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It’s the second biggest move in the history of Hip-Hop free agency, surpassed only by Tupac’s signing with Death Row Records in October of 1995.
Want another example?
It’s the best affiliation since Lex Luger became an Associate Member of pro wrestling’s most elite unit – the Four Horsemen (Ric Flair, Tully Blanchard, Ole and Arn Anderson) – in the Winter of 1987.
50 Cent, as the new Suge Knight and second James J. Dillon, now faces his ultimate challenge – how to properly market Beanie Sigel, a task that Roc-A-Fella Records failed to perform.
I know, because in September 2002 I was involved in a dialogue with Roc-A-Fella’s marketing department about how to better position all of the artists on the label, aside from Jay-Z. The strategy was sophisticated but revolved around coordinating an ‘outside the industry,’ strategy with the standard record promotion.
The plan I laid out was the re-positioning Cam’ron and Beanie Sigel, not just as ‘hustlers’ and ‘gangsters,’ but as real power brokers and true ‘bosses’ in the communities from which they came – Harlem and Philly, respectively. What we discussed was revolutionary and would have built upon the street credibility of the artists and converted that form of power into others – in the business sector and political arena. They would have been true shot-callers with their neighborhoods as home base from which they would make power moves, generate positive media coverage, and break into new market segments as artists. The plan would have made them bigger and broadened their appeal beyond their current fan base.
Roc-A-Fella loved the specifics of what I outlined. Cam’ron’s manager wanted to move forward with the strategy and all that remained was for a meeting to be arranged to finalize details. Then, we agreed, we would immediately apply the model to Beanie Sigel.
Then, came the surprising news, confirming for me what I had only heard as rumors regarding how decisions were made at Roc-A- Fella Records.
I was informed that Jay-Z’s brilliant business manager, John Meneilly, who was a key decision-maker at the label (a fact that many don’t realize) put the initiative on ice because it would somehow distract or interfere with Jay-Z’s efforts to position himself more positively in community affairs. I was told by Roc-A-Fella that John Meneilly felt that what I proposed was essentially the same thing that was already in motion around Jay-Z’s efforts to do things in the borough of Brooklyn, timed perfectly with the release of Blueprint II.
I was told that all of this would be the subject of an upcoming 60 Minutes feature on Jay-Z. My Roc-A-Fella contact told me that after Jay-Z had the chance to establish himself in this new light, the label would look to incorporate my strategic advice.
I was disappointed a bit, not understanding why what was good for Jay-Z wasn’t good for his labelmates, but I was also excited to know that someone as influential as Jay-Z was moving in this direction. I started thinking of ways to support his efforts.
The 60 Minutes special came, Blueprint II dropped. and Jay-Z did get credit for a few good works. But the effort was heavily top-down (corporate –driven) nothing at all like what I proposed for Beanie Sigel and Cam’ron which would have had them building power and positioning themselves from the streets-up.
I’m sure 60 Minutes did not represent all that Jay-Z was trying to do but I got no indication that Roc-A-Fella pushed back or was disappointed in the feature that really was more of a biography piece designed to further mainstream Jay-Z or make him less threatening.
It was a good look for Jay in that respect, but nothing that could benefit Beanie Sigel or Cam’ron, I thought.
Being ‘positive’ and ‘giving back’ through donations, foundations, corporate partners and appearances is nice but not the same as developing an artist’s street, political, and business leadership profile outside of the industry, in ways that connect them to everyday people and help them sell more records.
What Sigel needed was more power positioning not just good cause marketing.
I truly think Jay-Z qualifies as a Hip-Hoppreneur™ of the highest caliber (and by the way, I’m even considering that he has now, in my mind, maybe replaced KRS-One as the greatest rapper of all-time), but his approach to building power is dependent upon his advancing through elite social and business circles, which generate deal flow and high profile opportunities, but which also by nature, demand less risk-taking, and more conservative and non-threatening decision-making.
