Strains & products

OG Kush vs. Zaza: The history behind 2022’s great ganja debate​​

Published on September 19, 2022 · Last updated February 6, 2023
A customer does the sniff test at the 2018 Kushstock Festival. (Richard Vogel / AP)

Exotic has taken over the weed game. But connoisseurs like B-Real, OG Louie XIII, and JAY-Z still insist: OG is forever.

Will OG Kush ever return to the days when it sold for up to $6,000 per pound? For seasoned smokers, it never left the rotation. Still, for many weed consumers looking to secure the best Kush strains of the moment, it seems like purple and pink exotics have taken over the market.

That could be why original market influencers like JAY-Z and OG Louie XIII are calling for an OG Kush renaissance.

“Y’all do the Zaza, it’s OG for the OGs”

JAY-Z, “God Did,” (2022)

And they’re not the only cannaseurs who are over the flashy strains. After 2010’s rush of cookies, cakes, and zkittlez, weed lovers en masse are calling for more of that faithful OG funk that makes Kush smoke timeless. Leafly’s David Downs, who was in college when it first hit the 90s market, calls OG “the original Zaza.”

“OG Kush’s ‘90s arrival was binary—it was like day and night. It changed the game. I’ve smoked weed for 20-plus years. And I still remember the moment someone first handed me an OG, cuz it changed my life.”

David Downs, Leafly

Last year, rapper and Smokers Club co-founder Smoke DZA told Leafly that he considers OG the top strain of all time. And order data from dispensaries shows that the Kush family is still in high demand, even if it’s no longer the undisputed King cultivar.

Here’s the floral history behind how OG Kush took over the weed world after winning its first award 25 years ago. Plus, why OG’s genetics continue to thrive a quarter century after it hit the market.

As told by OG Kush Experts:

  • Josh D: Credited as the grower who discovered OG Kush
  • OG Louie XIII: Licensed legacy seller who specializes in OG Kush cultivars
  • B-Real: Cypress Hill MC, said to have coined the name “OG Kush”
  • David Downs: Leafly California Bureau Chief
  • Smoke DZA: Smokers Club co-founder, aka “The Kush God”
  • Mikhail Harrison: Legacy operator and Leafly East Coast correspondent

What are the origins of OG Kush?

Josh D, widely credited as one of Godfathers of Kush. (Alex rauber / Josh D Farms)

A grower named Josh D takes credit as one of the six Godfathers of OG Kush. But Josh insists he didn’t create the strain. He just discovered it.

“This strain has defined my life,” Josh D said on the Between Two Strains YouTube show. He added: “I feel blessed for crossing paths with this strain when I got it.”

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Josh currently has his own line with Klutch cannabis which continues to build on his OG genetics.

Another Godfather of OG is named Matt B. He came across Josh’s seeds in the 1990s, held onto them, and spread the word organically before social media and strain databases were a thing. Matt and Josh’s collaboration with other unnamed Godfathers led to new cultivars, including Bubba Kush, which Dr. GreenThumb co-founder B-Real accidentally created by crossing Bubba and Kush in his personal grow op.

Cypress Hill’s B-Real is reportedly also one of the six Godfathers of OG. He’s taken credit for coining the name OG Kush and popularizing it across California.

“We grew some of our first OG cuts in my garage. I think it was late 97, something like that. And that’s where we started the whole OG Kush thing. It wasn’t called that when we got it, we started calling it that.”

B-Real, Cypress Hill MC, Dr. GreenThumb co-founder

How OG Kush became the first Zaza in the 90s

(Eitan Miskevich / Courtesy of Sony Music)

OG seemed to drop at the perfect time: indoor grows had just begun to elevate the cultivation game.

“The hydro game in the mid-90’s is what really chang(ed) things, including this strain… (OG Kush) hit the streets at the same time a new way of growing—indoor— was developing in Los Angeles.”

Josh D, OG Kush trailblazer on Between Two Strains

After Josh D moved to Silver Lake, California, he found a house to grow, along with a roommate named Bubba. Bubba kept talking about a magical strain in Florida, but Josh kept brushing him off. Until Bubba “went out there and got some cuts, flew back with them in his pocket on the plane and brought it to our place,” Josh remembered in his Between Two Strains interview.

Their indoor experiment led to three new flavors, including Kush and Bubba. “When we harvested and had the first taste of (the OG Kush), then we knew… As we sat there. That was the most stoned any of us had ever been,”Josh D added.

