Black History Month Q&A with Hakeem Crooks and Shyeem Ambrose

This month I [Hakeem Crooks] got to sit down with a good friend and coworker of mine, Shyeem Ambrose, to talk about our entry into Burb, what Black History Month means to us as Black men growing up in Canada and how BC Bud impacts our creative process. Check out our Q&A below.

A photo of Shyeem Ambrose on the left and Hakeem Crooks on the right posing for their Black History Month Interview.

Q: Who are you and what is your connection to Burb?

Hakeem: My name is Hakeem, most people call me Crooksy. I initially started as a burbtender and whenever Burb would have events (pre-covid) I’d help produce and DJ the events. Now, I work on community and branding initiatives along with the team leads at our retail stores. I strategize ways to drive traffic to our stores and build brand awareness through in store campaigns, influencer store visits, social media efforts and charity initiatives. I also work on our Burb Sounds Spotify playlists.

Shy: I’m Shyeem - some of you may know me, some of you may not *laughs*. I started working with Burb as a burbtender. As a freelance graphic designer, my role quickly shifted and I got promoted to work full time as a graphic designer for Burb.

Q: Why or how did you decide to work in the cannabis industry?

Hakeem: I was actually recruited into Burb through our original General Manager while I was a full time DJ and event curator. After they approached me to come work as a burbtender, I thought, “why not?” - I figured it would be great to learn about cannabis since it is part of my everyday life. We do a lot of events, and other cool things that are in and around the realm of cannabis culture - whether that’s music, fashion, etc. I just thought it was a great opportunity to hop into a brand new startup.

Shy: The cannabis industry is just popping off right now - so this was a perfect opportunity to expand. Burb ties into fashion and is more high end, which is more of what I am interested in. It’s more unique - the fashion aspect was huge for me.

Q: What was your background before Burb?

Hakeem: I was in school for sports originally. I took an arts & entertainment management program shortly after to help with the business side of my music - I really wanted to figure out how to make money in the entertainment industry. I used to DJ at restaurants, underground parties, curate events and now I’m here.

Shy: I was going to school for graphic design. I had a couple clothing launches as well, so I thought bringing in my own interests to Burb would be a great collaboration.

A photo of Hakeem Crooks passing a joint to Shyeem Ambrose in a solarium.

Q: What does Black History Month mean to you personally?

Hakeem: To me, it's very important to remember our ancestors, parents, grandparents, activists, leaders and anyone else who paved the way for us. To be able to get jobs like these and to be able to freely be who we are today. I think it’s a really important month - and it’s important to show insight and pay attention to the people that got us here not just for this month, but beyond.

Shy: For me, it’s about remembering notable African Americans and what they did for us today. It’s also about looking at Black influencers of today to see what they are doing for our community. But really, I think it's mostly about remembering what's been done for our community.

Q: Which Black figure inspires you or which Black figure do you look up to personally?

Hakeem: I would say my uncle is a huge inspiration for me. He was also the youngest male in his family which creates a lot of expectations. My mom and him grew up in Manitoba 40-60 years ago now and the stories I hear from both of them as people of colour are wild - it was so difficult being Black in those times, I can’t even imagine. A celebrity who inspires me is Jamie Foxx - he’s a super dope dude. I remember hearing him on an episode of Tim Ferris’ podcast where he talked about the hurdles he faced in the music industry. It makes me hopeful that if I persist, I know I can make it in this cut throat industry as well. He was also raised in a single parent home so I can relate to him in a lot of ways.

Shy: For me, I don’t really look up to a single person but in general people in the sports industry like Michael Jordan inspire me - he’s an icon. I’m huge into skateboarding, so for me I'm also inspired by Ishod Wair and in the fashion industry, Virgil Abloh. I really respect how they’ve built their careers for themselves. They made an opportunity for themselves out of nothing.

Q: How have you navigated the Black community in Vancouver?

Hakeem: I've been blessed to have never really felt outward racism growing up in Toronto. However, when I moved to North Vancouver I found it very challenging mentally at times. I felt out of place walking down the street, on the bus or even in stores. I did feel like playing sports and Djing resulted in feeling like there were always eyes on me. I didn’t think of it as a race thing though, *laughs* I’m like 6’5 with dreads. But there’s always that thought, is it my height or my race? It's something I had to get used to and be ok with.

