I emigrated from Vietnam right after the war. I must have been seven or eight months old. I have no recollection of it, but I'm proud to say that I was born there.
My grandparents had seven girls and one boy, and their oldest, my aunt, worked for the U.S. Embassy, so we were able to get the heads up and fly out. You get processed and your immunization shots in Guam, and then they drop you in Camp Pendleton, an immigration camp in San Diego, where you wait for different church families to help sponsor you and get you acclimated.
We grew up in Hawthorne, which is in the South Bay area of L.A., right near LAX and smack in the middle of the hood. I've got “Los Angeles” tattooed on my shoulders.
I was an athlete in high school—I ran track and played football—so when dudes would try to pass me a joint, I was like, “You guys are idiots.” But I started smoking my freshman year at UCSB, and have pretty much ever since. Santa Barbara was my entry into cannabis. I was away from home, everything was new and different, and I wasn’t engaging in sports anymore. My first hit was out of a bong. But that was part of the culture there—it’s a party school.
I thought I was going to be the first Asian rapper.
I thought I was going to be a doctor, though I ended up majoring in Communications with a minor in Film Studies. Fresh out of college, I landed an internship at Loud Records which was home to Mobb Deep, Wu-Tang Clan, Xzibit, and Big Pun—they were the preeminent hip hop label at the time. I jumped in feet first. Growing up in Hawthorne, hip hop was always a huge part of my DNA. Graffiti, break dancing, rap—you name it, I tried it.
The label’s founder and one of my first mentors, Steve Rifkind, also had a marketing agency. He was one of the first to capitalize on being that conduit between corporate America and youth culture—specifically urban youth culture—as hip-hop gradually became mainstream.
So I got to market Kobe Bryant's first pro sneaker when he was signed to Adidas. I did a bunch of stuff for Newline and Airmax and MTV Films and Pepsi. I went from intern to Director of Marketing in 18 months. I realized, “Holy shit, there's a whole other facet of business that I have a knack for: the ability to be able to decipher what's cool and what's not, and articulate it in such a way that corporate America understands.” Before this I thought I was going to be the first Asian rapper. But I was like, “Oh my gosh, this is really cool. Forget being a rapper.”
My wife, TyLynn, is my best friend and my life partner. When you're married to someone, you’re already business partners. She was literally pregnant with our second child when she sewed her first sample set, and I was like, “This is amazing.” We bootstrapped it, put up our own money, and here we are. As with anything in life, there is obviously ebb and flow, but we’ve learned to honor and respect each other and each other’s opinions. We allow each other to apply their skill sets accordingly: I'm operations and business, and she's creative and design. TyLynn is all things fashion; she lives and breathes it.
No one pays you to be your own boss, so you've got to constantly be hungry.
Working for yourself is exciting and scary. No one pays you to be your own boss, so you've got to constantly be hungry. That’s why I wear these rubber bands on my right wrist as a counterpoint to the Rolex on my left. It’s to remind me that you’ve got to stay hungry, especially now with all these mouths that we’ve got to feed.
But I love it. You can literally wake up and do whatever the hell you want—you set your own schedule. It's good and bad, but it's all about the mindset, so we focus on the good.
I got baptized for the second time a few years ago, so now it’s about applying our faith. I was raised a Buddhist, because in Vietnam, you’re either Catholic or Buddhist. But I think people have to come up with their own ways of finding God. There are all these younger pastors who are letting you know that it doesn’t have to be your dad’s church. You’re not going for three or four hours. You go for an hour, in and out, you get your word, and you carry on. It’s made it palatable for someone like me who’s never read the Bible cover to cover. When I first got integrated into this whole “believer culture,” everyone was like, “I love you, man, I love you.” And I was like, “You just met me!” But I see it, I get it. You take everything with a grain of salt and apply it to how you want to work your life, and it’s been great. I’m thankful.
I’ve always been a laid-back dude, but weed’s helped calm me even more.
Calabasas has organically become the new go-to spot when you have a family. It's like, where would you go for more bang for your buck and an amazing public school system? But then Kendrick Lamar lives down the street. French Montana lives down the street. Across the bridge, Kanye West and Drake live down the street. I’m still in the mix. My phone is my office. I’m not anti-social, but I’m an introvert. I’ll talk to anyone, but I don't go out there and seek new friends. If, when we first meet, you look me in the eye and smile, that’s a good start. I can name a lot of famous people who have shaken my hand and not looked me in the eye, and I was like, “No, not for me.” But if people are easy going and laid-back and partake in cannabis, that’s a great commonality that eases the pressures of social interaction.
I’ve always been a laid-back dude, but weed’s helped calm me even more. It lets me be creative, it lets me be relaxed, it lets me be myself. I’ve recently gotten more into the CBD space. I haven’t been physically smoking for quite some time now, actually. I was in a business meeting recently and the guy handed me some pastilles from Beboe, which I love. Their packaging—that’s done right. With California going recreational, I’m definitely going to be very upfront with my children and let them know that they have to be responsible: “If and when you choose to partake, I want open communication. Let me know. I’ll even partake with you at the right time.” It’s just a different level of responsibility and different time that you have to embrace.
Bee Nguyen styled by Rachael Wang and photographed by Meredith Jenks at his home in Calabasas, California. This Conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity and originally appeared in Volume One (which you can buy here, if you want).
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