A vintage 1998 OG Kush growing photos evokes a small, rudimentary space. (Courtesy Josh D)
A vintage 1998 OG Kush growing photos evokes a small, rudimentary space. (Courtesy Josh D)

“I was a freshman at college at UC Santa Barbara when OG Kush first hit around 1998. I was used to smoking Reggie. You know, getting like nickel bags, dime bags, finger bags. One time, I gave a bro $20 and he brought me a single-fucking-nug. I was so mad. I’m like, what the fuck? $20-a-gram? And then I smelled it and I was like, ‘damn, this doesn’t smell like anything I smoke. This is the chronic that people were talking about.’”

David Downs

Leafly Kush experts David Downs and Mikhail Harrison were both blown away by OG Kush when they first encountered it.

History made: A small, crowded, 1996 Silverlake, CA OG Kush grow by Josh D. (Courtesy Josh D)
History made: A small, crowded, 1996 Silverlake, CA OG Kush grow by Josh D. (Courtesy Josh D)

“OG Kush was one of the first weed strains that I came across on the East Coast that was actually ‘gas.’ It had that real gassy taste that hit your nose. It kind of burned your nose, it was so strong of a funk. True smokers immediately gravitated to it. OG became a must-have part of your regular inventory if you were a serious provider.”

Mikhail Harrison

OG quickly became the standard for elite chiefers. “We were snobs with that shit for a long time,” B-Real admitted in an interview last year. “If someone was bringing anything other than OG, we’re like, ‘Fuck outta here with that man. We’re gonna smoke our shit.’”

OG Louie XIII sparks OG vs. Zaza debate

OG Louie XIII hails from the East Side of Los Angeles.

His brand sells quarter-ounce packs of six individually wrapped, hand-rolled joints that weigh 1.2g a piece.

In a round-up of the 2022’s best pre-rolls, David Downs said, “OG Louie’s bright green gassy yet sweet-smelling grass is every Kush-lover’s dream… The scent translates to the taste perfectly and after a couple hits of that classic vaporous sweetness you know you’re dealing with some real deal OG.”

In August, Louie went viral after calling out the unnaturally-purple “exotic” strains he’s been seeing in the illicit market.

Louie shocked the world by running water over fresh purple nugs and saying: “Be careful what you smoke,” as the water turned dark purple.

Colorful run-off is natural in certain strains of cannabis and other plants, but Louie suggested that some suppliers are dyeing their products with unnatural hues to keep up with the demand for rainbowed-out Zazas.

His warning post has nearly 30,000 likes on Instagram. Some questioned his knowledge, but Louie quickly shot back. “A lot of you got all rah-rah,” Louie said in a later post. With the camera focused on two piles of wet purple buds, he said: “I”ll let you decide. Which purple would you smoke? That one, or that one?” He panned to both piles before adding: “I ain’t smoking either one. Don’t get mad at me.”

Louie’s caption to the post read: “I only smoke OG.” In a follow-up post, he clarified that the water should turn “a light purple, like a Kool-aid.” One of the piles he showed wasn’t as dark as the other.

Other OGs in the comments backed up Louie’s claim that some wholesalers are dying their bud.

“When it’s a dark purple, and the weed has no smell, and it’s crunchy and has no taste—it’s been contaminated.”


How did JAY-Z get in the Zaza vs. OG conversation?

Monogram product shot
Leafly’s David Downs rated Monogram’s No. 03 strain as his pick of the litter, thanks to icy and exotic white-green-purple looks, and complex smell of cake and fuel. “The No. 03 nugs felt hyper-dense and powdery with trichomes,” he said. “It had a cherry ice cream taste and moderately heavy effects with crazy appetite stimulation.” (Monogram)

“We needed a salient moment to be like, we have a genuine rivalry going here,” said David Downs when asked why JAY-Z’s recent OG Kush endorsement was the final straw in the OG vs. Zaza debate.

“Em, light up the ‘03/We let y’all do the Zaza, it’s OG for the OGs/…Out of pocket, talkin’ exotic/You barely been to the Baham—that’s another topic—haha/Monogram in my pocket off the red carpet.”

JAY-Z, ”God Did” (2022)

The timing of JAY’s bars seemed surreal to those already following OG Louie’s “OG-over-Zaza” campaign. Louie was able to use the song as a victory lap on Instagram.

