Continuing from last week’s part one, it’s important to understand where I’m coming from on this. I appreciate Hip-Hop lyricism and am a strong advocate of consciousness in rap. When that consciousness includes any of the Six Written Lessons that Registered Members of the Nation of Islam receive, out of which come the ‘120 Lessons’ which the Nation Of Gods and Earth revere and study; and when that is combined with wit, style, street credibility and a mathematically precise beat, for me, then, knowledge, understanding (wisdom is when it is applied) in artistry have reached their apex.
Therefore, when I hear Jay Electronica, I get the Holy Ghost.
However, that isn’t enough, for me to start speaking in tongues, yet.
Because I have already lived through the Conscious era of Hip-Hop where the Lessons, history, progressive philosophy and great quotes and teachings were weaved into music (and no one ever did that better than Big Daddy Kane) only to see that golden era end, because that consciousness lacked something.
It did not have an economic or business foundation associated with it, that would protect and institutionalize it.
I wrote about this in a very provocative piece at BlackElectorate.com a few years ago: ‘The Consciousness Of Wu-Tang Clan, Suge Knight, and Jay-Z’ (http://www.blackelectorate.com/articles.asp?ID=529)
Business acumen, institution building, and shrewd political maneuvering are the only way to protect conscious artistry.
Now, add to this my professional background and my focus on Jay Electronica becomes clearer.
As a former personal manager (Wu Tang Management); political strategist (Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney); economist (African Union); and journalist (The Final Call and Wall St. Journal) I never simply operate in the world of data, information, and knowledge for its own sake.
Those potential forms of power must be applied to influence reality for the better.
That’s the Hip-Hoppreneur ™ worldview that I apply to the promise and challenges of making Jay Electronica an incredible success (beyond what he already is) on more than one level.
Convert The Political Progressive Hip-Hop Fan Base Into A Constituency. This is coming from a successful political strategist (Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney’s 2004 Campaign). If Jay Electronica can accept a leadership profile (which is something he will have to search his own heart on and be at peace with) a major key to his success will be to court Hip-Hop’s independent political underground and convert them into his ‘supporters’ rather than as simply fans. He has to allow people to see him as more than just an entertainer and give them reasons to ‘vote’ for him as a change agent. This is part of the basis of my caution about how closely he aligns himself with certain conscious artists who are really only rhetorical lyricists. I want Jay Electronica to do tracks with them, and I want this segment to be enthusiastic about him creatively, but the real marginal utility (best function) of this group is to mobilize them around issues (and song concepts that highlight them), that result in a fiercely independent political mainstreaming of him. What do I mean?
Two examples come to mind – Jadakiss in 2004 with ‘Why?’; and Nas in 2009 with ‘Sly Fox.’ Both songs opened up each artist to new audiences, or significantly changed the way they were perceived by certain segments of existing audiences. I want the same to happen for Jay.
This is the key to what I call the credible crossover – when an emerging fan base claims you, without you losing your current or core group of supporters.
‘Why?’ had a lot of intangibles working for it – like an election year which polarized major radio companies around political parties and an anti-Clear Channel sentiment over the corporation’s perceived favoring of President Bush – which contributed to so many competing stations being willing to play a song that included the explosive charge, ‘why did Bush knock down the towers?’ The net result was the temporary crossing over of Jadakiss from the street credible rapper category to a voice for political change, embraced by the so-called ‘backpakers,’ who previously had little use for him.
Nas’ ‘Sly Fox’ aimed at Fox News Channel had some of the same dynamics (though Nas is as much Poet-Novelist as street credible) and was a stroke of genius converting him into the kind of griot (singers in African societies who rallied armies) that the great Cheikh Anta Diop wrote about. Nas was already respected by the political underground but his respect for Islam, reverence for Black nationalism, and even a stream of Pan-Africanism – three areas that at times make the more socialist-oriented progressives uncomfortable – had placed a ceiling on his popularity with this group. That changed with ‘Sly Fox’. The political ‘mainstreaming’ was complete when Nas appeared on The Colbert Report. If I were quarterbacking the gameplan I’d judge it a success and know that Jay Electronica had hit the right tone when he had appeared on The Daily Show, The Colbert Report or to a lesser extent the Real Time With Bill Maher program (Maher’s political edginess could make a strong appearance by Jay the stuff that legends are made of) and a select group of other talk shows.
