From The Corner To The Boardroom: Business Lessons From Jay-Z's Lyrics

Former President Barack Obama inducted his longtime supporter, Jay Z, into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in a taped message last week explaining his connection to the rapper.

Obama said, “I like to think Mr. Carter and I understand each other. Nobody who met us as younger men would have expected us to be where we are today.”

As a young man, I doubt Jay Z could have imagined that he’d rise to such great heights.

Born Sean Carter, Jay Z grew up in Brooklyn’s drug-infested Marcy Projects. His father left at an early age and he spent his adolescence dealing drugs and experiencing gun violence. Carter turned to rap at an early age as an escape from the horrors that surrounded him.

After struggling to get a record deal, he and two friends, Damon Dash and Kareem Burke, founded their own record label, Roc a-Fella Records, in 1996. He released his debut album, Reasonable Doubt, on the label later that year. He would eventually sell the label for $10 million. This was the first of many successful entrepreneurial endeavors for Jay.

He expanded the Roc a-Fella brand to include a popular urban clothing line and a film company. He started an upscale sports bar in NYC, called the 40/40 Club, and later added venues in Atlantic City, Las Vegas and Atlanta. In 2012, he became a part owner of the Brooklyn Nets basketball franchise. He founded a sports management company, Roc Nation Sports, in 2013. And in 2015 he launched Tidal, a music streaming service. Last week it was announced that he plans on creating his own venture capital firm, with longtime partner, Jay Brown.

The 21-time Grammy winner knows a thing or two about business and he frequently rhymes about his successes and lessons he’s learned.

“I’m not a businessman, I’m a business….man. Sierra Leone Remix

(AP Photo/Danny Moloshok)

(AP Photo/Danny Moloshok)

Jay Z is big business. Forbes listed him as the second wealthiest rapper in 2017, with a net worth of $710 million. According to Ogden Payne, music journalist and fellow Forbes contributor, “This is arguably one of Jay Z’s most revealing lyrics when it comes to how he views himself and his acumen for accruing revenue. He’s not just a person, he’s an entity. I’m sure today’s entrepreneurs, freelancers, and social media influencers can relate.”

 

 

“I dumbed down for my audience to double my dollars.” Common Sense

Photographer: Francis Specker/Bloomberg News

Photographer: Francis Specker/Bloomberg News

Chris Hollod, Venture Capitalist at The Yucaipa Companies & Co-Founder of Inevitable Ventures, told me, “I use a form of this quote all the time — I always tell entrepreneurs that if they have more than four priorities, then they have no priorities. It's easy to overcomplicate things, whether it's submitting an unnecessarily long resume or inventing twenty monetization strategies for their start-up. As Jay implies here, keep it simple. When you're straight to the point and user friendly, people flock your way and you'll reap the rewards.”

 

 

“We don’t lease, we buy the whole car, as you should.” Can I Live

Photographer: Patrick Cole/Bloomberg

Photographer: Patrick Cole/Bloomberg

Jay is talking about the benefits of ownership. Most of the wealthy people in this country own their own businesses. According to the IRS, 90% of those earning $10 million or more a year file as a partnership or an S-Corp. If you want to get rich, own your own business.

 

 

“Til you on your own, you can’t be free.” I Got The Keys

(Photo by Larry Busacca/Getty Images for Spike)

(Photo by Larry Busacca/Getty Images for Spike)

Chris Hollod said, “Young entrepreneurs understand this quote probably better than anyone on the planet! They feel as if it would be torture for them to be an employee at whatever company, a simple cog in a wheel, and work for someone else. Employment, despite all of its many perks, ultimately implies a lack of professional freedom. Many believe that to be truly free in the professional realm, they must start their own business. To this point, I started my own investment entity, Hollod Holdings, so that I could personally double-down on deals that we love.”

 



“I sell ice in the winter, I sell fire in hell, I’m a hustler baby, I’ll sell water to a well.” You Don’t Know

(Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)

(Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)

If you are in business, you are in “sales” by definition. If no one is buying your goods or services, you won’t be around for long. Also remember that the sales group is the only part of an organization that isn’t a cost center. They actually bring revenue into the company, while other parts like admin, engineering, etc. cost money. Remember that next time you thumb your nose at a salesperson.

 

 

“Numbers don’t lie, check the scoreboard.” Tom Ford

(Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

(Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

“This lyric speaks for itself. Talk is cheap, numbers don't lie. In the Venture Capital world, a lot of entrepreneurs talk a big game, but at the end of the day, I want to see numbers and metrics. No matter what an entrepreneur says or promises, if his or her words don't translate into hard numbers, then the salesmanship and pitching really are moot,” said Chris Hollod.

 

 

“World can’t hold me, too much ambition. Always knew it’d be like this when I was in the kitchen.” On To The Next One

(AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

(AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

I’d rather hire someone who’s “hungry” from a lower tiered school, than an entitled guy with an Ivy League education. You can teach someone all the “ins and outs” of your business but can’t teach that hunger to succeed; either it’s there or it isn’t.

 

 

“I ain’t passed the bar, but I know a little bit” 99 Problems

(Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP, File)

(Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP, File)

If you’re going to be in business, a legal understanding is a must. Of the 498 chief executive officers listed on the Fortune 500 List, 46 hold legal degrees. While you don’t need to be a lawyer, you do need to know your way around a contract. How many founders and musicians have been screwed by signing a contract without reading the fine print?

 

 

 “People look at you strange, sayin you changed. Like you worked hard to stay the same.” They Don’t Love You No More

(Photo by Mark VonHolden/Invision for HTC/AP Images)

(Photo by Mark VonHolden/Invision for HTC/AP Images)

I always loved the Japanese term “kaizen” which means continuous improvement. Like they say, if you’re not growing, you’re dying. As you continue to develop in your career and life you’re going to surpass some of your peers, who might resent you for your success. That’s just part of the growing process. You need to surround yourself with people who are better than you, who can push you, and inspire you to be the best.

This article originally appeared in Forbes on June 20.  For full article click here.