On an otherwise average day at the office, I receive a text message from Mendo Dope inviting me up to the farm. Compared to texts I typically receive, this simple invitation is like skywriting from a small plane expelling a message of ganja smoke in its wake, but this is next level and the message isn’t even words, it’s a flame emoji projected against an otherwise cloudless sky. That is to say, Mendo Dope has the fire.
It’s cannabis harvest season in California and Mendo Dope, a musical group led by brothers known primarily by their musical nom de plumes Old E and Bleezy, grow some of the best outdoor cannabis the world has ever seen. They also create some of the greatest music about cannabis. Mendo Dope are the town criers of our time, making public pot professions at levels of specificity akin to receiving the daily news. And, hear ye, hear ye: The state of California cannabis in its first year as a recreational marketplace is hopeful and very dank.
A Purple Candy Cane strain grows in the Mendo Dope/Greenshock Farms garden.
To understand the depth of Mendo Dope’s artistry, one has to join them on a complete journey not dissimilar to the lifecycle of the plant itself, a full circle from seed to harvest. Mendo Dope grows plants so huge they can only really be called trees and, while they’re doing it, they also create an album in their forest of marijuana. Then, through YouTube tutorials and music videos, they plant the seed of knowledge and fans experience what it’s like to cultivate cannabis in the Emerald Triangle, one of the world’s most renowned marijuana growing regions. Mendo Dope’s music germinates in Mendocino, but their concept completes its lifecycle when consumers across California smoke the harvest through their partnership with the Natural Cannabis Company, which offers the exact strains seen in the videos in adult-use shops.
Some people sing to their plants, but Mendo Dope creates and presents an album for their cannabis, recording the vocals while nested inside a massive single-stalked behemoth that becomes a ganja vocal booth. They bring mixing equipment, musicians and instruments into the ganja garden to record the tracks.
“It’s like doing a live concert, you know, just for the plants,” Old E says of the process of creating the group’s “Live in the Garden” album series. “I’m performing for the girls out here; they’ve been soaking it in.”
Old E exhales from a blunt while standing in front of the ganja vocal booth.
The brothers have been making music together since 2007, with Old E supplying the vocals and Bleezy taking charge of crafting the beats. They exploded onto the cannabis scene in 2013 with their double-disk reggae hip-hop album “Planters of the Trees” and just wrapped up a tour with a live band that included headlining at events such as Seattle Hempfest and the Boston Freedom Rally.
I first visited Mendo Dope’s grow in Ukiah about two years ago, but since then, times have changed considerably, as many California cannabis companies and cultivators struggle to stay afloat in what is now a highly regulated and permitted system. This shift, for Mendo Dope, has meant moving their operations from a small residential backyard to a marijuana mountain hideaway through a partnership with the award-winning cultivator behind Greenshock Farms.
A Purple Candy Cane plant stands tall.
My two-hour drive north to visit the farm is filled with bouts of heavy rain. The skies clear when I meet Mendo Dope at their home, where two pit bull puppies immediately bound outside the doorway and into their vehicle and follow the brothers and a friend to the grow in Willits. I’m doing pretty well following along in the caravan, but once I hit the unpaved mountain roads, filled with mud and large puddles, I slow considerably. Mendo Dope has a song describing their country cannabis lifestyle called “I’m from the Mountains.”
“We livin’ different in the sticks, from the boondocks coming with a California twist,” Old E raps in the video that features scenes of him dropping verses while standing in the bed of a four-wheeler in motion and smoking Backwoods in a redwood grove.
Once I reach the top of the mountainside and park near the grow, Bleezy tells me he noticed me fall behind once we hit the country roads. “Well, I’m not from the mountains,” I say with a laugh, but thanks to the invitation to visit the grow, I am now deep within the mountains on one of the most incredible outdoor cannabis farms I’ve ever seen. The plants are massive, bursting with heavy, fragrant buds and stretching across the land farther than the eye can see.
