When I was in sixth grade I went through what some would call a phase. I listened to a bunch of G-Unit and DMX, I was using the word “dawg” way too much, and I started to obsess over rims a lot for a kid who couldn’t even drive a golf cart.
It’s not that hip-hop itself was a phase for me. I still enjoy it immensely. But thinking I was hip-hop — which I can assure you, I’m not — that’s something I grew out of.
But not before I made my parents buy me what had to be the most ridiculous purchase of my thug life phase: a velvet (possibly velour, I don’t remember) Sean Jean T-shirt that had to have cost at least $80. I cringe when I think how stupid I must have looked, posted up outside the AMC at the Coral Ridge mall in Fort Lauderdale, smelling like a mixture of Axe body spray and free Calvin Klein cologne samples because two scents were better than one. But Sean Jean, and its creator P. Diddy, represented everything I wanted to be. Diddy was powerful, smooth, and as hip-hop as it got. And I would be his friend one day.
13 years later things didn’t quite happen as I’d planned. But nonetheless I found myself in Diddy’s presence at the second annual Revolt Music Conference, a three-day affair at the Fontainebleau Miami Beach packed with live performances, networking opportunities, and interactive panels with some of the biggest names in the industry.
Revolt is a music-oriented television network Diddy started in 2013. "We're building this platform for artists to reach an extraordinary number of people in a completely different way. Revolt will be live, like all great moments in television history," Combs said in a statement back when the network launched.
The Revolt Music Conference (RMC) spawned off from the network, and it’s sort of like a hip-hop Comic Con, with people-watching every bit as entertaining. RMC’s goal is simple: It wants to give you the tools to become just like Diddy.
And even though I ditched the velvet — in public, at least — I still want to become a mogul. Yachts? Caviar? Employees whose sole job is to make sure you don’t have any boogers showing? Who wouldn’t want that?
So I went into RMC as a blank sheet of paper, ready to have Diddy himself draw all over me with a pen made of platinum. Here’s what I learned.
5.) Seize the moment.
Hands down, the most endearing and entertaining part of RMC are the audience Q&As. Because people will just start rapping, or singing, or begging for a job — literally anything to get a foot in the door. It’s full of butt-clenching awkwardness, but there’s a genuine hustle in it that you must respect. Here’s basically how it works: The person steps up to the mic, talks for 15 seconds about themselves, then asks the panelist if they can rap real quick, sing for them, or have a job. At this point, the panelist can’t really say no, or else they look like a bit of an asshole. So they usually shrug and dig in for what’s about to happen. This strategy can work, as it did for the young man who pleaded his case for a job to Diddy during the #AskDiddy Q&A. Diddy replied by offering him a job (he didn’t specify what kind of job, so it’s possible the kid is scraping barnacles off a yacht as we speak), bringing him on stage for a hug, and then shouting, “Welcome to the Revolt Music Conference, where dreams come true!” But this strategy can also backfire. Many were nearly booed off stage. The dude in the video above was almost tasered when he wouldn’t stop rapping during the Lost Art of A&R panel. But everyone who stepped up to the mic to spit or sing or do a backflip — as one person did, nearly decapitating Scoter Braun — was inevitably given props for their courage. One of the RMC’s best nuggets of advice came from Dia Simms, president of Combs Wines & Spirits, during the Women Who Shape Brands in Music, Entertainment, and Advertising panel: “Don’t be afraid to get uncomfortable.”
Side note: You can watch the whole #AskDiddy Q&A here. It's full of wonderful and uncomfortable moments (watch Diddy give someone a job at 13:00).
4.) Create your brand.
“Branding.” That word got brought up a lot in RMC’s three-days. It’s not enough anymore to just be good at one thing. You have to create a brand. Diddy has Cîroc. Dre has those headphones that make you look like you're about to wave in a Boeing 747. And I still have no clue why Fetty Wap hasn’t teamed up with Jello for the “Trap Queen” remix (I’m like hey, what’s up, Jello), but you get the point. You can’t just be a one-trick pony anymore. You’ve got to be a pony with an app and a restaurant and a high-end line of potato chips.
Second side note: Hey Ludacris, shoot me an email about LudaChips™.
3.) CDs are dead.
“Let me give you a piece of advice,” Scooter Braun said after he was handed an aspiring artist’s CD during his Q&A. “Don’t give someone a CD.” Braun, if you don’t know, is one of the biggest architects in pop music today. He manages Arianna Grande, Carly Rae Jepsen, and is responsible for Justin Bieber’s entire career. His Q&A was one of the most informative of RMC. He talked about his road to the top of pop music, how he used Youtube and social media to sign artists back when it wasn’t common sense, and how he literally moved Bieber and his mom to the States and paid for their rent. But one of his more practical pieces of advice was about the death of the CD. He says these days he prefers a flash drive, or a link to a dropbox or Youtube video. “What am I supposed to do with this?” he asked as he demonstrated how the CD wouldn’t fit in any of his pockets. I resisted the urge to shout, “Hang it on Bieber’s sweet dong like a Christmas ornament!”
Third side note: A pretty good indicator of the inauthenticity of the mainstream music industry is the fact that Scooter Braun felt the need to say, “I’m going to be really honest,” before just about every one of his responses, as if to imply, Hey, you can believe these next few sentences, unlike most of what I say, which is complete bullshit.
2.) Wear sunglasses, no matter what.
There’s a lot of famous folks walking around RMC, but a good way to tell who actually matters and who doesn’t is by whether or not they’re wearing sunglasses. Diddy could be on the dark side of the moon underneath a quilt made of iron and he’d still be rockin’ shades. It’s an effective way of telling everyone around you that your eye contact is something they have to earn.
Fourth side note: The jury's still out on what to call P. Diddy. His coworkers introduced him as Puff or Puff Daddy, audience members addressed him as Mr. Combs, and his panel was called #AskDiddy.
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1.) Make a hit.
Aspiring artist after aspiring artist stepped up to the mic to ask what basically boiled down to one thing: How do I become famous? And overwhelmingly, they got the same response: Make a hit. At the end of the day, you can be as business savvy as it gets; you can wear 15 pairs of sunglasses while flinging flash drive demos at Scooter Braun like ninja stars, but if you don’t have that magic single, you don’t have a chance. This is encouraging, I guess. With all the talk of branding and social media, it still comes down to the music. You’ve got to make the people dance. You’ve got to move hips, not talk shit. If 12-year-old me had known this, he might have spent more time writing rhymes than practicing his tough guy face in the mirror.
Fifth side note: What happened to Fonzworth Bentley? #FindFonzworth