Longtime music industry mogul and college professor Mathew Knowles has joined the cannabis industry, perhaps making his daughters Beyoncé and Solange slightly cooler by affiliation, so we dove in on his recent advocacy surrounding male breast cancer after his diagnosis, and what made him pull the trigger on getting pot in his portfolio.
While the industry has seen many new faces in recent years, by Kanye standards, none have been the dad of the greatest of all time. After a three-decade music industry career with accolades to spare and another decade teaching business, Knowles thinks it’s time to get in the pot industry. He’ll do it as the chief marketing officer of pot real estate company Bangi (BNGI), which recently requested permission from the SEC for a $50-million round of fundraising.
Knowles has plenty of business acumen beyond an ear for talent. He did his B.A. in business and economics at Fisk University and stuck around to earn an MBA in strategic planning and organizational culture before finally getting his Ph.D. in business administration from Cornerstone Christian Bible College.
Right out the gate, we started on Knowles’ earliest experiences with Southern California’s cannabis culture, which would eventually help birth the world’s largest legal marketplace.
“When I was in corporate America, my corporate office, the medical division at Xerox, [was] in Pasadena. So we’re talking the ’80s, I did 20 years of corporate America and said it was all I wanted to do,” Knowles told L.A. Weekly.
His biggest goal at the time was being the best at something he could be passionate about, and he keeps the mantra to this day. But spending cutbacks were coming to the healthcare industry.
A surgeon told Knowles his hardware sales would be lost to cost-saving measures. The passion that was so important to Knowles was gone. He called his wife Tina and told her he didn’t want to do it anymore. But he knew he still wanted to do something he loved.
“I had to go through this process of what was it I was passionate about. As a kid growing up I always loved music. My dad made me a DJ when I was about 10. I would spin those old LPs and vinyl on Sundays,” Knowles said. “My mom and dad would dance and I would have a nickel, dime and quarter on the needle head so it wouldn’t skip.”
Knowles’ father would get frustrated if the record skipped while he was getting his groove on. Over time, Knowles took notes and developed some playlists of stuff he knew his dad would like. He was even the first member of the family to join a music group. “I was in a boy band in high school. We were doing all the talent show stuff.”
We asked if he thought he got enough credit for being the household inspiration to join a music group, but he was quick to reply that his first wife Tina was also musically gifted too. “She was actually the lead vocalist in like a rock/R&B band. So both of us, the music gene comes from that,” he said.
Knowles noted that call with Tina back in the day would end up being one of those defining moments in life. “You look back and say had it not been for that, this would not have happened,” he said. “We’ve all had those moments.”
Knowles said at the time of the shake-up Beyoncé was 11 or 12-years-old, he was a top sales rep, and along with Tina he owned a large hair salon. That meant on Saturdays, while Tina was watching the salon, it was daddy day care.
“I had to do the chores of taking the kids to musicals, taking the kids to dance rehearsal, to the damn ball. All that kind of girly stuff,” Knowles said. While his daughters were building the skill sets that would eventually pay off, he was running pickup basketball games down the street.
Eventually Beyoncé would make her first national TV appearance as part of the “hip-hop rapping” all-female group Girl’s Tyme. Unfortunately, the young ladies went up against four-time champs Skeleton Crew, whose acoustic serenade just proved a little too much for early 1990s hip-hop.
“I asked Ed McMahon, what the hell, these kids are crying?” Knowles recounted.
McMahon replied that a lot of the people who won consistently on the show didn’t end up going on to do much, and there were plenty of cases of folks losing and being successful.
“He started naming out Aaliyah, Boyz II Men, Justin Timberlake, I was like, damn!”
This was when Mathew went back to school and began transitioning to the music industry.
“It didn’t really dawn on me until this moment I was 30 years old when I started the record label,” Knowles said.
A few years later, Knowles would see medical marijuana come on the scene in Los Angeles. We asked what it was like being a young record executive seeing the earliest incarnation of California’s booming cannabis industry.
“I went to college in 1970,” He replied, “In the ’70s, we had incredible music. Like Marvin Gaye and all the other artists that had something to say in their music because we had Vietnam, we had hippies, we had segregation, fighting for our rights.”
Knowles said in the midst of all that marijuana was a popular social getaway for what seemed like most college kids. “So when you meet someone that went to college in the ’70s, they probably smoked pot, and I was no exception.” Knowles said pushing back against any illusion that California introduced him to marijuana. “So my experience is much earlier than the ’90s.”
During his time in Nashville and Chattanooga, “any given Saturday at any given park was a concert, people were smoking pot. It was just a way of life. It wasn’t anything you thought of as illegal, immoral or any of that.”
When he got to the music industry, it was an age defined by drugs and rock & roll. Knowles said he was not participating much like his younger days, “but [marijuana] was certainly prevalent in the ’90s as I got into the music industry.”
Recent times have seen Knowles become an advocate for male breast cancer after announcing in early October he had received treatment. While around a quarter of a million women per year find out they have breast cancer, only 2,000 men do.
Knowles told the New York Times he first noticed something was wrong in July, “Imagine a piece of white paper and you took a red pen and just put a dot,” he said, “That’s what it looked like in my T-shirt.”
A mammogram would reveal Knowles was in the early stages of breast cancer. He was treated soon after via a mastectomy and also had three lymph nodes removed as a precaution. The lymph nodes came back clear; the doctors had caught the cancer before it could spread.
Knowles went public with his ordeal to help fight the stigma around male breast cancer. He thinks the name breast cancer in itself may scare off gentlemen who strongly identify with their masculinity.