With the right song concepts and promotion (viral, street, and guerilla) I believe Jay could surpass what either Jada or Nas did. The key would be his ability or those around him to make political noise in respected political forums. Here is where the data, information, and knowledge he feeds from needs to be translated into media deliverables and publicity in the form of op-eds, press releases, open letters, blogs, his signing of petitions (carefully, though, only for the right causes) and stimulating intellectual performances in interviews. Here I strongly suggest Jay E. absorb six people when it comes to delivering hot interviews that always reinforce a brand, image, and reputation: Jay-Z, Muhammad Ali, Immortal Technique, Star of Star and Buc Wild, 50 Cent, and Minister Farrakhan. Very few music industry publicists can navigate this kind of substantive and strategic terrain, as most of them primarily rely upon ‘industry’ networking and spinning a rolodex. What I think is required for someone like Jay Electronica is the industry-standard people-skills schmoozing, combined with a reading of historic and topical books, staying on top of local and international news, and briefings in a way he prefers and can digest. Yes, you are reading me correctly – Jay Electronica deserves power brokering and morning memos, like Obama, and on a regular basis from his team. He needs fuel for his intellectual fire, consistent with his image, and which allow him to credibly speak the different languages of his audience segments (current and emerging). I can count on one hand, the marketing and PR professionals in the business capable of reinforcing the kind of brand Jay needs – a non-industry leadership profile with an interesting storyline of celebrity and reality.
But I do have great respect for Helio PR (www.heliopr.com) and Sasha Brookner for their consciousness, shrewd strategies, ill rolodex, and ability to energetically work both grassroots and high-profile audiences – qualities this challenging era requires. In one of our recent building sessions, Sasha made some points that I thought were critically important for keeping Jay’s brand, image and reputation in alignment: “Electronica should be careful not to conduct interviews with promiscuity. Each piece of press should serve a purpose and rationale. He should 1) go minimal and not over-saturate 2) fight for Q&A formatted stories 3) Do some Op-Ed pieces for Huffington Post, New Yorker, etc. where his voice isn’t filtered 4) Target unexpected media outlets to build a contrasting fanbase. You got people on the sidelines eager to say ‘see it was all hype.’ He should dismiss the hype himself in order to take it out of their hands – music speaks for itself. Many rap artists with the greatest career longevity moved into this genre gradually without being a product of initial buzz so it’s important not to get caught up in the ephemeral rapture. Souljah Boy will never have the career span of a Mos Def. Electronica got a lot of rap icons co-signing for him and it doesn’t hurt he has a ride or die chick with a cult-like female fanbase that are going to be checking for her love life.”
Ensure International Appeal. I love the trailer for Exhibit A (http://2dopeboyz.okayplayer.com/2010/01/18/jay-electronica-exhibit-a-trailer/) and its international appeal. Now, let’s take it a step further. Let’s do some mixtapes, remixes and collaborations with the powerful artists affiliated with the Hip Hop Revolucion collective (http://www.hiphoprevolucion.org/blog). Or, Jay Electronica could do a track saluting different cities and their ‘street’ histories and traditions – Toronto, Canada; Kingston, Jamaica; London, England; Johannesburg, South Africa; Nairobi, Kenya; Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; Tokyo, Japan; and Beijing, China. All he might need is a researcher and historian who could contact individuals on the ground in these countries (easy because of the fan base) and a few scholars and experts who would be happy to provide details on life on the ground and the culture of the people. Or, they could talk to immigrants living here from all of those hot spots, and get a feel for the culture. Jay Electronica’s grasp of the streets, strategic philosophy and principles could be weaved together with these details. He could speak about local life, connect it to similarities in Philly, New York, Atlanta, New Orleans, Chicago, Houston and Los Angeles. He could make fun of rappers here, who wouldn’t know how to find these places on a map. Diddy could arrange the musical production team to mix in instruments in the tradition of these countries. As advisers, perhaps, Diddy could call in Quest Love of the Roots (who I’m sure appreciates Jay Electronica’s nods to Philly as much as I do) to work with him on the arrangements. This one track alone could open Jay Electronica to concerts worldwide, remixes with popular local artists, and international sales abroad in places no other rapper has enjoyed. If he needs help with Africa I have A&Rs in Southern Sudan and Nairobi ready to go (smile). Any Hip-Hop artist who is just depending on, or trying to eat off of record sales in America is hustling backward. The real money is overseas and its time for an artist with street credibility here to expand their marketing and go get it. Jay Electronica could easily qualify.
In addition, with the right song concepts and political stances, Jay-Electronica’s grasp of the language of Islam, could give him a Muhammad Ali type appeal/effect but, I won’t utter how or why in public, right now.
Remember, the successful marketing of Electronica is partially a military maneuver. I’m functioning right now as a spiritual rear echelon.
