Brand Building?

Anybody who knows me well knows that Joe Budden is among my favorite pseudo-celebrities. The reason for this started with what I perceived to be his genius rapping ability, where he was able to illustrate such vivid verbal pictures covering his troubled life to a point where I started wondering whether or not I had lived his life too. While he had become known by the masses as the guy who did “Pump It Up” back in 2003 and seemingly faded into the same abyss that has consumed many one-hit wonders before him, I recognized him as an exceptional wordsmith who only lost his buzz because he refused to be just another cog in the machine, not because he lacked substance. This perspective fueled many hip-hop arguments I engaged in on his behalf, however, they were often to no avail as the other person would typically end the arguments by mockingly saying “pump, pump, pump it up”. Nonetheless, I remained steadfast as a fan to the point where I was fortunate enough to actually meet him briefly at a party in New York City a couple of years ago. During that brief encounter, I made sure to let him know how much I still appreciate his criminally underrated career. Little did I know at the time, he was in the midst of transitioning from an under-appreciated rapper to one of the most important voices in hip-hop media today.

Before YouTube, Twitter, and other social media platforms that have come and gone became cool to use by the mainstream, Joe was actively giving his fans full life transparency by leveraging off of those platforms on an almost daily basis. For better or for worse, he fully exploited the direct artist to consumer relationship that had not been prevalent prior to the advent of social media by sharing his life with the world. Because his life was perpetually interesting and entertaining, it kept people coming back. Notable social media moments that kept his name abuzz throughout the years, despite the fact that his rap career was becoming less recognized, included providing behind the scenes look-ins at his studio sessions, getting punched in the eye by a Wu-Tang Clan member’s entourage moments before he was set to perform at a festival, and chasing after a group of kids who trespassed through his property’s driveway. I didn’t realize it during those times, but what he was doing was laying a blueprint for organically building his brand and notoriety. Major labels might’ve had ultimate power to control one aspect of his success, his actual ability to sell records, but he recognized that they would never be able to control his voice and the image that he can portray and ultimately capitalize off of. By focusing on his voice through the leveraging of social media platforms, and remaining a consistent content provider, he has been able to leverage those experiences and the following that came along with them into now lucrative opportunities that carry more weight than anything he did in his now defunct rap career. The fruits of his labor have come together in a big way over the past couple of years in the form of a successful hip-hop centric weekly podcast that now sells out tours across the US, the popularization of an internet-based hip-hop debate show called Everyday Struggle before his abrupt exit several months later, and his imminent launch of a new show called State of the Culture which will also be centered around the landscape of hip-hop culture. Through the moves that he has made by essentially going from a perceived washed-up and irrelevant rapper to now one of the more prominent voices in hip-hop, he has demonstrated the tremendous power that many people potentially have at their fingertips. This is power that I have only recently begun to explore and intend to use to build up my own profile over time.

Traditionally, I’ve used the most popular social media platforms like most people have. This has consisted of me updating my Facebook status to something that I deemed to be funny or half-baked enlightening, posting Instagram pictures of generic everyday activities, updating my Twitter sporadically, or only using YouTube to browse other people’s videos. One thing I never considered is the fact that my consumption for entertainment use has only created a one-way street of tangible benefits in favor of the platform, not the consumer. While I was getting short-term intangible satisfaction through either my posts or the browsing of other people’s content, I was having large amounts of data collected on me that someone else was ultimately profiting off of infinitely more than I was, either directly or indirectly. With this realization, as obvious as it was in hindsight, it’s hard for me to continue approaching social media the same way I used to. Going forward, I’m shamelessly utilizing social media with the primary intent of self-promoting my talents and interests, with the upside being that it will lead to currently unforeseen benefits in the future but with the floor being that I inspire someone to live their best life regardless of their current circumstances. In a world where so many people seem to be so caught up in towing the company line, being politically correct, and afraid of truly being themselves for large parts of the day, it’s important for the other side to show that shunning the politics of typical everyday life and just living is much more rewarding and enjoyable. I see myself as being part of that other side.

