10 Startup Tips from Hip-Hop (But keep it on the down low)

Some say that Hip-Hop music is a defamatory, obscene and sexist form of music. In all honesty, it can be but that’s a subjective opinion. What’s factual is that Hip-Hop is a billion dollar commercial beast.

Never has a genre of music impacted the world so much, penetrating lifestyle, culture, fashion, food, alcohol, drink, language, literature, media and business to become a creative force in the limelight for over 40 years.

It was not always based around the glitz and glamour that it is today. Hip-Hop is the epitome of struggle and a rags to riches story, similar to any startup business with aspirations of growth.

With that in mind, what can you seriously learn from Hip-Hop and apply to your own startup business to achieve your own success: The following 10 tips:

1. We started from the bottom now we here

Facebook started in a college dorm room.

Google in a garage.

Hip-Hop from the streets itself.

DJ Kool Herc took two turntables and two records and got creative with them, sliding vinyl back and forth whilst they played, and matching the tempo of beats to create a technique that solved his problem; how to make a song last longer.

A little innovation to solve a problem goes a long way and that long way is one thing we can learn from Hip-Hop.

We often see businesses who appear to be overnight successes but that’s never the truth. From concept to conception, it takes a long time to get a great idea off the ground and to do so everyone starts from the bottom to build their way up.

Hip-Hop was born in the early 1970’s.

It took 20 years to gain momentum.

30 years to influence the world.

And 40 years to gain a legacy.

It took a long time for Hip-Hop to evolve and be accepted, facing a multitude of backlash and sceptism along the way.

Your startup will probably face a similar journey so be prepared for a long haul of no revenue and lots of rejection but that doesn’t mean that you won’t succeed.

The last word: Keep Rollin!

2. Gangster Rap Made Me Do It.

Music genres have brand loyalty and a brand community just like business organisations do.

If a person buys an Apple product then they will likely buy more than one Apple product, maybe all of their products. They may act and think like Apple or associate themselves with the Apple co. as an “Apple User”.

The same thing happens with music genres because they too become a lifestyle brand.

Music Genres are catgoeirsed by emotions, experiences and actions:

  • R’n’B
    Dealing with the ups, downs and emotions of love, life and romance.
    Values: Beauty, Compassion, Curiosity, Friendships, Happiness, Love
  • Classical
    Showcasing the finest of sounds and music theory
    Authenticity, Balance, Beauty, Meaningful Work, Poise
  • Hip Hop
    The gritty truth presented with cockiness
    Status, Self-Respect, Urban, Struggle, Reputation, Recognition, Authenticity

The elements that compose a genre are actually values that create the music brand and an artists brand, and it’s these brand values that make the connection with listeners to build a loyal following to the music genre as well as the artist.

Any given person may listen to one or many genres of music but they will predominantly listen to one or two regularly, as it mirrors their core values.

Most music genres hold their brand true for a lifetime but throughout its 40year lifespan, Hip-Hop’s core brand values have changed every ten years or so.

The brand values have been:

The birth of a Hip Hop – The Block Parties
Creativity, Friendships, Happiness, Urban

Taking it into the streets – The B-Boys and Battles
Community, Creativity, Respect, Reputation, Recognition, Challenge, Knowledge, Urban

A Worldwide Struggle – Gangsta Rap Made Me Do It
Authenticity, Boldness, Challenge, Determination, Honesty, Respect, Reputation, Urban, Gangsta

Riches – A new evolution
Achievement, Authority, Success, Fame, Growth, Popularity

The next generation – It’s all about me
Boldness, Success, Wealth, Status, Fame, Fun, Influence, Evolution

Hip-Hops brand values reflected the society, lifestyle and the cultural difference of any given time, and it’s re-branded over and over again in order to connect with it’s current audience and stay in business.

At it’s prime, in 1990’s regarded as a golden era of Hip-Hop, it branded itself with a “story of struggle”, a universal action that was relatable by every person, making Hip-Hop a worldwide connection.

The struggle slowly forth and Hip-Hop began re-branding again in the 2000’s but it’s core value of being an “Urban” music has reigned true throughout its existence.

As a startup business, you need to think about your brand and how it can position itself in th marketplace.

Develop brand values that connect with consumers and find pain points which your startup can solve.

Keep core values consistent but change the brand according to consumers needs.

Make your startup brand reflective of your idea but also the consumers it serves.

The last word: What set you claim?

3. Ya smell me?

A common phrase in Hip-Hop slang is “You feelin me”. A question relating to the connection between two people.

Do you feel me? eg. Do you feel my touch, my presence, my thoughts, my emotions. Do you connect with me?

Ya smell me? Think of it as an evolution of the term, making scent apart of the equation to build a stronger and deeper connection between two people. To smell someone you really have to sniff!

These are slang terms but in marketing we’d call it a brand language that forms apart of a brand identity.

Hip-Hop has it’s own language, style, fashion, sound and look.

You can immiediately recognise the brand anwhere it’s seen.

From graffiti and gold chains that represent the old Hip Hop to the supercars and sex clad videos that make up the brand today, the Hip-Hop brand identity is strong.

As a startup use brand elements of line, shape, colour, type, form and language to build you’re own brand identity so that your startup business can be just as easily recognised as the genre of Hip-Hop is.

Don’t just make it viusal, try and make it a lifestyle.

The last word: What’s your tag?

4. Get your paper right! (Your legal papers)

So many successful rap artists and Hip-Hop groups split up due to contractual discrepancies.

Who’s owed money and who’s actually taking money?

