THE ROOT OF IT ALL
“It’s the elephant in the room, Created by a collision of the sun and the moon, My sonogram was an image of a gun in the womb, That was soon to be doper than heroin in a spoon” – Tariq “Black Thought” Trotter
What do you think Jay Z, Troy Carter and Ryan Leslie have in common? Now these three may seem like random people to you but, a closer look at their success may make you think otherwise. To be clear, all three of these guys are people that I happen to admire in one way or another. Although most would have Jay in their top 5 dopest rappers alive, I admire him more for his strategic thinking – dude is smart, real talk! Troy Carter, another genius in his own right, from Philly, my hometown, I’ve come to admire his hustle, the time where he almost lost it all and then made an amazing comeback that landed him back on his feet to where he is today-Moguledom! Gotta’ respect that hustle. Then there’s Ryan Leslie. I really like his music, and most of all I respect his musicianship – dude plays like every instrument-WELL! Plus on top of his musicianship, the big homie is Harvard degree’d up! So, I guess for me, the common thread of these three here is that they are smart guys, but they all have 2 significant things in common that def plays a part in there success. But the point of what I’m expressing in this blog today is that there is a common root in all relationships. Every human being has a relationship with everything in one way or another. There is a connection point. In my case with three moguls I named, Jay Z, Troy Carter and Ryan Leslie, I have a connecting point to them. Do I know these guys personally? No. However, how I come to know them, or of their work, to eventual admiration, is where we are going trace the root of my relationship to them.
In another time in my lifetime, I was an aspiring bass player. In the 90’s, Philly was reknown as the hub of Neo-Soul, the city was alive, vibrant and poppin’. I can still hear Questlove playing beats on his drum set inspired by Dilla’s Slum Village, Jill with a dope freestyle on an open mic jam session, the listening audience including myself becoming sponges and soaking up the vibes, the atmosphere and the energy. At that time I knew that I was standing in a moment that would be forever cemented in my mind. I came up playing bass just like many of the other dope musicians from Philly who are currently playing for the top artists today – in church. From church I graduated to the club scene, intro The Black Lilly. The Lilly was home to artists such as Jill Scott and The Roots, who’ve I already mentioned but to also cats like Jaguar Wright, Music Soulchild, Bilal, Floetry, Kindred and from time to time an appearance from Erykah Badu, Common and John Legend. To put plainly, the Lilly was THE spot-period. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that my sister, Jazmine Sullivan was pretty much born out of the exposure from the Black Lilly. She was like 10 at the time, and my mom would drive us to the club, Jaz would perform, I’d play with the band backing her on bass, and as soon as the set was over Jazmine would have to immediately bounce because she was clearly underage and had school in the morning. After the gigs, I often hung around and met tons of people, producers, artists and musicians. I joined other bands, played for other artists, did session work, etc. There’s a documentary floating around on the internet called “ A Night at the Black Lilly, which was released at the Blackstar Film Festival in Philadelphia, produced by Mike Dennis of Reel Black, you can catch me playing bass for Philly’s own Lady Alma. Now, I was more of a J Dilla, ATCQ, D’angelo, Jill Scott kinda guy but, what put Jay Z on my radar was my introduction to him via Jaguar Wright. She and Jay did a song called “Song Cry” produced by the hit-maker Just Blaze. Jay, Jag and the Roots performed a live unplugged version on MTV. And from there on, I’ve been rocking with Jay Z ever since.
“forever cemented in my mind”
Around the time when my sister released her first album “Fearless” I can recall my mom blasting the records through the house from morning to night, just to feel the vibes of the records, she and Jazmine would do this routinely figuring out which songs were the right songs to turn in to RCA. Its crazy, because I can remember hearing the records long before they were out on the radio and I had already grown tired of hearing them! Some songs I liked and some I didn’t, but among them was a track that clearly stood out to me. I asked Jazmine who produce this particular track and she replied Ryan Leslie, you know, the dude who did “Diamond Girl” and played the song straight from her laptop. At first listen I was hooked, I immediately bought the self titled Ryan Leslie album right then and there, which are still in my playlist today! Again, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that upon getting into his music and finding out that he was a “real” musician who also had a Harvard degree, which struck me as odd. I thought, why would a Harvard degree want to fall back on music and live the starving artist lifestyle? This only made me more interested in him and I’ve been following his career ever since.
