Jonnyshipes–Cinematic Music Founder on the Art of the Hustle and Grind

Jonnyshipes | In episode 76 of Light Culture Podcast, Paper Magazine founder David Hershkovits talks with entrepreneur Jonnyshipes about music, success, and his vision for the future of his companies–Cinematic, Smokers Club, and Grindstone Donuts.

Music comes first for this visionary entrepreneur. Even if it means taking risks with artists like Joey Badass, Nipsey Hussle and Yungeen Ace. Graduating from the school of hard knocks, Jonnyshipes has parlayed his street cred into a growing empire of media plays, including his newest cannabis venture The Smoker’s Club. We talk about the role of luck, instinct and basketball in the making of a modern day mogul.

[Photo credit: Cones @shotbycones]

Read Transcript


David: [00:00:00] 

What does it take to run an indie music label specializing in rap? What are the skillsets? Do you have to go to college or get an MBA? Well, if you look at my guest today, Jonny Shipes, the founder of Cinematic Music Group, you’re likely to get a different perspective on entrepreneurship in 2021. Launched in 2007, Shipes quickly signed Sean Kingston, the Jamaican-American pop singer, whose Beautiful Girls went double platinum in a matter of months later that same year. He’s also signed Joey Badass, Big K.R.I.T., and Nipsey Hussle, among others. Building up CMG’s credibility, while still remaining somewhat under the radar. As the label has grown, Shipes has broadened his vision of what Cinematic could be, launching the cannabis Smoker’s Club, Grindstone Donuts, a streetwear brand, FELT, and ambitions to go into comedy and launch a channel on Twitch, the platform for gamers. And, of course, his ongoing love affair with rap and new artists, like Luh Kel, Abby Jasmine, Yungeen Ace [Yungjean Ace]. So he’s a busy man. Welcome, Jonny Shipes.


Jonny: [00:01:15] 

What up, what up, what up? Also, it- it’s Yungeen Ace [Youngin Ace], not Yungeen Ace [Yunjean Ace]. Although I love that and I’m gonna start using that name [laughter]. But I get that. Thank you for the warm intro, I appreciate it.


David: [00:01:29] 

Sure. Well talking about entrepreneurship, let’s start with basketball.


Jonny: [00:01:35] 



David: [00:01:35] 

It’s been said by you, in fact, that you have game, and you probably spent-


Jonny: [00:01:38] 

I ???


David: [00:01:39] 



Jonny: [00:01:40] 

I’m alright at ball, I’m not gonna lie to you. I probably spent what- [laughs]


David: [00:01:44] 

Yeah. I was gonna say, you’ve probably spent way more hours playing hoops than you did in the classroom.


Jonny: [00:01:49] 

That’s for sure. But basketball was what kept me in the classroom, because if I didn’t have decent grades, I wasn’t able to play. But yeah, I love basketball. I’m an old man now so it’s a little harder for me to school everybody like I used to but, you know, here and there- here and there, I bust it out. Go play like two, three quick games and then I gotta retire.


David: [00:02:10] 

Oh that’s- that’s good. Three games still, man. That’s great. You’re hanging in there. Did you learn anything in basketball that you can apply to your work today? And didn’t basketball also have something to do with getting your first break?


Jonny: [00:02:22] 



David: [00:02:23] 

By connecting with Sean Puffy Combs?


Jonny: [00:02:25] 

If you ask like how it’s similar to what I have going on now, I was always the captain or the leader of the basketball team when I would play. I guess I had that in me from an early age to want to succeed and win. I remember practicing for fucking, you know, all day, all night, everyday, during high school. But once I realized that I wasn’t going to the NBA, you know, I was like two steps too slow, I just really stopped. But until that point, it was almost obsessive. And that’s kind of how I apply, you know, my work ethic to music. Especially early on. And then, yeah, to your point, the break I got was pretty funny. I was living in the Hamptons at that time. I moved from New York City to the Hamptons, was in my Junior year of high school. And we would go play ball at the East Hampton High School Park, on the weekends. Just like a bunch of us would show up and just play. And, one day Puff and a whole squad of people that work for him just showed up at the park, started playing ball with us. You know, we were talking shit to them. And one of his like main guys took a real liking to me, um, just as far as my hustle and grind. And I was throwing parties out there already and stuff, so I kind of made a relationship with him. And then from there, I wound up saving the day, on their Bad Boy Retreat in 2000. 