It’s a sound strategy, but only one that he and a handful of mega-stars can pull off. The benefits of what he generates have opened many doors for Roc-A-Fella artists (and I do believe Jay-Z’s heart’s desire was to help all of his artists enjoy success) but it did not develop them according to their own natural strengths. They were not on the elite social level that he was, and did not have the same quality team infrastructure he did (business managers, agents, lawyers, publicists) therefore, they could not take advantage of what he made possible for them. And I’m sure that Jay is right when he says many of his artists shot themselves in the foot and expected him to carry them.
But that expectation occurs sometimes when someone has to operate in the shadows of another. A dependency is created, although not intentional. I believe the way Roc-A-Fella marketed their other artists made them Jay-Z dependent.
Whether intentional or not, I believe the label signed artists that served to provide a contrast to Jay-Z and protect his image from becoming too distant from the streets. Therefore, any effort to strategically position Roc-A-Fella’s street-oriented artists in ways that would have moved them outside of the first level category of Jay-Z’s creative protégés, or team members, and into the category of real community leaders with juice from the block to the boardroom, making moves on their own, was not seen in his best interests as an artist, or brand.
Remember to pull off the mainstream success that Jay-Z enjoys you have to become increasingly less threatening, radical, and risk-taking. I believe John Meneilly has been most influential in directing Jay’s career in this manner.
I have no knowledge that Jay-Z was even aware of the discussions that I was having with the label, so I can’t blame him in anyway for not executing the plan on behalf of Beanie Sigel and Cam’ron. But clearly his handlers and team infrastructure were on the eye for any internal competition that would ‘steal’ attention from him. In that sense what was in the best interest of Roc-A-Fella artists (whom Jay-Z publicly called his ‘earners’) was not seen as in his best interests, I think.
A music industry friend of mine sent me an email recently expressing the following:
“Looking at what the sputtering Def Jam did under Jay’s presidency shows he can’t help make certain kinds of artists better. Jay-Z is Michael Jordan with the Washington Wizards, he’s Prince with any other talent he’s ever had, he’s Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis trying to run a record label. Some people can’t function outside of their comfort zone and blowing an artist up makes Jay uncomfortable because he does not want to end his own career by accident.”
I’m just not sure, but the evidence does seem to be there.
My proposal to strategically re-position Roc-A- Fella artists as street credible figures turned community leaders and power brokers stalled. I had little contact with the label until the Summer of 2003, only after the drama and bad publicity caused by Beanie Sigel’s arrest for attempted murder and the criminal justice issues of other members of his crew were dominating Philadelphia and music industry headlines.
At the lowest point, when Sigel was sentenced to jail time, I received a call from my contact in the marketing department of Roc-A-Fella who told me, “Cedric, I wish we had taken your advice. It would have really helped Sigel and my Philly guys.”
While others saw Beanie Sigel’s jail time as another great moment in Hip-Hop’s tradition of ‘keep it realism,’ I was saddened.
How great of an artist and a leader this man can become, I thought to myself.
Jay-Z knew what he had in Beanie Sigel – saying years ago that Sigel would eventually go down in the category of a Tupac or Scarface. While he gave tremendous support to the artist, his label’s business model, marketing strategy and the politics that surround his deserved position as Roc-A-Fella’s cornerstone and top biller prevented him from fulfilling his vision for Sigel. And again, I don’t believe Sigel necessarily had the team infrastructure of advisers to pull it off anyway.
So, he could only do his part – making records that would one day give him that legendary status Jay-Z predicted of him.
By my count, for over 6 years, Sigel’s career has needed to take a new direction.
Now, in 2009 it has that chance.
Enter 50 Cent, the man whom I write in my book The Entrepreneurial Secret (http://www.theEsecret.com/) is the example of entrepreneurship by necessity.
