I’ll be honest, I hate tribute pieces.
They’re depressing, self-serving, and largely driven by a need to click-bait the unassuming reader.
Whenever someone passes away, every news outlet feels the journalistic compulsion to write about their life, legacy, and accomplishments. That urge is no different than what drives the wannabe-influencer’s “RIP” Instagram Stories and the constant barrage of hollow tweets of “thoughts and prayers.”
I’ll be honest, I have no business writing about the tragic passing of Ermias Joseph Asghedom, better known as Nipsey Hussle. I’m not from his community, I didn’t listen to his music all that much, and I definitely do not want to be the guy that writes quasi-intellectual pieces for clicks and the appearance of being, for lack of a better word, woke.
At the same time, American culture lost a tremendous voice, activist, business mind, and human being this past weekend with the murder of Nipsey Hussle.
Russell Westbrook, one of the NBA’s preeminent stars and a lifelong friend of Nipsey, gave an emotional, inspiring performance on Tuesday night to honor his fellow Crenshaw brother.
Westbrook put up 20 points, 20 rebounds, and 20 assists to pay homage to the Rollin’ 60’s crew that Hussle came up with growing up in South LA.
Russell did not want to answer questions before the game about his late friend, instead choosing to pay respect in a way that felt authentic to himself.
I cannot authentically speak about Nipsey’s life as a voice in the community, an activist for people of all races, and, above all, a human being, father, and husband. Nor am I Russell Westbrook, as much as my Instagram would like me to be.
Yet, as someone who works in strategy and is constantly fascinated by business, media, and technology, I do feel an obligation to spread knowledge of Nipsey’s business innovation and acumen.
If only one person learns something about this man’s life, I have done my job.
With that, I give you two exceptional strategies that Nipsey Hussle, a man characterized by the LA Times as “music’s biggest disruptor,” implemented in his 33 years that must have a lasting impact on the business world.
The $100 Mixtape
In a time when hit singles are forgotten in a week, mixtapes are released for free on Soundcloud, and streaming services have trained the listener to think $10 per month for unlimited music is the norm, Nipsey Hussle went the complete opposite direction with his $100 mixtape.
“It’s time we acknowledge what we all know: the music is free. We shouldn’t force people to buy it, what we should do is create different methods to monetize the connection.”
He ended up producing 1,000 copies of the album — 100 of which were purchased by JAY Z — and created the Proud2Pay campaign, rewarding fans with concerts, priority access to new material, and one-of-a-kind gifts, like an old rap notebook or signed photo, with the purchase of his Crenshaw mixtape.
The $100,000 he made off Crenshaw went straight to the label he owned, fueling future projects, covering expenses, and building the foundation of a successful yet tragically short-lived career.
The Marathon Clothing “Smartstore”
Retail is towards the backend of a complete shift in how people search and shop, particularly in physical store environments. Amazon has made two-day shipping the standard, while companies like Zara and H&M have driven down quality and price for the masses. Billion-dollar companies like Sears and J.Crew have struggled to figure out how to drive people into their stores.
Nipsey Hussle did not. He saw this retail shift and decided to develop a true value proposition for fans to physically visit his Marathon Clothing store.
“When I focus on retail, anything that’s not experiential driven, I think you’re seeing it crumble right now. Because the digital versions offer the same thing the physical versions offer, except a line or a parking ticket. So in order for me to keep the value of the retail brick and mortar, it has to be a unique experience.”
When you shop at the Marathon Clothing store, you’re prompted to download an augmented reality app that Nipsey and his chief technology officer Iddris Sandu developed. On every piece of clothing, a unique piece of content becomes accessible via the AR technology built into his mobile app.
For example, when Nipsey created a documentary or music video, he made it exclusively available via products they designed for its release. The only way to experience the content was to either be in store or purchase the shirt itself and use the app to scan the product.
Like many in retail, Nipsey spoke of his admiration for Supreme’s strategy.
“They have a half-pipe in the middle of their store, and while you’re shopping, you might hear some trucks scraping the rail, because they’re back there skating. So I’m just thinking, ‘What’s the essence of the brand? What’s the core of the brand?’”
This business acumen and way he had of delivering new ideas to fans was what made Nipsey unique and his strategies were scalable across the US, where the innovator was poised to open ten smart stores in the coming years.
As a strategist, I have used Nipsey Hussle as inspiration in many brainstorms. His ability to understand supply and demand, price elasticity, retail, and content exclusivity were second to none in the music and entertainment business.
Who else could drive Spotify’s Creative Director and Head of Urban (whatever that means) Carl Chery to suggest a moment of silence in the music industry? Not in the head-bowing way we’re desensitized to, but by asking fellow artists to halt the release of their projects to honor a true hip hop icon.
“I never wanted to alienate my brand for business … I always wanted to keep it authentic and keep as pure as I could.”
I grew up a hip hop obsessive teenager who sucked at school and have transitioned to becoming a business obsessive slightly older teenager who still listens to hip hop on the way to important meetings. This article felt like the only authentic way for me to pay homage to a true icon of music, marketing, and culture.
It’s not a tribute piece as much as it is one of education and inspiration.
“I’m more focused on giving solutions and inspiration more than anything.”
Like I said, if only one person learns something about this man’s life, I have done my job.