Starting from today, Balance the Grind will be starting a new series – Lessons Learnt – where we profile individuals, companies or brands that we admire for a variety of reasons: whether it’s their business acumen, creativity, marketing or productivity, these profiles are an inspiration and have taught us many things along the way.
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.Meet Nipsey Hussle, the rapper who wants you to pay $1,000 for his album | The Guardian
First up for the series is the late rapper, activist and entrepreneur, Nipsey Hussle, whose long term vision, consistency and patience has been an inspiration in the approach I took to building Balance the Grind. I remember I was listening to his 2014 mixtape, Mailbox Money, when I came up with the idea for the website.
It broke my heart to hear he passed February last year, just as his star was shining brighter than ever with the release of his debut album, Victory Lap, and recognition from his peers – Nipsey was nominated for Best Rap Album at the 61st Grammy Awards.
Even if you’re unfamiliar with Nipsey Hussle’s music, there are plenty of life and business lessons you can learn just from reading and watching his interviews.
From Crenshaw to Victory Lap
The Marathon Continues. Crenshaw. Mailbox Money. Victory Lap. Nipsey Hussle’s discography titles encapsulated everything that his life and world view was about: Los Angeles, entrepreneurship, patience and ownership.
Born Ermias Joseph Asghedom on August 15, 1985 and raised in South Los Angeles neighbourhood, Crenshaw, Nipsey Hussle joined the local Rollin 60’s Neighborhood Crips at the young age of 14. Nipsey’s gang affiliation would play a prominent role for the rest of his life.
Entering the music industry in the mid-2000s off a series of acclaimed mixtapes, Nipsey was touted as the next big West Coast artist and was included in XXL’s 2010 annual Top 10 Freshmen list, alongside current superstars like J. Cole, Big Sean and Wiz Khalifa.
Signed to Epic Records and making big moves like featuring on “We Are the World 25 for Haiti” and rapping next to West Coast OG Snoop Dogg, Nipsey was getting ready to drop his major label debut South Central State of Mind before things came to a halt. His debut album was shelved indefinitely and he was subsequently dropped from Epic the very same year XXL proclaimed him the “Most Determined” in his class.
Unwavered from his vision, Nipsey continued to work on his music, linking up with artists like Wale, YG, Game and Rick Ross. Then in 2013, inspired Jonah Berger’s Contagious: How Things Catch On, Nipsey started a campaign for the most important project of his career, selling his 8th mixtape Crenshaw for $100 a copy.
The reason I chose to charge $100 dollars each copy and only start with 1000 units is because I tailor making my music for those who are listening. It’s not about stepping outside of what I’m known for in hopes of new discovery. What that means less is fans that are better served. Kinda like the effect of less kids in a class room leading to a better education.Nipsey Hussle On Releasing $100 Album | Rap Radar
JAY Z was so impressed with Nipsey’s business acumen that he bought 100 copies of the mixtape for $10,000. Within 24 hours, Nipsey moved all 1,000 copies of the mixtape, cashing in for $100,000.
After Crenshaw, Nipsey would continue to work and release music; the Marathon brand getting bigger and brighter with each passing year. This all led to the release of Victory Lap, his major label debut album and the culmination of over a decade’s worth of music, independence and entrepreneurship.
Here are three lessons I learnt from Nipsey Hussle:
Lesson 1: Invest in yourself, before anything else
To me, the number one factor for Nipsey’s success in music and business was the belief he had in himself. From day one, Nipsey was investing in his music and building up his career, one brick at a time. When major label deals failed, he didn’t go looking for another one, opting to keep things independent so he could retain more creative control and reap the rewards.
Nipsey only partnered up with Atlantic Records for the release of Victory Lap, after he spent almost a decade building up his brand, fanbase and multiple sources of independent revenue streams. Thanks to his Marathon store and music catalog, Nipsey was earning monthly royalty checks in the six figures; giving him all the leverage when it came to negotiating deals.
I bought equipment, built studios, and bought infrastructure. It might have been time to buy cars and jewelry for the age I was and the mindset of that age but it’s about believing in what you’re doing to the point that you invest in it.Nipsey Hussle is making major label moves with an independent spirit | Fader
Lesson 2: Success is a marathon, not a sprint
It took Nipsey 10 years to drop Victory Lap. 10 years. Most artists these days don’t even take 10 months to drop their debut album. In those 10 years, he put out mixtapes, collaborated with like-minded artists, and networked with executives; getting all the pieces on the chessboard ready before making his move.
Nipsey was nothing, if not patient throughout his career and focused on being self-made.
In an industry that rewards the latest hits and the hottest up-and-coming acts, he kept his head down focused on the music he wanted to make, and the fanbase he wanted to serve. Because of his patience, he benefited from genuine relationships with names like Puffy, Kendrick Lamar and YG, who all appeared on his debut album.
Most people want to skip the process, not knowing that when you skip steps, you miss the lessons. 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.The Art Of Being Self-Made: A Conversation With Nipsey Hussle | Forbes
Lesson 3: Ownership is everything
From the very beginning Nipsey preached and practiced ownership. Having independence meant everything to him and he worked hard to maintain ownership over his music and business.
It wasn’t about the money that the major labels could offer him, it was about the resources they could provide and the ownership he would retain. Even partnering up with Atlanta, Nipsey made sure he owned his master recordings so he could pass it on to his kids.
It’s similar to the message that Bandcamp founders, Jason Fried and DHH, have preached for the past 20 years: bootstrap your own company and learn how to get good at making money.
We don’t want advances, we want equity. We don’t want one-off endorsements, we want ownership.THE ART OF BEING SELF-MADE: A CONVERSATION WITH NIPSEY HUSSLE | FORBES
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