Shy: I've grown up in the Vancouver suburbs all my life. I walk down the street and people always stare at me and I don’t know why. I wear a durag so I guess I don’t look like the average person, but it’s definitely interesting. I don’t look into it too much, but it is what it is.

Q: What would you like to see change or shift in the cannabis industry in regards to race or ethnicity?

: Clearly, there aren't a lot of BIPOC licensed producers (LP), retailers or brands. It would be nice to see that change 100%. Money and connections are huge too - I feel like having the money to start an LP is a big factor as well and connections go hand in hand with everything which makes it hard at times. I’d like to see more people like myself owning LP’s, owning retail stores, getting into corporate positions, being an active participant in marketing, etc. We can definitely get there, it's just about continuing to kick down doors and show credit where it's due.

Shy: I'd like to see more diversity in the industry. Maybe there are more Black individuals in the industry that I don't know of, but diversity is the biggest thing.

A photo of our Shylow Stoops Black History Month Hoodie.

Q: What initiatives are you excited about this month?

Hakeem: Pretty excited about our collaboration with Highstreet Cannabis this month - they are a BIPOC LP and the founder is a really good guy who genuinely wants to help and show love one way or another within the cannabis community. We are donating 15% of product sales for the month of February to Louder Together and the Forgiveness Project. I would strongly suggest checking them out.

Shy: We recently dropped a Black History Month hoodie. It’s a Burb collaboration with my personal brand, Shylow Stoops, which I am excited about. The whole initiative was to commemorate Carter G. Woodson who started Black History Month. The Hoodie has a list of names on the back which speaks to Woodson, someone who wanted to commemorate notable Black figures. It focuses on many individuals of the Black community as a whole. I'm stoked.

Q: How did Covid affect your creativity and creative process?

Hakeem: There's been a lot of pros and cons for me with covid. The fact that the world kind of stopped moving in a sense made me feel like, what if this is the new normal? What would I be doing? How would I make money? So I thought of other things I like to do and make time for them. I made creative videos for Djing and with CERB, it allowed me to do those things and not worry about finances.

Shy: For me personally I think it’s made me hungry in a sense. Before covid I wasn’t really going out too much, I’m not a big party person. Now, I have a lot of time to work on myself, my business, my brand. It’s a negative thing on a whole but for me it’s been positive personally.

Q: Does smoking weed help you creatively?

Hakeem: It helps me get into the vibe and ideas just naturally start flowing especially when I'm outdoors. I am on a tolerance break right now, but I’ve been smoking for like 5 years consistently. I’m excited to see what happens after my smoking break to see if it will make me more (or less) creative. But as an overall I do feel weed helps my creative process for sure cause it got me here *laughs*.

Shy: I honestly smoke all day long. It boosts my creative side. Obviously Sativa gets the brain moving a bit more, but it helps me out a lot. It makes me more focussed and puts me in the zone. It's a huge part of my life creatively.

A photo of Hakeem Crooks and Shyeem Ambrose for Burb's Black History Month Q&A.

Q: What’s your favourite strain?

Hakeem: I use certain cultivars for certain things. If I am going to a gig I only smoke Sativa. If I'm watching a movie or gaming or something like that I usually like to smoke an Indica. I like Blue Dream - super classic. Every grower cultivates Blue Dream a little differently - which means its effects vary as well. I love Simply Bare’s Blue Dream for anything creative, and if I’m doing gigs I always have a 3 pack of Tantalus Labs Blue Dream in my back pocket.

Shy: I'm a big Indica guy - that’s my go to. I like to be chilled out honestly. For me, my favourite right now is Elation or Cold Creek Kush, and my favourite distributor for that is Doja. It’s the heaviest Indica and that’s usually what I am looking for.

Written by Hakeem Crooks
Hakeem is a DJ and creative who was born and raised in Toronto. He is passionate about bridging the gap between music, cannabis culture and fashion. Hakeem is an OG Burb employee who has been working with the brand since its first store launch in April 2019. Instagram: @crrksy.

Edited By Nadia Bortolazzo
Nadia is an MA graduate and a Digital Content Specialist at Burb. Her writing is guided by her interest in challenging and expanding the ideologies surrounding cannabis culture. Instagram: @nadiabortolazzo.