After leaving Epic Records to start his own All Money In record label, Nipsey Hussle spent roughly eight years putting in the necessary groundwork to establish himself as an independent force to be reckoned with. Nipsey’s work ethic, financial intelligence, and marketing expertise took the advancement of his brand as far as any artist who actually had the machine power of a major label behind them, if not further. Such independent success rewarded Nipsey beyond the scope of normal music industry business making him the first artist to achieve a partnership deal with Atlantic Records which was announced at the latter of 2017. Since then, Nipsey has had a three month long strategic unveiling quite like no other.
Today [February 16th], Nipsey finally released his highly anticipated debut album, Victory Lap. He teamed up with a brilliant assortment of featured artists including Diddy, Marshia Ambrosius, Kendrick Lamar, Dom Kennedy, The Dream, and Ceelo Green in which he performed tracks from the new album last night [February 15th] at his sold out Album Release Concert at Los Angeles’ Hollywood Palladium.
We got a chance to catch up with Nipsey in the midst of his very impressive rollout for Victory Lap and discussed time management skills, what new he has learned about the industry since his partnership with Atlantic, financial advice he would give to his son and other black men, as well as his favorites from his own catalogue of music.
While you were [on the come up] and not as established as you are now, how did you find the time to work to make ends meet before rap was paying the bills, but still study your craft and this industry, read books and work on your passion while still even maintaining a personal life, if at all possible?
It was spurts of time that I didn’t really have a social life. I had to figure out where I could cut the fat. It would be a three to six month period where I didn’t see anybody but my engineer from being in the studio. Then, I saw an old clip of Birdman saying, “I used to tell all my artists we have to make the studio the block, and everything we do something we have to do it at the studio. If we going to hang out with some girls, we have to do it at the studio. If we going to work out, we have to work out at the studio. If we going to eat, we have to eat at the studio.”
So I took a lot of insight from that and decided we have to make the workplace as sociable and comfortable and entertaining as we can make it, because if we’re going to have to leave the studio to do those things then we’re not really going to be able to get an edge over ourself and definitely not over the competition.
Overall, it was just about sacrificing. During my teenage years and my early twenties when it was all about just living and having fun we were really just sitting still working. And at times I would question that and sometimes think, “Am I really wasting these moments?” But in hindsight that’s what it took. It was the moment to get ahead and distinguish our self. It was about the sacrifice. What could you possibly give up? Then after you give that up — what else can you give up to keep gaining advantages? And not in a competitive way — but how can you keep gaining advantages over yourself? How can you master your 24 hours?
I made it where I handle my core responsibilities first early in the morning then work. Then, have a cutoff time where I can say I’ve done all my work for today and now I’m going to take some type of input — read a book, watch a documentary, talk to somebody smart. Just making sure I’m getting better every day. Then I started to enjoy that. That started to become entertaining. Then progress became an adrenaline rush and more excitement than whatever I felt I was sacrificing.
Is that particular method of time management different now that you are an established artist and time is even more scarce for you?
I think it’s about having the discipline to find out your most effective return on your energy. For me, I wear a lot of hats in my movement. I do a lot of the marketing. I do a lot of the business. I do a lot of the think tank. But the most effective return on my energy is going to the studio. When I’m in that booth I can do something in that moment that changes my life forever at any moment. As much as I can be creative on the marketing, and as much as I can be creative with the business, the impact of the return can’t be rivaled with what I can get out of being in that booth. So I think it’s really about identifying the highest potential return on your energy, and concentrating your energy there and spending as much time there as possible.
What advice can you give as far as profitable outlets and options for black men to begin exploring to make money? And the advice that you will probably be giving to your son [Kross] when he’s finally old enough to understand money and savings and investing?
That’s a good question. The most effective thing is to be a worker first. You have to commit yourself to working everyday and then the next step would be to figure out how not to have your work leveraged by other people. I read a book when I was young called ‘Political Economy’. It really just broke down the United States wage formula and how wages are determined. So a company at the highest level of their business strategy determines how much they can pay their employees based on a multiple. The multiple is usually 10x. Then the company says whatever that labor is worth pay them 1/10th of that. So if your labor is worth $100 an hour then they will give you $10 an hour based off the political equation. So when I read that I couldn’t help but think, “Dang, this is really a trap!”
So we have to think entrepreneurial because somebody is going to leverage our energy. Then if you factor in taxes and living expenses it really becomes a Doomsday scenario. So we have to take steps to create our own enterprise. So whatever it is, whether it’s washing cars or shining shoes, if it’s yours then you have your hands on the steering wheel. Then build off of that. One thing I used to say is that a lot of people I grew up with had too much pride to be or do certain things but they didn’t have too much pride to be broke.