Do It Yourself – Jay Electronica TV. One of the things that I’m so glad that Jay Electronica appreciates, from what I have learned about his thinking, is that being ‘signed’ to a major record label is no longer the height of success. Let me be blunt – the record label is fading as the premier platform for the marketing, promotion, and branding of an artist, and rapidly as music’s most powerful sales and distribution point. That’s why its dangerous for Jay Electronica’s fans to wait on Sony, Warner, Universal, or EMI as record labels; or New York, Atlanta, Los Angeles, Chicago and Houston radio stations; or MTV and BET as video outlets; to suddenly embrace him and give him shine and burn. What we need is Jay Electronica TV – a place where we can get that daily blog, weekly verse, and celebrity and reality footage. Jay could sell his music directly to the masses from the website, right now. He could write a short book, or release a chapter from an upcoming Jay Electronica autobiography. Let’s put up the footage of all public and community-oriented events Jay Electronica is involved in online (like the recent touching benefit on behalf of raising awareness on diabetes: http://www.allhiphop.com/stories/news/archive/2010/01/14/22096541.aspx). Relying on rap blogs, urban radio, and mainstream video outlets to get the story out and make news is too slow when you are a phenomenon like this. The key is controlling the message and projection of image as much as possible.
To that end I was surprised to see that two domain names were available still – jayelectronica.tv and jayelectronicatv.com. So knowing I was going to put this out there, I secured them in advance. I intend to transfer them personally or professionally to Jay Electronica’s control, free of charge, word is bond.
The ‘We Need Something Realer!’ Campaign. Jay Electronica (The Leader) Meets Jay Electronica (The Artist). This, again, is potentially the most difficult of all of the dynamics to navigate. I’ve yet to meet an artist who wanted to be a leader as much as they wanted to be an artist, deep down. That’s fine, I don’t believe in trying to make a person do what they don’t want to do. I’ve had these discussions with influential political leaders, ‘gang’ members, rappers, and entrepreneurs. Although I have seen potential in them as leaders beyond their current profile, I’ve come to realize that if a person doesn’t see themselves in that light or want to pursue it, you are better off leaving them alone on that subject, being patient, and appreciating them for what they currently are – otherwise they will only eventually undermine whatever you may set in motion with them. Sometimes you can think more of a person than they think of themselves. Sometimes you can believe more in a person than they believe in themselves. But no matter how bad you want them to do more, you have to respect their free-will to be less, if they choose. It is their life, not yours.
I say that to say to all of us who may want Jay Electronica to assume the responsibility of Saviour of the culture, Street Consciousness rap Messiah, or the Divine Reconciler of North and South rap music; unless Jay Electronica wants that, it ain’t gonna happen, and its not fair to expect that of him.
In addition, building a leadership profile out of an artist or celebrity status, is the work of a professional team. An artist simply can’t do it by themselves (although they can guide the group effort). Most artists fail in making the evolution because they simply don’t have the right people around them capable of developing concepts and plans that balance culture, politics, and business, nor do they have the ability to execute them. In addition, because tedious administrative and management work kills the creative spirit, artists don’t pay attention to certain areas as much as they should.
I call balancing all of this the challenge of the Hip-Hoppprenur ™.
The Hip-Hoppreneur ™ challenge is not just helping an artist mature and develop as a leader, but to do it in a way that is good for their personal development and career as artists. I don’t believe one has to pick between commerce and the community, especially if one has knowledge of self and the science of business.
We can make money and make moves that benefit the individual and collective.
To that end, and if Jay Electronica wants to do it, a campaign around developing him as a leader could be achieved easily because his image, brand, and reputation, so far, have all the necessary elements and are still in alignment.
One could develop a whole marketing campaign around one phrase, which Just Blaze shouts out on ‘Exhibit C,’ ‘We Need Something Realer!’
Jay works out the campaign theme, before Just Blaze amplifies it for us, by spitting, ‘That’s why when you talk that tough talk I never feel ya/ You sound real good and you play the part well/ But the energy you given off is so unfamiliar/ I don’t feel ya.’
Judging by the unanimous head-nodding reaction to these lines, Jay Electronica has practically presented a political slogan for those of us in Hip-Hop who are tired of the era of “keepin’ it real gone bad.”
We now want to vote for Jay Electronica as the leader of this badly-needed movement.
And the ‘we’ is a powerful bloc. It’s gang-bangers – real live Latin Kings, Crips, and Bloods etc… – who think that most of these flag-claiming rappers are perpetrating a fraud. It’s young single parent mothers struggling against the negative influence of rap on their children. It’s older fans who don’t understand how acting dumb and ignorant became a successful marketing strategy. It’s fans who feel we shouldn’t have to choose between political consciousness and street credibility. It’s the edgy, radical and independent-minded who don’t think rappers should be this non-threatening. It’s the youth who are ready for a message but want us to admit there is nothing wrong with packaging it with a catchy hook, sense of humor, and innovative video. My good friend and genius Bomani Armah (http://www.notarapper.com/) proved this with his 2007 ‘Read A Book’ phenomenon.
So what ‘We need somethin’ realer!’ must translate into is real actions and deeds, projected properly through the community and media that demonstrate that Jay Electronica is the one who is realer than the rest.