So they’d come out to the Hamptons, like two hundred people, his whole staff, and you know, I had been in touch with them since I would get them basketball courts when they would come up to the Hamptons and shit. And, they got to the Hamptons with the whole staff and they had no place to do their event, because they didn’t get permits. So they showed up at this park with the whole Bad Boy staff, and the cops, the town, was like, “Nah, you can’t do that here.” So Jameel Spencer, who I ultimately wound up working for first, at Bad Boy, um he called me and he was like, “Yo, Shipes, is there any way you can help us out, find us a location to do the Bad Boy Retreat?” And my friend owned a huge horse farm out there at the time. So I hit him up and I was like, “Yo, can you pull this off?” You know, and it was his mom’s horse farm and the mom was like, “Oh yeah, of course we’ll do this.” And fast forward, you have two hundred employees doing some team building orientation type of thing. It was pretty funny. But yeah, that’s how I built my relationship with them. And then from there, you know, just grinded until something fell into place.


David: [00:05:14] 

You became an intern or something, right? You actually went to work with him.


Jonny: [00:05:19] 

I interned at Bad Boy, I worked underneath Jameel Spencer, Blue Flame, which was Puff’s marketing company, during the heyday of the Bad Boy label side of things. And then at nights, I would just sneak into the Studio Daddy’s House, which was like two blocks down, and just be a fly on the wall and watch how music was made and observed all types of legendary shit that just kinda sunk in over the years, you know? 


David: [00:05:51] 

So when you were exposed to all of this, you were exposed to the marketing, you were exposed to the music making, you were exposed to the artists, of all the different pieces was most appealing to you?


Jonny: [00:06:08] 

Everything I live by in music is- based on a phrase, “For the love of music.” And that’s what got me into it at first. I’ve loved music since the day- I remember the day that I heard, The Ghetto Boys, Run DMC, and The Beastie Boys, for the first time. I was like six-years-old. My parents sent me away to sleepaway camp at six. Yeah, that’s fucked up. That’s a whole ‘nother conversation there, [laughter] to be had. But I was the youngest kid in the whole camp, right? And the older kids took me under their wing, cause I was this little, little kid. And I remember, hearing this music and being like, “Yo, I love this.” And from that point on, I was just immersed in music. I was the kid on the back of the school bus with the headphones on listening to whatever it was at the time, you know? Six, seven, eight-years-old putting together mixtapes for my classmates by the time I was like ten, twelve. So what pushed me and what made me do it, was just my love for it, you know? 

And I can tell you story after story of me being broke. Not being able to afford a subway up to Def Jam or to Bad Boy to work that day as an intern. 



When you read business books today by famous CEOs, they always talk about their successes, the great decisions they made and how hard they work, we don’t really hear much about the role of luck in creating a successful business. There’s a lot about the great successes, but very little about the failures, the resilience, surviving the ups and downs of the economy and just personal issues that come up. You very much learned the ropes on the job, right? You didn’t come in with any kind of experience other than your own passions and interests. Would you advise others to follow in your footsteps, if they have the same interest? Or tell them to go to college? Or what would you tell kids today? I know you do mentoring and that’s important to you as well.


Jonny: [00:11:29] 

For me, my experience and how I’ve gotten here was priceless. Like I couldn’t have paid for it in college with tuition, and that’s not to tell kids not to go to school. I think if you’re going to school to be, a lawyer, a doctor, certain things, it’s- it’s mandatory and you should go. In my opinion, in this industry especially, all it takes is- is hard, hard work, perseverance, believing in yourself when no one else does. And then being focused enough in all of your failures to, when that luck hits, when you meet Sean Kingston or Nipsey, or whoever I’ve been lucky enough to come across, what you do with that luck, and incredible talent, you can’t learn that anywhere, you just gotta learn it by failing.


Jonny: [00:12:29] 

And doing it over and then succeeding, and remember what worked. That to me is the only way to do it in the music industry, from my vantage point, you know? No one was gonna give me a record label, no one was gonna say, “Oh yeah, I believe in you, you know, eighteen-year-old kid that thinks, you know-” Cinematic was started in 2007, because that’s when my first success was. The reality is is Cinematic has been around in real, like real time, since 1998. 2000, I put out my first mixtape, right? I found Smoke DZA in 2000. It was seven years before you ever even heard of Cinematic, and then I got lucky enough to- one thing to lead to the next, lead to the next, and led me to Sean Kingston and Nipsey. 


