All About Akapellah, Top Latino Rapper, And His Love Of Weed: ‘I’m Afraid Of Alcohol, I Prefer Cannabis’
“People often judge us by the content of our songs and our videos. They often seek to associate marijuana with laziness, violence, irreverence… But the world is changing and smart people, people with general knowledge, can already realize that, if there are windows like this one, where media outlets like Forbes are already opening up to see what the hell a 30-year-old Venezuelan who raps and works with medical marijuana thinks, it’s because there’s something else behind all this,” declares Pedro Elias Aquino Cova, one of the most recognized rappers in Latin America, better known as Akapellah.
With a confessed interest in the benefits of cannabis and its medicinal properties, Pedro’s story with weed went hand in hand with his approach to the world of music.
“When I started with music, my life revolved around hip-hop and black music, or reggae events. And, obviously, the relationship that cannabis has with urban music and with all these genres, these lifestyles, this culture, is very close,” he adds, sitting in the basement of a theater in Buenos Aires, Argentina, under the dim light of a reflector, showing off an impeccable look.
He is very passionate about cannabis, and the excitement that stems from discussing the subject is evident.
One Plant, Several Meanings
During his childhood, Pedro learned about cannabis from his parents and other adults around him. Everyone warned him about the risks of “the devil’s lettuce”, comparing it to other “hard” drugs; so the discovery of what cannabis really represented was quite the shock.
“When you’re a child, an adult is supposed to give you truthful information: You trust your parents, and everything they say is supposed to be true, because they are older, more prepared and have lived longer,” he says.
“It’s delicate to find out later, when you grow up, that even your mom and dad gave you false information. Cannabis was never the same as crack or anything else; but when you were scolded as a child, marijuana was a kind of scapegoat.”
In Pedro’s world, the stigma around cannabis was evident not only from his parents and his relatives, but also from other authority figures, such as the government and the police.
“A few years ago, the police treated you like a criminal for a joint. But today, if a police officer wants to make me feel bad because I use cannabis, they won’t be able to. My use is personal, I don’t even have enough on me to be prosecuted. There is nothing wrong with cannabis. It’s supposed to be that way, but not all countries follow the rules.”
For Pedro’s family, the transition and the process of re-signifying cannabis was still difficult. Undoing years of prejudice was not a simple task.
“There was too much interest in those who decided to include marijuana among the ten most ‘dangerous’ substances out there. Ridiculous studies were carried out with mice that were then improperly ‘translated’ to humans, all ridiculous, even more so at a time when doctors prescribed cigarettes and people smoked them in closed corridors and on airplanes,” the rapper points out.
“Obviously, over the years we’ve learned a lot. I don’t want to underestimate older people or think I’m better than them; but sometimes I take a look at what humanity was like and how primitive we were and I’m surprised… I love that our time became the one where no one can discriminate against others anyone. The world is different now: let it be black, pink, blue, yellow, green, cannabis, whatever. As long as no one hurts anyone, it’s all good.”
Beyond the advancing social acceptance of cannabis, Pedro recognizes and advocates for the need to legalize the plant throughout the world.
Alluding to his own country, he assures “the way in which weed is penalized in Venezuela is brutal.” As he explains, in his country of origin “someone can end up spending years in jail for an amount that doesn’t warrant it, because the amount isn’t taken into account, but the fact that he had marijuana on him.”
And he adds, “there is no filter to see if you’re sending a simple father or a grower, someone who has never even stolen a piece of candy and simply smokes marijuana, to jail along with murderers. That is the first filter that makes being imprisoned in Venezuela with weed terrifying.”
For Pedro, this is the main reason to legalize marijuana: to stop locking up non-violent people, to stop persecuting those who do not deserve persecution.
On the other hand, the artist highlights the medicinal and therapeutic properties of cannabis, nowadays proven by countless clinical and observational studies. “People who are in politics, they travel. They have to be aware; they are cultured people. I’m sure that all these people know about the positive, healing and medicinal properties of cannabis.”
