Jay-Z, Rich Righteous Teacher (Part II)
“Jay-Z can market just about everything but a breakfast cereal because he’s got huge talent and a savvy business manager, John Meneilly, a former Provident Financial executive.”
- New York Post; May 16, 2010; ‘Jay-Z’s 99 problems’
Please, can we stop being so spooky about
Let me offer an approach to calm the hysteria down.
With all due respect to the conspiracy theorists and groupies on one hand, and the established Hip-Hop and mainstream media on the other – in 2010, anyone’s analysis or critique of Jay-Z’s career has little credibility with me if it does not factor in the role that John Meneilly – his business manager and adviser has played in it. It is actually a supreme compliment to Jay-Z and John Meneilly and a discredit to the journalism profession that the most talked about celebrity in the history of the Hip-Hop culture and industry has the least talked about business manager. Sadly, it is a sign of two things: how ignorant of business the Hip-Hop culture continues to be and why its media – talk shows, magazines and blogs – have little to offer those seeking to find a way through a global recession and music industry in transition. Last I checked as of the date of this writing there was not even a Wikipedia page entry on the man arguably most responsible, other than Jay-Z, for certain key business moves he has made. Nor, are there hardly any pictures of him on the Internet.
Is this a conspiracy of silence (being executed by Jay and John) or just one of ignorance (on all of us in the culture and industry who are fascinated and distracted by the wrong things)?
One of the reasons why I don’t superficially engage the talk of Jay-Z’s success allegedly being a result of his membership in some secret society (a subject Jay lyrically addresses on a hot new just recorded track…stay tuned) is because I know that the ignorance of business looms so large in the chatter that dominates rap music, that it is very difficult to have a rational and calm discussion over why certain artists are more commercially ‘successful,’ than others.
The mere mention of the name ‘Jay-Z,’ causes people to become irrational and unable to think logically, it seems (smile).
An example of this is the reaction to the word ‘righteous,’ in the title of this article. Righteous does not only refer to basic morality, it also has an application in terms of whether something is in harmony with nature, science and universal order. That so few people understand business and persuasive communication (which Jay has ‘mastered’ to a degree) to be age-old sciences and elements of human nature is a clear indication about the larger problem in how we in Hip-Hop narrowly define ‘consciousness,’ only in terms of book knowledge, morality and activism. This is an area where ideology (socialism vs. capitalism as the beginning of economic thought) has blinded us to the fact that trade and commerce pre-date Adam Smith and Karl Marx. (I’ve never understood how scholars, activists, and ‘conscious’ artists who claim Africa ignore the thousands of years of its economic history in favor of being parrots of these two schools of Western economic thought.)
If you understand that and how the people from whom Jay-Z comes were systematically denied business education (not to mention capital, wages and freedom of association) for nearly 400 years (while Marx and Smith supporters were formulating ‘capitalism’ and ’socialism’) Jay-Z is a ‘righteous’ teacher - enlightening us to certain sciences in life - in ways people simply don’t understand because of how we have been mis-educated.
So, until and unless certain aspects of Jay-Z’s business model are examined people will never get the benefit of what he represents for the good of us all – important lessons (for better or worse).
I am not writing this as an intellectual observer or outsider. I know it from within as a music industry professional - serving as part of the management of Wu-Tang
I am not the greatest expert on the Wu nor have I ever claimed to be. But because I know my place in that history and don’t step out of it, I can explain some things accurately to others.
There are many things that journalists and die-hard Wu-Tang Clan fans know about the group, its music, lyrics, and its cultural impact that I do not know.
But when it comes to certain aspects of the business side of things – for a certain period of time if you don’t talk to RZA, Divine, Power, Mook, myself, and a handful of others that were in a position to know, as part of the administrative and team infrastructure of the group you simply cannot understand the music career of the Clan (during a certain period of time).
When it comes to Jay-Z’s success there is simply too much conjecture floating around for us to learn the valuable lessons that his approach to business can teach us.
