photo & text by nacrowe
in the modern age of streaming and platforms like SPOTIFY there is now incontrovertible proof that HIP HOP is the leading cultural force and has been for more than a generation. one aspect of driving culture results in an outsized influence over economic trends and makes such the focus of the INVESTMENT CLASS seeking to monetize relationships through ENDORSEMENTS, PARTNERSHIPS and INNUMERABLE PRODUCTS. according to ABC NEWS, conservative estimates have HIP HOP generating $10 billion a year in annual revenue. in today's environment, the idea of a PHARRELL WILLIAMS signature shoe line rather than that of an athlete is nothing particularly out of the ordinary. as JAY-Z once adroitly quipped on the KANYE WEST track "DIAMONDS FROM SIERRA LEONE (REMIX)" off of LATE REGISTRATION (DEF JAM / ROC-A-FELLA, 2005), "im not a businessman, im a business, man."
but that was not always the case.
THE BIG PAYBACK: THE HISTORY OF THE BUSINESS OF HIP-HOP (NEW AMERICAN LIBRARY, 2011) examines the HUMBLE BEGINNINGS of how rap established itself as a culture and then as a business throughout the 70s, 80s and 90s. these were AMOEBIC INCREMENTAL steps that saw NYC community parties in the park evolve into late hour terrestrial radio programs to small business record label entrepreneurship and so on. what is REMARKABLE is the extent to which major players and gate keepers at every turn were reticent to be involved due to an UNPROVEN track record that was largely based on SYSTEMATIC RACISM. looking back the immense untapped market throughout the early period is OBVIOUS, but it took to time for CORPORATE AMERICA to understand and buy-in. case in point from the book is the example of COCA-COLA who were reserved about associating its main brand with a black athlete, so they took their side product in SPRITE (who at the time was a secondary market competitor to 7-UP) and ran a campaign with recent LOS ANGELES LAKER phenomenon KOBE BRYANT. it was massively successful and the continued relationship between SPRITE and black rappers/athletes continues unabated to present.
my favorite example of BLACK ENTREPRENEURSHIP and gaming the system from THE BIG PAYBACK is the WU-TANG CLAN, who signed a record as a collective to LOUD RECORDS but had a clause in their contract that such did not cover individual members. this allowed members to sign with different label such as METHOD MAN with DEF JAM, OL' DIRTY BASTARD with ELEKTRA, GHOSTFACE KILLAH with EPIC, GZA with WARNER BROS, RAEKWON with RCA and so on. that effectively meant that the whole industry had a piece of the WU-TANG CLAN pie and collectively promoted it accordingly. just incredibly business savvy and genius in a manner that THE CLASH and countless ROCK N ROLL bands ripped-off by extended, exploitative contracts would probably be crying and seething with jealousy over.
another thread in this book is the extent to which BLACK ENTREPRENEURSHIP was underpinned by another UNDERREPRESENTED MINORITY GROUP that saw their ARTISTIC and ECONOMIC POTENTIAL and nurtured such. for generations there has been much interplay and mutual support between the black and jewish communities, especially in NYC going back to JAZZ age. from producers like RICK RUBIN (BEASTIE BOYS, LL COOL J, RUN-DMC, JAY-Z, EMINEM, KANYE WEST) to managers and executives like STEVE RIFKIND (MOBB DEEP, BIG PUN, WU-TANG CLAN, DAVID BANNER), there is a deep mutual admiration and partnership at play that is largely UNHERALDED and UNSPOKEN. such a relationship makes the anti-semitism from KANYE WEST, NICK CANNON, JAY-Z, 21 SAVAGE and even going way back to SCARFACE, ICE CUBE and PUBLIC ENEMY's PROFESSOR GRIFF a bizarre aberration that denies the SUPPORTIVE, MUTUALLY BENEFICIAL nature of such. its hard to stomach especially after reading this book.
if you are interesting in the business and economic underpinnings of HIP HOP and how a culture infiltrated and dominated the mainstream from seemingly nowhere than THE BIG PAYBACK is well-worth investigation. i found it FASCINATING, having read it years before my current path pursuing an MBA. it goes to show that if marketed well, CORPORATE AMERICA will follow suit on any LUCRATIVE opportunity no matter how OUTRAGEOUS or seemingly UNPROVEN.
HIP HOP is a case in point.