The third leg of his argument revolves around cannabis for purely recreational uses. “I widely prefer 15 guys smoking a joint in a corner than 15 guys drinking rum. I don’t trust people who drink,” he confesses.
“I never hurt anyone with a joint in my hand. On the other hand, I am tired of seeing drunk people doing stupid things and I don’t trust drunk people, I don’t like them… I mean, they sell bottles of Four Loko [a canned alcoholic beverage so strong that it has been called “liquid cocaine” because of its recipe, which includes guarana, taurine and, in the past, also caffeine] in supermarkets, but weed is illegal. It makes no sense.”
Being in love with cannabis, Pedro spent years trying to recreate his first experience with weed. But like any assiduous consumer, he knows that one can rarely find that first sensation again.
Pedro is also an extremely conscientious and responsible consumer. “I was a full-time user until about three years ago, when I had to stop for a bit; it’s part of the process,” he says.
Apparently, cannabis no longer had the desired effect on him. So he decided to take a break. “If it’s not making me feel so good anymore, it doesn’t make any sense. If I started, it was because of that and I took a liking to it. I believe that if a chemical imbalance is reached, and suddenly cannabis is creating some other issues, it makes no sense to continue being a chronic user. Also, today, there are so many ways to consume cannabis without smoking it.”
Over the years, the artist was trained in theoretical aspects of cannabis as well. He began to distinguish between brick weed and buds, indica and sativa, relaxing strains and energizing ones.
It was this search that ultimately led him to launch his own line of seeds, O.B.G. Kush, in partnership with the famed seedbank BSF Seeds.
Pedro met one of the co-founders of BSF, Mariano Duque Velazco, and the rest of the team in Chile. They quickly identified a common interest: cannabis and its genetics.
After a brief discussion, they reached an agreement: they would launch a strain dedicated to the rapper and his followers. According to Akapellah’s specifications, the O.G.B. Kush is “super, hyper, mega indica. A strain that makes you sleepy, for insomnia, for muscular problems and with a lot of CBD. As much medicine as possible, to help calm someone who wants to rest at night, or watch movies.”
In this regard, he comments: “It makes me laugh because I feel that, at a commercial level, when it comes to marketing, it is not very convenient to market a strain as totally relaxing and sleep inducing. People are always looking for something to drive conversation, to work, to make music…”
Despite seeking this sensation of extreme relaxation in cannabis, Pedro is a very active guy, someone who defies prejudices about cannabis users and the laziness that supposedly comes with weed.
In addition to producing music incessantly, hit after hit, Pedro is co-owner of a clothing and streetwear brand, Rela 4 Life, together with his partner and manager Jack Russell. The duo also owns a sneaker store in Medellin, Colombia. “We are shoe lovers,” he jokes.
But wait, there’s more. Pedro and Jack also have a nightclub in Medellin, a kind of venue that started focusing on urban music but gradually expanded its spectrum, in response to public demand.
However, the entrepreneur doesn’t lose focus. He’s aware of what he represents and what represents him. “We don’t leave the artistic field: music, sneakers, streetwear and, obviously, cannabis.”
Contrary to popular belief, laziness is not inherent to cannabis, but to the person who consumes it, the rapper argues.
“I think that one is not defined by cannabis. There are people who are lazy and people who aren’t,” he explains. “I grew up watching people get drunk without any issues. Culturally, alcohol was always legal. So, these last 60 years, people who weren’t junkies were alcoholics. It’s awful. But there wasn’t such a negative implication. It was like, ‘This guy is a drunk, but at least it’s not marijuana. Everything’s fine. As long as it’s not a drug, let him destroy his life,'” he reflects.
“I am more afraid of alcohol. I think there are other substances that can consume you. But cannabis won’t.”