Mark Greyshock, the cultivator behind Purple Candy Cane and Tropical Sleigh Ride wanders through his garden.
To see the plants Mendo Dope and Greenshock are growing together is a magical experience. Greenshock, run by longtime cultivator and cannabis breeder Mark Greyshock, is perhaps best known for its Tropical Sleigh Ride strain, which took home the highest terpene award at the 2017 Emerald Cup, the preeminent event for outdoor herb. Tropical Sleigh Ride is a cross of Purple Candy Cane with Pineapple and contains the rare terpene ocimene.
As we enter the fenced grow, I immediately pull my face closer to the sweet-smelling buds almost ready for harvest. The plant I’m sniffing is bursting with notes of tropical fruit and Hawaiian Punch and is one of about 24 variations of the plant in a special patch near the front of the garden. Greyshock is hunting through different variations of this Tropical Sleigh Ride, known to cannabis cultivators as phenotypes, to find the best one.
“The taste is the same as it smells, just delicious,” Greyshock says. “This is a nice, antidepressant, creative type of weed. We’ve got a high variation of different styles of it. They all kind of have the same terpene profile, but they look a little different.”
As we walk further into the garden, I ask Old E his opinion of one of the Tropical Sleigh Ride phenotypes.
A cola of Tropical Sleigh Ride.
“This one right here? It’s looking quite nice, I really like the structure of it,” he says. “It looks like it’s getting that [purple] color to it, too; this looks like a good one. It’s always hard to say until the very end when you actually get to smoke it.”
Both Mendo Dope and Greenshock are on a quest to discover the most incredible weed on the planet and have created a name for their official collaboration that combines their names: Green Dope.
“It’s been crazy, super dope,” Old E says of the partnership. “We’re very thankful that Mark wanted to partner up with us because we were in between [projects], not doing anything, not keeping our brand in the clubs actually — only doing our personal stuff. We built it up to this level where we have to keep our stuff on the shelf. We have to keep Mendo Dope alive out there for everybody.”
The Avenue of the Giants, a world-famous scenic drive through old-growth redwoods, is a spectacular sight a bit further north of where we stand today, but as I look at the grow filled with plants, some of which tower at 10 feet tall and eight to 10 feet wide, surrounded on all sides by a pine forest, I begin to feel like this particular spot merits the same designation.
The third iteration of Mendo Dope’s “Live in the Garden” album is set to be released on 420. This year, Old E and the others who performed alongside him in the grow, recorded their parts in a ganja vocal booth composed of the group’s own namesake Mendo Dope strain: a cross of Locomotion and Querkle.
“Last year, before the fires hit, we had the [Mendo Dope] seeds first get made with Subcool… and some people were able to grow it,” Old E explains, noting their collaboration with Subcool, the breeder behind TGA Seeds who lost his home in 2017 fires that ravaged Northern California. “When the fire hit, it burned all the seeds, so we had to recreate it again.”
Old E partaking in his favorite form of cannabis consumption.
They recently grew out the seeds in an indoor environment and were able to get their first taste of their signature strain.
“We’ve got to smoke 10-plus different varieties of it,” Old E says. “It’s very fruity, super nice. [It’s got] a lot of oranges in it, it’s grapey.”
“In one of them, we found a banana taffy thing going on,” Bleezy adds. “There’s a good variety in them for sure. There’s a lot of strains that [went into making] the Locomotion and the Querkle, that obviously is Sub’s Space Dude with the Purple Urkle, so there’s a lot going on in [this new Mendo Dope strain] and things are starting to come out from the parents in that strain that we’ve been noticing. It’s pretty cool.”
And while Mendo Dope’s new cannabis strain is synthesizing a lot of new flavors, the group’s next album is also set to blend genres, combining reggae, hardcore hip-hop and funk beats.