Many will argue – but in my mind Beanie Sigel has the potential to become the most introspective (the ability to look inside one’s self and express one’s own thoughts and feelings) rapper in the history of Hip-Hop. I have never heard a rapper more aware, honest, comfortable and clear in expressing the personal knowledge of self and how that affects their ability (or inability) to influence their environment. Anyone who has heard ‘Dear Self’ (Can I Talk To You?), ‘What Your Life Like,’ ‘Prayer,’ Got Nowhere,’ ‘Remember Them Days,’ and ‘Mom Pray,’ knows his ability to weave in wisdom, inspiration, and emotional intensity with a honest picture of his imperfections and shortcomings. His worldview is not just street or ‘gangster,’ its spiritual and philosophical, laced with strategic vision.
I have said that Jay-Z is the classic journalist in Hip-Hop and Nas is the classic novelist. In Sigel, you have an autobiographer (different from the story-telling ability of Scarface, Ice Cube, and Slick Rick, for example). Only Tupac can compare in this area (Styles P. of The Lox and Ghostface Killah deserve honorable mention too) among ‘mainstream’ artists. But what Sigel has that they lack is the ability to weave it together with spirituality and a greater grasp of wisdom and philosophy. While others quote the scriptures, sages, and certain Teachings, I don’t get the impression they are fully comfortable or have a handle on what they are saying and how it relates to their personality (RZA of Wu-Tang Clan would be the only exception).
So 10 years after signing with Roc-A-Fella, in his new association with 50 Cent, Sigel has what he has always needed to evolve him into the legendary all-time great artist that Jay-Z recognized, but could not position properly in the marketplace.
In 50 Cent, Beanie Sigel has found an unusually self-aware artist and business strategist who is creatively fearless (‘How To Rob’ is the most entrepreneurial and risky record in the history of Hip-Hop). In Beanie Sigel, 50 has the most talented artist he has ever had the chance to work with.
They both have similar personalities. They appreciate the principle of subordination (waiting your turn and understanding that helping another person look bigger than you makes you bigger. I write about it in The Entrepreneurial Secret). On paper, they have much more potential synergy and better chemistry than Jay-Z and Beanie Sigel.
My industry friend emailed, “Being around 50 should allow him more creative freedom. Beans said he took the initiative and brought many things to the Roc table, but wasn’t well rewarded for doing so. 50 has been begging his artists to be this way. He’s tired of ‘being the smartest guy in the room’ so to speak. At this stage in his life (later for his career) 50 needs to prove his brand is relevant and can sustain itself. Beans’ personality is compatible with 50’s philosophies. Whereas Jay-Z wanted a right hand man or distant number two, 50 has a different concept of how his organization should work. He prides himself on his operation being autonomous. He wants to build something, while Jay-Z wants to be a star. Jay-Z spends a great deal of his time promoting Jay-Z.”
The key to marketing Beanie Sigel is the creative process by which his new album will be made, and whether or not 50 Cent can execute an unusual way of positioning him in the public.
Otherwise, all this will amount to is short-term publicity for both artists, and a great set up for 50’s new album, including a manufactured ‘beef’ with Jay-Z.
But nothing long-term for Beanie Sigel.
To do more with Sigel than Jay-Z did, 50 will have to do more than just position him as a ‘shooter’ or a street legend. That’s too easy.
Beanie Sigel is an absolute goldmine, if marketed right – an unusual talent who requires and deserves unusual marketing
I’ll explain how it could be done.
50 Cent and Beanie Sigel. Just another sign that we are moving into a new era…one only built for Hip-Hoppreneurs ™
Next Week: The Specifics Of How To Market Beanie Sigel
Cedric Muhammad is a business consultant, political strategist and monetary economist. He is a former General Manager of Wu Tang Management and the author of The Entrepreneurial Secret: Starting A Business Without A Bank Loan, Collateral or Revenue (http://www.theEsecret.com/). His weekly talk show can be heard each Wednesday from 12 to 5 PM (est) at Cedricmuhammad.com. Cedric can be contacted by email at cedric(at)cmcap.com