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By Kelsey Humphreys – I love to interview artists and comedians — a special breed of entrepreneur. It’s argued that much of their success comes down to their raw talent, and the amount of hours they put in to perfect that talent. One could also say it comes down to the right mixture of managers, agents and a small army of support staff. However, the ones who break through do a lot of brand building on their own, and exhibit the resilience, resourcefulness and grit that propels them from humble creator to household name. They find the perfect harmony between art and commerce, and some of them do so to the tune of millions of dollars.

Fabolous, for example, is a Grammy-nominated hip-hop star from the Brooklyn projects, now worth an estimated $23 million. He landed the opportunity to rap live on local radio at the age of 17, landed a record deal and is still relevant today — over 15 years later.

His first release in 2001, Ghetto Fabolous, spawned the hit singles “Can’t Deny It” and “Young’n (Holla Back).” Those two singles led him to prominence, and his second album, Street Dreams, also had two Top 10 singles. He’s since had many successful singles, albums, mixtapes and collaborations, has been nominated for Grammys, American Choice Awards and Teen Choice Awards, and has won ASCAP and BET awards. He’s also amassed an impressive social media following of over four million raving fans.

Recently, the rapper participated in New York Fashion week with the launch of Blood’s Thicker, a line of men, women and children’s clothing and accessories. He’s also partnered with RapSnacks to launch a New York Deli Cheddar potato chip. He’s just been awarded a key to the city of Brooklyn and is about to head out on tour with Chris Brown and 50 Cent — but had time to sit down with us on RocNation’s famous #goldcouch to discuss his many endeavors and the key to his sustained success.

Here are eight lessons from my conversation with him.

Give each opportunity 100 percent.

When we spoke about his first record deal, and other opportunities throughout his career, his advice was clear.

“You gotta make the most of it,” he said. “I [told myself], ‘I don’t know when this is gonna happen for me again, so you’d better at least shoot 100 percent here and then whether you get it or don’t get it, you know that you put your all into it.’”]

He also explained that while you need to be incredibly determined and committed, you also need to get educated and willing to ask for help.

“Don’t be afraid to ask questions. You see somebody who’s in it and doing something that you are, [ask them], ‘Hey man how do I go about getting the quality of my stuff to your quality, like I’m making?’ . . . you gotta ask those questions and do your homework, do your research.”

Keep trying things.

Fabolous has been active in the entertainment industry for over 15 years — something very few hip-hop artists, or any artists of any genre, can say. Part of his longevity? His willingness to try new things and possibly fail.

“I think the worst thing you could do is not shoot the shot,” he explained, continuing his basketball analogy. “When you shoot you got two options: It can go in or you can miss, and even in the miss you might learn.” He added that he does like to discuss his new ideas with his team and community. “We just try to make it happen. Sometimes you have crazy ideas that sound crazy to everybody, but I’m sure everybody has had a crazy idea before. When you pull it off and you don’t look crazy anymore, you look like a genius.”

Learn from your mistakes.

Fabolous admitted he has had his share of missteps. He has had to ward off rumors of gang connections throughout his career, and was arrested in 2003 for possession of an unlicensed gun in his car.

“It taught me a lesson as well. It showed me that I didn’t want to jeopardize what everything that I had going, trying to even [protect myself.]” he shared. “Sometimes in life, your best teacher is experience and going through something to figure it out.” He added, chuckling, “If you don’t have to, that’s good too.”

Build a community — and listen to them.

His fashion label, Blood’s Thicker, started as a simple line of merchandise to sell to his fans; he explained that for fans to stick with him for this long, they are more like family, hence the name. When he created an artistic album cover for Summertime Shootout — a twist on a Roy Lichtenstein piece — his fans loved it. He noticed that followers were sending in photos of the art in their lives — even as their personal tattoos.

“Anything that we would put the cover artwork on, they would pay for it and buy it,” he explained. “[It started as a way to] show appreciation and at the same time have a deeper connection with the band and the people who wanted to support us.”