“We’ve been getting more and more live and we’ve been playing with the band a lot,” Bleezy says. “The whole CD is really live and there’s solos from instrument players and there’s breaks in between stuff and it’s not just a 16 bar verse, a hook, a 16 bar verse, a hook — it’s all mixed different ways.”
“We wanted to have some of it a little more musical this time, where’s it’s just more about letting beats ride and just hearing certain instruments shine, instead of just back-to-back instruments and vocals,” Old E adds. “It’s just letting it breathe and just kind of feeling it, just groovin’ more.”
The Mendo Dope/Greenshock Farms collaboration is located in Mendocino County.
“To be surrounded in weed and smoking freely, it’s the best place to record ever,” Old E says of the experience creating the album.
Bleezy noted that the ganja vocal booth is not only made up of good herb, but produces great sound quality.
“It sounds really good too, especially when the plant’s this big; there’s so much squawking noise from the back of it, so it’s like you’re in an actual vocal chamber,” he says, adding that the experience of recording the album in the grow is very fun. “It’s super sick being outside and having people come to the garden to play and instead of just coming and doing the music, they’re also tripping on the plants the whole time and smelling everything in between.”
And both brothers say the process of recording the album adds to the development of the weed itself. As they recorded “Live in the Garden 3,” they were pollinating lower branches of the ganja vocal booth, meaning new strains and songs were being created at the same time.
“New strains are being created while the music is being made,” Old E says. “So inside the seed, there’s so much packed in that little seed in there.”
One of Mendo Dope’s puppies wanders around the enormous grow.
All in all, the Green Dope grow contains 125 different plants and 12 strains. Each plant is growing straight into the soil, which means there’s no limit for how far the roots can stretch into the native earth.
“When you have this beautiful earth like this, it feels like, why not use it?” Greyshock says. “Number one, you just save so much money and when you really get technical into it, like in terms of tastes and flavors and stuff, the natural dirt and earth to me just tastes better.”
The whole grow is done with organic cultivation methods, utilizing compost fertilizers containing alfalfa and guano and, during the plant’s vegetative period, is watered on a drip system once every five days. Nutrients are added throughout the course of the season and the fertilizer is cut out as the plants get closer to harvest and watered more often to flush out any excess build-up of salts and nutrients.
“You’ve got to figure whatever you’re feeding them with is kind of what your plant becomes,” Greyshock says. “If you’re using chemical salts and a lot of that stuff, your plant’s going to have that in it. [Growing with organic practices] makes a significant difference in the final product when it comes to the taste.”
Bleezy holds the stalk of a cannabis plant to illustrate its size.
Standing in the shadow of these immense florae, I have to ask, what’s the secret to growing gargantuan marijuana plants?
“It’s a variety of things definitely,” Old E says. “It’s the time they were started at. We started from seeds, and these were started on February 12. It’s also genetics, like this Tropical Sleigh Ride is just a monster. It grows so big outside and it was made here out in this climate, so it’s built for this. This is what it thrives in.”
When I ask the question, we’re looking at a particular plant that they expect to get 10 pounds of yield from.
“It’s crazy how big they get in just one season, they’re really trees,” Old E says.
Bleezy adds that a key to the size is that these plants have lots of sun and water along with a good amount of wind.
Light catches a leaf in the garden.
“To grow a plant this big, they have to stay happy the whole time. If they have a hiccup in between, then you’ll notice it at the very end,” he says. “Timing is huge and just keeping them at that peak so they never have to get sad and come back from that — and that’s kind of hard to do when you’re doing the trees.”
As our afternoon in the garden concludes, Old E rolls up a Backwoods of the Mendo Dope strain and thinks about how his music can reach so many people from this remote mountaintop location. Mendo Dope’s favorite topic to rap about is cannabis culture and their music is designed to promote that way of life while boosting the reputation of outdoor cannabis.
“We’re probably some of the first to go this deep into this kind of culture, our little mountain life,” Bleezy says. “It’s not a city vibe for sure.”
“Yeah, we’re from the mountains,” Old E says.