- YouTube’s Impact on Music
It’s hard to imagine what music would be like today without YouTube. The platform has done more to lower the entry barriers to music creation and distribution than any other platform.
From the early days when acts like Soulja Boy harnessed the raw power of YouTube to drive their careers, to modern narratives like NBA YoungBoy mastering Creator culture, in this episode we delve into how YouTube's become an essential player in the music industry.
In this episode, I’m joined by Tati Cirisano from MIDiA Research to discuss the origins of YouTube entering the space, the rocky relationships with music rights holders, the importance of UGC (User Generated Content), and so much more.
[00:01:23] YouTube Enters The Music Industry
[00:08:37] Google Acquires YouTube, DMCA
[00:21:12] The Monetization-Exposure Trade Off
[00:28:36] YouTube’s “Value Gap”
[00:44:48] Improving Relationships With The Music Industry
[00:49:49] Content ID
[00:56:44] YouTube and AI
This episode is brought to you by Downtown Music, the world leader in music services with over 2 million clients. Visit Downtown today to learn more.
Enjoy this podcast? Rate and review the podcast here! ratethispodcast.com/trapital
Trapital is home for the business of music, media and culture. Learn more by reading Trapital’s free memo.1h 10m | Dec 1, 2023
- Why Music is a $40+ Billion Industry
How much money does the music industry really make on an annual basis? The answer is not as straightforward as you think. Most of the outlets that publish figures only report on one side of the business. But since 2014, former Spotify chief economist and author Will Page has made it his job to answer this question in his annual report on global music copyright. This year the global value is at $41.5 billion.
In this episode, I’m joined by Will and friend of the show, Tati Cirisano from MIDiA Research. We dive deep into the key findings of the report, the growth of publishing, vinyl sales, why “back catalog” is a dated term, AI’s disruption, and a whole lot more.
[00:04:06] The need for data transparency
[00:30:51] The rise of vinyl
[00:46:43] How music relates to gaming
[00:54:42] Streaming price increases
This episode is brought to you by DICE. Want to learn more about how you and your artists can reach a packed room of your superfans? Learn more at dice.fm/partners
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Trapital is home for the business of music, media and culture. Learn more by reading Trapital’s free memo.1h 10m | Nov 17, 2023
- Reebok: Sneakers, Hip-Hop, and Missed Opportunities
It wasn’t that long ago that Reebok was head-to-head with the biggest athletic apparel companies in the world. In 1989, Reebok sales had exceeded Nike. In 2001, Reebok’s two biggest stars, MVPs Shaquille O’Neal and Allen Iverson, faced off in the NBA Finals. In 2003, two of hip-hop’s biggest stars, 50 Cent and Jay Z, had their own Reebok sneakers.
But less then a decade later, the brand was a… struggling CrossFit brand under the Adidas umbrella. What happened?
In this week’s episode of Trapital, Zack O’Malley Greenburg and I take a trip down memory lane. We examine Reebok’s rise, challenges faced, big partnerships, failed acquisitions, and missed opportunities.
[00:03:35] Reebok vs. Nike
[00;15;34] Allen Iverson and hip-hop
[00;19;59] Jay Z’s S. Dots, 50 Cent’s G-Unit sneakers
[00;34;39] Adidas acquires Reebok
[00;51;03] ABG acquires Reebok
[01;02;11] AI and Shaq now Reebok execs
This episode is brought to you by Bevel. Beat the holiday rush and get 20% off the device of your choice. Offer ends Sun Nov 19. Get your device today.
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Trapital is home for the business of music, media and culture. Learn more by reading Trapital’s free memo.1h 3m | Nov 10, 2023
- The Trapital Report 2023
The Trapital Report 2023 is here! In this episode we break down a few big takeaways from the report on streaming, live music, the state of hip-hop, and the most valuable songs in the world. I’m joined by David Boyle from Audience Strategies, who first reached out to me about working on this report and we’ve been working together ever since.
We have two report versions. You can download the free preview of the report here.
We also have a premium version of the report available with insights on engaging superfans, emerging technology, country music’s moment, the impact of TikTok and short-form video, generational preferences, and more.
You can buy the premium report here.
[00:04:36] Hip hop outshines electronic music.
[00:05:51] Hip Hop's growth was tapering off.
[00:16:21] Headlines without context can impact decisions.
[00:23:32] Fans want identity, self-expression, and memories.
[00:33:11] Leaning in to generative AI.
[00:35:24] How best to split the pie
[00:42:55] Different worlds for artists on different tours.
[00:46:00] Historical bias and price influence hip hop tours.
[00:51:19] YouTube active users prefer pop audience.
Thanks again to the report’s presenting sponsor, DICE, and our presenting sponsors, Downtown Music and Audiense for making this report possible. Thanks to Luminate and Pollstar for sharing your data with us, and thanks again to Simon Jacobs and David Boyle from Audience Strategies.
Enjoy this podcast? Rate and review the podcast here! ratethispodcast.com/trapital1h 1m | Oct 30, 2023
- Apple’s Impact on Music: From iPods to AirPods
Apple has been the most influential company in music in the 21st century, and music was the major driver behind Apple’s comeback. Join us for a deep dive on where Apple was before its music journey, the impact of iTunes, Steve Jobs, iPod, U2, iPhone, Apple Music, Drake, Taylor Swift, Frank Ocean, and a whole lot more.
I’m joined by friend of the pod, Zack O’Malley Greenburg. We discuss how music helped Apple exceed the value of the entire music industry. We also discuss the company’s strategy with software, hardware, and how it all worked together. Hope you enjoy it.
[00:03:55] Steve Jobs returns to Apple
[00:10:13] iTunes, iPod, iTunes Music Store
[00:34:48] How U2 got their own iPod
[00:44:20] Why Jobs was against subscription-based music streaming
[00:51:27] Apple buys Beats Electronics
[00:56:48] How U2’s album got on every iPhone
[01:07:54] Apple Music launch
[01:14:04] What would Jobs say about Apple’s current music strategy?
[01:21:54] Apple Music’s old exclusives strategy
Enjoy this podcast? Rate and review the podcast here! ratethispodcast.com/trapital1h 31m | Oct 20, 2023
- Trapital Report coming soon!
No new episode this week. We’re working hard on this year’s Trapital Report, which is out at the end of October! Make sure you’re signed up for our email newsletter to get the report once it’s live.
Next week we’re back with another deep dive episode. Listen to this brief episode for a few hints! Talk to you next week.1m | Oct 13, 2023
- Pandora: a 3-1 Lead in Music Streaming
This episode is all about Pandora Music. In the post-iPhone era, Pandora was the early favorite in music streaming. We break down its decade-long journey to get there, its rise in popularity, IPO, SiriusXM, and how and why it got beat by other competitors.
I’m joined by friend of the show, Tati Cirisano from MIDiA Research. Here’s what we discussed:
[00:05:50] The Music Genome Project
[00:09:37] Rejected by 300 VCs
[00:14:44] Pandora’s legal battles
[00:18:22] Pandora vs Spotify
[00:40:50] The SiriusXM era
[00:54:15] Changing culture
Enjoy this podcast? Rate and review the podcast here! ratethispodcast.com/trapital1h 4m | Oct 5, 2023
- Stanford GSB: The Future of Music - 2023 Black Leadership Conference
In May 2023, I gave a talk at the Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business - Black Leadership Conference. I explored the future of music, industry trends, and its impact on Black artists. Hip-hop culture sets the trends that society follows. I explore all that and more.
[00:06:18] Beyond the vanity metrics
[00:08:06] Whitney Houston estate
[00:13:16] The OutKast Edge
[00:19:51] Q&A: Leveling up at each stage of growth
Enjoy this podcast? Rate and review the podcast here! ratethispodcast.com/trapital21m | Sep 29, 2023
- Def Jam Recordings: A 40-Year Legacy
You can't tell the story about hip-hop without telling the story of Def Jam. We break down the business behind of one of the most iconic record labels of all time. Join me, Dan Runcie, and friend of the pod, Zack Greenburg, as we discuss the triumphs and challenges that shape Def Jam and its legacy.
[00:04:44] Def Jam influence on modern hip hop
[00:08:59] How Russell Simmons and Rick Rubin met
[00:18:18] Simmons and Rubin part ways
[00:26:23] Lyor Cohen takes over, Polygram deal
[00:34:24] Def Comedy Jam and Def Poetry Jam
[00:42:59] Late 90s run: DMX, Jay Z, and the UMG sale
[00:52:11] Def Jam Vendetta
[00:58:27] Jay Z becomes CEO
[01:12:09] LA Reid, Def Jam in the 2010s
[01:21:54] Most effective Def Jam CEO?
[01:28:31] Dark horse move?
[01:38:05] Missed opportunities
Enjoy this podcast? Rate and review the podcast here! ratethispodcast.com/trapital1h 41m | Sep 22, 2023
- Investing in Music, Songs of the Summer, Pop Star Decline, and Creator Trends
This is a solo episode! I break down four important topics:
- Saudi Arabia investing in music
- The “Song of the Summer” is no more
- Pop star decline: winners, losers, and trends
- Spotify’s podcast strategy and the creator economy
[00:04:22] Saudi investors exploring entertainment and tech, except music.
[00:07:50] Music festivals present opportunity for strategic investment.
[00:08:47] Investment activity in acquiring back catalog.
[00:13:12] Songs of summer: fragmented, subjective, lost meaning.
[00:16:52] Song anticipates spring/summer, dominates airwaves, summer-themed video.
[00:20:51] Pop star decline: articles highlight big changes.
[00:24:22] Limited inventory shifted to infinite digital options.
[00:28:20] Music industry shifts in less than a decade.
[00:32:12] Valuable data for advertisers and podcasters.
[00:36:05] ConvertKit founder rejects Spotify acquisition attempt; insights on equity sharing for bootstrap businesses. Podcasters' success rate low but valuable. Creator economy companies seek capital for growth.
[00:38:27] Unicorn-like success stories, underestimated expectations.
[00:41:27] Personalized services to artists, potentially disrupting the traditional role of major record labels.
Enjoy this podcast? Rate and review the podcast here! ratethispodcast.com/trapital44m | Sep 15, 2023
- The Music Industry: A Tale of Two Cities
In today's episode, I’m joined by Kakul Srivastava, CEO of Splice. We discuss the untapped potential of the music production market, how music shapes our lives, and the need for more accessibility in music. We also discuss the potential of AI in creative tools, Splice’s future, and more:
[00:04:56] Music’s overlooked and underserved market
[00:06:43] A tale of two cities
[00:12:29] The digital music producer market
[00:21:26] The right balance with AI
[00:29:56] Leading with empathy
[00:33:12] Hard decisions made at Splice
[00:41:05] Splice and the billion-dollar exit
[00:46:39] How Nike inspires Splice
This episode is sponsored by DICE. Learn more about why artists, venues, and promoters love to partner with DICE for their ticketing needs. Visit dice.fm
Enjoy this podcast? Rate and review the podcast here! ratethispodcast.com/trapital
Trapital is home for the business of music, media and culture. Learn more by readingTrapital’s free memo.45m | Sep 8, 2023
- Napster's Impact on Music and Culture
Napster. The name alone brings back memories of the wild, wild west of the dot-com bubble.
We'll take you back to the late 90s and early 2000s. Sean Parker and Shawn Fanning’s creation was a game-changer. But was its influence bigger than its actual impact? Who won and lost the most from Napster? Could the situation have been handled differently? We break down all that and more
I’m joined by Tati Cirisano from MIDiA Research. Here’s everything we covered this episode:
[00:002:13] Napster's rise
[00:8:25] CD boom, internet growth, Sean and Shawn
[00:13:43] Internet culture in the late 90s
[00:18:21] Napster's early growth in users.
[00:25:07] Artists picked sides on the Napster debate
[00:36:55] Legal and business model challenges.
[00:42:13] When Napster shut its doors
[00:48:32] Asking for permission vs forgiveness
[01:00:10] Limewire, BearShare, and KaZaa
[01:08:16] Life after Napster for Shawn Fanning and Sean Parker
[01:14:41] Where Napster is today
This episode is sponsored by DICE. Learn more about why artists, venues, and promoters love to partner with DICE for their ticketing needs. Visit dice.fm
Enjoy this podcast? Rate and review the podcast here! ratethispodcast.com/trapital
Trapital is home for the business of music, media and culture. Learn more by reading1h 22m | Sep 1, 2023
- MTV: Music Videos, Reality TV, and Ridiculousness
I Want My MTV! We broke down one of the most influential companies in music: MTV. I’m joined by friend of the pod, Zack Greenburg, who wrote a book about one of MTV’s biggest star’s ever, Michael Jackson.
We discuss the highs, lows, challenges, controversies MTV faced. From its business model over the years, shift to reality TV, VMAs, TRL, Yo MTV Raps, impact on culture, and its missed opportunities.
[00:08:43] MTV business model, rise of cable TV, untapped teenage market
[00:15:50] The impact of Michael Jackson and “I Want My MTV”
[00:25:22] How MTV sparked one-hit wonders
[00:30:01] Yo MTV Raps!
[00:38:59] Movies, VMAs, and more
[00:53:55] Reality TV vs music videos: what fans really want?
[01:00:47] MTV animated shows, spring break, Super Bowl, Rock the Vote
[01:05:58] Music industry peak, TRL, and big budget music videos
[01:12:17] Why Ridiculousness is now on MTV all the time
[01:20:44] MTV’s missed chances over the years
[01:37:26] Who won and lost the most from MTV?
Enjoy this podcast? Rate and review the podcast here! ratethispodcast.com/trapital1h 41m | Aug 25, 2023
- Unpacking the Economics of Taylor Swift
Taylor Swift is on track for the first $1B+ tour ever, but that’s old news..
In this episode, we look beyond the public drama surrounding her masters and unpack the questions that have been overlooked.
How valuable are the original recordings compared to Taylor’s Version? How will that change once '1989' is re-released? How much money will Ithaca Holdings, Shamrock Capital, Big Machine Label Group, and Taylor herself make in the end? Can anyone else in the music industry pull this off??
Join me and Tim Ingham, founder of Music Business Worldwide, as we unravel the complexities and explore the various stakeholders involved, offering insights and analysis from industry experts.
02:48 Taylor Swift’s record sales and tour results
10:47 Taylor’s NDA with Scooter Braun and 13 Management
17:18 Scooter Braun buys Taylor’s Masters
23:47 The Value of Taylor’s catalogue overtime
28:02 Shamrock Capital ownership of Taylor’s original versions
29:18 Taylor Swift's re-recordings
41:31 Tim’s experience writing deep dive articles on Taylor
This episode is sponsored by DICE. Learn more about why artists, venues, and promoters love to partner with DICE for their ticketing needs. Visit dice.fm
Enjoy this podcast? Rate and review the podcast here! ratethispodcast.com/trapital55m | Aug 15, 2023
- Hip-Hop's 50 Greatest Moguls
August 11, 2023 is the 50th anniversary of hip-hop. What started out mostly as a spoken word artform has become a worldwide juggernaut. Thanks to the moguls who pushed the genre forward, hip-hop went from 0 to 100.
In this episode, we rank the 50 greatest moguls in hip-hop’s history. We reached out to industry experts — from artists to execs to media personalities — to help us compile the list. Friend of the pod, Zack O’Malley Greenburg, joins me to count them down from No. 50 to No. 1
0:39 How do we define “mogul”
7:06 Honorable mentions
09:10 The “Don’t overlook their influence” group (ranks 50-41)
16:19 The “Playing chess not checkers” group (ranks 40-31)
23:38 The “Our impact runs deep” group (ranks 30-21)
33:47 No. 20
35:37 No. 19
37:56 No. 18
41:32 No. 17
44:27 No. 16
47:21 No. 15
51:22 No. 14
55:55 No. 13
59:09 No. 12
1:00:46 No. 11
1:02:16 No. 10
1:04:39 No. 9
1:06:44 No. 8
1:10:20 No. 7
1:14:06 No. 6
1:15:37 No. 5
1:17:11 No. 4
1:20:53 No. 3
1:29:06 No. 2
1:30:34 No. 1
1:33:22 Who got snubbed?
1:35:42 What trends stick out from the list?
1:41:21 Who would you pick to run your empire?
Listen: Apple Podcasts | Spotify | SoundCloud | Stitcher | Overcast | Amazon | Google Podcasts | Pocket Casts | RSS
Host: Dan Runcie, @RuncieDan, trapital.co
Guests: Zack O’Malley Greenburg, @zogblog
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[00:00:00] Zack Greenburg: ownership. Was just such an important thing for Nipsey. Such an important thing for Berner. And, you know, interviewing the two of them, I would say, their mindset around ownership was the closest I've ever seen to Jay Z.
[00:00:13] Dan Runcie Intro Audio: Hey, welcome to the Trapital Podcast. I'm your host and the founder of Trapital, Dan Runcie. This podcast is your place to gain insights from the executives in music, media, entertainment, and more who are taking hip hop culture to the next level.
[00:00:39] Dan Runcie Guest Intro: This episode is a celebration to hip hop's 50th anniversary. This is a countdown on the 50 greatest moguls ever in hip hop. I'm joined by Zack O'Malley Greenburg, friend of the pod, and we both reached out to. A bunch of label heads, executives, people in hip hop that would know best. And we put it together in an aggregate list.
And we're here to break down that list today. We talk about what does it mean to be a mogul? What are some of the considerations we made when we were looking into this list ourselves, how the results looked, what surprised us? What were the snubs? What were the misses? And what can we learn from this overall?
And if Zack and I were putting together our dream teams, what would that look like? This is a lot of fun. Really happy with how it turned out. So let's dive in.
[00:01:25] Dan Runcie: All right, hip hop's 50th anniversary is right around the corner and we decided to celebrate it in the only way that we know best countdown hip hop's greatest moguls and I'm joined by Zack O'malley Greenburg, who reached out to me about this. I was really excited about it and we spent some time over the past couple of weeks, reaching out to people we know, making sure that we have the best insights looking through and making sure that we had all of the. Breakdowns to share. So Zack, I'm ready for this. How are you feeling?
[00:01:55] Zack Greenburg: I am stoked. Yeah, I mean, you know, 50th anniversary of hip hop. We reached out to 50 different judges. amongst, you know, the sort of, the most respected folks from, you know, label heads to artists to entrepreneurs, you know, I think we've got half of them, roughly half of them replied since in their votes, we're going to keep their individual votes anonymous, but, you know, Dan could tell you about some of the judges.
Yeah, and it was just really fun to kind of mix it up, you know, I think the thing about this list, a lot of these characters are just kind of an apples to oranges comparison as you'll see once we dive into it, but that's the beauty of it, right? I mean, how do you, you know, compare like a pioneering executive to like a modern day artist mogul? And we really kind of left it in the hands of the judges. And we just said, basically the only guidance was, this is a business focused list, but you know, you can rank artists, executives, people who are both. It just, whatever your definition of mogul is, that's how, you know, that's how you should rank them. And people submitted lists and obviously the higher they rank somebody, the more points we gave them and, you know, the lower they got, but, you know, so there's some people on there who are like accumulators. They ended up on everybody's list, but not so high, but, you know, as a result, they ended up on the top 50.
And then there are some who were just like, not ranked at all by most people, but had a couple of really high ranks so that they made the list. So I think it's a pretty cool mix.
[00:03:10] Dan Runcie: Right? It's kind of like how we look at artists. There's some artists that have just been consistent, steady through and through each year. You'll always get some reliable output from them, but then there are other artists too. They were the best for a certain amount of time. Maybe they cooled off for a bit.
Maybe they came back and that's kind of the way music is too. One of the things that. I was asked whenever I was reaching out to people about this was the same thing that you posed earlier. People wanted to know, how are we defining mogul and we left it up to their interpretation. It is a term that means different things to different people, but maybe for the sake of this conversation, let's kick it off here.
Zack, how do you define mogul? And how did you define it when creating your list?
[00:03:51] Zack Greenburg: Yeah, I mean, to me a hip hop mogul, more general is just, you know, somebody who not only is a business person, but has some degree of ownership, in whatever it is that they're doing. that's not the only definition of it for me, but like, you know, when I was putting together my rankings, I thought, you know, who are the owners?
the same time, you know, people who are executives who are in a decision making place. you know, that counts for something. And I think also, you know, if you're an artist, and you simply have some control over your own work, you maintain your copyrights, whatever, like that counts as being a mogul.
So, you know, specifically when it comes to hip hop, you know, I'd say people who are, you know, definitely getting in charge of your own work, but also creating new lines of business, you know, influencing the culture. but you know, a way that they've got some skin in the game from a business perspective, you know, that, kind of thing.
That's kind of how I looked at it. but you could see from the votes that, you know, everybody had a slightly different definition too.
[00:04:47] Dan Runcie: Yeah, there was definitely a lot of correlation with the artists who tend to be the ones that are the wealthiest. They end up at the highest rankings in on some of those lists, too, but it wasn't exactly correlated because there's a difference. And these are some of the things I kept in mind, too, with the mogul definition, thinking specifically about
influence and impact, were you having, or did you create opportunities for others around you? Were you able to be a bit of a kingmaker or queenmaker in your respective right? Was there a impact in terms of other generations that either looked and modeled how they're doing what they're doing and looking at you as some form of inspiration with that?
So there's the indirect impact and influence, but also the, Indirect piece of it too. So there's the money piece as well, but then what do you do with that money? And then that's how I had went about it. And similarly, everyone had their own unique spin to it.
[00:05:42] Zack Greenburg: Yeah, for sure. And, you know, and I think the definition changed over time, of what a mogul really is, but when I was putting my rankings together, I think the idea of starting something new, you know, that's also paramount, amongst all the criteria as well.
[00:05:55] Dan Runcie: Right? So, of course, Zack and I had our list, but we reached out to a number of people and several other label heads, executives, and people that are in the game.
So thank you all to your contributions. We couldn't have done this without you. And if anything, it helped add a variety beyond just you and I, getting and putting our list out there. It added a more full scope and like anything. Oh, this is how you look at it. Interesting and being able to pull unique insights there.
[00:06:21] Zack Greenburg: Yeah, for sure. you know, one thing I think we probably ought to point out, on the list, you know, the list is, heavily male. but it's about only 20% women on the list. you know, we did everything we could obviously to make it more equitable, but, you know, the votes are the votes.
And, you know, I think there is a bit of a reflection of sort of the state of affairs over the past half century, you know, unfortunately, like many parts of music business, hip hop has been, you know, heavily overindexing for males. So, you know, here's hoping that when 50 years to do a hundred years of hip hop, you know, we'll have even things out a bit or completely, let's say maybe even, you know, made up for lost time, but I think some of the spots on the list, you know, the rankings do kind of reflect an industry reality that we've seen, unfortunately for 50 years.
[00:07:06] Dan Runcie: Right? And hopefully this gets better. We do feel and you'll see when we talk about some of the people here, glad about some of the names that got mentioned. Of course, there's always room to be able to have more and hopefully for hip hop's 100th anniversary. If when and people are breaking that down, there's hopefully even more representation there.
So, with that, I think it's probably good for us to get started right before the list, but talk about some of the honorable mentions. So, there were people that didn't quite make the cut of 50, but we still wanted to highlight them and the work that they. Did here. So a few of those names here to give a shout out to.
So we have Cindy Campbell, Jermaine Dupree, Audrey Harrell, Jay Cole, Damon John. What comes or what do you think about when you hear those names?
[00:07:55] Zack Greenburg: Yeah, you know, I mean, Cindy Campbell, I think in many ways you could look at her as the first promoter in hip hop history, right? I mean, you know, we're talking about 50 years of hip hop. That's 50 years from that first party that. She and DJ Kool Herc through, you know, in the rec room on Cedric Avenue.
And, I think the idea was that they were going to raise a little bit of cash so she could go get herself a new back to school wardrobe. Now, if that's not, you know, entrepreneurship and hip hop, you know, from the very beginning, I don't know what it is. And so I think Cindy deserves a ton of credit, for being there at the very beginning, you know, but I think on the honorable mentions to a lot of the folks that are on here, you know, or maybe like a little bit, you know, not exactly falling on the same radar, you know, for the list. So like, you know, Damon John, obviously he did with, you know, creating FUBU and, you know, everything he's done as an entrepreneur, it's incredible, but it, I think it's sort of like more of a national brand that is, you know, apart from hip hop and so is his personality, right? Like you see him on shark tank or, you know, whatever, like he sort of moved past, I wouldn't necessarily categorize him, as just hip hop, although he's had a tremendous impact on hip hop.
So I think probably that's why, he wasn't on more lists. It's not to sort of ding him his impact, which is considerable.
[00:09:10] Dan Runcie: Right, and I do think that of course, music is one element of hip hop. You do have fashion, you do have others. So music definitely got weighted heavily in this list, but Dave and John and his influence in fashion, and there's other people in fashion and we'll get into them in this list too, but we can't overlook everything he did there and some of the more unique and clever marketing tactics that came from food booth that other people did who will mention in this list as well. 1 person that I do want to highlight here from that list 2 people. So, Jermaine Dupri want to give him a shout out as well. Just everything he was able to do with.
So, so Def records. He was part of that movement in the 90s, where you saw LaFace and then all these other groups in the South be able to come up, do their own. There was a so so deaf sound, a so so Def vibe and his ability to do it both in rap, but also have a bit of the soul there. Some of the epic production that he's been involved with, even outside of hip hop, thinking about albums like Mariah Carey's Emancipation of Mimi and others, even though he didn't always do everything in hip hop. I think that some of his influence can't go overstated there. And then the second person who's similar in that regard, I would say is Andre Harrell. We talked about him in past episodes, especially the bad boy one, but everything that he did from Uptown Records and then moving on to Motown Records and gave in many ways helped give Puff the blueprint for what he was able to do years later.
[00:10:37] Zack Greenburg: Yeah, absolutely. And, you know, I think Andre had a lot of successes, also had a lot of failures, not necessarily, you know, through his own doing, the time, but definitely somebody who deserves, you know, a hat tip at the very least. And, you know, I'm sure Puff would agree about that too.
[00:10:52] Dan Runcie: Agreed. Agreed. All right. We ready ready to get into it.
[00:10:57] Zack Greenburg: Let's do it.
[00:10:58] Dan Runcie: All right. So in the initial group here, which we're calling the don't overlook their influence group. This is people who are ranked 50 through 41. so in order we have Ethiopia have to Marion at 50. She was the former CEO of Motown. We have Top Dog, co founder and CEO of Top Dog Entertainment. We have Mona Scott Young from her work at Violators and more recently Love Hip Hop. And what she also has done with Hip Hop Homicides and some other multimedia projects. We have T.I. with everything he's done with Grand Hustle and Multimedia. We have Eazy E with Priority Records. Many ways pioneering so much of the stuff we saw.
We have Todd Moskowitz, L. A. Reed, Craig Kalman, former CEO from Atlantic. We have Sylvia Roan and then tied for 40. We have Desiree Perez and Steve Stout. What are your thoughts on that group list?
[00:11:55] Zack Greenburg: Oh, man, I don't know. Maybe we should just pick out a few here and there that we thought were particularly interesting. I mean, you know, I think Ethiopia is a good example of somebody who would be higher up if she were identified, you know, solely as a, you know, as a hip hop mogul, but she's had kind of like a pretty wide reach, you know, especially in R and B, and pop. I mean, some of the stuff she's done with Erykah Badu, NeYo, Stevie Wonder, you know, like over the years, you know, wouldn't be classified as hip hop, but it's worth it nonetheless. just think that, you know, being kind of like in between, in between genres, you know, resulted in her being down a little bit further on the list.
But, you know, somebody who had a tremendous impact. you know, I would also, I would highlight TI here, you know, the self proclaimed King of the South, but, you know, in terms of, I remember the years when, you know, we were putting together the Forbes list and, you know, kind of looking at, you know, kind of regionally who is most important to me.
Yeah, he was sort of like. The Jay Z of the South. And he was really, especially when he was having that moment, you know, getting a lot of songs on, you know, national radio and, kind of being in the public eye, I mean, had a tremendous business focus, you know, he was always interested in sort of like, what's the next thing that I can create?
and you know, that kind of entrepreneurial energy, you know, I think, especially within the context of the South, like taking the blueprint, from guys like Jay Z, you know, I think he certainly deserves a mention. I kind of thought he'd end up higher here, but I guess he's been, not as, especially in the music front lately.
and then I would definitely highlight, Desiree, you know, she's somebody who's been behind the scenes for a really long time, with Jay Z and rock nation, but like. she runs rock nation. And although Jay Z obviously has the final say in things, you know, a lot of things that you see, come out of that camp are, you know, her doing and have her fingerprints all over them.
And I know some of y'all might have seen the Book of Hove exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum or the Brooklyn Public Library that was a Desiree Perez production and, you know, she said that it was like her emptying her 80, 000 square foot storage unit into the library, but, you know, but to have, you know, that kind of, impact at a place like Roc Nation and to help, you know, Jay Z do what he's done, you know, I think those are all worthy, of notation and, you know, I think she deserves her spot there for sure.
[00:14:09] Dan Runcie: Yeah, Desiree is someone that has been working with Jay Z for a while now, and I feel like she deserved a shout out on Jay's verse in Pound Cake, the Drake song. You know where he's like, Dave made millions, Lyor made millions. I feel like Desiree should have gotten a shout out there too, but yeah.
I'm glad that she got mentioned here. Two other names I'll run through quickly. Steve Stout, someone who I thought would have ended up higher, and I know that, you know, it was interesting to see how the results played out, but I do think that one of the best marketers that we've seen come through hip hop.
He was ahead of the curve in a number of ways, dating back to the 90s with seeing the men in black sunglasses and everything that he's done there from his time working with Nas, everything that they've done, whether it was the firm or, him being a record executive himself and then showing as well, how he's able to do it in advertising and bringing a lot of these companies and brands that didn't necessarily align or think about being related with, you know, hip hop culture and those elements to be able to do it.
You look at a company like State Farm and how we now look at what that company has done. And a lot of that is through his work and obviously with what he's done at United Masters. So shout out there and I also do want to give a shout out to Mona Scott Young mentioned her earlier, but she was a right hand to someone who will mention on the list as well coming up soon with everything she did in Violator, this is back when, you know, Q Tip and Busta Rhymes and that whole crew were doing their thing. And then later, I know people have a lot of polarizing opinions about love and hip hop, but if you look at the career opportunities that were created for people that have came through, and the longevity that she's granted, a lot of people that the record industry forgot about that she was able to continue to give opportunities for think about the trick daddies, Trina's and folks like that. I know people hate to see them arguing on camera, but would we have Cardi B where she is today? If it weren't for the platform of love and hip hop, and she's continued to do things with other vocals on the list that we'll get into. So I do want to give a shout out to her
[00:16:08] Zack Greenburg: Yeah, definitely a worthy shout out. And we could probably go on and on about even just like the tent in this bracket here, but I suppose we ought to, we ought to move on to the next room before, before we run
[00:16:19] Dan Runcie: indeed. Yep. So the next group is playing chest, not checkers. So at 39, we have Dave Mays, founder of the source 38. We have Irv Gotti, founder of Murder, Inc. 37, Cardi B 36, Lil Wayne 35, Nipsey Hussle, 34. Steve Rifkin, from Loud Records 33, Missy Elliot. 32 Birder from Cookies, 31 Kevin Lyles and 30 Chris Lighty.
[00:16:47] Zack Greenburg: Oh man, this is a pretty stacked bracket, I must say. I think that, you know, there are a couple of names that stick out to me here. I'm going to go with Nipsey and Berner, because in a funny way, I think, they have like a sort of a similar, a sort of similar strategy, which is like, you have a very clear idea of what it is that you're going to do.
You own it, and then you, you know, you continue to own it like ownership. Was just such an important thing for Nipsey. Such an important thing for Berner. And, you know, interviewing the two of them, I would say, their mindset around ownership was the closest I've ever seen to Jay Z. and they really understood from the beginning that they had to own all their music.
Own all of their branding own, you know, the companies that create on the side and then they can monetize it later. And, you know, with Nipsey rest in peace. I mean, he was just on the cusp of, of kind of like becoming a mainstream superstar, you know, when, his life ended all too soon. So, I think what Berner is doing with cookies is really fascinating like Berner is, you know, you want to talk, lists. I mean, he's in the top five, probably the top four or three at this point, in terms of net worth for actual, hip hop artists. And that's because of the success of cookies and, you know, there's been, a lot of ups and downs in the cannabis business lately, but like the amount of ownership that he has, you know, I think it amounts to about one third still of cookies, which is, you know, a billion dollar brand. When we gets legalized, you know, like he's going to see the fruits of his labor and, that focus on ownership I think is really going to pay off on the longterm.
So I would highlight those two guys, in this tier as the ones that, I think were the most impressive to me. That's not to shade anybody else, but,
[00:18:25] Dan Runcie: Yeah, those two guys are also two of the few people who I see people still wearing their merchandise on a regular basis. Granted, I live in San Francisco. There's a cookie store here. So, I mean, I know there is a local connection for sure, but same with Nipsey Hussle. I mean, sadly, it's now been over 4 years since he passed away, and you still see Crenshaw shirts.
He understood, Nipsey especially, understood exactly where everything's going. And it's just so sad that, you know, it was gone so soon. Two names, I'm going to shout out here. I'm going to shout. I'm going to shout out Cardi B and I want to shout out Chris Lighty. So Cardi B talked about her a little with the Mona Scott young piece, but she's entered and ran her rap career more uniquely than other artists that we've seen at her level have. And I think that speaks a lot to just where the game is now. It's been over six years since Bodak Yellow came out. And it's been over five years now since her debut album. This is someone who hasn't put out a studio album in over five years.
And hasn't gone on tour in a traditional way, but it's still doing her thing. And I think this is one of the things that's unique. She finds interesting ways to monetize herself and to put herself on. She's like, Hey, I can do these private shows and they're going to pay me, you know, 1. 5 million or 3 million just to do a half an hour set.
I'm going to do my thing. I'm going to be there at Super Bowl weekend. I may not be performing at the Super Bowl, but I'm going to go do these private shows for Bob craft or the fanatics event or all these things and collect the checks. it's very interesting to see younger artists to do that Lionel Richie playbook, but she is like, Hey, I don't necessarily have to do that. And even though people always do try to, you know, loop her into the Nicki Minaj versus Cardi B beef, she still has lended her hand and extended it to other young artists, especially women in the game, whether it's Ice Spice and others, whether she's doing it through her talents and others. So she's someone that I hope as she continues on, you know, into her thirties and into her forties can continue to rise up this list.
And then Chris Lighty talked about a little bit with Mona Sky Young, co founder of Violator and everything they're able to do there. Sad that he was taken away so soon, but if you have not heard this yet and if you haven't listened to the podcast, I highly recommend the Mogul podcast series that was done several years ago on it.
It was done by Reggie Yose, who is Combat Jack, who has since passed away as well, but I highly recommend that if you want a full breakdown on everything Chris Leite did. Violator and after that was truly one of the early ones looking at product partnerships and a lot of the things that we see now that are common in hip hop.
[00:21:07] Zack Greenburg: And, you know, if we didn't have Chris Lighty, I don't think we would have had 50 Cent. I mean, at least not to the extent that we have him. you know, I mean, I remember writing my first story about 50 and like for Forbes, maybe 2008 and sitting down with Chris and just kind of like hearing him lay out the plan.
And again, it's the emphasis on ownership, right? you know, Chris Leidy, I think was the one who really pushed, 50 to take the equity in vitamin water and his parent company, rather than just do an endorsement. And, you know, obviously that became a huge, deal and really like a model for so much, not only of hip hop, but like other parts of the entertainment industry, you know, I think Chris definitely deserves a spot, maybe even should be a little higher. and you know, probably also, there's, you know, again, all these folks deserve a shout out, but Kevin Lyles, I think is, got one of the most inspirational stories. you know, it's another person, I think we've both interviewed a bunch of times, but, you know, just his journey from intern to president of Def Jam and I think seven years. And he just did it by working harder than everybody else like he wasn't an artist that got put there because he had some hit, it wasn't some kind of like nepotism deal, you know, he just outworked everybody and, you know, he had the talent and, you know, the horsepower to just like get it done. And to make that journey within seven years. So I think it's, for people who are listening and, you know, want to do something like that with their own career, you know, study Kevin Miles because he was able to make it, without being, you know, some kind of like preternatural, singing talent or something like that he just did it on smarts and work ethic.
[00:22:39] Dan Runcie: And one of the few people that co founded a record label and sold it a decade later for hundreds of millions of dollars, which is what he did 300 as well. Right? So of course, not 300 now underwater, but everything he did with Lyor and Todd, there, is impressive. There's not that many black founders in general. In tech, any sector that have built and exited companies for several hundred, a million dollars, the way that he was able to be a part of that. So, hats off
[00:23:09] Zack Greenburg: yeah, I think it takes a special kind of guts to be able to, you know, I mean, he was a well paid executive with a cushy music job, you know, to leave that world, start your own thing. I mean, I know they had, you know, big backers and everything, but like to take a risk once you've already experienced that level of success and to go out and start something, you know, as opposed to starting something from scratch when you have nothing anyway.
I mean, it, takes a lot of gumption to do that. So, you know, again, yes, a pretty cool second act for Kevin miles.
[00:23:38] Dan Runcie: Indeed, the next group here, our impact runs deep. It is Nicki Will Smith at 28, Swiss beats 27, LL Cool J, 26, Coach K and P, 25, Julie Greenwald, 24. The E40 23, Pharrell 22, and Rick Ross, 21.
[00:24:01] Zack Greenburg: Yeah. I think, that's a pretty strong, deck there. And I think also, you know, here, you find some people who, you could argue should be higher or lower based on, you know, how much of their career was done in the hip hop music world, right? Like Queen Latifah, LL Cool J, Will Smith.
Obviously those are huge crossover acts. but I think they all got a lot of points from some of the voters because, you know, that is in one way, the measure of a mogul, like you're diversifying your portfolio and whether that's by owning different things or, you know, by getting into, different types of performance, you know, on the silver screen, I think that's a viable path too.
but just from like a purely musical entrepreneurial perspective, I would highlight, Swiss Beats and Pharrell, who I think, you know, the two of them are more influential than anybody in terms of like, I'd say Swizz in terms of art and Pharrell in terms of fashion. and you know, some of the things they've done around those two areas and, you know, Pharrell certainly, now with LVMH, but also before with Ice Cream, Billionaire Boys Club, you know, he was very active in starting his own things on the fashion side.
And, you know, kind of inspiring artists to do that. you know, would we have had a Yeezy if we hadn't had Pharrell, you know, doing what he was doing and, you know, and even doing what he did with Adidas? you know, I don't know about that. And, Swiss beads certainly, you know, not only from the art side of things, but you know, it's a really impressive art collection.
I did a story on him a few years ago and, you know, he's got like, Jeff Kuhn sculptures and Basquiat's and Warhol's and his, you know, like in his foyer. I mean, it's, pretty impressive stuff. but the way that he moves behind the scenes, as sort of like a corporate brand whisperer, at places, you know, like Bacardi, Lotus, you know, this goes on, you know, I think he, he's sort of like more quietly
influential than, some folks realize. And, you know, certainly has been earning, on par with, you know, with all the, you know, most of the names, if not higher than most of the names we've mentioned so far. and you know, what he's done on the, both of them, what they've done on the production side, also hard to top.
So that must count for something as well. I kind of went more than one shout out there, didn't I? So
[00:26:06] Dan Runcie: Yeah. No, that was good. That was good.
I'm glad you mentioned the two of them though, because if you didn't, I probably would've called the other one out. The thing about Swiss as well, everything that he's done with versus specifically also embodies this idea and definition of a mogul because he was able to be.
A kingmaker in the sense of creating opportunities for others. He did that through the equity that he was able to give all of those early participants in versus in trailer itself. And then additionally, with the careers that we're able to have a boost because of. everything that happened, with the matchups from versus specifically, you look at someone like Ashanti, who is now doing tours and pop it up every now and then she wasn't doing that before her versus and her battle versus Keisha Cole was one of the not, if not the most watched one that we've had.
You look at Jadakiss and everything that he's been able to do since his epic showdown against, with Lox versus Dipset with that versus you look at Jeezy versus Gucci Mane. I know that versus definitely had its peak popularity during the pandemic, but that kind of stuff that he was able to do with Timbaland, I think also speaks so much to everything that he's been able to do there.
And another person I want to mention to that was in this group as well that I think is similar is LL Cool J because I think similar to the way that. Swiss beets is Ella is also with someone that's been involved with multimedia with everything from the jump. He was the 1st artist to truly breakthrough from Def Jam and did it as a teenager.
So, of course, he gets plenty of shout out for that, but he's also always been trying to find ways to look out for that next generation of artists. And he's been doing some of that more recently with rock the bells, and that's its own. Company and entity now where they have a festival coming up as well to celebrate things that are happening with hip hops anniversary.
So it's been cool to see him do things as well. And I'll give a very brief shout out here to, coach K and P because they, similar to how I mentioned, Kevin Liles were able to build and grow a company and then sell it for, I believe, forget the exact sale price for, quality control. But they were able to do that thanks in part to a lot of the work that Ethiopia had done, helping to give quality control, the platform that it did, and especially in an era where I think it's harder for a record label to have a true brand, they were able to help give it a boost.
[00:28:36] Zack Greenburg: That's true. And on that note of labels, I think Julie Greenwald, there's a mention, you know, she and Craig Kalman, who's mentioned, in an earlier grouping, you know, run Atlantic together. And there's a lot of, of music that we wouldn't have seen if it had been for the two of them, you know, running the show over there.
So, shout out to Julie. I mean, the only one actually we haven't discussed here with E40 and Rick Ross. And I don't know, you know, probably get moving, but, do you think Rick Ross deserves to be number 21 on this entire list? Like ahead of Pharrell, ahead of, you know, some of the other names on here. I was surprised that he was ranked this high.
[00:29:09] Dan Runcie: I love the spicy questions. Cause this is what people wanted to hear the podcast about, right? They wanted to hear one of us, you know, poke the bear a little bit.
If Rick Ross was able to nail that dive in the pool, do you think you would have ranked him higher?
[00:29:21] Zack Greenburg: Ha ha ha ha ha ha. No, no, I wouldn't. I mean, I still know. I mean, you know, like I get it, you know, he's called the boss that he must be a mogul, You know, and, some of the things he's done in terms of, you know, Bel Air and Maybach music and all that. Sure. But like, you know, when you put them up against like some of the other ones, did he really do something new or was he more just like following a, blueprint that had worked for others before and, you know, executing it to a degree success, but like, again, not, you know, not to the level of, let's say Pharrell.
I think maybe I just, I'm salty that he ended up ahead of Pharrell. I think Pharrell is just way more influential and Mowgli, but, I don't know. What do you think?
[00:29:59] Dan Runcie: So, I've read 2 of Ross's books and I interviewed him once on Trapital. I think that, to your point, he did follow the blueprint that we saw from others. I think he is smart about the types of partnerships he does, but it does feel like a ditty light. Type of playbook that he's been able to do and build.
And I do think a lot of it makes sense. He may not necessarily have the large media entities the way that he does. Although I do think he's overdue for some type of comedy show or some type of reality show just following him around because I think he's hilarious. And anytime that he gets that, it could just generate something unique.
And I'm sure he's been hit up about it. I do think that he's done well for himself. Just thinking about. Now, how his career is growing, I think it's been what, 16, 17 years since hustling 1st came out. I think in this range, there is some flexibility there in terms of like, where people are in certain ways.
