Have you ever been approached by an unknown rapper on the street, trying to sell you his music? This is the true story of their hustle. I spent some time with a couple of rappers that I met and gained new insight on what they do for a living. I wrote this a while ago and it never got picked up, but I love it so much that I decided to give it new life and repost. Enjoy…
Words by Gangstarr Girl
Hustling is not a foreign concept to the Hip-Hop culture. Numerous references to “the hustle” and “the struggle” by various rappers can be found on vinyl, disc, MP3s or anywhere Hip-Hop is sold. Some hustles are illegal, others are legit, but the concept surmounts simply being recorded and transcends into reality. H the Great, Marvo (formerly known as Marvalous) and Creature are living proof.
It’s a warm early-autumn day, and the temperature is a comfortable 68 degrees; a motley crew of New Yorkers and tourists mill about SoHo, traveling from one end to another, window-shopping and making purchases. Amidst the shopping and browsing is a secret world hiding in plain site, the “Hip-Hop Guys” ─ rappers, stationed throughout New York City trying to get people to stop, listen and buy their CDs.
“I see them standing outside every time I’m in the village,” says Stoney, a New York University student. “The Hip-Hop dudes are always trying to get people to buy their CDs but I usually just keep walking. I don’t see how they can do that all day.”
Some people oblige, some don’t, and others suggest they get a real job, not realizing that CD hustlers are the new entrepreneur, or as Creature says, “artistpreneur.”
“Check out my music?” H the Great offers his CD, Great Music, to a young stylish woman who continues looking straight ahead, pretending she doesn’t hear him. “Take some Brooklyn home with you,” he persists unsuccessfully. “Yo, I’m talking to you,” he calls after her firmly only half-joking, bits of his Bed-Stuy swagger surfacing.
Working what he refers to as “the day shift,” he stands in front of The Pottery Barn on the corner of Houston and Lafayette streets. Dressed in a plain white t-shirt and blue jeans, he’s been selling his CDs at this location for about an hour.
“I like to work the strip (up and down Broadway, between SoHo and NoHo). I was just at Canal Street, in front of YRB [Yellow Rat Bastard] for a little while. I was in their magazine last year.”
At this point, three passersby have ignored H the Great.
“They not being nice to me today,” he says. But he persists. For him, this is an everyday job that pays off. “The money I make from this allows me to travel, and I meet people like this. I make so many contacts doing this as opposed to just meeting people at open mics and clubs or whatever ─ They see I’m about my business.”
In addition to being featured in YRB, he appeared in a European Volkswagen commercial last year, went on a 25-city U.S. tour with other underground rappers and appeared in Lil’ Kim’s “Lighters Up” video.
“Now I can add that I’m an actor to my resume,” he says.
After more coaxing, his alluring Bed-Stuy demeanor exudes confidence, and finally, he begins to reel people in.
His first customer in that location was a twenty-something-year-old man. He was stylish in a hipster sort of way and appeared to be Middle Eastern. H the Great, who happens to be Muslim, muttered something in Arabic and the young man became increasingly more interested. Always prepared, H the Great keeps his CD player handy for situations where people want to listen to his music before making a purchase ─ this being one such case. The young man listened attentively and asked for a price. H The Great usually requests a “donation” of $10, sometimes more or less depending on the person’s generosity and aura. In this case, the man donated $5.
“Some is better than none,” H The Great says humbly, “You see how I got him though?” He laughs.
Although H the Great sells his CDs seven days a week, he is his own publicist, booker, manager, accountant and A&R rep.
“I like this because I’m my own boss. I don’t have to switch up my voice on some ‘hey how you doing’ (speaks in an extremely proper tone), I can wear what I want, I can be myself and I get to travel. You know, I can go anywhere. I just came back from Virginia yesterday. I just take CDs and pay for my way while I’m down there.”
His favorite place is New York City, however sometimes territory is an issue. The Virgin Mega Store at Union Square (on 14th Street) is a popular area where the rules of competition can include more than verbal sales pitches and persuasive bravado. The area sometimes gets cluttered, which sometimes breeds persuasion tactics for top sales shine.
“Me, personally, I don’t be on 14th Street like that ’cause them other cats don’t know how to act,” he said.
H the Great didn’t go into full detail about why he sometimes avoids 14th Street, but Marvo and Creature elaborate. They are selling their CDs on the other side of town, in the West Village. They’re working “the night shift” in front of Fat Beats (a premiere Hip-Hop music store in New York) at around 8:00. They each have their own individual projects but they sell their CDs together.
“Fourteenth Street is somebody else’s thing during the day and they have a different sales approach than we do. It’s a little bit more aggressive.”
Creature, deciding that Marvo is being too diplomatic, says, “Let’s be honest, they’re very barbaric and Neanderthal…I don’t know, people have said that they’ve been extremely aggressive and barbaric in their tactics.
He likens the unspecific measures to those sometimes used in the pursuit of the American dream.
“Who am I to say? They said America was built on barbaric tactics. So, I’m not going to say anything, but I don’t want to be associated with that kind of behavior.”
TO BE CONTINUED