Nipsey Hussle has been on his grind for more than a half-decade now and he’s seen his fair share of ups and downs in the music industry. After a series of successful mixtapes won him a major label deal with Epic Records and catapulted him onto XXL‘s 2010 Freshman list, he hit a road block that forced him to recalibrate his position within the industry. With his debut album on the shelf indefinitely, he left Epic and started out independent, resisting offers from Rick Ross’ Maybach Music Group and other majors that came calling in order to craft his own way through the business.
Last week, that stance paid off in a big—and immediate—way, as he sold his new Crenshaw mixtape for $100 apiece at a pop-up shop in his hometown in California. He printed up 1,000 copies, and ended the evening devoid of CDs but with $100,000 in his pocket—$10,000 of which came from Jay Z, who had Roc-A-Fella purchase 100 copies alone on his behalf. Yesterday, Nip hopped on the phone with XXL to break down the idea behind selling a mixtape for $100, the support he’s received from his fellow artists, why he believes that the major label music industry is colonizing hip-hop as if it were Africa and why he’s on the forefront of a new school of artists looking to break the stranglehold of the music industry. —Dan Rys (@danrys)
How’d you come up with the idea to sell Crenshaw for $100?
It was a collective idea between me and my business partners. We all sit down every week and just bounce ideas around, sometimes we got crazy, way out ideas, and we just all throw them at each other and see how the group feels about it. Traditionally, I would just do regular mixtapes, put them on Datpiff, drop the mixtape, do videos to support it, and then tour as a form of promotion for the album, which is Victory Lap. We looked at my career, how many mixtapes I’ve dropped, and the level that that took us to, and we were just like, you know, we’ve done that already. And it’s new music, so we just wanted to try to do something else, if nothing else than to make the people talk a bit.
“At worst, we just get a lot of publicity, and at best it’s going to spark something off. And I think what happened was the latter.”
We didn’t want to distribute it [as an album] because we don’t want to impact our sales history to the point where people would look at our SoundScan and they’ll judge us based on whatever this project does, and we didn’t really go into it from the jump with the intention of making it a hot seller. So we didn’t want to hurt ourselves in the future. So we were just like, let’s print it up like a limited edition novelty game, kind of like with video games when you got the extra package that comes with the headset, you know, one of those types of things.
I had been reading a book about what makes people talk about things, what makes things go viral and what makes things contagious. There was an example in this book about a restaurant owner who made a $100 cheesesteak. It made some people mad, say, “Who does he think he is, selling a sandwich that other people sell for $4 for $100?” Then you also had the people like, “Well, what does this sandwich taste like? Why does it cost $100? What makes it so good?” It made some people curious, it made other people upset, but more than anything it created conversation. And he ended up on the Oprah show, and he ended up on David Letterman talking about this $100 cheesesteak.
We wanted to make sure we justified that price, so we came up with the Proud2Pay concert idea. It’s a concert that the average fan can’t buy tickets the day of, you have to buy the product. And this is strictly for people who bought into the idea of Proud2Pay, fuck the middleman, that idea. Once we got to that point with the conversation, we just started bouncing ideas about how we could keep this engagement going—we could do cool shit like call their phone and say thank you, or the first person who bought it could ride around all day with us and get the first hand experience, and number 350 might randomly get a letter to his house with a signed, one-on-one picture, or we might give out my old rap notebook from the 7th grade, I’ll find it and sign my old rap notebook. It’s a different level of connection between those people that felt the music and believed in the brand to the point that they spent 10 times the price they’d usually spend for a product. At worst, we just get a lot of publicity, and at best it’s going to spark something off. And I think what happened was the latter.
What was the scene like at the pop-up shop that night?
It was cool, man. Ross sent a box of Belaire champagne, so we was all just drinking champagne, playing music. It was all love—it felt like a family reunion. I really felt like everybody in the store had heard every word that I’d ever put on wax. I felt like they’d heard every rap of mine, every message I’d put in my music. Everything was cool, the new album was playing, it was the first time they’d heard it, because it hadn’t gotten released on Datpiff until the next day. So they got to hear it first, I got to watch them react to it. It was dope, man, I’d never done that.
Some of my peers came through—Glasses Malone came through and bought the album, the LA Leakers came through, Dom Kennedy came through. It was cool, man. We’d done meet and greets, but this was a little more exciting, with the music being fresh and everybody there knew they were a part of history. I think they respect that I stayed independent, that I almost sacrificed myself for what I believed in. I believe that we should own the fruits of our labor and the assets of our creations. At one point it was looking like, you know, I was hurting myself for standing so solid on my beliefs. Why didn’t I sign to MMG, or do a deal; everybody always knew there were deals on the table. But I think they were proud of me, that I stuck to my guns. When the message came clear that this was what I was doing, they supported that. So it was dope, on a lot of levels.