He began offering more designs, and was invited to be a part of New York Fashion Week. In an effort to connect his Brooklyn community to his NYFW experience, he livestreamed much of the event on social media, and then launched a pop-up shop and show actually in Brooklyn. Fans, and even some celebrity guests, stood inside and out for the entire event, watching through the large windows, even though it was freezing out.

“It was overall a great event. It was a way to bring fashion week to Brooklyn and to bring Brooklyn to fashion week.”

Stay observant.

When asked about mentors in his life, he shared that can’t specify a few key people; instead it’s been the mixture of all the people around him. Like other people I’ve interviewed, namely Gary Vaynerchuk and Seth Godin, he explained that he’s always noticing things. He gave the example that even then, during the interview, he noticed how my videographer was wearing his pants with his boots. He surveys the market and others in the industry and then evaluates how he can incorporate what he sees into his strategy, art or brand.

I’m very observant. So, my mentor is really basically a lot of people who are just around me and life itself. Just living and going different places and traveling.”

Stay vigilant.

When it comes to his music, his endorsements, his social media accounts, etc., one thing is clear: If he doesn’t think it’s cool, he’s not doing it. He is adamant about protecting the Fabolous brand, only jumping on board with projects and products he really believes in.

“I don’t compromise myself, I don’t compromise my cool. I don’t compromise who I am,” he shared on The Breakfast Club in 2016. “I’m not chasing the fame or the hype. I’m just who I am.”

Stay relevant.

In addition to his artistic talent, Fab definitely has a gift for social media. He doesn’t have a structured strategy, he just makes sure every post is a true extension of his life.

“My social media tag is @myfabulouslife, so I kinda try to show what goes on, what I do daily in my day-to-day life. I just show people what I’m doing and things that I’m involved in. Truthfully, social media, my following, just came from me doing that.”

His advice to aspiring artists is to attack social media platforms and get seen. I asked him if breaking through online was still possible, now that there are many more aspiring artists making waves online. “Your talent speaks more than you can . . . . I still think talent shines through.”

His next venture, RapSancks, doesn’t seem to fit the cool factor of the Fabulous brand, but Fab knows what he’s doing. His face is on every single bag, which will expose him to a wide new audience, particularly young people.

“It’s dope and it’s great marketing . . . . Everybody likes chips!” he said, smiling.

Stay grateful.

It’s clear that Fabolous loves his work and his supporters in the hip-hop community — which he loved as a kid, before it was his profession.

“It was just a hobby for me and I liked doing it.” he recalled. “You’re lucky if you get to really be in a profession that you really love to do. I was fortunate that’s what I was able to do . . . . I’m so grateful.”

Ash Exantus aka Ash Cash is one of the nation’s top personal finance experts. Dubbed as the Hip-Hop Financial Motivator, he uses a culturally responsive approach in teaching financial literacy. He is also a speaker, and bestselling author of six books. Ash has established himself as a thought leader and trusted voice with Corporate America, Colleges, Churches, and Community based organizations. Ash is best known for helping people maximize their full potentials by giving them the inspiration, tools, and resources needed to live their best lives. For more info on Ash please visit


Why Every Brand Should Be More Like DJ Khaled and Kim Kardashian

Follow these five marketing lessons from two of the internet’s biggest brands.



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With over 100 million combined followers on Instagram, which is currently the most actively used social network among millennials and generation Z, it’s safe to say that DJ Khaled and Kim Kardashian are two of the most watched brands online today.

Yes, brands.

Dating back to the rise of Snapchat only a couple of years ago where he was gaining 3 to 4 million viewers per Snap, DJ Khaled has gone from hip-hop DJ to A-list media mogul, author and spokesperson to the tune of over $20 million in 2017 alone while working with brands such as Weight Watchers, Turbo Tax and Ciroc.

Kim Kardashian-West, as well as younger sister Kylie Jenner, have taken a similar approach as DJ Khaled to engage fans online by turning them into customers and winning over their pockets through their personality.

