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Rapper and weed evangelist Fetty Wap is the new face of Grow House, a digital ecosystem bringing together cannabis, cryptocurrency and NFTs. Alongside social media guru Branden Hampton, the rapper is generating new cultural capital – and perhaps accelerating the growth of real capital – at the intersection of two sectors on the cusp of blastoff.

Fetty Wap, the Grammy-nominated hip hop artist whose viral track Trap Queen earned him numerous awards, is the new face of Grow House, a crypto-cannabis crossover startup.

Grow House bills itself as the first-ever decentralized cannabis game. Like an adult Farmville, in the Grow House ecosystem players can grow their own virtual weed and earn $GROW tokens, the cryptocurrency powering the platform’s virtual economy. Players can ‘plant’ $GROW as well as other cryptocurrencies to grow Money Trees and watch their yields grow. They can also plant seeds that ‘grow’ into tradable non-fungible token (NFT) ‘plants’.

Plus, the game offers various opportunities for brands to engage with users, including the Cannapad, which is a ‘launchpad’ for cannabis brands to create NFTs that can be used within the ecosystem to grow more digital plants.

After launching its $GROW token through a decentralized liquidity exchange, or an Initial DEX Offering (IDO), earlier this month, Grow House could be poised for, well, major growth – which could be further accelerated by the buy-in of celebrities and influencers like Fetty Wap.

A canna-crypto love story

Fetty Wap is the company’s first celebrity brand ambassador. The rapper tells The Drum: “It was super interesting to me to learn how you can just make money out of nothing. I had to learn a few things as far as crypto is concerned – NFTs and things of that nature. So I spoke to a few of the guys from Grow House and once I learned with them, I knew it was up from there.”

Grow House is steered in part by ‘chief cannabis officer’ Branden Hampton, who’s been called “the largest independent social media publisher in the world”. Hampton is a social media phenom who owns major monetized Instagram brands including @money, @marijuana, @fitness and @notebook (he first gained notoriety when he claimed the @DaveChappelle Twitter handle before the real comedian was able to and garnered some half-million followers). He says he was brought on by Grow House to apply his “skill sets around social media marketing, celebrities, influencers and ability to garner attention and eyeballs”.

Hampton believes the platform – and its promotion across social platforms – could help propel the growth of the commercial cannabis category. “The problem in cannabis has been for all of eternity around banking and the financial side,” he says. “Even in states where cannabis is legal to sell, banks are federally regulated so you can’t put that income into a bank account. The $GROW token solves this problem by acting as a true utility token for farmers, distributors, dispensaries and consumers.”

And experts think the idea may just work. “[Grow House] seems like a fabulous idea,” says Greg Huffaker, director of client services at cannabis business consultancy Canna Advisors. “It used to be a joke around industry professionals that when you went to an industry event in California, someone’s gonna say ‘blockchain and cannabis’ inevitably, but this is the first time that it’s something that seems to make sense to me.” Huffaker says we’re likely to see the emergence of more and more companies trying to unify the gaming, crypto and cannabis cultures. “I think there are a lot of modern millennials and gen Z people who occasionally consume cannabis and occasionally play video games, so it makes sense you combine them.”

Two budding sectors

The cannabis sector is indeed blossoming. While a 2019 Gallup poll found that 12% of Americans say they smoke marijuana, that share is likely growing as consumption becomes increasingly mainstreamed. Today, pot is recreationally legal in 16 US states and medically legal in 36 states as well as Washington, DC and four of the country’s five inhabited territories (Guam, Puerto Rico, the US Virgin Islands and the Northern Mariana Islands). Paired with the explosive growth of commercial CBD and hemp, the marijuana industry is growing at a rapid pace. A recent report found that the global cannabis market is estimated to be worth about $20.5bn today, but is expected to grow at an impressive CAGR of 28% to reach a valuation of over $90bn by 2026.

Fetty Wap is taking note of these trends. “The CBD world has gotten really expensive,” he says. “And I think you’ll be able to plant your own [marijuana] soon and basically make your own strains.”

Combine the booming marijuana sector with the unprecedented interest in cryptocurrency, and the potential success of the Grow House, and concepts like it, is certainly high. An April report from Gemini crypto exchange found that 14% of Americans own cryptocurrency. Among young people, the numbers are especially high: 39% of all crypto holders are millennials between the ages of 25 and 34. Considering that 18-29-year-olds represented the largest group of marijuana consumers in 2019, the crossover rate between consumers interested in cannabis and cryptocurrency is likely quite high.

A community-based strategy

To capitalize on the increasing interest in both cryptocurrency and cannabis, the primary objective of Grow House is to build up the value of the $GROW currency and stabilize its utility. To get there, Hampton says the company is focusing on developing a dedicated community of users. “We’ve developed an amazing ecosystem, now it’s just about getting more people into the Cannaverse,” he says.

Hampton’s social media efforts could certainly help stoke the fire. With over 31 million followers across his various channels and brands – and a number of high-profile celebrity followers and brand deals – he already has the clout and the reach to create momentum. “The key is attention and eyeballs,” Hampton says. “If you can leverage some growth hacking methods around marketing your token to various communities and you can leverage influencers to do it, then the rest becomes easy. It’s about putting people on notice that you exist, then showing through influencers that the project is trustworthy. We want to gain trust through authentic marketing within both the cannabis and crypto fields.”

Fetty Wap’s participation in the enterprise probably won’t hurt either. With some 6.7 million Instagram followers, 8.67 million monthly Spotify listeners and new music coming soon (“Be looking forward to hearing from me really soon [and] seeing my new music coming out,” he notes), his promotion of Grow House across social channels will certainly help spur some brand recognition and grow the community.

And while hip hop and cannabis culture have long been interwoven, the rap star is especially invested in the growth of the marijuana sector – and is excited about the crossover into crypto. “I love cannabis; I smoke it every day,” he says. “If you have a game where you can grow weed and sell it digitally, I think that's just an amazing thing.”

Recently, the star has become increasingly interested in the potential of blockchain and cryptocurrencies. He credits the Grow House team for getting him “up to speed” on key happenings in the crypto world and helping him gain a deeper understanding of the technology. Earlier this month, the rapper joined the Grow House team in Miami at Bitcoin 2021, the conference for digital currency fanatics. “It was pretty lit,” he says of the event, which garnered some 12,000 attendees. “It was good to really see what an NFT looks like, up close and personal. It was just a breath of fresh air.” And the rapper is betting on the success of the crypto-canna crossover. “I believe cannabis is gonna play a major role in [the future of cryptocurrency],” he says. “And if you’re not sure, trust me. Let’s grow together.”

And though some believe that blockchain and cryptocurrencies in particular are just a flash in the pan, the Grow House team thinks otherwise. “Cannabis and crypto are both here to stay,” Hampton says. “Of course, things happen in waves – [like] NFTs and DeFi (decentralized finance) – but as these technologies mature, they’ll stabilize and it won’t feel so much like a fad. The great part about cryptocurrency and blockchain is that you can iterate over time and as better, more efficient systems are learned, you can pivot. The future is DeFi. Banks won’t exist in a few years at this pace, and as new technologies come out, Grow House, like many other crypto projects, will pivot and adopt these new technologies.”

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