Jamir Shaw has ideas for headlines that could tell the story of Dope Shows, the Philadelphia hip-hop concert company he founded with his partner Stephen Piner five years ago
“From West Philly to the Wells Fargo,” Shaw suggests, his eyes lighting up. “Or maybe From 52nd Street to Broad Street. That would be a good one, too.”
That journey across the Schuylkill to the city’s largest indoor entertainment showplace in South Philly does neatly sum up where Dope Shows came from, as well as where the duo — who have grown to become Philadelphia’s largest independent hip-hop promoters — are headed.
The pair — whose fifth anniversary Birthday Bash show is coming up on April 3 at the Wells Fargo Center — were raised within blocks of one another in West Philadelphia, the former at 49th and Locust, the latter at 52nd and Cedar.
Piner, 40, and Shaw, 34, didn’t know each other growing up but became fast friends upon meeting in 2015, when Piner was working in real estate and Shaw was putting on hip-hop DJ nights at clubs around town while holding down a position as dean of students at Mastery Charter School’s Harrity Elementary in West Philly.
“We built a friendship, and then we ended up going into business together and started doing shows,” says Piner. “We just had a vision. The city really wasn’t getting the kind of shows that we wanted.”
“We saw the void,” Shaw says, speaking of Dope Shows’ beginnings. “When we were trying to figure out what the business is going to be, looking at Philly, it wasn’t a lot of hip-hop and R&B.”
The duo decided “we wanted to be a global, boutique-style concert company,” says Shaw. They got started by booking New York rappers Fabolous and Jadakiss into the Fillmore in March 2017.
Five years later, Shaw and Piner, who have done shows in Boston, Washington, and Baltimore as well as Philly, will put on their biggest Dope Show yet, with the anniversary soiree at the Wells Fargo Center.
The Birthday Bash features four headliners sharing top billing, starting with Lil Baby, the Atlanta rapper who topped the bill at Jay-Z’s Made in America festival along with Justin Bieber last September.
He’ll be joined by Lil Durk, the Chicago rapper who teamed with Lil Baby on the chart-topping The Voice of the Heroes, and who headlined a date at the Mann Center last July that was Shaw and Piner’s first show back after the pandemic.
Lil Durk’s new album, 7220, currently sits atop the Billboard album chart, having unseated the soundtrack to the Disney movie Encanto.
The album features appearances by R&B star Summer Walker, country singer Morgan Wallen, and Gunna, the Chicago rapper who, along with fellow Windy City emcee G-Herbo, is also among the Birthday Bash headliners
Those four marquee acts will be augmented by a pair of up-and-comers: Delaware vocalist 1Oak and Philly sibling duo Blud Bravaz, who were winners of a Dope Shows talent showcase at the Foundry at the Fillmore in January.
Shaw and Piner have their eye on fresh talent. They’ll use the occasion of the Birthday Bash to announce that they’re forming a label called Dope Records.
“Philly is bubbling, but there’s no industry here,” says Piner. “We want to be that conduit to say, ‘This is what’s hot in Philly.’ ”
Shaw threw his first party in his mother’s West Philly basement when he was 12. He charged a $1 cover and took in $70. “People from my neighborhood and people from other neighborhoods came,” he remembers. “That was the attraction. Bringing people together.”
Breaking into the concert business required patience and hard work, and lessons were learned along the way, Shaw and Piner said. Shaw had built up extensive industry contacts and an email list of thousands of Philly hip-hop fans while throwing parties at local clubs that held as many as 1,500, so “it wasn’t that big of a leap” to book a 2,500-capacity room like the Fillmore, he says.
It took months of unreturned phone calls before the Fabolous and Jadakiss show at the Fillmore. But once they sold the date out, it led to booking the same bill in Boston, and bringing Rick Ross to the Fillmore.
Dope Shows boasts of a 90% sell-out rate, but not every show has been a success. A 2018 outdoor show in Baltimore turned into a washout. “Baltimore is a walk-up city, they don’t buy tickets in advance,” Shaw says. It rained, “and they didn’t walk up.”
Piner says the duo have studied the career of Al Haymon, the legendary Black music and boxing promoter who booked national tours for Janet Jackson and Boy II Men, and consulted with Shawn Gee, the Roots manager who heads up the Live Nation Urban concert division. Piner calls Geoff Gordon, the regional president of Live Nation Northeast, “a great mentor.”
“Our role as promoters is to help artists achieve their dreams,” Gordon said. “I have tremendous respect for Jamir and Stephen for sharing that same vision and passion for their artists.”
Shaw and Piner also aim to focus their passion on the Black community in the city they grew up in, with ticket giveaways at local schools and anti-violence messaging at all their events.
Last September at the Fillmore, Dope Shows held their third annual Back 2 School Book Bag Extravaganza, giving away backpacks filled with supplies to students. At last summer’s Lil Durk show at the Mann, inspirational content was provided by Instagram influencer Wallo267 and Pastor Carl Day of North Philly’s Culture Changing Christians Worship Center
“I am very impressed with these guys,” says Day. “I’ve watched party and show promoters make a ton of money off the backs of the urban Black people and literally have no sense of obligation or responsibility to the community. But when I see Jamir and Steph, these guys have made financial contributions to our work, they’re come down to our neighborhood and spent time with our youth on our basketball courts. They could just be making their money and running around with these entertainers and not care. But they’re trying to find ways to give back on so many different levels.”
Dope Shows hope to help “change the culture of violence,” says Shaw, who lost a cousin, “murdered in the streets of Philadelphia,” in 2019.
With the Dope Records label, Piner says, the duo aims to give exposure “to people who might not have the opportunity to get their music pushed out there and marketed. It might be artists from the city, it might be artists from the suburbs.”
And the concerts the duo put on under their slogan “Ain’t No Shows Like Dope Shows” can have a positive impact, Shaw hopes, “by making people dance, have fun, get excited. Just removing the idea that you’ve got to be tough and have this persona that you’re from the streets. Just allowing kids to be kids.”
Dope Shows Birthday Bash with Gunna, Lil Baby, Lil Durk and G-Herbo at the Wells Fargo Center, 3601 S. Broad St. at 6 p.m. April 3. $139-$199. wellsfargocenterphilly.com.