The best experience you can get is hands on experience. I love finding young kids. A young dude or a young girl that’s just hungry and willing to like take a shot on themselves. And that’s really how I identify it. Almost half the staff at Cinematic–that, to me, is maybe not the standard practices of how people get hired at the majors, but for me, I just look for people that have that- that animal instinct, that killer instinct if they’re shown the right way, and- underneath my wing for a little bit, they can really make it. I try to weed out kids that just want to do it cause they think it’s cool or they’re entitled, versus the young hungry kid. There was an intern for me last year who kept asking for a job, and I told her, “Look, just find me one artist that- that I believe in and I’ll give you a job, no question. I love your energy and your hustle and your grind. Just find that one act.” And she found Luh Kel, you know? And the rest is- is history. So it all takes that one shot, that person to give you the chance and, you know, that’s how you make it in the music industry. She found a- a big artist she’s now able to take her A&R skills, and whether she stays at Cinematic or goes somewhere else, you know, she’s now able to say, “I found a platinum recording artist.” You know? She didn’t go to school.


David: [00:18:37] 

Right. But would you look down on someone who had a Harvard degree, say,


Jonny: [00:18:41] 

Oh, not at all. Not at all. Not at all.


David: [00:18:44] 



Jonny: [00:18:44] 

First of all, at my company, there’s many people with degrees and extremely smart, you know, people on the business side that advise me. I don’t look down on that at all. Me personally, you know, I definitely march to my own beat. I was a fuck up in high school, a bit of a derelict, but one that had a vision and was focused the whole way through. So that’s my story, but that doesn’t mean, my head of marketing didn’t go and graduate college and he’s equally as smart as me in different areas, you know?


David: [00:19:17] 

Yeah. Cause as you grow your business, obviously, you need to add more people with different talents and perspectives.


Jonny: [00:19:25] 



David: [00:19:25] 

In order to do all the aspects of the business, right?


Jonny: [00:19:28] 



David: [00:19:28] 

So the finance people need to know shit.


Jonny: [00:19:31] 

Yeah, a hundred percent. And then also, you know, if you’re really on point, you know, just cause I didn’t go to school, that doesn’t mean I don’t know how to read a spreadsheet now. Did I know how to read a fuck- a spreadsheet the way, at twenty or twenty-three the way I do at forty? No. But, again, the whole concept of learning the music industry by being in the music industry early on is how you should also apply it to if you don’t wind up going to school, like myself. You know, get smarter every year. Learn from mistakes or things that people point out to you as you keep smarter people around you. If you’re the smartest person in your whole circle, you’re not learning much, you know. I pride myself on that too, just making sure that there’s really smart people around me that I can learn from and continue to learn from.


David: [00:20:20] 

When you signed Sean Kingston back in 2007, what did you have to offer him, since you had, you know, just started your label, I suppose, right around then?


Jonny: [00:20:31] 



David: [00:20:31] 

What was your selling point at that time?


Jonny: [00:20:35] 

That I’m young, hungry, I’m gonna grind crazy for you. Just being able to relate to him, telling him how honest and good of a person I was, and letting, his family feel comfortable with me. I built my whole career on- on doing good business with people. Some people might not like me, and that’s on them. But you’re not gonna find people that say, “Oh yeah, Shipes did bad business with me.” Or, “Shipes, fucked me over.” That’s not how I operate. Telling an artist that, looking them in their face and saying, “Listen, bro. You’re gonna be safe. You’re gonna be protected by me.” You know, that goes a long way. Especially if your actions speak louder than your words. So that was what I did. And he was young. He wasn’t popping yet. So it wasn’t like he had a million people trying to sign him. I’m usually way far ahead on artists before they blow up. So Sean wasn’t big yet. Sean was actually rapping- This is a true story. We were supposed to turn his album in, right? Let’s just say a Friday night, okay? And up until the point before we made Beautiful Girls, okay? If you go back and look at Sean Kingston’s career, he had put out a song called Colors, featuring Rick Ross and somebody else, I can’t remember off the top of my head. And it was more like a rap song. Like Sean Kingston was literally like a rapper, a young rapper, right? And then the day before we’re supposed to turn in the album, JR is in the studio working with, I think it was, Mary J. Blige at the time. And Sean Kingston comes busting through the doors, cause he was in the other room, you know, writing songs. And Sean was like, “You guys gotta listen to this. Listen to this.” And it was the Beautiful Girls sample on the radio. So he had heard the Ben E. King song, the original song, on the radio. And he started singing to JR and us, the Beautiful Girls song. And we all looked at each other, and we were like, “What the fuck?” We’re like, “You sing?” And it turned out, this whole time, that he could sing in patois,  and we didn’t know that. We cut the record that night. His first singing record ever was Beautiful Girls. I was managing Felli Fel at the time, and I sent the record to Felli. We all knew it was a hit record. We woke up in the morning and it was already on forty-one stations.


