(His father, who Berner says now lives in the Sunset District “and still gets up at 2 a.m. every day” to run a catering business, declined an interview request.) The apartment had very little. “It was, 'Dad, I'm hungry.' He'd say, 'Okay, go to Curbside and get a burrito. Okay, go to Dino's and get a piece of pizza.'” There was no phone, so when Berner dropped out of Galileo, his father had no way of knowing.
There was no cable, either, only a VCR, and they had one tape. So Berner and his brother would “watch Goodfellas ,” Berner says. “We'd watch Goodfellas , smoke weed, argue, and fight.” Occasionally, they'd get into petty crime: selling weed, mostly, though Berner remembers a short-lived rip-and-run career. One day, the pair of them put a knife to the throat of a kid attending the Drew School, a ritzy private institution on California near Divisadero. “We get his wallet, but he reported it and a teacher chased us. “We end up getting in some building and we open the wallet — and there's literally $2 in it. It was like, 'Dude, this shit is fucked.'” Arizona was also where Berner discovered rap music. At a continuation school, another kid asked him if he rapped. “So he started freestyling in front of me and said, 'You should try it.'” That was a gambit for a bigger hustle.
Before long, the kid came over to Berner's house to sell him an off-brand karaoke machine. “I remember asking my mom to lend me the money,” he says. “I bought the equipment and made a song right there. I used to go into the garage, where it was 110 degrees, and get my friends to watch me freestyle. That kid sparked something in me.” The karaoke machine was soon replaced with an 8-track recorder. Getting into music led to a permanent move back to San Francisco, where on his trips back and forth, a teenaged Berner would traffic records in addition to weed. Deep Bay Area cuts like the 18 Wit a Bullet mixtape featuring B-Legit, Cougnut, Celly-Cel, and San Quinn; records from Mac Dre, RBL Posse, Messy Marv, The Jacka, and the like. At 18, while working as a bartender at Jelly's at Mission Rock, Berner would visit The Hemp Center on Balboa Street as a customer. Frequent visits — and ties with some cultivators — got Berner a job there behind the counter. (He also got involved with the black market weed trade — and indeed, as a kid bought small sacks of weed from Jigga, the elusive cultivator credited with originating the Cookies strain. This may be why, for a time, he says he was routinely stopped by authorities while traveling through LAX, although he prefers not to go into detail.) One day, his rap career not quite off the ground but with more weed than anybody needed, Berner walked into Milk Bar on Haight Street and ran into The Jacka. After praising the elder rapper's music, Berner handed Jacka a fistful of weed — and Jacka was impressed enough to give Berner his number. In 2008, the pair recorded a record together, Drought Season , but the reception was brutal. On TheSiccness.net, somebody posted a custom cut of the album, with all of Berner's verses cut out. “Before I ever heard of Berner, I heard of people hating on him,” Thizzler.com's Werner says. “You'd hear, 'Berner sucks.' It was crazy.'” Not that Berner cared. He continued cutting records while working at The Hemp Center, and made connections with other established rappers in the exact same way. If you needed weed — if you needed the best weed — you knew to call Berner. During the early days of Worldstarhiphop.com, there was a video competition afoot to see who could smoke the most. That was hard to quantify, so it turned into who had the biggest weed stash.
Berner, who worked in a cannabis club during medical marijuana's early days and had every underground connection, would win running away. In 2010, Berner got a call from Mistah F.A.B., another longtime established Bay Area rapper. This cat named Wiz Khalifa was coming through town; could Wiz come by and get some weed? “I said, 'I don't really know, dude.' But I googled him, and saw he had hella views on YouTube. (Search YouTube and you can still see the encounter, with a very relaxed-looking Wiz sitting at the bar of old Hemp Center smoking lounge.) He was in, but Berner wasn't through.
To a Wiz show, Berner somehow smuggled in a five-foot-tall plant of Cherry Pie, one of the Cookie Fam's exclusive high-end strains.