And it’s a problem that’s usually overlooked right from the beginning.

You see, a start-up business is much like a new up and coming music group.

You’re just happy to be doing what you love as opposed to monitoring the money coming in.

Things like contracts, terms and agreements are forgotten because progress in one form or another is being made.

But the oversight of not having a contract will be revealed eventually, usually when there’s a disagreement of some sort.

And that’s when you’ll wished you had a contract in place.

Whilst you may never ever need to refer back to a contract, it’s always good to set out terms and agreements from the outset.

As a start-up business it will help protect you for the bumpy road ahead.

Check out our Guide to Copyrights to get started.

Hip Hop Lesson:  Use contracts for services when starting up

5. Everyday I’m Hustlin

Imagine that you were starting your new business back in the 1980’s or 1990’s with no social media and no internet. How are you going to get the word out about your start-up business?

Hip-Hop had an answer: The Street Team.

Today, everyone is accessible online but back then the only place everyone was accessible was on teh street and artists/record companies would have their own street teams to promote themselves.

This means huslling, producing marketing maerial, publishing it and prmoting it in variety of creative ways using print and word of mouth.

It might involve going store to store to sell music, scouting locations or booking events, and then it would involve the promotion of those products and events.

Street Teams were just that, a team, groups of people marketing and promoting the brand, product and events.

Today it’s a bit more digital but the purpose is still the same.

As a startup business the sales won’t just flow in. You’ll need to hustle to promote and market your business.

Go online and offline to drive hits to your website and make sales. Get good creative support to produce marketing material and use it.

Think of the best way that you can reach your target audience and then use a designer and marketer to accomplish that goal.

The Last Word: Streets is watching

6. Outsourcing Services

The musical world relies heavily on outsourcing whether it be backing vocals, musicians, samples, beats or even lyrics.

It may seem deceptive or out of character for an artist to do so but that’s actually the art of good music; to use talented individuals to make music better. Likewise, that’s the art of business.

You have an accountant to do accounting, a marketer to market the business and sometimes you may need to outsource your core services just to fulfil contracts.

As a business don’t be put off by outsourcing, embrace it.

Hip Hop Lesson:  Outsource and keep it on the down low! (nobody has to know)

7. Stay on the grind!

Hip Hop itself derives from a genre were disputes, egos and competition are in the DNA.

These disputes could make or break an artist but evidence has shown that better, longstanding results are achieved when rappers collaborate instead.

Today it’s become more profitable and powerful for competing musicians to unite and work together on music projects as oppose to against each other.

Maybe there’s no need to beat the competition, you can join them instead.

Rather then trying to knock out your local competition, as a startup company approach them instead and ask them if they would like to collaborate or outsource to you.

It’s not begging for crumbs. Most multi-million pound businesses join forces at some stage in order to grow bigger.

And if you can’t collaborate or find that work is slow then keep working anyway.

Back in the day, a rap album from a single rap artist would be released every 3 years or so, however, evolution has shown that the most successful artists are those who release albums and music more often.

Whether it’s a small un-famed side project, a gimmicky sub-brand or even a fresh cameo, to continue working can reap all kinds of rewards.

Working on side projects whether they be personal, professional, paid or free is just a form of on-going marketing and split testing.

In the design industry we sometimes cal them WIP’S.

It’ll help keep your startup in the limelight.

Hip Hop Lesson:  Get that work because Cash Rules Everything Around Me

8. Expand your startup business with sub-brands

International rap stars love sub-branding.

They’ll use their newly established personal brand to create an associated rap group, sell additional products and expand their income with brand power.

Once you’re up and running look at opportunities to create sub-brands within your business?

Use whatever success your achieving to create another brand that can do the same thing.

It can become a niche brand supplementary to your main work or an almost replica of your start-up but maybe targeting a different audince.

The great thing is that these small, niche brands can become powerful brands themselves, sometimes surpassing the mother brand.

It’s never too early to think about sub-brands so consider a sub-branding strategy for your startup.

In addition look at how you can innovate products and services within your business.

Hip Hop Lesson: Double Up!

9. The evolution will be televised

Most music genres are stagnant to a degree. Not much changes. The same sounds, instruments and topics of conversation that are used today are the same as yesteryear. The brand of musical genre stays the same.

Hip-Hop on the other hand has constantly evolved and that evolution is probably why it’s still alive today, still one of the most popular forms of music worldwise and a billion-dollar industry.

Whilst some may not like what it’s become, it’s still holding true by serving it’s listeners which are a new demographic of today.

To have such a properous and long lifeline, evolve your startup business as often as possible. Keep changing things, small things in small increments to make your business one fluid entity thats constantly evolving.

This way you’ll never become outdated or irrelevant as a business or brand.

The Last Word: Watch out for the next episode

10. Jackin for beats

Good designers copy, great designers steal.

Pablo Picasso

Hip-Hop is built upon theft.

It takes beats and sounds from other music to build a completely unique track for itself. It’s the summation of Pablo Picasso’s own thoughts.

The point is that to create something new as a startup business or evolve as a startup business you don’t have to invent anything groundbreaking.

You need to find a problem, look around for inspiration, take things that already work and build something new from it.

That is creativity at it’s finest, and as a startup that could be your Hip-Hop.


Can a defamatory, degrading, violent and sexist music form really be so popular and should it really be used to teach a business lesson?

We can open a big can of worms here but Hip Hop is music, and like all music and media is an art form which in turn is sellable and then becomes a business.

You don’t have to like it personally but as a business Hip Hop is 40 years strong so maybe business wise there’s something we can learn from it regardless.

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