Dope Ent on Booking Rap Shows: "You Got to Pay to Play, and Education Don't Come Cheap"
Dope Ent's Matt Zingler (left) and Tariq Cherif (right), with the Bawse Ricky Ross.
For one reason or another, things never go as planned.
Just ask Dope Ent's Matt Zingler, 25, and his business partner, Tariq Cherif, 24.
Take, for example, this past weekend: Nipsey Hussle had just left the building after his performance at Avenue D in Miami. And unfortunately, Zingler was forced to tell fans, who'd paid extra for some face-time with the California rapper, that the scheduled meet-and-greet had been cancelled, informing them how to receive a refund and apologizing for the inconvenience.
Yet despite the inevitable meet-and-greet cancellations, subsequent refunds, and occasional apologies, Dope Ent's Zingler and Cherif have consistently delivered outstanding rap concerts with bold-name national acts such as Curren$y, Kendrick Lamar, Ab-Soul, A$AP Ferg, and others to South Florida, all beginning with their first booking, a 2010 afterparty with Rick Ross.
This Friday, Dope Ent will do it again, bringing L.A. rapper Dom Kennedy to Avenue D for his Get Home Safely tour. And in anticipation of that show, we here at Crossfade sat down with the two friends and business partners to talk about the early days, lessons learned, partying with Riff Raff, promotion companies charging opening acts, and what else is in their future.
Crossfade: How do you guys know each other?
Tariq Cherif: We met in fourth grade through a mutual friend.
How did everything come about with Dope Ent?
Matt Zingler: We were young entrepreneurs that got together a certain amount of money and wanted to start investing, and we knew there was money in throwing events. Our first event was in 2010 with Rick Ross in Tallahassee. That's how we kinda got into it. And then we started doing tours with Curren$y and just took it from there.
Tariq: The Rick Ross is actually a pretty good story about our company. We pretty much lost all the money we put down on that show. We flopped. It was an afterparty. Pretty much, it was competition with another afterparty that said they were having all the people from the concert and they didn't. They were false promoting. We were new to the game. As you can see, we don't do afterparties anymore. We lost all of our shit, lost all of our money, and we just got back on our grind and got some money up, booked Curren$y for three shows in early 2011, sold them out, and been rocking ever since. Matt's dad always likes to say, "A true measure of a man is not how he acts when he wins, but when he loses."
Matt: You got to pay to play, and in this industry, especially, education doesn't come cheap.
What was Ross' reaction?
Matt: Ross was happy.
Tariq: Ross is cool as shit.
Matt: He was smoking with us. We had twelve different kinds of bud that we had in different jars. It was like a High Times performance. It was like a smoke contest. That dude can smoke down.
Tariq: I remember we had a box full of Swisher Sweets. But you know what, he performed six to nine songs. We had some people there. It was an empty fucking club.
How do you pick yourselves up from a disaster like that?
Tariq: That night was so bad. And Matt got into a fight after the show at a place called Guthrie's, which is a late-night fried chicken spot. We had the limo rented for Rick Ross.
Matt: We just took the limo around, got some girls, got shit-faced. I got in a fight, ended up in a hospital. I got stitches in my face and woke up the next day.
I think the answer would be that, for us, it was very difficult for a while not having what we had prior. When I say that, I mean financially. And there was definitely some sacrifices that had to be made. All in all, it set us back, but we were pretty determined, and we knew what we wanted to do. We knew we'd be good at it.
Then you guys got Curren$y. And ever since then, with the exception of maybe once or twice, you are the ones that bring him to Miami. How did that relationship begin?
Tariq: Curren$y is just a cool dude, and his manager Mousa's a cool dude. We actually wanted to book Curren$y first, but the Rick Ross thing happened. But the relationship just stayed strong by doing good business together.
Matt: We built together. Same thing we did with Kendrick. We did a few days with Kendrick before he dropped his album, and he wore our hoodie in that Los Angeles Times photo shoot. For TDE, we toured all of their artists -- Ab-Soul, Schoolboy Q -- before anybody else.
What's the relationship like between the two of you? Because, from the outside, you look like polar opposites. Matt looks like he'll do a keg stand ten times before do, Tariq.
Matt: I highly enjoy partying. I love getting tattooed. Half my body is covered in tattoos. There's nothing more I enjoy than taking a bottle to the face and hanging out with the bros. I'm a big fan of partying. We were at KOD [Miami's King of Diamonds strip club] last night. We'd never been there before.
Tariq: I did not go.
Matt: I take care of most of the partying for us. But yeah, we are very different, but a relationship like ours is hard to come across. It takes years to develop. We've known each other for 20 years. We're family.
Tariq: I like to say it's like my name is Tariq, his name is Matt Zingler. Tariq Cherif, Matt Zingler. It's like t and zang, yin and yang. But we're really similar when you get down to it. We're like-minded individuals. He's just maybe a little more eccentric. And if you knew me growing up, I was just as eccentric, but I just think we're at different places right now in terms of that.
