. So on a creative level, it’s pretty special. And I can work forever on it. I’m not going to sleep, I’m motivated. When I go home I’ll clean the whole house. I’ll do all my laundry, I’ll reorganize the kitchen.

I have to ask: How much of Certified Lover Boy did Bullrider aid the creation of?
Oh, like, I don’t know… All of it! And especially the mixing standpoint, that’s where you get some really helpful perspective. I believe when you smoke marijuana, THC opens up creative receptors in your brain and they get slammed open. So they’re on full receive, right? Whereas usually without THC, they would open, take in what you’re focusing on, then close. So for me, when I’m mixing, the Bullrider really gives me sort of a third eye, if you will, into the music that I’m creating. Sometimes when I’m mixing, I go outside of the room because I want to hear the music through a shut door. Like, doesn’t that sound weird? Through a shut door?

Yeah, like sort of muted?
It’s like around the corner. I’ll leave the door open and go out down there a bit and listen to the song, you know? I might be like, ‘Yo, why does the snare sound like that when I’m over there?’ It gives you another perspective. You’re always looking for perspective. So from a mixing standpoint, Bullrider is incredible because it helps me gain perspective and focus. It’ll maybe numb you to certain distractions and let you focus in on certain frequencies or hear things you maybe didn’t hear before.

I say a lot, mixing is like sculpting. You want to look at the sculpture from all angles to see, ‘Did I miss a spot? Do I have to buff this part, is there a scratch there?’ You can’t tell if you just look at it from the front, you gotta look  from the side, from the back, from the top. You gotta look everywhere, you gotta be constantly moving. That’s why I have so many different speakers and different locations. You wanna go to the car, you wanna put it on headphones, you wanna hear it on the iPhone, you wanna hear it on the laptop. Well, I wanna hear it while I’m smoking Bullrider.

"It was able to let me maintain my standard of living while coping with the disease." -40
Noah "40" Shebib and Toronto graffiti artist Kwest in the studio

Yeah, I get that. Sometimes when I’m editing an article, I’ll smoke a bit and it’s like reading with a new pair of eyes. 
Yeah, it’s a new perspective. That’s exactly what it is. And then from a creative standpoint, it’s like, yeah, I’ll take a puff and get wavy before I make some beats. It’s a creative energy, right? It’s very spiritual, natural, creative energy. You’re getting in touch with something, whatever that might be, like there’s a chemical reaction happening because of it and you want to explore all of that. Like, I’m not super into psychedelics. I’ll take some mushrooms and get way too stoned and be like, “Oh, never again. That was the worst decision I’ve ever made in my life.” But at the same time, I’m very open-minded to the use of psychedelics when it comes to art, creation, mental health, learning about yourself, and experiences. Smoking marijuana when you’re making music is the tip of that iceberg in a very safe way. Soon comes a day when smoking weed isn’t a taboo and it’s an incredibly conservative act along the lines of taking a Tylenol, which I believe is 10 times more poisonous than smoking a joint, but I digress.

Has weed always been part of your creative process?
Maybe not always, but a big part of it. I’ve been making music since I was 10 years old, and tracking, recording, and trying to mix and make beats, loop, and sample since I was like 11 or 12. So when I was really young, I was still creative. I was an actor when I was 10 years old. I did start smoking around the same time, but I mean, nonetheless, I was an actor first. And when I was in high school and making music, I did pride myself on being able to do what I do without smoking. There was always a narrative of like, “Oh yeah, man, you gotta smoke a joint before you can make a beat.” It’s like, get out of here! That’s nonsense. I wouldn’t degrade myself to that point to say that I need marijuana to be creative. I believe I am a musician and I can create with or without it, but I would just much, much, much rather create with it. Much rather. And I often have always created with it. So I’ll say that [laughs].

I know Bullrider in particular has helped you in your journey with MS. Can you talk about the role it’s played for you in that regard?
MS is a really incredibly complicated disease. I mean, all neurological diseases are pretty damn complicated, but MS is not very easy to navigate, explain, or even comprehend. But the simplest way to break down my relationship with cannabis as it pertains to my MS, is when I first got diagnosed, they they wanted to give me five different pharmaceuticals to manage my MS—and more importantly, manage the DMT medications that I was taking. So the medicine I was on was pretty detrimental to me. It made me really ill, which is why the vaccine stuff always makes me laugh. People are scared and I’m like, “Yo dude, I used to give myself three vaccines a week that made me crazy ill because I would have immunoreactions to them. So cry me a river” [laughs]. But anyway, I would get all these drugs put on a table in front of me and my answer was, “Yo guys, I can smoke my Bullrider instead of any of that stuff. Like, I don’t need any of that.”

That’s more of an argument for cannabis, but where it becomes more applicable to Afghani Bullrider is I can smoke that weed and still function. I’m very cognitive, aware, on point, organized—like, it doesn’t slow me down. So I think it was able to help me treat my side effects, but still let me be able to function at an incredibly high level, whereas other types of cannabis would wipe me out. It was able to let me maintain my standard of living while coping with the disease.

That’s so great to hear, man. I get why it’s your smoke of choice.
Also, it’s my favorite-tasting, stinkiest, loudest weed of all time. You can put the nastiest OG kushes from L.A. in front of me, I’ll swipe them into the garbage off the countertop to make room to break up my precious Bullrider. That is my honest opinion. That’s how I feel, no bullshit.

[Laughs] I believe you, man! I’ve smoked it myself, so I get it. Well, cannabis has been legal in Canada for a few years now. You guys are active in the legal market. How would you say legalization has been going? What still needs to change?
It’s been challenging for sure. A lot of what has to change is with regulation; some of the promoting and advertising regulations are pretty strict. We found a way to tell a great story is to have great people involved that are not just paid endorsers but are actually part of the company that help us to promote it. But the regulations with respect to that have to change. We need to have more of an ability to market, just like alcohol does, and with the distribution part, it should be more direct-to-store relationships and producers. That’s lacking in Canada. But things will change, and stores like ours are the next iteration of a legal cannabis space that’s going to take more market share from the illegal market.

Greenberg: And the product’s got to be there, right? Everybody just wants a good product at the end of the day. We can talk about this and that and 40 and everything else, but the weed’s got to speak for itself. So once it gets there and it’s more competitive, it’ll make a difference. And I think it is getting there. There are a lot better products [emerging].

40: I mean, look, if nothing else, if you’re tired of the guy dropping off your green that wants to hang out, talk, and smoke a joint, who just won’t excuse himself and leave you alone, you can come to the shop and have an incredible experience. It’s a much better option.

Man, that was the worst part of pre-legalization! Having a strained conversation with your dealer in his car.
[Laughs] The worst small talk of all time!

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