David: [00:23:00] 



Jonny: [00:23:00] 

And he exploded. And basically, We had to tell the label, “Listen. We have to remake the album, because it’s all rap music, and we’re gonna go in this other direction of singing.” So that goes to show you two things. One is, we all got lucky there, you know what I’m saying? If you find lightning in a bottle you better know what to do with it when that happens. Which we all did, you know. And Sean had a long real career. And is around to this day, I was telling you that story just because, you never know how something is gonna pan out or how your success is gonna come. If you would have told me, “Shipes, your first hit, what’s gonna make other people take you serious is gonna be a pop singer from Jamaica.” I would’ve told you you were crazy, you know what I mean? I- I’m a New York City kid that loves hip hop. Like, no, Nipsey Hussle, or Smoke DZA, or Joey Badass is what I would be known for, you know? That’s what you’d think. But you have to know how to, work any situation,and be able to win in that situation. And the thing is Sean just really surprised everybody. Because like I said, there was no singing records until that night. So you just never know how it’s gonna happen. And that’s how I was able to get him.


David: [00:24:38] 

Well you still have to have good ears and the balls, really, at that point to go to the label and say you want to redo the whole record, and, convince them that you knew what you were talking about.



I would love to take that credit and be like, “Yeah, you know, I had to slam on the table, and kick and scream.” [laughter] But, honestly, the record was so big within forty-eight hours that they were like, “Whatever you want to do, Let’s do it.” 


David: [00:25:05] 

Oh, the single was big right away?


Jonny: [00:25:07] 

Oh yeah. It was huge. Things go viral these days. Back then, it was just radio first. It was at a hundred stations within a week maybe. Everybody was calling. It just happened. So I wish I could say that I had to, you know, go do this epic moment, but they were like, “Yo, whatever you guys just did, just go back and do it.” And we wound up doing it, and put out some other hit records. 


David: [00:25:40] 

The way you were speaking earlier about signing artists and going to their family, and telling them how would protect them, reminds me, sort of, recruiting for college ball. Where these coaches go find some kid that they think is gonna be a super star. They have to go and convince them. He’s got lots of other offers. They have to get close to the family. It becomes very different from the corporate approach. And that’s probably why the corporate doesn’t do very well in these situations, and eventually they have to work with people like you. 


Jonny: [00:26:17] 

I think that’s pretty accurate. It’s funny, cause my brother is an AAU basketball coach. For the record, I’m nicer than him at ball, okay? Just like to throw that out there. He’s an AAU coach, and it’s very similar. You know, you have to build up a trust with the artists slash player, the family, you gotta have a good reputation.


David: [00:26:42] 

What you’ve done in the past, obviously, matters when you’re going forward. You brought up Nipsey Hussle, who has this tragic story. Died last year. Was really on the verge on becoming big, and is big today. What was that experience like, going into his turf? And it was in Los Angeles, and it’s kind of gangland, and everyone hears all these stories. Does that ever come into your thinking? Is this gonna be like a good signing for me, is this gonna be trouble? How do you look at it?


Jonny: [00:27:20] 

Well, definitely when I was younger, I didn’t even think twice about it. It was all only about the talent, and just how good an artist was. I was told before I signed Nip, because I asked, I remember, it was a quiet time for the west coast, and I had asked somebody, I said, “Yo, there’s gotta be somebody fire out here, that like really spits. Who is hot from the streets out here?” And they said to me, they were like, “There’s artist Nipsey Hussle. But, you know, It’s dangerous to get into that situation.” And I, honestly, I listened to that, and didn’t even really think twice about it. I wound up going home to New York, looked him up. He had a song on Myspace. It was one of the most amazing songs I had ever heard at the time. Reminded me of the hardest shit you could possibly hear coming out of the west, on some like 50 Cent, it was called, Bullets Ain’t Got No Names. And it was a crazy record. And I flew right back out to meet him. I went right to his neighborhood, in his hood, and hung with his people and everybody he grew up with. And during those times, for me, it was regular. Like, you know, any artist that I’ve signed, I’m in and out of their cities and working closely with them. I don’t travel as much now, cause I’m running a way bigger company than when I was so hands-on with Nipsey or hands-on with K.R.I.T. or Joey, where I would be with them at every video shoot, at every set, every decision, step of the way. But I still go out there and link with people whenever I can. To answer your question, it wasn’t culture shock or anything like that when I stepped into his neighborhood or any other neighborhood, just cause, I’m used to- to living that type of lifestyle, growing up as a teenager. At this point, uh, still kind of move the same way that I did when I was younger? No. But that’s a good thing, cause I’m older and smarter and, you know…


David: [00:29:34] 

[laughs] And you’re not as fast. You can’t run as fast.


