Out of all the types of music that exist in the world today, it’d be hard to argue that there’s any genre other than hip-hop where money is a more central theme. The two go together like flour and water, and it makes sense. The inception of hip-hop took place in the poverty-stricken neighborhoods of The Bronx as a means to transcend the ills of the ghetto. While original MCs may have chosen to flex their lyrical prowess more often than their bankroll, the financial success of figures like Run-D.M.C. and Eric B & Rakim gave inspiration and hope to many fans dreaming of a better life.
As hip-hop matured, some of the wholesomeness that characterized genre’s infancy started to fade, and Gangsta Rap started to become ubiquitous in the mainstream. At this point, the culture of hip-hop started to openly embrace the hustler spirit and the by-any-means-necessary mentality, rather than shy away from it. With money as the motivation, themes of cash in hip-hop inched up in prominence while other motifs, such as Afrocentrism, began to take a back seat in the rap game. By the time artists like The Notorious B.I.G. and the Wu-Tang Clan were at the height of their career, financial flexing was in full effect. Lyrics bragging about limousines and money-green leather sofas were backed up by the swanky lifestyles of rappers that were showcased in the media.
Flash forward to today, and rappers are stunting like there’s no tomorrow. Diamonds, gold, designer clothes and stacks of cash flood the social media accounts of many of today’s most popular hip-hop artists. Since an audacious display of wealth can function as a marketing tactic in today’s digital age, lavish spending isn’t always an unwise decision, especially if you’re making braggadocious claims of wealth throughout your body of work. While such displays have been able to help sustain the hype of many hip-hop artists over the years, the dark side of balling out of control has always lurked in the background.
Plenty of well-known rappers have fallen into money troubles over the years. Artists like Nas, Lauryn Hill and MC Hammer have all fallen into debt with the IRS. While many artists have been able to bounce back, and even prosper, that doesn’t mean that financial knowledge isn’t a glaring issue in the hip-hop community. A case study of this issue can be seen in the early music career of Florida rapper Ace Hood.
Ace Hood came into the game with a lot of momentum. Hood met DJ Khaled in 2007, and shortly after giving him an autobiography and a demo tape, he was signed to Khaled’s We the Best Music Group label at the age of 17. Hood dropped his debut studio album a year later, which peaked at the #36 spot on the US Billboard 200 chart. His newfound success drove him to lease a new Cadillac Escalade, rent out a three-bedroom apartment in South Florida, break of around $800 for his girlfriend every few days, and run up four-figure bills at the Gucci store.
Things started to go south for Ace with the release of his sophomore album. The project didn’t live up to sales expectations, which led to Ace losing his car and his apartment soon after. According to rapper Nino Brown, Ace Hood even approached DJ Khaled asking him for $5,000 when he was about to lose the place he was staying, but never got the help. Thankfully, Hood was able to turn his situation around after the release of his third studio album, Blood, Sweat, & Tears, but not before wisening up with his finances. He left the gas-guzzling Escalade in his past and purchased a Camaro, which gets much better mileage, and stopped overspending on significant others. Most importantly, he says he now puts away a good chunk of his paychecks whenever they come through. “Now, if I make $100,000 per month, I save at least $60,000,” Hood tells Forbes. “I did endure a lot of financial ups and downs,” he says. “And I thank God I was able to endure what I did when I was young, as opposed to me being much older. I was able to make it through.”
From the growth that Ace Hood has shown in terms of financial savviness, one might consider him to now have an understanding of money that’s a cut above most rappers popping on the scene today. However, even with the smart decisions he’s made with his money, his business acumen is dwarfed in the shadow of someone like Nipsey Hussle.
