Whether he’s scouting for the next “good eats” spot in New York City, executive producing the next big project in hip-hop, or hanging out with your favorite artist’s favorite artist, you can always expect Jonnyshipes to be in the mix. At only 43 years old, Shipes has managed to build an entertainment empire that one could only dream of. We had the opportunity to sit down with Jonny to learn more about his journey throughout the music industry in the last 20+ years, and take a glimpse into what the future holds for the musical mastermind.
This a deep-dive into the world that is Jonnyshipes.
How it All Started: Cinematic Music Group
Jonny’s story starts with Cinematic Music Group in the year 2000, stemming from his relationship with legendary Harlem emcee Smoke DZA. The two met at a slam freestyle battle, where Shipes witnessed DZA battle Immortal Technique in the finals, instantly recognized the talent that DZA possessed, and approached him in awe. The legendary partnership was born that day, and both Shipes and DZA started the journey that would turn out to be Cinematic. From the start, Shipes knew that he wanted Cinematic to be more than just any other music label. Cinematic was going to be a company that would always put the artist’s vision first and always operate for the love of the music.
“There was always just a certain aura about Cinematic. For example, if it was Wiz (Khalifa) we’d link with him and there wasn’t any corporate shit involved, it was just us hanging out smokin, jokin, and chillin. In the early days, we never really looked at Cinematic like a business, it was always for the love. I never really took the music industry seriously until I was about 30 years old. Up until then I was just doing it because I loved doing it.”
Around the same time that Shipes met Smoke DZA, he also started interning for Sean Combs. His time as an intern for Puff was a big motivating factor for Shipes, as it showed him that it was really possible to make it in the music business as long as you had a vision, outworked everybody else, and never quit under any circumstances.
“I would just go to the studio at night and be in the sessions like a fly on the wall. I’d be running to get them food and whatever else they needed, and it was a very dope time in hip-hop. We had all these ill writers in the studio like Jack Knight and Mario Winans. I watched so many hit records get made in that studio that it was just another reinforcement that the music business could be a tangible thing. If you believe in yourself and push yourself enough, then there isn’t anything you won’t be able to do.”
Shipes’s time in the industry up until now had consisted of smaller wins here and there where he would make splashes in the industry with management clients such as Nappy Roots, Dj Felli Fel, Dj Spinbad, but his biggest break came in 2007, with the signing of Sean Kingston. That signing opened the doors to signing Nipsey Hussle. Now the industry was taking Jonnyshipes seriously.
“I was managing Dj Felli Fel at the time, and he was really a key factor in the way we broke Sean Kingston. He had the biggest station in the country. Power 106 was the #1 slot. I sent the Kingston record to Fel and the rest was history. We woke up the next morning and Hawaii was playing it, New York was playing it, it just went nuts. Lightning in a bottle as I like to call it. You’re lucky if you catch it one time in your career, let alone a few times.”
Cinematic’s streak of success continued with the signing of Nipsey Hussle in 2009, but this was just the beginning. While writing his first chapter in the music industry with Cinematic, Shipes was also responsible for signing major career artists such as Joey Bada$$, T-Pain, G-Herbo, and Flipp Dinero, just to name a few. Cinematic continued its monster run all the way up until 2023, where the company was eventually sold to Interscope Geffen A&M.
With this, Shipes drew the curtain on his first venture in the music industry. The Cinematic story was coming to a close, but Shipes had already started writing the next few chapters.
Solidifying the Foundation: The Smoker’s Club
Smoker’s Club was a chapter that had been written alongside Cinematic, and it happened completely by accident. Smoker’s Club was always a part of the Jonnyshipes world, even as early as 1996, when Shipes was 14 years old and discovered his love for cannabis. In his younger years, the sale of cannabis played a huge role in both Jonnyshipes and Smoke DZA’s life as they tried to fund their ventures with Cinematic.
“Smoker’s Club has been with me since 2000 because I’ve been smoking since I was 16, so really that’s 1996. As a kid, I was hustling weed to fund the label. I don’t do that anymore, but back in the day me, Dza, and Bubz were selling weed all over the tri-state area. Anyone that knows us knows that Smoker’s Club has been around.”
Although it had been a part of the Jonnyshipes world for years prior, Smoker’s Club started officially during a trip to Austin’s infamous music festival SXSW. During the planning phase of a show that Shipes and DZA were trying to put together during the festival, the brand Smoker’s Club was born. The first Smoker’s Club at SXSW consisted of a star-studded lineup, with the opener being hip-hop newcomer at the time Kendrick Lamar, and the headliner being Devin the Dude.
“We have this crazy event with all these crazy artists, and we’re so high that I had forgotten to book the venue. We just called around town until we found this one spot that was able to host us. This spot called The Firehouse Lounge. We threw the event and it was nuts, hundreds and hundreds of people showed up. After that, we started getting hit up by tons of people to come to their cities and throw shows there. We didn’t know what we were doing, but we just took some bread, rented a bus, and went 30-40 cities booking different shows.”
