Nipsey Hussle on Rap, the Music Business, His Label: "It's About Boss of Self"
Photo by Jorge Peniche
There were two ways to procure Nipsey Hussle's recent release Crenshaw: either 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 may be wondering why record labels have not moved on signing Hussle. Well, they have, but the Crenshaw rapper 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 took some time out from his Crenshaw tour to speak with Crossfade about a trip to Eritrea, the music industry's old business model, and his own All Money In label. He even asked us a question.
Crossfade: At 18, you took a trip to Eritrea with your father. What was the most beautiful thing about it?
The most beautiful thing was when I got to absorb the culture.
They place way more value on people and relationships, family. I thought that was one of the missing elements of just growing up in America, growing up in L.A. The structure and values is kind of secondary to the material things. I think that's the reason for a lot of the problems we have in our cities and our states, the whole country. It starts at the house, you know? I saw old women walking around in dark alleys late at night. They weren't really worried about nothing.
But down here, everybody is guarded. Majority of the time, you expect people to do you dirty. It would be a pleasant surprise if somebody is genuine or somebody loves. Out there, that's the norm and that's respect.
A lot of times people feel, "Well, shit, nobody else is on it, so I ain't going to be on it. Nobody else is loving, so I ain't going to be loving. Nobody else is honest, so I ain't going to be honest." Nice guys finish last sometimes, you know what I'm saying? Going out there gave me insight that it's alright to be the oddball. It's alright to be the one that do got appreciation for people. It's OK to be the minority.
It seems as though 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.
I came in the game with a lot of things that I wanted 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 reasons 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.
A lot of people may not know that your nickname growing up was Thundercat. Did you have a favorite ThunderCats character from the cartoon?
[Laughs] Naw, actually, I didn't. That was kind of given to me. We call fighting thunder. That's what we call fighting. When we fight back in the day, you'll call it thunder.
You had to fight before you could hang out. You had to get carted off. So based on that, it was the name that I took, Little Thundercat.
You've said the old business model for major labels is becoming obsolete in the digital age. How can they adapt?
I think that 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. Young people from this generation understand the way we receive content. So it's not about TV and radio, and whoever got the biggest marketing budget wins. That ain't how it go no more.
Nine times out of ten discovery happens on a free project. Biggest stars in the game they broke through mixtapes that was free. They didn't break through radio hits. They didn't break through these big cosigns. It came through mixtapes. They dropped a body of work, and it connected. It was released through the Internet or their blog or it was word of mouth around it. It was publicity around it based on how good it was. That was the first way we discovered these artists.
I think that's the main thing that the labels got arrogant about. They feel like, "Well, these young dudes can't buy radio. These young dudes can't buy TV." And that still basically controls coverage. And I feel like that's the wrong way to look at it, because that's not how these kids is coming across they new artists. They on YouTube. They on HotNewHipHop. They on DatPiff. They on these different blogs picking up new artists. I feel like a part of it is that labels got to hire these people to understand the new discovery method.
You bring up mixtapes, blogs, and YouTube videos. Is radio even important anymore?
It depends. If you want to be a big star, you want to get $100 thousand a show, you want to do arenas then you're going to need a mass service platform like radio. I think radio extends the life of your projects and your songs, because it stays in rotation. It's no longer a choice. It's programming at that point. Long after you're tired of the song it's still on the radio. But if it was just in your CD player you'll pop it out and put something else in by now. I think the radio gives you a different length and a different lifespan for your content. But if you're content with just getting money and then wealthy, naw you don't need radio, you need a power branch.
You've also been outspoken about the fact that artists should want to retain total ownership of their material. What would you tell a rapper who you're looking to sign?
We'll tell them that we're doing things different. We leading the revolution. So, you come over here to All Money In and you going to be a part of that revolution. You're not going to be in the traditional situation. You're going to be at the curb and at the cusp of this change that's taking place. It's like working for Google or like working for Netflix at an early stage. You're going to be a part of 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 over there.
When you come over here with All Money In, it's about boss of self. If you want to be the boss of your own situation, if you want to branch out and create other brands, if you want to educate yourself on where real money comes from in this game, you at a perfect table for that, because that's what I preach. That's what I tell everyone around me. That's what I'm over here trying to do. I'm trying to build Netflix.
Would you let them retain ownership of their material just like you want to?
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 preach ownership because I preach self-sufficiency. I practice self-sufficiency. I practice self-investment. I buy equipment. I buy radio ads. I buy TV ads. I spend money on marketing. We pay overhead every month. We pay the bills of the studio. We pay the engineer out of pocket.
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 was going to flip they 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 trade off is, to be involved with the ownership.
What's one memory of the city Crenshaw that stands out to you the most?
The '92 riots. The tank on Crenshaw and Slauson. The U.S. National Guard on Crenshaw and Slauson. People driving down the street with refrigerators on they roof. People running into the grocery stores, looting or setting bins on fire.
See, that was like, "Wow, there's really chaos in Los Angeles, California. Who would've thought?"
Would you ever run a marathon?
Most definitely. Only reason I haven't is because Puff did it first. I'm up for it, though. We going to figure it out. I'd definitely run a marathon. A real-life marathon. Might create one matter of fact. We might make the All Money In Marathon.
Now it's your turn to ask me one question.
Alright, my one question will be: what's your purpose?
I might have stopped the interviewer. [Laughs]
You know what? I can't even lie. I'm still trying to find my own lane.
Absolutely. That's the honest truth. I think we all are, you know what I'm saying? I feel the same way. I think it changes. I think it's momentary. At one moment, the most important thing might be this and then it changes. Things change. I feel the same way, though. I'm figuring mine out as I go too.
Follow Lee Castro on Twitter @LeeMCastro
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