What's the most difficult event you've put on?
Matt: I'd say the most difficult event that we've probably ever done was more recently with A$AP Ferg. We had an outdoors event.
Tariq: Naw, naw, naw. That's not the whole story. You have to say first that we booked A$AP Ferg at Eve. Shout out to Eve for being the best worst venue ever. But we had the show booked at Eve and it shut down. So, we had to move the show. We did.
Matt: We moved it to LMNT. Then LMNT told us we couldn't do the amount of people that we initially agreed upon inside, due to fire code. We had to move the event outside. And within 24 hours, I had to get port-a-potties, barricades, full sound, and staging outside. Then we had cops come to our event and tell us that we had too many people, and if we didn't cut off the door, and not allow any more people in, they were going to shut us down. We had to constantly adjust the sound of the actual event, because they kept trying to shut us down because the event was too loud.
We lost money that night.
Tariq: Even though we had a packed crowd, like sold out.
Matt: We had 1,300 people, 1,200 people. That was 700 more people than we thought we'd do with them. And we spent more money, and lost money, just because we want to provide the proper show and we know what it takes.
What's the most unexpected thing you've encountered putting together a show?
Matt: Unexpected? Girls will do crazy things to get into concerts. All I'm going to say is that shout out to their dads for not paying. They should've paid. Starstruck individuals, man, we've seen them do a lot of crazy things.
Tariq: This guy, I'm not going to shout out his name because I don't want to throw him under the bus, also it's free promotion, he fucking jumped off stage at the Ab-Soul show we did at Green Room in 2012 with Ashley Outrageous and Ian Bohan. This kid jumped off the stage and nobody caught him, even though it was a packed crowd. They were just like, "I ain't catching you." And he ate it dude. And we have it on video.
Matt: One of the craziest tours we've been on was with Riff Raff. Me and him tried to out-party each other every night. We had a whole hotel party on the second floor of Aloft in Tallahassee.
We had the fire marshal there at five in the morning. We had every room booked out, and we threw one of the craziest hotel parties. It was like Project X stuff, but way cooler, I'll put it that way. Copious amounts of party favors to say the least. Surprised nobody died that night.
Matt: Well, we're standing in front of you. So ...
Tariq: We shared a Sprinter van with Riff Raff and we rode through Florida together. We got to know Riff Raff pretty well. Most people don't know that when he's not in full concert mode and you're on the road to another city, he's asking you to play country music.
When we started with Curren$y, we were riding in my Tahoe, city to city. From Orlando to St. Pete to Miami in the Tahoe. I remember thinking it was so cool that Curren$y tweeted on the way from Orlando to Tally, he was like, "Ridin to St. Pete with OGs." Calling everybody in the car a bunch of OGs. That's dope.
How did the name "Dope Entertainment" come about?
Matt: I mean, there was always a time in our lives where we used to party.
Tariq: I always kept it "green." And it's a nice double entendre.
Something can be dope or you can be smoking dope or maybe the concerts we bring you are dope. You don't even necessarily need to smoke, snort, pop dope, or inject dope. You might just come to a Dope Ent concert and get high off that dope entertainment we provide. And you know what? We don't provide the entertainment, but we try to be connoisseurs of booking the right entertainment for the people and providing everything for it to be OK.
What's the one act you haven't gotten and still want to book?
Matt: I'm upset, right now at least, that we haven't done a show with Chance the Rapper.
Tariq: Man, Cara Lewis give us some bookings. [Laughs] All the agencies book with us. We've done a couple bookings with CAA, but not enough. Cara Lewis, we want that Chance the Rapper booking.
Matt: I'd say back in the day a few acts that kinda slipped us that blew up way too fast, like Kid Cudi, Childish Gambino, all those guys. Drake is one of those artists that went big overnight.
Tariq: We definitely have our eyes on some stuff. We're just trying not to let that happen anymore, so we've been staying up on the new stuff. You saw we brought Flatbush Zombies. That was a tour people didn't think would do more than 400 people and that sold out.
We try to find that up-and-coming stuff and try to stick with them on the ride to the top.
People don't get how much work it is, like all day. And it might not sound like work to some people, but it's damn work. You're on the phone all day, every day. My phone dies twice a day. [Pulls out phone] I have 459 unread texts, 379 voicemails or missed calls, 293 emails. All this shit and it's not that I'm ignoring it. It's just coming in faster than I can keep up.
No disrespect to any other promoter, we just see ourselves different than these other promotional companies. We're looking to be at the size of Live Nation, AEG Live. That's who we see as our competition. We don't see local promoters as competition. We're looking to go nationwide.
In all seriousness, the practice of opening acts paying, I want to know your opinion.
