After 16 seasons battling professional ballers in the NBA, Al Harrington had his entire life to map out.
But after he witnessed the medicinal benefits from marijuana firsthand when his 80-year-old grandmother tried it for the first time in 2011 to fight her own battles — diabetes and glaucoma — a new career path opened up for him clear as day.
From there, Viola Brands (named after his beloved grandmother) was visualized and in today’s more cannabis-friendly climate, are one of the leading producers and licensed wholesalers of premium products — in the nation. Yet, its uniqueness as a brand is grounded in its wellness and humanitarian operations.
Since its inception, Viola has raised $500,000 to fund applicants through its Social Equity Program, a Los Angeles-based initiative that helps get citizens convicted of marijuana crimes integrate back into society.
Such acts of philanthropy mirror countless principles within the Hip Hop lexicon and Harrington, being an Orange, New Jersey native is no stranger to the living the culture. If anything, he’s an insider and bridge to many rappers looking to voice civil concerns or ignite positive changes within the community.
During his past NBA All-Star Weekend in Chicago (which was a definitive season highlight before things were shut down over the coronavirus pandemic), Harrington and Viola posted up to create a pop-up shop to both promote the brand’s focus of getting minorities more prominent in the industry. The series of events were attended by top-tier Hip Hop talent such as 2 Chainz, Tory Lanez, Freddie Gibbs, Jadakiss and more.
This past 4/20 also birthed another opportunity for Hip Hop synergy. Together with T.I.’s time-tested Akoo fashion label and nonprofit Root & Rebound, a “420 capsule collection” fashion collaboration was rolled out, with a portion of the sales proceeds being donated to COVID-19 relief effort.
“I’m both humbled and inspired by the cross-industry support, especially from leaders in the Hip Hop community,” Harrington tells HipHopDX in the wake of his recent alliance with Akoo.
“It’s a clear sign that what we’re doing at Viola is creating a unique position in the category – and based on the widespread response, it’s proven to be vital to the cannabis industry, artists, creatives, and athletes alike. I feel so blessed to have so many of these influential voices support what we’re advocating for and continue to collaborate with us in making that vision a reality.”
These last few weeks have seen Harrington catch up with the likes of Lil Baby, Bun B, Dreamville’s J.I.D, Mensa, A$AP Bari, G Herbo and many more via Viola’s Instagram. Ericka Pittman, the company’s chief marketing officer, accredits technology for allowing them to still connect with artists while social distancing during these drab days.
“We were really able to make an impact like never before by diversifying the way we engaged with consumers and fans across the globe,” she explains. “This year we brought a really intimate virtual experience with some of the industry’s biggest names right to people’s homes. We launched a new limited-edition capsule collection with T.I.’s clothing line, AKOO Clothing which brought a whole new dimension of purpose to 4/20 through COVID-19 relief funds. Our 360 efforts spanned from entertainment and sports to education and philanthropy. We wanted to be a resource in every kind of conversation in this climate. And most important to our impact is our network of supporters in the Hip Hop community and beyond who chose to collaborate with us in amplifying our mission.”
That mission includes continuing to cultivate products in states California, Oregon, Michigan and Colorado and even digging into the realms of legal advocacy, bettering public education, policy reform and litigation alongside the aforementioned Root & Rebound.
“Much like the Hip Hop community, we too are working to empower black and brown communities across the globe,” Harrington concludes. “That movement would not be possible without us supporting each other.”