For Shiest Bubz, every night is living in the Twilight Zone. Literally – the artist-producer and cannabis mogul needs to watch a handful of episodes of the classic TV series before he falls asleep. He says it helps him understand different perspectives and the delusions people create.
“Rod Serling’s my god,” Bubz declares. “[Watching the show] is a reminder that I can create my own Twilight Zone for others… I’m not in search mode, but other people are. So now when people slip into their delusional realities, I can give them alternate endings of coming home and they listen.”
Watch the highlights of our interview with the legendary Shiest Bubz!
Creating The Smoker's Club: Shiest Bubz, Jonny Shipes And Smoke DZA
It’s this attitude toward life that has allowed Bubz to effectively change reality for some of the world’s best known hip hop artists (and by extension fans) through linking music and cannabis. In 2010, Bubz, along with producer Jonny Shipes and rapper Smoke DZA, co-founded “The Smoker's Club Tour,” an event series known for featuring rappers such as Wiz Khalifa, Curren$y, Mac Miller and others – and where those performers got access to the nation’s top-caliber weed.
That’s because Shiest is a true connoisseur of the plant in every way. His brands Purp Invaders, The Smoker's Club and Official Shiest Bubz are legendary in cannabis culture. While he doesn’t grow himself – “I’m in business with cultivators, but my genius is in marketing and presentation,” he says – the Harlem native has become emblematic of New York’s veteran cannabis industry.
“I represent this city to the core,” Bubz asserts. “For music, art, fashion, cannabis. The way I sell and represent weed is in true New York form. It’s for everybody, all nationalities, and it’s packaged up like that also. When I say packaged up, I mean my whole complete package of everything that I try to present to the table. My partners, we’re all on that same page. We want to provide the best product that we could possibly provide. So when it hits the market, everyone’s like, ‘I can relate to that.’”
Shiest Bubz: A New York Cannabis OG
Shiest considers cannabis culture his art, which he’s constantly manifesting and refining through his brands and his podcast The Heavy Smoke. His approach to all culture has been informed by his eclectic upbringing, which he reflects in his cannabis offerings. Born in New York to a father who immigrated from Trinidad and a mother who moved north from Louisiana, Bubz early on got the sense of the Big Apple as a place where dreams came true. As a child, he was enrolled in the Bloomingdale House of Music, learning a bevy of instruments with instinctual talent. He also spent much of his formative years touring Europe with his aunt, who instilled in him a curiosity for food, etiquette, and fashion.
“I’m looking at life from a whole art perspective of elegance,” the artist notes. “I just unconsciously know music; I can just tell hit records, I can hear them. And being from New York City, and my mother being from the South, the whole aspect of soul music gives me a different feeling. So when the music frequency comes in, it’s not just orchestra music but soul music… It’s Barry White and the Manhattan Orchestra. That’s the blueprint of my eclectic life: Black man leading an elegant orchestra. The conductor, that’s my part. I could be the artist sometimes, [but I also enjoy] letting other great artists tap into who they are.”
That’s certainly how Shiest and his partners have developed The Smoker's Club, which provided a platform for the next generation of hip hop talents in Wiz Khalifa, Curren$y, and Mac Miller, and gave mainstay artists like Method Man, Redman, B-Real, and Juicy J new inspiration. But Bubz’s personal history with cannabis goes back much further.
“Shit, my career started in 1991,” he recalls with a laugh. “30 years ago in Harlem, in high school.”
Back then, the cannabis mogul explains, kids chipped in to buy from different “weed spots” around the neighborhood, usually smoke shop bodegas or hole-in-the-wall secret areas. Laying down some sweet strain history, he launches into how most cannabis consumers through the late 1980s and early 90s knew only “brick weed” – hard and brown or green and skunky varieties, both called “regs.”