I get why he may not necessarily be as high. I'm sure if you looked at the net worth or the earnings, that some of the people that are lower than him may actually be higher. I think 1 of the knocks potentially is although Maybach music was cool. I wrote about this in Trapit as well. I think there was a missed opportunity.
And part of that comes from, huh, did Ross do all the things that he probably could have done from a leadership perspective to especially like, when Meek Mill and Wally were beefing and stuff. And I think Ross had a bit more of a laissez faire approach to things, which in some ways is kind of the opposite of King making as we're talking about this, right?
Can we really bring folks together and make something larger than it is. I think it was a bit tough in general for people to try to do everything themselves, try to be the boss of this label, which is signed to a different label because Rick Ross was signed to a different label than MNG was himself. And I think anytime you have that type of dynamic, it's just splitting the leadership interests. So I hear you.
[00:32:00] Zack Greenburg: Yeah. So then how much of a mogul are you, if your label is really, you know, so I guess everybody's labels on somebody else's label and have you distributed by something, but you know, it's like when they're like multiple labels kind of, you know, intertwined with your label, it kind of causes the question.
are you really the boss? If you have several bosses that you're answering to, but you know, I think actually though. in Rick Ross's defense, what he's done with Wingstop, I mean, that is pretty unique and, I don't know that anybody else on this list has something comparable in that space.
So, you know, maybe that's why, I think, you know, by virtue of that, you could put them pretty high up. And maybe that's what some of the judges were thinking, you know, but he also ended up on a lot of lists, you know, so some of the judges just kind of like, maybe we're getting to some of the judges sent rank lists, and they're like, you know, this person is the top and they should get the most points and other people were like, here are my people.
And you can just rank them evenly. and I think Rick Ross ended up on a lot of those lists. So, you know. I think again, maybe like I was alluding to earlier, he's a bit of a compiler, nothing wrong with that, you know, you can get into the hall of fame by compiling 3000 hits, but, it's interesting to see how, how the opinions differ. That's the whole fun of it.
[00:33:06] Dan Runcie: He runs his business is almost like how a small business owner would in a number of ways where he has a bunch of car washes and, you know, his is 1 of the family members does that he has his wing stops, right? He has that. And it is a bit of this, like, mogul dumbness from that perspective in terms of like, okay, I have my hands in these things and I've hired people to have, you know, different roles within that that doesn't necessarily have things in aggregate. It's a bit more of the strip mall mentality as opposed to the, you know, building a skyscraper that could then build other skyscrapers, but it's something worth mentioning, but I hope we keep that up with a few of the other rankings we have coming up as we dig into the top 20, here.
So, yeah, let's start with 20. So, 20, Queen Latifah, I think that she and, Ice Cube, who we'll get into in a minute, were one of the first that noticed, hey, I may not be able to do this rap thing forever, what are areas that I can expand this multimedia empire and everything I'm building.
She was able to do this with Living Single, the show that was Friends before Friends was, and even the way that she was able to show young black people that were having, you know, highly sought after roles, but they still had their interpersonal dynamics. It was cool. It was refreshing. It was aspirational, which I do think that a lot of the black sitcoms were in the 90s.
And she was able to do that, continue finding ways to put other people on as well through the work that she did. She was also willing to take risks. Like I remember when she was in set it off, people had a bunch of questions about, Oh, you're going to play a lesbian in this heist movie. What is this going to do for your career?
And she was willing to do that. And I think she is always, you know, be willing to take risks. So, you know, shout out to her and I'm glad that several people have mentioned her
[00:34:56] Zack Greenburg: Yeah. And I think she gets credit for, like you say, diversifying her portfolio. you know, into the acting world. it's worth noting, you know, she was barely ahead of Rick Ross. but you know, there is a big difference between 21 and 20. It's the top 20. So, again, I think, you know, she was a bit of a compiler, but there were a couple of people who ranked her in the top 10.
and, you know, I think just like in terms of the breadth of her career, you know, the longevity, the diversity of the things that she's gotten into. you know, even if it's not as much ownership as somebody, even like a Rick Ross, it's just like, having your hands in a lot of pies and like that really counts for something as a mogul.
So, I think it makes sense to see you there.
[00:35:36] Dan Runcie: Agreed 19 is Eminem. So let's talk about it. How do we feel about Eminem in 19?
[00:35:43] Zack Greenburg: You know, I think it's a weird one, honestly. you know, there's no doubting, his lyrical prowess and where, you know, where he kind of stacks up as part of like the pantheon of lyricists, like fine. But is he really a mogul? I mean, he's somebody who has been, you know, very reclusive at times.
Who has, you know, kind of gotten in his own way at other times. I mean, I could see ranking him up here though, just by virtue of ownership of the music and sort of like the quality and quantity of his catalog. you know, what he did with D12, you know, he did have shady records and, you know, and all that.
So again, you know, there, there is kind of a layer cake of a label situation, like some of the folks who mentioned earlier across, but, you know, that was at least important to him to set up, you know, as his continued ownership of, You know, his work and, you know, certainly when it comes to like raw commercial prowess, you know, Eminem, is one of the best selling hip hop artists of all time.
If not the best, depending on how you look at it. And just, you know, simply by virtue of the amount of revenue he generated, you know, throughout the late 90s and early aughts at the peak of the sort of CD age there. you know, that deserves, some kind of something, even if he wasn't running around starting his own, you know, side businesses as much as some of these other folks
[00:37:02] Dan Runcie: Best selling artist of the 2000s by a pretty strong amount, I believe, and has the most of any genre, right? And the most streamed song of the 2000s as well, at least on Spotify with Lose Yourself, and I'm pretty sure Till I Collapse and maybe a couple of others aren't too far. Behind as Will Page as Spotify's former chief economist said, anytime Eminem farts or burps or releases anything on a streaming service, it provides a huge bump to everything in this back catalog.
So, I still laugh about that, but I do think that speaks to it there and. If, correct me if I'm wrong, but I think he was one of the first hip hop artists to have a Sirius XM channel himself.
So that's something that's unique and obviously Sirius is still doing its thing. So, shout out to him there. A bit higher than I probably would have ranked him, but that's why it's interesting to get the group results here. Ah, this one's gonna be spicy. Number 18. Your boy, Suge Knight.
[00:38:02] Zack Greenburg: Yeah, you know, I mean, I think this is one of the tougher ones on the entire list. You know, this is not like a list of, Ms. Congeniality or Mr. Congeniality, as you'll see, you know, some of the other names on here. Obviously, you know, Suge is in jail. he's been involved in the death of, you know, human beings that like that is, you know, not sort of like what you're after in a mogul here, but, enough people, you know, I guess felt that the business, if you just, you know, looking at it from a pure business perspective, was enough to put them up here. And, you know, there is no arguing that death row at its peak was one of the most influential record labels, you know, not just in hip hop, but of anything. I mean, any genre, when death row was at its hottest, I don't know any, kind of moment where any other, you know, you'd have to stack that up against peak Motown or, you know, Atlantic or something like that, but, you know, that was really like a, peak moment. So, you know, I think this is one of the things we run into on this list like if somebody exhibits, a level of, you know, sort of business ingenuity, you know, that counts for something and, you know, the other things that you do in your life and your career, you know, we'll detract from that, but, you know, what you did at your peak, I think will get you pretty far in a list like this when people kind of count, you know, we kind of count sort of like the ceiling as opposed to the average, in some cases. So, I don't know. What do you think?
[00:39:27] Dan Runcie: These are the two most impressive business moves that Suge Knight has done. Number two is shaking down Vanilla Ice to get his points for everything that he did on the album that had Ice Ice Baby there. Because he was able to use that money to then start and co found Death Row with Dr. Dre. That's number two.
Number one is at the 1995 Source Awards where he publicly makes his Call to attract Tupac to say, Hey, I know you're in jail, but we're riding with you. Tupac wasn't signed there at the time, but he knew that this was an opportunity. Tupac likely needed somewhere to call a home and he called his shot. He was able to make it happen.
I know everyone talks about the diddy shot about, you know, being all in the video death row. And that, of course, is infamous in its own right. But I think the number one thing that should night did is that that said. those 2 things speak to what should night is, 1, it is that muscle and the prowess of being able to overpower a situation and then take advantage.
And I think those were things that he was good at. That said, I don't think he was necessarily strong as a. Business leader, the company imploded in large part. And I don't think it imploded because of Dr. Dre, it imploded because of all of the things, all the shenanigans. And I think for what he was building, some of that just got a little too close to the sun, unfortunately. And, that's Chuck Knight
[00:40:49] Zack Greenburg: And, I think that, you know, in some of the reporting I've done over the years, One of the things people say is that Shug and a lot of the guys around him, you know, it wasn't that they were necessarily like that. It's just they kind of had been watching too many bad gangster movies and the music business, didn't know what to do with somebody like Suge Knight.
And so the more he kind of like played this role, the more he grew into it to where, to the point where he was actually living sort of a bad gangster movie. and sort of like created, turned himself into a monster. Yeah, so I think like the evolution. or the evolution, of somebody like Suge Knight is sort of fascinating in terms of like what you can, what sort of playing a role can do to you, over the course of time.
[00:41:32] Dan Runcie: Agreed. And well said number 17 here is America's most wanted ice cube. I'll start here to kick things off. I think that Ice Cube, like Queen Latifah mentioned earlier, was one of the early ones who had said that he knew that living and doing everything off a raft wasn't gonna last forever. And I think a lot of it was because he experienced some of the brunt and ugliness of it.
I mean, we've all seen the Straight Outta Compton movie. He goes into Jerry Heller's office. He starts smashing shit. He releases no Vaseline. There was definitely a no fucks given that carried through even after he was done with NWA, but he saw what this industry is like as well and then that's when he starts writing screenplays.
And then that's how Friday because the thing becomes a thing. And then. His career just continues to take off after that he still dabbled in rap and did his thing, but he definitely became known early on for one of the people that took a risk with cube entertainment and everything that he was able to do there.
And with any of the movies that he had, whether it was the movies with Mike Epps and plenty others, I do believe that most of these movies were pretty profitable. And he was able to. Do it work within the confines that he had and just continue to build everything he did from a career. We've seen him expand as well into everything that he's done with the big 3 specifically giving a home for basketball players that can still play, but maybe they can't make, you know, a 13 person NBA roster anymore.
I do think that some of his more recent news highlights that are a bit more politically driven or him walking around with Tucker Carlson and probably take it away from some of the more prominent memories of Hugh Ice Cube is, but yeah, that's why I had had him or that's why he, I think deserves to be, you know, where he is, on the list.
[00:43:27] Zack Greenburg: Yeah. And I think it's interesting, you know, you see, Eminem, Suge Knight, Ice Cube, all together, you know, they're all, inextricably connected to Dr. Dre. one way or the other. Right. and you know, would there, would Dre have been Dre without the three of them? you know, at different phases of his career, you know, I don't know, I mean, I think certainly what, Ice Cube did as part of NWA, you know, I wouldn't say that, that NWA was like.
like a business first organization. But like that wasn't the point of NWA and if it hadn't been for NWA, I don't think you would have been able to have business first organizations come out of hip hop in the way that you did. and certainly, you know, somebody like Dr. Dre, so. I think he gets extra points for that.
and, you know, this is probably why, you know, he was again, I don't know, was he compiler? He was, you know, he had like a lot of kind of middling, a lot of lists, a couple of top 10 votes, you know? So, you know, I think again, everybody has their favorite and he's up there for a lot of folks.
[00:44:27] Dan Runcie: Agreed. Number 16 is Drake. Should we poke the bear again?
[00:44:33] Zack Greenburg: Yeah. Does Drake deserve to be at number 16 on this list?
[00:44:37] Dan Runcie: This one surprised me, I was very surprised at the number of people that had him on the list, because you can make a case for the opposite, right? It's similar to the M and M thing, but almost to the extreme because M and M, yes, most commercially successful artists, XYZ. There's other artists that are less commercially successful at M and M that did more in that mogul definition but for Drake, it's even bigger of a Delta between these two, because here you have the most streamed artists of all time. So clearly commercially successful on its own, but people believe that OVO. Records or OVO sound itself actually could hurt an artist's career. And when you think about that, you think about some of the other multimedia things that he's done.
I know he's been active as an investor and I know that people like Nicki Minaj and others have said, Oh, you know, Drake's a low key billionaire. He just doesn't want you to know it personally. Again, he may be, I mean, I'm not sure what he may not disclose, but it isn't always just about wealth. It's like, what opportunities were you able to create for each other?
I do think it's good. That drink has been able to have different people that have been working alongside that. I think did get a bit of that drink stimulus package. And I think that's something that is quite debated, but I do think that. I feel like 21 Savage has definitely benefited from it. I mean, he was already commercially successful, but for him and Drake to do a joint album together was huge.
I think it was the same way that it was huge for Future and the same way that the Migos going on tour with Drake in 2018 was huge for them and anything else that Drake continues to do from that perspective. So I think it is, you know, debatable, but I mean, people do definitely add some weight to the artists themselves.
[00:46:18] Zack Greenburg: Yeah. And, you know, I think he should be around Eminem and whether they're both too high is an open question, but, you know, there's no doubting the commercial viability of what he's done. He did start more side businesses in Eminem, right? With OVO, whether it's the label, the festival, the clothing line, you know, he started a whiskey brand called Virginia black, which I tried once.
It tasted okay. but I don't think it's selling, you know, I don't know if he's even still doing it. yeah, he is definitely involved as a startup investor, so maybe, you know, we'll see some exits and we start to think of him differently at that point. But, yeah, you know, again, I think it's, some voters just kind of overweighted, you know, musical prowess and pop culture influence.
And if you're talking about that, I, I don't know anybody who's been as influential in the past 15 years. I mean, he's, you know, he's the most streamed artist of all time and that's got to count for something.
[00:47:08] Dan Runcie: Right. I know his cannabis line failed, but there's a lot of people, even people that we'll get to in this list that have also had failed or struggling cannabis
businesses. And, there's a lot that we could discuss there, but moving on number 15 is Sylvia Robinson, the originator.
[00:47:26] Zack Greenburg: I think she deserves to be in the top five, personally. because if there were no Sylvia Robinson, yeah, I mean, I don't know that we have hip hop and, you know, it's, you know, for those who don't know the story, she was running sugar hill records with her husband, Joe sylvia was actually a child star singer herself.
And, you know, they kind of had this like middling existence with their label. And then all of a sudden she's at this birthday party that she didn't even want to go to in Harlem and she sees Lovebug Starsky up on the microphone. A hip hop hippie to the hippie to the hip hip hop. You know, this is early, early seventies.
She's never heard anything like it. All the kids, you know, hands in the air, like you just don't care. And the whole thing. she tries to get Lovebug to sign. There's some kind of dispute, like with his management, never happens. And so she just goes to the pizzeria in New Jersey, finds three kids, get him, gets them to talk real fast over this record is how she described it.
and that's, you know, that's Rapper's Delight. That's the first hip hop song on Wax. That's the first hit. you know, that sort of spawns the whole genre. So, you could certainly argue, that, you know, she, borrowed or she hired, hired people who borrowed or whatever to do this, you know, like the idea that, that the first hip hop, track on wax was like, you know, originated in a pizza shop in New Jersey is really unfortunate cause it started at the Bronx, but like, you know, Sylvia came from Harlem.
She, you know, she, she knew that world. Like, you know, she was part of the music business and, for better or worse, she took hip hop from being, you know, just basically like spoken word in person kind of thing to being, you know, national events. Would it have happened eventually?
Yeah, I think so. But you know, who knows? I mean, it could have taken years longer and if it took years longer, you know, are we going to have the eighties with like run DMC and Def Jam and all that? Like, you know, I don't know. I mean, it, could have taken a lot longer to get off the ground if she hadn't done what she'd done.
And, you know, I don't think we, I don't think we should really be dinging Sylvia Robinson for her Machiavellian tactics, given some of the other people on this list, you know, we're talking like Suge Knight and whoever else, you know, there's quite nefarious characters, you know, as we get higher up too in this list.
So, you know, I don't think anything she did was. remotely as bad as, as like a lot of the dudes on this list. and, you know, so, you know, let's, I think we give her her due and yeah, I would definitely put her higher, but, you know, I think that's part of the deal when, when you have somebody who's that early on.
You know, people are going to say, Oh, well, you know, the total gross is not quite as much as so and so or whatever the case may be. And she wasn't as famous as some of the artists. So, but you know, she's up there, I mean, ahead of some pretty big names, Drake, Eminem, what have you. So, I think she's getting some flowers here
[00:50:00] Dan Runcie: The total gross knock is always one that makes me roll my eyes a bit because even if you take out the inflation aspect and the amount of money that's now in the industry, this is something that happens with pioneers in any type of industry. They are the ones that take the early hits to make it possible.
She and her work is what made it possible for rappers to like, she and her workers have made it possible for the message and anything else that we then see after that. Yes. Sugar Hill. records did have its struggles, afterward, like many other labels. But what do you think about broader context of the eighties being a very tough time in general for black music?
And there were only a certain number of decision makers in power that could make that happen. Yeah. You have to take that into account. And then additionally, she did stuff outside of even just this record label itself. As you mentioned, she was a recording artist herself. She also owned a nightclub. So there were other mogul type things that she had her hands.
And so shout out to Sylvia, who knows where this would be without her.
[00:51:00] Zack Greenburg: And probably worth caveating also that, you know, she did have some, Disputes over paying artists, as the years went on. So did like really a lot of people on this list is we could do like a whole separate, you know, like has some kind of dispute on how they pay artists. So, you know, that, that's probably worth noting too, but yeah, I mean, so does everybody else.
And, you know, I think she deserves her flowers.
[00:51:22] Dan Runcie: Number 14, Dame Dash,
[00:51:25] Zack Greenburg: Another, another hot one coming in. I mean, I think a lot of people would disagree with this, but you know, some people would put them even higher. I mean, I think he might be the most polarizing name on this entire list. Like some people had on top five, you know, some people didn't list them at all.
you know, I think it kind of comes in. We've had this conversation before. Would there be a Jay Z without a Damon Dash? you know, I mean, I think so, but it's that part of the, you know, we've talked about him in the context of startups and do you, you know, you need a different kind of founder for your like pre seed days than you do for your series B.
you know, if you're like a mafia, family, you need like a wartime Don, you know, versus like a peacetime Don or whatever it's called. But like, you know, I think, Dame Dash is a wartime Don. He's a seed stage startup founder. and he does it fair as well. You know, when it comes to like the growth stage and the corporate boardrooms and stuff, but, you know, there's no denying his brilliance.
you know, I think what he did, you know, certainly with rock aware, you know, expanding, the Roc-A-Fella empire beyond music. you know, maybe he realized that Jay was eventually going to leave and that they just, it wasn't going to be forever. And so he wanted to get his hands into, you know, as many different areas as he could, but, you know, there's like a lot of pro and a fair bit of con, but, you know, I think again, he's one who, you know, the pro outweighed the con, he didn't kill anybody, you know, so there's some people on here who did.
yeah, the con is only like so much con in my opinion.
[00:52:56] Dan Runcie: This conversation makes me think about, that backstage documentary that. Roc-A-Fella had put out after the hard knock life tour. And there's that infamous scene of Dave dash yelling and swearing at Kevin Lyles, who was at Def Jam at the time about the jackets and where what logo was supposed to be, or something other than that.
And thinking about that in context now of like, you know, how we talked about Kevin Lyles and everything he was able to do from that run and still can continue to do. And with where Dame Dash is, is in his career, Dame Dash doing his thing. I think he very much lived through and practice and preach the ownership standards that worked for him, where he has Dame Dash Studios, Dame Dash this, and he's been able to.
Create exactly what he wanted to. We heard him on that infamous 2015 breakfast club interview where he's yelling at DJ Envy and Charlemagne about, Oh, well, if your son wants a job, can you get him a job here at power 105 or whatever? No. Well, I can do him at where I'm at. And as comic as the delivery was, there is some aspect of mogul dumb.
That is a bit of that King making aspect of, okay, can you create opportunities for others around you? What those opportunities look like definitely vary. And I think that is a factor. So I do highlight that is something that Dame is able to do. And Dave is also similar to he's similar to a polarizing basketball player in the sense that the media may look and be like, why do you all fuck with this guy?
Like, what's going on? But if you ask the people that are actually in it, a lot of that would be like, oh, well, you got to look at Dame dash, Dame dash is the guy. And when I have. Interviewed. I'm sure you've interviewed and talked to many of young artists, too, or young label executives, too. A lot of them will reference Dave Dash.
A lot of them will look at what he was able to do alongside Roc-A-Fella, almost in the same way that, you know, players will swear by Kyrie or swear by James Harden or some other type of athlete that may be polarizing in their own right. And the media is like, Oh, why do you all like this guy? And it's like, Oh, well, no, you don't understand.
So there's something about. The people, and obviously I say that being self aware is us as people more so on the media side, as opposed to being in it themselves. But there's something about these young artists and moguls as well that have always looked up and respected what Dame has built. And even though it may not resonate, like, personally, I acknowledge that.
[00:55:23] Zack Greenburg: I would say, if you're going to make a basketball reference, Maybe not personality, but like basketball style, I'd almost liken him to Carmelo Anthony, you know, like he's an isolationist. He's a scorer, like, you know, he may not be very good at distributing the basketball, but like, you know, you throw him the ball in the corner and he's going to find a way to get it in.
And, You know, like a lot of people wouldn't think that he belongs in the Hall of Fame at all, you know, but some people would, be insistent on it. So, you know, yeah, I think that sort of like singular focus, you know, you could definitely give him credit for that,
[00:55:55] Dan Runcie: Agreed. Number 13, we are Cohen.
[00:55:58] Zack Greenburg: man, another like bulldozer of a human being, but, you know, certainly somebody who, you know, maybe he has also got the finger roll, you know, like he, he can have a light touch when needed. you know, I think just like in terms of longevity, we talk about longevity with some of the names on this list, you know, Leroy was there in the very beginning of hip hop, you know, managing rappers, and it gives the road manager run DMC, taking the leadership role, running Def Jam and Warner, starting 300.
Now, you know, YouTube's head of music, you know, the number of careers that he's touched over the years. From, you know, whatever hip hop pioneers you want to mention. I mean, you know, talking about LL Cool J, Run D. M. C., Beastie Boys. you know, to like later on with, you know, Jay, and then, you know, more recently, like whose career doesn't he touch, at YouTube? you know, I think he's a hard one to argue with. I mean, you know, I think though that, I like this basketball analogy though. You're like, he might be more of a Scottie Pippen because he's always been like, you know, there's almost always somebody else, Who he's working with, who is like higher up on this list than he is, you know, and we can get to some of those names in a bit, but, I guess now that he's at YouTube, he really is running the show.
but he can score, he can make the assists. you know, get these rebounds, get the triple double. I think Lyor is a, definitely deserves a spot up here.
[00:57:18] Dan Runcie: Yeah, the do it for what? 4 plus decades. Now, if we're looking back to us, well, almost 4 decades, if we're looking at it in total, but impressive each step of the way. And there is something admirable. I think about the no fucks given mentality and perspective of just how he's been able to do things. And I do think that a lot of hip hop executives over time have been criticized for not thinking about efficiency and things like that enough.
And I do think that we, or was 1 of them who probably lead a bit more into that. And regardless of who it was, willing to call someone out about it. I think back to, there was this interview that he had done with Young Thug a couple years ago. And, this is back when Lyor was at 300 and Thug, they were talking about the process.
And he says to Thug, he's like, why don't you spend more time on your music? You have these like little songs that you just like, leave like little orphans. Like, why don't you like actually grow and nurture them? And it's back and forth where Thug's trying to be like, Oh, he doesn't understand it. You know, you got to just drop frequently the audience.
That's what they want to hear. So it was very much an interesting dichotomy of just seeing where things are of the streaming era, but I think that highlighted that even when thug was peak, like, everyone was like, oh, yeah, thug is the next 1 up. He was still like, hey, no, like, you need to do better. So there was something interesting about that.
And that. Even I think his mission as well with YouTube, like I think before he got there with YouTube, YouTube was often seen as such the enemy of the music industry in some ways, the same way that any other type of distributor is. And he's took it upon his badge to be like, no, I don't only want to be a friend to YouTube.
I want to be the number one. Source of revenue for the music industry. So really working to just change the narrative, both from a positioning perspective, but also everything there, I think has been a cool additional chapter in his career. Because I think a lot of the people that we have maybe named on this list that were big in the 80s or 90s, but are kind of on the list for legacy reasons like, we are still doing it.
[00:59:09] Zack Greenburg: Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. all right. Who do we got next? I think,
[00:59:12] Dan Runcie: 12, we got Jimmy Iovine.
[00:59:15] Zack Greenburg: That's interesting. I thought he would be higher. I think we both had him higher but you know, maybe I think sometimes, yeah, again, he's another one where when you have like such a broad portfolio of work and some of it is not in hip hop, then, you know, people don't necessarily consider you for a list like this.
So. you know, I mean, here's a guy who had experience with U2 and, you know, all these great rockers and, you know, he ended up at Apple. so I think maybe he got dinged a little bit for that, but you know, there's no doubting his impact, from Interscope to Beats, you know, certainly there's no Dre on the commercial side, without Jimmy.
And, you know, I think his ability to see, you know, there's this, famous. He and Dre have been walking down the beach in Malibu or wherever. and Dre's like, you know, I've got this new deal. somebody wants me to make sneakers. And Jimmy's like, F sneakers. Let's make speakers. you know, that was the birth of, Beats, or at least that's how I was told, but you could kind of see him saying that, right.
he always had that vision for not just creating. a new product, but an entirely new category. And that's what they did with beats. And I think that alone, you know, I mean, that's like, I think the single biggest hip hop business deal, 3 billion, selling to Apple. I think that should probably get him a little higher.
you know, maybe not top five, but I think we both put them higher than 12.
[01:00:38] Dan Runcie: Yeah, agreed. Yeah, nothing else to add there. I thought he would have been on the top 10, but yeah, it's always interesting to see how these things play out. Number 11, Jay Prince, Rap A Lot Records, another interesting one to see where he ended up on this list.
[01:00:54] Zack Greenburg: Yeah. I mean, he's sort of a sleeper pick, like hip hop heads, would know Jay Prince, but I don't know, you know, And certainly like most of the people we've mentioned are more well known from the pop culture standpoint. But I guess if you look at our judges, it's very hip hop industry specific. So, you know, specifics of, you know, I think Jay Prince is like, he's sort of like, you know, you talk about the rapper's rapper, he's like the hip hop moguls, hip hop mogul.
And I think, and again, it's reflected in the judges, like, you know, some people didn't have him on his list, but he got a ton of top 10 votes, you know, across the board. So, yeah, I think that, that propelled him is like, if you know, you know, you know, his significance to the genre.
[01:01:33] Dan Runcie: And even the artists rising now, you always hear that there's some connection to J Prince, which gives you an idea of the tentacles that he has right? When Drake is like, Oh, I decided not to come back and push a tee after what he said, because J Prince said I shouldn't. And you're like, okay, J Prince really is in this.
You hear about Meg the Stallion and just her coming up as a Houston rapper mentioning J Prince the way that she does. He's stayed in it. And for someone that hasn't touched a mic, he definitely is one of the highest people on this list that hasn't touched a mic.
[01:02:06] Zack Greenburg: I think he is the second highest sort of, well, we can
[01:02:13] Dan Runcie: Yeah, we could get into that. Yeah. so now we're into the top 10, number 10, SNOP Snoop Dogg.
[01:02:22] Zack Greenburg: I think this is a great place for Snoop. I mean, you know, he's certainly, You know, if you ask people like Snoop Dogg, artist or businessman, people would probably say artist first, but, he really does have a tremendous business sense. And, you know, in terms of like the raw, total of endorsement deals done, startup investments made, you know, like he is out there, with his brand.
And, you know, I think more than just about anybody else on this list and, you know, not in stupid ways, like he's very thoughtful about it. You know, and I think this whole like Martha Stewart, you know, bromance, whatever you want to call it, has been like hilarious and wonderful for his brand, but you know, you see him endorsing everything like Skechers and you know, he's in, in all these spots.
And, I think what he's doing Casa Verde, you know, that's just his vehicle to invest in cannabis is like very on point. He understands his brand. and you know, he understands ownership, but he also understands how to make money. And he's doing a little bit of both. So I think above all with Snoop, what is the most impressive is how he's transitioned from, you know, who he was at the beginning of his career to who he is now.
I mean, this is a guy who was, you know. On trial for murder. Like, you know, like this is quite a ways to go from there to being piling around with Martha Stewart. you know, I think she ultimately was the one who did the time, but like, you know, you know, just to have like. That kind of 180 for your personal brand, speaks to his brilliance in marketing.
and I think, you know, like he might be more emblematic than anybody in hip hop of how hip hop was able to transition from where it was in the 90s and the east coast, west coast thing to today and, tying up with corporate America. and you know, it's a pretty remarkable feat. So yeah, I think, he definitely deserves a spot in the top
[01:04:13] Dan Runcie: The man literally went from being the reason why Time Warner wanted nothing to do with its Interscope investment and being on the cover of a Newsweek in this like borderline mugshot photo of being like, Oh, this is what's wrong with hip hop to now being the emblematic brand whisperer. And yeah. On the covers with someone who actually did serve jail time, Martha Stewart, incredible.
Yeah. Incredible. Number 9, this one's interesting. So number 9 is Nas. He made it to the top 10 and I'm glad that Nas is on this list. Of course, legendary MC, very influential with everything he's done from an investing perspective and what he's been able to do as well with other types of partnerships, helping to revive the mass appeal brand as well.
I don't know if I've necessarily seen as much of the king making or as much of the, oh, I was able to put X and Y other person on in that same type of way, but I do respect that a lot of people had him on here and they likely do, you know, see him as inspiration in that way. But yeah, what are your thoughts?
[01:05:19] Zack Greenburg: I think with Nas, it all comes down to the startup investing and, you know, of anybody on this list, I think he is the most influential when it comes to hip hop and Silicon Valley and the relationship that he had with Ben Horowitz or it has, you know, basically they connected over a shared love of barbecue and hip hop.
I think Steve Stapp put them together. You know, it turned him from somebody who would never be considered for a list like this as recently as, you know, probably 10, 15 years ago, probably even 10 years ago, we wouldn't have had him on this list, to being top 10. And, you know, Nas was always the guy who he was the rapper's rapper, you know, he cared about the music, not the money.
And, you know, but I think, you know, thanks to Anthony Sala, who he worked with, you know, continues to work with, sort of a startup whisper for him. he was able to accumulate stakes in some of, you know, most influential startups out there. I mean, I think he was in early in Lyft, Coinbase, a whole bunch of others.
So, you know, Nas, to me, like, you could probably argue at this point, Jay Z may have a bigger portfolio. Jay Z may have overtaken everybody as sort of like the primary Silicon Valley a force among hip hop's royalty, but, you know, Nas was the one who really kind of showed the way. and the amount that he's done in a relatively short period of time, I think, you know, it's super impressive.
And, you know, when you talk about who did something different on this list, he did, that's something very different. so props to NOS for that.
[01:06:43] Dan Runcie: Agreed. Number 8 here is another interesting 1 to talk about is Kanye West. Kanye West famously rose up a lot of these net worth and, Highest earner list because of the success he had in fashion specifically with Adidas and his partnership with his brand Yeezy and arguably having the next most successful brand next to Jordan in terms of a single person being able to whether it's an athlete or entertainer being able to have.
A shoe and will look like a shoe franchise that was going to live on. Unfortunately, we've clearly seen that implode and the implosion a bit. Unfortunately, I do think is maybe part of the reason why someone like yay may not be even higher on this list is because being a mogul. Is something about, like, we've talked about before the ability to have the influence to be able to put the pieces in particular areas.
And for someone like yay to then go and make anti Semitic remarks, condone hate speech, promote hate speech. And you see all that crumbling down. One, of course, you mentioned that there's many people on this list that have done disgraceful things. But of course, we're hiding that calling that out here. But two, you just see how much that impact and it really destroyed so much of what has been able to build that shows some weakness in the quote unquote mogul foundation aspect of things.
And I know that he was able to create opportunities for others through good music. I think most famously, we look at Pusha T and everything Pusha T was able to do in his career after the, my beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy album, and then becoming president of good music, I think. He's able to do that.
Some of the early co signs with Travis Scott and others, I think, you know, work to, Yeezy's advantage as well. I think we've still yet to see that infamous Donda org chart with all of the various things that Yeezy wants to build come to life. If he is able to build that at some point, then would happily rank him higher on a list like this.
But that's where I'm at with Ye on the mogul list.
[01:08:47] Zack Greenburg: Yeah. And I think like with, you know, a lot of other names on this list, it's sort of like, what was your ceiling? and you've got a lot of points for that. But then you get points taken off for, you know, for, sort of bad things you did or, or maybe not the things you, bad things you did from a personal level.
Cause a lot of people are still high up anyway, but at least from a business perspective, I mean. You know, yeah, he was, at one point the wealthiest hip hop artist in history. I think also the wealthiest musician of any genre, maybe the wealthiest entertainer, depending on how you count that.
but he also destroyed, like overnight the largest fortune in, hip hop history, at least to that point, with what he was doing. And, you know, you can talk about mental illness and that's, you know, very real, situation for him, unfortunately. But like, at the end of the day, you know, there's no condoning, the kind of stuff that he was saying and promoting and, you know, really having an effect.
And you could see in some of the statistics out there, you know, hate crimes, especially against Jews have been up, you know, over the past year or so. And there's a lot of other factors going into that, but like, you can't be contributing to that kind of thing. so, yeah, I think you know, if that hadn't happened, you know, I think he would have made it into the top five for sure.
and it's worth noting that, you know, he got, like, probably like a half dozen top five votes anyway. A lot of people left him off, you know, I don't know, I was bouncing all over where I would put him, but, I think you have to kind of consider not just what he created, but what he tore down.
And so, yeah, he should be on this list, you know, he created probably with maybe the exception of beats, the most valuable brand to come out of hip hop and Yeezy. But then he also tore it down. So, you know, that's what this list is about. you get to have these debates.
[01:10:20] Dan Runcie: Agreed. Agreed. Number seven, someone I'm excited to talk about 50 cent . 50, I mean, where do you even start? I think there's a few things 1, of course, you could talk about the rap career and how he was able to use shock value to his advantage with songs like how to rob and how that continue to be a through line with this career, starting all the beef with the murdering camp and everyone else there.
But I think that same mentality work to his advantage as a businessman to we have both talked to broken down the deal that he did with vitamin water and for hip hop, that was 1 of the 1st of its kind that we saw. That was really dope to see. He continued to do plenty of other business ventures, be involved with things, but I think what's kept him in the mix, especially the past decade or so is what he's been able to do on the multimedia side.
He has been single handedly. In many ways, carrying one of the legacy streaming platforms out there with stars. I was listening to a podcast that talked about how power and all of the various power books and chapters are responsible for 25% of the demand on that platform. And that, of course, that number came through parody analytics, so it doesn't exactly reflect on viewership, but when you look at how he was able to just continue that in an era where I think it's hard to create shows like that, that last, we obviously saw shows like Empire come and go and others, but he's still at it and it's been impressive to see how he's continued to that.
And especially with the type of people that acted in power, that's a bit of that. Yeah. Making aspect where you're creating opportunities for other artists, whether it's, you know, having Mary J Blige in there or having different folks like that. So, I do think as much as he still is the same 50 will still cloud will still do jokes.
We saw him courtside, the NBA playoffs of the Sacramento playoff, or the Sacramento Kings game because his alcohol company has a partnership with the Sacramento Kings. And I believe he also has one with the Houston Rockets too. So it's good to see that even 16 years after one of the most influential exits in hip hop, 50 is still doing his thing.
[01:12:25] Zack Greenburg: Yeah, for sure. And I think, it also goes back to ownership like so many of these cases, right when he got that deal, you know, his first record deal, he always says he went out and he took, you know, his first million dollars and went and, you know, registered all the trademarks for G unit and all these different things that he was going to do with it. and you know, he built a brand that was bigger than just 50 cent, right? He built a lot of brands that are bigger than just 50 cent. And I think what he did with vitamin water, I know we talked about it in the context of Chris Lighty, that set the blueprint, you know, not just for hip hop, but, you know, for the entertainment business on the whole, I remember I was doing a cover story on Ashton Kutcher for Forbes, you know, five, 10 years ago about his startup, sort of investing career. And, you know, he's Ashton Kutcher is probably like the most, successful entertainer investing in startups in terms of like successes and breadth and depth and all that. And I asked him why he started and he said, you know, I saw 50 cents deal. I, you know, I saw the vitamin water thing come through and I had just done like a Kodak film thing and, you know, for cash.
And I was like, man, what am I doing? I got to get in on these startups. So, you know, 50 really inspired Ashton Kutcher to go do the startup thing, which then I think led to the whole entertainment industry getting involved in the startup thing. and, you know, came back around to Nas and eventually Jay.
So, I think that, you know, what he did all the way back in when it was like two, 2006, 2007, that kind of set the mark, for others to follow and was, you know, new and interesting. I mean, Nas did it differently, right? Nas was more about being an actual VC at 50 cents on one deal that he thought was pretty cool and he was into the equity side of it, but yeah, I think that's, you know, that is definitely a trailblazing maneuver.
And even if he doesn't do anything else ever again, I think, you know. he's a rightful claim to the spot.
[01:14:09] Dan Runcie: Agreed . Number 6 on the list is Master P. he's another 1 that has continued to live on from a legacy perspective in terms of the young record label executives, the young artists, who are they modeling themselves after? Who do they want to do? And so many of them reference that late 90s, no limit run the ownership and how Master P.
As many other record label executives worth the time, which we'll get into, but how he was able to navigate things and just the feeling of branding marketing and all of the different areas that he's been able to have his hand into and multimedia in product sales. He gets his product app distribution and Walmart and other stores like that.
So it's been interesting and I think good to see him in the mix with things. He's always one of those names that comes up with, oh, there's this big brand for sale, whether it's Reebok or this sports team or this multimedia thing. He's always been in the mix with those, areas as well. So it's good to see him get representation on the list too.
[01:15:08] Zack Greenburg: Yeah. And I think just in terms of taking, you know, what had been sort of a regional label, in making it national and, sort of getting the kind of deal that he got. I think that's at the bar for a lot of deals to come and, you know, and that, that counts for a ton and, you know, getting involved into all kinds of different things that, you know, you may not even know until you like really take a close look at it, diversifying your portfolio, you know, as a businessman.
I mean, I think he's as good at, example of that as anybody.
[01:15:37] Dan Runcie: Agreed now we're in the top 5. This is where things get interesting. this 1st, 1, got a big exhale before this 1, co founder of death jam himself. Russell Simmons, where do we start?
[01:15:51] Zack Greenburg: Well, you know, I think it's instructive to look through. the different votes here. I mean, well, a lot of people left him out, but you know, a lot of people even emailed caveats to me, like, look, I hate to put him on here, you know, but his impact is undeniable. And he got a bunch of first place votes actually, but I think enough people left him off entirely that, you know, it averaged out to him being, and he was, it's pretty clear that he's in fifth on this list. It's not particularly close in either direction. but yeah, again, you talk about blueprints, right?
Creating Def Jam, like sort of the iconic hip hop record label. And, you know, before all these artists that came along starting their own labels, you know, took a cue from Russell. all the artists that saw him create Fat Farm took a cue in creating clothing lines. And, you know, as time went on and he started getting into all these other different parts of the entertainment world, you know, I think that was something that other artists thought as well, but it's hard to name an artist whose career he's not touched, you know, of the legends that have been around for a couple of decades, you know, especially some of the names that we're going to get to in a minute. So, you know, obviously, can't discount, everything he's done, on the negative side, you know, certainly we've all seen the headlines, but, you know, his impact on the business remains, so significant that a lot of these people, the other voters put them on top and, you know, it's hard to argue his business influence.
[01:17:11] Dan Runcie: You can't tell the story of hip hop without including him. You also can't mention him in good practice without acknowledging everything, the good and the bad. One other thing I'll say on the good side was leaning into reality TV shows and things like that early with whether it was, you know, having his family involved with different things on TV, and things like that. I think we were able to see him continue to put himself on with their right. It's like, of course, obviously, as anyone knows, you know, his brothers in run DMC, see the whole family. And then you obviously have even wasn't it like Angela Simmons now, you know, is been able to build her own career as a business woman herself in large part.
Thanks to the platform that Russell Simmons was able to build there. So, yeah, I'm glad that he was on the list. I'm also glad we're able to have a full conversation about it. Yeah. Number four, top four is this is where we get into the famous Mount Rushmore, everyone always asks the question. Number four is a combination, but it's for good reason. It's Birdman and Slim, the co founders and leaders of Cash Money Records.
[01:18:17] Zack Greenburg: Yeah. I mean, I think, you know, we didn't really specify, whether or not you could put people together or not, but so many voters ranked them together. and they're really inextricable. I mean, they are of course, brothers and co founders of cash money. So, it only seemed appropriate to do that.
we only did that in one other case, but, you know, but here it made sense, you know, Birdman and Slim, you know, fire and ice, I mean, thunder and lightning, you know, that that's kind of their MO in cash money and, you know, you and I have talked about their dynamic a lot over the years, but, you know, I think similar to master P and taking what had been a regional label in cash money and, you know, extracting this incredible distribution deal from universal getting this huge advance, you know, in the 90s getting, it was $30 million, you know, even in, those days, you know, with inflation would have been, you know, probably at least double that at this point. Plus the ability to own everything going forward and then just their continued ability to stay, you know, you would talk about ownership throughout this list, I mean, those guys have managed maintain control of their catalog and, you know, through some, let's say there have been some disputes as to whether or not they held onto too much of it without distributing it fairly to their artists. But,
[01:19:30] Dan Runcie: generous way to put it.
[01:19:32] Zack Greenburg: You know, yeah, yeah, we could say, but, I think just the endurance cash money, you know, from the early days and hot boys and little Wayne, you know, coming through to like Drake, Nikki, Wayne, and you know, even if they never put out another hit, they're going to have that catalog to sit back on throwing off like double digit millions every year.
So, you know, it's interesting. I mean, I wonder what would have happened if they had sold their label at the peak of the catalog boom a couple of years ago when interest rates were so low. I mean, I think they could have gotten, I mean, I don't know, hundreds of millions of dollars for sure, maybe half a billion.
I mean, when you look at some of the numbers being thrown around. Yeah, I don't know about these days, now that things have cooled off a little bit on that front, but there's no denying their influence on the music and the ownership of the music. And you know, they certainly diversified. I think didn't Birdman own like gas stations or oil rigs or something for a hot minute there, but you know, I think it comes down to like, what's a mogul, you know, like a music mogul, a hip hop mogul, you know, for them to have launched and continue to own one of the most successful labels of all time, you know, and to have given so many other people on this list, the platform to start what they did, you know, and then they were pretty clearly ahead of Russell, which is interesting to me. and I think that's probably an effect of some people leaving Russell off, but there's no denying what Birdman and Slim did for the genre. And so, there they are, although some artists might, not be so happy and, you know, understandably.
[01:20:53] Dan Runcie: Yeah, I think part of the reason why they may be ahead of Russell in that way is because there's that ownership piece that goes back to it, right? I think we talked about it when we talked about, whether it was Def Jam or one of the other pods that we did, where the fact that Def Jam isn't necessarily owned by its co founders in the same way, but Cash Money is I think made a big of a difference there.
