How To Market (and Protect) Jay Electronica (Part I)

I can count on one hand the number of times I have known I should write and build on something, yet didn’t want to. This is one of them. I haven’t even wanted to discuss this subject on the phone with my inner circle. Only three people even know what is ultimately at the root of my thinking on this.

The subject of Jay Electronica, the time of his rise, and his prospects for underground, independent and commercial success, even geopolitical impact, are that potentially serious. A hint to the wise is sufficient.

Sometimes you can hurt someone unintentionally by saying too much. And sometimes the greatest form of humility is not telling all that you know or see on a subject.

But sometimes time demands that you take a chance and risk what needs to be risked in order to accomplish a greater good.

To say that Jay Electronica, creatively, stands between two worlds and eras would not be an exaggeration, if you know the time.

Jay Electronica, the man of the hour, humble and spiritually sensitive is feeling this more deeply than anyone, I’m sure, in answer to a question of how his meteoric rise and the support and weight of it all feels, he reportedly said, “Its overwhelming, you know what I’m saying? Its overwhelming. It makes me feel good. But I gotta’ check myself too cause it makes me feel scared too. Like ‘okay I can’t be playing with these people’ because they are connecting with something — when they come to me — I feel like there is something they connected to greater that ain’t me, you know what I’m saying? So it makes me scared, too. And I don’t want to get in trouble with God. But yeah, its a good feeling, man. S**t, I can’t explain it. Its overwhelming.””Overwhelmed” and “scared” are two emotions most would not think the hottest rapper out would openly admit to. But Jay Electronica is not just ‘hot,’ he’s smart, and sober-minded, apparently realizing he understands there is always a price to pay for raising the dead.

“…And by the time they get their seats hot and deploy all their henchmen to come at me from the treetops…”

With that in mind I want to start an important conversation and start to take care of the important matter of fighting to properly position Jay Electronica for business and greater influence as an artist-leader-entrepreneur. The brilliant Tolu Olorunda, already has taken care of the proper, cultural interpretation of Jay Electronica in his AllHipHop.com editorial, “Jay Electronica’s Exhibit C: The End of “Genetically-Modified” Hip-Hop? (https://allhiphop.com/stories/editorial/archive/2010/01/04/22082850.aspx).

He has the potential to go places no other artist has, ever, and just in time.

Promoting A Phenomenon (The Difference Between Longing For Change And The Demand For It). The reaction to Jay Electronica is a phenomenon in and of itself. That means two things: he represents an idea whose time has come and he represents the longing of people for change (as the Honorable Elijah Muhammad stated it in Message To The Blackman, ‘As we know, wherever there is a longing or demand for a change, nature will produce that man, who will bring it about.”. There is an important difference between longing for something and demanding it and it has everything to do with whether or not Jay Electronica will be a mainstream commercial success (which is even the hope of the underground and international community). As an economist and student of mathematical theology I could go very deep into the Honorable Elijah Muhammad’s words and how they relate to the economic law of how supply produces its own demand. Maybe in a building session with the Believers and the Gods and Earths one day (smile).

What I notice in the response of a certain segment of people to Jay Electronica’s Just Blaze-produced messianic “‘Exhibit C” is either one of two things: 1) ‘Damn, I never heard nothing like this before in my life!’ 2) “This is what I’ve been waiting for (even praying for)” Neither of these sentiments in a business sense is ‘demand.’ They reflect only an emotional, cultural, or spiritual longing. And this is why it is so important for Hip-Hop fans – especially in the Northeast to realize that fawning over Jay Electronica, or romanticizing over the conscious-era of rap or wondering if New York rap is back is not a significant factor impacting the business of making Jay Electronica a massive success (which I define in the Hip-Hoppreneur ™ context as 1) his full development as an artist who sells millions of records all over the world 2) the development of a business team infrastructure that can develop the Jay Electronica brand and help make the right decisions – keeping it in alignment with his image and reputation without compromising his need for artistic freedom and personal integrity 3) his emergence as a leader at the community level, brokering power and having an impact in the United States, with influence around the world). Until certain things are put in place or fall into place around Jay Electronica, much of his popularity represents just longing. It will become demand when fans, consumers, and supporters can connect with and engage him in creative, commercial and community context.

