What can rap lyrics teach us about business?

Jay-Z hosts after-show party in Las Vegas

Hip hop artists love flaunting their money - but can they teach us anything about how to make it?

Ben Horowitz, a leading Silicon Valley venture capitalist, certainly thinks so. He told the BBC World Service how listening to rap music had helped him to make critical business decisions.

"It's mostly what I listen to, but it also turns out to be very relevant to business, in terms of the issues that come up.

"A lot of it is about business and about competition. A lot of it is about feelings, about how something might make you feel."

Mr Horowitz, co-founder of Andreessen Horowitz, which has made a fortune from investments in firms such as Groupon and Skype, said that when it came to big strategic decisions feeling can be more important than logical thought.

"For me to have a whole class of music that really helped me articulate all that in my mind, and then articulate in my writing, as well has been a big deal," he said.

Adam Bradley, associate professor of African American literature at the University of Colorado, also believes rap contains lessons in charismatic leadership they don't teach in business school.

"Rap presents an immediate test. If you get up on the stage and you are whack, you are going to get booed off. You have to present yourself in the moment and you have to move the crowd. I think there is a lesson there in leadership because it's about creating pathways of connection," he says.

Rapper Conspicuous consumption is part of hip-hop culture

"It's not only to do with what you want them to do, but what they want to do but may not know it yet."

Rap also offers lessons in "self-presentation" for the aspiring business mogul, argues Bradley, who advises major corporations on black culture and music.

So what are the set texts from the hip hop business school - and what can they teach us?

It's all about the deal

I take quarter water sold it in bottles for two bucks, Coca-Cola came and bought it for billions, what the [expletive] ? - I Get Money, 50 Cent

50 Cent 50 Cent has an estimated fortune of $500m

Curtis "50 cent" Jackson is known as one of hip hop's sharpest business operators. In I Get Money, from his second album, he boasts about a deal with Coca-Cola, who paid $4.1bn for Glaceau, a vitamin water company he had taken a 10% stake in through an investment vehicle.

The deal is said to have landed Jackson between $60m and $100m, putting his net worth at close to $0.5bn. "Quarter water" is a reference to the small plastic bottles of flavoured water Jackson and his friends used to buy for 25 cents when they were children in the New York ghetto.

The rapper, whose debut album was entitled Get Rich Or Die Trying, is currently at the the centre of controversy over a share tip he gave to his 3.8 million followers on Twitter, in a company in which he is an investor and shareholder.

Work hard - and watch your costs

Get your money right, be an international player, don't be scared to catch those red-eye flights / You better get your money right, 'cause when you out there on the streets, you gotta get it - get it - Get Your Money Right, Dr Dre

Dr Dre Dr Dre is full of sound advice for small business people

Another noted hip hop entrepreneur, Andre "Dr Dre" Young, is third in Forbes magazines list of wealthiest rappers, with an estimated net worth of $250m. He added an estimated $175m to his fortune in 2011 with the sale of a 50% stake in headphone company Beats Electronic.

In 2007's Get Your Money Right, Dr Dre joins forces with Jay-Z, whose $450m empire includes restaurants, fashion, music and a share in the New Jersey Nets basketball team, to give what amounts to a seminar in how to start a small business (once you have stripped out the expletives and drug references).

"Don't be worried 'bout the next man - make sure your business tight," the pair advise, before adding, in a crucial lesson for all would-be entrepreneurs: "If you ain't in it for the money then get out the game."

Be your own boss

I can't let life get the best of me, I gotta take, take control of my own destiny / Control what I hold and of course be the boss of myself / No-one else will bring my wealth - A Job Ain't Nothing But Work, Big Daddy Kane

"When hip hop was born, it was born with that sense of being 'on the hustle' or 'on the grind,'" says Bradley, author of Book of Rhymes: The Poetics of Hip Hop.

"Part of it comes from an underworld parlance, an underground parlance, of criminal enterprises, selling drugs.

"You could be working a block selling drugs, but extrapolate it and it means working hard. It means labour, a commitment to a work ethic, and that sense of struggle."

Founders make better chief executives

You're just a rent-a-rapper, your rhymes are Minute Maid / I'll be here when it fade to watch you flip like a renegade - Follow the Leader, Rakim

Rakim in 2009 Rakim was one of the "founding CEOs" of rap music

"The interesting thing about Rakim, in addition to being the first great rapper, he was kind of a founder of rap music," says Ben Horowitz.

"When rap music started it was kind of like a start-up music genre and it wasn't clear at all that it was going to succeed."

Rakim's message to those who were jumping on the rap bandwagon, but did not really believe it had a future, struck a chord with the venture capitalist.

"It was like that's the difference between the founding CEO and the professional CEO. The professional is often just there to make money but he is not there for the movement, he is not there for the mission... in the way that the founder is and you see that in business all the time."

Never show weakness

I'm runnin' the buildin', don't make me run in the buildin' / No this ain't the first time I had my gun in the buildin' - Scream On Em, The Game

"If you just want pure, unadulterated swagger to come pouring out of you, there is no better soundtrack than hip hop - whether you are going out on to the sporting field, or going into the boardroom," says Adam Bradley.

"Hip hop is a soundtrack for aggression. It is music created mostly by young men and consumed mostly by young men."

Ben Horowitz told the New York Times he sent the "superaggressive" lyrics of Scream on Em, by The Game, to an executive he felt was being too deferential and needed to show more strength.


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  • Comment number 82.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 81.


    Ever heard of the 'opium wars', with China, look it up. GB was funded by drugs.

  • rate this

    Comment number 80.