Right now, before an album drops under the ‘We Need Something Realer!’ campaign Jay Electronica could be on a tour speaking at and building with those in homeless shelters (how obvious is that considering he was once homeless), prisons, street organizations (gangs) community town hall meetings, colleges, professional and civic conferences and conventions, Nation of Islam Saviours’ Days and the Parliaments of the Nation Of Gods and Earths. The available honorariums would pad his pocket and the networking would open up non-music industry opportunities as well as strengthen his connection to several different segments in the marketplace, who would adopt him as their own as soon as they hear him.
Electronica could be sitting down with community leaders, building with Members of Congress similar to how I arranged for David Banner to meet with his Congressman, Bennie Thompson (http://www.cedricmuhammad.com/cm-cap-advises-david-banner-arranges-hip-hop-artist%E2%80%99s-meeting-with-congressman-bennie-thompson/) in 2005.
When I hear that phrase, ‘We need something realer!’ I know what it can mean, and so do others: a marketing campaign that’s good for Jay, good for the community, and good for business.
Right Place, Right Time, Right Team. First, things, first – we aren’t having this conversation if Just Blaze doesn’t produce one of the most powerful instrumentals any producer has ever made, in ‘Exhibit C.’ This is important because Jay Electronica, in my opinion (as is the case with the handful of truly special artists) requires a master song arranger and ‘debut’ concept/theme album. He needs a sound that lends itself to almost a movie soundtrack feel, which Just Blaze can deliver. But let’s take it a step further. I’m not sure that Just Blaze is an arranger like a Diddy is. Puffy (please let me call him that) is a genius and maybe the greatest arranger in Hip-Hop (he is not a producer) history (50 Cent is a very close second). One of the things that makes the Notorious B.I.G.’s debut album, ‘Ready To Die’ a classic is that Puffy resisted the temptation to make it an album filled with hits. Rather, he built it as a hit album. Puffy is the best I have ever seen in Hip-Hop at mastering song placement (RZA is a very close second) – the order in which songs appear on an album, and he is the only arranger I would trust in making a theme or concept album for a rap artist using multiple producers. I believe that if Diddy was the executive producer of a Jay Electronica album he would know how to place Just Blaze in the lead producer’s position and bring in a few others like Drumma Boy, Mannie Fresh, DJ Premier, No I.D. and maybe Kanye West and Dr. Dre. I even trust Puff to find the right R & B producer to do the right kind of track for Jay E. Don’t you think Puffy could kill a collaboration between Jay Electronica and Erykah Badu, or say Jay Electronica and Keyshia Cole, and what about Jay Electronica and Rihanna? Hell, Puff (more spiritual and conscious than you think) could even make a Jay Electronica-Queen Yonasda (http://www.queenyonasda.com/) collabo go places no song has ever gone before!
I do not believe anyone could have planned the stars being in alignment around this one artist as they have been thus far – except the Divine Supreme Being (bear with me dear atheists, you already know I love you). Just Blaze making the beat; Diddy getting behind it; DJ Enuff searching his heart and deciding to play the record on New York radio’s most influential station; and Tolu Olorunda’s important early cultural interpretation of ‘Exhibit C’ at AllHipHop.com – everything kind of ‘on its own’ has been happening naturally and according to universal order.
To conclude this marketing plan on that point – while the first law of the universe is motion, its second law is order. The right team has to help Jay Electronica (and any artist) make the right moves in business and in the broader culture – bring order to the phenomenal energy and motion that lyricism and hot beats originate. This has to be about more than making hot records. There are just too many factors at work. Technological and demographic change alone make it necessary for artists nowadays to have a team that can go places they can’t, and protect their creative spirit from the draining influence of paperwork, administration, management and strategic planning. Jay Electronica needs to be put in a comfortable position where he has ideas, concepts, and opportunities flowing his way in a manner that doesn’t overwhelm him but empowers him to make final decisions and not get robbed.
I hope my public effort is only a sign of what he eventually receives in this regard.
He’s in a profound creative and spiritual place right now and he needs and deserves for things to happen and fall in place for him, in perfect timing.
We just can’t leave this up to a Mystery God, or a music industry establishment that insists on doing things ‘the old way’ – especially when the implications of what this artist represents become more clear to the worst enemies of the culture.
We really do need something realer.
Cedric Muhammad is a business consultant, political strategist, and monetary economist. He is also a former GM of Wu-Tang Management and a Member of the African Union’s First Congress of African Economists. He is author of the book, The Entrepreneurial Secret (http://theEsecret.com/). His talk show, ‘The Cedric Muhammad and Black Coffee Program’ can be viewed every Wednesday from 12 to 5 PM EST (USA) at: http://www.cedricmuhammad.com/media/. He can be contacted via e-mail at: cedric(at)cmcap.com