By now I had outlived the thought of becoming a touring musician playing bass on the road. I got a job as a paralegal since I had a business management background by studying international business in college. It took some years and many experiences to figure out my particular path and purpose, but I got there. I had written a full business plan and was in need of consulting, and I ended up befriending a man named Bryan Smith of Blacksmith Consulting. I remember Bryan saying in our very first meeting that I reminded him of Troy Carter in his early years when he was still on his hustle in West Philly. I guess I possessed the same determination, ambition and uniqueness that Troy did – wow what a compliment I thought! And this is how Troy Carter came to be on my radar. Bryan had met Troy very early on in his career and had consulted with him while at Philadelphia’s Enterprise Center, run by Della Clark, close friend to Cathy Hughes of TVOne.
Ok, so here are my connections and introductions to Jay Z, Troy Carter and Ryan Leslie, but let’s look a bit deeper…
“Some cats believe they MC but we know they all fraud do a show in Philly N@#s wont applaud”– Tariq “Black Thought” Trotter
Jay Z. In 2006 headlines read “Can Jay Z Make HP Notebooks look cool”. This article was about the deal that Jay and HP did in which Jay appeared in some commercials advertising the HP notebooks. I’m not sure how Jay may have impacted HP products because I still don’t see many people using HP products. The point of why they used him in the commercials was that HP producta lack personality and aren’t seen as “cool” like Apple products are. They thought, like most corporations do, that they can buy or rent a personality and that will make them cool then people will run out and buy their products. Nope! This is where corporate America fails over and over again. It’s not a quick fix, you don’t become cool over night, but more on that later. So how did Jay get the HP deal? I suspect, a guy called Ben Horowitz.
“you don’t become cool over night…”
Ryan Leslie. in 2016 another read “How This Hip-Hop Artist Turned Tech Entrepreneur Can Text Every Fan – This article was about Ryan Leslie’s current venture which is an App called the Superphone of which Ryan can communicate and interact with his fans from any part of the world- one on one. I initially thought his concept was genius. I had read what inspired his thought to create Superphone and it was because Ryan, being a smart dude and all, wanted to know why his records weren’t selling in some areas and wanted to look at the data collected by Apple iTunes of which is where his and all other artists place there albums and records for sell. When Ryan requested if Apple could send or allow him to view the analytics, Apple declined. This frustrated Ryan because how could an artist like himself make important informed decisions about his record sales if he doesn’t have the data at his disposal? This puts him and all other artists selling on Apple iTunes at a great disadvantage. He then realized that it was Apple who owned his fan base data and not him, he was only the content on Apple iTunes to attract more customers to Apple that benefited Apple. And so, he then decided to disrupt this model, and thus Superphone was born in concept. But how did Ryan’s concept become to reality as it’s in Beta form currently? I suspect, a guy called Ben Horowitz.
Troy Carter. in 2015 “Mayvenn raises $10M from celebrities and impact investors to streamline hair market”. Mayvenn is a hair care company that produces hair weaves, accessories and products. Their mission is to empower hair stylists to sell directly to their clients which cuts the middle man out, in this case, the beauty supply stores, which puts more money in the pockets of stylists. The haircare business is a $500 billion dollar business, which is why Troy backs Mayvenn. But who backed Carter in getting Mayvenn started up? I suspect, a guy called Ben Horowitz.
“dominate & influential”
Ok, so who is Ben Horowitz? Ben is a “made man”, his resume is mad crazy of all the companies he’s touched and financially backed. His portfolio goes well beyond (Rap) Genius (where I got my Tariq Trotter lyrics from), AirBnB, Instagram and Pinterest, check out his full portfolio here. Ben is credited with helping shape the modern tech age and making venture capital look cool and appealing, it’s the new rap game of sorts. In 2007 Ben sold his company, Opsware to HP for a cool $1.6 Billion, which explains his relationship to HP , which is how Jay got connected. Ben then went on to fund Leslie and Carter in their ventures as well as many others. The Horowitz Andreesen firm is a power machine in the VC/Tech world – definitely a major deal maker in the game, no doubt about that. Horowitz describes the Horowitz Andreesen model as one that is based off of Michael Ovitz’s CAA model. On a side note, the story of Michael Ovitz is an interesting one, I guess Horowitz wanted to pay homage to the CAA model? You can check that story out here. But what does CAA do exactly? It’s regarded as a dominant and influential company in the talent agency business and manages numerous prestigious clients. Check those key words out, dominate & influential, so In short, they do whatever is needed to get the deal done.
But beyond the breadcrumb of Ben Horowitz & Co, there seems to be another common thread among Jay Z, Troy Carter and Ryan Lelslie and that is their relationship with Sweden. Yup, Sweden! Sweden is unquestionably known for Ikea furniture right? Go figure, Sweden! How about some Swedish fun facts that I learned…
That will be in my next article!
Sign up for our newsletter to see in the next article what Making A Village (M.A.V.) has in store.