So I would tell my son, there’s pride in working and there’s pride in ownership and being in control. You can have a glamorous position somewhere or you can be in “a roll your sleeve up dishwashing situation” for yourself. And I would always suggest to choose the less glamorous role if that role allows you to have your hand on the steering wheel because there’s no ceiling. There’s no formula working against your progress. The upward mobility is based on how clever and how creative you can wiggle and maneuver. But I would just say always have an entrepreneurial mindset and leverage all of your resources towards creating something that you own or control.
Can you share any particular financial mistakes that you may have made early on [maybe once or repeatedly] that you eventually learned from?
The first thing you’re going to learn is stop living above your means. We come from a culture that glorifies spending and that glorifies blowing money, living for the moment, and turning up, and all of these phrases that we subscribe to. And that shit is going to kill us. I’m not exempt from being influenced by that lifestyle and going to the strip club, throwing money, buying bottles in the club for ten times the price of what they cost at the store, and buying designer. I did everything. But I realized we’re victims of our culture. There are cultures who go to K-Mart to buy their shoes, with no disrespect to K-Mart. These dudes be worth multiple millions and they don’t wear it. They fill their accounts up. They set their family up. They set their generations up, and you don’t hear about them going broke and falling off because of that. There is no pressure from the culture they exist in. You never hear about strip clubs in other cultures. You don’t hear about going to clubs buying bottles. You hear about Owner Clubs. It’s a different pressure that’s put on us though. So I think it’s about being able to be outside of that expectation.
Soon as we get some money they have expectations for you. Oh, you need to get a car when you get some money, etc. But all of the expectations they put on you is not in alignment with what is going to keep you wealthy and create wealth that you can pass down. To answer the question — living above my means, spending more than you’re supposed to spend.
And I feel like it’s a crime not to give the game. I find myself confused after getting the game wondering why they put us through college and grade school and not teach us about taxes not once. They don’t teach us about these things that are actually practical that everybody has to deal with. They want you to learn the hard way. So I believe if we can influence and sprinkle the knowledge and the game in the music then we have to do it that way.
You were technically already a music executive in your own right and made it your duty to be very knowledgeable about the ins and outs of this industry, but is there anything new you’ve picked up, learned or been enlightened on that only such a close knit partnership with Atlantic could teach you?
Definitely! I saw the interior mechanics of the label as they roll the album out. Just what we’re doing now is a totally different process compared to doing a release as an indie versus a major label release. You have so many people mobilizing. You have press people. You have tech people that are constantly working on social media engagement and creating different ways to spike the engagement online. You have marketing people. You have radio people that activate. It’s just different. Then you have a budget that’s not going to run dry.
As successful as you can be as an indie artist, you have to really mange the resources because you’re dealing with your own check. So outside of covering the manufacturing cost of the posters, the studio expenses, the features, you still have to pay rent and you still have to pay your team. You also have to have your own personal overhead taken care of. It get’s really expensive as an independent artist. So just a combination of those things I’m seeing how this rollout is being executed and I’m just learning how important it is to have 250 people on staff that’s focused and that wake up every morning on task, and a radio department that’s been in the game for years that have relationships and other hit records they’ve delivered that they can leverage for your record. I’ve learned a lot!
You’ve been in this game pursuing this rap career for 10 or so years now in which it has all been progressive and uphill for you — and then there are way too many artists who have had their run, had their hot moment, and been in and out of this game in less than 3 years. What’s the secret to your longevity and what advice would you give to up and coming artists on building sustainable careers and not temporary ones?
I think it’s like a relationship. If you don’t violate key principles like with a person — what makes a person keep f*cking with you for ten years? What makes a person keep picking your card up and keep tapping in with you? It’s because of the way you handle the relationship. I think it’s the same with friends and with music. You don’t do no goofy sh*t. You don’t violate what you stand for. You don’t mix up who you are and who you are perceived to be. You show growth and progress. I think that’s the biggest thing. I always say still water is dead water. You have to be flowing water. You have to make progress. You have to make moves and steps forward.
I also believe being honorable and being solid go a long way. Like you said, a lot of people had records and moments of being hot but then they do goofy sh*t that have you so turned off that you no longer value the music.
