I love to interview artists and comedians -- a special breed of entrepreneur. It’s argued that much of their success comes down to their raw talent, and the amount of hours they put in to perfect that talent. One could also say it comes down to the right mixture of managers, agents and a small army of support staff. However, the ones who break through do a lot of brand building on their own, and exhibit the resilience, resourcefulness and grit that propels them from humble creator to household name. They find the perfect harmony between art and commerce, and some of them do so to the tune of millions of dollars.
Fabolous, for example, is a Grammy-nominated hip-hop star from the Brooklyn projects, now worth an estimated $23 million. He landed the opportunity to rap live on local radio at the age of 17, landed a record deal and is still relevant today -- over 15 years later.
His first release in 2001, Ghetto Fabolous, spawned the hit singles "Can't Deny It" and "Young'n (Holla Back)." Those two singles led him to prominence, and his second album, Street Dreams, also had two Top 10 singles. He’s since had many successful singles, albums, mixtapes and collaborations, has been nominated for Grammys, American Choice Awards and Teen Choice Awards, and has won ASCAP and BET awards. He's also amassed an impressive social media following of over four million raving fans.
Recently, the rapper participated in New York Fashion week with the launch of Blood's Thicker, a line of men, women and children’s clothing and accessories. He’s also partnered with RapSnacks to launch a New York Deli Cheddar potato chip. He’s just been awarded a key to the city of Brooklyn and is about to head out on tour with Chris Brown and 50 Cent -- but had time to sit down with us on RocNation’s famous #goldcouch to discuss his many endeavors and the key to his sustained success.
Here are eight lessons from my conversation with him.
Give each opportunity 100 percent.
When we spoke about his first record deal, and other opportunities throughout his career, his advice was clear.
“You gotta make the most of it,” he said. “I [told myself], ‘I don't know when this is gonna happen for me again, so you'd better at least shoot 100 percent here and then whether you get it or don't get it, you know that you put your all into it.’”
He also explained that while you need to be incredibly determined and committed, you also need to get educated and willing to ask for help.
“Don't be afraid to ask questions. You see somebody who's in it and doing something that you are, [ask them], 'Hey man how do I go about getting the quality of my stuff to your quality, like I'm making?' . . . you gotta ask those questions and do your homework, do your research.”
Keep trying things.
Fabolous has been active in the entertainment industry for over 15 years -- something very few hip-hop artists, or any artists of any genre, can say. Part of his longevity? His willingness to try new things and possibly fail.
“I think the worst thing you could do is not shoot the shot,” he explained, continuing his basketball analogy. “When you shoot you got two options: It can go in or you can miss, and even in the miss you might learn.” He added that he does like to discuss his new ideas with his team and community. “We just try to make it happen. Sometimes you have crazy ideas that sound crazy to everybody, but I'm sure everybody has had a crazy idea before. When you pull it off and you don't look crazy anymore, you look like a genius.”
Learn from your mistakes.
Fabolous admitted he has had his share of missteps. He has had to ward off rumors of gang connections throughout his career, and was arrested in 2003 for possession of an unlicensed gun in his car.
“It taught me a lesson as well. It showed me that I didn't want to jeopardize what everything that I had going, trying to even [protect myself.]” he shared. “Sometimes in life, your best teacher is experience and going through something to figure it out.” He added, chuckling, “If you don't have to, that's good too.”
Build a community -- and listen to them.
His fashion label, Blood’s Thicker, started as a simple line of merchandise to sell to his fans; he explained that for fans to stick with him for this long, they are more like family, hence the name. When he created an artistic album cover for Summertime Shootout -- a twist on a Roy Lichtenstein piece -- his fans loved it. He noticed that followers were sending in photos of the art in their lives -- even as their personal tattoos.
“Anything that we would put the cover artwork on, they would pay for it and buy it,” he explained. “[It started as a way to] show appreciation and at the same time have a deeper connection with the band and the people who wanted to support us.”
He began offering more designs, and was invited to be a part of New York Fashion Week. In an effort to connect his Brooklyn community to his NYFW experience, he livestreamed much of the event on social media, and then launched a pop-up shop and show actually in Brooklyn. Fans, and even some celebrity guests, stood inside and out for the entire event, watching through the large windows, even though it was freezing out.
“It was overall a great event. It was a way to bring fashion week to Brooklyn and to bring Brooklyn to fashion week.”
When asked about mentors in his life, he shared that can’t specify a few key people; instead it’s been the mixture of all the people around him. Like other people I’ve interviewed, namely Gary Vaynerchuk and Seth Godin, he explained that he’s always noticing things. He gave the example that even then, during the interview, he noticed how my videographer was wearing his pants with his boots. He surveys the market and others in the industry and then evaluates how he can incorporate what he sees into his strategy, art or brand.
I'm very observant. So, my mentor is really basically a lot of people who are just around me and life itself. Just living and going different places and traveling.”
When it comes to his music, his endorsements, his social media accounts, etc., one thing is clear: If he doesn’t think it’s cool, he’s not doing it. He is adamant about protecting the Fabolous brand, only jumping on board with projects and products he really believes in.
“I don’t compromise myself, I don’t compromise my cool. I don’t compromise who I am,” he shared on The Breakfast Club in 2016. “I’m not chasing the fame or the hype. I’m just who I am.”
In addition to his artistic talent, Fab definitely has a gift for social media. He doesn’t have a structured strategy, he just makes sure every post is a true extension of his life.
“My social media tag is @myfabulouslife, so I kinda try to show what goes on, what I do daily in my day-to-day life. I just show people what I'm doing and things that I'm involved in. Truthfully, social media, my following, just came from me doing that.”
His advice to aspiring artists is to attack social media platforms and get seen. I asked him if breaking through online was still possible, now that there are many more aspiring artists making waves online. "Your talent speaks more than you can . . . . I still think talent shines through.”
His next venture, RapSancks, doesn’t seem to fit the cool factor of the Fabulous brand, but Fab knows what he’s doing. His face is on every single bag, which will expose him to a wide new audience, particularly young people.
“It's dope and it's great marketing . . . . Everybody likes chips!” he said, smiling.
It’s clear that Fabolous loves his work and his supporters in the hip-hop community -- which he loved as a kid, before it was his profession.
“It was just a hobby for me and I liked doing it.” he recalled. “You're lucky if you get to really be in a profession that you really love to do. I was fortunate that's what I was able to do . . . . I'm so grateful.”
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Kelsey Humphreys is a media entrepreneur, journalist and author on a mission to break down "success for the rest of us." She is the author of the Amazon bestseller Go Solo. Catch interviews with today's leaders...