Rapper 2 Chainz is really an entrepreneur. The Atlanta performer parlayed a decade and a half of hits into clothing lines, video games and other industries. His new album, Rap or Go To The League, will likely be number one on this week's Billboard charts. And he somehow got Lebron James (that one) to executive produce it.
The average rapper actually isn't that much different than the average entrepreneur: Most only last a few years and end up burnt out by the business. Those that survive, though, often hold a special secret to holding themselves together.
Here's 2 Chainz in a recent interview with music journalist Rembert Browne:
One thing I learned through the streets is that a slow roll is better than no roll, right? I learned that something is better than nothing. So I would put out music and it wasn't like I was actually getting booked, but I was creating, and it was treading water for me. It was starting to make waves for me. For the longest, my goal was to get a fan a day. And sometimes it was that I was one song away because I was recording every day. As an entertainer, you're always one thing away. I always knew that I was.
Change a couple words and you'd think you were reading Seth Godin's new book. This is my secret, too. Here's why it matters.
Ambition can hurt you
Big ideas and a desire for impact often get us on this road. Why work outside of the traditional business system as an artist, as an entrepreneur or as a creator unless your need to change the culture outweighed the risk you needed to take?
Unchecked ambition can lead straight to impatience. You want to influence the world, but no one is answering your emails or returning your phone calls or buying your first product. When you lack patience, it is too easy to interpret a slow build as a failure. It is too easy to give up.
It is often better to focus on influencing one. Seth Godin, in his excellent Akimbo podcast, says this darn near every week: You change the culture drip by drip. Person by person. There is no hack.
Turning back to 2 Chainz, picture him on the Atlanta streets selling independent mixtapes out of his trunk. No one likely heard of him. Let's just get one new fan today. 365 days in a year. About 400 new fans: Enough to fill a small music venue, and maybe enough to recoup the investment into his music.
Of course, those 400 fans are eager to share with others, too, making his fans rise exponentially.
Multiply that by 15 or 20 years.
Your fans are the only ones that matter
The subtler layer is the strategic focus on fans. It's not about proving the neighborhood doubters wrong, nor convincing the entire world you are the best thing since sliced bread. As I shared in my recent Bring Your Worth book excerpt, anger may get you up in the morning, but it won't keep you going.
Instead, find the people who like your work, respect them as much as you can and give them all they need. Tech futurist Kevin Kelly encapsulated this perfectly with his 1000 True Fans theory. People who do not like your work may be able to give you some constructive criticism. Maybe. But, in most cases, the best feedback, and the best results, are from people with whom your work resonates.
You double down on those folks who want to ride your wave. That's how you create a great career, if not a movement. In fact, they are often indistinguishable.