Knowledge As Lifestyle. Jay Electronica (2010) as Public Enemy and Rakim (The 1980’s)

As I’ve written before, the biggest phenoms in the history of rap were

50 Cent in 1999 and Snoop Dogg in 1993. From an artist standpoint [in

terms of suddenly influencing how other artist’s rap it is Nas, Rakim

and Treach, (over time, Jay-Z may be the most influential rapper ever in

terms of artists imitating his style)], and in terms of consciousness

(the greatest sudden influence over the thinking of the Hip-Hop

community and fellow artists it is not even close – Public Enemy and

Rakim in 1987-88 (over a longer period it was KRS-ONE)]. Much of the

excitement over Jay Electronica is that he seems to be the most sincere

and authentic conscious artist (he actually sounds like he knows

and understands the Lessons and Teachings he refers to, and is not just

quoting something he has memorized or read), who delivers the message

with a captivating style and with street credibility (that’s what being

homeless will do for you). People can’t resist natural law and

universal order when presented right.

To understand it, just think of Hammer. Yes, I said MC Hammer. As much as people hated on him the basic reason for his popularity has never really been acknowledged. It was the universal appeal of dance (anthropologists bear witness that every culture in the world has it in some form). You could mock him, laugh at him, and even act like he wasn’t cool (“He ain’t from New York so don’t even play him.”) but at the end of the day you sat there and had to bear witness to how good of a dancer he was. There was a longing and demand for what Hammer represented, and he took off because the business side of his team and industry was equal to the task. Knowledge too, has natural and universal appeal like that but as a friend of mine jokingly said to me in response to my explanation of Jay Electronica as the appearance of a person providing knowledge when people want it the most, due to the insecurity we all feel due to the recession, wars, and technological and demographic change; he jokingly responded, “but knowledge does not appeal to young people.”  His point was clear – commercial radio and video outlets who target teenagers don’t reward the playing of music on the basis of its conscious lyrical content. But clearly, as we can see from the impact of President Obama – who to me is more Role-Model-In Chief than Commander-In-Chief – on young people, knowledge is making a comeback.

What Public Enemy and Rakim did (and uniquely too, Big Daddy Kane) was make knowledge cool – and the strong presence of the Nation of Islam and the Nation of Gods and Earths – on the street and neighborhood level showed that knowledge could actually be a lifestyle and the basis of kinship and community. Not surprisingly, both communities or Nations are embracing Jay Electronica enthusiastically, even passionately, but again, longing is not demand, in a business context, and this is not 1987.

While still very powerful, the Nation of Islam and Nation of Gods and Earths, for the time being, don’t have the same kind of intense connection with and appeal among the youth of New York City (nor in the critical region of the South), nor do they influence the radio playlists today as was the case with the local 98.7 Kiss FM and 107.5 WBLS-FM. Of course a COINTELPRO style war against the Nations have contributed to this.

The challenge for Jay Electronica (and for the Nations) is to not confuse longing with demand. Until the conscious communities rally around his music as a commercial bloc and intelligently influence DJs, Program Directors and industry executives that there is the potential for a teenage market for Jay Electronica’s music, don’t expect a cross over appeal and heavy rotation anytime soon. There are conscious professionals, and very well-meaning professionals on the inside of most of these radio stations and video outlets who would love to support this artist, but they have to be given a business cover to do so. The Heavy Hitter, Hot 97’s DJ Enuff deserves credit for taking the chance on playing ‘Exhibit C,’ but an army needs to come behind him, not just willing to applaud Jay-Electronica but write letters, make phone calls, and put up their dollars to support his career, showing the world of trade and commerce that they aren’t doing them any favors. Playing Jay Electronica’s music (and videos) is good for business is all we should expect them to care about.

