Back in the early days of ProHipHop (which I founded, authored and eventually sold), I wrote a series of three columns for Pound Magazine out of Toronto. It was a print magazine at the time but, looking at their website, I get the feeling they're no longer in print. Maybe they are but it was really a Toronto thing with a lot of great content and I was quite happy to appear on their pages.
Here are the three columns. The first explains the series title, All In The Game:
[My first All In The Game column for Pound published in the March/April 2005 issue.]
All In The Game is my first opportunity to expand upon ProHipHop, a trade weblog at prohiphop.com that provides daily hip hop business news and commentary across industry categories. Each column will allow me to step back and look at the bigger themes of hip hop business, while digging deeper into the underlying details. For example, hip hop business is pervaded by the entrepreneurial theme of the upstart and outsider ignored by established forces until the upstart triumphs and the outsider becomes the leader. Yet, with hip hop widely lauded as the new mainstream, how much longer can hip hop entrepreneurs successfully play the outsider card? The exploration of such concerns will be an ongoing feature of All In The Game.
I decided to title this column after a ‚"traditional West Baltimore‚" saying used in the 13th episode of The Wire, the HBO series that successfully evokes the similarities between games played by dealers, cops, politicians and executives. Though The Wire does not focus on rap music or hip hop culture, it's a reminder of the role of the streets in hip hop business and of the harshness of struggles in any marketplace. Just as this column allows me to step back and reflect upon the bigger picture, so too The Wire allows me a vantage point from which to reflect upon the business of hip hop as a part of society.
The entrepreneurial theme of the upstart/outsider rising to dominance within an industry is a recurring one in the career of Russell Simmons. In a cover story for Business Week in 2003 titled‚ "The CEO of Hip-Hop," Simmons points to the "arrogance" and "stupidity of the old guys" who gave him room to build Def Jam in the face of their neglect. Though he could also mention fashion, he names Def Comedy Jam and the Rush Card as opportunities that existed because markets were underserved and emerging trends unrecognized. But how many markets are truly underserved by hip hop and for how much longer? Furthermore, can Russell Simmons still honestly claim outsider status?
One indication of Simmons' mainstream status was his presentation at a 2004 meeting of the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association. Multiple reports indicate that Simmons' casual attire and plain speaking peppered with curse words and familiar sound bites was a big hit and received a standing ovation. Such is not the reception of an outsider or an upstart, but of a well known public speaker whose iconoclastic approach is viewed as refreshing, like Def Con 3, rather than challenging, like Public Enemy. Though the upstart/outsider theme is growing threadbare, it still resonates for Marc Ecko, whose presentation at a recent gathering of game developers was not so well received.
Marc Ecko was the opening speaker for the DICE 2005 conference taking the role of firebrand. Well known for using graffiti as an initial entry point into the fashion world, Ecko is now using graffiti as the basis for a new video game to debut in September. Though advertising his fashion lines on game demo disks since at least 1999 and well established in the fashion industry beyond his basic lines, Ecko's status as a new face in game development allowed him to play the role of both upstart and outsider. His opening gambit basically encouraged the audience to tell him to f*ck off, cause he's an outsider. But he followed with an attempt to win the audience over using Star Wars metaphors and defining essential trends while emphasizing that game developers should now serve a wider market than the hardcore gamers on which, he maintains, the industry is currently focused.
Hilary Goldstein covered the presentation for IGN.com and said that about half the industry audience seemed to be visibly rejecting Ecko's statements while the other half was as "attentive" as anything he'd seen at the conference. GameSpy's Dave Kosak confirmed the mixed reception while adding it stirred up discussion among GameSpy editors. Kosak also stated, "[Ecko's] used to being the outsider. When he was trying to sell his tee-shirts to chain stores, fashion industry executives rankled or told him he didn't know the business and didn't know what he was doing."
Ecko's early negative reception is a story told by many hip hop entrepreneurs. These tales often include elements of a narrative in which initial failure precedes an eventual victory based upon tenaciousness, skill and the inherent rightness of the enterprise. With Marc Ecko's first game, Getting Up: Contents Under Pressure, not due from Atari till September, this appearance can also be read as part of Ecko's personal rebranding from fashion industry success to entrepreneur on the diversification tip. Such goals require continual expansion into new markets, like a public company from which obsessive growth is expected.
