Nipsey Hussle personified what it means to be an artist, brand & entertainment mogul. At the height of his career, it is calculated that Nipsey created over $200 million in economic value for his community through businesses, ventures and investments.
Before his untimely death in March of 2019, the rapper, entrepreneur and philanthropist, purposely laid out a plan for all who chose to follow. He pushed a narrative of ownership, investing in your craft and giving back to your community. His body of work exemplifies what it means to experiment, be patient and withstand the hardships of trial and error.
He believed in having a radical mindset, often coined by the likes of Ray Dalio, and this brand of creative thinking has shown us what is possible. By setting new standards and developing new narratives — Nipsey Hussle has shown us the power behind not being afraid to execute new business models and ideas.
At the base level of his radical growth has been experimentation and from this foundation he has developed a number of prolific principles.
These principles include:
- Focusing on your core product.
- Fan segmentation and relationships.
- Diversifying business and expanding your brand.
- Building an ecosystem around your core product.
- Strategic partnerships.
In this article, we will dive into these five prolific principles for success in business. Let’s start with your core product. Your core product will provide the means to power you along your journey and help you to sustain growth.
1. Start With Your Core Product
Focus — mainly — on your core product. This could be content, an artisan craft or a service. It is important to figure out where you want to take it and then take it there. It all starts with having a plan in place, keeping your end goal in mind and having a strong commitment to success.
If you’re creating content, you want to focus on production and output/distribution. For example, Nipsey tells a story of the moment he decided to double down on his dreams. He made a conscious decision to buy studio equipment so he could fully focus on his craft. Through this commitment, he taught himself to produce and record.
Ultimately, reducing cost and having the ability to produce content at a pace that he could fully control. He also took a step farther by learning every aspect of the production process.
In an interview with Forbes, he explains his reasoning:
“There are a couple important principles that I lead by.
First, you have to be willing to do every job. I think that’s really important, even if you’re considered the boss or the leader. I take the trash out, I sweep the floor, and I’m always willing to. Not just hypothetically or figuratively, but in real life I do that — at my office, and at my studio.
I’ll engineer and record myself if I have to, and everything in between it. I’ll lead the marketing meeting, or map out the stage design for my show. I do this, not because it’s my specialty, but because I think it’s just something you have to do in order to fill in the blanks while you’re in guerrilla mode.
The second principle is honesty. Be truthful with yourself and other people, and try your best to make decisions outside of your ego. That way, when you’re wrong, you can take accountability for making the wrong decision. You don’t need to rationalize it or explain it, you just own up to it and acknowledge that you f — d up.
You aren’t a true leader without the ability to be honest and take responsibility for your actions. If you want to hold your team accountable, you have to be accountable as well.
Even at the pinnacle of his career Nipsey had a deep understanding of his content and its ability to heighten his different interests. If you study Nipsey Hussle’s brand — its core focus has always been his art.
At the center of his brand, you will always find music — from his story, his journey, his ability achieve and even overcome obstacles.
This is why, the strategic partnership with Atlantic Records allowed him to elevate his brand awareness and shift the focus back to his craft, which is music.
At the beginning of Nipsey Hussle’s journey there wasn’t a direct focus on perfection — rather improvement and growth. Strategically speaking, he had faith in his ability to progress and develop the necessary skills that would lead him to the point of having the means to produce a Grammy-nominated album.
Understanding that creating content is a learning process.
You build and you cultivate along the way. Providing introspection and insight into what works and what doesn’t. Focusing on your core product allows you to learn from your creative efforts. This will put you in a position to take control, increase quality and fulfill your vision.
Nipsey Hussle relentlessly pushed a narrative of ownership because he understood the power of storytelling. You can analyze certain situations and see what works and what doesn’t based on your ideas of success. He witnessed how others were forced to rely on certain circumstances to keep the car running versus a situation like Jay Z’s.
Where Jay Z — the artist — can fully succeed within his own ecosystem and also being aware of when to hire the services of a specialists (Atlantic Records) to achieve an overarching agenda.
Keeping the car running smoothly and squeezing out more value.
Nipsey Hussle also understood the philosophy of doubling back. As an artist it’s important to establish your brand in a number of fields. This allows you to gather data and insights, then when appropriate double back to your core product to bless your fans with your newly learned experiences.
