There were two ways to procure rapper Nipsey Hussle's recent release Crenshaw: download a digital copy for the cost of nothing or pay $100 for one of 1,000 hard copies. But who the hell would buy a $100 album? Jay Z did. Well, more like Jay Z bought 100. And the other 900? All sold out, with demand exceeding supply.
You might wonder why record labels have not moved on signing Nipsey. They have, but he wants what every musician should want: total ownership of his material, which is unlikely to happen when 360 deals are the norm. Not even the Bawse Ricky Ross was successful when trying to ink Hussle to Maybach Music.
Now, four months after the release, Nipsey talks about this week's Miami tour stop at Avenue D, the music industry's old business model, and his own label, All Money In.
New Times: It seems you aren't caught up in material things. As far as jewelry, it looks like you've worn the same Cuban links and pendant for years.
Nipsey Hussle: I came into the game with a lot of things already. A lot of rappers, when they came in, they didn't have 500-gram Cuban links and Rolexes and invisible-set diamonds and stuff like that. That was the things they wanted to get from rap, and you know that wasn't really what I wanted to get from rap. I was getting that already from the streets. There was other things I wanted to get out of rap, and it was a legitimate lane to get a positive outlet for my energy. That was the main reason I got into rap, because money was never the problem — it was just doing it legitimately, doing it in a way that don't end in jail or death. That's why I call it the marathon, because certain things are a sprint.
You've said the old business model for major labels is becoming obsolete to the digital age. How can they adapt?
I think they have to be like venture capitalists. They got to let the brands lead that they get in business with. They got to follow the brands' lead, because it's our generation, and we are experiencing content in a different way. So it's not about TV and radio and whoever got the biggest marketing budget wins. That ain't how it go no more.
You've also been outspoken about artists wanting to retain total ownership of their material. What would you tell a rapper you're looking to sign?
We'll tell them that we're doing things different. We're leading the revolution. So you come over here to All Money In and you're going to be a part of that revolution. It's like working for Google or Netflix at an early stage. You're going to be a part of a game change.
Look at the way we structure our deals: I'm not into taking more than I give out of anything. It's a fair exchange. Not to say that these artists don't have the same mentality. For a fact, [Rick] Ross, his structure is like he's building bosses. He's building brands.
When you come over here with All Money In, it's about boss of self.
Would you let artists retain ownership of their material just like you want to?
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It's just common sense. If you spend your own money, then that's yours. If I spend my money, then that's mine. The reason I own my shit is because I spend my money. But if they come in and need me to spend my money on it, then it's all relative to the investment.
I deserve to own my shit, to be in control of my situation, because I paid the cost to be my boss. At the same time, if an artist came to the situation and they were going to flip their bill, I wouldn't be in a position to ask for ownership. That wouldn't even make sense. If I'm spending my money, then that's what the tradeoff is, to be involved with the ownership.
Would you ever run an actual marathon?
Most definitely. Only reason I haven't is because Puff did it first. I'm up for it, though. Might create one, matter of fact. We might make the All Money In Marathon.