In his Business Week cover story, Russell Simmons claimed that the ‚"street wants us to grow . . . They love big. Not cool, small, and alternative. Hip hop aspires to own the mainstream‚" Simmons' narrative portrays hip hop as the new Goliath poised for a fall. And, with Ecko and Simmons apparently abandoning niche markets, a variety of opportunities await upstarts still rooted in the street.
[My third All In The Game Column for the July/August 2005 issue of Pound.]
Lately I've been pondering the notion that hip hop went from viewing the relentless pursuit of money through wide ranging commercial endorsements and merchandising as "selling out" to "cashing in." This consideration was spurred by a David Kiley article at Business Week Online, entitled "Hip Hop Gets Down with the Deals." Kiley recounts a recent presentation by hip hop artists Ludacris, Big Boi and Jermaine Dupri for a gathering of marketing execs to clarify the sorts of marketing deals in which they were interested.
In discussing this startling development, Kiley quotes Josh Takeman, "Without three or four business deals with major brands, you aren't seen as cashing in, and cashing in is part of the hip hop culture" Kiley posits that earlier generations would have perceived such activities as "selling out" and I began to wonder, when did selling out become cashing in for hip hop culture?
Gangsta rap seemed like a good place to start with its shift from Public Enemy's politically motivated hip hop to the nihilistic viewpoint of N.W.A., the group that most popularized gunslinging, crack slangin' and the domination of b*tches, themes that remain central to popular rap whether lyrically or as backstory.
Quinn paints a picture of the deindustrialization of Compton and South Central, Los Angeles leaving few options for entrepreneurial activity or even regular employment. In a devastated terrain, dealing crack was an aggressive response to limited opportunities. Drawing on this reality for lyrical content and style, gangsta rap exploited the gap in major label offerings to hip hop consumers, forming small flexible labels that could quickly produce cheap products for local markets, aided by local radio.
As gangsta rap grew in popularity, small labels were able to exploit their ownership of content to force major labels into joint ventures, an approach that has characterized much hip hop entrepreneurialism since. In fact, this amazing accomplishment required something like gangsta rap, initially indigestible by major labels, opening a space to exploit for independent empire building and endorsements of such products as St. Ides malt liquor.
Yet, though the content shifted, I don't believe that period signaled a sudden shift to cashing in that had not previously existed. In fact, from the very beginning we see that hip hop had an entrepreneurial element, though limited by immediate circumstances and the fact that no one could see the potential for big money.
The devastated South Bronx, the birthplace of hip hop, is an even worse case scenario than South Central and the creators had far less to work with financially than folks like N.W.A. As Nelson George puts it in the introduction to "Yes Yes Y'all",
"The lack of employment for minority youth made gang culture and, later, hip-hop posses (where kids could be MCs, DJs, dancers, graffiti artists, or security guards) quite attractive . . . the lackadaisical criminal enforcement policies of the '70s encouraged the experimentation that was eventually organized into the hip-hop industry."
George's description of the South Bronx seems surprisingly similar to that of South Central. And, if we turn to DJ Kool Herc, a central figure and for many the originator of hip hop, we find a well-rounded businessman who states in "Yes Yes Y'all",
"I was giving parties to make money, to better my sound system. I was never a DJ for hire. I was the guy who rent the place. I was the guy who got flyers made. I was the guy who went out there in the streets and promoted it. . . I was seeing money that the average DJ never see. They was for hire; I had my own sound system."
Kool Herc even states that once he made sure money was being handled properly at the door, "after that they would say, 'Kool Herc and Coke La Rock is makin' money with that music, up in the Bronx.' We was recognized for hustlin' with music."
As Herc points out, nobody knew rap was "going to turn into a world-wide phenomenon, billion-dollar business and all that." In fact, it has to be understood that no one recognized the possibilities prior to "Rapper's Delight," and even then many thought it was hip hop's one hit wonder.
In looking back, we can see that an entrepreneurial spirit pervaded hip hop from the beginning and that a business-like approach was often highly regarded. Yet, at the same time, we have to recognize that rap music is at the forefront of eliminating barriers between creativity and commerce as artists experiment with lyrical product placement and profess their desire to be viewed as businessmen. So, though I think that things are changing, I don't believe we can understand or influence such changes by imagining earlier ages of purity and paradise lost. Rather, we should leave behind such simplistic formulations and dig into the messy realities of today with an understanding of the complexities of the past.
