Hustle & Flow

R&B singer Bobby Washington wants you to buy his albums — and he ain't too proud to beg

"He's that type of talent that can write a four-minute song in, well, four minutes," explains Drunk Drew, a local producer and owner of Area 61 Studios. "Bobby is a genius; he's like a songwriting machine."

You'll get no argument from Washington. "Writing songs comes easy to me," he says. "Like right now we're talking and I might just have to take a break, because I have an idea for a melody and need to record it." He attributes his songwriting prowess to a "musical spirit" that haunts him. "I know it sounds crazy," he says, "but all musicians are crazy!"

Washington's decision to steer clear of record labels has been, for the most part, a control issue. "Those majors tend to treat you like a puppet," he says, "and I haven't seen anything that gives me full control over my babies." Serving as his own sales rep suits him better. "I'm a hustler," he says simply. "That's what I do — hustle — and I'm good at it. I've been selling my music on the streets since 1994. Back then, people thought I was crazy for doing something like that. But now they look at me as the pioneer."

Washington: Damn, locked out  again!
Jacqueline Carini
Washington: Damn, locked out again!

Washington calls his sales strategy "executive marketing," meaning he targets specific demographics with specific outcomes. "I don't go out on some random street corner and say 'Hey, cop my album!' That's hoodlum marketing. That's straight-up ghetto and it never works. The secret is to hit all the Publixes, Winn-Dixies, Kmarts, Wal-Marts, because my potential customers are already in a buying mode. You gotta get them when they feel comfortable, when they know that you're not gonna rob them."

Watching Washington hawk his albums is like watching a charismatic evangelist preach the good news. When approaching passersby he makes sure to ask, graciously, for a minute of their time. If he gets the brush-off (as he does most of the time), Washington's only reaction is to exclaim, "Have a great day and God bless!" But if he can get someone to listen, even for a few seconds, his earnest enthusiasm is hard to resist.

"You gotta approach them like you're a serious entrepreneur, not some street kid. You gotta look nice, smell nice, be nice, and say politely, 'Hello ma'am, my name is Bobby Washington and I am a singer/songwriter. I would love for you to have a listen to my new album and tell me what you think.' And you let them hear your headphones and within ten seconds the music will speak for itself! You just sold an album in less than a minute!"

Washington has had his brushes with the law, he says, but not many. "I believe that respect is all you need. I respect the police and what they're doing and they should respect me and what I'm doing. I'm just an entrepreneur selling his product to the public. Isn't that what America is all about?"

Washington says he tends to sell most of his albums to women ("Women do know how to spend money!"), but his clientele is all over the map, as is the singer. He's been known to hustle up to sixteen hours a day, seven days a week.

But doesn't all that hustling — not to mention writing and recording and marketing and self-promotion — get tiring?

"Yeah, it's hard. At times, it feels almost impossible to do all these things all at once," he says. "But I can't get discouraged. I pray every night and let God do his thing, 'cause ain't no way I'm able to do all this by myself. I have spirits that help me."

At the end of the day, Washington feels nothing but gratitude. "I'm just so blessed to be doing what I'm doing. I got a roof over my head, I drive a nice car, I eat on a daily basis I can do this and not have to worry about getting some nine-to-five," he says. "Music is my life and if I'm selling my CDs out on the streets 25 years later, that's fine by me."

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