    Famous people comitting crimes is not limited to rap?
    Ecactly. Like that Worrall-Thompson geezer. He got caught stealing. didn't he? Any way, give me a rapper over Elton John any time.

  • rate this

    Comment number 79.

    @77.Bliss - in an age where someone can turn up for an audition for X-Factor and become an overnight sensation, simply for appearing on TV, do you really believe what you've said about rappers and hard work?!

    Hard work is working 16hrs a day in the NHS, or being in the army in Iraq, not writing rap lyrics and performing for crowds of people in the hope you'll be picked up by a major label.

  • rate this

    Comment number 78.

    Ordering this comments list by "Highest rated" really does give a bleak insight into the stereotyping and prejudice in our society. No 47, why are rap fans all idiots? No 2, selfishness. Where did that judgement even come from? No 51, Singing about violence and drug abuse is endemic among rock stars too. cobain killed himself? glorified herion? Famous people comitting crimes is not limited to rap?

  • rate this

    Comment number 77.


    I didn't say they weren't in the right place at the right time however even the people that are still have to have a respectable fan base and have worked hard to even get in to the right place. Personally I don't listen to many "big" rappers, they're too commercial. I listen to the struggling ones more and a majority I have listened to have been signed to deals now.

  • rate this

    Comment number 76.

    I like some rap music (just as I like music from most genres) but it's a hell of a stretch to say it can teach you about business!

  • rate this

    Comment number 75.

    69. Bliss

    For every successful rapper/singer/actor there are hundreds of arguably equally talented people who haven't made it. To get your foot through the door takes as much luck as talent. Once you have made it through the door, it is very easy in this era of celebrity to amass a small fortune within two or three years. After that, any brand will pay millions just to use your face. Hard work?

  • rate this

    Comment number 74.

    Horrible article! Since when was 'hip hop a soundtrack for agression'!? Tribe Called Quest, Eric B and Rakim, KRS-ONE. shaaaaaaaaame on you. There are many sub genres of hip hop and that is clearly something you've ignored in that statement.

  • rate this

    Comment number 73.

    What people need to realise is that these men came from poor backgrounds, & for them to be making millions of £/$ by making music is a huge achievement for them. No wonder they like to show off! When you listen to their music you realise that the educational system they were in isn't tailored to them, they aren't considered employable by companies so they are left with lil choice,gang/drugs/music

  • rate this

    Comment number 72.

    @69.Bliss - the majority of the big artists are simply in the right place at the right time. How many struggling rappers are there compared to the number of hugely successful ones?

    Special_SK - The Numerical Ninja hit the nail on the head.

    @68.monkhousebyproxy - I see. Personally I believe it's disgusting that we glamorise such people, including Sinatra.

    Crime shouldn't pay.

  • rate this

    Comment number 71.

    The people that are putting rap music down and saying that its worthless because they dont understand it are stupid. Music is an expressive form of ART and to say that one section of it is useless is short-sighted. Just because you dont like the look of or understand a Picasso or a Dali doesnt make it trash.

  • rate this

    Comment number 70.

    Bloody hell, BBC.

    Rapper makes a load of money through record sales. On top of that they sign all kinds of endorsement deals (see 50 with Reebok for ex.) and then instead of wasting all of it, give some to a smart accountant who makes some investments on their behalf. Shockingly, they then have yet more money.

    This isn't about rappers. This is about how it's easy for the rich to get richer.

  • rate this

    Comment number 69.

    67. Special_SK - The Numerical Ninja

    "All it shows is that it takes money to make money."

    And where does this money come from? Hard work, dedication and passion. Most rappers are from poorer backgrounds, they had to build a fan base, recognition, promote themselves, build their own hype. Surely every one of those qualities are useful for businesses? Goes to show that hard work can pay off.

  • rate this

    Comment number 68.

    9 Minutes ago
    @59.monkhousebyproxy - Are you saying we should applaud rappers for using their criminality to advance their lifestyles?

    Nope - just saying that it happens, like Sinatra and the Gambino family for example. Hip-hop is a huge international art form, a lot of the people involved now are not and would never be involved in anything criminal. Drugs/Jazz? Yeahman

  • rate this

    Comment number 67.

    All it shows is that it takes money to make money.

    Most of these so-called business people used their already vast wealth to invest in other ventures knowing that the worst that can happen is that they lose a few million dollars. Most of us don't have this luxury.

    Just take a look at the likes of Katie Price and Jade Goody to see that it has nothing to do with business acumen.

  • rate this

    Comment number 66.

    Wow BBC, what a pile of tosh.

    Your almost as bad as the various fanatical branches of Christianity - who pick a single line and use it to form the basis of their entire argument.

  • rate this

    Comment number 65.

    Rap and business have a link in that they express base desires for wealth and ultimately power. Rap expresses it in a more naked way in its vulgar display of wealth and ruthlessness. Gangster movies like gangster rap are essentially alpha male fantasies- see my wealth see my women see the respect I command. A lot of these traits are sociopathic and sociopaths tend to flourish in such environments

  • rate this

    Comment number 64.

    5 Minutes ago

    " rap contains lessons in charismatic leadership they don't teach in business school."

    The Hip Hop music industry promotes an entirely selfish, narcissistic and almost sociopathic lifestyle that promotes irresponsibility and aggressive promotion of ones-self over others.


    So exactly the characteristics needed to succeed in sales or business! :)

  • rate this

    Comment number 63.

    @59.monkhousebyproxy - Are you saying we should applaud rappers for using their criminality to advance their lifestyles?

    And if they are raising themselves up as you would seem to suggest, why is it rappers continue to have, often violent, turf wars, and still support gangs like the Bloods (which Jay Rock openly does)!



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