The Legend of "White Boy Kev"

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“I used to fight when people called me ‘White Boy,’ now it’s on my bags and shirts.”

In a 2023 interview with cannabis journalist LMC, legendary cannabis grower White Boy Kev explained his origin story—including the roots of his memorable nickname. “I grew up in a Dominican neighborhood, uptown in Washington Heights," recalled Kev, whose real name is Kevin O'Rourke. "It used to be an all Irish and Jewish neighborhood (until about ‘83). My family was the only one that didn’t leave…Everybody else was Dominican… It was just me—White Boy Kev, Un Blanquito. That’s how everybody knew me.”

Today, his old nickname is a premier brand name among NYC weed connoisseurs. And now that cannabis is legal in New York and New Jersey, Kev and his La Marina Boyz’ brand is positioned to be a smash hit. The only question is if he wants to deal with the headache of regulators, amateurs and opportunists after putting in decades as a pioneer.

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White Boy Kev built his brand by providing authentic Haze on his block in Washington Heights. Haze is a staple cannabis strain with roots in Santa Cruz, California going back to the 1960s. In the ‘90s and 2000s, it became one of New York’s most popular strains. And Kev and his crew were among the city’s most reliable sources.

Haze’s uplifting, energizing effects and earthy taste have helped its genetics spread rapidly across the globe—including Colombia, Thailand, Mexico and South India, according to cannabis experts at Leafly.

Medical patients say Haze helps with their stress, anxiety and depression. Legendary New York rappers (and smokers) Jadakiss and Styles P have been outspoken about Haze throughout their careers.

One Haze cross got so hot in Harlem it inspired the title of Cam’ron’s 2004 classic album, Purple Haze.

Kev’s specialty was Black Cuban Haze, and similar varieties sourced from friends in Florida. Kev and his La Marina Boyz crew were one of the only genuine sources of NYC’s most popular strain in their time.

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Kev and his older brother, Jerry, had a second way they gained uptown fame, too; in 2001, they opened up the Dyckman Marina and Cafe, a cafe on the Washington Heights waterfront at the far western end of Dyckman Street that provided an escape for countless locals and tourists and quickly became known as, simply, La Marina.

Through the 2000s, La Marina parties got so loud they disturbed residents across the Hudson River in New Jersey. The New York Times profiled the rise of the beloved venue in 2005, listing Kev as a hip-hop producer and promoter with no reference to his budding Haze empire.

“I started selling weed around ‘91, and then ‘93 Haze came about,” Kev told Robb Reefa on the Rollin With Reefa podcast. Things really took off when Kev met Mr. Sharkbite, who now runs Five Point Farms in Oregon, with plans to circle back to his native New York as the market matures.

“Shark was crazier than me,” Kev remembers. “He rolled up on 183rd in a fuckin’ U-HAUL van,” with samples of his work to show Kev when they first met. Shark always liked that Kev was lowkey.

“Being a grower back then, you’re not looking for the loudest guy,” Shark explained. “You’re looking for the quietest guy. I didn’t want nobody to know that I was growing weed.”

Kev is so quiet about his operation, that to this day, his own mom still doesn’t know he’s a superhero among cannabis lovers.

“My mother still doesn’t know. I go to my mom’s house today, and I don’t want her to see this shirt. Because she’s gonna notice the fucking four leaf clover logo. I take my shirt off in my car, put it on backwards. So it’s just plain black. So she doesn’t ask me and I don’t have to lie again about what I do.”—Whiteboy Kev to Robb Reefa on the Rollin With Reefa podcast.

So what's happening now in the Haze business? Well, for the last decade-plus, sweet, high-THC strains like Girl Scout Cookies and Lemon Cherry Gelato have dominated both the legal and unregulated cannabis gene pools. But recently, classics like Haze, Sour Diesel, and OG Kush are surging back as more breeders, sellers, and smokers seek nostalgic, flavorful experiences over THC-maxing.

With demand for authentic Haze on the rise, growers and breeders like Kev are some of the only people in the world with the seeds, plants, and knowledge needed to produce quality Haze consistently. Contrary to many corporate business plans and investor timelines, growing great cannabis is an art form that’s not easy to scale. 

Small, craft batches (50 to 100 pounds per batch) are preferred by connoisseurs much more than massive batches that sacrifice quality control for volume. Like locally-sourced food or wine, many say they can taste and feel the difference when comparing Kev’s Haze to the Haze available from larger operators.

For underground heads, breeders and brands like The Healing of the Nations (Ethiopian Haze) and Piff Coast Farms, the goal is to mix Haze’s classic genetics with modern strains, while also preserving original crosses and landraces that might otherwise go extinct. In June, Haze lovers will gather for the third annual Piffcon competition. The Piff strain is a child of the Haze lineage that’s gained its own cult following over the years from New York to Florida and beyond.

Speaking of the Big Apple, New York City consumes more weed than any city in the world, according to a study released last year. And for more than a century, Harlem has been the headquarters of NYC’s cannabis culture. After New York State prohibited the plant in the early 1900s clubs like the Cotton Club and other Harlem hangouts became rare safe spaces for consumption. From Jazz musicians like Louis Armstrong to rap stars like Cam’ron, uptown’s love for ganja has grown stronger with each new era.

Today, Shiest Bubz—another king of the 90s and 2000s cannabis scene— is parlaying his influence into lucrative partnerships, like his Legacy Adventure Tours. The tour through Harlem’s most infamous weed blocks honors Kev, Luka Brazi, Branson and others as trailblazers while sharing fond memories and war stories from the pre-legalization days.

“When we started, there was no exotics! Y’all don’t know what that is to fucking get a whole bag and sift through and pull out 200 seeds just to have like three joints… Whatever you found, you grew.”—Whiteboy Kev and Mr. Sharkbite reminiscing on the Rollin With Reefa podcast.

Looking ahead, the future of cannabis legalization is bright thanks in part to the work activists such as Dana Beal—who we recently profiled and Kev shared on IG earlier this year—put in. Just last week, the Associated Press reported that the DEA is planning to reclassify cannabis from Schedule 1 (alongside drugs such as heroin and LSD) to Schedule 3 (Tylenol, testosterone).

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Kev recently decided to dip into the booming legal business in New Jersey with Nick and Dane from the company Niche. And Kev's longtime partners Cuban Joe the Hardway and Little Nelson (@BlockworkGrower) have a license in Florida. Kev shared, “I’m going to Florida through a licensing deal as a brand with them.” 

After that, only time will tell if NYC’s Haze King will bring his talents to New York’s legal market.

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