A couple months ago, our sister paper LA Weekly published a piece entitled "It's Crunch Time for Nipsey Hussle." In it, writer Justin Tinsley examined the 28 year-old LA rapper's career, and how he believed it had come close to a stall. Barely two months later, and already Nipsey Hussle --born Ermias Asghedom-- appears to have broken through the barrier of a slumping career. Largely due to his sheer perseverance and business acumen, Nipsey has rejuvenated his existence as a rapper. Now, Jay Z's buying his albums in bulk and fans are rushing to shell out a hundred dollars to get copies as well. With his latest release Crenshaw (including executive production from Santa Ana producer Wizzo) and a tour trek in the works, Nipsey may even be at a career high.
"I try and put my art first, and I think that people get that I try and put my message first. Form follows function, and the function of what I'm doing is I want to connect to people; I want them to feel what I'm saying and relate to it and be inspired by it. That's what I want to happen first, and then being successful is secondary," the South Central rapper says.
"First I want people to connect to it and be inspired by it, and feel it on a real level. I think people get that, and when they come to my music they come for a certain thing -- their motivation, their inspiration, some game they're looking for, or just a different perspective. My intentions are what they connect with, and they gauge my intentions off the product that I put out. It's clear to them my intentions are to say something real, and that moves them."
Nipsey's devoted fanbase, who have staunchly stuck with the young emcee throughout his entire career, appear to share the same feelings regarding his music. They ensured his hundred-dollar-a-copy release Crenshaw sold out a pop-up shop in LA a couple months ago, at a time when many bigger artists can barely push their fans to spend a few bucks on iTunes.
The overall concept behind the "$100 dollar album," referred to by Nipsey and his team as the "Proud2Pay" campaign, originally stemmed from a section in the book Contagious, where business owner Stephen Starr successfully began selling and marketing a $100 cheesesteak at his restaurant Barclay Prime. One of Nipsey's business partners and mentors, known as "Big Bob," handed him the book during the completion of Crenshaw, and the idea behind the business of selling a hundred dollar cheesesteak almost instantly struck a chord with him.
"When I read about the hundred dollar cheesesteak, I was so close to being done with Crenshaw I was in marketing mode, and when I read that I didn't necessarily have the full idea but I knew it was time to work. I think the parable inspired me to where I knew something good was going to come from that inspiration, so I just put the book down and started thinking and walking around inside my office, talking to my team, and came up what became the 'Proud2Pay' campaign," Nipsey says.
The "Proud2Pay" campaign Nipsey and his Marathon Marketing team have originated even earned Nipsey a spotlight by business giants Forbes, where Nipsey spoke of his plans. In the piece, Nipsey explained he wanted to build a company and brand that would eventually evolve into a sort of "urban Sanrio." It's an ambitious plan, but one the rapper is steadfast on a path to completing.
"It's all stationary, novelty items, but it's a five billion dollar a year brand, all off selling pencils, notebooks, backpacks, and they're worth five billion a year," Nipsey explains about Hello Kitty and Sanrio. "So, when you look at music, and you see a situation like myself, when I see how much money we generate off my merch line, and how a much a person is worth in the product world, they'll probably spend six hundred to seven hundred dollars every time they try this new line. Then, look at music where the fan spends ten, twenty, thirty, maybe fifty on concerts and CD's a year. With music, we have to figure out other ways to commoditize. We want to come out with things that make sense with what the brand represents.
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We want to do a store, and inside the store is a recording studio, so they can come in and witness the process while they shop for the Crenshaw sweaters, the Crenshaw beanies, or their ashtrays or keychains or calendars or whatever it is, because it's the idea they really believe in. It's moreso the idea than the product. When I said the 'urban Sanrio,' I think Hello Kitty's the idea, the brand people connect with. Little girls connect with it, and it represents something. The pencil's tight, the backpack's tight, the paper's tight. So, I think we're doing the same thing with the Marathon concept, people are just inspired by it. It can't be downloaded, it won't be the victim of this digital revolution."
A few months ago, Nipsey's career ran the danger of falling off the cliffs of hip-hop, somewhere in between major label throwaways and those doomed to be stuck forever touring to make a semi-modest living. Now, he's on a path to becoming one of hip-hop's strongest independent businessmen.