How To Build A Local Fan Base With Wendy Day’s ‘5 Hour Strategy’
Use The ‘5 Hour Strategy’ To Create Leverage & Build A Lasting Fan Base — Music Marketing
This move keeps you rooted with your core fan base and solidifies your brand within an industry by creating additional value. This is an essential step for growth as a content creator, as a person and as an entrepreneur. As a content creator, you should always be looking for ways to perfect your craft and invest in yourself or your business.
This will give you the ability and confidence to execute new ideas, create sustainability and provide you with an eagle-eye vision. Allowing you to see farther, wider and seeing value where others might not.
2. Fan Segmentation & Relationships.
Fan segmentation and relationships is a prolific principle that Nipsey Hussle truly perfected. This strength became apparent and visible with his “CRENSHAW” mixtape release and rollout.
He segmented his fan base into three tiers and price points.
- “Super Fans” ($100)
- “Middle of the Road” ($10)
- “Low Engagement” (Free)
His campaign tagline and future mainstay was “Proud 2 Pay”, “Always By Choice, Never By Force”. The genius behind this strategic move is perfectly stated by Alibaba co-founder and former executive chairman, Jack Ma.
If you produce a quality product, what are the chances that you can convert a non-fan > low-engagement fan > middle of the road fan > super fan. Provide value and opportunity will follow. That is the genius behind Nipsey Hussle.
His econometric theory was that artists have fractional fan bases. There will be some fans that are 110% committed, fans that are mildly engaged and fans that are low engagement. Nipsey Hussle’s “Proud 2 Pay” campaign was broken down as the following:
- He directly targeted his “Super Fans” with an $100 album. This included a private, invite-only concert along with other perks. His idea was to make it a special experience — in a way where fans felt like they were being reciprocated for their support of his brand and music. To start — there were only 1000 hard copies produced and Jay Z created a media frenzy by purchasing 100 copies of the album. Ultimately, producing a nationwide narrative around the release strategy. Nipsey Hussle eventually sold out of the 1000 hard copies within 24-hours, cementing his claim to fame and confirming his radical business views.
As Nipsey Hussle continued to focus on his core product. He also built up his brand along the way. Developing his niche market and connecting with his core fan base. From this prolific principle, Nipsey began to focus and leverage that fan base in way that would strengthen his relationships.
He deep dived into the concept of 1000 true fans coined by Kevin Kelly. The theory is that if you have 1000 true fans who are willing to spend $100 per year on your content or products. You can ultimately make a living at $100,000/year.
A true fan is defined as someone who is willing to buy your album or content, even if they can get it for free, buy merchandise and buy tickets to your shows. A true fan is someone who is even willing to travel to a different city to see you perform, if need be. They will always go the extra mile to support you.
3 Key Steps Travis Scott Took To Build Hip Hop’s Top Creative Monopoly With Astroworld
The Cactus Jack Head Huncho & Houston Native Has One Of Hip Hop’s Biggest Brands & Shows No Signs Of Slowing Down
This is where fan segmentation plays major a role. Some people will be true fans and some will be casual but it is important to engage everyone at their appropriate price point.
The psychology behind Nipsey’s “Proud 2 Pay” campaign is that it promoted exclusivity. The campaign targeted “Super Fans”, even though the project would be distributed on all streaming platforms.
In business, when you experiment with segmentation you can directly create a database of customers at their appropriate price points. Along with creating value, understanding your core fans on a psychological level has its benefits and being able to engage with “Super Fans” allows for more opportunity.
While directing the focus back on your craft. This type of marketing campaign can not be successful without a great product. In Nipsey Hussle’s case, it’s the music. Through his content, he was able to create “Super Fans”. This is only achieved if you can truly understand your fan base on a psychological level.
Understanding what drives behavior and being able to speak to that is called “Psychographics”. Nipsey Hussle did a great job of cultivating his art through the use of this tactic.
In his interview with Forbes, he further details this aspect:
“People want to be successful, and people want to be respected. When you start seeing the most successful people and the most respected people, the next step is figuring out how they became that.
A lot of people hide their footsteps and don’t share the game, but the few that do, you have to compare that narrative next to the ones who aren’t successful.
More than anything, people want to get out of their struggle. If you can lead them to the lake, they’re going to listen. Once they see the game you’re giving is authentic and it works, they will follow you.