If there’s one thing that I look back and regret, it’s the fact that I’ve traveled to so many interesting places and at every stop I was reluctant to take many videos and pictures. Historically, I was of the mindset that living in the moment and mentally soaking in the experience was much more enriching than spending time recording and taking pictures. Today, I would slap the old me in a heartbeat because now I’m wishing I had a lot of those memories to replay in real-time. Although I remember much of the major stuff, videos capture the nuances that are much harder to recall yet are just as enriching. All told, I’ve traveled to Canada, Mexico, Bermuda, The Bahamas, Belize, Thailand, Ireland, Italy, Germany, France, The Netherlands, Spain, and Belgium, and will be traveling to French Guiana and South Africa by the year’s end. That’s 15 countries by the time 2018 ends, without even mentioning the numerous US states I’ve spent time in. All of this traveling was done with low funds and massive debt to my name, so it actually made for interesting travel into places that probably wouldn’t have made the list had the bank account contained more than scraps. Somewhere within those countries and states there is amazing footage to be shown and stories to be told that could inspire others to do the same or more. Luckily, it’s never too late to start and I plan to not only create videos of my travels as a form of inspiration for others, but also as a means to potentially meet other travelers who are passionate about creating everlasting experiences through their journeys. I’ll start with scraping together the sporadic pictures and clips that I do have from past travels as a way to get some much needed practice with video editing, then I’ll move into creating more fruitful content as part of my upcoming travels. It looks like it’s time to dust off my YouTube and Instagram pages and begin putting them to good use.

I’ve also loved the idea of a visual podcast for a long time more so than the traditional means of writing. The act of writing is relatively limited because much tone and nonverbal communication is lost in this medium, thus, it puts very expressive and articulate individuals at a disadvantage in my opinion. What makes Joe Budden’s podcast so entertaining to me, even though it’s literally just 3 guys sitting on a couch talking about hip-hop related affairs, is the personable and expressive nature of each host and the nonverbal actions that aid what they’re saying. The chemistry they have and the personality that’s exuded is something that can’t be taught. I see many of those same qualities within myself and it makes me feel as if I’d be successful doing a visual podcast centered around something I’m passionate about. I told a few people at the start of the MBA that I had intentions of starting up a podcast while I’m here in order to get my feet wet, however, that was before I realized that a one-year MBA program means that you’ve temporarily sold your outside life away in pursuit of a degree for the first 7 months. Now that the schedule is lightening up for the duration of the year, I’m back in that mind frame and plan to get the podcast started within the next couple of months. There’s many subjects I feel I could potentially cover on a regular basis for a good hour per topic, ranging from travel, how to finesse credit cards and credit scores, general survival as a college student (undergraduate or graduate) from a Black perspective, what makes college worth it or not worth it, working in top-level private equity firms from a Black perspective, why working in corporate America in general is trash, why accounting in general is trash, insights into American race relations from a Black perspective, how to effectively live poor and happy in New York City, basketball, hip-hop, etc. I plan to spend the next couple of months forming the direction I’d like to take it. I already have a studio mic that I purchased at the beginning of the year, I already have a camera, and I’ve always had the computer. The only thing that’s needed at this point is content with a direction. Stay tuned.

More than anything, these will be exercises in trying to figure out how to profit off of my talents and interests. I like the idea of utilizing social media as a means to build a brand and a core following that could lead to multiple avenues. One of my biggest gripes about typical workplace dynamics has consistently been its limiting nature in terms of true personal growth. Some individuals that I’ve worked around were better at so many things that didn’t concern what they were primarily getting paid for, yet they never had the time to tap into those other skills and effectively cheated themselves. If the job decides to release them, they find themselves back at square one with a narrow specialization and limited options, even though they had multiple abilities that could’ve made them much more marketable with more refining. It’s a dilemma that the typical jacks-of-all-trades have to deal with on a regular basis, but it’s a good problem to have in today’s world because we have resources at our disposal that could allow us to potentially exploit each of those talents and interests on a large global scale. The numbers of this scale don’t lie, as each of the major social media platforms are estimated to have the following numbers in terms of monthly active users:

  • Facebook – 2.2 billion
  • YouTube – 1.9 billion
  • Instagram – 1 billion
  • Twitter – 336 million

It’s almost unfathomable to think that in just over a decade’s worth of time, we have created platforms that allow for this kind of potential global reach. From an historical context, this is unprecedented power of the people. It ultimately comes down to how willing we are to be different and seek capitalization off of these resources. The routes that I’m taking may not work, and statistics show that most likely they won’t, but the point is that at least trying provides a chance at desired success. Always wondering “what if…?” and letting fear prevent the making of a move, however, will guarantee a lack of desired success. As long as there’s a chance to win, as slight as it may be, I’m always in the game.


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