The world loves smoking Runtz. But few know the story of how the Leafly 2020 Strain of the Year rose to dominance. The fan-favorite was born from a cross of Gelato and Zkittlez, and elevated to a global brand after a few smoke sessions between co-founders Ray Bama, Nick the grower, and Yung LB.
Now, LB is one of the game’s first strain stars. He used social media and guerrilla groundwork to spread Runtz’ special sauce worldwide. Bama remains deeply connected in cannabis, thanks to years of work with Cookies. And Runtz grower Nick stays behind the scenes, like many cultivators, while Ray and LB spread his seeds around the world.
Since 2017, this dream team’s strain has been name-checked in hundreds of lyrics and social media posts that use the Runtz brand as a status symbol, no different than designer cars or clothes. Leafly caught up with the Runtz frontman during a 2022 trip to New York City to find out how he did it, what’s next, and what strains he’s smoking on.
Keep reading to follow Yung LB’s uncharted path to the top of the legal cannabis game. And look out for exclusive footage from our interview with LB on @Leafly’s social media.
1. Stay close to the plant
“Runtz came about during smoke sessions. My business partner Ray Bama always knew the potential behind it. Because he was a little bro to Berner, who we watched blow up the Cookie brand. So that’s how Runtz came about. It was just me, Ray, and my partner Marco smoking and just getting high. We came up with the name and the color.”
2. Take initiative
“I started the Runtz Instagram. They didn’t think about nothing on the social media. I was already in music, I was already touring with Playboi Carti and being around Berner. So I was already thinking ahead of time, ‘I’m starting this Instagram shit, bout to get it poppin!’
When that shit cracked off they didn’t even believe it was gonna do what it do. I know that for a fact. Because they didn’t even ask for no Instagram passwords ’til the shit started getting to like 20-30 thousand followers.
That’s when they were like, ‘Ay what’s up with the password? I’m like, ‘For what?’ I’m the one doing all the front end, the marketing. Y’all handling the back end.'”
3. Protect your plug
“First time I smoked weed I was 12 years old. I remember this shit like yesterday. It was my Mexican partner. You know who you is. I don’t wanna say it, but he was a pure stoner. We was playing soccer, I remember going to his crib, he had some weed. I was like, what the fuck is this?”
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4. Dream big
“We even found some seeds in the weed we got. We tried to plant the seeds. 12 years old in the middle of an alley, thinking we was bout to have a plant! Negative! That shit never grew. It was like bra, what are we doing wrong? We watering this shit. Thinking we ‘bout to be it!”
5. Remember your roots
“I don’t know anybody who smoked more than Snoop growing up. He made it cool. Then I was watching shit like Bob Marley, and I started learning about the Jamaican lifestyle.
I remember growing up smoking Chronic. I’m originally from Long Beach, California. So I remember some shit called Dodi back in the days. It was like a Kush. I remember Sours. But the Sours we was getting was way different from the sours y’all out here was smoking on. I literally still to this day haven’t smoked no real deal Sour Diesel that y’all consider diesel–I don’t know it. It came from this side of the coast, from Miami and all that shit.
But Blue Dream, Green Crack, Maui Wowie, White Widow, Gorilla Glue, Bubba Kush–All that shit is crazy. Then being around all them strains, I never thought I would be doing my own strain. I was just loving the culture. As far as being around it, smoking, working. I was even trying to grow. Burnt down a closet. Negative!”
6. Stay in your lane
“Never did it again. My grow career was over after that. That ain’t my lane. Let me do this other marketing part, this distribution type shit.”
7. Communication is key
“Now, I got kids. So I’m like, ‘you been smoking?’ My son be like, ‘Nah.’
At least let me know. So you can get it from me and I can tell you the details of it. Cus I don’t want yall going over there. I don’t know what these kids smoking these days, spraying, whatever it is. If you wanna get educated on smoking come sit down with me. I ain’t gonna steers you no other way, joke’s all the way up. Runtz gang. We got the illest shit out.”
8. Respect other cultures
“They’re smoking everywhere. Everybody got their own type of weed. Like Jamaicans, they smoke spliffs, we don’t do that. So everybody got their own unique style of smoking and damn near their own strain. Even in Brazil, Hawaii. They got strains everywhere.
They been puffing. We just made it more on some public shit. Because we got Instagram. It might not be as good as ours, but they’re blowing over there for sho.”