Jonny: [00:29:38] 

Yeah, all that. [laughter] You nailed it. I just don’t, you know, it’s a different day and age. And if I don’t have to be all in the mix of stuff, I don’t really like to be.


David: [00:29:49] 

You mentioned Yungeen Ace, who you signed when he got out of prison.


Jonny: [00:30:04] 



David: [00:30:04] 

Right away, right? So does that factor into your signings and thinking? I mean, is this gonna be trouble? You know, are you worried you’re gonna get a 69 Tekashi thing going?


Jonny: [00:30:18] 

For the record, I wouldn’t have continued to support him based on everything he did, but based on how disrespectful he was to the dead. Tekashi, I’m talking about.


David: [00:30:34] 



Jonny: [00:30:34] 

You never know what’s gonna happen with an artist. So, you know, I can’t say, “Oh, I wouldn’t have signed Tekashi early on.” But, just how disrespectful he was to so many good people that have passed away, Nipsey included, you know, and others. He’s just a creep, that kid. But to stay in a good, space with the interview, my bad. Uh. What was the question again? You said something-


David: [00:30:58] 

About Yungeen Ace 


Jonny: [00:31:01] 

I don’t look at an artist and say I’m not gonna sign this artist because he has issues or he’s been in trouble in the past. I look at talent, and then I say to myself, “Okay, this might be a risk, but how can I help this artist and person, to get out of the situation they’re currently in and better themselves, and teach them along the way?” And nine times out of ten, that is what happens, you know? Yungeen Ace, uh- And it’s funny you asked me about, you know, being in neighborhoods and stuff, because I actually used to be in Jacksonville a lot, where Yungeen Ace is from, like the trenches, for years. Because I was developing an artist out there prior to Ace, which I’ll get into in a second. But Yungeen Ace is a good example of somebody that really came from the struggle and went through a lot to get to where he’s at now. And now he’s moved to a different city, he’s a legit businessman and artist, and he’s building his brands. That’s like life changing. And when stuff like that happens,there’s never a better feeling, when you know that a plan has come to fruition. And he’s still got a long way to go, but from where he’s come from, he’s very successful. And, set up for success moving forward. To answer your question though, Jacksonville is like really, really rough. And when I was younger, I would like to be out there damn near- for like a couple of weeks at a time, working with this artist, Mob Boss, rest in peace, right. So Mob Boss was the most legendary artist to come out of Jacksonville back in the day. And he was literally getting ready to blow up, and unfortunately he got killed. But I used to be down there, you know, with him in the craziest situations I could find myself in. And to- to your point, you know, Ace is from Jacksonville too, and I will never go down to Jacksonville anymore and like hang with people or anything like that. I’m like, “Yo, bro, we can go anywhere else. But I’ve been there, done that. I’m older now. I’m not trying to be in the mix of any of that crazy shit.” Uh. So yeah, that’s how the older mentality has changed me a little bit.


David: [00:33:19] 

With regard to the videos that the artists put out, do you have any say in the content, for example? If they want to have guns as part of their video…


Jonny: [00:33:32] 

Yeah. You know, I try to curve it. At the end of the day I have to allow the artist to have artist freedom, whatever that means, whatever it is to them. I can’t be somebody that is out of touch with what’s going on and what their competition is doing. I tell everybody, cool out on the drugs, let’s not put guns in videos. You know, just things that I feel will help them on a bigger level than even just music, In life and just how they’re perceived, and if they can, just continue to stay out of trouble. And social media has become just such a trap for artists getting in trouble, that I encourage them not to, but, you know, they don’t listen to me most of the time. Sometimes they do, but…


David: [00:34:33] 

Your motto, you said earlier, was, “For the love music.”


Jonny: [00:34:36] 

Yep. That’s why I do it.


David: [00:34:37] 

Do you think there’ll ever come a time when you age out of the demographic, and your taste will no longer be what the market is looking for? And hand it off to others?


Jonny: [00:34:47] 

I named Cinematic ‘Cinematic’ because the best music, no matter what era its from, genre, you can close your eyes, right, and you can listen to that music, and it’ll paint a picture for you of- of what that artist is saying. If you listen to Bob Marley or you know, Biggie, Nas-


David: [00:35:08] 

Biggie, yeah. I love- Yeah. Biggie does that great.