Shiest Bubz Explains Cannabis Strain History
“There was always brick weed,” Bubz continues. “Chocolate weed, Jamaican weed, Colombian weed, Thai weed, Lamb’s Bread. There’s always been exotic weed, but it wasn’t accessible to us really, because we [were] entry-level smokers, so we were smoking the general weed… [By 1990], Purple Haze got introduced to New York as the exotic. That’s like $300 upwards to $600 an ounce. Then Sour Diesel has been around for a while. Not everywhere, it was in certain neighborhoods. By the time it got really popular and people were like, ‘Yo, this is the shit we wanna smoke,’ that was around 2005.”
As Sour Diesel gained popularity over Purple Haze, East Coast underground growers began moving west. New strains, particularly Sours, were crossed, creating the introduction of what would become staples like Headband and Blue Diesel. Some in the business marketed the latter as NYC Diesel, to Shiest's amusement.
“If it was called NYC Diesel, you knew for sure that that was some [California]-grown Sour Diesel,” the expert states. “If you’re from New York, you’re not going to call it NYC Diesel. That’s what they think we love in New York. But with the crossing of all those weeds, they started doing all types of other shit. Kush starts becoming popular – Platinum Kush, China Pack Kush, Canadian Kush. Then everyone’s like, ‘We’re not into Kush no more, we want Gorilla Glue. We want Grape Ape and Granddaddy Purp.’ The Bay Area was famous for that. All these things are so popular here in New York. And the hood is still smoking Haze and Sour at the time, but in other markets, people are smoking all these exotic weeds because the grows are legal in California and people have more access. So if you know anyone in California, it’s like, ‘Send that shit over here’.”
California legalized medical cannabis in 1996, and cultivation particularly in the Bay Area led to the breeding of a wide variety of strains. According to Bubz, while this made for an idyllic growing environment, New Yorkers have remained the ideal consumers (a title they hold today).
“It’s a straight customer and marketing culture over here where you buy and sell… Who grows shit in New York? Back then, if you grew over here, chances are you’re going to get caught because it’s going to be too stinky. Police are going to come, you’re going to get raided, and there’s not enough outdoor space here to do that shit.”
The Smoker's Club Lifestyle: From The Diplomats To Wiz Khalifa
Working in the music industry from high school onward, Shiest was known to his circles as the guy who had all the exotic offerings. By 2002, he was on tour with The Diplomats (Dipset) as the official/unofficial weed man. Around 2005, he met Jonny Shipes and Smoke DZA, who recognized the artist from his work performing with Purple City and The Diplomats; he’d at that point also developed a reputation as a formidable emcee. They formed an insiders’ “Smokers Club lifestyle” behind the scenes, an expression of the fact that cannabis culture and the music industry were evolving together in a beautiful tango de amor.
Following South by Southwest’s 2010 season, Bubz, Jonny Shipes and Smoke DZA got inspired to take Smoker's Club public with their first tour. That would lead to seven years of touring, with 35 cities in 38 days on each official tour. The crew also reunited for The Smoker's Club Festival this past April, and will be back in San Bernardino, California for the 2023 incarnation, headlined by Kid Cudi, A$AP Rocky, Playboi Carti, Wiz Khalifa, Schoolboy Q, 2 Chainz, and more.
“Wiz is like our brother,” Shiest remarks of the A-lister. “The whole come-up of Taylor Gang and Jet Life, it was the same as Smoker's Club. Especially with [artist/producer Spitter Beats], ‘cause Spitter kind of set off this weed shit [being a performer and a consumer]. Then Wiz came in, he got next to Spitter and he fit the bill too, being a stoner. And he really put on for the culture, as being like the next Snoop Dogg. I felt like prior to them emerging, I was that front piece and [was] looked at as, ‘Ah, he’s a drug dealer. He’s not a stoner, he’s a drug dealer.’ So I had this stigma on me and then with Diplomats, we had a whole bad boy type of vibe to us. When [Wiz] came out, it was a refreshing vibe and he was being accepted for this weed thing.”
