The year was 2011, and the location was New Haven, Conn. at the legendary Toad’s Place concert venue. This was my first Smokers Club experience, and it was a doozy.
First, the soul-shattering bass of Ricky Hil’s SYLDD set the stage, followed by my introduction to Mississippi’s underappreciated treasure of an artist, Big K.R.I.T. Next came one of the more memorable live sets of my entire life, seeing a broken-legged Curren$y perform from a couch that was carried around by his stagehands. The set was quite inspirational as the dense smoke in the air was making me yearn for a similar piece of furniture to nab a quick siesta. The night closed out with a set from Wu-Tang Clansman Method Man, who somehow parted the clouds of kush in the air as he walked on the hands of the crowd as if he was the marijuana messiah.
I had been to concerts and seen people smoking weed at said concerts before — and maybe had even partaken. But I had never been to a concert curated by and for the everyday weed smoker, where cannabis culture was not only embraced but celebrated. It was special and magical and made me oh-so-hungry after, which was fine because New Haven pizza is world-renowned and coming up with reasons to buy slices is part of a very unique set of skills I possess.
Fast forward to 2018, and weed culture has come quite a long way since 2011 — like, it’s actually legalized in many places.
However, some of the biggest concerts and festivals in the country still take a prohibitionist stance on cannabis, even when they profit directly from the culture by booking artists that make weed-friendly music and subsequently attract cannabis smokers to buy tickets.
Coachella, the biggest culprit of them all, came out this year and reaffirmed their restrictive rules on marijuana at the festival. Arguably the most recognized mega-festival on Earth, Coachella is held in California, where cannabis culture is well established and the plant is now legal for adult-use.
But Smokers Club has remained true to its roots all these years, and like the plant it champions, keeps growing and growing.
In fact, this year Smokers Club is going through its biggest transformation ever, transitioning from a tour of medium-sized venues to a full-blown two-day festival held in weed-rap mecca Long Beach, California. The two-day smoke-out boasts an insane lineup sure to please fans young and slightly less young, featuring the reclusive Kid Cudi, Schoolboy Q, and Wiz Khalifa performing his classic project Kush & Orange Juice in its entirety. The inaugural Smokers Club Festival also features buzzing newcomers like Trippie Redd, Lil Skies, Dave East, and Isaiah Rashad. Seasoned veterans of the Smokers Club tour like Curren$y, The Underachievers, and Juicy J are returning for the festival, going down April 28-29, as is Smokers Club co-founder Smoke DZA.
Smoke DZA and fellow founder Jonnyshipes have been cultivating this club since it was a seedling of a tour way back in 2010, working their way through the growing pains to see their idea harvested into the massive success this festival seems like it will be (it’s just about sold out).
Marijuana.com sat down with Shipes, the owner of New York-based label Cinematic Music Group, and DZA, a Harlem-raised rapper with an extensive resume, to gain some insight into the decision to expand and their thoughts on weed culture at concerts, among other things. Spoiler alert: we also smoked a bunch of weed.
Marijuana.com: DZA, what’s it like hitting that Smokers Club stage?
Smoke DZA: As one of the founders of Smokers Club, it’s a different feeling when I hit that stage. I’m way more invested. This is our Coachella, our Bonnaroo, something for our culture. It’s unique and needed, a lot of people try to duplicate it but it doesn’t get better than the original.
MJ: How special will it be this year to have legends like Kid Cudi and Wiz Khalifa on the bill?
DZA: It’s fucking surreal. Even [Schoolboy] Q and Spitta, and 2 Chainz, there’s a lot of great people there this year. I’m interested to watch the show both days, even when I’m not performing. I’m just going to be a fan because there’s a lot of people I want to see, even though I was bitching about the flyer.
Jonnyshipes: The flyer is my fault!
DZA: [Laughs] They have to put some respect on my name, man. My shit is mad small on there. All due respect to the other guys on the bill, but who the fuck are these other guys and why is my name so microscopic?
MJ: That did catch my eye.