And I think With Birdman and slim as well, even if, let's say, there wasn't a whole 2nd chapter of the cash money story like, even if we didn't see the young money to then Drake and Nikki side of it, it's like those, even if you separated those would be 2 ownership stories. In themselves that would have had placement in this list of maybe high up.
You clearly saw Master P on this list where a lot of the recognition for Master P was things that he did in that early phase that Cash Money was able to as well. And then you have this whole run from 2007 up until 2018 because that was the last Drake album that came out under Cash Money. So the two hall of fame careers in themselves, it's almost similar to how Tom Brady, it's like, even if you look at everything that he did, you know, the 1st, 3rd of his career, then like the 2nd, 3rd, and like the 3rd, like they're all hall of fame careers in their own, right?
[01:22:14] Zack Greenburg: Yeah. I mean, and it's interesting too, when you look at sort of the totals of the votes, I mean, some of them, you know, there may be a couple of places in between artists, but there's only, you know, a few votes here, they're separating them. But the voters like really made it clear like there's a obvious top 10 and even within that, you know, the, top six are pretty clear. And then we're about to get into another really clear, the tippy top tier, the top three. So, you know, the voters made their voices known, in a unified sort of way.
[01:22:41] Dan Runcie: Agreed. So, yeah, let's get into it. The top 3 was pretty clear. People are probably know the names are probably just wondering what order. So, number 3 is Puff, Did
[01:22:50] Zack Greenburg: Can't argue with that. Although he might argue with it. I think, you know, between, Number two and three, it was actually extremely close in vote totals. And, you know, Puff is interesting case like he's on almost every list. but fascinating to me, nobody put him number one, like a lot of people put him number two, like four or five people, but a number two, nobody put him number one.
but you know, we've talked about how so many times on this list and on the, you know, podcast, shouldn't be surprised to listeners. That he's up there, but you know, to run through the accomplishments, I mean, to start off, you know, as an intern at Uptown, get fired and, you know, start from scratch basically in your early twenties and to build bad boy.
And then off of bad boy, you know, Sean, John and, Ciroc and all the other side brands he's built. I mean, he's a billionaire. I think one of only two current billionaires on this list, although there was a near billionaire and a previous billionaire. But, the longevity, you know, just, just like the sort of like single handedly not single handedly, but really like in some cases, it seemed like he was pulling hip hop up with him into the mainstream, throughout the late 90s and in a time when, you know, the sort of after the Bad Boy, death row feud. you know, we talked about Snoop Dogg and how he was able to get what he did. I mean, it's just as compelling. I think a story, what Puffy did at being so intimately involved in that and so quickly becoming, you know, in the late 90s, arguably the biggest star in the world, and then becoming this incredible, you know, executive first executive, you know, not so much of an artist, but really a businessman first and foremost, over the past, you know, a couple of decades.
It just speaks to him. I like to say Puff is sort of like, he is Richard Branson, if Richard Branson just like happened to rap a little bit, you know, he's a businessman through and through, who happens to have some, you know, artistic ability and you could argue, you know, I would say more on the production side than on the lyrical side, but like, there's no denying data as a mogul if you look him up, you know, yeah, he's gotta be on the Rushmore, Mount Rushmore of any, hip hop mogul list.
[01:24:47] Dan Runcie: He has a track record. He has the businesses. The whole thing from the beginning, selling a lifestyle. He learned that as an intern, did it with music, did it in fashion, did it in spirits and he's continued to find ways. And like anyone has had businesses that have succeeded businesses that haven't, but that guy's never going to give up and it's really cool to see people like him and others on this list. Most of the people that made it this far on the list are at least 50 years old or higher. And I don't think that's a coincidence. There's something to be said for the longevity, but I also expect these people, if they're still alive to still be making moves in their seventies, the same way that you see granted hip hop itself is only 50 years old.
So you just don't see as much of the longevity there yet, but the same way that. We still see Charlie Munger and Warren Buffett in their 90s still being active players. If these hip hop moguls live as long as they do, hopefully we'll be able to see that too. And I think he's one of them that whatever the circumstances are, we'll always have some hand in the mix.
And that's something that's always admirable about Puff.
Number two, Dr. I mean, where do you start? You could start with the co founding of Death Row. He clearly learned a lot of the good things that came from Death Row because he was able to then start Aftermath and then create the platform to find Eminem, to then find 50 Cent, two of the most commercially successful artists that we've ever seen in hip hop.
And then all that's before Beats by Dre, as we've discussed. On separate conversations, and even in this 1, the most successful hip hop or the largest hip hop business, deal that we've seen and everything that he's just continued to do throughout. I feel is so special. This is a mogul related, but it was so special just to see the Super Bowl performance that it sounds like he had a big hand and just making sure everything was able to work the way that it did.
And he got help in many ways with some of that. We're going to get into at the top of the list, but it was really cool to just see everything. And in many ways, it felt like a culmination of everything dre has built in his career.
[01:26:55] Zack Greenburg: Yeah. And I think with Dre, it's always quality, not quantity, right? Whether it's bringing up artists, you know, that he's not going to co sign too many of them. But when he does, it's going to be Kendrick or 50 or Eminem. you know, he's not going to create too many products, but when he does, it's going to be beats, right? and you know, he's not going to perform that much, but when he does, it'll be like the halftime show, it'll be the Tupac hologram situation. you know, he is like the mad scientist sort of ethos going on that he sometimes alludes to. you know, he just goes and works and works and works and works and works and gets it perfect and then puts it out in the world and it might take decades. I mean, how many albums, three studio albums, really like three solo albums in his entire career. So like that's Dre. And I think it's interesting, you know, Diddy, is more trial and error. I think, he's out there, like he's willing to let the world see him fail, you know, and see him succeed. And I think Diddy certainly has more successes than Dre, but he has more failures, at least publicly. And, you know, just the idea, I mean, I guess it kind of comes down to beats versus Ciroc. I mean, beats, being, I think more influential at the end of the day in, in creating a category, you know, than just a product.
I think Ciroc, it wasn't a category. He did something different with spirits. He kind of like turned vodka into champagne. It's not even really vodka, which is a whole other story, but, whatever it is, he turned it into champagne. And like this could be the art of celebration and all of that, you know, it'll be interesting to see what did he does now, you know, given the state of affairs of Ciroc, but anyway, I mean, back to Dre, you know, again, just like the breadth, the longevity from where he was to where he is, you know, and I think also, looking at Nas, right?
Nas did most of what he did in the past 10 years, Dre, you know, from the beginning of Beats about 15 years ago to where he is today. If you take that out, like, yeah, like you said, he's probably still on here, but probably down around. So it's Beats or Pharrell or something like that. just to be able to have vaulted from there number two in 15 years.
And you know, the impact that Beats has even to this day, I think. Yeah, you know, so it's very close. Diddy and Dre. I mean, I don't know, how did you rank? I think I had, Diddy as number two and Dre at three, but that's, you know, I don't know. I was really agonizing over that one.
[01:29:06] Dan Runcie: Yeah, I did it too. I had Dre at 6. So, yeah, it was, pretty close there, but yeah, agree with everything you said. And with that, we got to get into the number 1. The business man, not the business man. And you wrote a book about him actually too. If you count three Kings, number one, no surprise Jay Z.
[01:29:25] Zack Greenburg: Yeah, that's right. Jay-Z was the clear winner here, know, no surprises. he got the most first place votes out of anybody. He got 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, you know, like almost half of the people here put him number one and then there's like a ton of two and three votes. So, you know, yeah, I mean. you could certainly argue, that Puff and Dre, you know, their biggest successes were bigger than Jay Z's biggest success. So rockin and beats, would probably be bigger than any single, deal that Jay Z put together, but just like. The amount of different deals, you know, from the early days and Roc-A-Fella records and rock aware to, you know, to transitioning into being this sort of like mass market power player, the light nation deal, you know, launching do say, and I'm on to Brynjolf and all of that, you know, to have o wnership and to get paid and to continue to be, you know, musically relevant at the same time throughout it all. I mean, yeah, I think, that it's, pretty clear why Jay Z is number one. And, you know, I don't think anybody would really argue with that except for maybe Diddy.
[01:30:33] Dan Runcie: Yeah, he does the most. I think that you've seen him. You've seen him succeed with ownership. You've seen him succeed with partnerships at the highest levels. We've seen him navigate difficult business relationships. We've seen him make mistakes as well with things that he may be oversaw, but was able to still think through and come out somewhat ahead.
Speaking specifically about title and some of the things there, even in the failures, you could still see the through line about why he thought this was the best way to go about things. I think that. Not a surprise. And I think he definitely deserves to be at the top of the list for sure. A hundred percent.
[01:31:12] Zack Greenburg: And, you know, as far as looking at everybody's career and who you can kind of learn the most from everybody on here, you can learn something from and, you can learn from their successes, but I think it's also worth looking at what didn't work and how did they respond? You know, and, Jay Z likes to say a loss and a loss, it's a lesson.
And, you know, he's out there taking chances and, it doesn't always work. And I think earlier in his career, he only wanted to show you the parts that did work, and now he's kind of willing to, you know, show you the whole package. But, you know, itt certainly helps, when you're married to the biggest star in the world, arguably.
but look, I think both of them have been very smart about that relationship and how they leverage it to get into things like they have this big Tiffany's campaign, you know, certainly their real estate portfolio has improved together with, you know, the addition of this, like, I think they just got a 200 million house in Malibu and stuff like that.
So, I think with Jay, the way he handles every relationship, every release, it all builds toward the next thing. And, yeah, he's a chess player. He's thinking 10 steps ahead and, you know, it, kind of makes you wonder like, what is his next big step? I know he's, gotten a lot of big paychecks recently selling half of, Armand de Brignac and doing a joint venture there with LVMH, he's got a, huge check, I think around 700 million, for his stake in D'Ussé Cognac. So I'm particularly interested in, you know, what it is that he's kind of building up his war chest, to get next. And, I've heard rumors that it might be in, soccer, or in American football.
so we'll see. I mean, it could be any one of those things, but you know, don't be surprised when we check in 50 years, if he's like, you know, Jeff Bezos territory,
[01:32:47] Dan Runcie: and again, the fact that he's been able to help the people around him and make them successful too. He had that line that, song boss with Beyonce on that, album they put out together where he's like, here, we say you're broke if everybody, or here, you're not successful. We say everybody's broke except for you.
I know I butchered the line. I forget exactly what it is, but it's something like that. It's It's very similar to the pound cake line that he had had as well. So, at the end of the day, that speaks to his ability to do that. so yeah, this was really fun and it was really interesting to go through the list.
And now that we're done with at least that part of the list, now, were there any snubs on your end? I know we talked about a lot of the placement of particular people, but was there anyone, ah, that wasn't on the list that we didn't talk about at all today, that you were like, man, like wish that person had gotten in?
[01:33:35] Zack Greenburg: Yeah. I thought it was kind of surprising that DJ Khaled wasn't on here. I voted for him. I ranked him fairly highly, you know, I don't see why he would be off, but somebody like TI or even Rick Ross would be on, you know, having this hand in a lot of different things. I think also on a social media perspective, he's been really front of the pack.
So, yeah, I would put Khaled up there. I think RZA belongs up here too. some of the things he's done. You know, just like being the mastermind of the Wu Tang Clan period is, you know, kind of mogul, mogul move to kind of like come up with that idea. And, you know, unite all these guys from Staten Island under the banner of Kung Fu and hip hop.
It's like, what? They talk about something new and different, you know, and his hand in. And, you know, the secret album, once upon a time in Shaolin and, you know, all the things that that led to, and, you know, hip hop is already collectibles. It's just kind of like debates in the industry. so I think, RZA deserves a look. but, would be the two that kind of stick out to me as, you know, I think probably deserve a spot on here, but, but not quite enough people shared my views here.
[01:34:38] Dan Runcie: Yeah, I think that's a good one. I think to discuss someone that hasn't necessarily came in, I'll talk about 2 people. They're more recent people in the game, but I do think that a lot of people have been inspired by what they've done. 1 is Ghazi and what he's been able to do at empire specifically from a record label perspective.
But, you know, we started that at a point where a lot of people didn't even think it was viable to have a business where you were more than a just typical distributor, but you were still offering artists to at least maintain whether it's their masters or have just flexible record contracts where it's like, okay, let's partner on this project.
Let's partner on this and we see how fragmented music is now. And I think they were clearly ahead in some ways with that. And I think that works to their advantage too. And similarly, J Cole was someone who got on this list, but I think I'd actually give a shout out to his business partner. And CEO of DreamVille, Eib Hamad and what they've been able to do.
They're really trying to bring a platform. And I think in many ways, one of the things that DreamVille is, and other labels have navigated, how do you work to build a platform beyond the breakout star that you have? So that was another name that, that came to mind.
[01:35:50] Zack Greenburg: for sure. no, those, all make sense to me as well.
[01:35:52] Dan Runcie: Yeah, and then on this note, I think it was interesting because now that we're reflecting on the list, there's a few trends that I wanted to call out to get your thought on 1 was the placement of producers. And this is a 2 part question because 1, I do think that producers, especially the super producers in hip hop did quite well.
If we're looking at this list, just to kind of name through the names. Dr. Dre number 2. Kanye West number 8. Where's Swiss Beats here? We have Pharrell, of course, at 22 and we have Swiss Beats at 27 and I'm probably forgetting a couple of people there. Do you think there's something specific about producers as a job?
That makes them either more likely, or that has or any commonality with those folks and why that may line up with their placement on a list like this.
[01:36:45] Zack Greenburg: Yeah, I think a lot of the people who are producers are, you know, some of the time are there because, you know, they didn't quite take off as lyricists the same way. Although some people disagree with this, look at Dre, okay, fine. But like Dre was always a better producer than he was a lyricist. Puff was always a better producer than he was a lyricist.
Swizz was always a better producer than he was a lyricist. I mean. You know, you could, hot take, but like, you could argue that with Kanye too, I mean, that's less of a slight to Kanye's lyricism and more of like, just a praise for his production. But think that, you know, when let's say, being a lyricist, isn't your calling card, whether it's production or something else, you have to make yourself viable in other ways.
And I think that, especially as a producer, you're often involved, you know, more in the business side and, you know, what are the splits going to look like, who's got the publishing, all of that, you kind of necessarily end up. More in local territory, whereas it's easier maybe to just be a recording artist and to take checks from your label.
it's sort of like, you know, kind of comes to the territory more when you're involved in the production side of things.
[01:37:47] Dan Runcie: I think that last piece is key because you are more cognizant of the splits. You are a bit of the maestro of making sure everything works out the same way that it does to be able to do that there, which maybe speaks to some of the reason why, you know, you mentioned Cal it as someone that. Probably would have expected to see a little bit higher, although his work as a producer is a little bit different than some of the folks that we mentioned here, but people that are on the younger side that I do think have a lot in common with the folks you mentioned here to be interested to see where will someone like Zaytoven, Metro Boomin, Mike Wilmated, some of the super producers or close to it of the streaming era that we've seen, will we see them be able to make Those moves in the future of the people that I mentioned, I think Metro Boomin is probably the closest there.
Of course, he recently sold his catalog. I think that he's someone that seems to move a little bit different. He's releasing his own albums that do have his own beat production there in a way where Mike Will and Zaytoven strike me a little bit more as being purely entrusted in the musical aspect of things.
[01:38:56] Zack Greenburg: Yeah, that makes sense. I mean, and I think if we're talking about, you know, younger individuals, who, you know, you might see on this list in 10 years, or maybe even you could have seen them now, but, I think, you know, Travis Scott, and Tyler, the creator are two names that I would point to, Travis Scott, I think probably got dinged for, you know, what happened, you know, at, at his festival.
And, you know, that's like kind of a big, you know, impediment for people to throw on the list. But, you know, those kinds of concerns didn't. It stopped them from listing other folks who had some pretty serious, you know, kind of like moral, asterisks around, around their names.
So I think what Travis has done with Cactus Jack, You know, he was really on the, sort of on the Kanye path from a commercial perspective and, you know, let's see how it goes with this new utopia rollout. But yeah, I think people have kind of a short memory and are willing to move on.
And, you know, he could be back in the conversation again soon. And I think Tyler, the creator too. I mean, I think he's another one, you know, whether it's music festivals or, clothing, you know, he's definitely got a hand in. a bunch of really interesting different businesses and, you know, maybe part of it, maybe he ends up more like in the Pharrell kind of position where it's not necessarily quite as mainstream, but it's, widely respected and, you know, lucrative and popular. So I could see the two of them moving up here in years to come.
[01:40:13] Dan Runcie: And Tyler too is unique because he spoke to an audience of fans and people that weren't being spoken to in that same type of way, right? Everyone else is trying to speak to the aspirational cool person. Tyler said himself, he was reaching the outcasts. He was reaching the people that would go on late night runs to Taco Bell and stuff like that.
And that was an audience that hip hop mainstream hip hop was reaching. So I think that speaks a lot to his success there. So, final question here, which I think is a good one and you posted right before we started recording this mogul list is very representative in a lot of ways of who the greatest artists are that happened to be successful in business.
And the question was up to interpretation in many ways. But if you were picking a team or a few people, whether it's people we've mentioned or people we haven't mentioned to run your mogul empire. Who would make your list? Let's say if there's 3 to 4 names that come to mind of who would make your list, who would it be?
[01:41:13] Zack Greenburg: Yeah, I think the boring answer is Jay Z, and that's probably, you know, most people's answer because that's why, you know, he got so many first place votes, but, you know, looking through the top 20, I mean, there are a lot of people who would not want running my mogul empire, but, you know, if I had to pick three, let's say out of the top 20, or maybe even the whole list, I think, I'd probably go like Jay, Lyor, and Sylvia Robinson, because they all just get shit done one way or the other.
They're all individually brilliant, creative, Machiavellian, you know, like, they all kind of like pushed the line on a lot of things, but they didn't cross it fully, in my opinion, at least compared to some of the other people, on the list, you know, at least in a, like, something is illegal kind of way, you know, or I guess anywhere you look there's always these debates, but I think that all three exhibit a certain level of, you know, in different degrees, like you need something done.
They're going to get it done. You're not worried that they're going to let their ego get in the way, you know, they could be the star or it could be the Jordan or the Pippin. and they have the talent to get it done, you know, no matter what it is that you need done. So I probably go with those three as my top.
What about you?
[01:42:23] Dan Runcie: I feel like we have a similar minded list. So I would have Sylvia Robinson as the board chair. I want someone that can control those stakeholders, make sure that we're good and also just keep a good eye and keep the company in check as well. I would want Jay to be president of the company because I think as president, it's good to have someone that.
Can be a bit of the public salesperson can get the right amount of support for buy in can be included in particular sales pitches for an actual CEO. I'll take Lyor again. I think the shrewdness, the no fucks given in a lot of ways. But still having a calling card to be able to get people aligned with is important.
And I'll take, Steve Stout is my CMO and I'll have Jay Prince as a special advisor to help address any of
the issues or anything like that. that's the
[01:43:11] Zack Greenburg: I like that. I like that one. Yeah.
[01:43:14] Dan Runcie: All right. Well, Zack, anything else, that we should mention before we close things out on the hip hops, 50 greatest mogul list.
[01:43:22] Zack Greenburg: Yeah, you know, I think it's interesting to reflect in the context of hip hop's 50th anniversary. And, you know, when you look at sort of some of the pioneers, who started it all, you know, really there aren't any other than Sylvia who were there at the very beginning. And even then you could argue, you know, she came kind of five years late.
So, you know, I hope that over the, you know, over the rest of the year, some of these folks do start to get their flowers in the mainstream in a way that they haven't before. You know, whether it's Herc or Flash or, you know, some of the other people, Kaz, who are sort of around Grand Wizard Theodore, you know, some people like that who haven't gotten maybe quite their due.
So, you know, I would look for that, through the year. And that's kind of a hope of mine. And, you know, I mean, yeah, none of them really got to be. Let's say, they didn't get to partake in the spoils in the way that some of the people who came in a later did. So that, that would be my one, final thought as we head into this rest of the summer of celebration of the 50th anniversary.
[01:44:16] Dan Runcie: Yeah, I'm excited. I think it was great to be able to use as an opportunity to reflect, to be able to highlight and think more broadly about it. There's been so many different types of 50, this 50, that list, and I'm sure we'll see more of them as well. I think that this 1 is a bit unique because of all the factors that we brought into and how varied the list was and how we brought more people into this process, as opposed to just having, of course, there's a form of this. That was just you and I talking it out and making sure that where we thought things made sense, but it was really good to be able to include some of the pioneers and some of the leaders themselves in this.
So with that salute to hip hop and everything that is created, and obviously you and I being able to have work in this industry as well. So shout out, know, it's a privilege and honor to be able to contribute and offer something like this.
[01:45:07] Zack Greenburg: Yeah. Privilege and honor indeed. So, yeah, it's a lot of fun and good to get, you know, good to be able to look back a little bit.
[01:45:13] Dan Runcie: Agreed. Thanks, man. Appreciate it.
[01:45:15] Zack Greenburg: All right, Dan, have a good one.
[01:45:16] Dan Runcie: You too.
[01:45:17] Dan Runcie Outro Audio: If you enjoyed this podcast, go ahead and share it with a friend, copy the link, text it to a friend, post it in your group chat, post it in your Slack groups, wherever you and your people talk, spread the word. That's how Trapital continues to grow and continues to reach the right people. And while you're at it, if you use Apple podcast.
Go ahead, rate the podcast, give it a high rating and leave a review. Tell people why you like the podcast that helps more people discover the show. Thank you in advance. Talk to you next week.1h 45m | Aug 8, 2023
- The State of the Middle-Class Artist
Episode title: The State of the Middle-Class Artist
The “middle class musician” is a popular talking point in the industry. Several platforms have been built to serve this group.
But what exactly is a middle-class musician? How can they get ahead when the major companies are incentivized to support the superstars? How does the 1000 True Fans theory apple here? And which companies do a great job of serving them today?
I talked to Tati Cirisano of MIDiA Research to break it all down. Here’s everything we covered this episode:
0:44 How much money does a middle-class musician take home?
9:05 How the 1,000 True Fans theory works in the steaming era
16:06 Why platforms struggling to serve middle class
18:33 What fans actually want from artist-specific subscriptions
21:23 How touring is for the middle class artists
23:21 Artists catalogs generating $20k+ from Spotify
26:25 Good data vs bad data
28:49 MIDiA’s Bandsintown return to live study
34:39 Why Pandora struggled to serve the middle class
36:18 Is serving middle-class musicians a viable business model?
48:13 Will middle-class musicians have it easier in 20 years?
Listen: Apple Podcasts | Spotify | SoundCloud | Stitcher | Overcast | Amazon | Google Podcasts | Pocket Casts | RSS
Host: Dan Runcie, @RuncieDan, trapital.co
Guests: Tati Cirisano, @tatianacirisano
Enjoy this podcast? Rate and review the podcast here! ratethispodcast.com/trapital
[00:00:00] Tati Cirisano: If an artist is trying to sell them something for 300 just so that they make 50 or whatever it is that translates to the fan as them having to spend so much money just to prove that they're a fan of the artist.
So we don't want to. harvest people's fandom, we want to cultivate it. And the current industry makes it hard to fulfill that promise.
[00:00:17] Dan Runcie Audio Intro: Hey, welcome to the Trapital Podcast. I'm your host and the founder of Trapital, Dan Runcie. This podcast is your place to gain insights from the executives in music, media, entertainment, and more who are taking hip hop culture to the next level.
[00:00:44] Dan Runcie Guest Intro: Today's episode is about the state of the middle class artists. It's a very different world than it was 20, 25 years ago. If you talk to artists back then, who are now frustrated with the current model, they'll tell you that the nineties and the eighties were a great time for middle class artists. You could sell a few tens of thousands of CDs per year.
You could still bring home enough for you and your band and others to earn a living off of that. But those economics get a lot harder in the streaming era where you need millions of streams, if not more. Just to make that same revenue that you did 25 years ago. But because of the streaming era that we're in now, it's also opened up many more opportunities for different revenue streams, both in real life and through digital communities and online marketplaces and things like that.
So with all of that change, all that dynamic. Where does that leave us? So for today's episode, I'm joined by Tati Sirisano. She's dug into this topic specifically with some of her work at Media Research and a lot of the analysis she's done on fandom. So where are we with middle class musicians? What does it mean to be a middle class musicians?
And for all of the platforms out there that are aiming to serve middle class musicians, who's actually doing it well? Let's dive in.
[00:02:00] Dan Runcie: Today's episode is all about the middle class musician. This is a group of artists that is often talked about in the industry from all of the companies, all of the services that are trying to help artists, but how many of them are actually serving artists and doing it in a meaningful way? And I'm here to talk about it with someone who's talked about and read about this topic herself, Tati Cirisano, welcome back to the pod.
[00:02:26] Tati Cirisano: Thanks, Dan. I'm excited. I love a thorny topic and there are many thorns to this one. A lot of contradictions, a lot of really, I don't know, interesting viewpoints. So I'm excited to get into it.
[00:02:39] Dan Runcie: So first let's define middle class musician. When you hear the term, when you use the term yourself. What are you referring to? How do you define that group?
[00:02:49] Tati Cirisano: Yeah. Well, it's, funny because if you think about a middle class musician as someone who's earning a sustainable living wage from their music, there's very few artists as we know, that actually do that. Like some of the successful, you know, relatively well-known artists that we listen to might not even fit into that description.
so I think it is, you know, a pretty small group. but that's what I would define it as, I guess if we're being technical about it, is it's someone who is able to actually, earn a full-time living from their music career. And, when we look at, you know, at media, we do a lot of creator surveys. and when we look at, you know, how many creators fit into that.
when we did our last creator survey in the UK and the US, we got, about 19% of everyone who filled out. Our survey was actually doing it full time. That doesn't necessarily mean they're making a living wage, but that means that this is, you know, what they're doing for, you know, their main career and the average income was about $46, 000. So that's kind of what I see when I think of the term, I guess.
[00:03:59] Dan Runcie: Yeah, I think the sweet spot. I've thought about that as the floor to 50, 000 that you are earning from your music related activities. And I say that specifically because I think this is where some of the difference of the term and its interpretation is for years, people used to look at that number specifically think about it in terms of what is derived specifically from your music revenue.
You being able to sell CDs, sell physical albums. How much of it comes from there today? Obviously, the economics are flipped and it is. Quite challenging for artists, especially if you don't own the rights to your music to be able to earn that level of money stand alone from CD sales, unless you're complimenting it with another revenue source.
So that's a bit that's why I mentioned music related things, because artists, at least now do make more from touring and we'll get into that a bit more. They also have merch and other things that they still did have in. The nineties and other eras before, but some of these things have expanded and there's now all of these digital, so you have the IRL experiences, the IRL experiences too, and if that can combine and you're making, let's say at least $50,000 in profit, I would say so take home expenses of, or take home revenue of what you actually have versus up to let's say $150,000.
That's how I've defined middle class musician. If you're earning more than that, then you're definitely at that closer to that tip of the spear. I don't know if the numbers would exactly put you in, let's say the 1%. I think there might be even a little bit of gap below that, but that's how I've roughly looked at it.
So even though I know that. Every year, Spotify has its breakdown on how many artists catalogs generate this certain amount. And the math there is roughly been okay. You can multiply that number by 4 and that can give you an idea of what the total recorded music revenue is. That's still only 1 source that doesn't include all the other sources that are there.
So there's a bunch of ways. And I think a lot of people out there do feel like you should be able to be a middle class musician. If you're earning solely from the music recording itself, but I do like to think of it a bit more broadly and that's how I've defined it
[00:06:19] Tati Cirisano: No, definitely. I realized that I answered that question thinking about it that way without even realizing it because it's so common now that I mean, I think earning a full time living from your music alone and not these other things, all these other things around it is nearly impossible for a lot of today's artists. And when we look at, you know, in the research. Most of these artists are learning from a really fragmented mix of income streams, right? There isn't just like one thing that is their main source of income. They tend to have a hand in all these different places from, education to sync to performing, producing for other artists and things like that.
So we hear a lot. There's this need to kind of have all the wheels spinning all the time. And usually the sources of income that, are maybe more important are the ones that actually are not about your music itself. So that's a really good, that's a really important distinction to make for sure.
[00:07:14] Dan Runcie: Because I think what you're calling out and it's true is that what people enjoyed about the CD era was that there was 1 item that you could purchase in that 10 to 20 dollar range and that benefited. Those artists who could then get at least, let's say, 4 to 5 for every 20 CD that's sold. They then keep that and then that you just do the math on that even if you're splitting that up amongst 4 band members, there's still a lot there and technology has this pattern of making it more advantageous for the people who are already on top, not necessarily the people that are trying to get there. And I think this is some of the challenges that certain startups in the space have had, because several of them have tried to serve this middle class audience with the belief that technology does connect us and technology does do all those things, but we've seen it more likely or not just the way that things have been set up so far and streaming, but also in other aspects of the creator economy and people making a living off of the internet, one way or another, it does tend to benefit those that do happen to be the most successful, so that's why I think you calling out the way things are, whether it's people selling merch or people selling vinyl or people selling unique items, or even back in the NFT phase where people were selling more of those is unique items or concert tickets more broadly that gets you back to the opportunity to compensate the quote unquote, middle class artists more because it's a fan having that 1 to 1 relationship where they're spending the high and they're spending their money on the high end product to get whatever it is in a way.
That's very different from getting some pro rata distribution of their 1099 monthly subscription to 1 of the streaming services.
[00:09:05] Tati Cirisano: Yeah, no, and I think in music, especially we've really seen this, like the thousand true fans theory, kind of gained popularity over the past year or two years and really have to run up against streaming economics where scale is the only thing that matters. So I think, you know, if you were selling CDs in the nineties and you had a really small, but dedicated fan base, you could earn money off of that.
you could make a decent living off of that. but now there aren't that many ways to actually, monetize a core fan base around the music itself. I mean, you're not doing that on streaming. so I think, you know, streaming definitely delivered on the promise of. allowing more artists to be heard, but it the income side of that didn't really catch up by opening the door to everyone. It just gave way to so much oversaturation and so much fragmentation that, it kind of breaks the pro rata streaming model.
[00:09:57] Dan Runcie: And I think that most people listening to this probably do generally understand why it's hard to do that with streaming. You literally need millions of streams per month in order to be able to reach those thresholds. And that's just very hard to do. However, if we also look at the platforms that are intended to be more creator friendly or more independent. Artist friendly or more middle class musician friendly, even those still struggle to hit those numbers. One of the highly publicized numbers from Patreon, of course, this is now looking at all creators, not necessarily musicians, but only 2% of the creators that use Patreon are earning more than 50, 000 annually from their Patreon. So again, just to make sure that we're covering all the bases, not all of the money that a middle class musician needs to make needs to come from Patreon in order to be a middle class musician. But it's another highlight where even though now we're taking away the streaming dynamic, you now have this product where most of the people are selling something on Patreon for one, five, 10 per month. It still doesn't quite. Offer that opportunity. So what do you think the disconnect is there? Because I know patrons 1 example, but there's other similar platforms that offer those types of things, but haven't quite been able to get
[00:11:23] Tati Cirisano: Yeah. I mean, I think that it all kind of goes back to with all of these platforms that so long as streaming economics are only benefiting superstars. We can't really serve the middle class musician because even if those artists are earning a decent amount of money by, you know, making cameo videos for their fans or having some subscribers on Patreon, they're still forced to monetize everything around the music rather than the music itself.
They still aren't really able to fully capitalize on monetizing core fandom. Even as it's been interesting, like even as the industry, I think, has really started to galvanize around this idea of monetizing fandom and how important it is, especially in how fragmented listenership is today to not just focus on building these mass passive audiences, but focus on a core fan base.
but again, that's running up directly against streaming economics, which is part of the reason why there's now finally a call, I think, from all sides of the industry to change things. But I think that I really feel like the more I think about it, I just come back to that as long as the ways the solutions that we're giving to these so called middle class musicians are about monetizing things around their music, we're still never really realizing the full potential of what they could do by monetizing their fan base around the music.
Maybe that's like a simplistic answer, but I just, I just keep
coming back to that.
[00:12:50] Dan Runcie: Yeah. And I think 1 of the challenges with tools like Patreon and others is that. They're still similar to the streaming services selling a monthly subscription product and it's quite incentivized to be able to do that because they are SAS companies. They're trying to sell subscriptions companies that have strong MRR do get better valuations. And these are companies that are ultimately trying to exit. And we saw a company like Patreon, I believe the valuation hit 4 billion in the peak of the pandemic, just when everyone was going wild about the creator economy. And we've since seen that and many others come back down to earth.
But the thing is a lot of those platforms it's based on that take rate and the take rate, even though I think the take rate for a platform like a Patreon may have been relatively low. It still incentivizes the power law to take over where those platforms are going to succeed based on having a few of those power users in that 2% that make up over 60, 70% of the revenue, if not more.
And then you run into the same dynamic that you have on Spotify, where you see a similar dynamic there in terms of it's that small 1% of the people on top that make up everything. And whenever you have that type of dynamic, it's hard to shake that. And I think, especially given when you add on to it, any of these new platforms that do end up taking venture capital, there are incentives to have certain types of business models and certain types of approaches. So, I do think that that's an aspect. And then also just the fact that it is limiting itself to that 1 type of subscription that 1 time you're paying that artist or person on a regular basis and it's hard to do that compared to, let's say, the way it was when you're buying CDs, when you could go to Sam Gooding, you could buy 10 CDs if you want, you could buy one CD if you want, and I think that's where merch and vinyl and even platforms like Bandcamp and others get a bit more to that thing, where you're not limited on the quantity of how much you can buy from the thing, and it does allow a bit more of that individual transaction, which is what I think that Middle class musicians, artists really need in order to succeed. How can you make it infinite that someone can buy more of your stuff?
[00:15:15] Tati Cirisano: Right, right. And I think in addition to all of this, there's just these like underlying dynamics of how fragmented the market is, how competitive, the entertainment landscape is, how, you know, streaming has sort of inadvertently encouraged listeners to be a bit more passive, I think, over the past 10 years.
So we're now in this situation where even if you decide as an artist to, you know, build this core fan base and you have all the right tools to monetize it, it's still just really, really hard to break through and, gather, you know, enough people around your music and sustain their attention and get them to be active fans. Like I think, the competitiveness and the fragmented nature of the market is just underlying all of this.
[00:16:05] Dan Runcie: So let's actually dig into that with the, Kevin Kelly's a thousand true fans theory that you mentioned. What do you think is the thing that's making that difficult? I know you mentioned the competitive piece, so maybe let's get into some of the specifics because in theory. If you were using a service like a Patreon or whatever, if you combine all of these things, can you have a thousand people paying you eight, nine dollars a month? And then that equals your a hundred thousand dollars like what is making that difficult? Like how big of an artist do you need to be for that to actually be a reality?
[00:16:39] Tati Cirisano: Well, right. That's the thing is that there's just so much music out there and people are spreading their listening across more artists, more songs than ever. I think it's really hard to actually get a meaningful number of subscribers for something like that. And also people that are going to stick around. I think another thing with the subscription, like the artists for artists, specific subscriptions, the monthly cycle doesn't really align with the pace of consumption and fandom where, people are. I think it's natural that you're fandom of an artist rises and falls over time as you know, a new artist captures your attention or something else is happening in your life or whatever, but I think that pace is accelerating and it might happen in two weeks.
Whereas it used to happen in two months or six months. So I just think it's, really hard to actually galvanize people around a monthly subscription, but something else that's interesting that actually comes from our recent research and we have a report coming out on this. soon. Is that when we ask people what they actually want from artist specific subscriptions, the things that come out on top are not what you expect and aren't what most artists are going for.
So I think most artists have been doing, you know, behind the scenes content or I'll hop on and do a Q&A with you or you get access to a community of other fans and those things actually come out towards the bottom. What comes out on top is just exclusive access to music, being able to hear music that nobody else can hear or being able to hear it early and same thing for merchandise and same thing for tickets.
So fans already have too much content out there that they have access to. They don't necessarily want to pay for more. And so instead, what they really want is just to get what they're already enjoying faster or before everyone else, or in a way that is exclusive to them. So yeah, I have a lot of thoughts as you can see on like subscriptions specifically.
But I think that, you know. It's ironic because the thousand true fans theory model is what a lot of artists need these days because it is in some ways a way to cut through the fragmentation is building a core fan base, making really deep, long lasting connections. But it's also really just really hard to do that in today's landscape.
[00:18:57] Dan Runcie: Why do you think there's a disconnect there? I mean, based on the insights that you're sharing, why couldn't an artist be like, okay, well, if that's what the fans want, then why not give them the exclusive access? Why are artists leading towards behind the scenes.
[00:19:11] Tati Cirisano: Yeah. I mean, I think that I don't blame them because I think social media has kind of taught artists to just give more content all the time. And there's probably this assumption that that's what you need to capture attention. I think there's also a long history of streaming services and labels being uncomfortable with like exclusive content.
I mean, I think that's why we're at a point these days where all streaming services have the same catalogs. So I think in the past, maybe it's been hard to justify that type of like, like windowing like remember when windowing kind of had a moment and then it went away. So I don't know, maybe it's time to reconsider that. And maybe the market would be a bit more open to that idea now. So artists, if you're listening to this try it out.
[00:20:00] Dan Runcie: Right? Because you would like to think in theory that if an artist is independent, it's their choice on what they want to do independently versus not. But we also know it's very tough for an independent artist to even reach these levels to be able to get there, right? And I think this gives this is a good segue into another piece of the discussion, which is a lot of the music distribution services that have popped up and got in a lot more funding recently are specifically trying to be a alternative to the financing that record labels offer, whether you look at a company like a beet bread or into fire stem or United masters, these companies are offering advances in exchange for this. And sometimes the advances can start quite small, but still, at least on most of them, I think there's some minimum threshold you need on, let's say, a Spotify to have 10, 000 monthly listeners on the service, and even that, while it may not seem like a lot compared to the 1% of superstar artists, it still could be a lot, especially if you look at that compared to a lot of the artists that are these quote unquote, middle class artists that we're talking about. There's just such a divide where, because there's so much noise out there, you can feel like there is, it can be quite difficult to even take full advantage of those services because of the levels you need to be in order to get there.
And I feel with that, it's probably a good chance for us to talk about touring because I think that's the other piece. We know that for a lot of artists now, let's say, whether it's, you know, depending on the artists, it could be, you know, as low as 30, but as high as 70% or even more of their revenue that comes directly from touring and especially since the economics of the current cycle that we're in have flipped where artists no longer, like, not everything is no longer the loss of leader in order to sell more CDs streaming. And other things are the thing that's done to sell more tour tickets. And that's essentially what we're getting back to you, right? How do you get fans to buy that 1 thing? But we're seeing that touring as well just like streaming, just like Patreon, just like any of these other things, even though they have a slightly different business model, it all becomes subject to the power law and how demand looks at it. Because you look at the superstars at the top level, we're talking about how Taylor Swift and maybe Beyonce are going to have the first billion dollar tours ever.
And meanwhile, the artists that are in this quote, unquote, middle class artists bucket, many of them are struggling to sell out shows. Even the artists who are stars, but not quite superstars are canceling tours left and right. It's very tough to be able to do that. And that's another piece there because I feel like for years, that was always the retort you would hear. Well, they could make money on tour. Well, they could do this. Well, that's becoming a tougher thing for artists that aren't performing in front of thousands, several thousands of people on a regular basis.
[00:22:56] Tati Cirisano: Yeah. I mean, they're struggling to sell out tours and they're also struggling to finance them to begin with. I mean, there've been so many artists that canceled before their tours even really got started selling tickets because they said, I crunched the numbers and I just can't afford this. So even if you are an artist that has demand for your shows, it can be really hard to, actually make touring sustainable for yourself.
[00:23:21] Dan Runcie: Agreed, and maybe just to look at some rough numbers here, because I think it would be helpful. I pulled up, Spotify's loud and clear that they have their breakdown on the number of artists that are earning certain things and if we do some ballpark math here, so they said in 2022, there were 91, 000 artists that had catalogs that were generating at least 5, 000 dollars a year. And if you multiply that by 4, accounting for other streaming services, accounting for other recorded revenue streams, that then brings you to 20, 000 dollars. A few things to keep in mind, though, this doesn't include publishing. This doesn't include other things as well. That could also increase the revenue for artists, but it also is just about the artist catalog generated.
So it doesn't Account for record label deals and things like that. So if we were to even take a number like this, and let's roughly call it 50%, even at that point, you combine that with the, let's say, they're making the equivalent on the live side, but on live. The percentage that the promoters and others that you're partnered with isn't nearly as high as it is on the recorded revenue side.
So just to add some context for this. I mean, we're talking about less than 100, 000 people worldwide. And that number may even be generous there because there's this doesn't account like record label splits and all those things and so it's a tough world out there.
[00:24:52] Tati Cirisano: Yeah. Wait. And can you back that up for so it's a 90, 000 are earning what?
[00:24:58] Dan Runcie: Yeah, so according to Spotify's loud and clear report, 91, 200 artists, those are the number of recording artists whose catalogs generated recording and publishing royalties over 5, 000 alone on Spotify. Yeah, and then Spotify's ballpark is that if you multiply that number by 4, that gives you all of the revenue streams overall. So you could use that to say 20, 000.
[00:25:25] Tati Cirisano: Right. Right. Yeah. No, and as we know, that does, like you said, it does gloss over a lot of nuances. So it's probably a little bit different and very different, in practice. But I think the other thing talking about touring. and the struggle of a lot of these, you know, middle class artists to sell shows is another unintended consequence of streaming is how song focused the music landscape we live in is now where a lot of artists will have a viral song or they'll have, you know, a popular song, but not that many people will actually discover the artists beyond that, or become a fan of their wider catalog to the point where they want to buy a ticket.
And I think that that's what's driving a lot of these sort of awkward tour cancellations that we've seen where an artist may think, or their team may think, based on the success of a couple of songs, they have a big enough fan base to sell tour tickets, and they might not. So I think the metrics for touring are getting a lot murkier.
[00:26:25] Dan Runcie: This is why what's happening right now with as it relates to socials, streaming and touring data, the more data has actually made people worse at the jobs, I think, to some extent. And I mean, I can't say that factually, I would need to look at some data to truly be able to prove that. But I do question whether or not it is helped in a lot of ways, Because of everyone is programmed to algorithms in the 3rd way.
You could think that you're seeing someone everywhere. So let's just use I spice as an example. If you feel like, okay, in the circles of every time you open your phone, you see, I spice this, you see, I spice that you think that I spice could probably sell Madison square garden based on just what you may perceive to be people that are really in the industry.
Probably know that that isn't the case. But even for those people in the industry that are making decisions, there could still be that disconnect to your point. And I think just going back again to the point you made earlier about the whole thousand true fans thing. That's what I think makes that tough because you brought up the point earlier about why, yeah, it's hard to have a recurring purchase with anything, especially when it's hard for anyone to capture the attention.
I think recurring purchases can make sense for products like Netflix or Spotify, when they are the interface between all of these other products that we see on a regular basis, at least from a mass consumer perspective. And I know that in investing and finance and other circles, or even in music, there definitely trade publications out there that could justify it because it is offering education related information.