Of course, he clarifies, the set and setting, the how and when, are important when using cannabis. “If you smoke at 9 am, some of that Cali weed, you will obviously not feel like doing anything. The time of day and activity you’re doing pair with cannabis in different ways, like any other product.”
Please Don’t Stop The Music
Always in search of new horizons, Pedro is currently working on his latest album, a kind of old-fashioned mixtape, “taking advantage of the fact that we’ve culminated that phase of working with record companies and all that”.
“We want to be free for a little while. I want to go back to making more than an album, a mixtape, where there aren’t so many rules, where you can invite as many friends on a song as you like, three or four, without someone telling you ‘I think three is a lot, let’s make them two’. We are creating an album with that nostalgia of the olden days.”
Speaking of “the olden days”, Pedro goes back to his beginnings in rap, alongside SPL Clan, a band that continues to accompany him on many of his tours to this date.
“They taught me everything I know,” he shares.
“I lived with them for a long time in Caracas and that’s when almost everything started. My musical career was as a result of being with them. I’m from Maracay, a small town in Venezuela. Caracas, being the capital, was where you had to go to make yourself known, but I had no family in Caracas and no one to visit constantly. It was when I met them that I began to go to Caracas, to make myself known and all that, and we made it together. In Venezuela they are a point of reference, everyone knows that they started with me, we have many songs that were popular at that time; people know them and everyone knows that I am SPL. It’s kind of like Wu-Tang Clan.”
With a global outlook, Pedro always thinks about the next step. “I haven’t done anything with Original Juan and I love him,” he says. “I see him as a reference… he’s an OG, and he’s the most cannabis-loving rapper I know. I don’t know why I haven’t sat down and told him, ‘Original Juan, I want to do a song with you and have el Gordo del Funk produce it’”.
Bizarrap, uber-viral Argentine producer, is also on his list. “We did a remix of a Frijo song called ‘Like Boss,’ but I’d like to do something else.”
‘There’s No Bullying In Venezuela’
Pedro often refers to himself as “El Gordo del Funk” – or the “Funky Fatso.” Sometimes people are surprised or offended by the concept: how can he talk about himself in such a derogatory way?
“In Venezuela there is no bullying,” explains Pedro. “Perhaps there are many more serious problems to worry about. I don’t remember people in my childhood making me feel bad for calling me ‘black’ or ‘fat.’ There are so many ethnicities in my country. The opportunities are the same for everyone. Anyone can be homeless or living on the street, regardless of the color of their skin. Any criminal in Venezuela can be black or white. It is not like in other countries, in other societies, so rooted in skin color or physical form as something important.”
“But hey, it was never easy or anything,” he continues. “It’s as if you assume that you are the fat one of the group. There’s a tall guy, there’s a black guy… It’s like a part of us. Maybe it was assuming that I’m the fat guy in the group and I’m El Gordo del Funk.”
Unsurprisingly, music also plays a role in this idea.
“There is a lot of Biggie influence in my life. I also really like ‘Funky Men’ by Lords of the Underground, which always uses that word, funky. I obviously looked for the context and when I saw that it encompassed so many things, that funky was like something fun, something very smart, very cool, very rhythmic, I adopted it.”
What Do Bob Marley And 2Pac Have In Common?
By means of conclusion, Pedro plays with a classic question often seen on this column: if you could smoke a joint with someone, dead or alive, who would it be?
“I think I’d love to smoke a joint with Bob Marley, obviously,” he says. “Not because it’s Bob Marley, because I also feel that he’d have so many cool things to say. Every time I watch interviews and I see him talking, looking into infinity and spewing interesting metaphors I’m like ‘ugh, it would be dope to smoke a joint with Bob Marley.”
“I also really like the 2Pac interviews, since he was also so poetic, so metaphorical, that kind of caught my attention,” he ends. “I love a good conversation after a good joint, so I think that anyone like that who has dedicated their life to a cause, who has a lot to say, I can listen to.”