Dope Shows Festival Promoters Hope to Fill a Void in Philly’s Music Scene

West Philly’s Stephen Piner and Jamir Shaw want to turn the summer hip-hop event into a local staple.

Jamir Shaw, left, and Stephen Piner. Photo via Dope Shows

On July 6th, the first-ever Dope Shows music festival will take place at The Mann Center. The new summer event will feature popular Philly hip-hop artist PNB Rock, along with national hip-hop stars like Pusha T.

But while the festival may be new to the city, the two men behind it are not. They are West Philly’s Stephen Piner, 38, and Jamir Shaw, 31, whose roots in the industry run deep. After making the switch from real estate and banking (Piner) and party promotion (Shaw) to managing music artists, the two decided to launch the Dope Shows concert series. They have sold out nine of the 11 Dope Shows concerts they’ve held across Boston, Baltimore, and Philly since 2017, pulling in artists like Fabolous, Jadakiss, Rick Ross, Gunna, and more.

Philly Mag sat down with Piner and Shaw to learn more about their big leap from concerts to the upcoming music festival. According to the two entrepreneurs, the festival will fill a big void for local hip-hop lovers.

The first Dope Shows Festival kicks off soon. What is your vision for the event?

Piner: There are a million festivals all over for a million different genres, but it’s hard to find one for a true hip-hop fan. The Dope Shows Festival will be an environment for hip-hop lovers to enjoy with artists they love. Every year we are going to make sure we have an all-star lineup.

Why did your team choose Philly for the first festival?

Piner: We always had a vision to have a festival in Philly, and we probably have been talking about it for a year and a half. We had a vision of doing a festival where we brought artists that we believe in, that we felt were dope, and put it together all in one day with our brand.

Shaw: Dope Shows is built from a void we felt we saw in Philadelphia, and there’s a void we feel like we see in the festival market, too. There are two other festivals that exist in the city — one has an older demographic, and another one is like a cluster of all different genres and different ages. I feel like that young hip-hop kid or young adult doesn’t have anything in the city that they can gravitate to.

You have a few Philly artists scheduled to perform — up-and-coming ones like Brygreatah, Zahsosa, and SimXSantana, and an established artist in PNB Rock. How do you choose artists, and is there an artist you wish you could get to perform that isn’t?

Piner: The gist of booking starts with what we listen to, what people we know listen to, and what we know is hot in the streets. There are probably a couple of people we wanted to have on that we couldn’t get. But for our first year we did a good job at curating, and it’ll be different next year.

Shaw: It also always starts with an emotional connection for us. We got our ears in the streets. It’s not like we’re inside sitting in this corporate office. We’re really around. We’re going to the clubs. We’re going to the block parties, and we’re seeing all the kids getting hype when this song comes on and just getting entrenched in the culture.

The Dope Shows Festival 2019 lineup | Courtesy photo

Do you think your connection to Philadelphia’s music culture distinguishes your festival from others?

Shaw: I definitely think that distinguishes us because it’s a homegrown feeling. We’re really from here. There are people that come to shows that came to my parties when there were 70 people and now there are 2,600 people in a sold-out concert. People got to watch our growth, and I think it is beneficial that we’re here, so we see it. No one has to tell us about Brygreatah’s impact. No one has to tell us about a kid like Sim Santana that’s going crazy right now, because we see it.

Piner: No matter how big we get we always want to be in the midst of stuff that’s going on here, even if it isn’t us. If we get big enough to the point where a lot of people are working for us, we want it to be the people that are really plugged in to the streets. We always want that plugged-in element. That’s what makes us unique and dope. That is always going to make us Dope Shows.

Philly is full of young and talented people, and your festival features that beyond the music. You have a collaboration with Paradox — a Philly clothing brand — for the event. What made you choose Paradox?

Piner: It’s just like with the artists. We live in Philly, so we know people love Paradox. We know people love Torture. Meek wore that vest all over the country, and he got big brands like Dior and Louis Vuitton copying the vest that was made here in Philly. We see that and believe in these brands, so we want to incorporate them too.

Shaw: It took a lot of work for us to get here, but people look out for us too. So if we have the opportunity to shine the light on our city, then we’re going to do that every time. Whether it’s for a brand or for an artist — it’s homegrown. It’s not like we want it all for us. We really are trying to do it for the city. One day, if there are 60,000 or 70,000 people that come to our festival, they’ll see all our local brands represented. We have to shine the light on all the local talent we have in Philly, because I feel like people know Philly for a bunch of nonsense at this point and that’s not all we have to offer here.

Finish this sentence: The Dope Shows Festival will be perfect if …

Shaw: Eight thousand fans come out and leave the festival feeling that there ain’t no shows like Dope Shows.

Piner: That was a great answer, hard to top that one. Ain’t no shows like Dope Shows.

Shaw: That’s been our slogan from day one. If you go to a Lil Baby show hosted by anyone else and then you go see him at a Dope Show, you should feel the difference. We would be satisfied if 8,000 people feel that difference leaving the show.