But I think that again, how can you get back to that a 100 dollars from 1000 people looking more like. An actual 1 time purchase thing, or 1 time purchase things that you're purchasing. But again, even if you're trying to get someone to purchase 1 t shirt, 1 concert ticket, 2 albums, this, that, and all of those things net your earnings become, a hundred dollars per fan, that's still a lot. Like, how can you do all that and capture the attention you have because you could be asking someone to spend $300 just so that nets out to you, to the artist as $100 and at least the last I see, you know, it's even tailoring Beyonce may not, aren't netting that on the average ticket sale for their concerts because of the resellers and because of, you know, various fees and just all the other people involved. It's very tough to get there.
[00:28:49] Tati Cirisano: Yeah. No. And the other thing that we don't want to do is just, you know, squeeze every dollar that we can out of the fans. Like when you use that example of the fan doesn't realize like what, you know, how the money trickles or doesn't trickle back down to the artist. If an artist is trying to sell them something for 300 just so that they make 50 or whatever it is that translates to the fan as them having to spend so much money just to prove that they're a fan of the artist.
So I think that's the other side to this is we don't want to. harvest people's fandom. we want to cultivate it. And yeah, the current industry makes it hard hard to fulfill that promise. But the other thing I wanted to bring up before we get deeper into that, another interesting data point, that's sort of a counterpoint to some of this, which is, so at media, we just released a report in partnership with bands in town where we surveyed their users about their experiences with live music. It's a great report, I think it's like one of the, most comprehensive of like post pandemic live audiences that we've seen. So just a quick plug, but the data in it, we were interested in understanding, if superstar tours are becoming so expensive, does that mean that audiences are splurging their entire budget for the year for tickets on that, you know, Taylor Swift tour? And then they don't have anything left to go to the smaller shows that they would normally go to. And our hypothesis was that would be the case, but we actually didn't see that in the data. We saw two things, one is that the audiences who are going to smaller shows tend to be different from the ones that are like going to these, you know, arena and, stadium tours anyway.
So they're actually less likely to be bothered by things like rising prices and added fees, because the shows that they're going to aren't as impacted by those issues anyway. And then the other, really interesting question we asked was if we gave you a 300 budget for concert tickets for the year, What would you spend it on?
And we gave them four options and nearly half said that they would buy tickets of a few tickets for mid tier artist shows and about a quarter said they'd buy many tickets for many smaller shows. So that's already 75% of the audience. And then the rest were split up between splurging on like a Taylor Swift ticket or putting the money towards a festival. So when push comes to shove and people are forced to decide where to spend their limited tickets budget, they actually weren't, the most likely to go for, you know, the superstar shows, which was not what I expected.
And I don't know if that has to do. Yeah, I don't know if that has to do partly with the fragmentation that I'm always talking about. And where I was talking about that, you know, people are actually starting to listen more to these sort of cult stars and not just a handful of big names that people are kind of spreading their listening and these mid tier artists are getting larger fan bases. That could be a part of it. it could just be people being a bit more, you know, pragmatic when they are forced to answer this question in this way. But yeah, I thought that was really interesting.
[00:31:43] Dan Runcie: That makes me think of two things. Let's go back to the first board, just in terms of the slightly different audience profile of the big splurger versus the several shows. This is anecdotal, but most of the people I know that are frequent concert goers of smaller mid tier, maybe middle class musician artists, or maybe even slightly higher than that. They're not necessarily posting the shows on Instagram. They're not necessarily discussing it. It's almost like part of their regular day or week like, oh, what do you do? Oh yeah. We went to a show on, Thursday at the independent of San Francisco was cool or something like that. Versus if someone's going to a Taylor Swift or Beyonce show, and I'd even put Coachella and some of these other experiences in there.
You hear about it. It's as much the experience, the brand of the thing and why taking an international trip to go watch Beyonce's renaissance tour in Paris or in Amsterdam or doing something similar for a Taylor Swift tickets, or even getting all your friends together to go, you know, have the outfits ready for Coachella. I feel like there's that is almost a very different group. So that felt like at least some anecdotal inferences that feel like they line up with what you're saying. And I think that's right. They are 2 very different types of people. The 2nd point, though, I do have to say, I am, I'm a bit surprised by that, because part of me wondered, okay, is there a little bit of potential bias of what someone is projecting of what they want to be versus what they may actually be right? And then just a natural distribution of, you know, how many people in each of those groups from that 1st point, you mentioned. Were the survey group for the 2nd point, but, yeah, it's 1 of those things where, like, you know, I think, let's say a movie example for me.
One of the only times I'd went to the movies this past year so far, and I'm someone that normally goes off on one of the only times I went this past year was to, you know, see Barbie and Oppenheimer, you know, like together and stuff. And if you would have asked me in the beginning of the year, oh, how often do I plan to go to the movies this year?
I probably wouldn't be. Oh, I'm only going to go for the biggest weekend of the year. But like, that's what I ended up again. I'm just 1 person with an example, but like, that's what that made think of.
[00:33:54] Tati Cirisano: You're absolutely right. Every time we ask a question that is like hypothetical like that, we have to remember that, people will always answer with like their most aspirational self. And maybe people see that and say, Oh, I like to think of myself as, you know, a true artist fan. And I would like to go to more smaller shows or I'm not splurging on the superstar of the festival.
So I think it does have to be taken with a grain of salt. I think the sample size is big enough. This was like nearly 3000 people and the numbers are pretty. like stark enough that I think it still gives us a sense that the majority of these live music audiences are wanting to go to the, or would prioritize those smaller shows, but you're absolutely right that every time we ask a question like this, we have to take it with a grain of salt.
[00:34:39] Dan Runcie: Indeed. And 1 thing I do want to tap into as well. You mentioned this back when we were texting back and forth leading up to this. It's about Pandora. You mentioned how the founder there had built a service, ideally intending to serve the middle class. And I went back and found 1 of the quotes. I'll read it here. He said, this is 10 Western trend. He said, when I found Pandora, the purpose of it was to build a discovery engine for lesser known musicians. I wouldn't say we lost our way, but we got sucked into the music industrial complex vortex, which is quite the quote, but I feel like that music industrial complex vortex is probably a few things. One, I think their rights holders discussions and negotiations back and forth with the record labels were quite public in a way that more recent ones haven't been. So that's 1 thing. But 2, I think a lot of it stems back to. This whole power law dynamic that we've been talking about. So you take the two of those together, you're partnering with companies that want their 1% of music to rise above the ranks. And it's in your platform's best interest from a financial perspective to monetize that piece too, which just adds another layer to it.
[00:35:56] Tati Cirisano: Yeah, no, I think that. All of this is the, you know, second order impacts of streaming that all of the platforms are dealing with Westergen was just the first person to admit it. I don't think that, you know, most streaming platforms are not going out there and talking about this in such, honest terms. So I think, you know, that quote just the first one to really say it publicly.
[00:36:18] Dan Runcie: Yeah. Yeah. Agreed. And I think with this too, the question I keep coming back to is the sad question that I do ask and wonder is. This a viable business model for a company? There are several companies that have raised money in recent years, on this goal of serving the artist middle class, and I think it is something that often sounds great and compelling as a calling card.
You're able to show it and share it and pitch decks about how it is this underserved audience, especially if you talk about where most of the revenue is accrued, and you can talk about the long tail, but do you think that this is a viable business model? Or have we seen examples where this has worked in practice where? Yes, a company and to be clear, not even that a company has to do it solely like they can't serve anyone that is more successful than a middle class musician, but have they done so.
[00:37:15] Tati Cirisano: Yeah, it's a really good question. So yeah, I was thinking about that too when we were, texting about this over. Does it actually even make sense to focus on this goal of, like, enabling a class of middle class musicians? Because I think sometimes, the very important conversations about making the music business more fair to creators, what gets lost in that is that the goal is not for everyone to be successful because that's just not the way that any industry works, that anything works, there's still always going to be a bit of a hierarchy. But we just want to make sure that the odds are not so stacked against creators, that things aren't so unfair and that it's not impossible, you know, to make, a living off this.
but I think that for it to work, ideally there needs to be a way or probably monetize music fandom rather than just large audiences. And I think that's something that. The music industry as a whole is starting to understand. And I think that we might start to see, I mean, we're already having a lot of conversations about like what the next, streaming business model could look like, like user centric has been tossed out for that.
and this idea of maybe active listenership, if you can determine whether someone is an active fan that, you know, listening might get more royalties than the passive fan. We're having these conversations. And I think, to your point earlier. Streaming put a cap on what you can spend as a fan. There isn't any extra thing that you can buy.
If you're a super fan, everyone is paying 9.99. And there are examples of streaming services that have monetized fandom like if you look at Tencent and NetEase in China, like they earn more of their annual revenue from a small segment of super fans paying extra for features than they do from a way larger base of subscribers.
And that's a whole other, you know, rabbit hole to go down because I don't know how that money is actually shaking out in terms of whether it's still mostly going to the biggest artists or, you know, how much is actually going down to the creators, but I think that, it's possible to build a streaming model that monetizes not just scale, but also fandom and that could be a really big game changer, for this middle class of artists.
I also think that to do that, we need to recultivate fandom in the first place, because again, we've spent the past decade teaching people to listen passively. So we can't just, you know, like with user centric. You can't just slap that model on a Spotify because so many of their listeners are passive.
It's not a place that breeds fandom or encourages people or gives them ways to be more active fans. So there's a lot of work to do, but I think that these conversations are happening in a way that they haven't, at least in, you know, so long as I've been studying this. So I think that's at least a good thing that we're confronting all of these issues.
[00:40:05] Dan Runcie: Yeah, I think a number of those things and it's likely 1 of those things where the individual thing itself may not make the huge bump itself, but the collection or the collective of them do help raise the gap, right? So 10 cent for years, tipping and things like that have worked well. And we've seen the success there. 1 of the pushbacks you've often heard is that, oh, well, western culture isn't as, you know, into that or into this or into that. And I'm like, well, I mean, do we really know that's true until you try it? I feel like the past year, all I've seen is more and more places where physical locations. I've never tipped anyone before turning that square or toast thing over to my direction. And then now they want me to go. Give a 20, 25, 30% tip. And I'm like, excuse me. So granted, I know this is a whole debate now that people have very strong opinions on, but if anything, that shows me that whether or not people may like it or not, there is some aspect of that. So whatever thing like that can be created for artists that taps into that guilt or that shame that gets people to also go along with the tipping, even if they may not want to, I mean, I hate wording it like that because that's probably just my opinion about how I feel about some of the merchant style tipping that has been introduced recently. But I say that to say that shows that there's examples of this that have been introduced.
So I think about that on that side and then I think 2 on the, whether it's user centric streaming and things like that. I do think that whether it's sound cloud or title, or some of these other companies have shown some of the results. I think we'll see a few more soon as well. That do show the impact there. And I know that that's been another contentious thing with the record labels and others, but I do think that in the end, there's other things that, you know, can still level the playing field for everyone. The thing that I think a lot about is what the physical purchases look like. And we all know that vinyl and other physical formats have continued to increase, but I also feel like that's a bit subject to the superstar game as well.
I don't know the answer to this question I'm about to ask, but if I was a middle class artist right now, I'm about to release my album and I wanted to have. A bunch of vinyl that was made for my fan base. Could I have that ready? The first week that my album comes out, could I have that out there knowing all of the supply chain and logistical issues that may still exist with vinyl?
Because last time I checked the record labels and others were getting. Priority and they were more likely to give that priority to the Harry Styles and the Taylor Swift's and others that did have huge first week sales numbers, largely due to the vinyl that they were able to sell. So, is a middle class musician able to participate in that same way, at least upon the initial onset of their album release? I'm not sure, but things like that just make it easier for them to be able to monetize and capture that moment.
[00:43:09] Tati Cirisano: Yeah. No, I'm, glad that you brought that up. And that reminds me of another thing, because I think you would also ask, like, as any company doing this or has any company done this? Well, and I feel like band camp is worth mentioning here, you know, I think a lot of artists see that as I've seen bandcamp as sort of a lifeline throughout a lot of these struggles and something else that's interesting about it, speaking of the whole tipping thing is. I think most albums or most, if you're going to band camp and you're buying a digital version of an album, there's nothing more of an expression of fandom because what are most of those people are going to do with that? They're really just doing it to support the artists because they probably already have a streaming subscription.
They can listen to the album somewhere else, they don't need band camp for it. And I think a lot of artists as well. Put up their music or whatever. Yeah, yeah, when they put up their music on band camp, it's oftentimes pay what you want. And I remember, back when I was at Billboard, I did a big feature on Bandcamp, and I remember them telling me at the time that, the majority of fans pay more than asking. I don't know if that's still true, but that's a crazy stat! That the majority of fans are willing to pay more than asking when this is a pay what you want to purchase. So, you know, I think that's an example of this working. and people wanting to support their favorite artists purely to support them and maybe not even really getting, a vinyl album in return cause a lot of times it's just a digital download, but yeah, I think bandcamp deserves shouting out here.
[00:44:33] Dan Runcie: They're a good 1 dimension to, because they stand a bit different in this dynamic of companies that have been raised or that have been started. They didn't necessarily start. I think that a lot of people have thought of band camp is almost this. Almost a bit of like a public utility or public good for the industry.
I don't know if that's always the most fair definition, but I think people say that because it gets into this viability of business model and how long it can scale and things you can do. And I know they've since, I believe it was acquired by Epic games at least a couple years ago that that had happened. But I remember leading up to that people had wondered the same thing about band camp and it's just like you're saying a company, a platform that offer this opportunity, you want to buy the 1 thing. Great. You want to buy it as many times you want to pay even more for it, they make it easy on the website.
They have band camp Fridays where they don't take the fee for things like there were things in place to make it happen, but it's 1 of those things where at the end of the day, I feel like the economics of convenience took over in a lot of ways for where the majority of people sat, but could you still do enough on the platform?
And there definitely were success stories, which were cool to see, but it definitely wasn't necessarily the norm for all artists. So, when I think about it, collectively, I do think that it's viable to have a platform and have a business that does serve the middle class musician, and I think that it's probably more likely to be a platform that either relied on minimal outside funding or didn't, or was it invested by some of the biggest venture capital firms?
And I say that not in any way against venture capital, but more so that the nature of those investments, they're trying to get 10 billion dollar exits from people, or they're trying to get 10Billion dollar exits from the companies they invest in, and they're not going to get that level of exit unless this is a consumer product.
We'll talk about a consumer product. This is a consumer product that reaches everyone and can maximize that nth degree, which then makes it subject to the whole power law dynamic that we're then talking about. So I do think it can work for it. Like I said, whether it's bootstrapper and minimal funding company, where the economics work out.
And I do think that I forget if, band camp raised or how much they did, but still relatively lean compared to the amount of money that many of the other consumer music, tech companies have raised,
[00:47:15] Tati Cirisano: For sure. And another point on the business models, because I remember earlier you were mentioning one of the issues is there's like competing incentives, right? Between streaming platforms and labels and artists. Not everyone wants the same thing, but with Bandcamp's business model, since they're taking, since it's pretty simple, they're taking a cut of your sales. They only make money when the artist makes money. So there's this very clear, if you win, we win situation going on. And I think not every company can make it, you know, be that simple. But I think that's maybe a learning to keep in mind is that. The artists, the artist's goals should align with the business's goals.
[00:47:55] Dan Runcie: Right? Agreed agreed and hopefully align with the target artists that is trying to serve and not necessarily. The uber duper 1% that happened to be generating the most money for them, which can often happen with these things. before we close things out, though. Let's fast forward to 20 years from now, and I say 20 years from now, because I think it's clear 20 years ago, a lot of people felt like it was a better time for the middle class musician.
Let me actually say 25 years ago, just because he get pre Napster and say, 25 years ago, a lot of people feel like it was a better time then than it is now. Now I alter that. It's different. It probably takes a lot more work and more tentacles involved with everything, but it's still possible. But 20 years from now, do you think it's any easier for the middle class musician?
[00:48:43] Tati Cirisano: I love it. When you, end on one of these crazy think 20 years in the future questions, is it any easier? I think it's, I mean, I know this is an annoying answer, but I think it's easier in some ways and harder and others. Like I think that for the same, all these reasons that we've talked about, I think, things are only going to get more and more fragmented. And I think in the 20 years from now, it won't be that there's, you know, this 1% of superstars and then everyone else, it'll increasingly be that there's many, many of these like middle tier or even what we think was smaller tier artists.
And in that way, creating this core fan base is going to be even more important, but building it is going to be even harder. So I think, I don't know. I remember, I did an interview a couple months ago where we talked about a lot of similar things about, you know, streaming economics and how hard it is today and all these things.
And at the end, they asked me, well, all of this considered, would you rather be an artist today or an artist then? And if I think about that same, like, if I kind of take that lens to your question, think about it now, or even in 20 years, I still think I'd rather be an artist now. Because I think there are many more ways to get in.
There's many more, you know, options available to you. And I think before the door was closed to so many, just so many people, and now at least the door is open, like the door is open and you enter an insanely crowded room where, you know, there's obstacles flying at you left and right, but at least the door is open. So yeah, complicated question, complicated answer. What do you think Dan?
[00:50:20] Dan Runcie: I think net harder, I would say if I had to pick net harder, like just more difficult in general, but I do agree with you that in general. It's easier to get started and have a chance of having a breakthrough today that it is. Yes, that it was yesterday because of the gatekeepers and things like that. But once you do break through, it's harder to get noticed today than it was yesterday. So I think those dynamics increase further 20, 25 years out, even 5 years out, I would say, and that does make it harder for someone in this 50 to 150 K range to meet their people. It requires even more intentionality of trying to make sure you're talking to the right base that you're truly trying to, let's say, you're taking advantage of the long tail.
You're trying to find your pocket and focus on the niche. You're going to take a much more thorough and deep business plan to do everything you want to do, even if you're only bringing in a few percent. 70, 000 from all of the various things you're doing, but you're doing it. And I think that would only get harder.
And I think that probably speaks to more broad trends just with the state of the middle class and other areas outside of music. But that's how I see things.
[00:51:45] Tati Cirisano: Yeah. No, I think that makes sense like if I really boil it down, I don't think it's going to get easier. So it's either going to get harder or it's going to be about the same. Yeah, because these, you know, positives and negatives will sort of cancel each other out.
[00:52:00] Dan Runcie: Agreed. Well, we'll continue to monitor this continue to keep track of the companies that are aiming to solve this. I know it's a problem. That's easier said than done. I think there's plenty of ways that it can work. It can't work. And I think for a lot of the companies that are raising big amounts of money to solve this problem, it could be worth a look to see what that path looks like and other companies that have tried to do this as well and where their shortcomings were but rooting for the middle class musicians, an important group, and hopefully the more and more platforms we have that just increases the likelihood that someone can find the right service that can help them get to where they want to be.
[00:52:39] Tati Cirisano: Yeah. And I mean, like I said, we're having these conversations more now there's more, creative thinking about what the future looks like and, what innovation looks like in this area. So I think we're having the conversations and that's a positive thing.
[00:52:53] Dan Runcie: Indeed. All right, Tati, before we let you go, anything else coming up from media or from you that we should keep an eye out on?
[00:53:01] Tati Cirisano: Yeah, I would say, like I was, mentioning before we have this great new report on live music audiences that is already out on our website. And I will also have a report coming out in early August on the state of fandom, the state of music fandom. So I'm very excited about that one, as you probably guess, one of my favorite things to talk about.
So, yeah, look out for that. I'm excited.
[00:53:23] Dan Runcie: Will do, awesome. Thanks again. This was fun. Thanks for coming on.
[00:53:27] Tati Cirisano: Thanks, Dan.
[00:53:28] Dan Runcie Outro Audio: If you enjoyed this podcast, go ahead and share it with a friend, copy the link, text it to a friend, post it in your group chat, post it in your Slack groups, wherever you and your people talk, spread the word. That's how Trapital continues to grow and continues to reach the right people. And while you're at it, if you use Apple podcast. Go ahead, rate the podcast, give it a high rating and leave a review. Tell people why you like the podcast that helps more people discover the show. Thank you in advance. Talk to you next week.54m | Jul 28, 2023
- What’s Next for Travis Scott?
Travis Scott is in album mode. Utopia will be his first album since 2018, but a lot has changed since then.
The industry isn’t as hip-hop dominant, hypebeast culture has shifted, and Travis is still navigating things after the 2021 Astroworld Festival tragedy.
How will all this influence Utopia? I broke it all down with friend of the pod, Denisha Kuhlor. Here’s what we covered:
0:43 How hip-hop has changed since Astroworld
8:23 Travis sold a lifestyle to success
9:29 Why Travis attracted category-leading brand sponsors
13:51 Lasting effect of Astroworld Festival tragedy
19:11 How will the “Ragers” respond to Utopia?
24:12 Over/under on Utopia’s first-week sales
30:01 Pyramid performance in Egypt
31:09 Did Travis miss out on building out a major independent brand?
Listen: Apple Podcasts | Spotify | SoundCloud | Stitcher | Overcast | Amazon | Google Podcasts | Pocket Casts | RSS
Host: Dan Runcie, @RuncieDan, trapital.co
Guests: Denisha Kuhlor, @denishakuhlor
Enjoy this podcast? Rate and review the podcast here! ratethispodcast.com/trapital
[00:00:00] Denisha Kuhlor: When we look at the caliber of the brands that he was able to pull, I think that was the difference between him being a 10 or 20 million a year artist that we were who we would be praising his work ethic versus this $100 million artist that were like, wow.
[00:00:17] Dan Runcie Intro Audio: Hey, welcome to the Trapital Podcast. I'm your host and the founder of Trapital Dan Runcie. This podcast is your place to gain insights from the executives in music, media, entertainment, and more who are taking hip hop culture to the next level.
[00:00:43] Dan Runcie: All right, we're going to get deep into the world of Utopia. Travis Scott is upon the release of his fourth album, and this one has been long anticipated for several years now. But a lot's changed since the last time that Travis Scott released his album, Astroworld, which came out summer 2018. But there's been two big things that have happened.
One, the pandemic. And then two, the tragedy of the Astroworld concert, and we have seen the heights of Travis Scott in that era, thinking specifically about the Fornite series that he had, we've also seen the lows of it as well, especially given the aftermath of the people that died and all of the injuries and all of the broader conversations around concert safety.
Travis Scott's role in this himself and other things too. And I want to talk about this with you. So we have Denisha Culloran, who's the founder of STAN. You work specifically in artist engagement and have written pieces on many of the superstars. Let's first start with where hip hop is because we're now in 2023, and I feel like we're in a very different spot than we were when Travis Scott released his last album, Astroworld. So what's changed for you? Where were we with hip hop then and music then? And where are we now?
[00:01:59] Denisha Kuhlor: Yeah, I think that hip hop is, undergoing a new era, at least from a quantitative or commercial success standpoint, in the last few years and probably in some ways due to the pandemic, I feel like we've seen the emergence of what I like to think of as dance music. I mean, Beyonce released a dance album, Drake, one of the biggest hip hop stars himself released a dance album. Even when you look at the rise of music, non English music, right? Whether that's music coming out of Africa or, you know, what Bad Bunny has done as well. People are, gravitating to music that doesn't necessarily have to do with the lyrics in the way that rap shines.
So I would say to sum it up that rap is having, a bit of a fall from dominance.
[00:02:46] Dan Runcie: And it's interesting with Travis Scott too, because I feel like he benefited from this transition to an era where people aren't necessarily listening for. The lyrics, the people that love Travis Scott were so much more interested into the vibe, this rager mentality, and he was a hip hop rock star in terms of how he built himself.
And I don't know if a song like highest in the room is necessarily 1 that you're trying to hear in a club, or you're trying to hear dancing, but and so do you think that this transition away from lyrics and more divides? Do you think this hurts someone like Travis or helps them?
[00:03:22] Denisha Kuhlor: You know, I like that categorization, hip hop, rock star. I mean, if we were to look at the charts, the one person who has waved the flag for hip hop this year, truly from a commercial standpoint, is Lil Uzi Vert. And I would compare him or categorize him the same way. So when I think about, when I think about that, I say it helps him.
[00:03:44] Dan Runcie: Lil Uzi Vert did sample System of a Down in his most recent album. And he definitely has a few songs that sound like that post grunge early 2000s types of artists like Switchfoot and stuff like that. So there's a bit of that mixed in there. Travis Scott has benefited from that too. He's also benefited from having songs where.
You heard multiple sounds being merged into each other. I'm thinking, of course, like sicko mode where you can break the whole song. It sounds like three parts in one together. But again, that was 2018. We're in a very different time right now for hip hop and its releases. And I say that to say the success that Travis Scott had in 2018 to 2020, because I do feel like in a lot of ways, that was the commercial peak.
Said as much about him as it did about the broader streaming era, as it did about where culture was. So 1st, he himself, he emerges on the scene. He speaks to this audience of hip hop fans that. Really didn't have someone that was reaching them specifically Travis Scott born in the early 90s. So he's still millennial, but he definitely reached more of that older Gen Z audience.
And let's say someone like Drake or Kendrick or J Cole did and he related to that hype beast culture. He did it with how he dropped his music, how he thought about merch collaborations and any of the partnerships that he had. And we'll get into those in a minute, but that was the ethos of what he did.
And especially at that time with the way that Billboard was counting album bundles that really worked to his advantage because he combined his hype beast and his ability to sell things and essentially be a walking Supreme style artists where when he drops Astroworld, he literally has this 24 hour merge operation that is dropping a new product every hour of this.
And that's how that album is able to do nearly 50% of its first week. Sales coming from more coming from these albums that come through, or these album bundles that come through. He still did quite well in streaming, but the combination of those leads to him having, I believe it was 537, 000 units selling in his 1st week.
And usually the people that project these things are usually pretty on course. And I remember the projections leading up to Astroworld, which like Utopia was also pretty hyped album, but people were expecting things may be in the mid to high 200, 000 range. And he more than doubles that.
And you rarely see that much of an artist exceeding the expectations of that perspective. I think a lot of it has to do with people just not expecting him to have dominated things the way that they did. And even though it is 1 of these things where you have to, in some ways, read the fine print to see how those numbers came through.
The average person just sees the top line number. No different than you may see. Oh, this movie grossed a hundred and fifty million dollars. You're not trying to read the fine line to say, okay, well, how many of those tickets were IMAX versus cheap movies where it costs less than ten dollars. So go see matinee, you just want to see what's that top line number and it worked really well to his advantage and because there was still model culture definitely wasn't around in 2018 in that way, but we've only become more fragmented since then. So there was still this opportunity, especially with the growth of streaming and these services to really elevate a star. And I think that worked to his advantage as well. So the timing and everything of that Astroworld release couldn't have worked better for him.
[00:07:20] Denisha Kuhlor: Yeah, I agree. I think he was really disciplined or it just came natural in terms of building a business that exuded a lifestyle. And it was around the time where having this, like, flywheel of products, benefited, of course, not only the product that he was selling or pushing, but also counted towards his streams.
And I think, you know, in the past, a lot of artists maybe didn't get to show their dominance in that way, and our catalog episode, we talked about Beyonce, and Beyonce's numbers and whether they met expectations or didn't meet expectations in terms of her streaming numbers, or in some ways, how she shows up on the charts.
But when you see what that fandom looks like mobilized in the form of her live shows, one, you know, a few data points in aggregate, especially when it relates to, streaming or listening habits, clearly don't tell the full story about the fandom. and I think that's where Travis Scott was really able to at that time, show us the power of what he was building.
[00:08:25] Dan Runcie: It's good that you mentioned Beyonce too, because that's another example of people just looking at the high level number. People see how many first week sales that Renaissance did, or even the streams that Renaissance has had afterward. There's other artists, whether it's SZA and others that have had albums that have had longer shelf life on streaming versus others, but it's a completely different fan base.
This fan base is older. They're not going to sit in front of a computer and just stream your music all day. They're working, but when it's time to show up. They may fly to Vancouver, they may fly to Europe to go look at your tour and go check out what it is. And I think Travis Scott, similarly, he had a fan base that was very beneficial for him with things that were related to e commerce, especially around drops, especially around releases and that worked to him.
So when we're talking about artists, finding what product market fit looks like, finding what everything has that's available, it worked to his advantage. So if we fast forward a couple months after the release of Astroworld, Sicko Mode becomes a big hit, it ends up charting, and then that brings Astroworld back to the top of the charts.
That February, he performs at the Super Bowl alongside Maroon 5, so then that works to his advantage, and he just continues to have a very strong year. He ends up releasing that documentary and he didn't end up winning a Grammy as we saw the documentary was quite disappointed about that. But then that sets up everything for 2020 and in a year where most musicians struggle because they can't tour and they may have planned to release certain things.
Travis Scott's one of the few that actually did win. There was this Forbes article that came out towards the end of 2020 that looked at all of the partnerships that he had with various companies. And we're talking about his collaborations with Nike, Fortnite, McDonald's PlayStation 5, I believe he even had drops associated with the tenant movie that came out that year.
They expected that he would gross over a 100Million dollars or that the revenue that he would generate from these things would gross over a 100Million dollars and. It said so much about where we were, especially because people were inside. They didn't have anything better to do than just get the latest merch, get the latest drops.
That worked so well to his advantage. And his songs were still popular. I do feel like Astroworld was probably one of the last hip hop albums that felt like it had some legitimate staying power. And then I think that was probably The peak of him, at least what we've seen so far in his career.
[00:10:59] Denisha Kuhlor: Yeah, no, I completely, I completely agree. he was in many ways on top of the world. I think he was really thoughtful about how he got to that position. in some ways, even, you know, when you look at things like, the fortnight show, he was really a pioneer, and the days to follow when it came to Web3 or embracing the Internet or new models for artists, who was frequently cited and maybe he doesn't even really get the credit he deserves, for that, and, you know, I'd be remiss if I'd say, I think, he's lucky in a way that, his fan base demographics skew, a population that consumers or that brands want to attract, right? So the brands that really saw an appeal in his music, were brands willing to spend, I mean, Video games, Nike, the brands that he was able to attract, some artists and a lot of hip hop artists, especially, even when we did our ice spice episode, female artists, right? They're able to get a lot of, brand attention.
But when we look at the caliber of the brands that he was able to pull, I think that was the difference between him being a 10 or 20 million a year artist that we were who we would be praising his work ethic versus this 100 million. artist that were like, wow.
[00:12:18] Dan Runcie: He literally had the biggest brands in their category, right? It wasn't like he had some subcategory. I feel like the only thing he was missing was a visa or master card type of partnership to be like, or American express or one of those, right? It was always the leader space.
[00:12:33] Denisha Kuhlor: The time is now with that. I mean, with Kendrick's tour, I don't know if we would have all guessed that, his partner would be in tech company. So I think it'd be really interesting for his next tour to see who he aligns himself with.
[00:12:47] Dan Runcie: The interesting thing with Travis though, is that. As I mentioned, I feel like the 2020 was that peak that we had seen, but then by early 2021, this is when we first start hearing about this forthcoming album, Utopia, he announces that he has this, or he posts a screenshot, which is quite cryptic, but he has this movie coming out with a 24.
That seems like it may be titled Utopia. Fans are already anticipating it, and it did feel similar to the Astroworld, but Hype in some ways, because even 2 years before that album came out, even before birds of the trap sing McKnight, he was talking about Astroworld. So we felt like we're back to this era and things seem to be cruising.
He had already had successful Astroworld festivals on the ground, especially that 1st 1 he had after, the Astroworld Album that came out in 2018. I believe he had another one in 2019 was quite successful. Obviously, he didn't have one due to the early part of the pandemic in 2020, but he then comes in 2021 and you could say that things were already starting to shift at this point because fans were already in that anticipation point. Okay, when's it going to come? We thought the album is going to come, but then everything changes after the tragedy of the Astroworld festival that he has, as we talked about in the beginning, many people died.
There was a stampede. And I think there's a few things that we can dig into, but we don't necessarily need to dig into the depths of that in this conversation here. But how do you feel like that event, set the tone for Travis's career and how much it impacted and everything else that we've seen and maybe we'll expect coming forward.
[00:14:28] Denisha Kuhlor: Yeah. So, you know, when I, recently rewatched the documentary, his documentary, Look, Mom, I Can Fly and it kind of highlighted some of the culture, right? Around his shows, how his fans showed up at his shows and the overall like tempo of his performances. while in a lot of ways, I think, it didn't matter if people didn't like it, right? Because the ones that did loved it and were truly embracing that culture. I feel like it showed a new light, and light actually probably is the wrong word, but it cast him, in a way, where I think it was the first Big events in a long time, especially post pandemic or post COVID, in which fans were forced to grapple, with like the predicament of other fans, right?
whether you're Travis Scott fan or not, we all know what it's like to be at a show, hopefully, or a big show. And so I think it's really tricky, his reaction and his response. I mean, he did the follow up interview with Charlemagne, and in some ways laid a bit low, obviously his legal stuff was sorted out and things like that.
I think that it positions him in a way that as fans or casual fans or listeners. Want to really get to know more of him and his ethos the documentary helped a bit with that to understand him better but I think that social relationship or feeling like that one to one relationship is there is going to be stronger than ever, for the success of this album is, I'm sure in that, that events, divided many of his fans, whether it was the event himself or his reaction and follow up to it.
[00:16:25] Dan Runcie: I want to dig into that last point, because this may be a tough question to ask. There obviously was very strong reaction to the tragedy of the event, especially considering the lives lost. There was a lot of discussion around that too. Do you think more of the discussion or change in tone about Travis himself was more from the broader people who may not be a rager themselves?
Or do you feel like the ragers themselves, Actually changed after this event.
[00:16:56] Denisha Kuhlor: Yeah, that's a great question, definitely tough in a way, but in some ways it's simple. It was from the non ragers, right? Because that in itself, in some ways, being at a show like that in itself was difficult for people to understand. So seeing the results of the show, I think, invited many people to cast their opinions in a way that was easy, especially because something went wrong.
But, it's like for any show or any artist that has a fan base, you really can't explain the momentum of why you're there in the first place. Now, I do think, though, when it comes to, you know, the second option for that question, if there was to be any, maybe, divide or discussion amongst the fan base, it would be around Travis's follow up after, especially given they're all a part of this culture or all a part of this fandom. But in terms of deciding whether to go, and being critical of that in the first place, definitely from non ragers.
[00:18:07] Dan Runcie: Yeah, that's the sentiment that I captured too. I remember his initial response. It didn't necessarily feel like it. Sure, I think there's things that you can say we're left to be desired. I think we think about the broader context of who Travis Scott is in himself. It's this balance between do we feel like the person actually does feel sorrow and disappointment for what happened or do they speak in a way that makes us feel that and I know those are two separate things, but I do think that I believe that Travis does have sorrow for these things. I don't know if he in any interview that he's necessarily had ever had those bullet points or those breakaways. That's like, oh, yeah, when Travis Scott said this 1 thing, you know, that's the thing that, you know, stuck with and not saying that necessarily as a knock that just isn't him. It isn't like how Kendrick Lamar may drop some shit in an interview and you're like, oh, wow, never thought of it that way or even how I think Drake does this as well. Some of that could be a bit of an age thing. I know Travis is now I think he's like 31 and, you know, these guys straight Kendrick and Cole are closer to 40 than they are 30, but it's also a bit of a personality and a dynamic thing too. So I think it's like, just because that it just because a tragedy happened, even though a person may feel bad, I don't know. Even the best P. R. crafted statement doesn't turn them into Michael Eric Dyson in terms of how eloquent they may be with using words and things like that. So that was 1 thing that I thought about with the response
[00:19:45] Denisha Kuhlor: I do think when we think about the potential ramifications or how it might affect this upcoming album, that like, this culture of likeability and cancel culture do play a role. And I feel like that's why the documentary was so fascinating in some ways because For so many of us, we're probably at the casual Travis Scott, fans or listeners.
We definitely, you know, have audio recognition of the songs. at this point we attribute the songs to him. but little did we know or little did the world know the depth and the passion of, his core fans and his stance. And maybe because, you know, this is a thing with the media. So often, the concept of a stan has been profiled as like the teenage girl, right?
The Swifties back when Taylor Swift was coming up, or the One Direction fans, or the Justin Bieber fans that, which is not necessarily Travis fan base, but the similarities in terms of passion. What he means to them, and the music are right there.
[00:20:50] Dan Runcie: And I think that's a good place to transition into what we then expect for Utopia. Do you think that those same fans will show up in the same way that we've seen them show up with Astroworld, show up with these merch drops, show up with these product sales year in year out, especially the way they did from that 2018 to 2020 stretch.
[00:21:10] Denisha Kuhlor: You know, it's what I'm most curious about myself. When we look at four to five years, it'd be easy to say, you know, obviously, that was a big part of people's lives for whatever age or part of their life they were going through, and naturally, they'll at least give him the first look or first right of refusal to do.
So, I'd be remiss though. If I'd say these last 4 or 5 years will really go down in history. And it changed so many people, and truly transformative ways. So I wonder if the conversion in terms of the amount of, like, stands that he'll be able to keep from, the last album to Utopia will be as high as maybe it could have been if the world looked a little different four or four or five years ago.
What I do think, though, is, and we saw this with SZA. It really can stand the test of time, especially if the relationship is strong. Fans are ready, audiences are excited. And they want to show up and give that power in a lot of ways. I wonder what's the difference between a fan base that stays.
I would point to a Taylor Swift fan base, for example, obviously the Swifties versus a fan base that moves on, you know, you think of the J. Cole song, I think when he's 1985 and he talks about like the actual cyclical nature of hip hop and rap, right? From an artist perspective and for the majority of the artists. They don't hang on and they don't convert. So it's going to be really interesting, but my hunch is that he's going to have to pick up a lot of new fans along the way, only because his fans are in such a stage of adolescence or figuring things out, at least his biggest diehard fans, and can very much be in a new place in their lives now.
[00:23:08] Dan Runcie: If the over under on what Travis Scott could do for this album. I'm thinking purely on a first week sales metric here, as you mentioned, Astroworlds did 537. If that's the over under I'm taking the under if the over under is 400. I'm taking the under. And to be honest with you, even if the over under is 300, I'm still taking the under.
And here's why, there's so much that has changed in streaming and music since then. And when Travis Scott released Astroworld, hip hop had such an early mover advantage on streaming that it was in the streaming services benefit to push hip hop and to push the hip hop stars that are out in front. So that same summer that Astroworld comes out, Drake had released his album, Scorpion, maybe like 6, 7 weeks before, and there were a few other ones that were strong on the charts, but there were no Taylor, no Beyonce, or no other, you know, big artists that were there at least releasing from that perspective, but a lot's changed now where I don't think the streaming services necessarily need to rely on hip hop in that same way as heavily because of all the growth that's there.
Morgan Wallen is still doing over 100, units sold per week and we're almost 20 weeks running now. Country artists weren't doing that in 2018. So it's a very different landscape now. So that's one aspect of it. The 2nd aspect of it is this album will be, at least to my knowledge, 1 of the 1st to take advantage of billboard reintroducing album bundle packs.
And that is 1 of the things that Travis benefited from. They took it away for several years. So we saw a lot of hip hop artists take a decline. They'll now bring it back. It's going to be slightly different. However. I think what's changed a bit is that I don't know if hype beast and hype culture is necessarily the same as it as it was in 2018, because I feel like that was the height of when Supreme was doing its best and getting those big, P E deals from Carlisle group.
And all of these companies were just, and you're seeing all these specials and document mini documentaries on what is hype and why do these companies start? And why are all these? Gen Z and young millennials lining up at whatever hour across the street. And in a way that, yeah, that stuff still happens, but it doesn't happen in the same aspect.
And I don't think someone like Travis Scott has much of a monopoly on that culture, the way that he did then. So I think that hurts it a little bit. And I think the 3rd thing with the absence of a song as big as sickle mode, and even if Travis Scott has better songs on this album, the sickle mode, I haven't heard it. I can't speak to that. It's harder for even a single song in hip hop to capture as much mindshare today in 2013, 2023, as Sicko mode did in 2018. And I remember there was some study that. or some analysis, I think the New York Times or 1 of those places put out where they looked at all the streams of Astroworld and an overwhelming majority of them were people streaming Sicko mode.
That's no surprise. That's just the way it is. And you know, it's a power law thing. You need that 1 or 2 hits really to drive things forward, will he pull a few singles that have been loose ones that have done? Well, potentially, Yeah, probably, but we'll see, I think actually, and I know you want to talk about this in a little bit, but Lil Uzi Vert's pink tape could probably be a helpful proxy here.
So he released a album in, 2020, and I think it did just under 300, 000, units, and then he released another album a couple of weeks ago, the pink tape, and then that did around one 67. So almost a 50% drop. I mean, he still did number one, but there was a pretty sizable drop. I think Lil Uzi Vert is a different, you know, case than Travis Scott, but this is kind of what we've seen even artists like Drake and others. It's tough to reach those numbers that they did at the height of streaming when they were doing strong numbers and everything else. So I think that if you want to even say someone like J Cole is a cop, I think that his last album was still under 300, 000 or so. So I'd be surprised if Travis Scott got to that level.
And the 1 thing I'll say, 2, is I know you mentioned, you know, SZA and just how that fan base stays. We did have some hard numbers to be able to show that just seeing how scissors control stayed on the charts for the past 5 years. I don't yeah, I don't see Astro world on the charts in that same type of way.
So if that indicates anything from a staying power perspective, I don't know, but that's where I sit with it.
[00:27:36] Denisha Kuhlor: Yeah, no, I'm aligned. I think we're going to see somewhere between 200 K to 300K optimistically. I think that's a great, outcome. I also think the point you made about, hype culture. Is really important, right? we're now in an era where people are covering, the outfits on secession, right?
Where people are leaning towards old money or, you know, that culture. it's a lot different. you've seen, you know, even when you look at major houses like LVMH or conglomerates, the efforts and the investment that they've had to put just to stay on top of consumers minds and gain that attention share.
I think while bundles are exciting and while it's super exciting that bundles are back and will be counted. It really is going to take a lot for it to garner fans attention. Even with Beyonce, I think maybe, I mean, what she did was really interesting with the mystery boxes, but it'll need to have some type of true pull or gravitas beyond really just the product itself, because consumers have built affinity to a lot more brands, a lot more rising brands, a lot more, influencers even, to justify potentially just that much.
[00:28:58] Dan Runcie: What do you make of the Pyramids performance that's upcoming for Travis Scott?
[00:29:03] Denisha Kuhlor: Yeah. So the first thing that comes to mind is Russ and Russ's tweet saying that he, you know, he did it first and his fans reminded everyone, what I will say is. I do think it's a testament to his artistry, and his ability to truly want to or have this desire to maybe think outside the box and try new things.
As someone who, goes back and forth between, I guess, Africa and, the States, I think those types of things are always tricky, in terms of going to any place, right? And maybe in some ways wanting to encompass it as part of your art, while not always fully immersing yourself in the location.
So I know he's, an artist and obviously want to respect his artistic will. But when it comes down to how it might be more broadly perceived outside the United States. I'm really curious to actually see the sentiment. What are your thoughts there?
[00:30:05] Dan Runcie: That's a good point. And something that isn't necessarily talked about a lot, right? A lot of the Westerners may see that and be like, oh, dope. Cool. Did it in one of the seven wonders of the world, right? But yeah, what do Egyptians feel about that? What do people from the Middle East feel about that? Is this a stunt to capture attention?
And in many ways, we know that it is an opportunity to capture attention. Just the statement itself. Oh, I'm doing this. You want to make it big. You do want to make it big. It definitely captured my attention. I'm not going to act like I'm above it, right? Oh, this could be interesting to see, but I think you bring up a very good point about it.