As far as respect goes, we have to stop respecting dumb sh-t. We have to return to old school principles. There is honor amongst all levels. There was once a wave of older people who gave young men the game. Now, everybody is gone, and there’s no older guidance outside. All that’s left is the surface level of the game, so you don’t have the details.
The surface tells you to go crazy, but you don’t understand the right way versus the wrong way. You don’t understand the reasoning, or know that there are rules to everything. The old school principles made younger people have to be more mature earlier. There aren’t any OG’s or big homies around. Today, you’re big homie is only a few years older than you.
How much more life experience can he have over you to learn from if you’re so close in age?
Everybody has to embrace their position.
Having a deeper understanding of your fans will allow you to cater to them in products, marketing and the experiences you provide them. This will also produce more freedom and control in your creative efforts.
Nipsey Hussle explains his personal goals with the following,
“I look at Hip Hop, and I don’t see a vertically integrated brand other than Jay-Z owning Tidal, owning his masters, and owning everything in between it.
Jay-Z owning Tidal was ahead of its time, and people still don’t get it. You hear people take shots, saying he only has a few million users, but that’s not even the point. That doesn’t even matter. Even if he only had his fan base on Tidal, he’s still vertically integrated, and he’s the first. That’s the power, being direct-to-consumer.
He now exists outside of the current ecosystem, and there are so many revenue streams that these platforms are apart of; the subscription is just one of them.
If you judge Jay-Z as a brand alone, technology aside, the ability to deliver within his own ecosystem is powerful. He doesn’t have to play the game, he can be an artist for real.
More importantly, it’s already set up for him to succeed in his own space. That’s one of my ultimate goals. If I have 10 Marathon stores in different parts of the globe, and I drop 1,000 units to each store at $100 each, I’ll make $1 million as soon as we sell out the first 10,000.
Then, we continue to fulfill orders, which generates cash on the books, with no distribution fee.
That’s a different model, and we’re in position to do that.
The “Super Fans” who purchased Nipsey Hussle’s “CRENSHAW” mixtape during his “Proud 2 Pay” campaign, as mentioned earlier. Also received access to an private, invite-only concert. Priority access to new material and sentimental, one of kind gifts like signed photos and copies of Nipsey’s rap notebook.
The genius behind Nipsey’s “Proud 2 Pay” campaign is not only the exclusivity provided by the content. It is that he is selling the forgotten experience of buying a physical copy album.
This kind of hysteria can only be experienced with sneakers and iPhone releases, but Nipsey brought back the forgotten trend of applying the same commitment to music.
In addition to the accumulation of revenue. Nipsey Hussle developed a database, forming a personal connection with each fan that purchased the “CRENSHAW” mixtape.
“It surprises me. As much as I believe in it. Every time I get a transaction, I get a text on my phone, and I’ve been hitting them back. The feedback and the connection I have with these people help me understand the psychology of the person paying $1,000 for some songs that, realistically, you could download for free.”
It makes you think;
Who are these people who are willing to pay $1000 for a hard copy album?
What is the psychology behind that purchase?
I believe this specific phenomenon will be an economic case study for many universities and behavioral scientist to research for years to come.
Nipsey Hussle gave us a great insight into what is humanly possible when it comes to consumer economics and brand loyalty within the retail/music industry.
“The highest human act is to inspire. Money is a tool — it’s the means, not the end. [Inspiration is] the metric that dictates whether or not a project is a success. It’s more realistic than trying to aim for radio play, or trying to satisfy an A&R, or the other gatekeepers on these platforms. I don’t even know how to create with those things in mind. But if you tell me the goal is to inspire?
That makes my job a lot easier.”
It raises another question;
Is this a sales tactic or leveraging the connection that you have with your fan base?
Is this a repeatable model/formula?
The reason it doesn’t bother me is that I know musically where I’m going, and I know about the quality of music that I’ll be making next.”
Nipsey Hussle valued and understood the importance of fan segmentation and relationships. This was apparent and relevant in every decision that he made while also keeping his brand in mind.
If you take a look at fan segmentation that focuses on qualitative economics. This speaks to psychographics and the behavior of a “Super Fan” in general. You can also utilize quantitative fan data. This is the data that other artists use to plan concerts and tours with these insights.
Nipsey Hussle took a different route.