9. Focus on the (sticky) green
“Some people just don’t have patience. They want to do it now. But it’s not about money. If it was about money, everybody in the game would be in it. The richest dudes in the industry, even the high influencers, don’t know shit about the industry. They’re in a different industry, whether it’s music, sports, whatever.
It’s not about just breaking down some bud or growing that shit. Hell naw, you gotta be able to grow it under certain weights, with certain chemicals. It’s more about learning the rules and regulations about everything. All those certain things, you gotta sit down with some growers or even go on Google to find the local details. I come from California, for example, so we can only grow 99 plants.”
10. Know the laws
“Every state got different laws. So my first advice to anyone is to learn what the basic laws and regulations are in your city and state. You can grow certain amounts. They’ll show you different ways to go get your license about it. There’s waiting lists and shit like that.”
11. Learn on the fly
“(My partners) didn’t even know the whole time I was doing the Runtz marketing and branding on the road. But at the same time, I didn’t even know I was marketing and branding. I was freestyling like, ‘this is what we gotta do!'”
Editor’s note: Yung LB’s personal Instagram page was recently shut down at about 220,000 followers. The official Runtz Instagram page is also currently inactivethanks to social media bans against cannabis content.
12. Don’t quit, go legit
“Now, people gotta go through the motions and pay through the city to get that shit going on. Get their LLC, businesses licensed, all that. Just like selling any type of clothes, food, you gotta get your retail license. It ain’t just, ‘I’ma go print up some shirts and sell it. Hell naw. They’re gonna come tax evade your ass. You gotta get your business part and everything in order.”
13. Give power to the people
“The cannabis industry should be ran by the people, not these corporate people that are just trying to cut the check and take the check. It should be ran by the people. Because every region is different. So the people should be running the dispensaries.
They’re the ones behind it. The people should be the ones controlling all that. Because we’ve already been living it. It’s what we do. We been needing this. We been doing this. So on the legal side, it’s more about having the locals and people that have literally been investing their time, because there’s a lot of small local people that don’t even got a shot but have been doing it for 20 years.”
14. Tell your own story
“I’m just blessed to be here. And I got a story to tell. This just the beginning of it for real. In the past few months we been working on some TV shit, we been working on this fashion. It’s an honor to be one of the founders as far as the legal cannabis world and to start telling our story. It’s lit!”
15. Claim your equity
“They tried to cut me out the Runtz deal,” LB told Shiest Bubz’ Heavy Smoke.
“How you gonna cut me out the play when I’m the spokesman ship? I’m the face of it. I was the one that took the risk and took the whole nine yards. My partners sat back and just waited at home with their families. I was the one shaking the dice.
I’m putting my face out there. So when they sat down and tried to do the deal, the world was looking at me. But they was the ones that capitalized the backend on the business. But the deal never went down. Because at the end of the day, how are you gonna talk about anything without me being involved?
So they had to cut me in, they had to double back. By the time they doubled back, I’m already started with Joke’s Up. ‘Joke’s Up’ was already a saying in the Bay.”
16. Build a solid foundation
Joke’s Up provides both frontend marketing and backend cultivation support for new and legacy brands.
With over 50 stamps under his Joke’s Up umbrella, LB’s dank nation is no joke. The umbrella brand is helping dozens of brands go bigger including HP Farms (Oakland), Sharklato (Atlanta), Zours, GUMBO (The Bronx), Payd Genetics, Real 1 (Atlanta), Certz (Brooklyn), and Pwincess Cutt, run by Queen Pee.
“Under Joke’s Up we have many different brands,” LB told Shiest Bubz’ Heavy Smoke show in February. “We used the infrastructure (of Runtz) as a foundation that people can stand on. A whole platform… We opening more doors and opportunities and creating self-made bosses… By the time y’all figure it out, we up a B on y’all. You think we finna sit around?”
17. Each one teach ten
“They say, each one teach one, but I want each one to teach ten,” LB told the Heavy Smoke show when asked about his strategy for Joke’s Up.
“I’m a student of the game of music, I was watching record labels and I never wanted to be in a contract where it was a fucked up deal… I will tell anybody, ‘There are other teams you can play for. You ain’t gotta play for me. I’ll show you the playbooks, you can sit-down with whoever.’ This is a hundred billion-dollar industry… I ain’t the only one trying to get that B. If my partner can get it, he might share the game with me.”