Based on Amazon presales, Lupe Fiasco's Lasers album, due March 8, is one of the few upcoming releases people are excited enough about to buy ahead of time and, at this moment, the only upcoming release on Amazon's Bestsellers in Rap & Hip-Hop. As has become quite common for hot albums, a vinyl LP edition is also available for preorder and likely to sell out.
I have to say, The Show Goes On sounds quite mainstream even without the major shift happening in hip hop over the last few years due to folks like Lupe and Kanye West. It won't be that surprising if it takes him to an even greater level which, let's hope, will keep him in the game. Not that I'm a huge fan but I feel folks like Lupe are crucial to keeping hip hop fresh.
Of course, if Atlantic keeps f*cking with his money, who knows where his career is headed. I vote for leaving Atlantic, building independently and just taking a distro deal through a major label.
According to an incredibly well-maintained Wikipedia page for Lasers (by superfans or label marketers?), confirmed tracks include:
"I'm Beamin" produced by The Neptunes "Til I Get There" produced by Needlz "The Show Goes On" produced by Kane Beatz "Words I Never Said" featuring Skylar Grey, produced by Alex da Kid "Ladies & Gentlemen" "State Run Radio" "Outta My Head" featuring Trey Songz "All Black Everything" "Break The Chain" featuring Eric Turner & Sway "Never Forget You" featuring John Legend "Beautiful Lasers" featuring Pooh Bear "Shining Down" featuring Matthew Santos "Scream" "What U Want" "I Don't Wanna Care Right Now"
Bonus Anil Dash Interview: Why Blog When You Can Tweet? (2009)
Anil Dash is a very smart man who's done well in tech and web business. He's also a hip hop fan, in case you didn't know.
He's got a great post up about why and how small time operators don't have to buy into the traditional limits of so-called "lifestyle businesses" aka businesses that can make the operators a healthy living without requiring big investors who will expect huge returns on their investments.
Here's a chunk of what he has to say on the topic:
"One of the reasons that lifestyle startups have had to avoid scaling too large is because resource constraints limited either the total size of reachable audience, or the richness of the interactivity that could be supported for a user base. For example, running a site with an enormous user database used to require a significant up-front investment in servers, databases, load balancers, and even simple physical infrastructure like contracts to power providers and hosting facilities. Those costs followed a stair-step pattern where each subsequent round of growth was followed by a huge required outlay of dollars..."
"The fundamental economics of reaching a large audience don't work that way today, though. Cloud computing, more efficient infrastructure, and delivery as a service offerings change the math, particularly by not requiring large up-front investments. If your community takes off and you're built with a contemporary architecture, you can scale your costs along with income. This has some implications which are subtle but profound:"
"Being able to succeed with slower growth means you can respect your community members by not having to have an onrush of too many new users at once. Preserving a site's culture is good for the whole web."
"Lifestyle businesses have much more flexibility in revenue models, often being able to combine membership, advertising and merchandising into enough money to pay the bills. Gradual growth lets the entrepreneur experiment with these different models instead of having to shake down the community all at once through a paywall or intrusive ads."
"Not having to face the looming threat of a precipitous increase in infrastructure costs lets the startup's founder stay focused on product and community, instead of splitting time between keeping the site running in an environment it's about to outgrow and pounding the streets looking for money."
"The single biggest value that investors would offer other than money itself was connection to a network of established entrepreneurs that could help the startup survive. But if you're building a web startup today and don't already have a network, there's probably little hope for your startup anyway. Your business is predicated on having the resource that you used to have to rely on others to provide."
See what I mean about being really smart? Check Anil's blog for more.
Naledge of Kidz in the Hall has taken up the Eat to a New Beat Dance Off Challenge sponsored by Applegate Farms.
From the press release:
"Kids are invited to visit www.EatToANewBeat.com to download "Change the Game," and make their own dance video submission. The current video on the site stars Naledge and The Happiness Club, a group of Chicago kids who dance to make a difference. Kids can view and vote for videos on the site through June 1, 2011. The video submission with the most votes will win $1,000."