A look at his business manager can help end some of the speculation and even mysticism around Jay-Z and go a long way toward educating the youngest members of the Hip-Hop generation about business, while improving the stategies and tactics of other artists who continue to hustle backwards.
I will never forget the day I met John Meneilly a few years ago. I actually had to be toldhandling his business. who he was. After shaking hands with a very non-descript Caucasian who looked a bit disheveled, with a briefcase and documents he had to maneuver in order to greet me, my business associate (with whom John Meneilly had just met) told me whom I had just spoken with. In other words there was nothing flamboyant, loud, eccentric, distracting, or vain about Jay-Z’s business manager, although these are the characteristics many ascribe to the artist himself. And this man did not introduce himself to me as ‘Jay-Z’s business manager.’ In other words, he felt no need to impress or make himself memorable. He was just
John Meneilly perfectly fits the low-key profile of what Thomas J. Stanley describes in the book, The Millionaire Mind.
I recognize this as an important lesson in how Jay-Z does business. It was the first thing I was taught – when only 22 years old – by my business mentor (whom I write about in Volume II of my book) who told me that the clients and artists that I would one day manage wanted to know that I could go places that they couldn’t. In John Meneilly, Jay has that someone ‘who can go places he can’t.’ That alone separates him from the legions of ‘commercial,’ ‘conscious,’ and ‘independent’ artists who simply do not know how to build a proper team infrastructure.
The artists who are going to survive this transition period are going to be the ones who pick the right managers and advisers to help guide their careers within and without the music industry caste system. I describe this a bit in connection to the emergence of the 360 record label deal in a November 9, 20009 Hip-Hoppreneur ™ Commentary “Chris Lighty Is Not A Sell Out! The Music Industry Caste System” (http://www.cedricmuhammad.com/chris-lighty-is-not-a-sell-out-the-music-industry-caste-system-hip-hoppreneur-%E2%84%A2-commentary-november-4-2009/):
“You see there is a caste system in the industry.
And this reality opens the door for some frank talk about the emergence of the 360 Deal and why it is poised to put managers out of business, or out of their own misery, depending upon your perspective.
Now when I say ‘caste system’ I don’t have the country of India in mind, but only a system of rigid division and separation characterized by a custom of social barriers.
Yes, there are real social barriers in the music industry and the success and failure of artists is dependent upon their ability and that of their team infrastructure of managers, agents, lawyers, and publicists to navigate it.
On one end of the caste system we have the unsigned talent; in the middle of this power pyramid we have the independent artist; and at the top of the social system is the elite artist signed to a major record label.
Each of the three have their own forms of power and spheres of influence that make them valuable in the marketplace.
The unsigned talent has freedom, purity, and unlimited upside and potential.
The independent artist has greater creative control and a larger share of the revenue they generate.
The elite major label artist has social mobility at the higher levels of the industry and access to corporate machinery and a professional network.
Each of the three also have major vulnerabilities.
The unsigned talent initially has a prescribed minimum market value they must accept in contracts and deals if they are to enter the industry as a signed artist.
The independent artist rarely has the professional infrastructure and business process necessary to achieve success beyond a critical ‘underground’ (“I keeps it real”) commercial mass. Some rationalize their lack of achievement by saying they don’t care about ‘going gold or platinum,’ but privately they lament over the inefficiencies in their business organizations and the barriers that hinder them. In addition, their ‘independent’ status, ‘hoodonomics and love for progressive politics or revolutionary rhetoric often limits their social mobility and alienates them from key music industry power centers and decision-makers in the industry who are afraid of upsetting special interests.
The elite major record label artist, having been thoroughly mainstreamed, is ‘boxed in’ to standard contractual deals, a stereotypical marketing image, and conservative or risk-averse business opportunities. And at times, their penchant for networking toward the top of the industry power pyramid, although a necessary and sound business practice, when unbridled (i.e. getting business done is more important than dating a model), opens them up to charges of excessive materialism.
