Rapper, cannabis trailblazer and budding business mogul Berner - co-founder of the Cookies retail chain - knows what it means to make something from nothing.
Born Gilbert Anthony Milam, Jr. on October 27, 1981, he comes from working-class parents in the San Francisco-Bay Area. His father, a Mexican-American, owned a restaurant, and his mother, an Italian-American with a hint of Irish, was a headhunter who worked two jobs.
“I think it's fair to say I got my work ethic from my parents,” he says. “But I got the business ambitions from being hungry and wanting more.”
Following his parents divorced while he was in high school. Berner shuttled back and forth between California and Arizona before settling in the Bay Area and immersing himself in the underground rap scene. In 2007, he self-produced and released his debut mixtape, Dirty Sneakers…Plenty of Ways to Get It.
Berner dropped out of high school to pursue music. He navigated the Bay Area independent music scene, while also selling weed, not realizing both his art and side hustle would one day make him a game-changer in both industries.
Inspired by Bay Area legends E-40, Mac Mall, JT the Bigga Figga and others, Berner re-mixed himself as a hip-hop artist, spitting autobiographical Chicano tales, all raw, real and honest.
Berner: "You build generational wealth by being a good person and by following your dreams. That's a mogul to me.”
In March 2012, Berner signed to Wiz Khalifa’s label, Taylor Gang Records. Forty albums - 10 charting on Billboard - and over 16 collaborations with the likes of Snoop Dogg, B-Real, Chris Brown, Cam’ron and Jacka have served to amplify his music. Check out Berner's discography here.
“That's why I got so many albums,” he says. “It's like my journal, it's like my therapy. I just get on the mic and speak and tell my stories.”
After his mother’s death and now a father, Berner launched his first legal business. “I walked away from the dope game 100%,” he says. “It was like alright, alright. There's no one that can raise my daughter like me. My mom was gone now. That was always my backup plan, my pillow. But now that she's gone, it's time to get serious. That's when I started Cookies Clothing with the last money I had.”
Drawing on his younger days working as a budtender in a legal medical dispensary, Berner knew he had something unique to offer the cannabis world, especially since so few people of color legally owned any parts of the $15 billion industry they’ve otherwise participated in for decades. While working at the dispensary he'd make the shelf signage to promote the strains. However, he recognized there weren't any actual cannabis brands. Berner decided whoever came to the game with a brand, a logo, a color and an identity would be the most successful.
In 2010, he partnered with Bay-Area cultivator and breeder Jai “Jigga” Chang to create Cookies, a medical strain they formerly marketed as Girl Scout Cookies. The cannabis strain was paired with a streetwear clothing line of the same name that unapologetically gave birth to a company and an entire cannabis enterprise.
“Cookies was the first to brand cannabis in a colorful way, with a logo and packaging,” Berner explains. “We put a lot of people onto the game with the clothing line. I looked at the clothing line as my walking billboard. So, I feel like when it comes to branding in the cannabis space, I was first. I’m a pioneer for sure.”
With sales in 2021 just north of $700 million across all properties – including more than 25 stores from Los Angeles to Barcelona – Cookies is now one of the most recognizable global cannabis-related brands. Cookies fans are known to line up for blocks and often camp out for days in anticipation of each store opening, strain drop and clothing-item release.
A proud family man, Berner is engaged and has a teenage daughter. He’s achieved economic success he once only dreamed of and is part of a small club of minority entrepreneurs who’ve built billion-dollar enterprises from ground up.
In spite of his accomplishments, Berner knows the legalization of cannabis can’t erase decades of disenfranchisement and incarceration that’s disproportionately affected Black and brown people across the country. That’s why he consistently reaches back to ensure others have a chance to be a part of the legal cannabis industry.
“I think mogul means that, like everything you wanted to do, you manifest it,” Berner reflects. “You do it properly and classy without fuckin’ anyone over, you know? You maintain a strong, reputable name, and you achieve your goals and build generational wealth by being a good person and by following your dreams. That's a mogul to me.”
This press release, provided by Mattio Communications, has been edited for publication.