By Mike Holmes
Many Cigar smokers enjoy listening to music while we puff on our stogies, which is a universal trait. However I am apart of a smaller demographic of cigar connoisseurs heavily influenced by Hip hop culture and find that listening to my favorite emcee brings me into a deeper euphoria and level of relaxation. I am not talking about the new mumble rap and trippy sounding flows. When I mention Hip Hop in this context, I am referring to artists who use word play to formulate clever songs that tell stories about struggle and pain and other meaningful topics.
Imagine wearing headphones and picturing the scenarios in your mind as the emcee takes you on a lyrical journey. That is the type of experience I am referring to. What started off as an art form for poor black and Hispanic youth has morphed into a world wide subculture with just as much diversity as the cigar community itself. Not only does Hip Hop culture unite people, there are many listeners who don’t fall into the category that most people would assume would be a fan of Hip Hop music. From middle age white guys to teenage Chinese kids in Hong Kong, even soccer mom’s are now influenced by Hip Hop which has grown up with those who have helped shape the culture.
How I got into Hip- Hop
I became infatuated with Hip hop at a very young age. I lived in an area with a large African American population so I always was around people listening to rap music and I took in the sounds and fell in love with an art form that only required skill. You could literally start with nothing, and use your talent to express yourself with hardly any limitations. Every day I would go home and turn on BET and watch Rap City the basement hosted by “Big Tigga” and 106 and Park hosted by “Free and AJ”. I would watch the rappers of that time go into the booth and freestyle over beats that were popular at the time and showcase their skills and watch all of the latest music videos where I got my style from and memorize as many raps as I could.
I was drawn to every rappers delivery and clever use of words and eventually I started freestyling (which I never got good at) and eventually write my own raps which led people to compare me to other white rappers such as Eminem, Bubba Sparxxx and Paul Wall. As I got into my high school years I eventually met some people through church and started a Christian rap group called Deep Impact where we wrote our own lyrics, recorded songs and traveled extensively throughout Florida performing at concerts we were booked for and even hosted our own concerts.
As time went on and the itch for music kept growing the group decided to part ways musically I eventually started doing solo music. I never took off as a rapper but I have had my fair share of experiences which still stick with me today. I wasn’t just some white kid that was trying to emulate Urban culture, I grew up in it, I paid my dues and have been a contributor for many years.
Cigars and Hip Hop
As I got into smoking cigars I noticed that there were rappers who smoked cigars as well. Originally I assumed that some of them smoked as a status symbol but there are a few who really smoke cigars because they enjoy it. Most notably; Jay Z, Rick Ross, Ludacris and Nas are the few rappers that I feel, really enjoy cigars and aren’t smoking just to show off. Sure you can spot other rappers smoking cigars in music videos or in pictures but I feel that many of them only want the boss look that comes with smoking Cigars.
I went to Miami on my 29th birthday and I visited Bello Cigars the shop that Rick Ross mentions in some of his songs. Behind the counter I saw a picture of the owner Pedro Bello with Rick Ross hanging out together. Rick Ross was even spotted at the 2018 IPCPR trade show in Vegas. I have reputable sources that have told me Ludacris is a huge Ashton fan. It’s also been said that Nas is a Padron and Fuente fan. Jay Z teamed up with Cohiba on a cigar called Comador, which is no longer available according to Sean Williams, the brand ambassador for Cohiba. He did tell me that there are still some floating around out there. I personally have not gotten my hands one but I’m sure it would please someone’s Palate. Jay Z and his manager also teamed up with Zino Davidoff and released the Zino Platinum Crown series.
As you can see the rappers that I just mentioned are more than hot beats and lyrics. There is an appreciation of the good life and are a testament to the diversity of cigar smokers. Contrary to popular belief Hip Hoppers do more than use slang and make music that degrade women and promote drug use. They make music that celebrates life and Cigars are tools of celebration.
The Music Itself
Hip Hop music is the perfect pairing for a cigar smoking session because it is a type of music that will alter your mood more than most genres of music will. If you want to relax and listen to a more mellow sound then put on some Nas, or Wu Tang Clan, light up a cigar and get lost in the boom bap melodies over sampled records and word play.