He used this data to strategically plan out his retail ventures. Nipsey’s overall vision included having 10 different stores in his top 10 markets, where he had the most traction. With this logistical feat in place, he could be in position to repeat the same process as he did with “CRENSHAW”.
Given Kobe Bryant’s brand popularity in Asia and other markets outside the United States. On a global scale, Nipsey Hussle was in position to earn BILLIONS in revenue.
He discusses this power play with Forbes,
“Corporations are so aware of our influence and the value of cultural currency that they’ve created entire business models built around it.
They develop the platform, implement a structure, then bring us in to raise the value, and then they hide that from us.
Nobody really knows how they monetize it, until you accidentally sit next to an app owner and he gives you the game for free.
That’s why I created ‘Proud 2 Pay’.
You’re either leveraging, or being leveraged. That’s why I think direct-to-consumer is important, because we’re being leveraged.
If I can say that my album isn’t exclusive on any of the streaming services, my songs are going to be exclusive at The Marathon store, that’s powerful.
You can go to The Marathon store for the first week and hear the song or view the video in-store. Then, after a week, it can go live on all other platforms.
The exclusivity period belongs to a platform we own and control.
All of our influence has been leveraged, but we can’t get mad at anyone until we figure out ways to protect it.
If you can gain an understanding of your fans at every level, from what inspires them, to how they spend their money, to where they live. You can establish better connections with them.
This will give you more creative freedom and put you in position to make more profitable investments. This all-encompassing understanding can also aid you in boosting your career and creating a focus on your core fans.
Nipsey Hussle cultivated the art of direct-to-consumer relationships, putting him in position to explore new brands and ventures.
How Ryan Leslie Made $2 Million Off of 1000 True Fans
Find Out The Real Value Behind Access, Appreciation & Acknowledgement — Music Marketing
3. New Brands & Ventures
In business, you will never be in a position where you’re only going up. There will be undeniable times of variability. Life is universally the same way. How you respond to theses variables will ultimately define who you are as content creator or business organization.
One key piece of advice that Nipsey Hussle left behind is that when you do have a surplus of funds or capital. It is essential that you take that capital and start something new. Diversifying your situation can add leverage and build upon the situation that is already in place.
So, instead of investing surplus funds back into one business. Start a new venture or create opportunities for other through investments. If one business slows down, you can have the confidence of another venture that is in place. This presents the dynamic of not having to depend on one source of income to keep you afloat.
For content creators this allows you to create content from a more pure perspective. The theory being, if you have other sources of financing you don’t have to rely on your art solely for income. When you have other ventures and business surrounding your creative endeavors.
You can focus on really being an artist. Putting the focus back on introspection and creativity. As Nipsey Hussle advises, this is where you will make your best product because it’s not produced under the construct of, “I gotta make some money out of this content.”
As Quincy Jones brilliantly puts it,
“When you start making music for money, God walks out of the room.”
A strong brand and fan base can provide you with a solid foundation of success that will allow you the flexibility and freedom to take risks. Nipsey Hussle’s ability to diversify his brand allowed him to take risks inside and out of the music industry.
He started his label “ALL Money IN” — “The MARATHON Agency”, a marketing company — “Vector 90”, a community center for entrepreneurs in conjunction with his STEM program, “Too Big To Fail” and his retail store, “The MARATHON Clothing”.
These are just a glimpse into some of Nipsey’s ventures and investments. The common thread here is that everyone of these ventures and brands serve a purpose when it comes to Nipsey Hussle’s underlying vision and all of his encompassing revenue streams.
These are not only sources of additional income. As a whole, these ventures create brand equity and increase the control he has over his career.
His marketing company was established after his “Proud 2 Pay” campaign. The STEM program and community center was presented as an opportunity for investment by his business partner David Gross, also a Los Angeles native.
He and Nipsey shared a common vision of entrepreneurship and community outreach. This venture also spoke to Nipsey Hussle’s overall brand values. Vector 90 wasn’t a typical venture but it aligned with Nipsey’s core brand and product.
Ownership, investing in your community and creative expression. It also wasd a way for him to give back to the community that helped him build his empire and support his overall movement. His biggest and most successful venture to date, builds upon his core product and brand messaging.
That is, “The MARATHON Clothing” retail stores. This remains to be a mainstay in Nipsey’s legacy. It embodies his ambitious effort from start to finish. The clothing brand remains strong and speaks to his core fan base.