Make Sure the South And The Streets Are With You Too (Not just the conscious and Northeast crowd). Although I love Mos Def and Lupe Fiasco, I have to admit I cringe a bit when I see Jay Electronica in too strong of an embrace with them before, say, 40 Glocc, Beanie Sigel, Young Jeezy, or Lil Wayne. I Grew up in Jersey, worked in Philly, and lived in Harlem before coming to Washington, D.C. 10 years ago [(by the way I’m not hearing Jay Electronica being pumped on U Street or Georgia Ave, out here, nor in the ipods of the young people I build with in D.C. – and I’m barely hearing Wale anymore (smile)]. It was one of the best things that could have happened to me because it showed me how incubated and deluded one can become from remaining in the intellectual and social comfort of the Northeast community. We have a lot of pride in that part of the country and we are the historic foundation of the Hip-Hop culture and industry but we turn the rest of the country off with our perceived arrogance, sometimes.

When I came to D.C. I would build with Brothers in the District about this regularly. The perception of New York outside of New York is something every New Yorker needs to hear, regularly. One of the worst things that I believe Jay Electronica could do would be to allow the New York and Conscious Hip-Hop community to claim him in a way that makes him appear exclusively theirs. This is easier said than done as those communities come with a following, intellectual and emotional support, and media influence. But catering to them turns off the rest of the Hip-Hop nation. This is why I’m not as excited as so many other conscious folks are by the just announced Lupe Fiasco-Jay Electronica collaboration.

Believe me, I’m touched to see Diddy, Mos Def, and Jay E on the same stage, and I know that Lupe-Jay E. collab is going to be fire, but let’s pump the brakes a bit on the New York love and start building with some Bloods and Crips (from Newark, NJ to Compton, California) and let’s get on a DJ Drama mixtape with all the hottest artists from Down South. Let’s hype up talk of a regional and national bidding war that has everyone from Snoop Dogg (the new creative Chairman of Priority Records), Birdman, Diddy, Master P., Floyd Mayweather, 50 Cent, Shady/Aftermath, Live Nation, and Scarface all wanting to sign the hottest rapper out.

Even if Jay Electronica is already under contract, let’s act like he’s not. Here’s where Diddy could be real helpful. Similar to how Cam’ron asked Dame Dash’ to regulate’ his record label negotiations for him, Jay Electronica could do the same with Diddy. It could be a nice publicity move and helps to subliminally reinforce what Puffy’s presence always does (‘the man who helped break Biggie as an artist is backing me’). We also need to see and know that the Magnolia Projects and New Orleans are supporting Jay Electronica, as much as New York is. That means the marketing of him can’t just revolve around hot beats and intellectual lyrical firepower. It has to show that real relationships exist in the ‘hood and that there is building around the phenomenon that is Jay Electronica at the street level. This can be done, but Jay Electronica has to have the right team around him, capable of guiding him as a leader as much as an artist.

Next week I’ll get into some more specifics, but it is important to establish that the talk of Jay Electronica as ‘the next one’ in Hip-Hop is a fun exercise (I remember this as it related to the multi-talented Saigon and Papoose who were set to take off before some costly mistakes and errors were made just a few years ago) but turning it into reality will require real smart business moves, and consistent actions from his supporters that move beyond words and applause. He is already a special artist, but for him to fully realize that potential in a cultural, political, and economic environment – which is what the Internet, music industry, and media are – as Just Blaze says, ‘we need something realer!’

Here’s to helping Jay Electronica achieving all he desires creatively while changing the game for the rest of us.

Cedric Muhammad is a business consultant, political strategist, and monetary economist. He is also a former GM of Wu-Tang Management and a Member of the African Union’s First Congress of African Economists. He is author of the book, The Entrepreneurial Secret (http://theEsecret.com/). His talk show, ‘The Cedric Muhammad and Black Coffee Program’ can be viewed every Wednesday from 12 to 5 PM EST (USA) at: http://www.cedricmuhammad.com/media/. He can be contacted via e-mail at: cedric(at)cmcap.com

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