For example, a recent Instagram post by Kim Kardashian, conveniently placed between photos of her with husband Kanye West and their children, has the caption “Peach lips available now at” resulting in more than 500,000 likes and 6,000-plus comments.

It’s no secret that celebrities and influencers today have discovered what the major key to success is to engage fans — and get them to buy — which is why every brand must be more like DJ Khaled and less like a brand.

As the opening keynote speaker at Social Media Day Jacksonville 2018, seen in the video above, I shared with the audience of primarily social media managers and marketers why they should take lessons from DJ Khaled and Kim Kardashian and what they can immediately do to be more likable online.

If your company is struggling with social media engagement, below are five major keys to social media success:

1. Be real.

Whether you’re Nike, Coca-Cola or Walmart, today’s consumer doesn’t want to be sold to, they want to be engaged. The reason why influencer marketing exists and why people spend time consuming content from online personalities like Jake and Logan Paul, Tai Lopez and others is because these are real people who have a voice and thoughts to share with their fans. They’re also entertaining.

There’s a large disparity online today between the world’s biggest corporations and entertainers – i.e. “influencers.” Whereas it takes a company months, or even a year, to catch up and implement how they’re going to be “authentic,” creators live it every day and give their communities what they want — an inside glimpse of who they are. As shared in the video above, all companies should look at what DJ Khaled does and model their employees to be their very own storytellers.

2. Be relevant.

You don’t have to be on every social network to be successful, but you should aim to be where your customers are and tap into social networks where you can get the most reach and possible engagement. Having a presence on platforms like Twitter and Instagram where content can be seen by non-followers by leveraging hashtags mixed in with a content strategy which showcases your employees authentically and spotlights your goods, products and services through stories can go further than investing in say, Facebook Ads or highly produced video. DJ Khaled has shown us how to tap into a highly active platform like Snapchat and now Instagram to take our followers behind the scenes through daily storytelling. The same tactics can be applied by virtually every company.

3. Don’t sell.

I know what you’re thinking: “I’m in business, how am I supposed to not sell?” But, today’s consumer is ignoring your sales rhetoric and instinctively swiping past your posts, which are perceived to be an offer versus a hook to engage. Companies today are struggling with using social media because they’re focusing on the end-game (i.e., the sale) versus the path to purchase, which involves creating brand awareness (being actively seen), tapping into conversations (otherwise known as engaging) with users, which builds loyalty, and acknowledging who their customers are.

While there’s no easy way to get around monetizing your online community, draw inspiration from DJ Khaled, who organically weaves Ciroc vodka into the narrative of his storytelling like you’d see product placement in a movie, or Kim Kardashian, who will give you four or five Instagram posts about her family and friends — and then right hook you with her business.

4. Celebrate success.

The most significant competitive advantage that social media provides is the ability to listen to what’s said about your brand, competition and industry. Whenever someone buys from your company and shares an online review, tweet or tags your brand, that’s an opportunity for you to acknowledge your customer and celebrate the occasion. Where a lot of brands fail is they’re understaffed to the point that they completely ignore what’s being said about their brand unless they’re @mentioned, and often engage only if it’s a complaint or customer service-related post. Going forward, embrace and acknowledge the good just as you would the bad. An interaction is an opportunity to build customer loyalty further and repeat business.

5. Win more.

DJ Khaled’s most notable song “All I Do is Win” can easily be the anthem for any entrepreneur or business owner who aspires to be at the top of her industry. However, how exactly do you “win more”? Be consistent. What’s helped DJ Khaled and Kim Kardashian become two of the most recognized faces online isn’t their looks or last name, but instead consistently being in your face through your iPhone screen.

Social media isn’t a 9-to-5 operation; it’s open 24/7, year-round. Whether it’s outsourcing community management or delegating your content marketing and storytelling strategies to employees, companies must realize that in the game of online marketing the brands who make the most noise combined with getting others to share their posts are the ones who will ultimately win the most. However, it begins with the first point of “be real,” which DJ Khaled and Kim Kardashian show us every single day.