The strongest position an artist can be in, nowadays, especially in the era of the 360 deal is that of the emerging independent artist.
This person is not established to the point where their image has hardened but not so new that they haven’t demonstrated the ability to market and sell their own music, and generate not just buzz but some level of mainstream visibility (through earned media, social and viral communities, and either radio play or video rotation on mainstream outlets).
But the emergence of this kind of new independent artist becomes more difficult everyday as the 360 deal threatens to place the vast majority of artists at the bottom of the music industry power pyramid, cutting them off from key power centers and the ladder of mobility.
The individuals best suited to turn the tide are the managers (aka ‘the 20Percenters’), who understand the caste system and have more mobility than the artist, in the name of business. They are best positioned to establish the right relationships that new artists are now being denied (except they go through a label), and only they have the right mix of know how, skill sets and networks to construct a new ladder and business infrastructure outside of the industry, if need be, to counter the majors’ grip on market share.
Many don’t want to admit it but it is so obvious to me – what usually separates the major artist from the independent and unsigned is their better success in the selection of the right team ‘who can go places they can’t.’ While I do believe that the artist with the most potential to shine this decade is not the major artist, but rather the independent one, it will only be the independent artist who can build the right team around them capable of making things happen outside of the old music industry infrastructure that will thrive.
A common mistake that I see over and over again with independent and progressive artists is that as much as they criticize the elite major artists, they remain fascinated by them and adopt their conservative business practices, and are seduced into hiring their teams.
The independent, progressive and ‘conscious’ artist needs management and a team that can make ‘independent,’ ‘progressive,’ and ‘conscious’ things happen for them, on a business level.
As I often say to conscious artists – why do you rap so much about Africa when you don’t have a team around you who can make things happen for you in Africa on a business or cultural level?
While the ‘conscious’ artist is good at pointing out the contradictions in the lyrical content of an artist like Jay-Z, they are not so good in pointing out the contradictions between their own lyrical content and the manner in which they do business.
In this sense, again, Jay-Z exhibits a form of knowledge of self that they lack.
“I came into this moth——– a hundred grand strong
Nine to be exact, from grindin G-packs
Put this s— in motion ain’t no rewindin me back
Could make 40 off a brick but one rhyme could beat that
And if somebody woulda told ‘em that Hov’ would sell clothin
Heh, not in this lifetime, wasn’t in my right mind
That’s another difference that’s between me and them
Heh, I’m smarten up, open the market up
One million, two million, three million, four
In eighteen months, eighty million more
Now add that number up with the one I said before
You are now lookin at one smart black boy
Momma ain’t raised no fool
Put me anywhere on God’s green earth, I’ll triple my worth…
I WILL NOT LOSE!…”
- Jay-Z; “U Don’t Know”
Something that I think gets lost in the ideological criticism of Jay-Z or the fascination with his celebrity is that no other rapper is more capable of sparking as much intelligent conversation, especially about entrepreneurship, economics and business, which I dare say is more essential right now than the political form of consciousness we’ve received in rap for over 20 years. Whether you like Jay-Z or not he is at the center of a consciousness-raising discussion in a badly underserved area: our definitions of ‘success’ and the science of business (which too many people incorrectly equate to ‘capitalism’: you can listen to my interview with Dr. Jared Ball where I explain the difference between business, entrepreneurship, trade and commerce on one hand and ‘capitalism’ on the other at: http://www.voxunion.com/?p=2588)
Here is what an AllHipHop.com reader named Dalitso emailed me regarding Part I:
”Since I was 12 I’ve been a huge fan of Jay I’ve grown on his experience to the point
almost every discussion I have with friends has a recital of a Jay
song. I’m the butt of jokes among friends but to watch someone come
from nothing towards the most influential statesman in a counter
culture is remarkable. I often think of an eastern proverb that says
“don’t follow in the footsteps of the great, seek what they sought” Jay
reminds me of Meyer Lanksy not from the media perspective but from the
lens of a minority marginalized in society and creates something. The
‘American Gangster’ album to me is his most underrated album but the
jewels on human nature, business in the album for cultural
entrepreneurs, social activist, marketing students, to me is crazy from
the intro to the last song among the many favorite lines on No Hooks
is “own boss, own your master, slaves the mentality I carry with me to
this very day, f*** rich let’s gets wealthy who else gonna feed we. If
I need it I’m gonna get it however God help me”. His realization that
as an artist freedom comes from owning his own masters, and breaking
the master slave mentality of being tied down to dying industry
structure coupled with that anybody can get rich but wealth is for the
few who understand that “money should work for you while you sleep”
and not you working for money and that is the difference between a
master and slave mentality.”
