AFROPOP’s Creative Flavors and Community Roots - 405 Magazine

AFROPOP’s Creative Flavors and Community Roots

Taking Soda to the Stratosphere.

Photo by Rachel Maucieri.

For some, soda is a just a sugary treat, or a thirst-quenching burger companion. AFROPOP, a homegrown soda company in Oklahoma City, has carbonated ambitions reaching to the stars. It’s soda with an emphasis on community, as envisioned by owner Jamel Stephens, who launched the brand in late 2023 and weaves culture and art into every can. 

“I knew from a young age that I wanted to positively impact people,” he said. “I had this question: ‘If Oklahoma had a soda company, what would it look like?’” Using something as comforting and familiar as soda as an entry point for altruism, he began tinkering with his own at-home flavors, using fresh ingredients from his local grocery store. “Once I figured out that I could make soda, I thought, ‘If I’m going to start a soda company, what do I want it to look like?’” The answer: “I wanted it to look like myself, and implement my culture into what I was creating.” 

So began Oklahoma’s first Black-owned soda company. Using Afrofuturism as a guiding aesthetic, and highlighting the convergence of the African Diaspora with technology, Stephens tapped three local Black artists to design art for his first three flavors: NyLainah DeŃee Brewer for the butterscotch-inspired Grandma’s House, Dr. RJ Woods for the Blacker the Berry cream soda riff, and Leondre Lattimore for a blueberry lemonade soda called Summer Nights. Each can — from the label to the first sip — is distinct, but the community through-line is more than aluminum-deep.  

“We focus on being socially conscious and socially aware, while also connecting community artistry and culture together,” explained Stephens. He pointed to Blacker the Berry as a reference to a song of the same name, but also to Black beauty itself. Grandma’s House, meanwhile, is an homage to familial origins. “For a lot of Black people, their grandma is a sense of origin and love, so there’s a cultural connection as well,” he added. Summer Nights was done in reverse, inspired by Lattimore’s artwork. “The art inspired me to come up with a new name for it,” Stephens said. “The design, with a space theme, gave me the idea for a blueberry lemonade soda.”

Since its launch, AFROPOP has landed in markets, cafes and breweries all over the 405 (and now Tulsa too), offering non-alcoholic options, as well as a soda alternative rooted in something deeper. From Elemental Coffee and Vanessa House Beer Company to Eastside Pizza House and Toast & Coffee, the sodas can now be found in more than 60 locations. “I like to sell with likeminded people,” Stephens said. “For example, at Toast & Coffee, they carry a lot of local products, as well as their own items.”

In the future, Stephens is working on sugar-free options and new flavors, while adhering to his original vision: “We want to create products that are uniquely different. You can buy a lemon-lime anywhere, but a blueberry lemonade soda is nearly impossible.” He’s also working on getting a distributor, and into grocery stores. In addition to collaborating with more non-profits, he’s creating new products to support other minority communities too. 

No matter how big AFROPOP soars, it’s a brand committed to its community. Said Stephens, “Our goal is to become a national brand that accurately represents the community of Oklahoma, as well as the artists that come from here.”