Just days after his controversial post had some people questioning Louie’s weed knowledge, he proudly posted a clip of JAY’s new rhymes. Whether Louie inspired the lyrics or not, it was clear vindication for his bold stance against exotics.

JAY-Z’s new weed-themed rhymes also mention Monogram, his line of luxury cannabis products which include an OG Kush called “No. 03,” – hence the “Em light up the ‘03” lyric. “Em” is a nickname for Emory Jones, a lifelong friend who served prison time for drugs while JAY was becoming a rap superstar.

Tyran ”Ty Ty” Smith, Emory ”Vegas” Jones, and Shawn ”JAY-Z” Carter. (Lenny Santiago / Instagram, @kodaklens)

In April, JAY dubbed himself, Jones, and their crew of lifelong friends “The Caliva Brothers” on the song “Neck and Wrist.”

Caliva and Jones are both partners with JAY in Monogram, and the rapper has said he will use the legitimate business as a platform for OGs like himself and Emory who survived the War on Drugs to participate in the legal industry.

Why OG Kush has endured for 25 years

The Doctor Is In: Rapper B-Real recaps the top 5 strains of his life for the season debut of The Hash podcast.
(Courtesy of B-Real)

2022 marks the 25th anniversary of OG Kush—and strains don’t tend to endure for more than two decades just because they have a cool name. The true secret to OG’s longevity is its terpene profile.

“I think OG Kush literally has a great shelf life,” David Downs explains: “It physically holds its terps better than other strains.”

“Its terpenes, its aromatic molecules, the limonene, the pinene, the caryophyllene in there–I suspect those terps withstand drying, curing, storage, and transportation more than other terpenes. So that by the time the end user gets OG Kush from their dealer or dispensary, it still smells like OG Kush. And that not might not be the same for a Pineapple Haze or a Banana OG with a different terpene makeup that degrades quicker.”

David Downs

The bold but balanced experience has kept smokers coming back for decades and makes it a “cornerstone of the terp architecture of modern cannabis,” according to Downs. “No one can knock (OG Kush) off its spot. It owns its lane… If you smell like OG, they’re just gonna call you an OG Kush now. it became the trademark name for that terp profile.”

OG’s super high potency was a game-changer in the 90s. For those who were there, it was basically the first exotic: A much-hyped strain that delivered consistent effects.

“OG Kush has environmental fitness that reset the bar for what a strain should be. A strain has to clear OG Kush to start taking market share away from it. But to this day, people will say, ‘I still love OGs the most, I only smoke OGs.’ It remains an environmentally-fit strain, thanks in part to its balanced indica-hybrid effect.”

David Downs

What are OG Kush’s dominant effects?

OG Kush (David Downs/Leafly)
OG Kush (David Downs / Leafly)

Leafly reviewers report that OG Kush is a balanced, calming cultivar with mixed head and body effects. It’s best enjoyed in the back half of the day to ease stress.

It’s about the powers of stress relief and mood elevation. I think of people who sit in two hours of LA traffic to and from work every day. You need LA’s finest OG Kush either on the freeway, or by the time you get home, just to continue existing in an environment like Los Angeles. And if you visit LA and you sit in that traffic, you’re gonna be like, man, I need some OG Kush right now. And not like some crazy sativa where that’ll spin you out, or some crazy night-time power that makes you go to bed. OG Kush is there when I wanna stay awake, but I need to be at my level.”

David Downs

“The lemony gassy smell–You never get tired of that. And it’s a great additive. It mixes well with so many things. You could mix OG with a Granddaddy. The same way they mix Gelato with everything today. It’s an example of pot culture. The name is known even outside of the weed community.”

Mikhail Harrison

When did Zaza take over the game?

Eaze makes weed delivery hella easy.
Cultivators including Jungle Boys and Alien Labs (above) push the limits of new Zaza profiles with each harvest. (David Downs / Leafly)

Indoor grows made OG Kush’s takeover possible. And OG opened the door for new designer strains to challenge its reign with every new harvest.

Downs says Zaza can feel more accessible for some smokers, who are familiar with hookah or shisha. He explains that overproduction of OG Kush led to quality declines. Critics said it got played out, and by the 2010s, OG Kush ceded the sales throne to cookies strains, then cakes, and now zkittlez.

“Some ‘zaza’s’ remind me of shisha, which is like flavored tobacco,” Downs explains. “We know the flavored tobacco industry is big and flavors are big.”