I asked Duane Lawton, an Internet Hip-Hop Marketing Consultant who has actually written a book on Jay-Z’s lyrics (http://www.bookofhov.com/ email: Duane@BookofHov.com) for his thoughts on Jay-Z’s business model and brand.
Duane Lawton: My favorite Jay-Z saying is “I WILL NOT LOSE!” It’s a simple
declaration that can be very self-empowering especially for
those who have been made to believe that they were born to
fail. I think success in anything, particularly business and
branding starts with what I would call “stubborn confidence”
this is not to be confused with “blind ambition”.
Often times it’s not enough to have faith or confidence. There
are too many things in life that can hinder us from accomplishing
our goals. Sometimes you have to be stubborn with confidence,
almost defiant. And Jay-Z’s trademark, “I WILL NOT LOSE”
epitomizes that approach to ambition.
If you combine 2 of Jay-Z’s most popular trademark sayings, you
have the perfect mantra to live by as you seek personal and professional
growth and development:
If I… “Get my mind right”, “I WILL NOT LOSE!”
It’s amazing to see how Jay-Z has applied the theories and practices of
street hustling all the way to the corporate boardroom and the global
business environment. In some ways Jay-Z can be seen as a life coach
with a specialization in business and professional development. Of course
I’m speaking metaphorically about a MC who is a master at metaphors,
but the point is, Jay-Z has truly given our culture and generation a
blueprint- not just on how to make Hip-Hop music, but more importantly,
on how to conceive, believe, achieve and maintain success in whatever we do.
Having established Jay-Z’s inspirational value and ability to teach business principles, directly and indirectly there are some very hard questions that I believe Jay will be forced to answer regarding his relationship to the classes (the 10%), his concern and influence over the masses (the 85%) and just how free he is to openly associate with other righteous teachers (the 5%).
This all has to be considered in light of his recent statements from last year which seem to indicate his interest in further evolving the culture and industry in more mature ways:
“The challenge with rap music is, you know, the place where it’s white hot is with 16- and 15-year-olds. You have a lot of people who are 30-something, 30-plus, still recording music like they were 15 because that’s where the most urgent buyer is…There’s been this reluctance to mature in hip hop and when you do that, you leave the audience very narrow. My whole thing is to expand the audience and the genre of music in any way, because music is music…If I’m 35 years old and I’m talking like I’m 15 — the kids at 15, they change slang every week. They know that’s not being authentic. I live in Teaneck, New Jersey, somewhere, I’m not on the streets…I felt like that was my calling and that was my direction in life, to show artists in a different light, that we could ascend to executive positions of record companies….In the beginning, it was at its purest form because everyone was struggling. All great music and all great art, I believe, comes from pain. As hip hop started to get successful, and really successful — you had these guys coming from these neighbourhoods that were now millionaires — it’s tough to draw back to that place [of creativity]…. Now people are having those types of feelings: ‘You’re sounding lazy, you’re sounding formulaic, you’re sounding like the same subject matter. So what are you going to do?’ Now we’re facing that challenge to make great music like every other genre.”
Will the ‘great music’ that Jay-Z makes next, be considered ‘radical’ by some in high places?
