Words by Neo Mtshali
Hip-Hop is a lifestyle that has carved out some of the most resilient individuals (from street hustlers to an American president), given us music which became the soundtrack to so many of our memories and has been the key to familiarising us with so many luxuries that rich white taste-makers would rather keep to themselves. It is safe to say that Hip-Hop is God’s gift to us mere mortals. In the true form of any great gift, it is a gift that that keeps giving.
In a time of entrepreneurial resurgence within the fashion sphere, there are numerous lessons in the lyrics and ethos of Hip-Hop culture and music. Here are five of them:
Hip-Hop has had a long-standing motto of “M.O.E” – Money Over Everything. This speaks to the one-tack mindset of securing the financial streams for the business and, more importantly, maximising it. Throughout the years, we’ve seen almost every hip-hop artist diversify their name and launch a few ventures outside of music. Cassper, like many, has the clothing label, AKA has BEAM Group and Jay-Z shines a light on numerous possible pathways for us to walk on 4:44. These ventures have expanded their brand and allowed people who aren’t necessarily fans of the music to buy into the brand and for staunch fans to extend their ‘support’.
Looking at the local industry’s constant cry of lack of revenue streams into their brands and the industry as whole begs the question, is enough being done to attract such? Diversification and commercialisation aren’t paths to selling out as they’ve been stigmatised, but rather a means to better fund your art.
Ask “Who the jiggy n***a with the gold links?” to a crowd of hip-hop fans and they’ll all give you a dumb look and reply “Rocky, duhhh”. This is not only because of the familiarity of the line but rather because it speaks to everything A$AP Rocky is – cocky, ‘pretty’, super stylish and rich. This has been his motif since he was little-known on “Pe$o”. In fact, the entire A$AP Mob has branded itself as the ‘swaggy outlaws’ and they’re dearly loved for that – that’s their brand. Branding is a key tool implemented by all major artists in developing themselves in the industry (really, look at your favourite artists and ask yourself what role they play and you’ll see that they all have their own character). Cassper has the biggest and strongest fan base among local artists because he branded himself as the people’s hero. This made him easy to love and support.
OFF-White has also built itself on an image that is entirely theirs and superbly consistent from packaging, presentations to the garments. That’s the importance of branding. Your audience gains an entry point to your work through the familiarity of its image. Also, it helps you build a consistent name and message in your product rather than flailing around trying to keep up with what’s cool.
Challenge The Status Quo
Much can be said about the outlaws and rebels of the music industry but most important is that they’re the ones that last the longest through effecting the most change. Humans love to fall in love with the individual that dares to go against the system – possibly to vicariously live through them. However, what’s more pertinent than childhood fantasies is the spirit of rebellion and possibility of change. Also, more often than not, rebels actually have a lot to give to their respective industry – enter Andre 3000, the self-proclaimed alien (or more aptly, ATLien). Three Stacks’ self-confidence and commitment to not conforming gave birth to artists such as Kid Cudi and Travi$ Scott – that’s one hell of a legacy.
Entering the market as a brand that goes against the grain spares you the tumult of being drowned out in the noise of hundreds of other trend-surfing brands. So stand out, break the rules, break the monotony and you’ll soon attract deserved attention to your work.
However, don’t do it just to do it, have direction and purpose – only the real ever last.
Collaboration is a beautiful thing to revel in. A well-executed collaboration is like witnessing Wade and LeBron effortlessly pulling off alley-oops in their Heat days or having McDonald’s in the A.M’s with your mates after a really good night out. The thing about collaboration is that, as an artist, you get to spar with someone of your calibre (or even better inclined) to produce something of excellence, fans get to experience the marriage (however momentary) of their favourite labels and lastly – and economically most importantly – you get the chance to grow your customer base.
Collaboration isn’t necessarily a closed-industry practice, so take the time to open yourself to other, less familiar, areas just like when Nelly had us releasing our newly-found inner cowboys on “Over and Over” with Tim McGraw or how OFF-White is about to have Hypebeasts becoming interior decorators with their collaboration with IKEA. Exploring these newer parts can only do good things for your label and customers.
Rappers popularised the idea of having an entourage but this isn’t it. Now there’s two levels of ‘team’ that I will talk about, first one being your label mates.
Throughout hip-hop history each label has plastered its name wherever they can – Ambitious, Roc-A-Fella, Bad Boy, Family Tree, so on and so forth. The umbrella that you pledge allegiance to means a lot to anyone that would possibly wear your label – it gives you the proverbial foot in the door that’ll allow you to show your wits to the crowd. Not to be misunderstood, I’m not saying get a bunch of other labels and form your own umbrella but rather a crew with an array of creatives will do the trick. BoyzNBucks is the perfect example of that mix with musicians, designers, stylists and a stylish media personality.
The second is your personal team – your go-to members. Jigga has always had his core group of producers, everyone has their own DJ. Building a solid working relationship with people creates a much easier production process with everyone having a better understanding of each other’s language, expectations and vision. Also, you might be able to get some leeway with suppliers during months where cash might be hard to come by.
These cheat codes aren’t all that you’ll need to get your label to the top of the totem pole but they’ll definitely be the scaffolding to your brand. The onus is on you to put the various elements together in a way that only you can. After all, that’s what sells a label – giving people what you have to offer.