Music mogul and veteran rapper Jay-Z once quipped "I'm not a businessman. I'm a business, man." It proved visionary, as he's transitioned from street hustling rapper to multi-disciplinary millionaire (and friend of Warren Buffett). What's fascinating is that his newest work, the Grammy-nominated 4:44, is his most honest yet, touching on infidelity with his wife Beyonce, progress of African Americans and solid business advice.
In fact, on his 48th birthday, it is worth highlighting the four best business gems in the new album.
"I'm trying to give you a million dollars worth of game for $9.99... I turned my life into a nice first week release date." from The Story of O.J.
The entire song has jewels on personal empowerment, but these two lines standout. First, you have no excuse not to do personal growth: Geniuses throughout history have their entire blueprint available to you for less than a dinner out. Seriously, Sun Tzu, Marcus Aurelius and Jim Rohn can talk directly to you for a few bucks. Today's Internet makes the Library of Alexandria seem tiny. Any excuse to not take advantage of it is laziness.
Second, on the creative side, you can turn your challenges into business success. 4:44 is inspired by an intense altercation between Jay-Z and his wife's sister, Solange. The tabloid controversy turned into three remarkable hit albums: 4:44, Solange's Seat at the Table and Beyonce's Lemonade. My own tough transition as a new stay-at-home dad into entrepreneurship bred the strategies in the best-selling series The Ultimate Bite-Sized Entrepreneur - and this very column. Don't create chaos on purpose, but do find purpose in your chaos.
"Yet it's legal in Colorado. Yeah, we deny Black entrepreneurs free enterprise." from Smile.
The obvious point is the rise in marijuana "green" entrepreneurship in hot spots like Colorado and California. The rub is that enterprising black and brown men have been incarcerated for pursuing the same business for decades - according to the ACLU, between 2001 and 2010, there was one marijuana bust every 37 seconds. Most arrested were people of color.
What is relevant to every entrepreneur, though, is that timing and context will absolutely affect your path. Cultural bias, market conditions and other details can determine your success - regardless of how hard you work or how great your product. You must understand the world to chart your chances of success.
"Ya'll still signin' deals? Still? After all they done stole, for real?" from Moonlight
Like all major industries, music doesn't require the gatekeepers needed to manufacture and distribute the goods. What do artists need major record labels for? Exactly. Technology has given aspiring artists direct access to their potential fans - and, as Jay-Z hints at, record labels have a long history of tiny royalties and draconian contracts.
I just talked about this in the context of owning your own IP and doing it yourself, which is what Jay-Z is advising:
I'd argue that your IP is the most valuable thing you've got. Don't sweat getting funding and don't worry if a corporation doesn't get your idea. You can be broke, you can be unknown and you can be desperate, but if you own the rights to your stuff and act on it, you can open more doors yourself than any fool with a major publishing deal.
"That's called The Red Queen's Race/You run this hard just to stay in place" from Legacy
From Alice in Wonderland, The Red Queen's Race is when the environment moves so quickly that you have to run fast to stay in the same spot. Jay-Z is referring to the challenges in his family and those previous setbacks that, with his generation, are just getting corrected.
You can also apply the idea to your business. How hard are you working? Are you actually making progress? It is crucial that you have some type of metrics, such as profit or even a less tangible one like happiness, to actually measure your growth in some long-term form. It is terribly easy to keep going simply because you think you should. Know when to pivot - and when to give up the race altogether.
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