Cigar Culture, Women & Hip-Hop: An Interview With Cigar Aficionado Myesha Michelle

Cigar Culture, Women & Hip-Hop: An Interview With Cigar Aficionado Myesha Michelle

Published Wed, March 20, 2024 at 8:00 AM EDT

For a generation of Hip-Hoppers, cigars were enjoyed by, and reserved for the likes of Sammy Davis Jr. & The Rat Pack, Archie Bunker, George Burns, Fidel Castro, and Al Capone.

The popularity of the cigar has greatly surged over the last few decades, largely due to indoor smoking bans, and the popularity of cigar lounges. The image of the cigar smoker has shifted from older males to all genders, races and walks of life. While cigar smoking has always implied power, success ,and prestige as it still does, cigar smokers today come from every background.

Myesha Michelle, cigar aficionado and co-producer of the documentary Smoke Big sat down with Rock The Bells for an exclusive look at today's cigar culture.

"I'd never smoked anything until 1999 when I went to an outdoor festival, and a friend brought a bundle of cigars," Myesha says of his first cigar experience. "I'd never smoked anything, not even marijuana. He handed out the cigars and said 'Don't inhale'. I felt good about it, it wasn't illegal, and I didn't hurt myself or anyone else."

After her first cigar experience Myesha lived in Miami for seven years, where she says that she received her further cigar education. "I was looking for places to smoke, and most of my friends were Cuban, and had been smoking since they were nine years old," she jokingly explained. "I'd go to Little Havana, and watch the old guys, roll and smoke, and I learned."

Upon moving back to her native Los Angeles, Myesha started an organization and garnered the attention of those who saw a Black woman smoking a cigar as a rarity. "At a time, it was rare to see a Black woman smoking a cigar," she explained. Reflecting further on the popularity on the cigar in popular culture, she says that Hip-Hop is partly responsible. "Hip-Hop grew up," she says. "You see Jay-Z smoking cigars, and Nas has his own company. We've gotten older and more distinguished."

At a time, it was rare to see a Black woman smoking a cigar

- Myesha Michelle

" In 2015 I started Women of The Leaf, an organization for women to feel good about smoking cigars," Mya explains. Women of The Leaf was started out of necessity according to Myesha. "For years I was the only women smoking wherever I went. I really was out here by myself. It was social media that really connected everything, and I met other women who smoke, because like I said, I thought for awhile it was only me. Once social media became a reality we all started sharing pictures and stories, and we are always looking for outlets and other folks."

According to Myesha, the stigma that has always existed around women smoking cigars still exists, but is on its way out. "Depending on where I go, the stigma is that a woman doesn't have the knowledge, and that she prefers a sweet cigar," she shares. "It's not true. In my circle, and from what I know, its men who prefer a sweet tasting cigar."

The fact that smoking is still seen as a boys club is one of the reasons that she founded Women of The Leaf. "There's still a stigma in cigar lounges, and we know that its a boys club. Even some of the conversations can be a little locker room. I try to prepare women for that. We are seen as the outcasts, and we don't have to be anymore."

Myesha traces some of the misogyny to the actual brands and their ownership. "I see it in the industry," she explains. "Some of these big brands were founded by great grandfathers, then passed down to fathers, then down to the first born, and the first born might be a woman and now she runs the brand, and is the face of it."

When asked if society's class and race based segregation is present in cigar bars, Myesha says that it is not. "I'm happy to say that when you go into the cigar lounge you prepare yourself for any and everyone", she explains. "You may be sitting next to a judge, a cop, firefighter, a janitor, plumber, Black, White, Asian, woman, young or old. Im in L.A., so we are in a bubble, and a bit of the stigma still exists, so I have to handpick the lounges that I go to, because some are still a bit old school, but for the most part there's not much segregation."

80 percent of the consumers in the cigar industry are African American

- Myesha Michelle

Myesha calls Smoke Big a documentary that is created in the spirit of Hip-Hop. "Kareem Fort, the creator and producer of Smoke Big had previously worked on a film that was grounded in Hip-Hop," she says. "We wanted to document the growth of cigars in our communities, and also in Hip-Hop, because its the foundation of what we do. The way we dress, the way we talk, and the music of course, everything that we do is grounded in Hip-Hop."

Myesha says that she met Kareem when he interviewed her for his podcast. "We found a hole in the industry where no one was talking about the come up of cigars in our community," she says. "I love saying this, and the numbers are rising everyday, but 80 percent of the consumers in the cigar industry are African American. We couldn't do this film without the culture, the music and handpicking some of the participants. King Crooked narrated it, and he smokes!

Nas, co-owner of Escobar Cigars Nas, co-owner of Escobar Cigars

Cedric The Entertainer, Guy Torrey, and Kid of Kid -N- Play are amongst the avid cigar smokers who appear in the film which started production in 2018. "We started in 2018, and things came to a screeching halt in 2019 because of Covid," Myesha says. "We were ready to roll this out in 2020, or at least start the editing process. We had plans to reach out to D.L. Hughley and Steve Harvey, but once things came to a halt, we couldn't get people like we did before."

In addition to featuring a star-studded cast of cigar aficionado's, the creator and director of Smoke Big traveled with a camera crew to Nicaragua to watch the rolling of the tobacco, and actually touch the product. "A lot of people that smoke don't know what a cigar consists of," Myesha explains. "A Mexican brother from L.A. packed his family up, moved to Nicaragua and started a brand. He allowed us to film the entire process."

Smoke Big premiered at the Miracle Theatre in Inglewood in August of 2023, and is now available to stream on Amazon Prime.

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