A hidden hand - coming from outside of the micro music industry and often working through the multi-national conglomerates that own it – with resources to control who gets the psychic income of fame (scandal-free media coverage, high level political access, and first crack at non-music industry business opportunities) has subtly and not so subtly made it clear to elite artists and their team that doing for self – in a certain sense - is incompatible with upward social mobility, in their world.
Thus, the fear of loss of status and ‘mainstreaming’ controls many and limits the effectiveness of those who aren’t afraid.
Jay-Z figures Some How, Some Way, into this important debate.
“I do this for my culture
To let ‘em know what a n***a look like…when a ni***a in a Roadster
Show ‘em how to move in a room full of vultures
Industry shady it need to be taken over
Label owners hate me, I’m raisin’ the status quo up
I’m overchargin’ n***az for what they did to the Cold Crush
Pay us like you owe us for all the years that you ho’ed us
We can talk, but money talks, so talk mo’ bucks”
- Jay-Z; “ IZZO (H.O.V.A.)”
Dame Dash and I discussed this dynamic and dilemma – just how independently elite artists can be while operating in the ‘system’ at BlackElectorate.com in 2002, at the height of Roc-A-Fella’s popularity and prior to his public break with Jay-Z (http://www.blackelectorate.com/articles.asp?ID=744 ):
Cedric Muhammad: The way I have looked at it from an economist’s point of view, it seems that the pace of the distribution channels, even of the multinational corporations at the center of your business ventures, is really too slow for you.
Dame Dash: Right.
Cedric Muhammad: It seems to me that everything that you are involved with from your music relationship with Def Jam and Universal to the movie business - you are like, really bumping up against Black America’s crisis of not having distribution for its products and services. How do you feel about all of that?
Dame Dash: Well…I mean, you know it is a constant struggle. A little bit of a fight, because our culture doesn’t usually get the correct opportunities and when they are presented, somebody usually f—- it up. Someone is there putting their hands into the cookie jar. Our culture has been exploited so much that we haven’t been able to capitalize on things. So many other people make so much money off of us that I don’t think that they are used to someone trying to capitalize on their own culture, you know what I’m saying? So its full of obstacles. But the s— that bothers me is that I know that I am a strong individual and I fight for what’s mine, but I know that there are alot of people in this who are not like that. Not to say that other people aren’t as strong but they don’t have the kamikaze attitude and as much to fall back on as I do.
That’s why I kind of feel sorry for anybody that can’t take the position that I hold. But I will punish anybody that I feel is doing anything disrespectful to my company. You are a liability not just to me but everybody else.
Cedric Muhammad: Do you think, Dame, that there is more unity required to overcome the distribution issues that you are dealing with in music, movies and alcohol…
Dame Dash: Yeah…
Cedric Muhammad: Who are some of the people that you are looking to link up with and what are the type of business minds that it would require to get over this hump?
Dame Dash: I feel like it is kind of hard because everybody is trying to get in where they fit in, you know what I’m saying? And as established as people may seem, they are still on shaky ice. So they have their own things that they gotta deal with. Like right now, I haven’t gotten the opportunity to address the distribution issue in the music industry because it would take alot of energy and effort. I will probably get back to that when I can. It is important that I do. I am happy that I got to make money my way, but when you get into distribution, it gets a little gangster, you know what I’m saying?
(laughter between both Dame Dash and Cedric Muhammad)
Dame Dash: You’ve got to be really serious about going for distribution and getting it done. And it is hard to put someone in that position.
Could Jay-Z support an effort to address the long-discussed ‘distribution’ issue (which now must include things like ownership of concert venues, and control of transportaion and communication systems)? Or would his business and corporate partners consider it too radical a step for him?’ And if he came out and took a stand on something like this would politically conscious and so-called radical artists be able to get over their hang-ups with Jay and support him? I wonder on all three questions.
How many of us have heard of the ‘secret’ or private discussions of Hammer, James Prince, Suge Kinght and Luke in the 1990s to establish an independent distribution network in the music industry?
Hip-Hop historian and opinion leader Davey D (http://daveyd.com/) is the most knowledgeable person I know on the subject.