JS: DZA called me about it and I didn’t even realize what was going on yet, but I would be heated, too. I don’t want to blame others because I’m in business with them, but they basically took the artwork and put it out a day and a half before we knew about it. It was just upsetting because DZA’s name was higher on the version we were going to put out. They just jumped the gun, which was a little whack.
MJ: Was the tour always building toward this or what prompted the change to a festival format?
JS: As DZA, Spitta, and KRIT were starting to pop and people kept asking about a tour, underground rap wasn’t really traveling like that. You had to be a Jay or Dre or somebody huge to get a good tour going. We were very ahead of the curve, and for the first few years of the tour, it was very different than anything anyone had experienced before. Now that Soundcloud and other streaming sites have helped bring a lot more underground rap to the forefront, you have a million of these hip-hop tours. It’s the dominant genre in music right now, and in any given month, there’s four, five, six rap tours going in and out of every city. For us, it felt like it was time to look for something bigger.
When I went to Coachella two years ago with Joey [Bada$$], it was the first time I was experiencing festival culture at that magnitude. It just hit me that we have this great brand in Smokers Club and maybe we’ve been doing it wrong the past couple of years. Last year, we took a step back and didn’t do the tour. We just wanted to figure out what the Smokers Club is really going to be.
MJ: How big of a role does marijuana play in concert and festival culture, and is it disheartening when big-name properties like Coachella turn their back on weed?
JS: You can’t smoke weed at Coachella? That’s crazy.
DZA: That’s fucked up, it takes away from the experience. For us, the stoners, and all those with hippie tendencies, the weed is a huge part of the music and the experience overall. It would be blasphemous for us to try to tell people not to smoke at Smokers Club.
JS: Certain people sniff cocaine or take molly to go experience their music at an EDM festival, so why would anyone care about marijuana?
DZA: That’s why we’re cooler, just come to our shit. The weed will be flowing and the blunts will be burning.
JS: Wait until we make the announcement of all announcements.
MJ: C’mon, let us get the scoop.
JS: What I can tell you is that we’re going to shoot a film called “The Smokers Club” at the Smokers Club Festival and it’ll be a mockumentary, kind of like a “Spinal Tap.” Wiz will be in it, Cam’Ron will be in it, Dom Kennedy will be in it, Mac [Miller] is going to be in it. It’ll be hysterical, just about how frazzled Smokers Club was in the beginning. In the early days, I was damn near a janky promoter, we just rented a van…
DZA: No, we had a tour bus. But it was wild, we were missing shows and shit.
MJ: Why were you guys missing shows?
JS: [Laughs] We just didn’t know what we were doing.
DZA: We were in Philly or something and had to go to Canada next and Shipes overslept. We were blowing up your phone.
JS: It was me that made us miss the show?
DZA: Yes, it was you! I kept calling you. I had something else booked in Vancouver besides the show so I was extra mad because you made me miss both. Then once you were finally ready to go, we got stuck at the border. We always get jammed at the border, but if we had left on time, we had the border calculated into our schedule.
JS: I have to fact check this story.
DZA: Nah, this is all facts. I will say those first few years were Maniacville because we were all together with a bunch of fire weed. This guy isn’t just Jonny Shipes, he’s a part of the fuckery, too. You would think the artists are the ones going wild on tour but it’s him. That’s what makes Smokers Club so much fun. He used to dress up in bunny costumes and come dance on stage during my set.
JS: I dressed up as Kenny Powers one time, too.
DZA: We have a lot of fun, which is what made Smokers Club something that artists love being a part of.
JS: That’s what made us different.
MJ: So, now it’s fun and makes money?
JS: The best of both worlds. This festival is a statement. Kush & OJ is one of my favorite albums of all time and I know stoners worldwide would agree with me, so that will be a moment with Wiz. I don’t want to do anything average.
Smokers Club Festival takes place the weekend of April 28 in Long Beach at the Queen Mary. Select tickets are still available, but you should hurry.
In the meantime, peep Smoke DZA’s first single from his next album, “The Mood” featuring Joey Bada$$.
Once you’re done checking that out, here’s a Marijuana.com-curated Smokers Club Festival playlist to get you ready for the big weekend. Let us know who you’re most excited to see in the comments below.