The store was also an essential asset in helping Nipsey Hussle become vertically integrated,
It’s about establishing an ecosystem. One of the best examples of this is Apple. I speak about it on the intro to Victory Lap. I said,
‘My cultural influence even rival Lucian, I’m integrated vertically, you nigg-s blew it.’
I automatically knew that a few people wouldn’t understand that reference.
So, I followed up with, ‘They told me Hussle dumb it down, you might confuse ’em — this ain’t that weirdo rap you motherf-ckrs used to.’
That reference is what I meant.
We’re creating an ecosystem, from production to consumption. Not only do we own the supply chain, but we can curate the experience.
From the ownership of the actual master, to the retail experience and marketing the product, to consuming it.
That’s the same model as Apple, if you think about it.
For any creative — you want to have the ability to create new brands and dive into new arenas in business. This will not only free up your creative skill sets, it will also allow you to grow as a content creator.
Providing more capital for you to invest back into your content. This feat allowed Nipsey Hussle to pass a lot of his competitors by aligning him with the likes of Jay Z. While also creating new revenue streams he added layers to his brand messaging and these businesses.
Mainly “The MARATHON Clothing” put Nipsey Hussle in a position to create an ecosystem where it was setup for him to succeed.
6 Ways Tech N9ne Built A Rap Empire Without A Record Deal
Tech N9ne’s Strange Music Is One Of Hip Hop’s Top Independent Record Labels — Music Marketing
4. Creating An Ecosystem
“I always felt like what makes Apple dope, is that it’s a complete ecosystem. You get your phone, it’s the same color as the operating system and that’s same color as the store — and that’s the same color as the packaging of the product.
Vertically Integrated is the word, I didn’t see that in Rap. I think Jay Z is one of the artists, that’s in that direction. He owns TIDAL — that’s the retail space for his product. He owns his masters, so from actual conception to consumption. He can curate the whole experience.
That’s what Apple is — I felt like for us to have a retail space with our aesthetic, The MARATHON colors — the vibe that it’s on — the artwork of the album — that’s on the backdrop of the tour.
It’ll create a consistency in the message.”
— Nipsey Hussle
Along his journey — all of his strategic moves include investing into your core product — understanding and connecting with fans — exploring new ventures.
As a whole, these strategic moves put Nipsey Hussle in a position to build an ecosystem.
He doubles down on this narrative when asked about his evolution from “CRENSHAW” to “Mailbox Money”.
“With Mailbox Money, I was becoming privy to so much new information that I just wanted to share it. I had come to some conclusions about all of this different information I was learning from a lot of different categories, and I wanted to talk about it.
Even the success of the ‘Proud 2 Pay’ campaign with “Crenshaw”, it just inspired me to believe in my radical hunches. I wanted to go on-record about those hunches, because I felt a lot of things, but didn’t really know how to articulate it.
But, after Crenshaw became so successful, I decided f-ck it, I’m just going to say it. Even the terminology, calling the project ‘Mailbox Money’ — that’s about ownership. That’s about getting those backend checks. That’s about getting the residual income.
One pillar to wealth is having residual income.
The message with ‘Mailbox Money’ was ownership, being radical, taking your business into your own hands, and creating new models.
There is an overall theme at play here. All of these moves allow for more freedom to create content, more brand equity and deepening his connection to his core fan base.
The true value lies in creating an ecosystem and being vertically integrated.
Nipsey Hussle laid out a plan for all to succeed. Highlighting ownership from end to end.
On your marathon — this allows for a more wholesome and pure experience.
Along each step in the consumer process, the overall product is curated in the vision and the likeness of the content creator. This insures that the product reaches the end user in the exact quality and form that the owner envisioned.
Creating an ecosystem allows for curation of the overall experience, control of the brand and consistent messaging. The fan relationships and brand story is never transferred to another party. This strategic play creates strength and security with the overall brand.
5. Strategic Partnerships
For his final album, Nipsey Hussle executed a strategic partnership through his company “ALL Money IN” and Atlantic Records for his music services. This wasn’t the regular artist to major label deal.
It was Nipsey Hussle leveraging Atlantic Records for their distribution while maintaining creative control over his brand. Altogether, servicing the release of his album, “Victory Lap”and having the man power within Atlantic Records to ‘add fuel to the fire’.