And is there some type of tie in or some type of relationship there? We'll see, I don't know, but I think that's a good thing to think about there. The 1 question I do want to ask you before we wrap things up here is. We talk a lot. Oh, you and I've talked a lot about artists, market fit, creator, market fit, and just how they find products and things that work well for them.
And I look at people like Mr. Beast and he's someone who they've launched products. Off of his likeness and off of his brand, some of those products haven't worked as well. We recently heard that beast burgers had shut down and there's also been several P. E. and venture capital firms that have tried to spin up investment company or investment firms that are specifically focused on either, A, trying to find the next Mr. Beast or be trying to fund projects or businesses that are based off of the likeness of the influence that these creators do have. Travis Scott has a lot of similarities, especially we think about the influence from an e commerce perspective. I don't know if the timing was now, maybe the time it could have been a few years ago.
But do you think there was an opportunity for him to have launched a more traditional business off of Cactus Jack, the same way that we see he's so synonymous with drop culture and he's so synonymous with those things. Was there an opportunity to do something like that?
[00:32:06] Denisha Kuhlor: Yeah, I think absolutely, you know, nowadays it's really interesting in terms of some of the biggest brands have, skewed beyond the celebrity. People had a lot to say about Skims, right? But we can't deny, that it's a great business and people really like the product. Kim Kardashian or not, they like the product. I think during that period when he was on top of the world, that was a really interesting time, especially during COVID when he wasn't, traveling as much or touring as much, to be able to bring something to market that would really excite fans and fans and consumers, it almost feels like that opportunities past now, because that like height of fandom is not the same. But I also think that a lot of artists don't want to, and maybe that is very much okay, when I watched the documentary, I kept reflecting back on. The ownership that he gravitated to taking when it came to the control of his shows.
I mean, getting in the weeds about his lights, his sound, his pyrotechnics, to a level that almost reminded me of Beyonce. In the sense of how much he wanted to direct and produce the show in real time and how passionate he was about that. So while, the answer is yes, right?
And if I was talking to a manager, an agent, they'd be like, hell yeah. I also think it's okay to maybe recognize that he had, like we said, some of the biggest brands in the world, cutting him really, really great checks that required him to be hands on, Yes, but also gave him a certain level of ability to turn off his laptop for the day or walk away while being able to tap into the supply chains and resources and expertise that they had at their disposal.
So, while yes, in some ways he's done a great job at becoming really liquid off just his likeness. , and maybe he's not necessarily from an artist market fit standpoint, the archetype of artists that would have done it long enough for it to be lucrative or successful in comparison to his other ventures.
[00:34:23] Dan Runcie: Great comparison on Beyonce. We've clearly seen some of the e commerce and brand struggles that some of her products have had recently, but people will show up for the concert people would show up for the event and you talking about how particular and focused Travis is on the ownership of the performance and the stage. It makes me think of that line in antidote where he's like kicking the camera man off of my stage. Cause I don't like, I always capture my angles, which was literally from something that he did at a national concert. So I think that's a good point there. And of course, underlying, let's say he launched something either end of 2019 and, or beginning of 2020, like right when things were taken off. It's one thing for the Travis Scott brand itself to have taken a hit after the Astroworld tragedy. I could even imagine where that company would be today. And especially just given where anything that we just talked about, how, you know, hype beast culture and things like that just aren't where they are right now.
So we'll see, I say all that to say, I know that you shared a bunch of caveats in this conversation. I'm still going to listen to the album. I'm still intrigued. I do want this person to succeed. I very much like Travis Scott, but I also realized that for the average artist having a four to five year peak run is much more common, especially for someone that reaches those levels. And then even someone having a true generational career like Drake or Jay Z is few and far between. So even if it doesn't hit the same numbers, I don't think it's necessarily a knock. It's more so reality of the business.
[00:35:51] Denisha Kuhlor: Yeah, I think, the Drake's JC's, even the J Cole's are only going to become rare and rare as attention gets harder, but a strong 5 year, strong 5 to 7 year career that makes truly like, good income that an artist can then use to divest or maybe even sell their catalog, is like the 1% nowadays, for the industry. I agree.
[00:36:13] Dan Runcie: Indeed. Well, Denisha, this was fun. Thanks again for coming on. And who knows, maybe we'll have to check in after Utopia at some point to see what the post Travis Scott return looks like. Thanks again for coming
[00:36:25] Denisha Kuhlor: We definitely need an update. Of course, thanks for having me.
[00:36:28] Dan Runcie: All right. Great.
[00:36:29] Dan Runcie Outro Audio: If you enjoyed this podcast, go ahead and share it with a friend, copy the link, text it to a friend, post it in your group chat, post it in your Slack groups, wherever you and your people talk, spread the word. That's how Trapital continues to grow and continues to reach the right people. And while you're at it, if you use Apple podcast.
Go ahead, rate the podcast, give it a high rating and leave a review. Tell people why you like the podcast that helps more people discover the show. Thank you in advance. Talk to you next week.38m | Jul 20, 2023
- Motown Records: The Hit Factory That Changed Music Forever
Few record labels have left their stamp on the industry quite like Motown.
This assembly line churned out hit song after hit song in the ‘60s and early ‘70s. With a who’s-who roster — Marin Gaye, The Jackson 5, Diana Ross, and Stevie Wonder, among others — The Hitsville U.S.A. sign Gordy put on Motown’s front door became warranted.
This episode is the story of Motown Records — it’s formula for success, what led to its decline, and where it stands today under Universal. I’m joined by friend of the pod, Zack O’Malley Greenburg. Here’s what we covered in this episode:
0:38 Berry Gordy’s origin story
8:08 Motown museum in Detroit
9:20 Cultivating a culture of creativity
13:05 Shifting the sound of Black music
20:12 Motown’s knack for discovering talent
34:29 The beginning of the decline
36:12 80’s decade of transition
39:48 Post-Gordy struggles
45:51 Motown’s uncertainty today
53:59 Best signing?
55:16 Best business move?
568:45 Dark horse move?
1:01:58 Biggest missed opportunity?
1:07:13 Motown big-screen picture
1:09:22 Berry Gordy won big
1:10:41 Who lost the most?
1:14:56 Zack’s Jay Z index
Host: Dan Runcie, @RuncieDan, trapital.co
Guests: Zack O’Malley Greenburg, @zogblog
Enjoy this podcast? Rate and review the podcast here! ratethispodcast.com/trapital
[00:00:00] Zack Greenburg: Berry Gordy created with Motown and sort of the Motown genre, which I think really like more than any label has become synonymous beyond just sort of like the name of label itself, you say Motown music, and a testament to the sound that he created,
[00:00:13] Dan Runcie Audio Intro: Hey, welcome to the Trapital Podcast. I'm your host and the founder of Trapital, Dan Runcie. This podcast is your place to gain insights from the executives in music, media, entertainment, and more who are taking hip hop culture to the next level.
[00:00:38] Dan Runcie Guest Intro: Today's episode is a deep dive into the one and only legendary Motown records. At its peak, Motown was the most successful black business in the country. It peaked at 30 million dollars of revenue in 1968 and Barry Gordy and his team assembled a sound. a unique genre of music that produced hit after hit after hit and Hitsville USA lived up to its promise.
So in this episode, we take you through the origins of how Motown came to be. What are some of the business principles and strategies that worked in its favor? And then what are some of the challenges that Motown faced too? It's now been 50 years since the peak of Motown. And this record label has had plenty of ups and downs and plenty of journeys that we went deep on in this episode. And I'm joined by Zach Greenburg He is a biographer of Jay Z and several others, and he also wrote about Michael Jackson. And in that he talked about Michael Jackson's time with Motown, especially in the Jackson 5. So we had a lot of fun in this one. So come take a trip down memory lane with us. Here's our episode on Motown.
[00:01:42] Dan Runcie: All right. Today we're back with another case study style episode, and we're going deep into Hitsville, USA. Motown, baby. Let's do this, Zack, I'm excited for this one.
[00:01:53] Zack Greenburg: Thanks for having me as always.
[00:01:55] Dan Runcie: Berry Gordy is so fascinating because At one point, this was the most successful black business. They're the most successful black entrepreneur in the country invented a genre.
And it's so hard to be able to do that. And that legacy still lives on today. We know so many record labels that have taken inspiration from what Berry Gordy built with Motown records, but let's start from the beginning. What inspired Berry Gordy to even want to get involved with music in the first place?
[00:02:23] Zack Greenburg: Yeah. So, you know, Berry Gordy, and his family were in the Detroit area, you know, a bunch of serial entrepreneurs, get a record shop early on, but he was actually like semi professional boxer coming up. And, think one thing led to another and you just kind of saw that, you know, there was a market that was not being served in music.
you know, certainly like the business was concentrated, on the coast and particularly in New York at that time, you know, eventually more in LA, but. you know, there was some stuff going on in Chicago. there was some regional acts, regional labels, things like that. But, you know, I think he just basically saw an opportunity, to start something.
And, you know, sort of in the way that if you look at, Richard Branson or Puffy or, you know, what are those types of entrepreneurs? It's almost It doesn't really matter what they get into. They find a way to make it work. and they're just always on the lookout for a new sector. That's, kind of, you know, right for some creative destruction, know, and some refreshing or some freshening, some revising, I don't know, whatever you would call it.
And, you know, in the case of Berry Gordy. Kind of amazingly, when you think about music over the past half century, he looked around and he thought, well, this is actually, this is a sector that is very promising amongst all the sectors that I could possibly get into. So, that's how Motown came to pass.
[00:03:36] Dan Runcie: That point about whether it's Diddy, Branson, Gordy, and I think a lot of the tech CEOs fall in this category as well. You're going to put them in any generation. And I do think that these people would have found a way to make things work. And that's the same point you're making, right? He saw an opportunity to music, but let's say he came 30 years later.
It could have been another aspect. Let's say he came today, probably could have been trying to do something in AI or even figure it out, how to make AI, be transformative with his music. And I think a lot of his work, whether you think about how he built derivative work or how he had this process with artists that we'll get into so much of it taps into, okay, here's an opportunity to optimize things.
Here's how we can make things work. And music just happened to be the format. He chose it.
[00:04:21] Zack Greenburg: Absolutely. And even, you know, when you think about it, he got started sort of mid century 30 years later, he was looking into other things, getting involved in film and TV. And You know, moving the business out West, but, you know, we'll get there eventually, but, he certainly did, you know, find other ways to extend the Motown brand as time went on.
[00:04:37] Dan Runcie: So he starts off, he has this record business and things go okay with that. specifically talking about the store. And that was a lot of it was connected a bit more from the family perspective, but then he ends up getting the job at Ford specifically working with that Lincoln mercury plant. And that's when he was only there for 2 years, but he then sees how the process works and the whole concept of Ford is, which is that assembly line process that Henry Ford has been famous for.
He sees that and then he taps back into his opportunities with music and he's like, okay. Okay, there's an opportunity to do the same with music. So he sees this assembly line, essentially have all these parts go through the inputs. And then the output, you get this car, he wanted to be able to pull some kid off the street, bring them into the Motown and bring them into this record label facility.
And then outcomes a star. And he felt like he had the ability to be able to create that type of dynamic. And it took some time to get there, but that's essentially what he did. And a lot of the creations of what we saw from Hitsville USA was that exactly.
[00:05:48] Zack Greenburg: Absolutely. And, he'll tell you that, I've interviewed him a couple of times. Once for Forbes, once for my book, Michael Jackson Inc, where he talked a lot about that. And, you know, he really has a formula, for making a hit song. And, you know, it's sort of like the song has to have a clear beginning, middle at an end. The chorus has to have a sort of grand arc that summarizes the song every time it happens.
And then there's a sort of like grand finale bridge ending thing that, brings it all together, always at the end you hear the artist shout out the song's name almost, you know, invariably one last time and you know, that's like pure marketing, right? And you think about it in those days, this great songs on, you're hearing it, but like, you know, maybe you're in the car, it's on the radio, maybe you're artist and a record player.
It's not popping up on your phone. So you know what it's called when you hear Michael Jackson shout out, I want you back at the end and I want you back. what you're going to go out and buy, you know what, you're going to call in, you know, to the radio station and ask them to play. So, it's very calculated, it really works and it's proven and, you know, if it sort of seems like, gosh. You know, this is like a cliche. This is obvious. I think part of it is because he helped create this cliche, obvious thing, right? I mean, things become cliche or obvious because they're smart or necessary most of the time.
So, you know, at some point it was novel and, you know, very corny, I think was part of, making that whole song structure novel. And, you know, really. When you look at how he executed it, you know, I think a modern day analog, we talked about this, you know, before on our bad boy episode, but so, you know, his role was very much like the Puffy role, or at least the early Puffy role in production. So, you know, he had a hand in songwriting and production, but, you know, mostly he figured out who he wanted to have producing his labels, songs and sort of who he wanted to be in charge of authoring that certain type of sound.
So for Berry Gordy, it was a handful of, producers called the corporation, just like Puffy had the Hitmen. And, you know, then he would kind of come in and do his own little thing on top when he thought it was necessary. But, you know, in a way it kind of adds that whole assembly line aspect, right? Where, you know, that there's going to be a certain level of quality, there's going to be like a distinctive sound, whether it's a bad boy or Motown, or, you know, even going back to, you know, what a Ford car was, you know, in those days you had kind of an ideology to get.
And I think that's one of the things that really set Motown apart.
[00:08:08] Dan Runcie: Exactly. And I think with that too, you have him going through the process of starting this. So this record label started with an 800 with 800. That's what he had initially. And he uses that to then start Hitsville USA. So that's the location on Grand Ave in Detroit.
Have you been to this museum by the way?
[00:08:30] Zack Greenburg: I did. We did a special event there. One time we had the Forbes 30 under 30, Summit and we did this like, special, like one off private interview where I went there with Quavo and we sat in Motown studios, you know, where Michael Jackson and all them had recorded. and we did a little like video discussion on the state of the music business, I think it's floating around the internet somewhere, but, it's a really cool building. I mean, I think what strikes. Me the most, you know, like the first time I went in is like the fact that just a house.
I mean, it really just looks like a house. the rooms are sort of like room size, you know, it's not some sprawling like, you know, I don't know, institutional type place like a lot of modern, recording studios, you know, it's just a converted house but you know, you kind of walk through each room and it's museum and everything now, so you can kind of get a feel for it. It's very different from the modern day glitz and glamour of the record business for sure.
[00:09:20] Dan Runcie: Yeah, been there twice. it was really cool because just like you said, you feel like you're actually in a home and that's the vibe that the studio gives you. And I felt like the people that were the tour guides as well, they clearly knew their history in a way where it should sound obvious, but that could obviously be hit or miss with museum sometimes.
So I felt like that piece of it was good. And it ties back to a few things that tap into the culture that it is. Gordy wanted to create that. I think make it work. He lived upstairs. Studio is downstairs. So he has everything there and he wanted to make this somewhere that creativity could spawn at any particular moment.
So he wanted to create a 24/7. Set up where he had made sure the vending machines were always stocked. So people could stay there year, you know, day in day out. If creativity comes to you at 3 p. m. or 3 a. m. you can go right there and do what you have to do. And you could keep things moving there internally.
And this is one of the things that I do think worked really well for them because. Although I think the music industry has gotten away from this, there was this era where the culture and the vibe that you could create from a label and all that continuity really helped things. So when you saw how deliberate he was from an assembly line perspective was essentially keeping his product in place and keeping all the materials in place so that it can produce outputs at any given moments to just increase the likelihood that you could have hits coming time and time again.
[00:10:49] Zack Greenburg: Yeah, for sure. And, you know, I mean, he certainly spoke a lot about, quality control, which is, it's kind of funny, you know, given the eventual QC relationship, but, you know, I think that's a really big part of it. And when you're that hands on and, you know, in some cases you could say micromanaging, but it does enable you to really have a unified.
We can also get into this, fact that at some point it can become a bit of a creative constraint for artists as they mature.
[00:11:14] Dan Runcie: Right, because with quality control, there was someone on the team that listened to everything that came through Motown and they essentially picked the best. They brought it to this weekly meeting and most of the Motown artists weren't writing or producing their materials necessarily, but they were going in and you had all these artists that would essentially sing.
The same exact song and then they would pick the best version that came out of that to then release the song. Sometimes they had multiple artists that would end up releasing a version. And we saw different versions of this where you had both Diana Ross and Marvin Gaye have their versions of Ain't No Mountain high enough.
Granted it was a few years later in different songs, but a lot of that stems from that quality control aspect. And there's this one quote that, was here from One of the books that was written about, Berry Gordy and Motown, where they talked about quality control and they said, quote, the artists were a means to an end in a way, end quote.
And that's exactly what we're talking about how the downside is that it could limit creativity, but the upside is that it gives you the opportunity to get the best polished diamond from all of the creations that come from this studio.
[00:12:24] Zack Greenburg: Absolutely. And man, there were quite a few, right? I mean, when you look through, I mean, the heydays, Smokey Robinson, the Miracles, Diana Ross, the Supremes, Four Tops, Marvin Gaye, coming into, you know, Michael Jackson, the Jackson 5, you know, think we've talked about in our previous discussions about hip hop, you know, like sort of the staying power, of different labels and, you know, and how you can kind of keep identifying talent and keep it coming. I mean, that's quite a breadth You know, of like musical accomplishment that they've got, that you could say that Berry Gordy identified over the years.
So, you know, I would really, obviously I'd put him up against any other, identify any A& R, any, you know, music mogul in the history of the business, for sure.
[00:13:05] Dan Runcie: I agree. And I think the other thing that's interesting too, is This taps back into the whole process and quality management things. Berry Gordy really wanted to help shift the sound and direction of this label because at the time, black music and music that was made by black artists was quite segmented where people didn't feel like it could reach beyond a certain audience.
And he experienced some of this himself. One of the reasons that his record stores closed was because he was focused primarily on jazz music. At the time, even Black folks weren't really into jazz at that particular moment. So he just didn't have the market to be able to continue this. So I think that helps Chase Motower.
He says, okay, I want the music that's able to be listened to by everyone. I want Black people to ride with it. I want white people. I want anyone in America to be able to ride with the same way that people would listen to the Beach Boys. And he had a few more interesting things that were part of this process.
One, everyone had an etiquette coach. And these are things that we're teaching them, essentially, how you have black people essentially speak to white people. Granted, I think there's a lot of that that is problematic. That probably wouldn't fly into the same ways today, just given some of the language there.
but then additionally, he also had white salesmen that were essentially the ones that were promoting the records in different areas, going to different radio stations. And he would go as far to insert in records that he's promoting to not even show the artist on the cover because he wanted the record to reach.
And he didn't want people to necessarily immediately see or relate it to a black artist, which I thought was interesting, but lined up with a lot of these things. So, even though some of the choices clearly were problematic, it probably wouldn't fly at the same way today. That's how he was about process and wanting to essentially be able to sell this talent anywhere in the country.
[00:15:01] Zack Greenburg: Yeah, and it's especially remarkable when you sort think of the cultural context of, you know, of when this is all happening in the 60s. You know, I mean, this is a time of great polarization and social change and, you know, really like turmoil, in a lot of ways, disunity, but, what Berry Gordy created with Motown and sort of the Motown genre, which I think really like more than any label has become synonymous like a genre, you know, beyond just sort of like the name of label itself, you say Motown music, and you're talking about like a genre, as much as you're talking about a label, the fact that you'd be able to sort of create that it like in the 60s, even the late 60s, when things were really why we think we're polarized now.
I mean, the late sixties, oh my gosh. Like what a testament to the sort of the sound that he created, which, you know, just like bridged all these divides and, you know, you obviously still go to any wedding, black, white, you know, at anything. And, you're gonna hear Motown all over the place.
So I think that kind of goes back to what he created, you know, even at the time. being so accessible to so many different audiences and, you know, one of the things he told me, when I interviewed him, he said that, Martin Luther King came to see him, in Detroit, at the peak of the civil rights movement.
And apparently, according to Gary Gordy, MLK said, he said, what I'm trying to do politically and intellectually, you're doing with your music. I love the feeling people get when they hear your music. And so maybe we can make a deal. And they made a deal to actually put out some of MLK's greatest speeches.
They put out three albums on Motown and Gordy kind of summed it up by saying, if you do the right thing will come to you. So I thought that was such a cool. Little nugget that people don't necessarily realize. and, you know, I think people don't, think of Berry Gordy as like avant garde, you know, civil rights activist or anything, but, he kind of approached it in his own way, which was to make this music that could, you know, that could really bring people together.
They could also get black culture, you know, into the mainstream us culture, at the same time. And, you know, I mean, we saw that, you know, decades later with hip hop, but. Berry Gordy, you know, he made that blueprint, you know, very, very, very early on.
[00:17:03] Dan Runcie: It's a great story because I think it highlights the complexity and that people just aren't in these corners. And as you mentioned, Berry Gordy wasn't known for his civil rights activism. In many ways, people would often point to things that he may have shied away from, where I remember, especially in the 70s when you started to hear a bit more of a pacifist and things like that, there was a push and people wanted Motown to lead more into this and he necessarily wasn't as eager at the time and I remember even Marvin Gaye's What's Going On, one of the biggest records that was ever made.
There was tension leading up to that because Gordy was like, wait, what is this? you want to do this? Like, what are we doing here? And then it eventually gets made. And then you see how I feel like every time that one of these publications has one of the greatest songs ever made, I'm sure it's come up on number one, or at least on several, one of these.
So you see that, and you've seen other areas where he clearly has leaned into this, but I do think that his. Place in his role at that time, often highlighted some of that ongoing tension that we've seen from black leaders over the years about people want progress, but what's the best way to agree with this?
And you date back to some of the more public debates between folks like Booker T. Washington and W. E. B. Dubois about what is the best way for black progress and group economics and things like that. And I feel like Berry Gordy clearly was on a Particular side of that, that not everyone may have agreed with, but he clearly still wanted to be able to help progress things in a particular way.
So he's a very fascinating figure as we look at this progression, especially in the 20th century.
[00:18:42] Zack Greenburg: Well, that's right. And, you know, I think there's a reason you see him put out MLK speeches. I don't, think he put up Malcolm X's speeches, you know, but that was just sort of his approach, right? He was more Martin than Malcolm.
And, you know, obviously you could speak to the merits of either method, but, Berry Gordon definitely, had his preference there.
[00:18:59] Dan Runcie: The other thing that I want to talk about, you mentioned it earlier, but the talent and the breadth of talent that was in this place is such a constraint and such a valuable time.
It's one of those things where just imagine walking through on a, some day in, let's say 1964, you're just walking through Motown and all of the names that you could just see there making music on a Wednesday afternoon. It's crazy to think of the names and also how he found folks because. Look at Smokey Robinson and Smokey Robinson, the miracles essentially end up releasing shop around, which I do think ends up becoming the first true hit that, or the first, hit single that comes from Motown.
He found that he found Smokey on a street corner performing almost, and in many ways, it feels similar to. What we see decades later with Sylvia Robinson driving around the New Jersey tri state area, finding hip hop artists for Sugar Hill Gang. This is how these early entrepreneurs did it. They were the talent development.
They saw things and granted it was a much less crowded market. So the people that were pushing music onto folks had a little bit easier time breaking through, but it was still tough, especially at the time. And he was able to make it work in that way, which was, cool.
[00:20:13] Zack Greenburg: Yeah, I mean, he actually did. And, you know, of course, like the one group that we haven't talked about too much yet is Jackson and sort of the way that, different groups were signed in those days, you know, they're all the stories about, well, you hear, you see somebody busking and you sign them and this and that.
And, sort of some of the stories, though, if you talk to a lot of different people, you get, you talk to 3 people, you get 3 different stories. Right? So, I think for my book on MJ, I talked to. His dad, I talked to Berry Gordy and I talked to the guy who signed them to this little record company called Steel Town in Gary, Indiana.
And they all had three different versions of, you know, how it went down, right? And so, there's that old saying, basically that the winners get to write history and, you know, Berry Gordy won. So, you know, whether his version is a hundred percent, accurate or not, that's kind of the version that, you know, we tend to hear I think his version is usually correct, but there's definitely some, you know, embellishment or some showmanship from time to time.
So, you know, I think, for example, with the Jackson 5, Berry Gordy decided to put out, I think it was their first album as Diana Ross presents the Jackson 5 and, you know, she had this little thing where she's like, I discovered this group from Gary, Indiana and like blah, blah, blah, and that wasn't really how it happened at all.
And it was really, you know, depending on who you ask, but I think what happened is Suzanne DePasse, who was one of Berry Gordy's lieutenants, had discovered them, and I think it was, there's another band who heard them, like sent them along to Suzanne DePasse that like, she kind of did the legwork for Berry Gordy.
And it was like many times, many. Kind of connections later that Diana Ross, you know, became connected, to the group. but, you know, it's such a better story, right? Like Diana Ross has found these kids from, from the Midwest and, you know, bringing them out, onto Motown. So. I always think that's, kind of funny how, the stories end up getting presented and, you know, when you hear it from everybody else involved, I mean, and Diana Ross, of course, did become, really instrumental and especially Michael's life, as time went on, moved to LA and I think she, he actually lived with her for a little while while they were, you know, making the move and all this stuff, but, you know, it, didn't exactly start out that way.
[00:22:18] Dan Runcie: Right. And the Jackson 5 is interesting because they, in many ways were the last group that came through in the heyday of Motown because the heyday we're really talking about is that 50 to 60s run that we've been talking about with a lot of the groups and the artists that we mentioned, especially young Marvin Gaye, young Stevie Wonder, Diana Ross and the Supremes.
And then Jackson 5 comes along. But they come along towards the end of the decade. And just for some context setting, in 1968, Motown is doing 30 million in revenue. And they at one point had a 65% hit rate on the songs that they released in terms of actually being able to chart. So the highs were quite high and they were, killing it.
The thing is, though, in the early 70s, this is where things start to shift a little bit, because at this point, Berry has his eyes set much bigger, and he wants to move beyond things in Detroit, because of course he was in the Hitsville, U.S.A. house, solely, after the riots that happened and there was some damage there, they ended up expanding things closer.
they ended up expanding further in Detroit to just get a bigger size studio there as well. But then, he eventually wants to go to Hollywood so that he could get more into film. He wants to get into production for plays. He wants to bring these artists on the big screen. And it makes sense. We see why this is a huge medium.
You saw how much, popular this talent is. And if you can get people to see them and buy into this, visual image that he's clearly curated, no different than we saw someone like Diddy decades later curating things, he wanted to do that. And I think that in many ways, this was one of those big challenges that any leader can have.
Do you stay with the thing that's working really well? Or do you try to expand? And when you do expand, how do you find out? How do you make sure that you have the best talent around you? How do you make sure that you're well equipped? And I think that bowtie really started to strain because as things started to grow for the label, a lot of the artists started to feel like they were getting neglected because of these broader ambitions.
And that in many ways, now we're dating 50 plus years ago to like 1972 timeframe. That's when a lot of ways was the beginning of the end, at least in terms of the Motown that a lot of people grew up with and knew.
[00:24:41] Zack Greenburg: I think so for sure. And, you know, I think as an entrepreneur, you have to seek the next thing, right? I mean, you don't want to stagnate and you kind of have to take the risk and go for the next big thing and maybe you succeed and maybe you don't, and I think that's at least the way we've been conditioned to think. On the other hand, there could be an argument for like, we don't need to have this growth at all costs mindset as a society, you know, what's wrong with having a really awesome business that's just like constantly, you know, successful has happy employees, you know, that kind of thing. But, I guess that's, you know, this is, you know, Trapital not, you know, Trapsocialism, I dunno, we're talking within a certain realm of, you know, of economic, styles and systems.
So that's what's gotta happen. And that's what Berry Gordy decided to do, you know, by moving everything to LA but we talked, a while ago about John McClain, and his role in kind of in, in the past few decades as an executive. He's somebody who rarely talks, but somebody interviewed him at some point.
He said that he thought that moving to LA was, kind of the beginning of the end for Motown, because it, kind of changed Motown from being a trendsetter to being a trend follower. And, I think I agree with that. And, you know, that's not to say that there wasn't additional success, especially, you know, beyond the recorded music business that occurred. And that moving to LA kind of, you know, like supercharged some of that, but yeah, you know, I mean, I think when Motown was in the Motor City, in its namesake place, like, You know, it was sort of like, I don't say the only game in town cause there were other labels, but I think it was sort of, the main game in town and, being in a place that, you know, wasn't sort of the epicenter of the music business allowed it to have kind of its own unique style and not sort of be influenced as much by what else was going on.
And, you know, don't forget in those days, it wasn't like everything was, you know, it wasn't like we were all tuning into the same social media channels. you know, we weren't even like really tuned into cable TV or anything like that, you know, there wasn't the same kind of like national culture that there is today that, you know, where trends just kind of like fly across in a second. And things did kind of take time to move from one place to the other. throughout the country. So, you know, there was like a certain regionalism to it that I think set Motown apart and, you know, maybe you lose a little bit, you know, once you're out in LA, but, you know, certainly around that time, you really start to see some of the artists who wanted more creative freedom, leaving, you know, some others pushing back, you know, I think even within, a few years of moving to LA, the Jackson 5, we're kind of, having some issues with Motown and in terms of, you know, can we make some of our own types of music? You know, do we really have to stick to quite the assembly line? So, yeah, I do think it was a mixed bag for Berry Gordy to head west.
[00:27:20] Dan Runcie: And this is where things really started to struggle because a lot of what worked for Berry Gordy was so perfect for. The Hitsville USA West Grand Ave mentality of building everything there and not to say that he was only an early stage founder that couldn't necessarily progress. But I think a lot of the processes he had were more fit for that era. So naturally, you see the growing success of the Jackson 5 and Michael is no longer 9 years old.
He is at this point now a full on teenager, but unfortunately, it just didn't quite. Progress in a few things, as you mentioned, you wanted more, they wanted more creative control. They also wanted to have a bit more ownership. There were disputes about royalties. And I remember reading something that said that the Jackson 5 had calculated how much they got.
And it was only a 2.3% stake of how much revenue was either coming through or would be coming through in the future. And they see this and they're like, okay, well how can we see our opportunity to get more of that? So then they leave for Epic. And then you also saw a handful of artists at this point were already on their ways out and things were definitely starting to look a little bit more bleak because by the time you get to the end of the seventies, the beginning of 1980s, The music industry was already, granted things are cyclical, but they were starting to sour a bit on black music.
This was the end of disco and people wanted nothing to do with that genre. And even though Motown wasn't disco necessarily, there was vibes of the types of artists they were trying to naturally capture in the 70s. So then that had all of black music taking a hit in a lot of ways and there were groups like the barge and others that I think they tried to make work. Obviously, I think Stevie Wonder was a mainstay during all this and that worked out really well for them, but he was really just 1 mainstay. You did have Marvin Gaye, but again, still, it just wasn't necessarily. The same, and I think that they definitely started to struggle even more at that particular moment.
And even as early as the 80s, you start to see more of that narrative that honestly, you still hear today about recapturing that Motown magic or recapturing that Motown journey. People have been saying this now for 40 years.
[00:29:40] Zack Greenburg: Yeah, for sure. And I think one thing that people forget is that even though the Jackson 5 moved on to Epic, you know, and that's where MJ ended up, you know, Epic and CBS, and, that's where MJ ended up launching a solo career, people forget that Jermaine actually stayed at Motown initially.
He had married Berry Gordy's daughter and, you know, they had this whole wedding with like, you know, 150 white doves were released and, you know, they had this, you know, kind of fairytale situation. And apparently, Berry said to Jermaine, like, Hey, you can go with your brothers and stay with me, whatever you want.
And, you know, knowing Berry, I think he maybe didn't put it that delicately or, you know, that was kind of a huge break from Motown because you know, he had really taken the Jackson 5 under his wing. They used to have, Gordy versus Jackson family, baseball games. Michael Jackson would play catcher. It was very So, you know, I think Tito was like the big power hitter, is what I heard. but yeah, for, you know, I mean, these were two families that were really intricately linked. And I think ultimately it kind of came down to, you know, there was some creative control issues, but, you know, Joe Jackson was, pretty controlling, Berry Gordy was pretty controlling and at some point, you know, it just, I think it became impossible for them to coexist.
And so, Joe kind of guided them over to Epic to get that big deal, but, you know, Jermaine. It wasn't obvious that Michael was going to be, you know, by far the superstar of all the Jacksons. And, you know, Jermaine did seem at the time to be like the one who had the most promising solo career, or at least it was, you know, pretty close.
And, you know, he never really found his niche is a solo act and eventually it would go on to get back every night with his brothers and go on tours and that sort of thing.
[00:31:22] Dan Runcie: I think that's a good distinction because people will often point to and think about what are the big nine and then he drops off the wall. This isn't what happened. There's a pretty big difference between those few years. No difference than anyone where naturally there's a difference between a 15 year, but there were others that experienced.
So many of the artists that ended up leaving at that particular year old artist and a 19 year old artist. You're a completely different person at that point. And that's exactly what we ended up seeing with Michael. So missed opportunity for sure missed opportunities that Motown had, we'll get to miss opportunities in a minute, but you often hear people talk about them not being able to keep Michael, but to your point, the Jackson 5 leaving Motown in 1975, 76, isn't the same as.
Them leaving in 1970 time ended up having greater,
success once they were able to have a bit of freedom after leaving Motown, which was a bit unfortunate because obviously, I think it would have been great to see them continue that success under Berry Gordy's umbrella and continue to see them grow.
But not everyone is going to be Stevie Wonder. Not everyone is there to say, Hey, I'm with you until the end. And I'm going to be riding with you during this entire journey. It just doesn't work that way. People have careers. No different. You see them today where people see a bigger opportunity and the grass is greener.
They want to take advantage of that, especially if they don't feel like they are being put in the best position to thrive. So in the 80s, Motown is now officially in its transition recovery mode, trying to recapture what was there and we see a few things happen.
So they start leading in on debarge. And a lot of people, DeBarge did have a pretty big hit with Rhythm of the Night, but I do think that they tried to make the DeBarge family replicate some of this Jackson family, where you had El DeBarge, and you had all of these others, but it just didn't quite click, at least in a mainstream way to that perspective, but then you did have Lionel Richie, who did end up having a pretty big career, especially with everything he had done since the, Commodores and, but then you also had Berry Gordy's son that they were also trying to work into the mix, who performed under the name Rockwell, who had had that song, somebody's watching me that Michael had sung the hook on.
So you had a few things there, but just didn't exactly click because again, it's stuck in two models. Berry wanted to continue to have complete control over it. And the artists just didn't want that anymore. I think that worked when you were literally giving artists. No giving artists in a region of the country like Detroit a platform and opportunity, but they had no other options.
But now they had leverage. Now they could go talk to mca Now they could go talk to CBS Epic and some of these other labels. So Berry's mentality just didn't work as much. And then by 1988 is when we see him transition on from the label, at least as the CEO level. And then we start to see the new blood come in to run the record label.
[00:34:30] Zack Greenburg: Yeah. I mean, I think it is important to note that, you know, although you could characterize the 80s as sort of like musical decline era for Motown, you know, in the way that many artists are entrepreneurs, like, seem to be in a period of delays over some decade or whatever, they actually get much richer during that period of malaise, because what they had built before was so good.
And there's still kind of like, they're finally cashing in on it, whereas maybe they didn't cash in on it when it first happened. But like, enough of the sort of like older, wealthier decision makers who can pay them more are like, finally getting hip to the fact that, you know, this is a big deal.
So, I would definitely think about Motown that context and that, you know, when Berry was able to sell, you know, a huge chunk, of the company kind of like step back from it, that was after like a a period of time when Motown was not as hot as it had been.
But you had things going on, like Motown 25 in 1983, that special. Put together, where MJ came back and reunited, with his brothers and the whole Motown crew and he had, you know, all these other artists, but that was actually the first time I think that MJ moonwalked, you know, sort of in public, like you know, he sort of like the popular debut of the moonwalk and it just really kind of, Created, so much buzz around that, that then kind of rubbed off on Motown and didn't really matter whether he wasn't on Motown anymore, but it just kind of gave a little more shine to the label and gave it sort of like, a relevance, I think that helped kind of carry through to the end of the 80s and helped get Berry Gordy, this really big payday.
So, I wouldn't discount like You know, I don't know the sort of like delayed reaction that sort of the half life of fame or whatever you want to call it. But, there were still some of these moments that were created, that kept paying dividends as the time went on. I think
[00:36:13] Dan Runcie: That's a fair point because he also sold at this smart time when right as we're seeing in this current era that we're recording, it's a very hot time for music asset transactions as were the late 80s and early 90s too. That's when you saw Geffen do many of the deals that he had done and Gordy. Did the same where I believe he made 61 million from the sale, or at least his portion of the sale in 1988, which is huge.
You didn't see people, especially black business owners that fully owned everything being able to cash out at that level. So that's a good point. I'm glad that you mentioned that. And with this is when we start to see the transition of leadership. And we start to see a few things that do ring true.
Where the first person that takes over is Gerald Busby, who was leading black music at MCA at the time. And even though Motown had had a bit of its malaise in the 1980s, MCA did not, in many ways, it was seen as the leader in black music. And Bubsy was able to. Have quite a good amount of success there with all of the work that he had done.
the thing is though, he had started to run into some issues because he was in this weird dynamic where this company, Polygram had owned part of the label, as did Boston Ventures, his private equity group, and Bubsy was at odds with the folks at Boston Ventures about. some creative control. And he had this quote where he says he'd rather quit Motown president than see the label become a cash cow for a huge corporation trafficking off of nostalgia.
And that was a quote that was said back in the 90s just thinking about how. Similar, some of those quotes now come to today. And this was someone who was largely credited from helping to say blast black music from that disco era. But unfortunately, I think a lot of those tensions that he had had, at the time just made life a little bit more difficult for him at Motown.
So he eventually we Left. And while he was there, he was able to at least get a few things under. Like he was the one that had brought in voice to men. He had Queen Latifah there. He had Johnny Gill, who was another artist at the time that was quite popular, but maybe hadn't necessarily lived on in the way.
And his dreams were, he wanted to have Motown cafes, the same way you had hard rock cafes. He wanted to have the young acts going and touring around at different places to recreate that vibe. And this is something that we'll get into. I think we see time and time again, where these leaders have all these dreams and visions for what they see.
Motown can be, but because of the powers that be because of other things, they just can't quite get there to make it happen.
[00:38:51] Zack Greenburg: Yeah. And I think that one of the things that set Motown apart early on, you know, as sets many startups apart early on, and many record companies are early on is that they were independent and they could do whatever they wanted.
And, you know, Berry Gordy was, sort of like the unquestioned leader and, you know, things kind of, in the way that things kind of get done, let's say more efficiently, if not, more equitably in dictatorships, like he could just get shit done, move things around, have it happen immediately. And so when you started to have, you know, these corporate parents, parent companies, you know, you'd have to go through all these layers of approval to do anything.
And, kind of like stop being able to be agile. and I think that's especially important in the music business when, you know, you have to. Not be reactive, but proactive, right? You have to be ahead of things. So, you know, if you're getting to a point where you're having to wait on approvals and things like that, you've already lost because you should have been out in front to begin with.
[00:39:48] Dan Runcie: And this is something that I think plagued Motown time and time again, because Gordy didn't necessarily operate in this way. He had so many people that wanted to replicate what he did, but they didn't have the same parameters and the same leeway to make those decisions. As you mentioned, they're now working for corporations that now have their own vested interest.
And to be frank, one of the tensions that we see often in music is that these brazen, bold leaders want to be able to take big swings and do things that are innovative and off the cuff. And these corporations are hard set pressed on efficiency. They don't want to see overspending. They don't want to see over commitments, or they want to be able to feel like this is being run in a strategic way.
This is something that in the Interscope episode that we talked about, Jimmy Iveen struggled with this as well, even as recently as his tenure with Apple music. But this is one of those frequent tensions that happens with music executives. And we saw that continue with the person that replace Busby, which is Andre Harrell.
We talked about him a bit in the Bad Boy episode, but Andre, of course, at this time was coming fresh off of Uptown Records where he was working in collaboration with MCA and he was able to build a little bit of his own fiefdom there where granted he still had people he had to answer to, but I think he had a pretty good relationship with the folks at MCA up until the end there.
Then he goes to Motown and he sees this opportunity. And there's a few things that stick out about this because. As early as a year ago, he was starting to get rumored as to be the next person to then take over. But then he gets 250k as an initial announcement. He takes out this full page ad, New York Times.
And then he has this ad that essentially says from Uptown to Motown, it's on. And it's him sitting in the back of the chair and you see a sweatshirt in the back. And people hated it. People grilled him. The way that they talked about him, the trades and even Russell Simmons and others coming in and giving him shit about it.
He had pretty verbal flight fights with Clarence Avon, who was pretty powerful at the time. And Clarence even said he had swung on him at one particular point and was quite critical of him as well. There's this one quote that I think was really funny here, where this was from the Netflix documentary that was, The Black Godfather, which was about Clarence Avon.
And, or actually, no, this is before this summer variety interview, but they talked about this as well. The doc, Clarence says, Andre and I didn't get along. And then he pointed to an image of the Motown boy band, 98 degrees. And Avon says, Andre wanted to send these white boys to Harlem to make them sound black.
And I was like, you're out of your fucking mind. And it's a funny quote, because I do think that 98 degrees. Maybe didn't exactly have as many hits as they probably would have thought, but in Andre Harrell's defense, and sadly, but true, the mentality wasn't necessarily wrong because of the 90s, the most successful Motown act that you had was Boyz II Men, and we saw at the end of the decade that, what's that guy's name, the con artist that had the boy bands, Lou Pearlman, like, he literally modeled Backstreet Boys and NSYNC after How can I find white boys to men and make them see modern contemporary and make this happen?
And that's how he was able to have success there. And that was before, what's his name? That was before Andre Harrell was really getting going. So he saw where things were going. But it just didn't click at the time. It just wasn't right. And obviously 90 degrees ends up having some decent success, but that's well after Andre Harrell had left the label.
So he ended up leaving and the press was not kind to him. Literally headlines were. Andre Harrell gets fired from LA Times it's a type of headline that we probably don't see now when record label execs get fired in the same way. I think the industry is much more controlled in its PR sometimes to a fault, but it was very interesting to see that, come through. And another interesting quote from that, Lucian Grange had called the Andre Harrell at Motown relationship, an organ rejection. In terms of the relationship there.
[00:43:56] Zack Greenburg: Yeah, no, I mean, and it's kind of interesting if you think about, you know, around that same time. What was going on in the music business, what would have been a great fit at Motown that didn't happen, would have been to sign Eminem, right? I mean, rather than try to do it with 98 degrees, if you really want to go and sort of like figure out what the kids are listening to, and do the thing where you have a white guy making black music, like. Holy shit. There's Eminem from Detroit, you know, doing his thing. But, you know, I think it took different kind of Andre to pull that one off.
So, you know, in a way well played, you know, I mean, in a way it was like Andre was maybe Andre Harrell was taking some risks, but he wasn't taking quite enough. Like, he wasn't going far enough. He wasn't going way out enough on a limb. So, if you were really going to try to read that Motown, then that then go all the way at the same time, though, I would argue.
