5 business and life lessons from Jay-Z’s rhymes

Jay Z

It’s the year 2008. I am doing my final year of high school at one Thetha Secondary School in Orange Farm. Wednesday morning and time sits at 8:10AM; I’m clothed in blue and white school uniform. And the latest time one ought to arrive at school is 7:45AM. My body language doesn’t show even a trace of being in a hurry, my face is stern and focused-looking as I listen to Dj Sbu on Y-FM interviewing well-respected media entrepreneur, Khanyi Dhlomo, on his show’s feature, The Entrepreneur Hour.

She mentions Jay Z as the artist she’s bumping in her car during their conversation. And they both relate on this point – Sbu is a big fan of Jay-Z’s. They discuss how he, through his content, can easily relate with people in executive level positions in business as much as he does with kids in the projects (townships); he makes a lot of business sense to them, their conversation seems to suggest. I’ve always had the mind to seek education from different places, as opposed to only relying on textbooks.

The following are lessons which serve as good advice I’ve taken from Jay-Z’s poetry and rhymes from his song, You Don’t Know. Put your business studies or marketing manual and what you’ve heard about life aside as we get into Hova’s head:

I could make $40 off a brick, but one rhyme could beat that!

Know your rates! I remember hearing this line and thinking, ‘I wonder what Jigga is saying here’. As a professional, I believe the issue of knowing one’s value is critical, and being in the creative economy, I believe being able to cost for the work you produce is as important as refining the ability to produce high quality work. This part of the song speaks to knowing and understanding the rates you charge and the value of your brand and what it brings to the proverbial table. This is a simple line, but upon deeper reading, it shows off the level of sophistication and business acumen Shawn Carter has. Which, I believe, is one of the reasons he has built a successful brand in his name and from it, other entities.
To add to this thought, advertising and branding maverick, Sizakelle Marutlulle once asserted in an interview she had with Jeremy Maggs: “I’d rather we speak of value than speak of price because products speak to price and brands speak to value”. So, go forth and learn and then remove the ‘L’.

I smarten up, open the market up

… one million, two million, three million, four, and in just 18 months, 80 million more!

It’s easy to only operate in spaces where one is comfortable, being creatures of habit, but it takes an ounce of genius and bravery to reject convention and as Jay had it: open the market up. An impeccable South African example in the entertainment business is Tbo Touch Molefe. A few years ago, he took over the coveted afternoon slot between 3:00 – 6:00PM weekdays from radio veterans, Unathi Msengana and Glen Lewis at urban radio station Metro FM — the pair moving to the morning slot. Touch could’ve chosen to keep the same format and style which had become the norm on radio. His expansive network and business interests allow him to travel the world over; but this does not stop him from delivering his radio show. Through his relationships, he often broadcasts The Touchdown 326 from New York radio giant, HOT 97 studios, whenever he spends time in the US – building a bridge between Metro FM and HOT 97 and opening up possibilities. Furthermore, through interesting and engaging content, he has built Pan-African relationships which have seen artists such as D’ Banj frequent his programme. As a result of his unique approach, the show’s listenership spans from Johannesburg, Dar es Salaam, Lagos, Maddison Square, right to Abu Dhabi, in Dubai. Touch didn’t follow the norm, the script – he opened the market up (and his show’s audience ratings went galactic, and so did unprecedented opportunities).

I was born to dictate, never follow orders

The saying: “the world belongs to those who say, I can” rings true when you think of almost all the people who have made a success of themselves and often, changed the world. Jay’s belief in himself is, I am led to believe, one of the reasons he has attained the success he has. People don’t want to associate themselves with an individual who doesn’t believe in themselves and their story, product or service. Just as global professional speaker, Vusi Thembekwayo, eloquently put it: ‘If you don’t believe in yourself and your story, there’s no point!

Put me anywhere on God’s green earth, I triple my worth!

This displays the level of confidence you need to succeed in the business world, immaterial of whether you are an intrapreneur within a corporate business or rowing your own boat. And this line also underscores the global nature of our economy. Consequently, you have more business people flying all over the world. Touchdown at Heathrow Airport, connect to Abu Dhabi; lunch at Maddison Square Garden; pick up a few items at Saville Row Street in London before heading back to Johannesburg. This is the narrative for people who believe they can build global brands, and play on the global stage. Simply phrased: in your profession, you need to have the chutzpah to exist at the level where you can hold your own anywhere in the world.

Put this shit in motion, there ain’t no rewinding me back!

Get into the habit of starting things! And while at it, consider this: before everything, you are human. This means anything imaginable can flow from a human being. I write this because we tend to forget this simple yet critical point. Realise, believe and live this out: when you have an idea which keeps you awake at night, put that shit in motion and I promise you, there will be no rewinding you back. In one of his songs Hova asserts: I didn’t go to Harvard, I just had the balls to do it.

And from his album, Blueprint 3, you can hear the line: “…can’t be scared to fail, in search of perfection [mastery]”. They aren’t mere rap verses. His music is equivalent to articles on Harvard Business School’s blog / portal, or advice by one Richard Branson on his book, Screw It, Let’s Do It. I really love and enjoy bumping Jigga’s music – combing through his poetry and rhymes to find business and life lessons. New York University music school’s 2011 schedule offering a class in The Business of Jay-Z is an indicator that we cannot only rely on textbooks for our learning.

The world and the economy has changed vastly in the last decade, and the assumptions and the how-to’s of how you get your work out to the world have flipped over — you can be as creative as you want to be! And your education shouldn’t be tied to an outdated way of doing things; I am fan of education, but if it isn’t rooted in the realities of the world in which you operate, what good is it then? We ought to realise that education is everywhere; just as I have turned rap verses into my business manuals.



Communicate Your Genius

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