From a marketing perspective, Nipsey describes it as having a bank account that won’t run out. The two companies ultimately aligned for the release of Nipsey Hussle’s Victory Lap to capitalize off of their individual strengths.
Keeping in mind that all of the business and ventures that Nipsey has built up has lead him to this point. Nipsey Hussle’s overall brand equity has allowed him to leverage and negotiate a strategic partnership with Atlantic Records.
He explains the accomplishment with Forbes,
“‘Victory Lap’ is more personal than business.
As a human, the album was about me looking back and reflecting, appreciating how this journey has been inspiring to me, and I’m standing in my own shoes.
As much as I believe in all of these things and went after all of these radical ideas, this actually happened.
It’s confirmation that we followed the vision, and we delivered. When LeBron won his first championship in Cleveland, he broke down and cried.
Not out of sadness, but because it was a reminder that he wasn’t crazy.
They criticized him and ridiculed him, but he broke through when he won that title. I felt that. He is a human being, who stuck to his guns and did it his way.
‘Victory Lap’ symbolizes that for me.
Nipsey Hussle has had ample opportunities to sign a plethora of traditional record deals. The path he decided to follow was one of ownership and equity. He confirmed that his radical views in the music business are possible and achievable.
He built his ventures and businesses that allowed him to be in a position of power when it came to negotiating his overall partnership terms with Atlantic Records. The timing was indicative of perfection, given that he would be putting his best piece of art out to this day.
The strategic partnership allowed the album to receive the proper recognition and land Nipsey his first Grammy nomination. He had access to the proper resources that allowed for a substantial marketing and promotion effort. That elevated his brand and reached new audiences.
Nipsey Hussle Wins Best Rap Performance
Learn more about the big win at the 62nd GRAMMY Awards.
His blueprint was that; if you can have success as an independent artist, set your own price, know your worth, be patient, build a career and brand. You can too, follow a path that will lead you to a favorable partnership.
This strategic partnership met the terms that Nipsey Hussle laid out as an executive and as the talent. There’s the overarching narrative that labels can dilute the creativity of artists and in most cases — that’s a fair assessment — because most agreements are one-sided.
The side that usually has the most leverage, typically benefits the most. The ability to succeed and excel, Nipsey says, comes from “Trial and Error”.
“It’s about trial and error, going through the learning curve. Every time we dropped a project, we learned something else about the music and then we got more resources.
Whether, it was from touring, mixtape sales, endorsements and what not. By reinvesting what we made off the music, we learned about retail, that hustle.
We learned about clothing, we just put our foot in them categories and learned from trial and error.”
If you pay attention to Nipsey Hussle’s moves, you can see that from the beginning, as an artist and brand, he operated like a business. This mental make-up allowed him to fully separate from the pack and create a narrative of ownership.
Hence the name of his brand — The Marathon — He knew that his journey would be a long run and not a sprint to the finish. He wholeheartedly, embodied patience and the importance of having a deeper level of understanding within your business.
“If you start small and build on what you have, you can continue to multiply that into something greater, while picking up all of the valuable lessons along the way. You learn all the secrets to the game on your way up.”
— Nipsey Hussle
At every stage of his journey Nipsey Hussle followed these key prolific principles. Which are:
- First, focus and invest into your core product (content).
- Second, build and own your fan base. So that you can cultivate a deeper connection and understanding on a psychological level, on your own terms.
- Third, create a bold vision that will allow you to explore new ventures, take calculated risks and expand upon your brand.
- Fourth, construct an ecosystem and become vertically integrated to drive every aspect of your career to a higher level from content creation to fan relationships, the messaging, the marketing and revenue generation. Nipsey Hussle’s ecosystem vertically extended his brand and gave him a physical presence that was unmatched in the music business. Whether it was his large fan base or determining demand through quantitative and qualitative data.
- Fifth, and finally. Understanding the limits of one individual and positioning himself to execute on a larger scale through the strategic partnership he executed with Atlantic Records. Ultimately, taking his career and brand to the next level. Nipsey Hussle grew like a major brand and company because he operated like a major brand and company. Setting himself up to have a long and prosperous career. All on his own accord, through strategy, ownership and staying true to his roots.
The question is:
What’s hard? What’s impossible?