Nipsey Hussle grew up in the Crenshaw neighborhood of South Los Angeles, and was a member of the Rollin 60’s Crip gang at a young age. From his first mixtape released in 2005, he’s been able to drop 12 mixtapes, a studio album, and a host of other projects. Not only that, but he’s also been an incredibly hard working entrepreneur outside of the music itself. One of his first career-defining moves was leaving his original deal with Epic Records and forming his own label, All Money In. After establishing a name for himself in the mixtape circuit, Nip was able to land himself a distribution partnership with Atlantic Records, a move that allows him to retain ownership and creative autonomy over his music while reaping the benefits of a major label power.
Outside of his label partnership, Nipsey has launched his own campaign called Proud2Pay. The campaign launched with the release of his Crenshaw mixtape in 2013, and allowed his most dedicated fans to purchase a special edition of the physical tape for $100 in direct-to-consumer fashion, while also releasing the digital tape on traditional platforms. Although he experienced a considerable amount of backlash for his decision, he’s said that it has been one of his best moves financially. Jay-Z even gave the move a co-sign by purchasing 100 copies of the tape, totaling $10,000. Nipsey Hussle has his own clothing store and brand as well, The Marathon Clothing. He uses his brick-and-mortar locations to push projects for his Proud2Pay campaign, which he’s experienced success in doing.
With the capital Nipsey has amassed through his determination, Nipsey has set himself up for more success with new ventures he’s been working on. Perhaps the most notable of these ventures is his STEM program called 2 Big 2 Fail. STEM stand for science, technology, engineering and math, and the program’s goal is to educate the youth to give them the tools to enter and succeed in the rapidly growing tech industry. Hussle purchased a vacated Wonder Bread factory in South Central Los Angeles, which he plans to have two floors: the first floor to have educational programs to teach kids, and the upper floor that offers professionals a WeWork-type of office space, which professionals can pay for either through cash or working at the STEM program.
All of this is just a glimpse into the business behind the brand that is Nipsey Hussle. When asked by Forbes what his mission was and the impact he aspires to make, Nipsey gave this profound statement:
At the core, one of my original goals is to redefine what the streets expect, and amplify the pressure we put on these young people once they step into decision-making mode. There was a level of ignorance and self-destructiveness in the narrative that was pushed on us through music in our generation. I see how damaging that was, for myself included, and we’re all subject to the social pressure. I wasn’t above it. Each of us are impacted by what’s going on around us. For me, understanding the platform I have and who it speaks to, it’s about being strategic. We can’t stand on the corner with the bull horn and preach, that isn’t going to work. We have to be strategic and make an impact through influence. I wanted to redefine the lifestyle and what we view as important. When you hear ‘buy back the block’ as the narrative, that’s powerful. That’s a step towards redefining the expectation. It isn’t cool to be in the club spending all of this money, or having cars and jewelry — but you don’t own any real estate? You don’t own a fourplex? If the answer is no, you’re not a real hustler. When we can move people’s minds into that space, then we can be effective. You don’t care about your kids? It doesn’t matter how much money you have if you don’t care about your kids. You’re doing what drug? No, that’s not cool over here. All we demanded in our generation was that you be violent. If you’re violent, you’re respected. You can be everything else in the book, but if you’re a shooter or a fighter, you’re respected. In this era, we have to demand more.
Taking his vision into account, it’s understandable why he came at DJ Akademiks for his comments criticizing 21 Savage’s recent move to stop wearing jewelry. 21 credits his decision to stop to a couple reasons: One reason is that everyone wears jewelry nowadays, and he says he’s outgrown it. The other reason he says he made the move is because the richest people he’s ever met in his life never had on jewelry. 21 says with the money he’s saved since his decision, he’s been reaping the benefits. See 21 speak for himself and Nip’s thoughts on DJ Akademiks’ comments below.