Watch more videos from Carlos Gil on his YouTube channel here. Follow Carlos Gil on Instagram @CarlosGil83.

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T.I. Teaches The Art of The Hustle

Rapper-Turned-Entrepreneur T.I. Says a Hustler Needs to Be Patient



Photo: Harris Photo

This story originally appeared in the July 2018 Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

T.I. is hiring. On July 19, the Grammy-winning rapper behind gargantuan hits like “Live Your Life” and “Whatever You Like” is launching a BET reality show, The Grand Hustle, to find the next executive for his company. It’s the latest in his effort to expand the Atlanta-based business he started in 2003, which is also called Grand Hustle. Along with being a co-owner of the streaming music service Tidal, T.I.’s company is cultivating the next generation of young artists, producing TV and film and investing in everything from technology to fashion to real estate. All the while, T.I. (real name Tip Harris), who at the very peak of his rap career a decade ago had frequent and well-publicized troubles with the law, is coming into his own as a philanthropist, an actor, a manager and an executive with his hands in a dizzying number of pots. We talked to him about making the transition from solo artist to corporate boss, what he looks for in an employee and why hip-hop has always been such a hotbed of entrepreneurship.

Earlier in your career, your product was just your art. How do you think of your brand, Grand Hustle, now?

First and foremost, it’s an institution of culture. Culture is our commodity. All extensions of culture — music, film, fashion, scripted and unscripted television, technology, real estate, touring, consulting, marketing. All forms of culture.

Being a solo artist is all about self-motivation. Now you run a company, which is all about motivating others. I imagine your management style had to evolve.

Well, I’ve become a lot more patient. I’ve become a lot more attentive. A lot more aware. Everybody’s different. Everybody has different motivations. You have to find out what a person responds to and attack that.

What else has changed?

Before — at the height of my career as an artist — there was so much money coming in that it didn’t really matter if people were doing what they were supposed to be doing. We were just getting money and having fun. And also, respectfully speaking, it wasn’t coming out of my pocket. [It was coming from the label.] But now, I’m actually putting the money up for these budgets that are being submitted. I’m actually paying vendors. So now, I treat it much differently, and I’ve learned so much more because of it.

That’ll focus you for sure.

I have kids, too. Private school, man, will focus the shit out of you.

Has it been challenging for you to get your staff to recognize you as Tip the boss, and not T.I. the celebrity?

I don’t even know what those titles mean. It’s just Tip. I am who I am. And the way I pre­sent myself is the way I will be received. I’m going to present myself as the boss, so you have no choice but to receive me as one.

Still, people are weird around celebrity. Do staffers ever get hung up, like, “Oh my God, the guy who did ‘Live Your Life’ is telling me to fix the coffee machine”?

Well, see, I think I understand the sentiment of your question. It’s basically, can people separate how they deal with me? But I don’t see it as a boss-versus-a-celebrity thing. I think it’s that we’re like a family. We spend so much time together that sometimes we have to separate that friendship when we’re actually at work and we have to meet deliverables.

You were in and out of trouble a fair amount in your younger days. Did that give you any useful insights that you still pull from today?

Yeah. To make it out of the extremes of the environment we came from, with nothing but a dream and a work ethic — to get here from there — requires an immense amount of perseverance. All the things I’ve gone through, my transgressions and felonious activities, laid the pavement and directed me toward a path of positivity.

The smart people find a way to use everything.

That’s it. We all have our own set of experiences, resources, skills and relationships. Those are like tools in a tool belt. Opportunities come if you’ve prepared by recognizing that you have a tool that can help you make the best of it. Over time, that’s gonna make you a very successful person.

Hip-hop has a really rich tradition of entrepreneurship. Why do you think that is?