Jonny: [00:35:10] 

Whoever you want to talk to, people that paint a picture for you, that’s cinematic music. So will I ever age out of a certain type of music? I don’t like a Lil Pump or anything like that, and I never did. Maybe it’s because I’m too old or- I- I wouldn’t have listened to that when I was a kid either, but there’s music that I just don’t understand, and I’ll never do that because it’s not for me. But like based on what is for me, which is timeless music, great music if you look at some of the artists I’ve been lucky enough to work with. They’re legends. They’re gonna be around for the ages. So I think that those type of artists are what I identify with best anyway, so I’m not really here riding a wave that is gonna disappear in a year or two, cause great artists are always gonna be around, you just gotta find them. So, no, I think I’ll probably do this ’til I’m like sixty-five, you know, and be done at that point. Maybe I’ll keep going because, you know, I love the music. But there have been times over the past few years, growing pains of, “Yo, I don’t love music anymore.” And this is a problem for me. I don’t love that this has become such a job, and I- I’m not in the studio as much producing or working on music, like how I used to be. There are times when I fell out of times with music, and those were the hardest times to bounce back from. Cause you have to love what you do, you know? At least I do. 


David: [00:36:39] 

Yeah. Completely. I totally get it. Especially, as the years go on and it starts to seem like a job, something that you’re just repeating yourself over and over again. But I suppose that you have all these other things you’re starting up, and you’re interested in as well. So maybe that’s something that you can continue beyond sixty-five, cause I think people will still be eating donuts.


Jonny: [00:37:04] 

And smoking weed.


David: [00:37:06] 

And smoking weed. Together, probably. [laughs] At the same time.


Jonny: [00:37:10] 

Sixty-five- sixty-five ’til you’re done. You’re just on your porch, smoking a doobie, eating a donut, drinking a coffee. You know, that’s your life at that point. I got everything figured out from the early years, forty to sixty-five, and then sixty-five on.


David: [00:37:24] 

Well you gotta get a coffee business going. I think coffee and weed is a good combo.


Jonny: [00:37:29] 

The donut spot, Grindstone is really well known for their coffee.


David: [00:37:34] 



Jonny: [00:37:34] 

We actually just started wholesaling and direct to consumer stuff too. I’ll get you- If you’re a coffee drinker, I’ll get you some. It’s really, really good.


David: [00:37:43] 

Oh yeah. Well let’s talk about the cannabis Smoker’s Club. What is the genesis of that, and how does that fit in with what you’re doing in general? How do you want Cinematic to be perceived?


Jonny: [00:37:57] 

Yeah. So Smoker’s Club and Cinematic are two totally separate brands. You know, Cinematic is a music company and it’s a serious company for the most part. We joke around a lot at Cinematic, but the branding of it and the aesthetic of it is- is a different type of legacy. Versus Smoker’s Club, which is more my version of what National Lampoon’s was back in the day, if you will. Smoker’s Club, for me, is just like me and the homies, it’s our funny, younger side, if you will, on display for the marijuana consumer, if you will. So it’s our lifestyle put on stage. We started it ten years ago touring it was a time in music when hip hop artists weren’t really touring unless they were huge artists. So, we were really tight with Curren$y and Wiz, DZ and K.R.I.T. were signed to me. And we couldn’t get any shows. And I was just like, “Yo, this is crazy.” And I wound up talking to this promoter at the time, and he’s like, “Yo, you guys should go do a show down at South By.” And I was like, “What is South By?” I’d never heard of South By Southwest. They tell me what South By Southwest is, I look into it. Flash forward like, three months, and we throw the first ever Smoker’s Club event at South By. And the line was like, literally, like a block and a half. Like everyone was trying to get it. And if you look at the shirt – I still have it to this day – the last name on the line-up is Kendrick Lamar.


David: [00:39:47] 



Jonny: [00:39:47] 

That’s how early on it was, you know? And like the headliner was like Devin The Dude and Wiz Khalifa, right? The lineage of Smoker’s Club, and who’s been through our tours and festivals, are everybody from the Kendricks and Wizs of the world to Kid Cudi and Nip, and Mac Miller, rest in peace. All the homies of that era of- of hip hop, we kind of came up together. So that’s where Smoker’s Club started. It was a tour at first. We toured with everybody. The first time Mac ever left the States was with us to Canada. He was a kid. You know, shit like that. Just legendary shit. And from there we started doing festivals, and then we noticed our merchandise was being sold all over eBay, reselling stuff for like two, three hundred dollars. So we were like, “Alright, we’re clearly onto something here.” We started selling clothing that morphed into the clothing side. Now, mind you, we’re from the east coast, so the founders of the company are myself, Smoke DZA, and Shiest Bubz, who started Purple City back in the day. He was known for one of the best cannabis strains in New York City. It was called Piff, right. The lineage is east cost, right? Everything I’m telling you that- that happened in these first ten years has all been without marijuana. Meaning like it’s the lifestyle side of weed. So you’re doing festivals, you’re touring, and you’re selling a whole bunch of merchandise that says Smoker’s Club, right? But we never entered into the actual legal weed game, cause we’d been in New York. Um. So that was what the first ten years was. It was basically just the lifestyle side. And more recently, we bought a dispensary out in Detroit, and a thirty thousand square foot grow, parallel with the dispensary. So we’re launching that. We’re hoping to have it open 4-20, but it might be closer to June. So now we’re moving into the legal cannabis space as well. Smoker’s Club was started by three really close friends, and we kinda just are slowly creeping our way into, you know, every avenue of cannabis.


