Any successful entrepreneur has to at some point step outside of their comfort zone to progress. Sometimes that means expanding into a new area of business, or taking on unfamiliar management duties.
For me, this happened when I left Minnesota when I was 17 to pursue my dreams in the music business. After all, if you want to work inside the mainstream music business, you really have to be in New York or LA. But simply living in the right place is not enough to guarantee success in any industry. It's what you bring with you that matters.
I brought with me lessons and inspiration from one of the few nationally recognized independent record labels from the Twin Cities--Rhymesayers. Formed from a collective of artists involved in all elements of hip hop culture, and stemming from a crew known in the streets as Headshots, Rhymesayers was truly the only hip-hop label in Minnesota making national noise.
As the centerpiece of the Minnesota hip-hop community, Rhymesayers quickly expanded beyond simply making and releasing music. They first opened up a shop called the Fifth Element that became one of the best hip-hop stores not only in the city, but the country. I remember going in as a teenager to get the latest independent releases, buying DVDs of DJ battles before the era of YouTube that truly helped me hone my skills. Without question it played a big role in my journey and development in the business and as a DJ.
Rhymesayers then decided to start something Minnesota had never seen before: A true hip-hop festival called SoundSet. I can't stress how challenging this was in Minnesota at that time–from the negative stigma of hip-hop among police and city officials, to promoting it in a market lacking a real hip-hop radio station, to booking the diverse lineup required to attract the broadest range of fans in order to cover costs. But they did it, and what originally started as a small warehouse party expanded into a full-blown festival and has only gotten bigger every Memorial Day weekend.
Evolving from a hip-hop street crew making records to opening a successful retail store and establishing a long-running music festival is no small feat no matter where you are, let alone a music market known more for Prince and Bob Dylan than hip-hop. And by doing so, Rhymesayers has inspired a generation of Minnesotans--including myself--to reach beyond their comfort zone knowing that anyone from anywhere can make it. If it wasn't for Rhymesayers, I probably wouldn't be where I am today.
That's why I make a conscious effort to help support the scene that gave me my start. From going back to my old high school, to mentoring others from Minnesota, to supporting a new generation of artists coming out of the state like Allan Kingdom, The Standard, Mod Sun and others, I always try to look out for my hometown.
The lessons here is twofold. First, only by reaching outside your comfort zone and taking calculated risks can you achieve true success. Second, once you do, never forget your roots. Go back and inspire the next generation to be even better than you.