I mean, if you look back, it's sort of like what worked with Motown and what did it, I think one of Motown's greatest attributes is also a limiting factor. And that's the thing we talked about before it, it's a label, but it's also a genre. And so if you have Motown making hip hop, it's like, wait a minute this isn't Motown. Like this isn't the genre of Motown. Like this is not the thing that I heard at my aunt's wedding, you know, this is something different. So, I think that they got kind of caught in between and I know that they've done all this stuff in hip hop over the years and, whatever, but it still doesn't feel like quite a fit because Motown, I mean that, you know, Motown was Motown, Motown wasn't hip hop and, you know, maybe if it had started getting into hip hop in the early days of hip hop.
you know, it would have felt a little bit different about that, but, you know, hip hop is Def Jam, hip hop is is Roc-A-Fella hip hop is Bad Boy, and I just, you know, for all the efforts that Motown has made to get into hip hop, I think, it, has had a hard time, you know, fully sticking in the way that it would need to for Motown to replicate its, early success.
[00:45:51] Dan Runcie: And one of the things that I think that a lot of these post Berry Gordy leaders struggled with was... As you mentioned, yeah, with Andre Harrell or others, there was the desire and opportunity to be able to do more, but the combination of the corporate structures in place that just didn't give them the same freedom that a Berry Gordy himself would have had.
And then secondly. The business structure of how Motown itself as a company was set up didn't necessarily allow that because even things like radio or promotion and things like that, they still relied on other labels under the corporate umbrella, even to this day to get some of those things in place.
So it really wasn't. Given the same freedom, even though their name, especially in the late 90s early two thousands was used in, especially back then it was the whole universal Republic Motown group or whatever the amalgamation was at the time. It really wasn't given the same freedom as some of those other record labels were.
And I think we saw those challenges come in from time with some of the other leaders as well, because. Afterward, after, Harrell left, you had George Jackson who was there, felt like a bit more interim there for a couple of years. And then you had Kedar Mazenberg who was there late 90s early 2000.
And that was a bit more than Neo soul vibe. You had India, Ari and a few others, but he has this quote that he gave to the independent, 2000 where he says, but we're not going to dominate the pop charts. Like we used to, how can we, there are too many other companies out there for that. So please don't compare it to the Motown of yesteryear.
This is someone that is in the leadership role saying that exact quote. like How do you get past that? And then he talks again. I think they made a comparison to Def Jam where he said, you know, Def Jam, it took 10, 20 years to get to this established guidance, the way that you did with someone like a Lyor Cohen.
And you essentially had that with Berry Gordy. But again, Lior was doing this before Def Jam ended up, you know, becoming under the whole Island Def Jam group and everything happened there. After that, you have Sylvia Roan, who was rising up the ranks herself. Still one of the most successful Black women in media and music right now.
She's currently at Epic, but she had her time at Motown as well. And I'm going to get into her because I have something I want to say for missed opportunities there. And then you get more recently to the era of Ethiopia Habtamirian, who was there from 2011. Up until 2022, and she's 1 of those that I do feel like was put in a pretty hard spot because on 1 hand, she was able to essentially double the market share.
Thanks in part to the partnership that she had made with hip hop through quality control to be able to help. them succeed And this is especially when the Migos are first starting to pop off, and then that transitions into the success of artists like Lil Yachty and Lil Baby and City Girls and others. But I think that also some of the overspending and things like that were quite critiqued.
And especially from a PR perspective, the same way I was mentioning earlier when. Andre Harrell's challenges were bright front and center for the entire industry to read. Ethiopia's necessarily weren't in the same way. And even in some of the aspects of her leaving, the media had they called it a bit more reflective of, oh, Ethiopia has chosen to step down.
When, yes, that's true, but there was also a pretty large severance package from Lucian and others at UMG. And again, I don't think she was necessarily given as much leadership either, because Motown was kind of, and still is kind of under capital, but now they've essentially moved it back. They had announced that she was solely the CEO back in 2021, but that was a pretty short lived.
And to be honest, it felt like. Yeah. 1 of those announcements that the industry made in this, like, post George Floyd era to try to highlight and support black CEOs, which was great to see, but she's someone that's talented. You don't want to see her just become a tokenized person to have this. So, even though, like any CEO, I think there was things you could point out that she probably could have done differently.
Still wasn't given the most leeway to begin with it. Now we're back in this point where what is Motown who's leading Motown. It's essentially the subsidiary under capital, but it's now a brand. And who knows where things are going to be. And it's quite unfortunate, but given everything that we've said up into this point, it also, isn't that surprising just given the dynamic.
[00:50:21] Zack Greenburg: Yeah, a hundred percent. And I think, you know, like you mentioned the the partnership with quality control. I mean, I think. That was a smart way to get more involved in hip hop because that was a brand that did have roots in hip hop more that, kind of resonated. and so when you sort of like, build as a partnership and look at it that way, it seems a little more credible than like,you know, Motown is doing hip hop now. so it's too bad that, you know, things kind of turned out the way they did, but, it's an interesting asset, right? I mean, it's a brand that has a lot of value. But it's not exactly clear, you know, how to sort of monetize it. And I think with Motown right now, it's like, it's probably about more, than the music, right?
Like that's maybe where most of the monetization opportunity would be, whether it's, you know, Motown branded, you know, I don't know, films and, you know, I don't know, products, whatever the case may be. It resonates more, I think, than it does, as a record label. And people don't care so much about record labels anymore.
Like we've talked about this, you know, in prior episodes, but it's not the same. You're not going to put on your record on a record player and see that big Motown logo on it, you're having something pop up your ear. And there, there's no visual, like, you don't know whether it's on Motown or Def Jam or Universal or Sony or, and you don't probably don't care.
Right. I mean, and I think as things have kind of blurred together, genres are blurring together, you know, different, labels are gobbling each other up over the years, you know, people have just kind of like lost track and, you know, sort of like the idea of a label just isn't as important anymore.
So, I do think that it's. a valuable piece of IP and, you know, there's things to do with it still. But, you know, I think, Berry Gordy certainly like squeezed, you know, all he could out of it and, did a great job of sort of ultimately profiting off of what it was that he built.
[00:52:04] Dan Runcie: Right. Because what you have right now is this brand where they do have Motown the musical, which I do think has been pretty successful, both in the US and in Europe and elsewhere that it's traveled. but that's it. I mean, quality control partnership doesn't exist in the same way since they've been now bought by hive.
Hopefully, Ethiopia and those folks were able to at least retain some type of revenue for helping to set the framework to make that deal possible, but we'll see I, where I landed with this is that. The way to quote unquote, I don't want to say save Motown because that can just seems like such a blanket statement, but if you were trying to improve it from its current inevitable state, it would be finding a way to spin off the asset and the catalog from Universal and having it be in the hands of someone else who can make it work.
The challenge is Universal isn't going to want to give that asset up. That's one of their most valuable back catalogs that they have. So. I was thinking through it in my mind, the same way that you have someone like a Tyler Perry, who are these modern moguls that have a bit of that Berry Gordy vibe to them.
The way that Tyler Perry is, we'll see whether or not he ends up buying BET, but could that same mentality be applied to a record label? And then with that, you're able to then build up your own promotion. You're able to build up your own talent, and then you take things in a slightly different way. I still don't think that guarantees success, but at least you shake things up in a particular way and you still give it that black ownership mentality.
You give it a bit more of that independence and the autonomy and you could potentially see what happens because. We all know what the continued fate is as a legacy entity of a catalog holder that it would be under the UMG umbrella.
[00:53:50] Zack Greenburg: Yeah, a hundred percent. Totally agree.
[00:53:52] Dan Runcie: And with that, I think it would be a good time to dig into some of these categories here. So what do you think is the biggest, this will may be obvious, but what do you think is the biggest signing that they've done or that Motown ever did?
[00:54:04] Zack Greenburg: Yeah, I think I'd go with the Jackson 5 I mean, you know, although Motown did not ultimately profit off of MJ's solo career, in the way that it would have if it had retained him for a solo career, Motown did profit off of the association as he became the biggest musical star, but basically entertainer of any kind in the world.
and, you know, going back to the Motown 25 moment, you know, other kinds of associations. So I would say like good process. Not really a bad outcome, but like signing the Jackson 5 could have been the path to also signing Michael Jackson as a solo artist. And then, you know, just because that didn't work out in the end, does it mean that that wasn't a huge signing for them?
[00:54:47] Dan Runcie: Yeah, I was going to say Jackson 5 or Stevie Wonder, which is the one that I had and I say him because of the longevity because even when times were rough, Stevie Wonder still had arguably his best decade in the 70s But, he had a number of them that were there, especially in the seventies. I think that was his strongest run and he stayed through. And I think that in a lot of ways helped bridge the gap during some of those low moments when other artists did come and went. Did come and go. So that was the one I had there.
What do you have as the best business move?
[00:55:18] Zack Greenburg: Well, okay. This is something we haven't talked about and maybe we should talk about it but more, but here we are, we'll talk about it more now. I think it was Berry Gordy setting up, his publishing company. So, I mean, maybe that's cheating a little bit because it was outside of, Motown itself but of He set up Joe bet, publishing, you know, pretty early on. And he didn't realize, you know, his big payday for it until later 1997, but he sold it for 132 million for just for half of it. so the EMI, and then he sold another 30% for I think 109 million. And then he sold the rest of it for, something like 80 million in, what was that?
It was like 2004. So, you know, we're talking like over a quarter billion dollars and that's not inflation adjusted. you know, for the publishing and that, you know, that dwarfed whatever he got for Motown itself. So, and, you know, think about if he held onto it until, the recent publishing Bonanza, I mean, I mean, it could have been close to a billion dollar catalog, right?
I mean, you know, there's nothing, really like it out there. So. He was always very smart about ownership and I think Michael Jackson knew that and, you know, studied him as a kid growing up. And that's kind of what convinced Michael to want to own his own work, and also in the Beatles work, which then became the basis of Sony ATV.
And that was another massive catalog. So, yeah, I think the publishing side of it definitely gets overlooked and, you know, was ultimately the most, financially valuable part. But, even though it was sort of a separate. Company, you know, I would argue it, for sure it wouldn't have happened without Motown happening.
[00:56:51] Dan Runcie: That's a great one. And I'm glad you mentioned that. Cause definitely could get overlooked and doesn't get talked enough about in this whole business. I think publishing in general is something that people don't understand. And so they just don't, dig into it, but he wrote it. I mean, he owned everything.
And obviously when you own the value. When you own something that valuable, it has its assets. And I think why publishing continues to be so valuable in the industry is because I think that the origins of the industry have always had this thought of, well, you could get anyone to go sing the song, but it takes a true genius to write the actual underlying product.
And I think we've seen that continue time and time again. So that worked out in his favor. The one thing that I'll say is on the production side, this is one of the specific things he did that I did think just helped from a, output perspective, there used to be a rule at the time where a record label could only have, whether it was like one song shared in a particular time period with the radio station.
So he was the one that created all these sub labels, whether it was Tamla records or others that were all still, labels that he owned, but he would then release them time and time again and promote those. So it was a different record label that was pushing things onto the consumer, but it was still that Motown vibe.
It was still everything that was coming from Hitsville and that helped them just continue to gain and grow effectively and reach the audience. I think as well, combining that with how they were able to maximize derivative work. We talked about this a little bit with the bad boy episode, but so many ways that did he was huge on having the part one and part two of songs or having the remixes or getting the whole bad boy through on this song that was already successful, very Gordy was doing that stuff 3040 years earlier and was able to reap the rewards for that.
So I put that as one of the business moves we haven't talked about that I do think is up there for them. That's a really good one. I like that. Yeah. dark horse. Do you have one that doesn't get talked about enough?
[00:58:51] Zack Greenburg: Ooh, I'd probably say the publishing again, but,
Yeah, I think it applies because you barely hear about it.
Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. I mean, it's such a big deal that I kind of have a hard time not, but you know, I guess, to switch things up, I mean, I would talk about maybe, I mean, you could say Motown 25 certainly, was something that Motown produced. but I mean, I'm almost say. you know, I think like the whiz is an interesting one.
Not because it was that necessarily profitable, but because it, you know, it represented Motown's expansion into film and, you know, like, I don't know what you can do with a cast, of musicians. I mean, Diana Ross and Michael Jackson were in there, obviously. that's like a seminal film and I think it was important, you know, culturally, to sort of like an immeasurable extent, you know, even if it wasn't like the most profitable film ever made. It was like, very expensive to make it all that. But yeah, I would kind of look at that as something that was important, just for what it was and not necessarily for what it made.
[01:00:01] Dan Runcie: That's a good one. I was thinking about mentioning that earlier, but the timing just didn't work. So I'm glad you mentioned that here.
Dark horse, I talked about them a little bit, but I do think the success of Boyz II Men in the 90s for Motown gets overlooked. This was the biggest group in the world at one point. I mean, they were huge. They were everywhere. And they were so commercially successful. They made music for everyone. And I know sometimes people may laugh at it and call it middle school music sometimes, but I think they were.
Just able to hit the right note, the right time for what it is. I feel like they really, of any group that has really come since the, I'd say my lifetime of actually being a music consumer, they were the ones that felt the closest to, okay, this feels like a modern continuation of Motown. If you were to say, okay, what does the success of Motown look like, but in a 90s package?
It would be Boys II men. They actually had them in an era where it was competitive, and they were quite successful. Unfortunately, it didn't last forever, but I mean, they lasted arguably longer in popularity than a lot of the boy bands and others that came after them, in just in terms of how long that their run was.
And, you know, some of those groups may have been more commercially successful, but it's good to see them still thriving. And the fact that they've been in Vegas, they have a good living. They're able to just continue to essentially succeed at this residency model that others have caught on to themselves and have made plenty of money with, I think that they worked out pretty well for Motown.
[01:01:32] Zack Greenburg: Yeah,
for sure. And I think they really fit with the Motown ethos, even if it's not like the same genre exactly as, what Motown was before, it's like, you could hear it at your aunt's wedding, right? I mean, you can hear it at your cousin's wedding, whatever. I don't know why I say aunt, like everybody's aunt is getting worse or something or like, it's only recently getting great, but, whosoever wedding it is, you know, you could hear Motown, you could hear Boyz II Men, and I think, you know, that's kind of the continuation of the identity. I think that's a really good point.
[01:01:58] Dan Runcie: Yeah, so for missed opportunity, I want to go first with this one. And this is what I was holding out on. I was going to share it in the Sylvia Roan focus, but I want to share it now. So in 2007, that's when Sylvia Roan starts have, she's the head of Motown just from a timeline perspective, she's head of Motown at this point.
She starts having the conversations with Drake and there was actually some type of deal in place. And this was Drake right around that comeback season era. So far gone, wasn't there. And according to Drake, Drake says that she says that he didn't quite have enough to be able to, you know, make it as a true superstar.
He, of course, takes light to that he ends up working with Cash Money and then ends up working with, you know, Republic and thereafter. But this has to be a huge sliding doors moment because he has held it against where he calls Sylvia out on the song. Say what's real the opening track of so far gone.
He ended up apologizing because he said some unkind words about her. So he didn't apologize necessarily for the ethos behind what he said, but he apologized for his word choice. He brings it up again, two years later at like some type of award show. And then, you know, he has that song, we made it from the mixtape where he's like a 2007.
I was in the lobby at Uptown or whatever. So he goes back to it almost in the same way that, you know, Jordan would go back to being cut on his freshman year, or Kobe is listing all the people that were drafted ahead of him. And then when you think about that in the context of the Michael Jackson, Jackson 5 thing, not working out.
Motown almost has this like Portland Trailblazers history where I feel like not getting Michael Jackson and making that work was almost like them drafting Sam Bowie ahead of Michael Jordan 1984 draft. And then years later, them not signing Drake when he was there and wanting to come through is like drafting Greg Oden over Kevin Durant if you're the Portland Trailblazers. And can you imagine how much different Motown's fate would be the past? 14, 15 years, if they had signed Drake, we would be having a very different conversation today.
[01:04:07] Zack Greenburg: That's a really great, connection. And I hadn't really thought about it that way. Yeah, absolutely, and you know, for mine, the missed opportunity was, MJ as well.
So, you know, you kind of connect it with that through line, I also wonder if like Jermaine was something of a missed opportunity. I guess he was given kind of every opportunity, every advantage you could have had. But, you know, he had the name recognition, but it used to really connect as a solo artist.
I mean, I wonder if, they'd maybe given him more creative freedom, maybe given him less creative freedom. I don't know that he could have really been the standout solo artist. But then again, I guess, you know, looking back in the fullness of time, you know, he was never going to be the biggest Jackson brother.
So, you know, man, I mean, I know Michael and Berry had a really good relationship. and I think that Michael's dad and Berry you know, didn't necessarily. So. If that had been a little different, they could have stayed. and maybe you would have seen Michael, you know, coming out of the whiz, you know, not profitable movie into making some very profitable records for Motown.
But, you know, then again, I mean, and I think that's the big question, right? Like Michael Jackson's records did so well because he was able to be Michael Jackson. Would Berry have sort of like prevented him from taking some of these weird risks? Like, I mean, Thriller is a weird, like, campy song, you know?
and it does not fit anything in in the Motown vibe. Do you think Berry Gordy would have been okay with this sort of like, like, you know, very bizarre music video, like dead people walking around. I mean, it's not really in his, assembly line, you know, there are no zombies in the assembly line, for Motown.
so who knows how it would have turned out, if MJ had stayed, but, you know, I, I think one way or the other, as with all the Motown artists, right? These are all creative people and they were able to make their own, sort of, you know, put their own stamp on the world. And I think MJ would have been able to do that if he'd stayed too.
[01:05:55] Dan Runcie: And I think the same could be said about Drake as well with that timing too, of course, we're talking about now in this context of Drake, in many ways, becoming the most commercially successful artist of the past 14, 15 years. I know you can say Taylor and a few others, but one of. But what would that look like on Motown?
We don't know necessarily. Would they have tried to turn him into Trey Songz, and then he's following that path, or something like that, which is something that Drake has spoken to himself. There's clearly something about that continuity of the Cortez Bryan, and then Wayne and Young Money, and being able to have that ecosystem working together, combined with the, with Baby and Slim, combined with the folks at Republic.
There is clearly an energy there. And then, you know, if Drake was on a label that didn't even have its own promotion or its own tools, how could that have worked out for him? So some of these hypotheticals don't always necessarily line up, still missed opportunities, but don't necessarily always line up.
[01:06:55] Zack Greenburg: Yeah, I think that cash money gave Drake An edge that he would not have had at Motown, you know, and simply by having that side of the hip hop world, you know, kind of cosigning him, I think it evened out, some of his tendencies in a way that, made him a more well rounded artist.
[01:07:13] Dan Runcie: Agreed. before we get to the last piece about who won the most, who lost the most, do you think that we would ever get Motown truly on the big screen? And part of me isn't sure because obviously Dreamgirls, which people have debated whether that's loosely veiled on Motown or not, I probably lead more to yes than not. Berry Gordy hated it. And so many people that were associated with it hated it because of how he was presented. And if that's the reaction to Dreamgirls. Then what would the final output be of something that Berry Gordy did give his blessing on, especially if you want to be able to tell a story as nuanced as the one that we've been talking about now?
[01:07:56] Zack Greenburg: Yeah, no, I don't think, he would ever greenlight anything that was like, you know, completely 100% accurate, even if it didn't reflect so well on him. But, you know, then again, I mean, you know, his story, it might not be a hundred percent the real story, but it's a great story, you know, so, I guess you could kind of look at it anyway. I don't know. What do you think?
[01:08:17] Dan Runcie: It would be a great story and I think that in the right hands, it would be really magical and unique to see something. So many of we've seen so many biopics now done about figures who have had complex histories. And there's always some things that have been debated and nuanced with it as well.
I do think that for instance, I think that Elton John Rocketman one was one that I actually thought was better than most people give it credit for. And I think it was honestly better than like Elvis, the more recent movie that had made a ton of money. But I see those, I'm like, okay, they found ways to tell these things.
I don't know if Berry Gordy himself, getting back to just him being, wanting to be in control, wanting to have everything be to a certainty. How much creative control is he going to want to offer in that way? Granted, he's now 93 years old. I don't know if I'm seeing him rolling up the sleeves, getting in the weeds in the same way, but it might be a while until we actually see something grace the screen like that.
[01:09:13] Zack Greenburg: I think so, too. Just wait for the Baz Luhrmann version. It's coming.
[01:09:19] Dan Runcie: Oh, goodness. who do you think won the most out of Motown? This is probably easier. Yeah, I think there's
[01:09:26] Zack Greenburg: no way to argue anything other than Berry Gordy, you know, you could make an argument for MJ. I mean, you could say that, he learned so much, that he then took out of this environment where he was really not able to earn that much money.
And then, you know, applied it in his own way, applied the lessons, not only to the music, but to the music asset buying, which was, you know, for him, I think, just as lucrative as the music itself. I mean, that's all stuff he got from Berry Gordy, he got from Motown. So, you know, you could make an argument for MJ.
I mean, he earned by my calculations, and, you know, I have to go back and look at the exact number, but it was over a billion dollars in his lifetime. And I think it's over 2 billion dollars since he died. And I think that's not even adjusted for inflation. So, you know, I mean, Berry Gordy, made hundreds of millions, you know, MJ made billions.
Would he have done it if he hadn't been in Motown? I don't know, but, let's say, I think he always had the talent. but, you know, the business acumen, I think he really picked up in, to a large part from, Berry Gordy, of course, he had some negative business tendencies as well.
and some other stuff, of course, that we could have a whole other episode on, but, I think at the end of the day, yeah, he learned a a lot from Berry but, you know, you still got to say Berry is the clear winner from Montana.
[01:10:34] Dan Runcie: Yeah, I agree. Nothing else to add there. I think that was the right take. It's Berry but there's a case to be made for Michael. Here's a new one. who do you think lost the most?
[01:10:43] Zack Greenburg: Oooh Jermaine. Yeah, Jermaine. Man, you know, I mean. I don't know, like, why didn't it work? Can we go back and do a whole episode on that? I mean, he had the fandom, the infrastructure, he had like an international fan base. I mean, I guess, I guess it's a matter of, you know, it's always the risk when you have somebody who's part of a really big group and they go out on their own and it just doesn't, you know, have quite the same resonance, but, you know, I mean, he put everything, on Motown, you know, both in his personal life and in his, music career. And it just didn't really quite turn out, I think like anybody had hoped. So. I'll go with Jermaine.
[01:11:17] Dan Runcie: Yeah, I think it's fair because even if you look at Janet, right? It's like she may not have had the career that Michael had, but it proved that there was an appetite for other Jacksons, like, people wanted to see this come through, and did he put it, did he bet on the wrong horse? That might be strong, but it wouldn't be a wrong takeaway, I would say, mine is on the executive side. I could be blanket and say every executive that led Motown after Berry Gordy, because I just don't think they were positioned the best for success.
But I do think specifically Andre Harrell, because I think if you go back to that era, he was big time. He wasn't even in the. I mean, even beyond just music, because of everything he had when he had that Uptown and MCA deal, and he had that Strictly Business, Strictly Business movie and others, they were elevating him the same way that they were looking at this renaissance of black talent and art, whether you looked at folks like Spike Lee, especially in the post, he's got to have it and do the right thing era, he was in that era.
He was in that frame. And I think that everything. Yeah. In a lot of ways, went downhill, at least from a public perception of, you know, global influence. Granted, I know he's still at Harrell Records after he ended up working with Diddy again, but it was more so one of these more journeyman roles of, you know, I have this small thing that can make it work instead of being on a path to being one of the most successful black entertainment moguls from the US.
And I think that before Motown and before everything for him. A lot of the challenges and dirty laundry and things that, you know, he obviously was criticized for inefficiency as others were. But I think that there would have been an opportunity for him to be able to realize more of that potential. And it kind of makes me think of just not just categorizing him, but the same way that we look at sports where there's certain franchises that just haven't been able to Get beyond a certain point.
I look at the New York Nixon granted up until this point, this year, it's been a pretty tumultuous past 20 years, especially in that post, you know, Riley, Jeff Van Gundy, 90s era. I don't think all the coaches they had were bad, but you have this broader infrastructure with the owner and everything else going on. Like, I don't care if you had, you actually did have Phil Jackson come through. I don't care if you had Steve Curran, Greg Popovich come through. I think they would have struggled as well. And I think that some of that exists with Motown, but just given the structure, you have someone talented like Harrell.
And I think a lot of the image got put. On him as someone that couldn't cut it as opposed to this broader structure, that made it tough to succeed.
[01:13:58] Zack Greenburg: Yeah, I think that's a really fair point. And, you know, I think that was sort of the moment when it was like, is Andre going to sort of like, continue staying ahead of his mentor, Puffy or not. And, you know, obviously he did not, and then he went from being the boss to the employee again, you know, not a bad situation, to be in working for Puffy necessarily. I mean, I guess it could be a little tough to work for Puffy sometimes is he referred, but in this case, you know, yeah, he ended up being surpassed by his own. But his own protege, shall we say, which, you know, I guess is also a mark of good mentorship to some level, but he did seem like he got kind of stymied, or hit a ceiling at some point.
[01:14:33] Dan Runcie: Yeah, definitely. All right. Before we wrap things up on Motown, anything else that we didn't cover that you wanted to talk through about Motown?
[01:14:40] Zack Greenburg: I think that does it. I think, you know, well, I think we could have like five more episodes, but you know, for the purposes of, the listenership, you know, probably we covered it pretty darn thoroughly, I'd say.
[01:14:49] Dan Runcie: Agreed. Yeah, and I think this is good. All right. Well, before we wrap things up with this episode, I know you have some new stuff that you've been working on.
So tell us about the JayZ index I know this is something you've been working on. We talked about it, a little while ago when you were brainstorming the idea, but it's come to life and you shared it this week. So tell us about it.
[01:15:06] Zack Greenburg: That's right. So, you know, back in the day, I was a personal finance reporter at Forbes, and that was even before I, you know, started writing about hip hop and the entertainment business and doing biographies of Jay Z and what have you.
And so, when I was a personal finance writer, I used to do these things we called money manager profiles. And basically you just find somebody who managed private assets in an interesting way. Maybe it was like an endowment or something, and you would kind of like try to put together, something that was representative that, you know, retail investors could buy. And so it occurred to me the other day, like, you could do that with Jay Z. He has his hands and, you know, so many different pies at this point, so many of the companies that he's been involved with are now tied to, publicly traded companies. And, you could actually create like a Jay Z Index.
So I kinda, I just sort of like started as a thought experiment. and then I dug a little bit deeper and I came up with 11 different stocks and, you know, I did allocations based on sort of what his, percentage of his overall net worth they represent. And, you know, so it goes from, you know, something as small as luxury vehicles, 2%.
I put Rolls Royce, which is publicly traded, which makes jet engines in addition to cars, because Jay Z has, you know, a private jet in addition to his, automobile collection, you know, all the way up to some of the companies that he does business with, whether it's, you know, live nation and the rock nation partnership, LVMH, which is now, you know, his partner on Armand de Brignac, there's a whole bunch of other stuff in there.
So I put it out on my sub stack, which you can find at Zonglong.com. It'll take you right to the thing and to check it out. But, yeah, I just, you know, we always have put the caveats of like, investing involves risk. This is not a solicitation to buy securities or whatever, but, you know, I just thought it was really fun exercises.
I talked about it like, it's not the same, obviously you can't create Jay Z's portfolio. a hundred percent, because that's the point. That's why a billionaire cause he does these things. He seeks them out. He attaches his name to it and they become more valuable. But I like to call it, you know, like you could build a Lego model of the empire state building, you can do that equivalent, with this portfolio. And, so actually I created a Google Finance watch list, and I'm going to track it and see how the JayZ index performs against SOP and some other benchmarks. And, you know, maybe we can talk about it again in six months or something.
[01:17:19] Dan Runcie: That's awesome. So for all the people out there that would rather take a dinner with Jay Z instead of getting 50, 000, maybe we should check out this index. Then you can see how it compares. And maybe your money would actually be better off investing how Jay Z invests instead of passing up 50, 000 for the chance to talk to them.
[01:17:36] Zack Greenburg: Yeah, what's his line at, I'm trying to give you a million dollars worth of game for 9.99 so trying to give you a billion dollars worth of game with the Jay-Z Index. So check it out.
[01:17:46] Dan Runcie: Nice. And yeah, we'll link to it in the show notes for sure. Very good. Very good stuff, man. Always a pleasure.
[01:17:52] Zack Greenburg: All right, Dan, as always, have a good one.
[01:17:54] Dan Runcie: You too. Take care. All right.
[01:17:56] Dan Runcie Audio Outro: If you enjoyed this podcast, go ahead and share it with a friend, copy the link, text it to a friend, post it in your group chat, post it in your Slack groups, wherever you and your people talk, spread the word. That's how Trapital continues to grow and continues to reach the right people. And while you're at it, if you use Apple podcast. Go ahead, rate the podcast, give it a high rating and leave a review. Tell people why you like the podcast that helps more people discover the show. Thank you in advance. Talk to you next week.1h 18m | Jul 13, 2023
- The Real Story Behind Hip-Hop's "Decline"
The media commentary on hip-hop’s decline is stronger than ever. Especially since it took six months for a rap album to top the Billboard 200 in 2023, and no rap song has topped the Hot 100 yet..
Is hip-hop slipping? Or is there more to this story? is slipping or others are merely catching up?
To break it all down, I’m joined by The Wall Street Journal’s Neil Shah, who has written about this extensively.
0:40 Our take on hip-hop’s “decline”
4:51 Upcoming albums that may top the charts
8:48 How Billboard charts work
17:40 Hip-hop over indexed when streaming took off
18:30 Was hip-hop held back in the past?
20:26 Implications of chart performance
22:55 Gaming the system with album bundles
32:49 Are album equivalent units the best way to measure success?
35:13 Hip Hop’s market share in 5 years
45:16 Music recycling IP vs. developing new one
Host: Dan Runcie, @RuncieDan, trapital.co
Guests: Neil Shah, @NeilShahWSJ
Enjoy this podcast? Rate and review the podcast here! ratethispodcast.com/trapital
[00:00:00] Neil Shah: While it looks like hip hop is suffering a little bit right now, or in this cooling period, maybe it's tentacles have stretched out So much, it's influences so total that it's actually become the bedrock of a lot of pop music.
[00:00:12] Dan Runcie Intro Audio: Hey, welcome to the Trapital Podcast. I'm your host and the founder of Trapital, Dan Runcie. This podcast is your place to gain insights from the executives in music, media, entertainment, and more who are taking hip hop culture to the next level.
[00:00:40] Dan Runcie Guest Intro: This episode is about the state of hip hop, which has been quite the topic over the past year. So it was right around this time in 2022, when we started to see articles and stories and reports pop up about hip hop's decline in market share. This is specifically looking at the US listening consumption over time for hip hop artists that were producing tracks.
And after a record number of years of growth in hip hop is eventually becoming the most listened to genre of music in the 2010s. We started to see that growth slow down relative to other genres. And there's a number of reasons for this, a number of reasons that are unfair, a number of reasons that require a little bit more digging into and to break it all down.
I was joined by Neil Shah from the wall street journal. He's written about this himself. Him and I've talked about this both on and offline, and we decided to bring it together to talk about all the various factors. What does this mean for the music industry? What does it mean for the artist in the industry in terms of the budgets that they get?
And is this even fair when we think about all of the factors in place with regards to streaming, where audiences grow, whether hip hop artists and their fans are more likely to be early adopters versus other genres, some of the rules that Billboard and other entities make that influence how these charts get factored in vinyl and a whole lot more. So let's dive into the state of hip hop.
[00:02:05] Dan Runcie: All right. We're back for another episode this time. Neil Shah from the wall street journal makes his return. Welcome back.
[00:02:11] Neil Shah: Thanks for having me.
[00:02:12] Dan Runcie: And today we're going to talk about a topic. Both you and I have written about, thought about and has come to a head this past year. And that's the state of hip hop and where it lies relative to other genres right now.
I'm sure many of you have seen the stats dating back as early as last year. When many outlets really started to talk more about hip hop's market share of its overall listening relative to other genres, which genres are growing at faster rates than others, which are declining. And now we're in this place in 2023.
We're still as of the end of June, almost six months through the year, not one rap album has topped the Billboard top 200. And I'm pretty sure that no rap song has topped the Billboard hot 100 either. So Neil, what do you make of all of this?
[00:03:04] Neil Shah: It's pretty striking that rap has not topped either of these charts, the Hot 100 or the Billboard 200. To put it into some context, in 2019, 17 rap albums Hit number one on the Billboard 200. 17. In 2020, another 17 did. basically last year, we started to see a slowdown on this front where there were fewer number one hits on these two charts in rap and hip hop and R& and then now this year, we have this striking reality that rap has been absent in this way, which I believe it, we haven't seen something like this. Since about 1993. So yeah, think it's generating lots of discussion and varied opinions. Hip hop has long had ups and downs, you know, in the 21st century, there are plenty of lulls, there are plenty of hot periods, and we could be in another lull. But my gut sense at the end of the day is that this does constitute a fairly significant slowing compared to how hot this genre was running, I mean, just a few years ago. I think it's a marked slowdown. And while one can quibble with the fact of not having a number one, because that can easily change, you know what I mean?
Like as soon as Travis Scott puts out Utopia, as soon as Drake puts out For All the Dogs, the picture can change slightly. But even all that quibbling aside, I do feel like it's pretty striking that there is a slowdown.
[00:04:51] Dan Runcie: Right, and that's a good point, because we could look at the more specific pieces of it. And yeah, if J. Cole, if Travis Scott dropped Utopia, if any of these things happen in the spring, we may not be having the same conversation from a top headline. Oh, let's react to this thing. But even like you said, you named 17 albums from a couple of years ago.
So we're talking one every three weeks, essentially that hit that target, if not more, and we're now 24 weeks into the year and we haven't had any. So there's still a pretty big shift, even if you account for the superstar releases. And if we're looking at the artists that are planning to release albums this year, I was looking through at some of the artists that have.
Big albums coming out, and these are the only ones that I thought are certified locks to hit number 1 on the billboard. You have Drake's new album, as you mentioned, Travis Scott's Utopia, J. Cole's The Fall Off, if he drops it this year, Lil Wayne, I think there's another Carter coming, Lil Uzi Vert, who I believe is dropping pretty soon, so he could potentially be the 1st, and then after that, And I hate to say this, but maybe Cardi B.
I still think that she's pretty strong, but we'll see it. I say maybe more. So we'll see if she drops an album. And I say maybe to Nicki Minaj too, while I have a bit more confidence in her dropping an album, her last album went number two, second to Travis Scott back in 2018, but it's also been a long time.
And some of the other artists who are a few more fan favorites, like Pusha T or A$AP Rocky Rick Ross, even Chance the rapper. Great artist. But it's been a while since any of those artists, if ever have topped the billboard. 200 for album charts. I know Ross and others have in the past, but, so there's a lot of fragmentation.
There were, there's still are artists have a shot, beloved albums, but they're not reaching this particular milestone of how people view mainstream success.
[00:06:46] Neil Shah: question of who's a lock for number one in the rap community has gotten a little bit more complicated than maybe a few years ago. Some of these people may not be a lock.
[00:06:58] Dan Runcie: Do you think anyone I named isn't a lock.
[00:07:00] Neil Shah: Drake is obviously a lock. Travis, I would think would be a lock. Vert comes out on Friday, that's a pretty large artist and a highly anticipated album, but I'm not entirely sure. I'm not entirely sure that that would be number one. I'm not sure about Nikki. I would think Cardi, who I believe has been having 2023 in the frame, I would think that Cardi B would be number one.
It's just a little bit more complicated than especially with projects from the likes of Pusha T and whatnot. Yeah, there's definitely not a guarantee that even these stars and superstars will perform the way they did. Of course, that's up to the vicissitudes of do they have a hot single or not?
How much mindshare are they capturing, you know, these things change from year to year. All things considered, it does feel like, you know, things. I'd be worried about the downside of people being a little bit weaker. We just had Gunna, for example. Gunna, you know, came out with an album. It's been doing pretty well.
his mentor Young Thug actually also just released an album. There's a new Metro Boomin version of it that I think came out today or yesterday. But look Gunna back in 2022, last year, hit number one.
[00:08:19] Dan Runcie: Outsold the Weeknd
[00:08:20] Neil Shah: and what happened this year with this album they're gonna just put out, it hit number three. And even more than that, just the EAU unit figure, the equivalent album units, 85K, 85, 000 is decent, but not the strongest showing. So, I think there is a question about when these stars come back, just how well will they do as the surrounding environment for them is, creating what we're talking about,
[00:08:48] Dan Runcie: Yeah, I think there's a few factors here, and I do want to call them out. Billboard, who does reflect the charts, they released a article, 5 Reasons Why a rap album has yet to top the charts and there are 5 reasons are I'll read them here. The 1st is a lack of stars essentially in a fragments in a fragmented landscape.
There's so many artists that don't necessarily need mainstream success that billboard relied on. And I think that could be true to an extent. You have their 2nd, 1 here, which is growth for hip hop itself is only up 6. 3% compared to country and Latin, which are growing much faster. I have some thoughts on that, but that was their 2nd point.
They made the 3rd, which is related to Gunna here. They talked about guns, violence, drug abuse and courtroom legal battles as well that have slowed down or halted the production of many promising stars. Whether you look at XXXTentacion, Juice WRLD, Pop Smoke, and then you look at Gunna and Thug and others that have been battling legal challenges as well.
The fourth one they mentioned is just stagnation. At the charts, which I think may be a bigger thing where if you look at the charts this year, at least for the billboard 200, it's been SZA, it's been Morgan Wallen and a little bit of Miley Cyrus. And that's pretty much been it for most of the year. So it's not even the way that it was in the pre pandemic years where every week there was a new album that seemed to have its glory moment.
It's the same artists that are staying at the top. And in some ways, it almost feels a little bit like a throwback to days before streaming when we saw a little bit more stagnation there. And then their 5th reason is not enough dance music because they talked about albums like Renaissance or Drake's Honestly, Nevermind, Dua Lipa and Future Nostalgia and how they feel like post pandemic people want to get out there and how a lot of hip hop music has been a much more slow chill, especially in the streaming era.
And I think that each of those are valid points, but I think there's a few other things that weren't mentioned in billboards article that they themselves as the entity that decides these things has a big influence. We mentioned several of those Pre pandemic years. 1 of the biggest things is how billboard itself.
Change the rules and album bundles is a big thing. Ironically, they're actually going to be coming back with album bundles in a few months, but this was their way to be able to help preserve the sale of the album and have artists combine their album with a merch item, whether it's a T shirt or some other type of item.
But like anything, people started to game the system and people felt like it wasn't necessarily about album sales. It was more about people trying to sell these items. And I think we saw that most to extreme degree with what Travis Scott did with Astroworld, where he literally had an e commerce machine that was running, in perpetuity to help make sure that album almost doubled in its expectations of what people thought we just hadn't seen that much of a outpaced growth, but he saw the way the system was and we'd into it.
So I think that's one thing. That's a big factor, a second thing that I look at is just what we consider hip hop on these charts, because of course, billboard itself is it's reporting things based on us listenership. But we know that Latin music is very popular as well. Just considering how well bad bunny did on the charts.
But as you and I've talked about, bad bunny is labeled as Latin. He's not labeled as the actual genre that he performs. He's more categorized based on the region he's from. And for all intents and purposes, he considers himself a rapper. He considers himself a hip hop artist. So if hip hop was given some of that region agnostic glory that pop music or others get, maybe we would see, maybe we would even be having this conversation and we think about the global aspect of it.
So those are two things. There's a few more, but I wanted to get your thoughts on those.
[00:12:44] Neil Shah: Yeah. So let's start with that last one, what if hip hop is suffering from its own success, hip hop has had booms. For decades now, but what we saw in this back half of the 2010s was something fairly special and now we're at this juncture right now and so it just raises the question of like it looks like we're in a cooling period for hip hop, but hip hop is It's tentacles are reaching into, I mean, almost all of the other genres that are capturing the imagination of music fans right now.
I mean, often Morgan Wall in the country star sings with rap like cadences. one reason why
[00:13:25] Dan Runcie: Hip hop sounding beats too.
[00:13:27] Neil Shah: Yeah, even the tracks hip hop. Some of the bedrock, some of the sonic structures of Morgan Wallen's music are inherently, deeply hip hop. One reason why BTS and a new crop of Kpop stars have thrived so much, especially in the U.S., is their hip hop fluid. You can go down the list. I mean, the regional Mexican music craze that's going on right now. there's a ton of hip hop there, reggaeton, Afro beats. and then of course, Latin music and figures like Bad Bunny, Who's rapping and due to billboard nomenclature is categorized as a Latin artist, so one could look at the phenomenon differently and think, actually, while it looks like hip hop is suffering a little bit right now, or in this cooling period, maybe it's tentacles have stretched out So much, it's influences so total that it's actually become the bedrock of a lot of pop music. And then while rap stars are not thriving the way they did, say, between 2016 and 2019, in particular, because that's the period we're coming down off of, one could argue that it's. In all of these other places.
And in fact, in this age of, hip hopping everywhere, of everyone sing rapping, essentially the boundaries between quote unquote core hip hop, what Billboard would categorize as hip hop for the purpose of the charts, and a lot of these other genres is getting very fuzzy. So, one party could look at the phenomenon before us and think, weakness, in hip hop, another way of looking at it would be an increased fuzziness between hip hop and these neighboring genres. And so that that could be, that could be a major factor here. and yet at the same time, you know, something I think about a lot. what is the right way to think about this? And I'm really of 2 minds, like, I'm kind of in a conflicted space where on 1 hand, I don't know whether hip hop's influence is what we're watching is this kind of dominance on a new level, hip hop being a victim of its own success and essentially being everywhere or whether, you know, there really is some kind of transitional period afoot, you know, 1 thing to keep in mind is just how hot the 2010s and it particularly the back half was just think about how much era defining music was made in this period, incorporating R&B to Beyonce, Rihanna, Kanye West. The hubbub over Life of pablo, Drake views, you know, Frank Ocean, Kendrick Lamar.
I'm just talking about the top level. We're not even talking about the medium tier of excellent rappers and R&B stars beneath that Childish Gambino. There was a lot going on during this period. And so, despite, some of the other factors that we're talking about and that we'll talk about, I feel like that's what you gotta compare it to.
And so, to my mind, and I'm getting to actually a 2nd point in the billboard article. it does feel like we're help where we've come from a unipolar hip hop dominated universe using the strictest definition of hip hop to something. That's more multipolar and really. That can be a function of time and development, i.e. hip hop's success. Another good point that I think the Billboard article raised was just, you know, as a genre becomes so dominant, how much room is left? Once you're king of the mountain, how much growth is there left in the shoe? I mean, mathematically, your growth is going to, slow down. I come across this when I think about vinyl sales, you know, for years now, vinyl has been hot, but naturally, mathematically, as your base gets bigger, and we're talking about lots and lots of sales, your growth rates slow down.
So, like, this is just kind of an analogy, but as hip hop gets so dominant, there's something natural about not just a genre having slower periods in a cyclical fashion, which is a slightly separate thing, but there's also something natural about the genre at this point actually just I'm losing some steam for purely mathematical reasons.
[00:17:40] Dan Runcie: I'm glad you mentioned the back half of the last decade as being a high point for hip hop, because here's some important stats that influence this. Right in the middle of the 2010s is when we saw this shift is when streaming started to take off. Apple Music launches Spotify really kicks into gear. Of course, they launched in the US in 2011, but things really came into focus in 2014 and then in November, 2014.