I think it’s just based on relationship principles. It’s like a reputation. The same thing that makes you good in the streets is how you carry yourself. You’ve never told on nobody. You never got marked out. You’ve never done no buster sh*t. That makes it to where you’re good and solid where you stand. And I think that applies to more than just music and the streets. That just applies to humans. People will respect you on how you conduct yourself, and we don’t listen to people we don’t respect. I know I don’t. It’s very hard to listen to somebody you don’t respect. No matter how good it may sound aesthetically in your mind you’re thinking this dude is a clown. This girl is a clown. I don’t want to hear nothing coming out of her mouth.
On Twitter a few days ago you asked your followers to tweet their — Favorite song? Favorite verse? Favorite overall project? — I want to ask you the same thing about your own catalog. Off the top of your head what’s your favorite song? Verse? Overall project?
That’s very hard for me to do. My favorite overall project is probably The Marathon just because of how pure that is to me and the space I was in when I was writing those records. It was like my back was really against the wall. I put a lot of those feelings into that album.
My favorite song. That’s rough. That’s a hard one. But maybe, a record off Mailbox Money called ‘That’s How I Knew’ — and it’s not because of the technical or the lyrical but mainly because of the feeling it provides. Maybe ‘Face The World’ off Crenshaw. Maybe ‘Bigger Than Life’ off The Marathon. It’s a few that’s really important to me. ‘All Get Right’ off Crenshaw is really one of my favorite energies.
Then, my favorite verse will probably be the second verse on ‘Face The World’. I’ll say that.
There is so much power in fine tuned approaches and mastering one thing rather than trying to be or do too much. What would you say is the one thing we can always count on when it comes to Nipsey Hussle and your music and your career?
I think my music is based on a story. It’s based on something that happened. And I’m not going to stray away from that, and I’m not going to embellish and add to it. I’m going to stick to what really happened and revolve around the true story. I think that’s what’s been most effective and made people respect and connect with it the most. Because their are a lot of people who can vouch for my stories, and even if it’s not direct feedback I know there are people that hear certain things in the music and they know it’s the truth because they were there. I know there are people who’ve been watching from the outside looking in and they hear the music and they’re like oh he’s not lying. He’s not trying to entertain. That’s really what took place.
I noticed that a lot of my songs that connected where ones that connected to life and real life situations. All the songs where I was just in rapper mode trying to rap were songs that floated to the bottom. But the songs that were based on experience and life and me turning those experiences into words and songs are the ones that become timeless. It’s like a story that you can tell from about twenty years ago. Like when your granny tells you an old story and you can still laugh at what happened because it really took place. And you can get mad or feel whatever she was feeling based on that really happening. I think it’s going to revolve around what took place. And what happened to me is so unbelievable and so hard to do that I don’t feel like I have to go anywhere else for the content. It’s so much of a rich story of what happened that it might take me ten hours to get everything and explain what really took place and the decisions and the mindset and the feelings and the emotions that went with it.
In that same regard, what exactly are we going to get differently with Victory Lap that we’ve never gotten from Nipsey before?
I think a couple of things. The production is all the way next level on the album. It’s a clear elevation from my mixtape on all levels. From the vocal production on the music, on how selective we were with features, on how selective we were with the words — it was really just a higher standard on what the hook is saying, what the verse is saying, how they all work together, and the concept of the record. The album is really concise. It doesn’t really stray from the concept of the album. Every song reinforces in a different way. I think when you hear any of the songs you’re going to be like, “Yeah this belonged on Victory Lap. This makes sense”.
I went into detail about a lot of things as far as my life and just stories and things I might’ve touched on vaguely I went into detail and dug into the concept of what happened. The overall mood of the album starts off one way, goes into a vibe in the middle, then it closes out a certain way that you’ll be able to beheld the whole project. I don’t think you’re going to want to skip anything. The order of the songs makes a lot of sense. They play off of each other. I think it’s just elevated in all respects.
What comes after the Victory Lap?
I would love to tell you. I have a title in mind but I don’t want to say it too soon because I don’t want to take the attention off Victory Lap but I have a dope follow up. But as far as The Marathon, I wouldn’t say that Victory Lap means The Marathon concept is no longer. My whole brand is built off The Marathon. My store, my clothing, my marketing company, all revolves around The Marathon concept. So I think we’re just going to complete the musical chapter of it and we’re going to go into a different direction in terms of what we’re titling the projects but as far as the concept of staying down, grinding, endurance and not quitting, and looking at it as a long term thing — that will endure my whole career. My whole life I’ll live by that. Because that’s something I really live by even before music. Like having run-ins with the police and thinking you’re about to get washed up and somehow making it home, you just think the marathon continues and this sh*t don’t stop. I think it’ll still apply after this project. It’s not over.
You can stream the Victory Lap album here.