David: [00:42:03] 

Well that’s cool. And especially because you do come from the culture. Someone like me, who’s also been around for quite a while and seen the evolution of the cannabis culture, and seeing, today, how it’s become a commodity for a lot of people, and attracting a lot of people just for the wrong reasons. Basically financial opportunity. Some relationship to the plant, but not necessarily a deep one. More interested in the commodity. To see that there’s a cultural connection, and keep that going, that seems to be a challenge in the coming years.


Jonny: [00:42:43] 

Yeah, a hundred percent. You really hit it on the head. We really are of the culture. It’s the same reason why I’m able to be successful on the music side as well, cause I’m really from it, I live it. And on the Smoker’s Club side, for us, we laugh about it, cause back in the day, prior to us being successful in the music industry, we did hustle, you know what I mean? I sold weed probably up until I was like twenty-five, and then, obviously, stopped once I was successful and didn’t need to have a side hustle anymore. So to fast forward fifteen years, and now be able to legally sell marijuana, that’s super exciting to me, you know what I mean? And it’s full circle. And, you know, I plan on really giving all the other top brands a run for their money with our brand.


David: [00:43:35] 

Well the branding side is pretty interesting my show is sponsored by Burb Cannabis out of Vancouver.


Jonny: [00:43:42] 



David: [00:43:42] 

We’ve always wanted to maintain that stance of having a culture, and this podcast is really, their way of connecting to the culture. So it’s not just like a commodity and a dispensary. Are you gonna design your space to be something extra special?


Jonny: [00:44:12] 

Oh, it’s gonna be so fire. It’s gonna be crazy. We actually had a call yesterday about this. I don’t know how much I can divulge. Because this is gonna air pretty soon, right?


David: [00:44:26] 

Um. Yeah, a couple of weeks, probably.


Jonny: [00:44:28] 

I don’t want people stealing our idea. It’s gonna be a very cool, new twist on what a dispensary vibe is currently. And I think people will like it a lot. That’s all I can give away right now. And I can promise an experience that hasn’t been given to any other dispensary in the country so far, from what I have been able to gather. You’re gonna go there, you’re gonna be able to buy your weed, and then, let’s just say, on the way out, there’ll be, a buffet of munchies. I can’t talk about it too much, but it’s gonna be fire.


David: [00:45:12] 

Okay. Sounds interesting.


Jonny: [00:45:14] 



David: [00:45:14] 

Do you expect to expand that as well and open up in other cities and keep that growing?


Jonny: [00:45:24] 

Yeah. Yeah, we’ve had some other opportunities come our way. You know, as these other States go legal on the rec side, different companies have reached out seeing if we want to license our name to them to, use for their store, and rename the store The Smoker’s Club. Which, we’re open to. But it’s just gotta make sense. We found good partners in Detroit. These dudes, 3-15 (spelling?), it felt right, and they had their shit together. They have other stores operating in the State already. It took us ten years to get this far. We feel we’ve mastered the touring and festival side, and the clothing accessory side, and we want to continue that once, you know, the pandemic is over and things open back up. And now we want to kind of come up with our blueprint to the weed side of things.


David: [00:46:18] 

And what is the name of the brand of the cannabis that you’re going to be selling?


Jonny: [00:46:22] 

So it’s The Smoker’s Club across, through and through. So you’ll have the Smoker’s Club gelato, or the Smoker’s Club job stopper-


David: [00:46:30] 



Jonny: [00:46:30] 

…that’s a strain we’re working on right now. It’s called job stopper. We have purp invaders. Different strains we’re developing, but it’s all under the Smoker’s Club umbrella.


David: [00:46:43] 

Yeah, there’s a huge opportunity there. There’s strains that people have heard about over the years, but when it comes to branding, especially because it’s not a national – legally, yet – so every State has to have its own rules and regulations about what you can do, and how you could even talk about the brand. Or you can’t do advertising, and you can’t do a certain kind of marketing. You have a great start, with your Instagram and Smoker’s Club history. So that’s a great launch pad. But, we’ve seen now that everyone from Martha Stewart to Snoop and Wiz, have brands at this point. Any secrets that you might share about what the marketing strategy around this could be?


