The Top 7 Hip-Hop Quotes That Can Inspire Business Leaders
by Justin Tyler
Hip-hop has been a part of my life’s musical soundtrack since I was a youngster growing up in 1980s New Jersey. From an age-to-age comparison, hip-hop was the sage older brother, nine years my senior, that provided early wisdom, knowledge and understanding regarding the various trials, tribulations and triumphs that I would encounter during my development.
In 1973, a young Jamaican-born, Bronx-resident DJ named Kool Herc birthed the foundation of hip-hop through keen observation. At parties, he noticed that people were waiting for certain drum breaks — times in the record where the vocals and instruments would be removed for a measure or two to groove to the isolated flow/cadence of the beat — to get excited and do their signature dance move. According to History.com, “what Kool Herc decided to do was to use the two turntables in a typical DJ setup not as a way to make a smooth transition between two records, but as a way to switch back and forth repeatedly between two copies of the same record, extending the short drum break that the crowd most wanted to hear.” And that’s when the magic happened!
Now that our customary “how was hip-hop born?” History lesson is out of the way, the elders of hip-hop are and would be happy to witness the evolution of the genre. A considerable segment of hip-hop artists are more than just their title — they are businesspeople, activists, actors, entertainers, philanthropists, real estate moguls,… and the list goes on. So, I pondered about the business side of hip-hop and identified the top seven lyrics that left an indelible imprint on how I view business today.
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“Ain’t nothing left to say though / I guess we forgot what we came fo’ / Should of stayed in food and beverage / Too much flossing, too much Sam Rothstein”
Jay-Z ft. Chrisette Michele, “Lost One” (song), Kingdom Come (album)
On this track, Jay-Z explores what it was like to lose his business partners through unnecessary circumstances. In reference to the lyrics above, his message was profound because the reference to Sam Rothstein’s character in the iconic movie “Casino” moved me. Particularly, Rothstein was told to keep quiet by his mob bosses and to move without much fanfare so his casino license can be processed while not bringing needless attention to the operation. Rather, to the dismay of the bosses, he kept flossing, many of his affiliates were killed, the casino license was revoked and Rothstein barely escaped from a failed assassination attempt on his life.
Overall, the message is to always remember what the main goal and motivation for doing what you do. By letting other people, places, things or frivolous internal conflict compromise the mission, the demise of a relationship or partnership is closer than it may appear.
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“I’m not a business, I’m a business man / so let me handle my business, damn”
Kanye West ft. Jay-Z, “Diamonds From Sierra Lione Remix” (song), Late Registration (album)
Jay-Z appears again with more profound insight, but this quotable is definitely more straight-to-the-point. Basically, you are your own entity, your own business and your own brand. You represent you and everything else that is associated with you. So, it is always in your best interest to know and understand what your brand is to shape your reputation, attract interest, cultivate trust and present a strong need to do business with those you encounter.
At the end of the day, you will always be your best representative.
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“I take a glimpse into time / Watch the blimp read ‘The World Is Mine’”
Nas ft. Lauryn Hill, “If I Ruled The World” (song), It Was Written (album)
Nas makes a great point with this simple, but thorough bar. The entire song is Nas imaging how a Nas-led world would look like if he possessed the universe. His rendition of his world is significantly important because the thoughts and actions of many successful leaders, millionaires, inventors and icons throughout history started with a dream.
Never forget to dream big because the results are a product of how those same dreams eventually manifest into thoughts and action.
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“What does it take to be number 1? / Two is not a winner and three nobody remembers”
Nelly, “#1” (song), Nellyville (album)
As an East Coast rap enthusiast, admittedly, I thought that lyrics from Nelly would never help me think about business. Surprisingly, his words resonated with me because I believe that we should be vying to surpass our own standards while working to be the top brand or company in a particular sector. Entrepreneurship is for the individuals that want to endure, compete and adapt to the challenges that await, so operating at the highest levels will provide the wind within the doldrums to move towards progress, and, eventually, success.
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“That major that she majored in don’t make no money / But she won’t drop out, her parents will look at her funny / Now, tell me that ain’t insecure / The concept of school seems so secure”
Kanye West ft. Syleena Johnson, “All Falls Down” (song), The College Dropout (album)
My interpretation of these lines center more around two aspects: (1) deciding if college is necessary and (2) being prepared for getting a ROI on your college degree. Factoring in COVID-19 implications to the job market, rising costs in higher education and the continued restructuring of jobs and industries, it is most prudent to examine what the true worth of education means to you. Whether you want to be an entrepreneur, IT professional, teacher or medical doctor, it is best to determine if you need certifications or degrees for your career path, if any. Additionally, if you feel that higher education is a requirement to move forward, then develop a plan to use other people’s money to pay for schooling. Of course, paying for school in cash or leveraging loans to repay your loan provider within four years of graduation are also sound strategies.
If you can only steal one takeaway from this section, just do your due diligence, ask questions, look at YouTube videos and develop a plan so you are making the best decision for yourself. And by the way,… being a college dropout is not too bad. Just ask Michael Dell, Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, Lady Gaga and Bill Gates.
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“I learned workin’ with the negatives could make for better pictures”
Drake ft. Lil’ Wayne, “HYFR” (song), Take Care (album)
Coming off Drake’s classic album Take Care, this line is striking because the words prompted me to think about how I handle the negatives in business. I strongly believe how people react and move forward from unfavorable terms builds the character and fortitude to move forward in the pursuit of success.
Like Drake said, it’s important to use your negative prints and reverse those tones to produce a positive picture.
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“If you are what you say you are / a superstar, then have no fear / The camera’s here and the microphone / and they wanna know”
Lupe Fiasco ft. Matthew Santos, “Superstar” (song), The Cool (album)
Success is when a little bit of luck meets preparation and opportunity. So, when the cameras are on and you finally have the spotlight, take advantage and show the world know why they should know who you are.
If you have been grinding and preparing for your breakthrough moment, then court the attention. In the well-informed words of author Robert Greene, “Everything is judged by its appearance; what is unseen counts for nothing. Never let yourself get lost in the crowd, then, or buried in oblivion. Stand out. Be conspicuous, at all cost. Make yourself a magnet of attention by appearing larger, more colorful, more mysterious than the bland and timid masses.”
You don’t have to court attention to the degree that LaVar Ball does, but it’s fine to shine a bit because you put the effort in, assumed the risk and invested the time!