Naledge Accepts the Challenge
"This song and the dance off is close to my heart," said Naledge. "Much of my music is about encouraging kids to be their best, especially when it comes to school, and what they eat at school is a big part of that success."
Note: Naledge doesn't show till about halfway through the video. I think he does a nice job with the lyrics cause that can be rather tough on these educational projects.
How to Enter the Dance Off Challenge
"Kids between the ages of 13 to 18 can submit videos at www.EatToANewBeat.com through June 1, 2011. Winners will be selected by the most votes and notified on June 15, 2011. The participants in the winning video will receive $1000. Second and third place cash prizes also will be awarded in the amounts of $500 and $250, respectively."
Sorry about my recent absence. In mid-December I relocated to Asheville, NC and then moved into a more permanent spot over the last week or so. Monday I finally got all my belonging situated and now I'm getting back to work.
I am going to be focused more on trying to find an interesting angle on major news while I build site traffic but do please send anything you think is relevant to the site to:
It appears that 50 Cent may have changed realtors in order to sell his mansion which has been on and off the market for years. He even was on MTV Cribs a few years back after his mansion was put on the market with apparently little interest making it probably one of the most expensive ads for a home sale that failed. Good thing MTV paid for it!
MTV Cribs 50 Cent Special (2007)
The house is currently being listed by William Raveis who stated in a press release:
Jamie Zdru, Executive Director of William Raveis Real Estate's Exceptional Properties Division, recently announced the firm's listing of world-renowned rapper and actor, Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson's 50,000+ square foot mansion in Farmington, CT.
"Mr. Jackson's home is truly an escape from the ordinary," says Zdru. "The property provides an indulgence for the senses with a combination of 52 visually stunning rooms on 17 private acres. The home is a perfect getaway from the realities of a demanding career, while also providing the benefits of being only 10 minutes from one of CT's bustling urban centers, West Hartford. And for the impatient jetsetter's longer trips, skip lines at the airport by boarding air transportation from a personal helicopter pad! There's not much more you can ask for!"
The home features rooms and amenities to satisfy almost any mood. A gated entry leads into a grand foyer, complete with cream-colored marble floors and columns. Not a single detail is missed in the large, elegant dining room, inviting living room, kitchen and home office. In addition, the property provides ample space for entertaining and v.i.p. nightlife, with a home theater, billiards room and fully equipped nightclub featuring a lighted dance floor, bar and DJ area.
And if all this is not enough, the home is also a sports enthusiast's paradise, complete with a racquetball court, indoor pool, large gym, fitness facilities and an outdoor basketball court. After a day of sports recreation, house friends and family in three separate living quarters, all with full kitchens, bedrooms, living and dining rooms.
Mr. Jackson's home is being marketed as a Prestigious Home through William Raveis' Exceptional Properties Division. The Prestigious Homes program focuses on marketing rare homes to the ultra-affluent, using a creative mix of traditional and non-traditional advertising methods. Mr. Jackson's home is listed by Heidi Picard Ramsay from the William Raveis Avon office and Lisa Hall of William Raveis Westport. For more information, please call 860-307-0039.
Though I'm no longer doing a weekly hip hop albums report I do want to keep spotlighting individual new and upcoming releases like this one, Madlib's upcoming release from the Medicine Show series, Medicine Show No. 11: Low Budget High Fi Music, due in CD form on Jan. 18.
Putting Hennessy in the Paint
As usual, Stones Throw released a special limited edition, in this case a 3 LP Vinyl release with "Hennessy-infused paint" that is already sold out.
"After a brief pause in the Medicine Show series, Madlib returns with a 28-track, full-length hip-hop album of collaborations with AG, Guilty Simpson, MED, Oh No, Strong Arm Steady and others. Karriem Riggins pops in for a short Supreme Team session, Madlib & Oh No debut their group The Professionals, and we hear for the first time a Jaylib-era track from Madlib & Dilla's never-realized second album."
"The unofficial title of this album is Dirty Demos selected by the Loop Digga, a reference to a fire which destroyed some of this album's master tapes - a story detailed in the CD's 12-page booklet. The CD cover is by Isabel Samaras, LP illustrations by Gustavo Eandi, and design by Jeff Jank."