Shout-out to the money makers
If you a hustler
Then you a entrepreneur
That’s written, mane
Scared money don’t make no money
Invest in yourself, mane
Ya understand me?
It’s a lotta opportunities out there, mane
Ya got your health and your life and your strength, mane
Go get it, breh.
– Entrepreneur, E-40 (feat. Too $hort)
On the surface, it may seem like the worlds of entrepreneurship and hip-hop are set far apart. Synonymous with violence, drugs, ego, and degradation, hip-hop is as confronting and reprehensible to many as rock and roll was in the 1940s.
Cast that aside, however, and you will see a key factor that unites both entrepreneur and rapper. The definitive factor; one that marks the line between success and failure:
Born in the Bronx in the 1970s, hip hop was raised on the block party scene by African-American youth and Caribbean immigrants. At a time when redevelopment of the borough was leaving many of its poorest residents destitute and desperate, many were turning to gang activity as a way of bringing stability to their lives.
That all changed in 1975, when Jamaican-American DJ Kool Herc arrived to define the scene. Playing in the recreational room at his Sedgwick Avenue apartment building, Kool Herc would scratch his records to allow people to dance longer, rapping over the instrumentals as he did so. In that performance, hip-hop was born.
“For over five years the Bronx had lived in constant terror of street gangs. Suddenly, in 1975, they disappeared almost as quickly as they had arrived. This happened because something better came along to replace the gangs. That something was eventually called hip-hop,” wrote counterculture journalist Steven Hager.
As hip-hop grew, so did the hostility towards it. Record labels refused to acknowledge its selling power, while radio stations and clubs outside of the Bronx ignored it entirely.
For hip-hop to gain any traction, it would be up to the artists themselves to get their beats heard.
They lay the groundwork in the 1980s through early recordings by the likes of Grandmaster Flash, Afrika Bambaataa, and Warp 9, which appealed to outliers from the electro and funk scenes.
Next came B-boying – breakdancing – a phenomenon that swept much of Europe, Southeast Asia, and the Oceanic region midway through the decade. The style was a gateway to the music that inspired it, and through this, artists including Run DMC, N.W.A, and The Beastie Boys not only became known, they became commercial hits.
In 15 years, a form of music that had been ignored by anyone and everyone outside of the Bronx had grown into a beast of outstanding proportions. But how?
Entrepreneurs are different. They innovate. They revolutionise. That way of being comes with immense challenges. The ability to persuade, to sell concepts and products unlike anything else seen before, is critical. It’s the difference between life and death – a scenario the hip-hop scene had been facing.
The good news for rappers is that their entire genre was based on selling themselves! The boasting, the feuds, the ideologies; rappers are brands unto themselves. Who’s bigger? Who’s better? It’s all just a show, and rappers have managed to sell tickets to these shows more broadly and consistently than any other artists before or since.
A transition into entrepreneurship was inevitable for so many rappers, who transcended adversity through their craft to discover new opportunities.
Such rappers include:
- Dr. Dre (net worth: ~$800 million). After a defining career in the industry, Dre and his partners sold music subscription service Beats Music and headphone manufacturer Beats Electronics to Apple for $3 billion in 2014.
- Jay Z (net worth: ~$650 million). Since ‘retiring’ in 2003, Jay Z’s diversified into nightclubs, vodka, fashion, and even a sports team – he made a 135% gain when he sold his stake in the New Jersey Nets in 2013. Not all of his pursuits have been successful (remember Tidal?) but like any good entrepreneur, he’s learnt lessons from these failures and come back stronger than ever.
- Akon (net worth: ~$80 million). Akon has proved that, for rappers, it’s not just about the money. Founding two labels and releasing three albums, he then went on to create the Akon Lighting Africa project, which provides electricity to 15 countries in Africa, and hopes to eventually supply power to all 600 million Africans currently without this most basic service.
The hustle has brought us to a time in which hip-hop has grown into one of the biggest genres of the modern era, with over 200 million tracks sold.
If you’re in business, you’re doing yourself a disservice if you don’t learn from the success the hip-hop scene has defined for itself. Learn to love the hustle, sell what you’ve got to offer wholly and passionately, and success is sure to come.