“I’m in the process of picking up the torch on that, to change it for men. Because I don’t think it’s an appropriate name,” Knowles explained, “I think it should be chest cancer. I’ve found through looking through the research in the last three months that that’s the number one obstacle. Men don’t want to seek help, or get a mammogram. It’s just that word.”
We asked if he thought the language dilemma was costing lives. “I do,” he replied.
“I have this chest cancer, and certainly hemp and cannabis have helped me through the pain, just managing pain. Absolutely,” Knowles said.
Knowles already had the ball rolling on his involvement with new cannabis project Bangi long before his diagnosis, having joined the company’s leadership in April. We asked what it was like to come plug his music industry experience into the cannabis industry, and he replied that having taught leadership in business to undergrads and graduate students for more than a decade, the fundamentals of business are the same whether you’re a media company, a record company or a bakery.
The biggest surprise about the cannabis industry for Knowles, so far, is a positive one — namely, just how big the industry could become. He has faith in the five-year projections that put the value of the cannabis industry in the $80 billion range.
“We haven’t had growth numbers like that in an industry since Silicon Valley,” Knowles noted.
After pointing to cannabis’ Schedule 1 narcotic status, he said, “Just look at all the Democratic town hall meetings and debates, it comes up in every debate. So I think it’s just a matter of time.”
Knowles thinks the recent passage of the SAFE Banking Act will prove a major catalyst for the health of the industry moving forward. “It has to pass the Senate, but I keep up with these laws. It’s very clear to me it’s just a matter of time when we look at [the] Hemp Farming Act of 2018 [that ended up as part of the Farm Bill]. We’re slowly legalizing this.”
Knowles thinks a lot folks outside the industry just aren’t paying attention to how fast things are moving.
We asked Knowles how much legal marketplaces opening inspired the transition to cannabis, but he claimed it was more about seeing new problems to solve. “Well, what BNGI is, we’re solution providers,” Knowles said, “I’ve always been associated with providing solutions to a problem.
“We don’t farm cannabis, we don’t have dispensaries, extraction companies, none of that. What we are? We buy real estate and corporate sale leasebacks to farmers, to dispensaries, to extraction companies. That’s who we are.”
While Knowles claimed Bangi to be a start up, but it seems to be transitioning more to a real estate investment entity.
Last year, Bangi tipped Dr. Neil Parsan to chair the board and lead the company’s next phase of development. The former U.S. ambassador to Trinidad & Tobago and former executive secretary for Integrated Development at the Organization of American States, Parsan’s reputation is that of a diplomat, globalist and strategist.
Parsan went big from the get-go. In the statement announcing his arrival to the company, he noted on the Caribbean and South American markets: “While these nations are rich in real estate, [what] they lack are the processes, training, education, expertise, created by [the] U.S.A. and Canada. My focus is bringing together Bangi’s team and resources directly to heads of state looking to participate in this growing global industry and create win-win opportunities with public-private partnerships.”
Knowles said the opportunity was obviously there, but seeing the teambuilding around Parsons gave him the faith to pull make the commitment to join.
Knowles says with the ancillary service that they’re providing, they’re not really worried about the rescheduling timeline for cannabis on Capitol Hill. They’re so confident Bangi announced in early October it had filed an offering statement with the Securities and Exchange Commission to conduct a $50 million Regulation A+ securities offering. The company said the net proceeds of this offering will be used primarily to finance Bangi’s acquisition program.
The company said it’s going this route partially in response to investor requests for an opportunity to invest in Bangi early on with the same terms as institutional investors and hedge funds. “This new offering is expected to include both existing and new investors, targeting those who did not have the opportunity to participate in earlier rounds, with an emphasis on building longterm shareholders,” the statement read.
When asked how big Bangi’s current portfolio was, Knowles said since the project is only five months old it’s going through an initial stock offering now. “We’ll announce our first major acquisition in the next few weeks. To grow, we have to get numbers on our balance sheet. That’s why we’re publicly traded, so we can bring in the funds.” While Bangi as an entity is has been around for less than half a year, SEC filings for parent company Compass Bioscience go back to 2005.
Knowles says he hopes the SEC will approve the stock offering in the next month.
We asked if Bangi is planning to buy up the real estate of cannabis companies that will fail over the next couple of years to lease back to proven operators. Knowles said that is certainly one aspect of the plan.
But Knowles also touched deeper on Bangi’s strategy. While many cannabis companies seek out angel investors in the early going, Knowles and his partners will not, “because you dilute your ownership when you do that,” Knowles said, “We’re comfortable with the team, the strategy, and we’ve seen a market niche.”
We also asked Knowles if he thought the communities of color hit hardest by the war on drugs were getting a fair shot in the industry.
“Well, I don’t think this industry is different from any other industry in America… Minority, black, brown, LGBTQ, Muslim, it’s always been difficult for us to get into the mainstream,” he said, “So it’s about being first, getting in early and providing solutions.”
Knowles did touch on the equity programs around the country meant to give impacted neighborhoods a shot in the game. “When you talk about those kind of social programs, those type of ideas, we have a community giveback that’s part of our ethos, our belief system,” he said before speaking of wider plans to help low-income and incarcerated members of the community in Los Angeles.
Knowles obviously has a deep background in faith-based music. Houses of worship have traditionally been one of the more difficult places to have conversations about reforming marijuana laws. We asked what it was like talking to old friends from church about getting into the cannabis industry.
Knowles replied faith-based music only accounted for about a third of the music world, and that he only had about five people he considered friends, “I don’t use that word loosely. I haven’t had one conversation with anyone in the faith-based industry about cannabis nor has anyone asked me about it So I’m yet to have a conversation with anyone. For some reason, those worlds don’t meet up,” he said.