Because we have the greatest, most celebrated examples of how entrepreneurship, when it’s done right, can turn out. Russell Simmons, Jay-Z, Puffy, Queen Latifah, [Murder Inc. Records co-founder] Irv Gotti, [Cash Money Records founders] Baby and Slim — there are countless examples who have come from nothing and invested themselves into the art and learned the business along the way, and they have changed their families’ living standards forever. When you have so many examples, people go follow the blueprint.

You’ve had access to a lot of mentors since you got into the business side. But did anyone give you great advice when you were a kid that really stayed with you?

Sure. My father said, “Always be mindful of what you do with your money.” Because what you do with a dollar is exactly what you will do with a million dollars. If you get a dollar and you go and blow it all on candy, well, if you get a million dollars, you’re going to do the very same thing. But if you get a dollar, and you only have this dollar, and you say, “OK, I’m gonna put 50 cents in my pocket, and I’m going to take this other 50 cents and put it up in case I need it later,” then that’s what you’ll do when you get more money. Think of it like practice. 

Why did you decide to launch a TV show to find an executive for your company?

I thought it would be interesting to weed our way through the not-so-good to get to the good. Even on shows like Shark Tank, it’s great when the deal is perfect, but the entertaining part is weeding through all the things that are insufficient to get there.

So what are you looking for in this executive?

There’s a special set of skills required for this particular position. The brand, it’s multi­faceted. The first thing is: You have to maintain a level of professionalism at all times. That is a skill that is not easily attained. Especially in one’s youth.

So how do you find out if someone has it?

Well, you create scenarios. And you monitor people’s responses, and see how they adjust to these certain scenarios.

Did you draw these scenarios from your own career?

They’re all drawn from different aspects of my career and my business. For instance, part of what we do is shape and mold and cultivate the careers of other artists. So in one of the scenarios, they had to create an album release performance. Those who performed the best were rewarded, and those who performed the worst were introduced to the door.

In what other ways are you torturing these people to see what they’re made of?

Well, I won’t call it torture. What we’re doing is we’re conditioning them. But there was one gentleman who just couldn’t take it. He said he had to leave. Literally. He had a panic attack.

Can you tell me what caused the panic attack?

I can’t get into the details of that. Tune in to the show. But look: Pressure’s either gonna bust pipes or cut diamonds. If you got it in you, and all it takes is the right amount of pressure to pull it out and show how much you can shine, we’re gonna make sure you get there.

What else are you looking for?

You have to know what you know. Nobody’s gonna know everything, but what makes the smart person even smarter is that he can identify what he doesn’t know and say, “OK, I need to go to my partner across the street who knows.”

Plus, when you pretend to know all the answers, it becomes a giant pain, because then you actually have to know all the answers. 

Absolutely. And there’s a certain amount of ego in someone who always thinks they have the answers. It’s not about knowing the answer; it’s about you putting your ego before the needs of the brand. That’s the worst quality.


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Pusha T Launches Hip-Hop App Which Aims to Turn Everyday Music Listeners to A&Rs And Reward Them For It



Photo: GettyImages

Called heir, the app lets users vote up or down on their favorite music.

Pusha T is making a technology play.

The rapper has teamed with tech entrepreneur Summer Watson, who has worked at TuneIn and Playdom, to launch hip-hop app heir.

The app, which is now taking sign-ups for early access, lets people vote hip hop tracks up or down. Users who show that they have an ear for what people will like earn digital currency known as Crown. But voting for a track that the majority of users don’t like can cause a person to lose their Crown.

The goal for the app is to help the hip-hop industry engage more with fans. Advisors on heir include Def Jam Records A&R exec Steven Victor and Epic Records A&R exec Joey Arbagey.

With heir, Pusha T joins the ranks of recording artists who have made inroads in the technology world. Jimmy Iovine and Dr. Dre created Beats Electronics and later sold the company to Apple for $3 billion, leading the rapper to claim that he was hip-hop’s first billionaire. also is especially well known in technology circles for his work with Intel and the launch of its device. He also appeared as an investor and mentor in Apple reality series Planet of the Apps. More recently, Jay-Z announced that he was launching venture fund Arrive to invest in and advise startups.

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