If you prefer your music a little more edgy throw on some Rick Ross or Jeezy and bounce a little bit as you smoke and enjoy your cigar paired with a scotch. Whatever your forte there are songs that will put you into your desired mood and bring you into another world. I am a big fan of rappers from Texas, their style has an old school soul feel to it. They also have very gritty lyrics and use bass guitars, with snares and claps added, which makes for a classic feel. Whatever your preferred style of Hip Hop there is a flavor for everybody.
The cigar industry and Hip Hop
If you’re a fan of RoMa Craft Tobac and follow Skip Martin on social media he has awesome playlists and always posts an album cover followed by the phrase ”Top to Bottom. front to back”. It’s pretty much his signature post. I spoke with Skip briefly about why he uses this phrase and he explained to me that:
“…it refers to an old LP playlist like a cassette tape, and listening to an album all the way through without skipping like it was originally intended, without all the fillers…”
“…It’s the same in the cigar world, we put a lot of effort into every blend under our umbrella and each cigar tells a story, it’s intended to last and become more relevant over time, Instead of making a few decent limited blends every couple of years surrounded by fillers and having no significance a few years later. You could start with our intemperance XVIII and end with our Neanderthal and you would have experienced the story we are telling with Tobacco. Top to Bottom. Front to back.”
Not only does RoMa Craft compare Blending Tobacco to listening to an LP, every part of what they do including decking out their Headquarters tells their story with rap lyrics. I have never been to the RoMa HQ but from videos I’ve seen, the walls are lined with hip hop lyrics from artists who are masters of their craft much like Skip and Mike are. As you can see they carefully craft every aspect of their company with the intention of adding value to the industry as a whole.
Black Label Trading Company and Black Works Studios also have a heavy Hip Hop influence. One of their best offerings in their portfolio is the killer bee which relates to Wu Tang Clan and their mention of killer bees. At first I was unsure if the name of the cigar was a direct Wu Tang reference, or if they referenced Wu Tang because of the cigar name, but Angela Brown further confirmed that the killer bee is a direct Wu Tang reference and not the other way around. Also many of their followers in their Facebook group and in other Facebook groups all hashtag #Wutangwednesday when they smoke a killer Bee or any other cigar. It is a fun way to mark Wednesday and celebrate getting over the hump!
Then you have Drew Estate. It’s obvious that their artwork reflects an edgy Urban based style of graffiti on many of their boxes and promotional items, even in their factory you feel the gritty Urban style that began in New York. There is no other company that is as unique as Drew Estate when it comes to their hip hop influence in the cigar industry. The old image of stuffy old men in a turtleneck and leather chair is now fading away and creating a new lane for a younger cigar audience who brings new flavor to the industry and a new approach to marketing cigars as well as the enjoyment of cigars. I’ve heard many people critique Drew Estate’s phrase “The Rebirth of cigars” by responding with their opinions mentioning that cigars don’t need a ‘Rebirth’ they are just fine. I don’t believe that was the intention of Drew Estate’s phrase. True, cigars don’t need a rebirth, but culturally speaking it does help to have a new approach to cigar culture and to make it even better with more diversity by including Hip hop culture. As much as some people dislike Hip Hop, it is evident that it has a huge influence and isn’t going anywhere.
I understand that not everyone is into hip hop culture, and that’s ok. Please refrain from downing another BOTL or SOTL’s way of life. Not everyone understands Hip Hop because they didn’t grow up around it. Cigars are a lifestyle much like Hip Hop culture. When the two marry they truly complement one another. Sure you can have one without the other but why would you? When two powerful forces combine they create a unexplained experience that can only be comprehended by participation in the culture.
For those who embrace the culture, we will continue to move forward and preserve the original intentions of the founders of Hip Hop. For those outside the culture keep an open mind and seek to learn what drives us to this expression of art. Don’t write it off, just seek to understand and celebrate the marriage of Cigars and Hip Hop.
About Mike Holmes
Mike Holmes has been enjoying cigars and the cigar lifestyle for 12 years. His pallet is self proclaimed as “very wide” and enjoys everything from AJ Fernandez cigars to Zino Platinum cigars. When he isn’t writing articles he works in public opinion research and enjoys shirtless selfies. Mike is a chapter leader in the Cigar Cartel. He can be found on social media at:
- Facebook: Mike Holmes
- Instagram: @Mikeholmes321
When not at home caring for his Grandma or at work, Mike is a regular patron at Paradise Ciagrz in Rockledge, FL or the Executive Cigar Shop and Lounge in downtown Melbourne, FL.