How Jay-Z Provides The Model For Entrepreneurship
If you read this blog or follow me on Twitter you know I'm a big Jay-Z fan. His talent, music, swagger, outlook on life and art and most of all his story. Jay grew up in the Marcy Projects in Brooklyn, New York. A former drug dealer, he hustled his way to global stardom via hard work and genius level talent for lyrics and flow.
In 2008, Jay-Z was set to headline The Glastonbury Festival in the U.K. This is one of the biggest rock festivals the world has to offer each year. I say rock because no Hip Hop artist had ever headlined it. I'm not sure that any had even played it before.
Immediately, there was controversy. Ticket sales started off slow and they blamed Jay-Z. Noel Gallagher of Oasis was quoted as saying:
"I'm sorry, but Jay-Z? No chance. Glastonbury has a tradition of guitar music and even when they throw the odd curve ball in on a Sunday night you go 'Kylie Minogue?' I don't know about it. But I'm not having hip hop at Glastonbury. It's wrong."
The press rallied. Everyone weighed in. Should Jay-Z bow out? Should he play? Does Hip Hop belong at Glastonbury?
At the time Jay-Z was already a star in the United States and beginning to be global, but not yet. Glastonbury has audiences from all over the world. The crowd fly flags representing just about every country you can think of.
Was it too risky for him to try and fail?
Entrepreneurs and artists create and risk. That's what they do. And with creation comes success or failure. Sometimes they deliver and sometimes not.
There was no way Jay-Z was bowing out. In fact, I doubt he was worried about failing. There is no more confident artist out there. His skills are undeniable and he's grown into one of the best live performers around. Especially since he added a live band.
"I'm like fuck critics, you can kiss my whole asshole. If you don't like my lyrics, you can press fast forward" - Jay-Z, 99 Problems
So on June 27, 2008 Jay-Z told critics to kiss his ass. In front of 150,000 fans he was about to take the stage. But first, he played this video intro for the crowd:
And then he took the stage. In pure clever and "giving it right back" Hip Hop tradition he opened with his rendtion of OASIS' "Wonderwall" where the lyrics "I don't believe that anybody feels the way I do about you now" took on a whole new "f*ck you" sort of meaning.
"You not feelin' me? Fine, it cost you nothing. Pay me no mind." – Jay-Z, Heart Of The City
The crowd went nuts. "Jay-Z. Jay-Z. Jay-Z". Nodding his head in agreement like a conquering Emperor.
And just as quickly as the video ended Jay-Z demands into the mic: "I've got one thing to say" and blasts into "99 Problems". That song, which ironically enough, was produced by Rick Rubin who has worked with some of the best rock bands around like The Red Hot Chili Peppers and The Cult. Not to mention Jay-Z's idols The Beastie Boys. To add insult to injury, half way through the song, his band includes the guitar riff from AC/DC's "Back in Black". As you'll see below before and after this song, Jay won over the crowd. An amazing moment for a musician facing that kind of public adversity. My friend, DJ Neil Armstrong, was the touring DJ at this show and he said it was a pretty incredible moment. He felt the crowd turn and the energy for the rest of the night was insane. Watch the performance below.
And that night, Jay-Z became a global superstar. The British press, notorious for take downs, was also impressed. The Guardian wrote here: "Glastonbury headliner turns tables on Noel Gallagher after Oasis frontman had lambasted choice of US rapper as top act".
"I'm not looking at you dudes, I'm looking past you" - Jay-Z, Heart of The City
And he did.
Jay-Z's recent commercial with Budweiser also expresses how he looks at art. All art is more similar than not in where it comes from. To him "everything is a remix". "We're all trading off each other's culture" he narrates. This spot is exactly what he was saying at Glastonbury.
My last two jobs were fun and tough.
At Sling Media the entire media ecosystem wanted to kill us. We thought we were right, they were wrong but we didn't hate them, we wanted to win them over or just move past them. But without changing our mission. It was a kiss and slap philosophy. We did it our way.
At MySpace we faced internal and external challenges and a brand and product that was on the outs. Everyone had an opinion. The death watch was on. We still believed we could turn it around. We tried, we created, we risked. But we failed. That's ok. That's how it is sometimes. But you can't sit back and not try. There's no fun in jumping off a bench. Even the creative and right lose.
At both companies I constantly re-told the story of Jay-Z at Glastonbury. Where he looked haters in the eye and slayed them with his product: his music. He won.
Jay-Z risked, confronted, delivered and grew. He's a model for entrepreneurs and artists everywhere and my favorite story.
"I'm not a businessman, I'm a business, man." - Jay-Z, Diamonds From Sierra Leone
p.s. I encourage you to search YouTube and news sites for the coverage and video of Jay-Z at Glastonbury. There are interviews, full performances and pundit coverage. And read his book DECODED. It's awesome.
Jason Hirschhorn is an entrepreneur most comfortable at the intersection between entertainment and technology. He was formerly CEO of his first venture, Mischief New Media, Chief Digital Officer of MTV Networks, President of Sling Media and most recently Co-President of MySpace. Jason is also an investor in Howcast, Buzz Media, 5 to 1 and other startups. You can follow him on Twitter: @JasonHirschhorn