That's when the billboard 200 starts counting streams and they've altered the formula a little bit, but it's roughly been the same where it's been anywhere from around 1, 250 to 1, 500 or even more if it's a free ad supported stream. But that's when they started counting streams at that particular point, Spotify had 15 million paid users and 60 million overall.
And then, four years later by 2018, they have 96 million paid users. And so if we go back to that point, so this is obviously when Travis Scott was releasing Astroworld, when Drake released God's Plan, as you mentioned, all these hip hop albums are doing extremely well, but there was a large. Index on hip hop fans.
And as we've seen when technology and time again, hip hop fans as a genre do tend to over index and their early adopters with new technology. We saw that with Spotify and the various streaming services, especially where their user base was. And you also saw that as well with social media with Twitter and places like that.
Where were the genres that people were talking about most on these platforms? It was hip hop. So there was this run of hip hop getting this lead. That other genres didn't have him because it over indexed early. You saw this outsized performance, especially as record sales, traditional, pure album sales started to dip a bit, but since then, you're now looking in this post quarantine phase and Spotify's growth is, paid subscriber amount is more than doubled since 2018, it's now over 200 million paid subscribers. And most of that growth came less from hip hop fans, but more from everyone else. So as we look and see the growth of whether it's Latin music, music in Africa, music in Asia, even country music within the US, you're looking at the growth of Spotify and the growth of all these streaming services and how that impacts charts and performance.
So even though hip hop listening is still growing. In the way that we've seen it record labels in the industry often do report things as a zero sum game in a lot of ways. So because of that, even though the growth is slowing down, it's still growing. It's just not growing as fast as these other genres that are now having their late 2000 late 2010s hip hop moment
[00:20:26] Neil Shah: Totally would. so yeah, when I looked into this topic last fall. Basically, fall was upon us in 2022, and it looked like hip hop's chart performance was relatively weak, so I wanted to look into this topic at that point. One of the interviews I did was actually with the head of the data tracker, Luminate, and this is definitely one thing that they noted, which is hip hop fans.
This is an important point, hip hop fans, were early adopters for streaming. So they over indexed and kind of led the way during an earlier stage of streaming adoption in precisely in the middle of the 2010s. And so, yes, you're right that you're, seeing, a shift here as the base of the streaming universe essentially becomes more varied. And especially during the pandemic, we saw these significant jumps with country and Latin music, partly that's a Morgan Wall in effect. Partly the Latin music numbers are juiced by Bad Bunny, these gargantuan artists in terms of their numbers, but it's a broader phenomenon of these genres. And their fans being a bigger part of the streaming pie and as a result, partly because of that hip hop share of streaming, not overall music consumption, but hip hop market share of us streaming is yes, like period after period, year after year is dipping as we now have a, actually a fuller picture. A more varied streaming audience.
so that's definitely a major factor and it's you know, part of why country and Latin music in particular have gotten the lifted that they've got of late. One thing to keep in mind throughout all of this is that while we're talking about, hip hop slowing, at least according to these chart metrics and streaming market shares and whatnot, it's always worth mentioning or noting that it's market share still outstrips these other genres by a wide margin, not just Latin and country, which, you know, Latin's numbers in the billboard math are, have always been weirdly low, frankly. They seem lower than they should be, but they're fairly low. I mean, we're talking like, right? Six, seven, eight percent, just neighborhood ballpark in terms of market share of U. S. consumption compared to hip hop, which is still outpacing.
[00:22:46] Dan Runcie: In the high 20s, Yeah.
[00:22:48] Neil Shah: Right. So it's just worth keeping in mind how much of a distance there still is between hip hop and some of these other genres.
[00:22:56] Dan Runcie: And this dynamic as well made me think about other times, even before streaming where distribution and means have impacted which genres were more popular. And in a lot of ways, I've often thought that streaming's ability to lower the entry barriers and to eliminate the gatekeepers, not completely eliminate, but to lessen their power is what enabled hip hop artists and artists from other genres to realize their power.
And it made me think back to times in the CD era. And I remember growing up when we think about the peak of the CD era, this is something I still remember to this day. Cause I was in school at the time. I think about three albums that came out right around the same time. You have two hip hop albums. So you have DMX is, and then there was X this December, 1999.
And then a couple months later you have NSYNC. They have their no strings attached album, which was still up until Adele's album was the highest first week sale. I think it was just under 3 million. I used to the US and then a couple months after that, you have Eminem drops, Marshall Mathers LP, and roughly from a high level, I believe that NSYNC, as I mentioned to just under 3 million in its first week.
Marshall Mathers LP did just under 2 and DMX did a few hundred thousand under 1 million. And just calling those 3, 2, 1 from that perspective, all those artists are pretty big. I don't know if I buy that Eminem was that much less popular than NSYNC at the time, but I think part of the reason was, A, you had these parental advisory stickers on them, which essentially acted like a rated R thing where, okay, it's making you pause when you go to the register.
And too, because I was in school. I remember parents of NSYNC fans that were taking their kids out of school to go line up on Tuesday to go to Sam Goody or Strawberries, wherever, buy the album, and then come back in time for C period to start, right? That didn't happen with the parents of Eminem fans, and that did not happen with the parents of DMX fans.
So all of these things that may seem like natural commerce are structural things in play when we think back about that, and even to just how the nineties were in general with. Time Warner and all these big companies and the government and the Clinton administration trying to come down on hip hop. We finally now saw it reach its potential.
And now when things are starting to dip, everyone now wants to pull it back.
[00:25:17] Neil Shah: Totally. So, like, even as late as the late 90s and the early 2000s, there's this cultural penalty on hip hop music that is kind of artificially suppressing sales. I mean, you still see this in the live music industry to this day, whether it's festivals like Rolling Loud or New York City music venues where rappers often have a tougher time.
It's a little harder to put on an arena rap show. It's unfortunate, but partly it's because the insurance rates are higher and it's more costly to put on the show. Why is that? So even to this day, whether on the business side or culturally, there are things that can affect sales, and in streams and whatnot, you're mentioning kind of the, you know, the late 90s, I think back to the early 90s, in a way, the way in which hip hop over indexed, or kind of was buoyed by technology in the form of streaming in the middle of the 2010s, it was like a revenge for 1991 and what obtained in the prior years when rap albums were very popular and were actually selling briskly, but they were underreported along with country also too, they were actually underreported in the pre digitized sound scan era. So there again, you moved from a period when for these cultural or business factors, one genre was kind of artificially held lower, and other genres look like they were, dominating the mindshare of the country.
But then lo and behold, we entered the period of SoundScan and suddenly the whole country is listening to NWA, who knew? And so it's always seemed to me like while hip hop may have over indexed in like, you know, 2015 and 2018, it was kind of like almost like payback for 1989 or whatever, but yeah, so like these shifts, you got to take with a grain of salt because, you know, they're constructed a billboard and the industry does the best it can.
And it's constantly retooling, how it approaches things. You noted earlier the shifting position on album bundles. It's interesting that they're allowing it back this summer, but now with safeguards, so you don't pull a Travis Scott, presumably. So, you know, it's a work in progress, always, all of these metrics.
So you, when you're thinking about these debates or discussions, you do need to take it with a grain of salt. The average person on the street, maybe a rap fan, maybe a rock fan, maybe a post genre music fan. They may not care about the ins and outs of genres going up and down. Journalists may care about it and obviously people in the music industry do. but you know. It is relevant to the business, because it does affect how the business operates and what I mean by that is, you know, at record labels, your job is basically to, sign acts and pursue the hot thing and make money and some, so some of these cultural discussions about how genres are doing definitely have an impact on how the business operates and at the end of the day, the way, you know, the way the music that we hear now, I think of, you know, in earlier periods when hip hop experienced a lull, I don't think this will happen this time, but in earlier periods when hip hop experienced a lull, you know, the boy band era that you mentioned, I think, like around NSYNC and around Britney Spears time, you did see the slight lull in urban music have an impact on A&R budgets. There was a very much a shifting wind in terms of like, you know, money in some cases withdrawn from, like urban A&R budgets and, diverted elsewhere. you know, much like any business does, like diverting resources to where things feel like they're hotter. So my point being, some of these discussions, while the average music fan, may not care as much, they have real world implications.
[00:29:16] Dan Runcie: That's the part that frustrates me because a lot of this, as you mentioned, it's chatter for us, we're in this space. We talk to the people, or if you're someone that's a super fan on Twitter, you're Reddit as well. They're probably active, but they have huge. Implications I can't help, but to think about how many of the decisions that are being made about.
Which artists to give a particular budget to how much to spend on their music videos, how much to do on all these things. A&R, as you mentioned, they may see some type of cutbacks, some type of impact there. And the other piece of this, that's a bit frustrating is that in lieu of album bundles and bundling with merchandise, which is something that a hip hop, a lot of hip hop artists lead into what we saw on the flip side was artists then combining it with or not even combining, but selling physical albums like vinyl and all the boom that we've seen there. The challenge with vinyl though, is that there has been a limited supply, given the supplies train, the supply chain constraints and some of the materials there. So the record labels do have discretion over who gets allocation for the limited vinyl supply they have and who doesn't and that then creates much more decision making and much more King making essentially on who gets to have the full allotment.
And when we see artists, whether it's Harry Styles or Taylor Swift, get all of the. Allotment that's there and you see other artists, whether it's a title, the creator, even a Beyonce that are waiting several weeks, sometimes even months to get theirs. And these are superstar artists in their own right.
That are still waiting for it. And when you think deeper about it, half of the people that buy vinyl don't even listen to it. So what is it really? Is it a merch item or is it actually an album
[00:31:07] Neil Shah: totally. It's a great example of a Intra business, real world implication of some of these discussions, a record label having to determine. Okay, we got relationships with X, Y, and Z plants in Nashville and in the Czech Republic and, this is the space we got, which artists are we going to prioritize?
It matters, I mean, they're making these decisions and it can help certain artists and hurt others. And then if they don't have their physical ready while they're putting out their album, effectively, whoever doesn't have their physical ducks in a row is effectively penalized in terms of their chart placement.
So it's very real. one thing that's been going on, You know, we may get on Travis Scott and, his ilk's case for gaming the system with these bundles in that. Earlier micro era, but, you know, 1 thing that's been going on with the pop stars and especially with the K pop stars are all these collectible, collectible CDs and whatnot, which definitely are giving placement to these artists, especially in K pop that they wouldn't otherwise have.
So, in this era, when billboard got rid of those bundles, you're seeing, you know, something different going on with Kpop. It basically dominating the charts, or at least the top 10, using all these collectible CDs that then basically drop off. If you look carefully at the streaming numbers for a lot of the K pop artists that hit number 2, number 3, or number 1, the streaming numbers are not very strong.
I mean, The lion's share, almost the entire consumption is these collectible CDs, which are, actually de facto merch. So, you got another phenomenon, very similar to rap's phenomenon, where de facto merch is just gaming the charts.
[00:32:49] Dan Runcie: We're going to continue to see this, but I am very interested to see how this year's changes will impact things because even if you look at. I don't even think it was Travis Scott's thing that brought it to a head. I'm sure that was in the back of people's minds, but I think it was right after DJ Khaled dropped his album the same day as Tyler the Creator dropped, the album that had earthquake on it, Igor, that's the name of it. We started to see more of it there because obviously Khaled got penalized for energy drinks or whatever he had tried to bundle his albums with, but at the end of the day, they want to bundle it with things that aren't restricted in the same way that others did. So even though in the moment, it was definitely an eye roll type of thing.
Now, I'm like, okay, at least there was some type of control and autonomy there that the artists did have. But so much of this preservation of figuring out and having the powers that be tweak and determine the right Metric for album equivalent units, and then even the whole thought about how you have to listen to a song 1250 times on a paid streaming service for that to count as 1 full album sale. You can't even listen to a full album at once a day to then count as that. If you were to do the math there.
It really makes you think about the real dynamics at play, because we know for years that the major record labels themselves have wanted to preserve the aspect of an album. And a lot of it does seem like it's this another aspect of this underlying tug of war between them and the DSPs, the streaming services that do want to report on streams and do use that as the primary benchmark of success.
And now we're backing into this album equivalent unit metric that has now become normalized that we would never do in any other industry where it's not like Netflix is trying to show DVD equivalent units as a metric of success.
[00:34:42] Neil Shah: Yeah, totally. Yeah, I mean, Billboard is continually trying to get these things right. But, you know, it is, that is precisely what the pop stars and the Kpop stars are taking advantage of the fact that the physical albums, have much greater weight than the streams, which right there just, privileges certain genres then hurts, others, you know, like physical sales are not what in hip hop or not, but they are another genre. So, I'm sure they see it as a work in progress to kind of get these things right.
[00:35:13] Dan Runcie: Right, and I do acknowledge the work there in many ways. It is a very difficult task. You have a number of competing factors. You're trying to make essentially an advanced metric become the industry standard. And it is going to be an evolving conversation and likely will look different as streaming services continue to gain traction as you mentioned, if we do see a vinyl slowdown at some point, how that may shift things and there will be this continual movement here.
Where do you think things are in five years from now, specifically with hip hop? Do you think that the market share continues to slide? Do you think that another genre does become number one?
[00:35:50] Neil Shah: That's a great question, it feels like we're in a transitional period right now where lots of genres are thriving at the same time. People talk about music being post genre so much that it's almost become a cliché to, you know, for publicity materials to describe an artist as being genre less, kind of elicits eye rolls at this point.
Every artist is post genre at that point. It actually would be more striking if artists stuck to genres, ala Beyonce with her dance music album, which I thought took the opposite road of, focusing on the genre, which was actually refreshing. but so we're in a transitional moment. and so, I mean, the short answer to your question is that it's hard to see where this goes in five years.
But, you know, I would imagine that some of the cooling off of hip hop does level off and then maybe we're in a period for a while where, what currently obtains kind of sticks around. I mean, it's entirely possible that the 2000, the rest of the 2000. Twenties could be kind of a transitional, confusing period, barring some, culture shifting huge superstar in one of the genres that somehow changes everything, even in our highly fragmented music landscape. Typically some of the engines for different types of musics going up or down have relied on huge stars changing the game. Whether it's hip hop, you know, hip hop had certain weaknesses in the early 2000s. And, for example, Kanye West, helped revive rap also broadened its audience, broadened rap's audience in a very significant way.
Something that Drake then, continued effectively soccer mom-izing hip hop, you know, like anyone can listen to one dance. I mean, it's not even rap, as an example, and increasingly rappers were singing. So, in the past, when genres have had lulls and then come back to life, it's usually been on the back of these pivotal stars.
Well, the reason why it's so hard to really project, like, what we're going to do and what things are going to look like in five years is because music, as you know, like, we're losing the ability for such stars. Even if they're very big to really shift the culture, Morgan Wallen is a massively big star right now and yet much of the country, you know, doesn't listen to Morgan Wallen, you know, doesn't like him for various reasons, et cetera, you know, NBA Young Boy is a massively big artist, especially on YouTube.
And yet, most people are not familiar with him. I mean, to give you a better example, even when an artist like Cardi B or Ice Spice has huge hits that, you know, hit the top 10 of the Billboard Hot 100, much of the country does not know that song the way they may have known, You know, a Cyndi Lauper song in another era or an Adele song.
So we're in an environment where increasingly, it's so fragmented that it's hard for stars to really dominate in the way that they used to. And so that may also affect whether we see Kurt Cobain like shifts where, you know, where everything changes and then we recognize, Oh, the landscape is different.
There's plenty going on in hip hop, whether commercially, you know, an act like Suicide Boys is doing great on the live music circuit. They get almost no media attention, but, in terms of the live music circuit, they can sell concert tickets. there's plenty going on also from a, critically acclaimed point of view, you know, artists like DoJi, you know, are making waves.
It's not that like, you know, Youngboy's doing this thing. We've had work from like Lil Durk. I mean, Metro Boomin is having a great year. Ice Spice has been an exception in terms of being a big breakout star, there's plenty of stuff happening, but it's really rare for that stuff to really dominate, you saw, you know, these two examples are kind of related, but two moments that have been kind of monocultural with the capacity to shift things is obviously like Taylor Swift in this Era's tour, which is something that a lot of people talk about.
And then, of course, her getting a platform to ice spice, which was just very interesting and exciting because, wow, this is the biggest platform and it's being given to ice spice. What will happen? Will Ice Spice be able to develop into the kind of star that could, carry on Poppa Smoke's legacy in a different way and indeed populize Drill or will Drill and a lot of these, you know, vibrant rap stars that are on kind of a lower level, will they kind of stay there in this more, in this fragmented kind of multicolored, universe? I think that's like a key question, you know, even Taylor Swift, not to go into Taylor Swift tangent, but, you know, there's been debate, there's been discussion of like, oh, we do have monoculture.
There's Taylor Swift, even Taylor Swift only captures a certain part of the American audience. I mean, if you go to a Taylor Swift show, you know, it's not that racially diverse. I'm just putting it like that. not a Wwift hater. I'm just pointing out the fact, you know, so, it's tough to have the monocultural forces that one used to have to create these ships.
[00:41:01] Dan Runcie: Right, because I know you mentioned the points earlier about whether or not most people are really hearing Morgan Wallen or they're really hearing NBA Young Boy. And part of that probably applies to these generational superstars to even just with where they are now. You compare a song like Taylor Swift for the antihero compared to Cyndi Lauper time after time or any of these other songs that they did, it probably is less mind share there, but the other point you mentioned, there still are these little moments and these other things that happen that are still noteworthy, even if they're not the big thing.
I think that the big thing, whether that's having this huge album that sells 1, 000, 000 in its 1st week or 500, 000 units in its 1st week, given the way that media is going, I still think that is something that does become more and more subject to this power law dynamic, to some extent, where I do think it's still even five years from now will probably be very difficult for an artist not named Drake to be able to bet money and say, yes, oh yeah. That artist will could sell over 500, 000 in the first week. Even Drake hasn't necessarily a hundred percent done that. I mean, he did it with certified lover boy most recently, but, the other two albums he had before this, the joint one with 21 Savage or the honestly, nevermind he did it. So, but he still was able to at least top the charts there.
So I do think that. We'll still see success. We'll still see these moments, but almost in the same way that in Hollywood, where I think it's probably pretty unlikely at this point that there's going to be a billion dollar grossing movie. And it's like, Oh, wow, Huh, that's an original story or original concept.
Never heard of that one. It's almost always sequel or based on some type of existing IP. And in many ways, Taylor, Drake, Beyonce, Adele are the closest thing you have to existing contemporary IP and music. These are the biggest bets you have, and you do have a few acts here or there that have definitely come into their own SZA's SOS album has clearly done extremely well. It's been great to see her continue to break. Strides and do, and I think there's plenty of stats that show just with the performance of control over the years that there's a lot that is indicating there, but still, even with where SZA is now, there's still a gap between the other artists I mentioned.
So, there's levels to this for sure. We'll see growth there, but I still think that we're going to see the most continued bets and the more the budgets as well go towards the Drake's and the Taylor's because that's where the safest bet is for the money spent.
[00:43:32] Neil Shah: So it would be fascinating if this period remains more confusing than it usually would and more transitional, partly because ala Hollywood. We, as a culture, rely on this safe, riskless IP instead of, doing the artist development to really help some artists, you know, achieve, get to that next level, you know, it's striking, these artists you're mentioning, Taylor, Drake, they come from a different era. They come from an era that was of the fulcrum, not even the fulcrum, they proceed the streaming era. and they benefited from the branding power of an industry that has changed, dramatically and they remain right now are, you know, some of our biggest stars and it doesn't feel like a hangover yet.
These artists are still doing respected work. Drake's numbers are weakening substantially album by album, but, yeah, it will be interesting if, as you're noting, we kind of rely on these folks IP, like, you know, maybe Drake should rerecord all of it. Maybe I wouldn't mind it if Drake rerecorded Take Care For No Reason.
Maybe it's so hard to make another Take Care, another masterpiece. Maybe he should just re record it. The point being, some of these stars could linger with us longer than they would because of this effect where, in such an industry that's so fragmented, these are the riskless parties to do business with, whether you're a record label, whether you're a concert promoter, this is where the safety and money is at.
And so they could have a longer, you know, there's a perennial question about when Drake will fall off, but maybe some of these artists won't fall off, in this next stretch, but stay in this weaker state as, you know, this other stuff continues to bubble,
[00:45:16] Dan Runcie: Yeah, it's almost in the same way where Tom Cruise is now in his 60s. I don't see him stopping Mission Impossible anytime soon. As serious as he's been doing since he was in his early 30s. Denzel's about to drop the Equalizer 3. The man turned 70 next year.
[00:45:31] Neil Shah: Indiana Jones, Harrison Ford.
[00:45:33] Dan Runcie: Yeah, he's 80.
[00:45:35] Neil Shah: So, this can be bemoaned. people bemoan this in the Hollywood context, the recycling of IP instead of the development of new stuff. but it's an open question. You just, you never know, you know, there's plenty of vibrant rap being made.
There's an entire rage movement that Playboi Carti and other artists have helped inspire, you know, there's just like Ice Spice to my mind follows a little bit. Sonically in the heels of pop spoken certain ways. There are inheritors of the SoundCloud rap era that sadly waned with the passing of, you know, stars like X and Juice WRLD and whatnot.
There's stuff going on. You just, you never know, like, music business is a hard one to predict. You can't even predict that confusion will reign because, you know, it's a topsy turvy business and things change.
[00:46:26] Dan Runcie: Yeah, definitely. Well, Neil, this was fun. before we close things out, anything you want to plug or let the audience know that you're working on?
[00:46:34] Neil Shah: No, I don't think so. Anything you suggest, I don't think there's anything I'd want to plug.
[00:46:38] Dan Runcie: Okay. Well, we'll make sure that we link to your most recent Taylor Swift piece in this one, just with the breakdown of the economics. They're not related to this conversation, but a fascinating book in deep dive, obviously considering all the conversations needed to happen to give people a breakdown, not just into that top line number, but the profit margin of a tour of this scale.
[00:46:59] Neil Shah: yeah, with the Taylor piece, I'm happy with it. And I was basically trying to do something that's just hard to do. Artists don't talk about their costs and what their deals involved with promoters and booking agents. So very hard to actually ascertain profit.
And so what I was trying to do there was just. and it talked to a lot of people about what's reasonable for a superstar and then what's reasonable to assume about the breakdown when it comes to an unusual superstar. So that was kind of, that story, I guess, you know, related to this topic is just, you know, yeah, my attempt to kind of get my head around. It wasn't that article. I did, I think, in October of last year. and so, yeah, this is like an important discussion. and when you want to have in a measured way, you know, like, it's like, another not colleague, but a good guy at Billboard Elias did also a piece, following on Kyle's piece, right?
Kind of actually talking to executives about how worried, you know, they are about this stuff. So, yeah, this stuff is hard to predict. So, but yeah, if anything, you could, flag that old piece if you want.
[00:48:01] Dan Runcie: Okay, great. No, we'll do Neilm Thanks again. It's been a pleasure.
[00:48:05] Dan Runcie Outro Audio: If you enjoyed this podcast, go ahead and share it with a friend, copy the link, text it to a friend, post it in your group chat, post it in your Slack groups, wherever you and your people talk, spread the word. That's how Trapital continues to grow and continues to reach the right people. And while you're at it, if you use Apple podcast.
Go ahead, rate the podcast, give it a high rating and leave a review. Tell people why you like the podcast that helps more people discover the show. Thank you in advance. Talk to you next week.48m | Jul 6, 2023
- 30 years of Bad Boy Entertainment (with Zack Greenburg)
We can’t tell the story of hip-hop without mentioning Diddy and the record label he started. Bad Boy took off in 1993 after Puff was fired from Uptown Records. He brought TheNotorious B.I.G. with him from Uptown Record, and signed a 50-50 deal with Clive Davis’s Arista Records, and it was off to the races.
Bad Boy survived the tragic fallout of the East Coast vs. West Coast rivalry, and reached even bigger heights after Biggie’s death. Puff began to rise as a solo artist, but did the rest of the artists suffer as a result?
Friend of the pod, Zack O’Malley Greenburg, joins me on this episode to cover 30 years of Bad Boy Entertainment. Here’s what we hit on:
0:35 Sean Combs come-up story
5:16 Diddy breaks in with Uptown Records
8:22 Starting Bad Boy Records
14:11 What sets Diddy apart
21:04 How Diddy controlled the narrative
23:58 Bad Boy’s formula for success
29:00 East Coast vs. West Coast rivalry
30:39 Bad Boy’s historic 1997-98 run
45:42 Bad Boy curse?
48:44 Diddy’s reputation compared to Cash Money
54:50 Best signing?
55:19 Best business move?
57:19 Best dark horse move?
1:00:19 Missed opportunity?
1:08:52 Possibility of biopic?
Host: Dan Runcie, @RuncieDan, trapital.co
Guests: Zack O’Malley Greenburg, @zogblog
Enjoy this podcast? Rate and review the podcast here! ratethispodcast.com/trapital
[00:00:00] Zack Greenburg: Diddy's ability to sort of walk the line and step back, you know, I think that's what ultimately kept Bad Boy in the position that, you know, that stayed and kept him in the position that he continued to be in.
[00:00:09] Dan Runcie Outro Audio: Hey, welcome to the Trapital Podcast. I'm your host and the founder of Trapital, Dan Runcie. This podcast is your place to gain insights from the executives in music, media, entertainment, and more who are taking hip hop culture to the next level.
[00:00:35] Dan Runcie Guest Intro: Today's episode is another case study style breakdown, and this time we chose to dive deep on the one, the only Bad Boy Entertainment when it comes to branding and when it comes to marketing. I don't know if there's another record label that has as identifiable as a sound of vibe as bad Boy, you knew what that vibe was.
Puff said it himself, they take hits from the eighties, but do it sound so crazy? And that was the formula, and it worked time and time again. What Puff did was smart, it was a modern approach to how Berry Gordy approached the record business with Motown. But then he put his own spin on it, interning with Andre Harrell at Uptown Records, learning from him and then putting his own spin on it even more, making it relevant for the 90s and truly becoming the icon that was synonymous with shiny suits with that Bad Boy flavor.
And so much of the success of one of the best MCs ever, the Notorious BIG, some of the most iconic R&B groups at the time, and singers such as Faith Evans, 112 and many more. And plenty of artists that unfortunately also had plenty of challenges and issues when it came to payment, drama, legal disputes and more.
And we dive into all of that. I'm joined again by Zack O'Malley Greenburg. He wrote a book called Three Kings, where he dived deep into Diddy, as well as Dr. Dre and Jay-Z in this book, so he's well-versed and shared a bunch of great stories in this one. So let's dive in, really excited for this one. Hope you enjoy it.
[00:02:06] Dan Runcie: We are back to talk about the wondrous world that Sean Combs built himself Bad Boy entertainment and joined by the one and only Zach Greenburg. Welcome back
[00:02:15] Zack Greenburg: Oh, thanks for having me, Dan.
[00:02:17] Dan Runcie: Bad Boy is so fascinating because Puff is someone who has in many ways been this larger than life character even before people knew him externally as that.
And he has really stayed true with that throughout his time in hip hop and even before then. And most people know the origin story starting back in his days at Howard. But I think based on the research you've done, I know you have some backstory with some of the lessons and some of the things he did even before that.
So walk us back. Who was puff in the early days before the world? Got to know him.
[00:02:52] Zack Greenburg: Yeah, I mean, you know, I think the funny part is that, that puffy was always puffy and, you know, it just took a while for a little while for the world to kind of figure it out. But you know, there are these kind of consistent themes when you go back through his youth and you, kind of get a sense of who he was.
And, you know, I remember writing my book Three Kings, you know, Diddy being one of these kings, talking to people who grew up around him. He really was that same guy from the very beginning. So even when he was a kid, you know, he spent his very earliest years in Harlem, but then moved to Mount Vernon, kind of a suburban neighborhood.
you know, just north of the city limits. And you know, he had not just one paper route, he had multiple paper routes and on every, you know, every route. He had this philosophy of like, he wasn't just gonna take the paper and fling it into the family's yard. He was gonna get up and he was gonna go, you know, open the screen door and put the paper in between the screen door and the main door so that people didn't have to go up and do so like he was, you know, that dedicated, that hardworking from the very beginning. you know, I think another story I learned from his youth, Puffy was like, there was some, Some debate, you know, some kid had a pool party and, Puffy wasn't invited. there may have been some racism at play, we don't know. But anyway, Puffy's solution was to convince his mom to build a pool in their backyard and then start his own pool parties and, you know, I mean, it's like the most puffy move ever, right? So he just ended up finding, you know, wealthier and wealthier backers to build the proverbial pool as the years went on.
[00:04:23] Dan Runcie: That is the perfect story to encapsulate him because I feel like I could imagine other people having white parties. He doesn't get invited to the white party, so he's like, all right, bet I'm gonna go start my own white party. And now it's this annual thing, however many years running.
[00:04:37] Zack Greenburg: Exactly. I mean, and you know, you know, as you kind of trace his evolution, you know, in between it was the same thing. So, you know, we all know the Howard Days, he was taking the Amtrak up, sometimes hiding in the bathroom, so they didn't have to pay for the tickets. He didn't have any money but, you know, he would go up back up to New York on the weekends, he would plan these parties.
He started to build a name for himself. and it was exactly that, you know, so from the pool parties, in Mount Vernon to the parties that he was throwing, you know, his colleges to the White party, you get that through line of Puffy that, you know, kind of continues all the way through, through the Ciroc era, you know, I think, which really makes this sort of art celebration, ethos, you know, all the more credible, right.
[00:05:16] Dan Runcie: Right, and you mentioning him taking Amtrak. Of course, that's him going from DC to New York to go to Uptown Records where he pushes and fights to get his unpaid internship. Working with Andre Harrell, who was on the Ascension himself. He had started that record label in the mid to late eighties. He then sees the rise.
He's early on, new Jack Swing has so many of the early folks making that sound there. And then Puff comes in, he sees a opportunity to elevate and position that brand because the whole thing that Uptown was about, they were trying to push Ghetto Fabulous. They wanted to show that there was a opportunity for people who grew up with nothing to feel like they had that release.
And Andre Harrell, he since passed away a few years ago, but he spoken about this a few times and you can see how Puff at the time adapted a lot of that. He worked with Jodeci. He was so integral with how he styled them and making sure they had the right jackets. And at the time, Jodeci was very much seen as this alternative to Boys to Men, Boys to Men was a bit more buttoned up.
They made music that was G-rated that you could play everywhere. And Jodeci definitely leaned into the sex appeal, which is something that we saw continue play through with. Bad Boy records of Bad Boy Entertainment in the future. He did similar with Mary J. Blige, taking her from just being a R&B singer to giving her more of a hip hop Ben, and doing a bit more of that crossover vibe, which is something that we saw again with Bad Boy too.
And as Puff continued to show his influence, things started to clash because the intern then becomes VP of A and R, and that VP in A and R starts to butt heads and really challenge Andre Harrell on a number of things.
[00:07:06] Zack Greenburg: Yeah. And, you know, I think, you know, like you said, Puff really had an idea of what Uptown could be that was, you know, a little bit different from Andre. But it really worked, right? It was the idea that it was, it had a little bit more of an edge to it. you know, like Jodeci had a little more edge than boys to men.
you know, that every artist that was gonna be out on Bad Boy would have like, you know, would have that level of class, but also would have kind of like, you know, kind of like a street smart edge. And so, right, it was like the Tims and the backwards hat, but, you know, maybe you had like a nice jacket.
It was that kind of mix. And it was very much like in line with Puffy himself. and I think, you know, it's a theme that you kind of started to see. as kind of, he moved on, you know, whether it was Bad Boy or Roc or whatever it was, the thing was synonymous with Puffy. Puffy was synonymous with the thing. But as he began to later on build these assets, you know, he could sell the businesses in a way that he couldn't sort of sell his own image and likeness necessarily. So, that started with, Uptown for sure, it was Andre's thing, but it started to feel like it was Puffy's thing.
And I think there was some thought that, you know, that there sort of couldn't be two kings in the castle. And Andre eventually pushed him out and, you know, that kind of left it, the Diddy, you know, in his early twenties kind of figuring out like, Hey, you know, what am I gonna do next?
How am I gonna really start my own thing here?
[00:08:22] Dan Runcie: And I have this quote from Andre. This was from a documentary a few years later. He says, when Puff got fired, he was on payroll and his artists were on payroll. He's still recording his artists, but he was able to find the best deal, so we never fired him to hurt him. But he fired him to basically make him rich.
I will say that quote is much nicer than certain things that Andre said immediately after that firing, especially in the 90s. But it was cool to see the two of them find opportunities to continue to work together after that. But I think the key thing from his time in Uptown is that he was able to find and work with art is that eventually he started working with on Bad Boy.
That's when he first works and discovers Big. That's when he first works and really begins to hone in on that sound. And then he officially launched Bad Boy in 1991, but it really wasn't until 1993. He starts working with Big, he starts working with Craig Mack and then it all leads up to this deal that he ends up signing with Arista records to officially do this joint venture with Arista.
Arista, of course, was run by Clive Owen, legendary music executive, and they do their 50 50 split. And as the story goes, Clive was on the fence. At first he wanted to hear more, but then Puff Plays flavor in your ear. Craig Max first single, and he was like, all right, I need to be part of this, whatever it is.
So that was the song that took things off and made it happen.
[00:09:50] Zack Greenburg: Yeah, I mean, Clive Davis, of course, you know, legendary, record men, you know, discovered Janice Joplin, Whitney Houston, Puffy, like you could say, he discovered all these people. they were, they were kind of there already, and, I sort of suspect they would've had their success even if it were not for Clive Davis.
But, you know, that, we could debate that. But, know, Clive Davis certainly had an eye for talent, one way or the other. So, I mean, I think what's really fascinating too is, you know, you got think where Puffy was at that point in his life before he got that deal. He was shopping Bad Boy around right?
To a bunch of different labels and it says so much about him and his whole ethos, the way he approached it, and this was another anecdote that I found in my reporting, by one of the founders of The Fader who happened to work at EMI at the time. He was in the room when Puffy brought the Bad Boy deal, to the folks at e Emmi and, you know, so like, just to refresh, here's Puff early twenties, just been fired.
Just had his first kid, I think. And also, you know, he'd been a part of, this charity basketball tournament at City College where a bunch of people got, crushed in a stampede. He was ultimately found, you know, not guilty of any kind of criminal charges or anything, but his name was all over the papers.
Like there's a lot of negative press around him. He was kind of, you know, almost radioactive at this point, or at least one might have thought that turned out he wasn't. But, so anyway, he goes into this meeting with e Emmi and, you know, Their big thing was, Vanilla Ice. And he sort of goes into this meeting and he's like, that dude's corny.
Like, I have no interest in anything having to do with Vanilla Ice. Let me tell you how to run your business. And, you know, so he proceeds to like, give them this vision. And then at the end of it, I mean, and I'll read the quote cause it's just so good. he says, when you guys get in a room with all them suits and you're gonna decide what you're gonna pay Puff, just when you get to a number that you think is gonna make Puff happy, I love how he was referring to himself the third person, right?
He says, get crazy on top of that. And then when you're there, I want whipped cream and a cherry on top. and this is the best part, he goes, I don't even want to think about the money. That shouldn't even be an issue. Don't be coming at me with no n-word money. Goodbye. And like that was vintage puff.
Like that was billionaire Puffy. Before he was billionaire, before he even had. Like before we had a company. So, you know, I think there's just such a great lesson in there, which is kind of like, you know, the sort of, if you can pull off the, fake it till you make it, if you can have that kind of swagger. And to be fair, not available to everybody and like, you know, don't try this at home, kind of if you don't have it.
But man, if you can pull that off, if you have that kind of confidence in yourself, you can accomplish some pretty incredible things. He didn't even, you know, end up going with EMI but I think he made a similar pitch at Arista and, you know, and that ultimately got him the deal, that created Bad Boy and, you know, that was really the engine for so much of, what he ended up achieving as the years went on.
[00:12:46] Dan Runcie: That story is one of the reasons why he has lived on to become meed and in many ways become a bit of a gift himself. Whether you look at the Chappelle Show skit where, Dave Chappelle is making fun of making the band, and he has that whole sketch about, I want you to get me some Cambodian milk from a goat, or whatever it is.
And it's something that sounds completely absurd, but one, it sounded like a lot of the shit that he would say in that MTV show make in the band. And it sounds exactly like that quote that you just shared from that story. The difference is he did this, whether it was for pure entertainment on a show like making the band or when there was really things at stake, like he was at this point when there wasn't a deal in place, he was recently fired.
But regardless of whether he's up or down, trying to get it still the same guy.
[00:13:39] Zack Greenburg: Absolutely. You know, and I think it just kind of goes to the point like, did he creates brands. He is the brand. He imbued the brand with his essence. And then the brand becomes that much more valuable, whether it's a brand that he can sell, you know, for some huge gain, or whether it's a brand that is compensating him, you know, handsomely for his association or in some cases both.
That's kind of the formula and, you know, not everybody can pull it off because not everybody has a brand that is that clear.
[00:14:11] Dan Runcie: And let's dig into this because I think this is one of the things that does set him apart. Denny used to be a club promoter as well. And this is a persona that we've seen oftentimes in music where the club promoter or the party promoter works their way up to then become the executive. You see it now with Scooter Braun, someone who's a billionaire now, or close to it in his own right.
And he was a party promoter in Atlanta. You saw with Desiree Perez who now runs Roc Nation. She was a party and a club promoter before as well. And you've seen it plenty of times before and I think there's a few things there. There's a hustle and a relentlessness that you need to have to make that work.
You need to create momentum around some of that isn't there. You need to understand and be tapped into what people want to hear and what people wanna do and how people wanna feel entertained and how they wanna leave from something feeling like, damn, I had a good time. We need to go do that again. And that is a lifestyle and what Puff did was aligned himself by building businesses that allowed him to do that. Some of those businesses worked better than others, but I think that is the key through line there. On the flip side, I do think that some of these operators and business leaders can often struggle with the bigger picture because there's so many more elements to building companies outside of the marketing brand promotion and those things, and I think we can get into some of that here because I think we saw some of those dynamics play out with Bad Boy as well.
[00:15:39] Zack Greenburg: Yeah, for sure. And you know, I mean, I think one of the things about Bad Boy is it wasn't like this was the first record label to develop an ethos and kind of build a lifestyle around it. And, almost like, assembly line, right? I mean, Puffy was doing that himself at Uptown before he just took that same idea and, Pufified it even more.
But, you know, I would kind of almost liken it to Motown. I mean, if you look at, Berry Gordy's role, I mean, you see Berry Gordy, credited as a producer on so many, of those songs and, you know, he wasn't like the only person in the room, producing right? he was putting together the right songwriters, the right musicians, everybody to be in the same place. And he was tying it all together with this kind of Motown ethos. And when, you know, when you had a Motown record coming out, you knew what it was. And I think that's why people in the old days used to be fan people would be fans of like, specific labels, right? They're like, I like the stuff that this label puts out, you know, I trust them. It's almost like, you know, I don't know, you know, Coachella sells out, even before the artists are announced because you know what you're gonna get if you like Coachella and you just trust that that's what's gonna happen. That's what it was like, Motown, that's what it's like with Bad Boy.
So I think Diddy really followed that model that he was going to be the person, you know, sort of putting things together, you know, maybe he was going to, do a guest verse here and there. Maybe he was gonna be more involved in the production of this play of this song or another song. but it was really more in the vision and the ethos of the brand, the Bad Boy brand, what that looked like, what success looked like, you know, the Diddy version of success looked like maybe a little different from the Uptown Andre Herrell version. And, you know, it was like, like a little more swagger, like, you know, like a little more edge to it. And he was really able to kind of like, make that tangible. So, you know, I would keep going back to that as like something that sets him apart, you know, following the footsteps of the likes of Berry Gordy and
[00:17:34] Dan Runcie: The Motown example is good because they also were able to maximize the most from the broader roster they had from the hits that they had Berry Gordy, of course, was famous for one artist on his record, has a huge deal. Okay, we're gonna get another artist on that record on that label to then do it again.
You saw that with Aint' No Mountain High Enough. Marvin Gaye has his version that goes through the roof. Okay, let's get Diana Ross to do her own version, her own spin on it. That becomes a song in its own right. And you saw, did he do this to some extent with remixes? How one artist had the remix that worked out well.
Okay, or one artist had the original song that worked out well, okay, let's get the remix now. Let's get the whole Bad Boy crew on this remix to go do their own verse and do this thing. They did that time and time again, and then in the early two thousands he had that album. We invented the remix, and there's plenty of debate on whether or not they actually did invent the remix, but that remix that they did of Flava in Ya Ear with, Craig Mack, and they had Biggie on that one as well. That is one of the more classic iconic remixes that people do go back to. And I think the other way that they're , similar too is some of the disputes that artists have had about pavements and things like that, which we can get into eventually.
But that's always been the model. I think there in many ways, you're right, it's more like Motown than it is like uptown.
[00:18:58] Zack Greenburg: for sure. And you know, on the Biggie point, I mean, people forget sometimes, but Biggie was originally signed to Uptown and Puffy had to go and get him back, and I think they were able to negotiate his release or his transfer of his deal from Uptown to Bad Boy for something like half a million dollars, which, you know, turned out to be, a pretty good deal all the way around.
So, you know, he knew that sometimes he would have to shell out and, you know, he did from time to time. That certainly didn't stop there from being disputes, as time went on. But, you know, I think one of the other fascinating things is sort of this interplay, you know, he really walked this line, of sort of like, you know, the corner in the corner office, right?
you know, the boardroom, and the street, and, he played up this sort of like lineage that he had of the Harlem gangster world like his dad, Melvin was an associate of Frank Lucas from, you know, the subject of American gangster. And you know, like his dad was known in Harlem. I think they called him, pretty Melvin.
Like he was very flashy, you know, he always had the best suits and, you know, and all that kind of thing. But, you know, he definitely came from that sort of like grand gangster era. you know, Frank Lucas and Nick Barnes and all those guys. I mean, that was sort of Puffs lineage.
And he definitely played up and he certainly played up, you know, sort of different sort of, street edge, you know, when things got heated in the Bad Boy Death Row situation. But at the same time, he never really wanted to go too deep into it.
And I talked to somebody who sort of grew up around him, and he called him Jimmy Clean Hands, you know, because he didn't really want to get like, like he used the association. When it was sort of convenient, but also he didn't want to get too deeply associated, with that side of things.
So, to me it's, a really fascinating tightrope walk, how he pulled it off. And, if he'd gone further, toward that side of things, I don't think that would've ended well for him. And if he hadn't gone quite as far as he might not have had, you know, a certain credibility or an edge that, you know, that contributed to so much of the success of Bad Boy, especially in those days.
[00:21:04] Dan Runcie: And he did it at a time in the 90s when it was easier for hip hop stars to be able to control the narrative and push what they wanna push and not have other things cover or not have other things be uncovered, or all these internet rabbit holes. I could imagine him trying to do this 10, 15 years later, and it could be a situation like Rick Ross where all of a sudden there's photos of you as a correctional officer popping up on the internet and people are like, bro, what the hell's going on here?
I thought every day you were hustling. I could have seen something like that happening the same way that Diddy, but by the time that plenty of people have had those debates about, oh, well, you know, Diddy was actually a kid that grew up in the suburbs and went to college and X, Y, Z, and there's plenty of ways that you could flip that story, but by the time that even became a discussion point, at least in circles where I heard him growing up, he was already an established star.
