Nipsey Hussle was one of the few rappers who had complete control over his destiny. The Los Angeles native built a brand and a career outright before partnering with Atlantic Records for his first major label debut in ‘Victory Lap’. Not only will Nipsey Hussle go down in history as a marketing genius, he will also be remembered for his keen ability to build leverage and execute at a high level. After making a splash with CRENSHAW, the mixtape that he sold for $100 dollars a pop, he solidified his rise to fame with consistency and continued to build his brand locally and within the Hyde Park community. He embraced Peter Thiel’s idea of micro to macro in 0 to 1, believing that if he could influence Los Angeles, he could subsequently influence the World. With his theory being proven true, the retail part of his empire, 'The MARATHON Clothing’ continues to be a hotspot for tourists from around the Globe.
Eventually, being mentioned in the same conversations as Lakers Great Kobe Bryant and other Los Angeles legends, Nipsey Hussle personified what it meant to be an entertainment mogul. Completely doing it his way and retaining ownership within his companies. Early believers in Nipsey Hussle included the likes of Jay Z, who purchased 100 copies of the CRENSHAW mixtape, and Snoop Dogg, who Nipsey was often compared to after his “Hussle In The House” release. The rapper redefined what it meant to be an independent musician and businessman, continuously reiterating the importance of retaining equity. Keying in on ownership, entrepreneurship and honoring the hustler, he laid out a number of steps for all artists to follow. If succeeding as an independent artist is your long term goal, Nipsey Hussle’s path to success is a great example.
Lets deep dive into Nipsey Hussle’s 10 Steps To Building A Music Empire.
1. Focus On Your Core Product
As artists and content creators, you have to make a commitment to focusing on your craft. The benefit of focusing on your core product (music) will put you in a position to plan, produce and execute. Once you figure out a situation that works for you, you will be in better position to be consistent. Consistency will aid you in building a music empire. If you know what you’re aiming for as far as objectives and goals, you are more likely to hit your targets. Nipsey spoke about this moment on ‘Victory Lap’. He famously tells the story of how he sold his “BMW Alpina Rims” and headed straight to Guitar Center.
2. Creative Collaboration
Creative collaboration is a great tool for new artists who are interested in building a fan base. These are the relationships that you should nourish and handle with care, because they will act as brand partnerships and could essentially help take your career to next level. For example, Nipsey started off collaborating with fellow Los Angeles artists like Kendrick Lamar, Dom Kennedy and most recently YG. My advice is to always “start local” and then branch out. It’s important to make the most out of your local resources.
Check out Nipsey Hussle’s latest music video with YG, “Last Time That I Checc’d”
3. Study Success
Be a student of the game. It always helps to pattern yourself after success. My advice is to read about marketing, branding and different strategies that could help you in your music career. Always be on the lookout for new information or strategies that you can apply to your routine or execute in a project. If you know what has worked in the past, you will be more likely to succeed in the future. Nipsey Hussle did this with his CRENSHAW mixtape by using a tactic that he read about in a book called, ‘Contagious’ and the $100 Philly Cheese Steak.
4. Experiment and Pay Attention (Segmentation & Price Points)
As artists, it’s important to experiment and pay attention to how people react to your content. This is essential in producing content, as well as in marketing. You can test out different methods to see what kind of results that are being produced by your efforts. This is highly effective in segmentation, price points and organizing your fan base. As you grow as an artist, you will quickly notice that you have different types of fans: fair-weather, middle of the road and super fans. One of the many lessons that we can learn from Nipsey is that he was always good at segmentation and making sure that the appropriate fans received the proper attention. With Nipsey’s ‘CRENSHAW’ release, he offered three different price points with separate engagement levels, capitalizing off of Kevin Kelly’s 1000 True Fans social dynamic. Giving back to the people that wholeheartedly support your content is always a blessing and a reminder of why we create.
5. Understand Your Brand & Your Fans
It is essential to understand why people like you and why they choose to engage with your content. This can be a calculated observation, learning experience or experimentation with your brand. This transformation took Nipsey Hussle about 5–6 mixtapes and an overseas tour to fully grasp why people truly connected with his brand on a deeper level. A big factor involves paying attention to what people favor about you. As an artist, it’s your job to present your personality and give the fans more of ‘what they came to you for’ in the first place. This could be advice, your energy and in Nipsey’s case; he provided inspiration.
6. Focus On Ownership
When making decisions and building your music empire. Focus on retaining assets and creating value. Your content is your leverage, so it’s important to retain equity. Anyone who is familiar with Nipsey Hussle’s journey understands the importance of ownership. As artists starting out, record labels will always offer you record deals. Some good, some bad. It’s ultimately your choice.