Jonny: [00:47:34] 

You know, honestly, I find that when you market things truthfully, as long as they’re hot- meaning if you have a great artist and you market them the right way, it’s gonna go because he’s a good artist already, you know? Or she’s a good artist. The Smoker’s Club is a legit lifestyle brand. You could say we built it, but we lived it, like since we all smoked weed for the first time in, whatever park we were in at thirteen. It’s just us through and through. So it’s all about just giving our lifestyle to the world the way we truthfully live it, through our clothing and our festivals and tours and weed, that’s the marketing plan. Not even to, uh, try to sound cliché, but if you’re not really living it, and- and people don’t find your brand, accessible and want to be a part of it, then it’s just not gonna work, you know? And we’re lucky enough to have a lot of the- the necessary ingredients for success to take it to the next level. And I think that that’s honestly how I look at it. There’s no like crazy marketing scheme. It’s just about continuing to push Smoker’s Club forward, growing it bigger and bigger, year over year, you know?


David: [00:48:59] 

Would you look to involve your artists in this at all?


Jonny: [00:49:02] 



David: [00:49:02] 

With regard to branding and things like that?


Jonny: [00:49:04] 

Yeah. Yeah, I mean, you know, The Smoker’s Club wouldn’t be The Smoker’s Club without the artists. You know, let me take a step back, when I say ‘we’, I wasn’t just saying me, Bubz, and DZA. You know, the club, at its core, is a bunch of artists and, other music industry homies, executives people we grew up with that share, love of bud and joking around, smoking and joking. We use that term a lot. It’s a bunch of us. But that platform, uh, definitely allows for the club to be on- on a different level, you know? We’re not paying artists to wear the clothing, artists actually want to wear the clothes. We just seed it, we have good relationships with people, and the clothing is dope, so they wear it.


David: [00:49:53] 

What about, let’s say a collab with the Nipsey Hussle brand and put that on a cannabis, uh, thing?


Jonny: [00:50:02] 

Yeah, I was talking to Sam about, maybe doing some Smoker’s Club Marathon cannabis collab. I had a lotta of love and respect for Nip, so I don’t really want to do anything on a collab-level with him not here, you know? Like-


David: [00:50:22] 

No, I hear you. I just used his name. But any of your artists. You know, your musical artists that you work with, who have, a huge audience and a lot of credibility.


Jonny: [00:50:30] 



David: [00:50:30] 

So it- it sounds like it would be a cool thing to do.


Jonny: [00:50:33] 

Yeah. No, definitely. We’re definitely working on stuff like that. And- a not even just artists that are signed to Cinematic. Just artists in general that have a good brand that can sell a strain of weed. We’re definitely having conversations with them already about putting their stamp on the Detroit store.


David: [00:50:55] 

Before we end, I’d love to hear a little bit about what you have planned for Twitch. Is that still in the works, to start, a gaming platform?


Jonny: [00:51:05] 

Yeah. We’ve gone back and forth on what I want to do personally outside of- everything we just discussed. Meaning, like my brand as in myself. Not any of my brands that I’ve started. And, when you look at how I most enjoy interacting with people and stuff, it’s really where I can share my like knowledge or my thoughts on music, or, joking around with people. I like to interact in a better way than just Instagram or whatever. And I found that watching other people’s Twitches and seeing them being able to hone in on their fanbase, and have direct contact with them. Uh. We’re starting this Twitch account, called Good Talk, and it’ll just be Good Talk with Jonny Shipes. And on different days, you know, I might log on and, uh, review music, I might log on and just talk to young kids about advice or any tips I can give up and coming executives. I might review food. Just the random shit that I do on my Instagram, but just a little more personal on my Twitch channel.


David: [00:52:28] 

And comedy. Comedy’s a big thing as well.


Jonny: [00:52:30] 

Of course. Of course. My most proud moment, uh, in a long time has been man- signing Drewski to management, you know? I’m very excited on the comedy stuff. A big goal and aspiration of mine, is to do comedy. So hopefully, you know, I’m on my way.


David: [00:52:51] 

Yeah, man, you’ve got a lot going on. Thank you so much for, uh, stopping for a minute to talk with me.


Jonny: [00:52:59] 



David: [00:52:59] 

I look forward to meeting you in person.


Jonny: [00:53:01] 

Definitely. Once the pandemic is over. And I appreciate your time and thinking of me for the interview.


David: [00:53:07] 

Yeah, man, thanks so much.


Jonny: [00:53:08] 

Alright. Later, guys.





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