Isn’t it so interesting that it was artists/moguls with a ‘gangster’ or ‘commercial’ persona and not ‘conscious’ artists who were having this private, even revolutionary discussion?
Again – there has and continues to be an economic aspect missing from what we have labeled ‘consciousness’ in Hip-Hop.
Look at Dame’s description of his peers, in my conversation with him – “everybody is trying to get in where they fit in…” and “…as established as people may seem, they are still on shaky ice…” and the ultimate, “Not to say that other people aren’t as strong but they don’t have the kamikaze attitude and as much to fall back on…”
Hmmm. Sounds a lot like the mentality and attitude of most folks I know with a job – whether in government, academia, or corporate America – scared to start a business until they are forced to by a sudden layoff or termination.
Is Jay-Z somewhere in that description? As powerful as he is can Jay-Z be ‘kept in line’ by a powerful elite who has the power to ‘scandalize’ him - as well as you and I? All of us have flaws, imperfections, lifestyle choices, and habits, that if made public, distorted, or incorporated in a slanderous media campaign would demagnetize our appeal to the masses (the 85%).
As we near the 1-year anniversary of his death, we would do well to watch/study Minister Farrakhan’s insightful talk on Michael Jackson (“The Crucifixion of Michael Jackson and All Responsible Black Leadership” http://store.finalcall.com/ProductDetails.asp?ProductCode=HLF090726DVD)
Could Jay-Z one day be ‘crucified’ like Michael? Or, was Michael Jackson made to serve as an example for Jay-Z? And do the forces who feared Michael Jackson’s evolution toward greater and greater consciousness have similar concerns about Jay-Z (and all ‘mainstream’ rap artists)? Is there a form of consciousness that Jay-Z has that the 10% recognize and fear, which the more politically conscious artists still lack and can’t appreciate about him, yet?
Much has been made of Jay-Z’s recording of Public Service Announcements (PSAs) against ‘Anti-Semitism’ with Russell Simmons a few years ago. You can watch the YouTube video here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JNFXHoaf4Vs.
Personally, I have no problem with Jay-Z’s actual words in the PSA. I agree with them.
However, I would hope that Jay-Z and Russell Simmons would support or be involved in a similar effort to ask Jewish celebrities to record commercials geared toward those, for example, in Israel today, who are currently calling President Obama an ‘anti-Semite.’ (http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-503544_162-20000658-503544.html)
If Jay-Z (and Russell Simmons) could publicly call for an end to the ‘anti-Black’ feelings that some members of the Jewish community do in fact hold, I would consider the cipher complete.
But there is more to consider:
Those who are calling Jay-Z a Zionist ‘pawn’ for making the PSAs, to the best of my knowledge, have not approached him in the same manner as the organization behind them did - Rabbi Marc Schneier’s Foundation For Ethnic Understanding did (http://www.ffeu.org/RMS.htm)
Until we give Jay-Z a chance to similarly accept or reject his appearance in a well-developed PSA campaign against Jewish ‘anti-Blackness,’ I will withold judgement on who’s a pawn…or a bishop, or a rook, and for whom.
Can we really blame Jay-Z for our own lack of operational unity, professionalism, and activism?
Again, we have to move beyond rhetoric (‘Jay-Z needs to support this…Jay-Z needs to stand for that…Jay-Z ain’t doin enough for…’) and speak the language of power, and make it impossible for Jay-Z (or any other artist) to say ‘no’ to us.
Jay-Z is not ‘anti-Jewish’ or ‘anti-Semitic’ but he didn’t do the PSA only because he agreed with the message. He did the PSA because it dovetailed with his business model and interests. I’m sure it didn’t hurt his relationship with members of the Israeli and Jewish community (in and out of the music industry with whom he may do business) that as was reported in Ynetnews, “The Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem received a report on the [Jay-Z's PSA against 'anti-Semitism'] initiative from Aryeh Mekel, Israel’s consul-general in New York.”