So there was really nothing else that you could do at that point.
[00:21:58] Zack Greenburg: yeah. And I guess he could walk that line because he really did kind of embody both, right? Like he was the son of a, you know, a Harlem gangster. he was born in Harlem. His dad was killed, you know, on I think Central Park West and 108th Street or something, you know, in a dispute a case of I think mistaken identity.
I mean, so there were real, you know, tough things that, he was born into. And at the same time, he was also, you know, like the college dropout. Like you know, he went to school, he did his thing like, you know, you could say he was like a proto backpack rapper in some ways, like if you wanted to spin it that way.
And he kind of embodied both of these worlds, but I think that really, if he hadn't actually lived both those lives, it would've been harder to sort of embody them simultaneously as he did.
[00:22:47] Dan Runcie: And even in him, in his own right, there were many incidents that he had that people felt could have supported this narrative that he wanted to, for better or worse, whether it was the 1990 Club nightclub, the 1999 nightclub shooting after the Nas Hate Me Now Music video, him and his team going into Steve Stout's office and then, you know, assaulting him.
And then everything that came up after that, or even as recently as within the past 10 years, the incident at UCLA with the coach yelling at his son. There's been plenty of things that have came up that show, you know, that the relentless, the temperament that could often work against his advantage as well.
[00:23:26] Zack Greenburg: Yeah. I mean, you know, didn't he bash Steve Stout over the head with a champagne bottle or something? I mean, you know, but what's that line? We back friends like Puffy and Steve Stout, you know, like it, 50 cent had that line. I think he has a remarkable ability to, you know, to end up being sort of friendly with, people who he had these disputes with in the past.
So, you know, whether, Steve Stout or, Shine or whoever, like, he finds, various ways to, sort of bridge divides in the end. I don't know how it turned out with the coach from, was it UCLA, or USC. But I suspect that's fine too. but yeah, he does find a way of patching things up.
[00:23:59] Dan Runcie: No, he definitely has and we could talk a little bit more about some of the disputes that came with some of the artists, but I do wanna talk a bit about the business of Bad Boy itself and how it went about things. And one of the things that we saw from successful record labels, of course, Zach and I have done past conversations on Cash money, and Roc-A-Fella, and they'll always find innovative ways to work within their constraints or find ways to make things work even when you don't have all of the resources in the world.
And one of the things that Bad Boy did was they really leaned into sampling and sampling hits from the eighties and making them the most successful things they could be. What's that line from that May song Making, taking hits from the eighties make 'em sound
so Make it sound so crazy. Yeah.
so they have their in-house production as well with hit men who then do most of the production, and they give you that Bad Boy sound that you can identify when you hear it immediately on a song, whether it's a total song or it's a one 12 song.
And they were able to do that and that formula worked so well because you had this generation that grew up listening to those songs because their parents heard all those songs as well. These are black music classics and then they were able to repurpose them and because of the time and things weren't quite as oversaturated, it sounded quite authentic in a way where I think even some samples now can feel almost a bit forced because you can be like, okay, they're really trying to work that artist.
And who knows? I might be also looking at this now, someone in my thirties as opposed to in the 90s, looking at it as someone that's growing up experiencing this. But still, I do think that there was a bit of like a authenticity and a vibe that they were able to create with each of those sample tracks.
And plenty people tried to do it. Of course they didn't invent it. I know that Death Row and NWA, Dr. Dre had done it successfully before Diddy, but Diddy and Bad Boy were definitely able to put their own unique spin on making that as effective as it was.
[00:25:57] Zack Greenburg: Yeah, definitely. I think, you know, I mean, I think to your point, but it, like it really opened up this sort of aspect of mainstream hip hop when, you know, maybe there were some radio stations that weren't gonna play some of these songs, but, you know, like a puffy song or a biggie song ordinarily, but, you know, if you have like, Oh, that's David Bowie in the background.
Like I'm familiar with this. then, you might be sort of like more inclined to put it on the radio if you were a certain kind of dj, which then might reach a certain kind of listener who didn't, you know, ordinarily listen in hip hop and, you know, and you kind of have this, kind of snowball effect.
you know, sure.
[00:26:32] Dan Runcie: And then from a personal perspective, I'll be the first to admit the amount of songs that I had heard the first time as Bad Boy Version. And then growing up, you then later hear the original one that they sampled from the eighties or seventies, whatever Disco tracker, soul Tracker was, and you're like, oh, that's what that song was from.
It's happened endless times and it continues to still happen.
[00:26:54] Zack Greenburg: Yeah. I must confess, I heard I'll be missing you before, I heard I'll be watching you, so, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. you know, so yeah, and I think a lot of that narrative around the sort of peak Bad Boy sampling era, you know, I think it gets unfairly criticized as sort of being uncreative and like, you know, essentially just being cover and, not adding much to it.
But, I disagree entirely, and I think that in addition to creating a different song with a different vibe and everything, you know, th those songs did introduce a whole generation of people, to eighties music that, you know, they may not have been alive to have heard, you know, from, you know, let's say I was born 85, some of these songs came out before I was born.
So, yeah, I think that does get missed sometimes.
[00:27:35] Dan Runcie: Yeah, and I'm in the same boat. I knew Juicy before. I knew the original Juicy Fruit. I knew Mase Bad Boy before I knew Hollywood Swinging, and I could go on and on with all the songs that they were able to help in introduce and connect the dots there. Another thing that I think Bad Boy did at this time that was a continuation of Uptown was how intentional and borderline maniacal Puff was about continuing that image.
So, they had the Can't Stop Boat Stop documentary that came out a couple years ago. And the artist from one 12, which was the main male R&B group that Puff had signed to the record label at the time, they said that they were styled, dressed and personified to be an image of Puff themselves, to essentially be Puff as R&B singers, which was really interesting.
And then on the more controversial side, which I don't think would ever fly in the same way today, Faith Evans, who was married to Biggie at the time, she was sent by Puff to go to tanning salons cuz she a light-skinned black woman. They sent her to tanning salons so that her skin can be darker because he wanted to be able to sell her as a certain image that would never fly again the same way today.
But that's how Puff was. He was so maniacal, even things down to the nail color and things like that for women. He wanted to make sure that people looked a certain way.
[00:29:01] Zack Greenburg: Yeah, and I think what's, you know, especially interesting when you, kind of zoom back on the 90s and that, that era of Bad Boys, you know, given the level of control he had over, you know, that level of detail, you know, the whole east coast, west coast thing, the whole Bad Boy Death Row thing obviously got way out of control.
and, you know, culminating in, the desert of big and pop and you know, obviously we don't know exactly who was behind each of those things, but it's, you know, still kind of debate to this day. But, the fact is that, you know, got kind of wrapped up in this kind of, know, sort of thing, like the fact that Puffy could bring Bad Boy back from that, and kind of like continue to have the same brand, you know, after everything that went down, you know, I think is another testament to like the identity of the brand, right? I mean, you know, cuz I remember in that period of time hip hop was really under fire from, you know, so, you know, like the Tipper Gores of the world and the parental advisories and all that, and there was this narrative of like, oh, this music is dangerous.
And there was a whole period of time, you know, after everything that went down, in the mid to late 90s, like there were questions like, is hip hop? You know, really a viable commercial genre? Are brands really gonna want to be attached to this? you know, because of the violence that happened, you know, really publicly there.
And I think, you know, whether you love him or hate him, like, I think he deserves some credit for pulling things back from the brink. you know, regardless of whatever role he played in getting them, to the brink, but he really did kind of pull things back from the brink and show that hip hop could be this, you know, commercial force.
you know, that would be like a mainstream success sort of thing. And really pretty quickly, after all this went down,
[00:30:39] Dan Runcie: If you go back to winter 96, the height of this beef, you have that infamous vibe cover with Tupac, Dr. Dre Snoop, and Suge Knight. They're there, the Beef and Bad Boy and, Biggie as well. Were on respective vibe covers as well. If you asked people, okay, five, 10 years from now, which of these two record labels will be in the stronger position, you probably would've put your money on Death Row.
To be frank, they had the better artists just from like a roster perspective. With those four, the leadership seemed in many ways quite as strong and there were similarities there as well. You had these two relentless, large and life figures. Granted, Suge and Puff are very different in a lot of ways, but that's where you would've taken things.
But then two years later, it's a completely different story. Death Row is imploding and bad Boy had the biggest year that any record label has ever had. If you look back at that 1997 to 1998 stretch, and this is after the death of the biggest rapper as well, they end up releasing Biggie's second album, Life After Death, ironically, 16 days after he passed away.
And then Puff himself becomes this larger than life icon. He releases his own album, Puffy, P uff Daddy, the Family, No Way Out. And they continue to go on this run. And in many ways, as other heads and other figures in hip hop have faded and necessarily taken their own path, he continued to stay on that.
It really is a remarkable journey when you look at each of those steps in it, because I probably would've put my money on Death Row if I didn't know better.
[00:32:21] Zack Greenburg: Yeah, Yeah, I mean, it sure felt that way, right? I mean, but if you kinda, if you compare the leadership, if you compare Puffy to Suge, you know, I think that so much of, you know, the back and forth between Bad Boy and Death Row, you know, it was a case of like, these guys were playing a role, right?
I mean, they were, it is funny in some of my reporting, people say like, both Puffy and Suge, especially Suge, were sort of, it was like they were acting in their own bad gangster movie. And I think the main difference was, you know, Suge really came to believe it and live it in a way, that Diddy, didn't quite do it you know, as we were saying before, Diddy kind of walked that line.
but Suge just kind of got deeper and deeper into it, and that was kind of who he was, you know, all the time. So, you know, that there's not really like, kind of like a way to, back out, you know, to kind of come up for air when you, when you've kind of like gotten that deep into it like Suge did.
I think that was the main difference, you know? I mean, I think he became just completely, you know, is like possessed by this image that he created for himself. And he started to live it, you know, all the time and Diddy's ability to sort of walk the line and step back, you know, I think that's what ultimately kept Bad Boy in the position that, you know, that stayed and kept him in the position that he continued to be in.
[00:33:42] Dan Runcie: And everything that went down to that 1995 Source Awards is a perfect example about how they dealt with this whole thing. Suge and Death Row, famously win Best soundtrack for Above the Rim. He goes up, accepts the award, and he makes the infamous line. If you wanna sign with the label, you don't wanna have your executive producer all on the record, all on the video dancing come to Death Row, and then you see.
Puff is there just looking, not saying anything, but everyone knows who he's talking about. But then later on the night Puff goes and is on the mic, he doesn't go necessarily take a shot back at Suge, but he just makes some type of more global statement, Hey, we're all in this together. I forget Puff's exact quote, but that's a perfect example of this, right?
Of knowing that line cuz as we know, puff had a temper. Puff wasn't afraid to throw down in the moments, right? But he knew that in that stage, in that setting, especially even on his home turf, this was all the West Coast guys coming there because, you know, there was that famous scene of Snoop Dogg standing up being like, East Coast ain't got no love for Dr. Dre and Snoop.
That's my horrible Snoop dog voice there. But Puff was cool, calm, collected during all of that, and as you put it, the difference behind the difference between the two of them is more than puff deciding to be all the video and should not be in, the video. The same way it was everything that you explained it more.
And that is one of the biggest reasons, I think for that difference. And what helped Bad Boys essentially be even stronger, unfortunately. So after Big's death,
[00:35:21] Zack Greenburg: yeah, totally. And you know, I think with Puff, he ultimately. He had that calm, cool, collected side to him that came out, you know, I think at, helpful points, but he was ultimately about, you know, protecting the bag, right? Like Diddy is a business, he is the business. And he, knows that he has to kind of keep that in mind.
And I think, you know, Suge on the other hand just kind of like got too deep in his own narrative and couldn't kind of like poke his head up over the clouds and see the view from, you know, 35,000 feet or whatever. So, I think Diddy's business sense, you know, I think ultimately helped keep him, keep him, you know, just above the fray.
So, still super remarkable when you look at it. He threw that first white party in 1998. That was really, that was what, like a year, a year after Biggie was killed. And, you know, just to give you an idea of the kind of stuff that was going down. I mean, he bought this house in East Hampton, and he decided that he was gonna throw the most exclusive party people just to give the background.
I did some reporting on this too, but like, it apparently if you got invited to the white party and Puffy's White party, you could not get in If you wore like a cream suit, they'd throw you out. If you had, like a blue stripe on your white shirt, they would throw you out.
So you had like grown men running home to get like an all white proper shirt to go to these parties. And you know, like pretty quickly you had Martha Stewart and Howard Stern and Donna Koran and like, Donald Trump used to go to these parties, you know, with his daughter everything. So, it was kind of like a who's who of like a certain type of celebrity in the late 90s.
And to go from, you know, from the depths of the East coast, West coast thing to that, in like a year. I think it just shows how Puffy's able to kind of flip things around and that's what he was able to do with Bad Boy. He pivoted the whole narrative and suddenly it was about Puff Daddy, the family.
It was about, you know, Godzilla soundtrack and, you know, doing the thing with an orchestra and Jimmy Page and whatever. And, you know, singing, he's able to like recreate himself and also these brands like Bad Boy that's created in his image. you know, like in a remarkably quick timeframe, I think.
[00:37:38] Dan Runcie: And to share some numbers on this era. This is peak Bad Boy. I would say this whole 97 to 1999 stretch. 1999, they sold 130 million worth of records. And for some context there, that was more than Madonna's Maverick label had that year. And this was, or Madonna, during that whole Ray of Light era, if I'm remembering the timeline, and Beautiful Stranger, if I remember the timeline correctly and more than Def Jam had at its peak that year, and this was, we did the Def Jam pod recently.
This was around the same time that Lyor was trying to get X and Jay-Z to release those albums in the same year, and Bad Boy was still doing its thing then they're Puff Daddy and the Family Tour. They went on their own arena tour, they made 15 million that year, and Puff was starting to extend himself in the same way that we saw other moguls do the same.
We talked in the Roc-A-Fella episode about, this was the time that Dame Dash had started to have different partnerships in film and district and sports and things like that. We saw Master P as well in the late 90s get his hand involved with a number of things. And one of the things that stuck out from this era is that Sean, is that, did he actually made a partnership with Johnny Cochran at the time, who was his attorney during all of the drama that he had in the late 90s after that nightclub shooting. And they started a management business that was gonna be focused on NBA players. And this just gives you an idea of all of the things that he was interested at the time.
So it really is remarkable. And a lot of it came because Diddy himself was putting himself out there. He became the brand, it was him putting it on, and he really became the most successful artist on this label. But around this time, if you start talking to some of the other artists on the label, they start to get a bit frustrated because they feel it's no longer about their development.
It is now about Puff building and doing everything for himself.
[00:39:36] Zack Greenburg: Yeah, and I think that's when you know, he really starts to have all these brand extensions and, you know, you can see there's actually, I think the first Forbes cover on a hip hop artist was Puffy in 1999. And, it was a celebrity issue. And they had, Puffy and Jerry Seinfeld on the cover together, which always cracks me up.
But, you know, Seinfeld's wearing this suit and Puffy's got this like Sean John denim t-shirt on. you know, just like a walking advertisement on the front of this magazine, which is just brilliant. And, you know, so he is got that going. He's like opening restaurants, you know, and like really kind of like realizing that, he could be not only the sort of the straw that stirs the drink and like the producer and whoever behind the scenes, but also the, you know, the main artist.
And you know, I can imagine that being another artist on Bad Boy at this point, could start to get a little frustrating.
[00:40:28] Dan Runcie: Right. And I think he had a quote around the time he wanted to be David Geffen. He wanted to be bigger than David Geffen. And of course this was Pete Geffen making moves with Dreamworks and everything else. Still being, in many ways, music's prominent mogul. That was due his thing there. And this was around the same time that we have another quote from, Andre Harrell.
And I remember if you mentioned earlier, or if I mentioned earlier, there were some other quotes at the time that were less favorable than Diddy, than the ones that Harrell ended up having later. This was one of them. He said, and this was in a New York Times 1999 interview. He, Puff, gotta separate the young man thing from the business thing.
If there's an incident where the situation is going in a way that he feels slighted or disrespected, the only way for him to handle it is as if he was a 45 year old IBM, CEO, which is a very interesting way. But he's essentially saying, Hey, you gotta change your act based on where you're going and where things are.
And this is, that trending the line that we're talking about that I think that Diddy was eventually able to get to. But there was still some question marks about that and the trajectory in 1999. But to some extent, I think that kind of played to as factor. There was something about, especially some of those celebrities you mentioned, these are some more buttoned up, you know, white celebrities that never really did much on a, anything that was risky.
So someone that has the image of Puff at that time, it's like, Ooh, I'm doing this risky thing. It's almost like the person in high school that wants to date the Bad Boy literally called his label bad voice. So they're leading into that whole persona, and I think it worked a bit to his advantage there as well.
[00:42:07] Zack Greenburg: Yeah, totally. And you know, another thing people talk about, you know, I think that this time, and a lot of times I think there's a lot of jealousy going around and, you know, Puffy does this, puffy does that. But, know, one of the things that I, that I've always heard is that, Like, yeah, he's the last one at the club and you know, he's always out and, doing whatever, but he's also the, first one in, like, he outworks everybody and you know, he's somehow manages on, you know, like a couple hours of sleep at night or something.
I mean, this is another thing you sometimes hear about fantastically successful people. I hear about this, about like Richard Branson and other people too, that they just can operate on four hours of sleep or something like that. And man, you know, I mean, if you think about it, if you have that much confidence and you're that brilliant, and then also you get an extra four hours a day, you know, you get another, was it, 28 hours a week, you get like an extra day every week basically to just like do shit.
that's pretty hard to, contend with. I mean, like an extra day, like two extra waking days, to get things done. I mean, that, that's a pretty big advantage.
[00:43:13] Dan Runcie: That was a whole 90s mentality from, overall, from people that were successful. Now that I'm thinking about it, cuz of course Richard Branson, that the 90s was a transformational decade for him. You are Bill Clinton, especially when he was president, talk about getting four or five hours of sleep at night, still being able to operate and do his thing.
Even folks like Madeline Albright, who worked for him and in his cabinet were doing the same thing. And even someone like Kobe Bryant, there's that memorable. A piece of the Redeem Team documentary that came out on Netflix last year, where the younger guys at the time, LeBron, Bosh, Wade, were all going out to the club.
Were all gonna go out for the night because that Olympics was in Beijing and they're coming back from the club and Kobe's on his way to the gym in the morning. And then Kobe spoke about this himself as well. He is like, no, I'm gonna do another practice to wake up earlier than everyone else. So you think about how this compounds over time, and that's what you're saying about how that essentially gives you two, three extra days a week.
You do that time and time again, and just how much better you get. Granted the fact that those people can still do that while not requiring that much sleep. I know. I mean, I couldn't do that myself. I need those hours of sleep, but I commend those people that can.
[00:44:25] Zack Greenburg: Yeah. I mean, and who knows, you know, from a health perspective, how it affects you, you know, sort of like later in life and whatever. And, you know, do you lose more years of your life on the tail end because you didn't sleep more earlier? I mean, I guess we'll never really know, and it's hard to kind of pull out the factors and really test that.
But in any case, you know, it does give a decided advantage, at least in the, present tense. And, he really kind of like worked with that. but you know, I mean, and then just when you thought that he was kind of out of the woods, with the specter of violence, you know, again, 1999, there's the whole thing in the club, a gun goes off, you know, there's this whole like, situation, Diddy and Shine are in the club. There's this dispute, whatever, and you know, who knows what really happened, but at the end of it, Shine went off to go to jail. And, you know, and Diddy ended up, you know, without really any kind of anything other than like, a little bit of reputational hit.
So, I think that, you know, he continued to walk that line, right? And there were just these instances kept popping up. But once again, he always managed to sort of, you know, avoid any really serious repercussions and then, you know, go on to some even bigger and better commercial thing, shortly thereafter, you know, which he did eventually with Ciroc and, what have you.
But, you know, it didn't really seem to hurt anything with Bad Boy. Although I think around that time, you know, his career as a solo artist started faltering a little bit to be sure
[00:45:42] Dan Runcie: And I think this is a good time to talk about the proverbial Bad Boy curse that's been discussed. There are a number of artists that have had their issues with Bad Boys, specifically with Diddy in terms of whether they feel like they were fairly compensated for things. And it's artists like Faith Evans 112, Mark Curry, and the Locks as well as most recently as a couple years ago, Mase famously people that have publicly claimed to try to get what's theirs called out Diddy for not doing certain things.
And then on the flip side, you have people that surrounded themselves with Diddy, and Diddy was the one that came out, scott free, and they were the ones that ended up in challenges and some of that Diddy benefited from by associating himself with them, but they didn't necessarily work outta that same way.
You of course mentioned Shine, who, his career never really took off after he had that brief moment where that Bad Boy song came out. I think that was in 2000. They had sampled that, the Barrington Levee reggae song and then had him on that. But you had a few instances like that. I look back on one of my favorite songs from The Bad Boy era.
let's Get It with G. Dep and Black Rob. And the sad part about that song is that you have G. Dep, the first person that was. Or essentially his lead single, he's saying that he's saying, or he did special delivery as well. G. Dep eventually ended up being locked up for a murder that he had done in the 90s, but then it had some run-ins after that Black Rob unfortunately passed away a few years ago, and I don't think was ever really able to capture that momentum after Whoa. And a few of the other songs he had with Bad Boy had come out. And then of course you had Diddy who, you know, is still thriving doing his thing.
And I think that's true as well. You look at an artist like Lone who l kind of had his moment where they were trying to make lone really be a thing, especially with the, I need a girl, part one and part two, but then Loon as well, ends up getting locked up. I think there was a heroin charge or something like that.
So all of these folks that were around Diddy in some way ended up having their challenges. Not all of them, but some of them.
[00:47:50] Zack Greenburg: For sure. And I think, you know, probably around this time, you know, the sort of like the turn of the millennium was, you know, the moment, when did he kind of realize that he had to, he did have to start figuring out his next step. And if it wasn't gonna be him, as an artist, you know, and it wasn't gonna be somebody else on his roster, it was gonna have to be something else.
And so I think this is sort of like when you think about the Bad Boy era, you know, I don't know, I think about it as sort of like early 90s to late to, you know, to really the end of the decade. And although, you know, of course it went on and it continues to stay at different, you know, sort of capacities.
It's like that was sort of the prime era. And, I think once the fortunes of the label became too closely intertwined with Diddy's as a solo artist, then when he stopped being such a big deal as a solo artist, the prospects of the of Bad Boy itself were a little bit more limited.
[00:48:45] Dan Runcie: Agreed. Question for you. Do you think that, well, lemme take a step back. In the Cash Money episode that we talked about not just the disputes people have had with Birdman and Slim over the years, over disputes, but also the notorious reputation that they've built up. Do you feel like the reputation with Puff is similar in that way?
And if it's different, why do you think so?
[00:49:09] Zack Greenburg: So you mean Puff like the Cash Money sort of similarly having trouble paying people?
[00:49:13] Dan Runcie: Yeah, Yeah, and whether that reputation has stuck with Puff the same way that it's clearly stuck with Bert and Slim.
[00:49:21] Zack Greenburg: I think they both have, you know, or rather the three of them, I think it does follow them around, but in different ways. I mean, I think, I think with cash money, there's some element of it that's like, well, you know, I think their response to a lot of it is this stuff began when, you know, the things weren't properly papered up and, you know, nobody really knew how these things worked and blah, blah, blah.
And you know, you can sort of agree with that or not, right? Or maybe you could say it is to some extent your responsibility to make sure things are paid up, you know, once you become that successful. but, you know, I think that Puff was sort of like, you know, Bad Boy was, done through Clive through real estate.
It was done through a major label, sort of from the beginning. And, you know, I think you could argue actually that that's why Cash Money was ultimately worth more, like, was like a bigger source of the Williams Brothers wealth than Bad Boy ever was, for Diddy. And he had to go, you know, do these other things.
But you know, like it wasn't as though there were no lawyers involved. It wasn't as though there wasn't some big record label apparatus. There absolutely was. And you know, so I, think that excuse sort of like, doesn't fly quite as much. it's probably not leveled quite as much with him either, but, you know, but it's definitely there and, it's sort of like, it's hard to look past it in some regards.
[00:50:41] Dan Runcie: Yeah. I think that one of the reasons why I think the public image of it is different is because of the businesses that the two are involved in. Bird man's a music man almost in the same way that Clive Davis is a music man. That's what we know him as even in the conversation you had shared last time where you were doing this extensive feature profile with them on Forbes and you were gonna have another follow-up conversation with him that night, and he's like, no, no.
Bird Man's still in the studio. He's doing his thing like that's what he wants to do versus Puff has his interest in all these other areas, beverages, spirits, sports, entertainment, now with Revolt or Sean John, or whatever it is. So there's so many more things we know him as, or he's running the New York City marathon, he's trying to launch this thing, and all of those things can broaden your image of him.
So if you hear a complaint about the one particular aspect of this business, that's one area of what he's doing, as opposed to us knowing Bird and Slim as. The owners of this record label, and now there's a dispute with the one thing that we know them for.
[00:51:49] Zack Greenburg: Yeah. Okay. I see what you mean. So it's sort of like, in a way it's less central like the music is less central to his identity, therefore we hear less about the disputes because we just hear less about the music side overall.
[00:52:01] Dan Runcie: Right.
[00:52:02] Zack Greenburg: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. I mean, and then, when you look at what happened to Bad Boy, you know, even just from a corporate perspective, it was a 2005, he sold 50% of it to Warner for 30 million bucks, something like that.
So, obviously that, means, you know, by those numbers it was worth 60 million. At the time there was probably just the recorded music side and there was publishing as well, which is separate. I think you did some other publishing deals too, but you know, that number in 2005, I mean, I'm sure that's lower than.
Cash money was valued at in 2005. But, you know, he just kind of made the decision to pull some money off the table, right? And I think that says some, something about his priorities too, that he wasn't that focused on the music side of things. So, you know, like, let's make this deal and then move on, to the next thing.
And I think a couple years after that was when he launched Ciroc or, you know, came on with Ciroc and launched his Ciroc campaign presence, whatever you wanna call it. you know, partnership thing. So, I think ultimately for Bad Boy, you know, I think it had a peak that was as high as really, you know, any label, in hip hop did.
But its fortunes became so wrapped up with Puffy that once, once he moved away from music, it's like, how are you ever really gonna come back from that?
[00:53:15] Dan Runcie: Right. It really wasn't a business it was a business, but almost in the same way that a lot of people that are creators now and trying to do things, there's this ongoing discussion or debate they have about whether are you trying to build a business with a roster around you, or is this more so a soul entity?
And I think Bad Boy definitely saw both of those things, but you normally seen in the flip side where you start with the lead person being known as the thing, and then they add the roster around them. But Bad Boy was kind of the opposite, where you had this roster and then it becomes the lead person becoming more known for the thing.
[00:53:48] Zack Greenburg: And I think it moved away from that assembly line idea, you know, the Motown thing, the Coachella thing, whatever, you know, you're gonna, buy the tickets for, you know, who's there. It just became all about Puff and, you know, I think in a way he realized it was more lucrative that way, right? N o matter how involved he was in however many different pro projects as sort of the, the Berry Gordy, he could make more, you know, for himself being Puff. And in a way, when you look at Ciroc, it's like, you know, it's the same thing, right? Like he's selling the Art of celebration.
He's selling his brand of success. He just doesn't have to sign other artists to it, you know? So I see has Ciroc Boys, you know, that's, I mean, it is almost like a record label to some extent, you know, if you like an extension of, Bad Boy. If you think about, you know, the different artists who are kind of like involved on some level, you know, over the years with that brand, it just, you don't have to get involved in like publishing and, you know, licensing and mechanical royalties and all of that fun stuff.
[00:54:50] Dan Runcie: Right. And I think with that it's a good chance to talk about some of these categories we have here. So what do you think is the best signing that Bad Boy did?
[00:54:59] Zack Greenburg: I think a hundred percent, you gotta go with Biggie, no doubt. I mean, you know, if you're calling the signing $500,000 to get him over from uptown, you know, plus whatever they ended up paying him. I mean, you think about the success of Life after Death and all the other albums and, you know, the albums that, were sort of in the hopper after he died.
I mean, I think hard to top that.
[00:55:19] Dan Runcie: Agreed. Yeah, No debates there. That was the same one. What do you think is the best business move to come from Bad Boy?
[00:55:26] Zack Greenburg: I would, I would argue that, I would argue Sean John because, you know, in creating the Bad Boy image, that was, you know, really bankrolled like all those videos, obviously Bankrolled by Arista, bankrolled by, you know, the, parent company, you know, Puffy created this aura around himself, which was very fashion oriented.
And then he was able to parlay that into creating, you know, an actual fashion brand that he owned, or at least, you know, partially owned and himself, which then generated hundreds of billions of dollars. And then he sold and got, you know, whatever it was, a hundred million dollars and he bought it back.
but anyway, he did really well for himself. I think with the help of this shine that was kind of like given or enabled at least, by a Bad Boy.
[00:56:13] Dan Runcie: Yeah, I think that's a good one. The other thing that I wanna give some love to, that we haven't talked about much yet, but was the Bad Boy Street team and how they went about promoting and pushing their records all over the major cities. A lot of people may think that Bad Boy invented to the street team.
I think I still do give loud of records credit for that, but Bad Boy did take things to another level, and this goes back to Puff and his strength as a promoter. This is what Club promoters do. This is how you push and get the word out there. So he's able to replicate himself. He's able to empower the people to feel like they're part of Bad Boy himself and making sure that they're styled in the same way, to be able to help sell that same image that Puff wants to sell himself.
And you saw him replicate this as well with Ciroc Boys and things like that. And shout out to Sean Perez, who worked with Puff at Bad Boy and on Ciroc on this same strategy.
[00:57:07] Zack Greenburg: Yeah. Although, you know, it was a great one, and a great strategy, but it didn't always work. What's the line? I felt like Bad Boys Street team, I couldn't work. the locks.
[00:57:19] Dan Runcie: Yeah. Usually worked. But yeah, they just needed to see the vision as they said. what's the best dark horse move? You have a good one for this.
[00:57:27] Zack Greenburg: Yeah. Yeah, yeah. Okay. maybe a little controversial. I don't know. I'm gonna go shine. Because if Paul hadn't signed Shine, I mean, I don't know, you know, I'm not a lawyer or anything, but, all I know is that something went down in that club and, Sean ended up doing, you know, like a decade and, Puff, you know, got away without any trouble.
So, I think that worked out pretty well. But actually I think they're back friends also, Shine, you know, like converted to Judaism, moved to Israel, then he's like back in Belize where I think he was born and now he's like a member of parliament or something, and Puff has helped him with his campaign and there, so there's like pictures of them together and they've managed to patch things up.
So, you know, I think that speaks to Puffy's gratitude for whatever, you know, whatever went on in the late 90s there,
[00:58:10] Dan Runcie: so signing a fall, man.
[00:58:12] Zack Greenburg: Yeah. Well, well, whatever you wanna call it. I don't know. I don't know, and people forget that Shine was supposed to be the next Biggie.
Like you know, he was sort of like the heir apparent
[00:58:21] Dan Runcie: He had the voice, He had the vibe. you hear Bad Boys, that, I know I mentioned it earlier, but you hear that Bad Boy song in Beson Levy, you're like, oh, he has it. It's almost in that same way where there's people that have that grit that reminds you of that, like New York Grit sound, whether it's a, Chuck D or even when, I know people may laugh at this, but when Ja Rule first came out and they were hearing him on mixtapes, they thought he had that same sound too, and Shine had it.
[00:58:45] Zack Greenburg: yeah, yeah. Absolutely mean DMX had that edge. So, yeah, I wondered what would've happened with Shine, you know, ultimately if things had kind of gone differently there. but you know, and I think Puff has expressed this, but he's kind of, he feels bad about the way things went down and he, he feels like, you know, that Shine ultimately got the short end of the stick and, you know, but they seem to have, you know, gotten over it at like even more than some artists have gotten over whatever, you know, royalty situation, that they don't agree with. So, you know, there's a dark horse candidate
[00:59:14] Dan Runcie: Yeah, that's a good one. The one I have is the original hip hop artist partnering on a fast food release, and that is of course the Big Mac. We go back to mid 90s, I think it was 93 or 94. They have the Big Mac meal, and that was part of the push to have Biggie be more present. And this is where you're already seeing how Puff is thinking about how to have his artist be part of that lifestyle.
What are you trying to sell, what are you trying to integrate with? And then of course, we saw things blow up 25 years later with all of the meals, with the Travis Scott meal and the J Balvin deal and all of the things that McDonald's had done, especially in the beginning of the pandemic, you saw Burger King and others fall in line.
And these have always happened in waves, but I always point back to that one as that was the original one. I'm necessarily know about the sales numbers, but if anything it sticks out more so as. That mentality.
[01:00:12] Zack Greenburg: a really good I, I like Uh, certainly fits with everything that, that puff has been about, um, forward too. So
[01:00:19] Dan Runcie: Yeah.
My missed opportunity for bad. Boy, we've alluded to this several times, but not being able to make things work to some degree. In the two thousands. I think that a lot of people talk about the demise of New York hip hop and how strong New York hip hop was in the 90s and what happened in the two thousands.
And I think you still had strong artists in the two thousands. You clearly had the 50 cent beef. You clearly had Daisy and Nas. These are all things that happened in the two thousands and heat up, but there really was an opportunity to be able to see some of that continue. We saw that brief moment, I think it was in 2006, where Diddy releases press play.
They signed Cassie and you start to see a little bit of this comeback. He then has another one in 2011, I believe, where he releases that song, I'm Coming Home and that becomes
[01:01:16] Zack Greenburg: that was a really fun song. I like that song a lot
[01:01:18] Dan Runcie: Yeah, and that was a big hit. That was a big hit. And it's like, okay, you know, Diddy's over 40. Now he's still able to command himself on the radio, And granted, I don't think that Diddy necessarily tried to position himself as the best rapper himself like he wasn't Jay-Z necessarily. Where, okay, it makes sense for you to continue to be the brand, but if you know that you're not necessarily going to be known as that, how do you find ways to continue that?
And I know that they tried to sign artists, and I know that's several of the artists I mentioned had had their struggles. But where was the opportunity to have a bit more time to nurture these artists and not just nurture 'em from a talent perspective? Cause I think many of them were clearly talented, even on the R&B side.
I think about artists like Mario Winans and folks like that. But how do you find the way to really cultivate and build this as a unit the same way that others in New York were starting to do at the time? It's almost like when Bad Boys started to decline. You saw the rise of Roc-A-Fella, you saw the rise of Dipset, you saw the rise of all these other groups in New York that were doing their thing.
[01:02:16] Zack Greenburg: Yeah, I think that's a great one for missed opportunity. I mean, I was gonna say the locks, you know, to go back to that line, Bad Boy Street team couldn't work the locks. But, you know, I love the locks. They were great and, you know, like, ah, how did you, you mess that one up? But, you know, if you kind of look at what the locks were about, and what Bad Boy had kind of evolved to be about, you know, this was sort of like post shiny suit era.
Bad Boy had gotten away a little bit from what it was. In, you know, the early to mid 90s and it was like, maybe got a little too glitzy and so it was sort of at odds with where hip hop was at the time. And, you know, this was around when 50 cent was becoming really big and kind of taking things over.
Things had gotten sort of like a little more aggressive again and, you know, like, a little more of that edge. But, you know, Puff had kind of like moved even beyond that to the point where, you know, I don't know that puffy in that era could have even been an artist on his own label and in the early to mid 90s, right? And whereas I think the Locks would've been a perfect fit in the early to mid 90s. It was just a little bit of an odd, you know, combination by that point, with what Bad Boy had kind of, you know, evolved into. so in a funny way, I would almost say like, they should have done a trade, they should have traded the locks for Camron or for Dipset.
You know, I mean, I feel like Dipset, there's the Harlem connection, you know, like Come home with Me, had a little bit more of that Bad Boy kind of vibe to
[01:03:52] Dan Runcie: definitely.
[01:03:54] Zack Greenburg: yeah, yeah,
[01:03:55] Dan Runcie: Oh boy. Especially with the samples as well
[01:03:57] Zack Greenburg: Samples and, you know, whereas like the locks I think would've fit more in with what, Roc-A-Fella's doing at the time, you know, in state property and all that stuff.
So, you know, like little fantasy baseball trade. I know it doesn't work like that in music, but,
[01:04:12] Dan Runcie: I wish it did though. I wish it did.
[01:04:15] Zack Greenburg: That could have been really fun, right? And I think we said last time that Cameron and D ipset said were sort of like a bit of a missed opportunity for Roc-A-Fella and, you know, I wonder if things had been flipped, if it would've turned out differently for both those acts.
[01:04:28] Dan Runcie: Great example. I think that Bad Boy not being able to work the locks it in many ways reminds me of the The oklahoma City Thunder, not being able to figure out why they should keep James Harden. And then they trade James Harden for Kevin Martin and then James Harden goes on to beat this MVP candidate and it's like, oh shit, we had that.
Well, I mean, you knew you had something, the guy was sixth man of the year. He played meaningful minutes in the finals, in 2012 when they played the heat at the time. But yeah, that's exactly what this was. And then he goes and does his own thing and it's like, oh shit. That's what we had. And you saw the same with Jada Kiss to some extent.
Oh one, he releases Kiss the Game Goodbye and we gonna make it is one of the best hip hop tracks from that era. And it's like, oh, we had this all along granted. And I don't think that the locks, I mean the locks still were on plenty of Grammy award-winning singles and big splashy hits like the Honey Remix and stuff like that when they're on Bad Boy.
But you were able to really see them get and. Live their own life and breathe in away. So, yeah. Oh man. The locks for Camron
[01:05:34] Zack Greenburg: The locks were Dipset to make it even. Yeah.
[01:05:37] Dan Runcie: That would've made that whole versus battle something completely different.
[01:05:41] Zack Greenburg: Yeah, yeah. Exactly. So, I don't know, maybe it's not too late. maybe they can work that out. you call Puff. I'll call Jay. How about that?
[01:05:49] Dan Runcie: I know. Let's do that. Let's do that
[01:05:50] Zack Greenburg: Or you wanna flip it? I don't know.
[01:05:54] Dan Runcie: Well, the one they keep talking about now is, well by they, not the actual people a verses, but Puff and, Jermaine Dupri himself, they keep talking about that one, trying to do a so-so death versus, Bad Boy versus, but we'll see if that one ever happens. I feel like that's kind of Puff doing the hype machine and just staying in the conversation.
[01:06:12] Zack Greenburg: You know, I don't know. I think it would be more fun to see like, if you could get, you know, obviously you couldn't do Bad Boy Death Row with, Puff and Suge, but you could do what if you did it with like, Dre, you know, and Snoop, you know, and then you had Puff and somebody else.
I don't know, but I don't think they would do it. It's like maybe a time that, you know, we don't wanna revisit it anymore, but yeah, we do hear,
[01:06:32] Dan Runcie: Yeah. but no, there's definitely something there. But yeah, before we wrap things up, though, I know the answer to this one, but who do we think want the most out of Bad Boy?
[01:06:41] Zack Greenburg: Oh, yeah. Puff, I
[01:06:42] Dan Runcie: Yeah, not even a question. I mean, maybe to his fault to some degree, but it's one of these things where I don't think it would've reached the same heights it did, especially in the late 90s if he wasn't front and center.
But that was more of a short term money grab, in my opinion, just given the nature of it and not being able to really build a strong business. That said, he was able to build strong businesses off the back of what he did, and we all know how music is a platform to be able to build other businesses, just so shout out to him for doing that.
But there was a world where you could have done all these things by having
the right people around you.
[01:07:16] Zack Greenburg: For sure. And you could also say, of course, like with Biggie, you know, biggie wasn't really breaking on Uptown, but he did break on Bad Boy because Puff knew how to market him. you know, certainly it all worked out very well for, Clive Davis. you know, I think that kept him relevant in a way that, you know, would not have been possible otherwise, perhaps for like an extra, you know, couple decades, in certain spheres anyway.
And, you know, still considered one of the great, record executives of all time. And I think, you know, Puff. Puff really helped burnish that legacy. So, you know, I mean, there were other people who won, but I think Puff, certainly won the most
[01:07:52] Dan Runcie: Without a doubt. anything else before we wrap things up on Bad boy?
[01:07:56] Zack Greenburg: Can't Stop Won't stop, right? What's he gonna do next? I don't know, you know, I mean, just when you think that you know, Bad Boy is like in, mostly in the rear view and it's, you know, legacy nostalgia thing, you know, he goes out and he does a Bad Boy reunion tour and he manages to pull in all these great people.
I mean, I remember going to see him at the Barclays Center when they did that whole thing. And, you know, in addition to, to pulling, you know, most of that roster together, he just brought Jay-Z out, like surprise, you know, here you go. So, he has that ability to just pull all kinds of rabbits outta hats.
you know, and, that could be Bad Boy related or not.
[01:08:32] Dan Runcie: That show was a lot of fun. I saw it here. they had it at Oracle, Oakland. It was a lot of fun, waiting to see if they're gonna do a movie. You think Puff would sign off on that?
[01:08:41] Zack Greenburg: Ooh. Yeah. You know, I mean, I think it depends, how it aligns with everything else, you know, is there like a Ciroc placement that could be had? you know, that kind of thing. I could see it. I could see it.
[01:08:52] Dan Runcie: I could see it too. I know that there's this fine line where some of these movies, especially if the main person involved is a little bit too attached to the project, then there's certain things that are gonna be sanitized over and even a conversation like you and I had, a lot of the things that we discussed may not even make it there.
And I know that there's a fine line with these things. I think that's Straight Outta Compton. Navigated that pretty well. And I think that's still my favorite hip hop biopic that we've seen done so far. Granted, people still felt that they glossed over Dr. Dre's controversies with women. And to be honest, I think that differ that movie would be received differently and maybe even have some different reviews, especially if it came out in a Post Me Too era.
But it'll be interesting to see if they do something like that. I mean, Puff is always in the business of maximizing things. And I'd had Tarik Brooks, who's now president of Combs Global on the podcast, and it sounds like, wow, he probably wouldn't wanna sell any of his music, rights that he may own in the same way they could be interested in further multimedia.
[01:09:56] Zack Greenburg: right. I mean, there was that biggie biopic that, you know, that may have already kind of gobbled up some of the, the part of the story that, you know, would, be involved in a Bad Boy.
[01:10:05] Dan Runcie: Oh, yeah. Notorious, right? That came out in like 09' or so.
[01:10:09] Zack Greenburg: Yeah, yeah, gosh, I can't believe it's that long ago already, but, you never know. It's already been, gosh, almost 15 years,
[01:10:15] Dan Runcie: Yeah. It's like how many Whitney Houston Biopics have we had, right? I think there was at least two of 'em. And then you had this bigger one come out last year, so you never know.
[01:10:23] Zack Greenburg: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Sponsored by Ciroc.
[01:10:26] Dan Runcie: Sponsored by Ciroc that this podcast is not,
No, just to clarify. No free ads here, but
[01:10:34] Zack Greenburg: Yeah,
[01:10:36] Dan Runcie: But Zach, thanks for joining. Pleasure as always, man.
[01:10:39] Zack Greenburg: As always, Dan, thanks for having me.1h 11m | Jun 29, 2023