Ultimately, the survival of a strain comes down to the tastes and needs of consumers. With access to great bud increasing for smokers nationwide, there is no reason that OG Kush or any of its exotic rivals are at risk of dying off like once-dominant landraces of previous generations.

“You have the OG heads, like Louie XIII, but then you have people who aren’t into that taste. Neither side’s wrong, but I think they’re going to continue to butt heads because they both have very distinct lanes that they’re in now.”

David Downs

Who are OG Kush’s biggest modern advocates?

Pictures of tasty green nugs. Live young, wild, and free in 2022 with the Khalifa Kush fresh drop. (David Downs/Leafly)
Wiz Khalifa’s ‘Khalifa Kush’ brand specializes in gassy OGs. (David Downs / Leafly)

Surprisingly, the word “Kush” has ancient origins, although the cannabis community didn’t popularize OG Kush until the 2010s.

In fact, the Kingdom of Kush was an ancient civilization in Northern Africa. The landrace strain Afghani Hindu Kush was loved for decades but its genetics are rare today, and some say it’s extinct. The OG Kush that swept the U.S. via Florida and California in the 90s was most-keenly documented by strain databases like Leafly, and rap lyrics.

“In 2010, Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg did a song called “Kush.” I was like, “What?” In 2009, I started going by the name Kush Kelz for my music career, and I thought I was the only one on that wave length. Sour Diesel and Purple Haze were more hyped at that time in New York and New Jersey. Kush was like caviar, the sophisticated choice… I would bump into real smokers from Cali and we would have the same buds of Kush. So I was kind of appalled that they put the song out. Someone gave me the name Kush Kelz in my trapping days because I had so many Kush flavors for sale. I still use it on Instagram.”

Mikhail Harrison

2010 also brought the release of Wiz Khalifa’s Kush and OJ mixtape. The project trended on Twitter and put  Wiz’s name on the map. Ever since, he’s kept the Kush close ever since, marrying his name with the strain’s to create his own line of products. The Khalifa Kush brand calls for customers to “smoke what Wiz smokes” in ads.

OG is forever

Josh D's OG Kush grow in the year 2000 in a bigger space. (Courtesy Josh D)
Josh D’s OG Kush grow in the year 2000 in a bigger space. (Courtesy Josh D)

As new legal markets emerge, product selection will still bend toward what the people want to smoke. Around the world, when dealers and buyers have to choose between names like “Coochie Runtz” and “Cat Piss,” OG has quietly built a rep as a mature smoke that’s thrived for a solid quarter-century.

Beyond bag appeal or the smell test, OG has delivered in the moment of truth, sale after sale and decade after decade. The return business and consumer confidence extends from dorm rooms to medical dispensaries. That’s why up-and-coming seeds hoping to be the next Runtz or Dosidos have to win countless head-to-head match-ups with OG and its kids at the dealer’s spot and the dispensary.

“On the market: It physically smelled better. It hit crazy harder. And if you’re offered those same choices next week, it made an indelible impression. So for all future purchases, you always choose OG even though it had that cost premium to wait. Because when you actually measure the THC levels, OG was a better buy at the time. There was way more THC in the terps, per gram, than in Reggie. So it’s actually a rational market decision to go for the OG when it came out.”

David Downs

Those THC-based decisions continue to drive demand for exotics with levels of nearly 30%. But it may be impossible for modern Zaza to duplicate the value proposition OG presented when it first dropped in the late 90s.

In those days, dealers could charge 2-3 times the market rate because it was that much more powerful than other options. Today, THC levels are used to justify $60-90 eighths. But high-end kush offerings like Khalifa Kush, Monogram No. 03, and OG Louie’s pre-rolls are built off the trusted name, not the number.

If you need more evidence that the OG’s reign is far from over, veteran OG grower Kenji Fujishima recently told Leafly that “gas is coming back.”

Whatever’s next for OG and the new exotic strains that will follow in its footsteps, even exotic lovers have to respect the original. As the great Zaza vs. OG debate of 2022 rages on, remember that there’s no need to choose sides: If you love your Wedding Cake and Gelatos just as much as OG Kush, you’re not alone. Just don’t pass that Za to B-Real, JAY-Z, or OG Louie XIII.

It’s still OG for the OGs.

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Calvin Stovall
Calvin Stovall
Calvin Stovall is Leafly's East Coast Editor.
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