This is the real world of geopolitics Jay-Z has to operate in, not the one of Hip-Hop gossip where subliminal shots in his lyrics are considered earth-shattering breaking news to many of us.
When Black and progressive activism approaches Jay-Z in a manner that dovetails with his business model and interests – and not just loud shouting and whining – he will respond accordingly, I believe.
He understands the language of power, so let’s learn to speak it, as others have.
I am certain Jay-Z loves his people. But his people also have to understand the world he operates in.
If we love Jay-Z (which I certainly do) and want him to do better or more – we too – have to step up our game.
Political activism without an appreciation of business realities is going to increasingly be… well, D.O.A.
“Yo, y’all n—–s truly ain’t ready for this “Dynasty” thing
Y’all thinkin “Blake Carrington”, I’m thinkin more like “Ming”
I got four nephews, and they all write’n
They all young and wild, plus they all like things
And I’m havin a child, which is more frightning
What cha’ll about to witness is big business kid
Big bosses, cocky, and big Benzsesses
Come through flossin’em shiny rims it is
And losses don’t pop up in their sentences
I think you understand what type of event this is
I don’t think you know how focused young Memphis is
or how Sigel’s so real, when you add on Amil
This is much more than rap, it’s Black Entrepreneurs
Clothing, movie, and films, we come to conquer it all
Roc-A-Wear, eighty mill like, eighteen months
You could bull—- wit rap if you want, mut———s
When it’s all said and done, we gon see what’s what
Holla at Hov, I’ll be in the cut…”
- Jay-Z; “4 Da Fam”
In an interview earlier this year, 50 Cent made an important criticism of Jay Z’s business model which I think has merit. 50 said, “I think he has good intentions – Jay – but he’s using the traditional corporate model and I think the only place he really went wrong was saying ‘La Familia’ – like we [the Roc-A-Fella artists and Jay-Z] are family…I understand that transition into the corporate space. Like Jimmy (Iovine) (doesn’t) say (to me), ‘we family,’ so I know that I got to be on my P’s and Q’s with him 24/7, because if you are no longer generating interests there will be that ‘new thing,’ that works (to replace you). But I say that (‘family’) and because I say that I make sure that they (the G-Unit artists) eat.”
I literally could write a book on what 50 Cent describes (and in a way my forthcoming book on the economic integration of Africa deals with this subject) regarding the ‘corporate’ vs. ‘family’ way of doing business, and the painful transition of evolving economic relationships from personal to impersonal contact. They – family and corporation - are almost never the same, and when people confuse the two they go wrong. Kinship systems which revolve around familiarity and a common belief and loyalty are not the same as a nexus of impersonal transactions.
Both systems have a hierarchy with a leader at the top, but kinship systems unlike corporations, almost always raise their leadership from within their own ranks while corporations pull in outsiders. The leader of a ‘family’ group is usually looking for his ‘successor’ from among the younger members of their own circle. While earning money important, other qualities are a factor too. While, in a corporation, earning can be everything. Family members expect charity to take place among one another. In a corporation, charity has no place on financial statements – not even as ‘petty cash.’ (smile)
A young person who doesn’t understand this and is really operating in a corporate structure while believing they are part of a family unit is headed for disappointment, even to the point of feeling they were deceived by the leader of the unit.
This may have been part of the dynamic in Jay’s business model and leadership style at Roc-A-Fella and where the role of John Meneilly (and not the more ‘family-oriented Dame Dash or Biggs) is important to understand.
I know a small bit of this dynamic, because in September 2002 I was involved in a dialogue with Roc-A-Fella’s marketing department about how to better position all of the artists on the label, aside from Jay-Z. The strategy was sophisticated but revolved around coordinating an ‘outside the industry,’ strategy with the standard record promotion.