Tariq: With some shows, you just can't do it. An agent will put in the contract "no paying to perform," and that's totally cool. Some agents, you just can't have openers. The thing is we give openers two options when it's an up-and-coming show that doesn't necessarily have the fanbase to sell out a room: either sell tickets to get a slot or pay for a slot. We don't knock them over the head. We're reasonable with everybody and we've helped a lot of careers.
Will Brennan, we got him a deal with Steve Aoki. I mean he got himself a record deal by having the music and stuff, but we put the music in the right place and put in on a lot of shows, helped him blow it up.
So it's usually one or the other, and not both?
Tariq: Sometimes, we give the option to do both.
Matt: This is what people need to understand: As a promoter, we're putting up our money because we believe in something. We believe in the music and we want to provide something for our fans and for the people that enjoy that specific artist. We're working our ass off to get people in the building, and if you can do the same, we're going to give you an opportunity to get on the stage and get in the light. But if you're lazy and don't want to and you feel like you can't provide us anything, we're not going to allow you just to go up there and perform because you're a good friend of ours. You need to provide us with something, and with these smaller shows, the extra money helps us to give out free promotional products, helps us to promote better, helps us to pay our promoters more. We're not a greedy company, by any means. A lot of these shows don't make money. We do them for the branding.
I've heard of promotional companies charging $500, $600, and more per act.
Tariq: Yeah, they charge a lot, and also, they put like 25 openers on the show. If we have more than five, it's a lot, you know what I mean?
Matt: We don't like to have a lot of openers and that's what it comes down to. The people that want to help and work and sell tickets -- whoever works the hardest gets the spots. It's not always about the money at all for us. It's about working.
Who do you guys have your eye on right now?
Matt: Man, I have my eye on everybody. Every day, we study this shit, man. We're constantly looking for the next hot thing, and we're constantly talking to people and studying the industry. I'd say for some of the upcoming guys, we're really keeping our eye on right now is Schoolboy Q. We got his tour. We're really stoked about it, coming up in March, and I think he's going to crush it.
Tariq: Schoolboy, Underachievers, Denzel Curry, Robb Bank$, Mikey Rocks.
Matt: Obviously, we have our eye on a lot of people. You can say we have our eye on Chance The Rapper. We have our eye on Action Bronson. He's playing a lot of festivals. Earl Sweatshirt, Odd Future, all those guys out in California, Chicago, Texas. We kinda see who's coming up, who's the next big thing. We'll bring them here. As you see, Nipsey is a California-based artist and Dom Kennedy is a California-based artist coming up.
What's the one show you regret?
Tariq: Oh, fuck. I don't regret any of it. We learn something at every show. Every show, Matt and I sit down afterwards and we really talk about it, and we just get better at it. So forgive us for any of our past failures, but hold us accountable and we're going to do better.
Matt: I think that some of the most difficult shows and some of the shows that lose money are the ones you learn the most from. And it's mistakes that if you consistently make you will not be a company. You will be out. You will not have any money. Investors won't invest with you. You're not going to have the brand recognition.
What was one time you two disagreed?
Both: We disagree everyday.
Matt: Our partnership is a love-hate relationship and there's so many things that I can say that he does wrong, and I know there's so many things that he can say that I do wrong, and there's a lot of things that I wish he wouldn't do, and there's a lot of things he wish I wouldn't do.
Tariq: But there's a lot of stuff that I love that he does.
One day, he'll be like, "Yeah, I think we should book him," after I pitch it to him. And then he'll be like, "Naw, dude. I just talked to some people and I was looking at his Twitter, he not popping dude. I'm going to book this guy." I'm just like, "I'm telling you. I'm telling you." Or he'll be like, "I'm telling you, we got to book this guy."
There ever been a time when you guys didn't book an act because you didn't agree?
Matt: There's a lot of artists we passed on. It's an up and down thing. Some of the artists we pass on, we're like, "Oh, man. Why didn't we do that artist? He would've done great." Or, "Hey, that would've been great for our brand. It's unfortunate we didn't do him." And sometimes you're like, "Oh my God. Thank God we didn't do that show."
What's next for Dope Ent?
Tariq: We are working on continuing to successfully book the proper acts to tour through Florida and work our best to do the best business and the best shows. We have a few festival ideas in mind. Got some nationwide tours we're planning with some artists that we've been working with for a while. Taking it to that next level nationwide. And Matt can speak on the other project we're working on.
Matt: We've been in a lot of venues and just like in entertainment, we've seen a lot of promoters, and it can always be done better. So we're looking to open up our own live music venue coming soon, 2015. It'll be a big surprise for everybody.
Follow Lee Castro on Twitter @LeeMCastro
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene with music features, additional online music listings and show picks. We'll also send special ticket offers and music promotions available only to our Music Newsletter subscribers.