What started as a singular show evolved into a country wide tour, and then evolved even further to one of the biggest entities in the crossroads of the hip-hop and cannabis space. With more festivals on the way, there’s no doubt that you’ll see Smoker’s Club Fest in a city near you. That’s not all though, as Jonnyshipes continues to find ways to evolve and innovate within the Smoker’s Club brand. In the past 2 years he has launched the cannabis side of Smoker’s Club along with an accompanying label, Smoker’s Club Records.
Expanding Into Film & TV: 4Lifers Entertainment
The friendship between Druski and Jonnyshipes started in 2018, when Shipes discovered Druski on Instagram very early in his career. In 2020, their friendship evolved into a partnership, and Shipes came on board Druski‘s brand 4Lifers as a partner.
“Druski is a comic genius. Coulda Been Records was entirely his idea. I’m really more the behind the scenes guy who is trying to help Druski achieve his vision and handle the business side so that he gets what he deserves and can own as much of his IP as possible. Druski talks stuff into existence, it’s really spooky. He will have a vision for something, tell the team about it, and a few days later it manifests itself. I’ve really never seen anything like it. In the end, it’s all Druski’s vision, and I’m helping to execute it.”
Coulda Been Records had started off as an Instagram live show, but after a stint of touring with and opening for other artists, Druski decided that it was time to take his own label on the road. Druski launched the “Coulda Shoulda Woulda” tour in March of 2023, and went on to sell out 25+ shows all across the country. Since then, the brand has grown into a cultural powerhouse, and the duo are always looking to expand the world that they have created.
4Lifers Entertainment continues to strengthen its grasp on the entertainment industry. Coulda Been Records has grown into a full fledged series on Youtube, with a reality TV show in the works. Shipes and Druski have also taken their first official step into the world of sports, by launching 4LifersSports, an agency with a mission to empower and elevate the careers of athletes at every level. The future looks bright for 4Lifers, and although we don’t know what’s next in-store for Druski, we are sure that it’ll keep us entertained.
The Newest Chapter: GoodTalk
The latest Jonnyshipes venture comes in the form of GoodTalk, a new entity in the space that aims to bridge the gap between all of the endeavors that Jonny has embarked upon throughout his career, while also cultivating that same feeling of cultural authenticity that beams throughout all of his work.
“GoodTalk is going to be bigger than Cinematic. Not on the legacy side, because I can’t take away from the things we achieved with Cinematic and the friends I made along the way, but GoodTalk is going to be me working at my peak. I really believe that I’m at the right point in my life to be able to run this company the best I can, and also be fully ingrained in the culture and get how the music works and evolves.”
GoodTalk was launched on the 10th of July 2023, on the 1st birthday of Jonnyshipes‘s son Elijah, but it’s a concept that has lived with Shipes almost his entire life. Officially, GoodTalk is an art brand that specializes in music, film, and television, but Shipes also plans to engrain GoodTalk in merchandising culture, creating a brand that parallels the likes of cultural-powerhouses such as Supreme, Stussy, and KITH.
“These are all brands that I appreciate for their cultural relevance, authenticity, and staying power.”
Shipes has named longtime friend and business partner Drew “Dru Ha” Friedman as VP of Goodtalk, and together they have wasted no time in beginning to build the GoodTalk roster, with notable signings such as That Mexican OT, Lexa Gates, and Skaiwater becoming new members of the family (Lexa Gates also being a personal favorite of mine). With the help of GoodTalk’s Head of A&R Sean Mula and VP of A&R CEO Slow, Jonny proceeds to strengthen his musical ranks and continues the search for his next shining jewel.
“My favorite way of discovering new artists is on Youtube. That way I can actually see if the person is a star, see what they look like, and listen to the music. Of course I utilize an A&R research system, but to me, I think that the best way to find that one artist is just by digging through different platforms. That one artist is just sitting there, waiting to be discovered.”
GoodTalk also carries a music distribution arm via Virgin Music Group called Liquid Distribution. Liquid is a partnership between Jonnyshipes and Zeke Hirschberg, and aims to serve as an outlet for artists who aren’t looking for a traditional record deal but would still like to utilize GoodTalk‘s resources and expertise.
The GoodTalk chapter is being written as we speak, and we’re excited to see what Shipes has next up his sleeve…
I want to give a huge thank you to Jonny for allowing us into his home and taking the time to sit down with us to go in-depth on the story of his career. I hope that anyone who reads this is able to take-away as much from this conversation as I did. I’m linking the GoodTalk instagram here, please go show Shipes and his whole crew an enormous amount of love, and as always, stay tuned into DailyChiefers for the latest and greatest in everything hip-hop!