Entrepreneurialism & Technology Discussed At Hip-Hop Institute Conference (Video)

Earlier this month, the 11th annual Brooklyn Hip-Hop Festival took place in a series of events, beginning July 8. Leading to the July 11 concert featuring Common, Mobb Deep, Freeway, and others, the week of discussion, education, and engagement included the first-ever Hip-Hop Institute Conference. Hosted at the borough’s Medgar Evers College in Crown Heights, the event aimed to tackle important and timely issues to the Hip-Hop discussion. “This year, we had the desire to expand the programming,” explained Brooklyn Hip-Hop Festival Executive Director and Founder Wes Jackson. He emphasized that the Black Lives Matter protests and corresponding criminal justice reform, along with technology, entrepreneurial skills, and economic empowerment were focal points. Jackson added that the 2015 panel discussion is a lead-in towards eventual plans of a brick-and-mortar facility for students and researchers on the culture.

Among the speakers involved with Hip-Hop Institute, as seen in the Brooklyn Independent Media film recap for Daily Motion, were De La Soul’s Marketing Manager Brandon Hixon, PhatStartup co-founder Anthony Frasier, Combs Enterprises Digital VP Aubrey Flynn, Nielsen analyst Chad Foster, and Ambrosia For Heads’ founder and Editor-in-Chief Reggie Williams.

Leading things off in the video, Williams explained the significance of a book by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson to his entrepreneurial spirit. “I read a book called Rework; it’s a book I encourage everyone to read it. It’s 200 pages. I’m a slow reader, and it took me two hours to read because 100 pages of it are pictures. It’s not a children’s book, but it drops jewels. Mark Cuban said, Look, if I had the chance of hiring someone who read Rework versus a Harvard MBA [graduate], I would hire the person who read Rework. One of the things it said is ‘don’t quit your day-job.'” Applying the jewel to his own career, Reggie added, “Two years into [my last job], although I was having a great time, I knew what I wanted to do do, and I was ready to quit. But [the book] said, ‘Use your day-job as your funding for your venture.’ And I think that’s an important thing for us—especially entrepreneurs of color, to realize.” Elaborating, he said, “We have to go about funding in less conventional ways than others a lot of times. We don’t have the same access to capital and resources that others may have. So pour your day-job into investing into yourself.” Bridging that gap and motioning towards more inclusive conversation was a major theme in the event.

“Hip-Hop is a lifestyle that can influence people in a many number of ways. It started off as a positive influence. There’s still very positive things happening. Now, it’s an opportunity to really talk to people about a number of issues that are germane to their lifestyle,” Williams said later. Specifically, he alluded to the murders of Eric Garner and Michael Brown, and subsequent non-convictions, as well as the recent church massacre in Charleston, South Carolina. “These are things that are happening to people who stand beside us every single day. Millions of us have families that are impacted. Hip-Hop started off as a platform for the community to get messaging out to galvanize to get people to act. I think it’s important for us to keep that messaging going.”

Brandon Hixon, De La Soul’s marketing manager, spoke about one of 2015’s most shining examples of Hip-Hop entrepreneurship. A 25-plus year veteran musical group, the De La trio asked fans to fund $110,000 towards their eighth studio album—providing an explanation of their recording costs. In turn, the group crowd-sourced more than $600,000 of capital. “It was about ownership,” explained Hixon. “Masters are very, very valuable—extremely valuable,” he said, adding that the values can increase with time. “De La, in the past, they’ve had record deals, and they didn’t turn out so well. We don’t have ownership of our masters; we can’t control what we do with our art. Using Kickstarter and actually crowd-funding, it enabled us to actually own our art.” Social media has come full circle to the legendary group. While ’80s and ’90s De La albums are notably omitted from many platforms, the group—in 2015–was able to use social media to effectively make forthcoming work accessible in the digital age, on a number of levels.

From Native Tongues co-founders to Bad Boy Worldwide, the discussion moved. Aubrey Flynn, Digital Vice President of Combs Enterprises echoed Brandon’s points. “The issue of ownership is a fundamental part of the culture.” Flynn stressed that independent is paramount to the Hip-Hop-inspired business model. “From [Sean] Combs down, there’s the spirit of entrepreneurship and this expectation that you can get things done, taking something out of nothing.” Aubrey added that Combs Enterprises’ founder, Puff Daddy, famously took trains from Washington, D.C.’s Howard University to Uptown Records, simply to intern—before eventually founding Bad Boy Records. Flynn added that his own journey with Combs started through internship. Pushing one’s self through education and experience was another enduring talking-point.

Chad Foster, an analyst for Nielsen, reinforced that ownership should come into play, especially in the music and culture sectors. “The main consumers are males, Hispanic and African American 18-24. They spend 30% more on music than about anybody else in the country,” revealed Foster, based on Nielsen data findings. “Music is a [big] part of our culture, just African American culture in general.” He encouraged that understanding that element is a bargaining chip for all cultural stakeholders to take ownership, and be strategic.

Anthony Frasier, co-founder of PhatStartup, used lyrics by Tupac Shakur to stress that Hip-Hop’s fundamentals have always included enterprising, “Hip-Hop is entrepreneurship,” maintains Frasier.

In closing the recap, Wes Jackson–whose 11-year festival has grown to feature involvement from Kanye West, Jay Z, and Kendrick Lamar–stressed, “They’ve tricked you for a long time into believing you’re not allowed to be the TV producer or the entrepreneur, and it’s a lie. It’s time to expose the lie, get to work, and take control of our own culture and our own community.”

Related: 15 Years Later, Common’s “The Light” Remains a Shining Example of Hip-Hop Love