After forming relationships through New York City’s busy rap scene, Jonny Shipes, Smoke DZA, and Shiest Bubz founded the popular lifestyle brand The Smoker’s Club in 2010. Inspired by their love for hip-hop and cannabis, The Smoker’s Club later evolved into a tour, whose first shows featured performances by Kendrick Lamar, Curren$y, and DZA himself. Fast forward 12 years later, and new heights will be achieved with their annual festival on Saturday at the Glen Helen Amphitheatre in Southern Calif. (April 30).
“Everybody here wants to do more than one thing,” Bubz tells Billboard. “We always wanted to be diverse and knew of our reach.” Attendees will witness examples of what’s current (Playboi Carti), up next (Yeat) and timeless (Wiz Khalifa and Lupe Fiasco performing their standout projects Kush & Orange Juice and Food & Liquor, respectively) while enjoying the treats that The Smoker’s Club made for them.
“Where you have a lot of festivals who throw any and everybody on their bills, we always start with the core performers who makes sense for us,” says Shipes. “[Kid] Cudi and [A$AP] Rocky have performed for us for years and we have good relationships with all of them. Then you have Carti who is for the youth. And when you start adding folks like Joey Bada$$ and Wiz, who’ll both be performing 1999 and Kush & Orange Juice in full, we’re able to highlight those we grew up on and have been relevant throughout the years.”
As they became a respected platform, The Smoker’s Club also broke through in the cannabis world. The trio of rap aficionados grew their own strains, launched a lifestyle brand, and collaborated with mainstays such as Cookies, Packwoods, Runtz, and more. “That’s our duty, to create and give others their start,” DZA said. “We take pride in setting trends, being fun, and spreading love.”
Billboard spoke with the founding members of The Smoker’s Club about their upcoming festival, how they brought hip-hop and cannabis together, and more.
Jonny, what is your earliest memory of The Smoker’s Club?
First, Bubz is DZA and I’s OG — whether it was with music or weed — because our connection goes back ten years prior to the start of The Smoker’s Club. And then later, after DZA and I started Cinematic [Music Group], Bubz was the first artist I managed, and he was the biggest indie artist in the city. So we were meant to form something because our relationship was so strong.
At the time of The Smoker’s Club launching, Steve-O from GFC, who’s now a former member of the company, was with us and he played a huge part at that time. We were just chilling at my crib one day on 23rd Street, with DZA and Spitta, and Steve-O mentioned the idea of doing an event at SXSW. Later that day, we came up with the name of the company and did that show with Spitta, Bubz, and DZA. Heck, I still have the shirt from that night. [Laughs.] Kendrick was the last name on the t-shirt, and Devin the Dude was our headliner.
When you think of how The Smoker’s Club changed hip-hop, what comes to mind?
DZA: I would say the way we toured. Throughout the 2010s, we broke through on a national scale despite being independent and only having mixtapes and merchandise. That’s why I say we’re trail blazers, because a lot of touring acts came after us and used how we structured our tour routes and handled business.
Shipes: It sounds like a bold and broad statement, but it’s true. Back then, independent artists wasn’t touring the way they are today, where someone like Larry June can have their fanbase and rock out across the country. That blueprint was created by us, Dom [Kennedy], Spitta, Wiz, and others, and we had to believe in ourselves when no other else did.
Weed culture is fully accepted in hip-hop now. Given the role The Smoker’s Club played in that transformation, how does it feel?
DZA: Honestly, it sucks being first. [Laughs.] A lot of the stuff we did, other people got credit for, and the appreciation comes based on where you are in the space.
Bubz: I’ll say this though: Ever since I was young, I’ve been swagger-jacked, or whatever you want to call it. The Smokers Club’s legacy is established, and the people know what’s up. The three of us are creatives who strived to leave an impact and touch everybody out there. So even when people don’t give us our credit, and try to take our kindness for weakness, we don’t pay attention to that. We’re looking ahead and accepting the love.
Bubz, how does one work in a group like this despite being successful on their own like you were?
Bubz: I had a calling of what I wanted to do next in my career, which was hosting and introducing new talent. I already did everything between having my own record label, going on tour, and being on Purple City (with Jim Jones and Un Casa). Shipes and DZA filled key positions given what they had going on. Shipes was working with Sean Kingston when he popped off, and was with Nipsey [Hussle] too.
DZA was moving, since he had a record with Devin The Dude and [was] finding himself. So, my entry with The Smoker’s Club was a dream come true, because we all did what we wanted. I get to promote, Shipes is handling business, and DZA is rapping whenever he wants. It came together.
Do any of you remember that moment of realization when The Smoker’s Club would work?
Bubz: When we had our first show. [Laughs.] I had butterflies in my stomach, and I knew we were meant to do this for the rest of our lives.
Shipes: I could cry now that I think about those times, especially with the people we lost. Mac Miller’s first show overseas was with us, and he was hiding from his girlfriend because girls were chasing him all over the hotel. I remember Nipsey telling me he couldn’t join The Smoker’s Club because where he’s from, they call crackheads “smokers.” [Laughs.] But he always said when we blew up, he’ll be a part of the team, but not labeled a smoker.
We’re actually writing a book about our experiences as The Smoker’s Club and plan on releasing it in our 15th year. It’s surreal that we’ve seen what we seen based on weed and music. But Bubz always tell me, we were destined to do this.