The plan I laid out was the re-positioning Cam’ron and Beanie Sigel, not just as ‘hustlers’ and ‘gangsters,’ but as real power brokers and true ‘bosses’ in the communities from which they came – Harlem and Philly, respectively. What we discussed was revolutionary and would have built upon the street credibility of the artists and converted that form of power into others – in the business sector and political arena. They would have been true shot-callers with their neighborhoods as home base from which they would make power moves, generate positive media coverage, and break into new market segments as artists. The plan would have made them bigger and broadened their appeal beyond their current fan base.
Roc-A-Fella loved the specifics of what I outlined. Cam’ron’s manager wanted to move forward with the strategy and all that remained was for a meeting to be arranged to finalize details. Then, we agreed, we would immediately apply the model to Beanie Sigel.
Then, came the surprising news, confirming for me what I had only heard as rumors regarding how decisions were made at Roc-A- Fella Records.
I was informed that Jay-Z’s brilliant business manager, John Meneilly, who was a key decision-maker at the label (a fact that many don’t realize) put the initiative on ice because it would somehow distract or interfere with Jay-Z’s efforts to position himself more positively in community affairs. I was told by Roc-A-Fella that John Meneilly felt that what I proposed was essentially the same thing that was already in motion around Jay-Z’s efforts to do things in the borough of Brooklyn, timed perfectly with the release of Blueprint II.
I was told that all of this would be the subject of an upcoming 60 Minutes feature on Jay-Z. My Roc-A-Fella contact told me that after Jay-Z had the chance to establish himself in this new light, the label would look to incorporate my strategic advice.
I was disappointed a bit, not understanding why what was good for Jay-Z wasn’t good for his labelmates, but I was also excited to know that someone as influential as Jay-Z was moving in this direction. I started thinking of ways to support his efforts.
The 60 Minutes special came (http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2002/11/18/60II/main529811.shtml), Blueprint II dropped and Jay-Z did get credit for a few good works. But the effort was heavily top-down (corporate –driven) nothing at all like what I proposed for Beanie Sigel and Cam’ron which would have had them building power and positioning themselves from the streets-up.
I’m sure 60 Minutes did not represent all that Jay-Z was trying to do but I got no indication that Roc-A-Fella pushed back or was disappointed in the feature that really was more of a biography piece designed to further mainstream Jay-Z or even, maybe make him less threatening.
It was a good look for Jay in that respect, but nothing that could benefit Beanie Sigel or Cam’ron, I thought.
Being ‘positive’ and ‘giving back’ through donations, foundations, corporate partners and appearances is nice but not the same as developing an artist’s street, political, and business leadership profile outside of the industry, in ways that connect them to everyday people and help them sell more records.
What Cam and Sigel needed was more power positioning not just good cause marketing.
I ended Part I with this, “Could it be that certain people have a hard time accepting Jay-Z’s rise and continued success not because of anything he or others are doing but because they lack a grasp of the science of business?”
What I meant by that, is, the fascination with or focus on ‘secret societies’ among the poor can either be a hindrance to their progress or it can be an educational experience that motivates them toward success. The history of business is marked by private, interactions and relationships. You don’t get business done shouting at one another in the public (like a rap beef). You get business done by going in a room and closing the door and having serious discussion.
Either you or someone on your team has to be skilled at this kind of activity. I think this is something that is lost in rap culture where being flashy, attention-grabbing, and seen the most is valued too often.
In a sense, all business activity is based upon how one conducts themselves in private or cultural settings.
I wrote about this a few months ago for The Final Call newspaper in an article entitled, “Etiquette and Networking: The Secret Society of Business” (http://www.finalcall.com/artman/publish/Business_amp_Money_12/article_6647.shtml).
I hope you will read it and not only consider Jay-Z in a new light, but more importantly, yourself…
Cedric Muhammad is a business consultant, political strategist, and monetary economist. He is a former GM of Wu-Tang Management and currently a Member of the African Union’s First Congress of African Economist. He’s the Founder of the economic information service Africa PreBrief (http://africaprebrief.com/) and author of ‘The Entrepreneurial Secret’ (http://theEsecret.com/). Cedric can be contacted via e-mail at: cedric(at)cmcap.com
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