@nipseyhussle sits down with @tariqelite and speaks on his problems with @complex and @akadmiks #nipseyhussle #djakademiks #tariqnasheed #victorylap #hiphop #rap #trap #hiphopnews #hiphop #rap #trap #newmusic #rapmusic #rappers #worldstarhiphop #newhiphopmusic #newhiphop #trapmusic #hiphopmusic #newhiphopnews #newhiphop
While artists like Nipsey Hussle and 21 Savage promote a healthy consciousness when it comes to money, it’s easy for their audiences to turn a blind eye towards anything other than the thugged out aesthetic of the entertainment they have to offer, but that’s not the case for the fans of every other artist. Take, for example, Dee-1, a rapper out of New Orleans.
Before he started doing rap full-time, Dee-1 was actually a math teacher at a New Orleans middle school. Even though he left his job at the school, Dee-1 didn’t stop dropping knowledge. Much of his lyrical content is characterized by positive, conscious messages of all kinds, including finance. This was showcased by one of his biggest hit singles, titled “Sallie Mae Back”. Dee-1 says he was inspired to write the song after finishing paying off his student loans to Sallie Mae, a publicly traded corporation that provides student loans. The song is essentially a celebration of paying off his own loans he took out to put himself through LSU, in which he describes working two jobs and eating modest meals until he got that fateful email letting him know he had paid it all back.
The popularity of “Sallie Mae Back” eventually brought him to partner with consulting company PricewaterhouseCoopers in their Earn Your Future program. The goal of the multi-faceted program is to help students learn critical financial skills and provide educators with resources to do so. Dee-1 plays his part by going to schools across the nation and sharing his knowledge with students. “I’m a young black man, with dreadlocks, from New Orleans, who is a rapper. When I walk into these classrooms with black and brown students and they look at me, they’re like, ‘Wait, that dude is one of us,’ before I even open my mouth,” he tells The Washington Post. “My voice is authentic to them, my life experience is authentic to them, so when I hit them with the knowledge, the financial literacy piece, they’re all ears.”
Another artist making big moves for the culture is Atlanta’s own Killer Mike. As both a solo artist and half of the duo Run The Jewels, Killer Mike has been steady making noise on the scene since the early 2000s. While he’s experienced success in the music industry, Killer Mike has dedicated a substantial amount of time to activism, fighting issues like police brutality and social inequality.
One of his latest causes has been his push to support small, black-owned banks. He first spoke on the effort in an interview on The Tavis Smiley Show back in 2015. “We have a responsibility to do better as black people in this country,” he said. “I don’t care how white people look at you—I care that we have a one trillion-dollar spending base and if you want to see change, you have to start to focus on, economically, how can we change our communities.”
Less than a year later, Killer Mike revisited the topic during an interview with Atlanta’s Hot 107.9 in the wake of the shooting of Philando Castile. In the interview, Killer Mike calls on Atlanta to respond to the shooting by moving their money to Citizens Trust Bank, an African-American-owned bank based out of Atlanta. The motivation behind Killer Mike’s endeavor is to establish a trend where African-Americans become more unified in their economic power and influence so that they more effectively enact change in society on a multitude of levels. Shortly after the interview, the CEO of Citizens Trust Bank, Cynthia Day, thanked Killer Mike for his call-to-action in an Twitter post. According to Killer Mike, the bank experienced a large influx of accounts being opened after he had gone on air in the interview, but he still pushed for more.
— Citizens Trust Bank (@CTBank) July 8, 2016
Killer Mike didn’t stop there. He continued to push the #BankBlack initiative at another talk he gave at OneUnited Bank, another African-American-owned institution. You can check out a clip of that passionate speech below.
Even with all the good that the aforementioned artists have done, there’s still a lot of work to be done in terms of financial education and action in the hip-hop community. It’s unlikely that every rapper will completely stop wearing jewelry or start visiting schools to impart knowledge to students, but that’s not necessarily what’s being called for. If one could put their finger on the change that is truly needed, it could perhaps be described as staying true to self while also having a sense of investment in the issues that surround hip-hop, especially if you’re an artist with considerable influence. Even if you’re not in the rap game at all, you can still make an impact by pushing the conversation in a positive direction, as well as making the right actions to back up the talk.