18. Never knock the hustle
“Every brand is real. even the bootleggers is real. Without them, there wouldn’t be us. I don’t knock any brand. Shoutout to everybody doing this shit. We talking about a hundred billion-dollar industry.”
19. Protect your IP
LB and the Runtz Crew don’t worry too much about fakes like the famous Obama Runtz or future copyright issues. The Runtz brand is legally trademarked since 2020, and with the game still too unripe to squeeze margins, the Runtz gang knows that imitators are simply giving them free marketing. Instead of filing cease and desists, Yung LB turned the Obama Runtz viral craze into inspiration for a song and music video.
20. ‘Runtz yo life up’
Following Berner’s blueprint, and Ray and LB’s wealth of connections, the Runtz gang has taken repping their brand to another level. They even created a theme song (“Runtz Yo Life Up”) that took hold in the Bay. Now, they’re just happy to see other entrepreneurs building on their example.
“Look at the world, look at the game… Everyone’s doing their branding thing,” Bama told First Smoke of the Day. “I look at other people doing their own thing with their own brands, I be happy as fuck. But remember who paved the way for y’all to do your shit.”
21. Invest in the best
Cookies co-founder and Gelato breeder Jai Chang (aka Jigga) didn’t breed Runtz himself, but Runtz grower Nick used Jigga’s Gelato strain and Zkittlez to bring out its famous fruitiness. Nick mixed Gelato with Zkittlez genetics to unlock this sweet, creamy hybrid that took over the entire weed game in 2020.
22. Make a great first impression
In December 2017, the Runtz gang headed to the Emerald CupHarvest Ball in Santa Rosa, CA to plant their flag. Ray Bama retold the story to the First Smoke of the Day podcast. “We sold them five pounds in literally ten minutes. Everyone got a t-shirt,” he remembers.
“Cookies had a booth, they did the London Pound Cake seed drop. we showed up with the ten girls we could find with the biggest butts. We had five pounds of Runtz, me and LB were trimming this shit up the night before. When it first dropped we wanted it to be manicured up. (It was) our first real drop in front of the community. At that point, it was a small community. It was Cookies, Skittlez, Alien Labs, Connected, Doja. It wasn’t all of these brands that you have now… This was pre-Runtz. After Runtz, now you see ten million brands. Everyone has a brand.”Runtz co-founder Ray Bama on First Smoke of the Day podcast
23. Expand your horizons
The Runtz gang is now looking ahead to five to ten years crosses, sisters, and stepchildren. And to match the growth of their seeds, they’re planning clothing lines, record labels, and creative endeavors that will further scale the brand. So, hate ’em or love ’em, get used to ’em.
24. Perfect your recipe
“I knew Runtz would work,” Berner told Leafly after it won Leafly Strain of the Year 2020. “Ray came up around me and understands the recipe that made Cookies what it is. LB put in lots of time on the road and in the studios, where campaigning and hard work, dedication, and solid marketing created a crazy wave.”
25. Trust your gut
The Runtz gang didn’t do months of market research before launching. After picking up the first batch from their grower and testing it, they came up with the entire concept on the 15-minute car ride home.
26. Work with what you’ve got
Some cannaseurs talk down on influencers like LB for repping products that they don’t grow themselves. But the alliance LB and Ray have with their grower Nick is a natural and necessary precaution for many growers. To avoid robberies, raids, and annoying fans, most elite growers keep a pretty low profile. That makes charismatic frontmen like LB, Berner, and Wiz Khalifa such valuable partners.
27. Hit the ground running
As soon as the Runtz brand was conceived, LB was on the road spreading the word. He was touring as an opening act for Playboi Carti, alongside rising superstars like Gunna and fashion brands like Vlone.
Ray Bama told First Smoke of the Day podcast that the Migos were responsible for making the strain go nuclear. Migos member Quavo posted “Runtz in Paris,” on his Instagram without even tagging the brand, and the rest is history.
28. Embrace abundance
“We got the weed game looking beautiful. It’s always an us thing with me. It’s always we, us. I never take self credit. I’ll kick the ball, but the ball gotta get kicked back somehow. I’m not kicking it to the wall. My OG The Jacka always preached that abundance with the weed. He said this shit grow in our backyard, just give it away.”