It's a stark realization for the creator as he reflects on how cultural perceptions of cannabis have shifted. Hip hop has brought mainstream awareness to cannabis in an entirely new way, and he’s been instrumental in manifesting that change. Yet for someone who’s such a visionary, Bubz admits this turn of events surprised him.
“I knew it was going to happen one day, but I didn’t know that this was going to be the breaking point of the transition from it being accepted,” he says. “Our culture [bringing in] the weed again, without it being cliched.”
Does Shiest Bubz Hate The Phrase "Legacy Cannabis"?
While the mogul thinks the new evolution of cannabis culture is exciting, he confesses he is bothered by the industry’s recent attempts to “brand” the concept of legacy cannabis. “They want to brand it as something else in a whole different context, but it means just being Black, selling weed. That’s what it actually means. If it meant anything else, it wouldn’t be said. [Industry experts say] ‘Oh, we need to help legacy learn how to transition [to the legal market].’ Who are you talking about? Not white America. You’re talking about Black people. They want to make it be like, ‘Oh, it’s people of color,’ but it doesn’t translate like that. In cannabis, if you’re legacy, you’re Black. Black market means Black people."
How state governments are working to incorporate legacy operators is condescending, Bubz believes. He observes that businesses and organizations have glommed onto the concept of helping “someone from the culture” as a pathway to entering the cannabis space. But to the savvy entrepreneur these sound like empty words, “lies for the pursuit of a license, for the pursuit of money, for the pursuit of 40 acres and a mule.”
“That’s why I think all the legacy operators are having a hard time coming forward at the end of the day,” he observes, “because it’s not white legacy they’re looking for. Cannabis is from the earth. It can help with certain things. The government wants tax money on it. So be it. We’ve been fighting forever for this shit… coming from the war of cannabis. Today it’s a new day. The war’s over – all the reservations that we had as legacy operators should be coming to an end.” He adds that back in the day, cannabis operators wanted an open industry where everyone had the opportunity to join. Why? “Because if you were in the cannabis market 10 or 20 years, we wanted the motherfuckers who just started smoking. Their palate ain’t that big, so you could sell them anything!”
What's Next For Shiest Bubz And The Heavy Smoke Podcast?
These days, Shiest is looking toward the future. He’s continuing to expand his own brands (“I’m on some multi-state operator shit,” he drops with nonchalant confidence), exploring a range of licensing possibilities, and gearing up for Season Two of The Heavy Smoke podcast. Special guests will include figures who were there at the beginning of Bubz’s own experience in cannabis, such as the hip hop icons Lord K-Born and Busy Bee Starski and jewelry designer Mazza.
“Heavy Smoke is representative of what I feel legacy is in cannabis,” the host concludes. “It’s not just Black people, but people who have been operating in the cannabis space when it was dark times for us. And coming out of that darkness with positivity, with business models. Knowledge, advice, expertise, mastery. Growing cannabis is an art. I have an artist’s perspective on this, and my guests are basically artists in cannabis.”
On that note, he has to praise the plant herself: “My biggest performer ever, my biggest artist, my most successful thing that I was able to promote has been cannabis. Doesn’t talk back. I’m always able to sell it. No feelings, no emotions attached to it... So watching my podcast is also like a blueprint to the cannabis game, period. It’s a lot of jewels being dropped [and] I’m making sure it’s right for the culture.”
Trust Bubz to determine what’s right, even as cannabis culture morphs into whatever unexpected forms it might take next. His epicurean tastes, his willingness to give you straight truth, and his powers of insight toward what people want have made him our best modern Nostradamus with a marketing flair. Whatever adventure he brings the cannabis community on, he will ensure it travels safely into that fifth dimension beyond that which is known to man. Because the creator understands better than anyone that loving cannabis deposits you in that the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition, between the pit of man's fears and the summit of his knowledge. Into the journey of imagination – an area which we call the Twilight Zone.
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Featured image: Shiest Bubz, co-founder of The Smoker's Club (C) Sam C. Long / Honeysuckle Media, Inc. @tissuekulture