“I’m not into trading ownership of the only asset I have, which is my intellectual property.”
— Nipsey Hussle
This goes back to studying success, examine artists who own their music versus artists who don’t. Jay Z said it best, “I’ll never sign another record deal” and Nipsey made it very clear, “We can’t have a conversation if it’s not about a partnership or being an owner.” Ownership affords opportunity and it also affords power regarding the decisions being made. Check out the article below, as I go through some of Nipsey’s key choices and moments that defined him as a business mogul and independent artist.
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7. Invest In Your Music Empire
Financially, this is an essential maneuver in building out any business or music organization. In economics, there’s the idea of accumulation; saving versus investing. With investing, you are essentially spending money to make money. So as your company accumulates funds (saving), you want to set aside capital for expansion. Nipsey Hussle had a number of ventures as a result of re-investing back into his community. They included The MARATHON Clothing, Vector90, The Marathon Agency and his record label ALL Money IN.
8. Analyze Fan Data (Demographics, Analytics & Psychographics)
Data is vital in building your career as an artist. As you continue on your journey of building a music empire, data should be held in a high regard. This is why music streaming and content marketing has taken off.
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In my opinion, data is more valuable than money because it puts you in position to repeatedly create value, make connections and expand your reach. For artists, there are three different types of data that you should be gathering. The first is analytics, which covers your blog/website, social media (music streaming) and email campaigns. This form of data can assist you in what type of content to produce, what content is most popular and when to release a project. The second is demographics, which covers the overall gender and location of your fan base. As artists, if you’re interested in developing markets outside of your city, this is where you would analyze to build a marketing campaign or create specific content. The third is psychographics, which involves understanding what drives behavior and how to speak to your fan base on a psychological level. Nipsey did a great job of exploiting this data through his musical releases, touring and retail. His most interesting utilization of data involved the retail aspect of his business. He discussed plans to open up a total of ten “The MARATHON Clothing” stores in markets where he had the most traction. He planned to repeat the steps he had taken with the release of his CRENSHAW mixtape. Selling 1000 physical copy albums for $100 each, generating $1 million dollars of cash revenue over the span of the marketing campaign.
9. Don’t Be A Fame Junkie (In The Words Nipsey Hussle)
With social media, artists and content creators are in position to benefit from the Internet. Naturally, being a place of discovery for music fans, you have everything from streaming platforms to viral content to provide entertainment. So, it’s fairly easy for an artist to focus on the wrong aspects of the limelight. If you study the past, there’s a lot of artists who had small wins and built on their successes and on the other end. You’ve had artists who’ve had big wins and completely lost it all. That is why artist development, focusing on your craft and retaining equity is such a big part of building a music empire. Focus is key, you can put your content on display and build a brand or you can put your content on display to be famous. It’s like, going to the gym. It’s up to you to make the right choices once you’re in an environment to perform. Nipsey Hussle said it best,
“I’m not doing this for the fame. I was famous in the streets already.”
10. Embrace The Magic of Thinking Big
Nipsey Hussle will go down in history as one hip hop’s greatest philosophers, while responding to an article by Complex, that deemed him as one of hip hop’s “10 Underachieving Rappers”. He responded to the claim by dropping “CRENSHAW’ and making $100,000 in less than 24 hours. He discussed his viewpoint in an interview with ‘The Breakfast Club’
“How much he getting paid? The writer that wrote that, I pay them type of salaries to my employees; at my business. That got felonies and can’t get jobs.
No disrespect. So who’s the underachiever? I own my company. I own the asset of this whole industry, which is your masters — your intellectual property — your publishing.
Your metrics and what you’re gauging as an achievement, is actually like a peon or underboss way of looking at it. I’m not in it for the fame. Everybody wanna be seen and held at the highest regard — obviously ya know but you can’t cash that out. You can’t take that to the bank.
You can make it other ways, but you know what’s the asset? What do the labels do it for? They do it for the ownership, for the catalog, for the mailbox money.
I think if you’re up on what’s going on, you’ll respect that.
You wouldn’t say dude underachieving.”
— Nipsey Hussle on Complex
At the end of the day, it’s a marathon. Think BIG and play for longevity.
A big part of building a music empire is paying attention to what has been successful in the past and applying it to your journey. While also, keeping innovation in mind and having an idea of what’s going to benefit you down the road. If you’re interested in reading more about the independent grind, check out my article featuring Tech N9ne and his long journey of building Strange Music into an independent rap empire without a record deal.