ERNEST RUFFIN, JR.
Business, education, and Hip-Hop have been strange bedfellows, almost since the dawn of the culture. The business helped propel the art into an industry worth billions. The education, knowledge and understanding, have manifested within the songs, writings, and spoken word of the urban griot. And Hip-Hop, as a culture, has emerged as a perfect vessel to teach the truth to the youth. One man has taken his penchant for all of these disciplines and poured them into the youth in both traditional and unorthodox ways.
Ernest Ruffin, Jr. is the Executive Director and founder of Young Entrepreneurz Solutions Organization. He also taught entrepreneurship at Rutgers University from 2011 until 2020, right until the pandemic decimated all that was regular and normal in our lives. Ruff, like Hip-Hop, has a long history of working in and out of the system. His new organization has numerous layers, all that lead back to business, education, and Hip-Hop. Add ambitious young people and there’s nothing but an overload of positive that goes worldwide.
AllHipHop: Tell people about yourself a bit.
Ernest Ruffin: I am the Executive Director and founder of Young Entrepreneurz Solutions Organization and I also I taught entrepreneurship at Rutgers University from 2011 until the pandemic in 2020. The pandemic hit and decreased the class sizes, so adjunct professors like me were not asked back to teach, but while teaching at Rutgers one of my students sold his company to Mark Cuban, another is selling tie pins and was featured in GQ magazine and they attributed some of their success from what they learned in my classes, so I decided to teach younger kids (6-12 grades) the foundation of entrepreneurship and economic development and it’s been successful.
AllHipHop: How do you feel Hip-Hop has played a role in pushing entrepreneurship and shaping young business minds? Think Sugar Hill/Sylvia Robinson, EPMD/Strictly Business, Master P…and so on.
Ernest Ruffin: I think Hip-Hop has played a very significant role in making young people aware that they can start and grow businesses witnessing the success rappers and NBA players have had transitioning into business, however our goal at YES is to make the everyday kid know that he or she can start a business and change their economic condition, their neighborhood and put friends to work. I want them to be walking down the street with their fresh Jordan’s or Jean outfit on and their friends say” what is Kason doing every time I see him, he’s got on fresh gear” and their friends say “oh he opened the coffee shop around the corner. Their coffee and smoothies are the bomb and it’s always crowded, Yo he gettin’ that bread” when that happens we really winning…
AllHipHop: Do you ever think Hip-Hop hurts things?
Ernest Ruffin: Not at all, Hip-Hop has created crazy revenue streams. It’s taken over the music industry, which directly relates to fashion, movies, reality shows, streaming series, Hip-Hop has had a more positive effect on the community than negative for sure.
AllHipHop: What about from an innovation point of view? Do you think about the innovation that Hip-Hop has shown through the years?
Ernest Ruffin: Hip-Hop artists have been very innovative and creative using the latest technology to bring their videos to the masses. Streaming technology and social media allow the independent artist to get their music consumers, who can then buy direct from the artist which is great. Streaming services like Tidal allow music to drop faster, videos are sharper than ever because of HD technologies. HipHop has been smart in its use of innovation.
AllHipHop: What sort of feedback have you gotten from the kids you work with?
Ernest Ruffin: We had a kid from Queens come to me and say Professor I want to be the CEO of my team. My response was you have to convince your teammates to vote you in as CEO. They didn’t vote for him and the team didn’t win the YES Business Plan Challenge and he was upset. The very next year he came to me and said I have my own team and we’ve been preparing for this all year. Their business was a hamburger truck. They made burgers stuffed with bacon and cheese and blew the judges away and won the challenge.
We had a kid from the YMCA also in Queens create a car that ran on solar power for his team. He and I were going over the team’s SWOT analysis and I was answering questions he had, etc. it came time to present and one of his colleagues asked “what happens to the solar car if it rains?” to which I said Gabriel explain how you get around that, he clearly explained how he created a solar storage compartment in the car and the YMCA staff, some ladies were crying and the kids gave him a standing ovation. I didn’t understand why they were standing, for he answered a question. Well, Mr. Gabriel had been at that Y for over a year and had never talked. They thought he couldn’t speak and was shocked by his response. That’s just a couple, we have many more.
AllHipHop: You are working in the Virgin Islands with your Young Entreprenurz movement. Are there any differences or similarities with them and here, business and Hip-Hop?
Ernest Ruffin: Young people everywhere are looking for a blueprint on how to win. If you can provide a blueprint they can understand and relate to you will have them captivated regardless of where they are. YES teaches youth entrepreneurship in 23 cities and towns nationwide and the Virgin Islands.
AllHipHop: What advice would you give somebody to build up to becoming an entrepreneur? Are there any essential traits or qualities one must have or develop?
Ernest Ruffin: Yes to be a successful entrepreneur one must have a passion for a particular skill they have for example they are good at building things or have very good presentation skills, etc. They have to be willing to work tirelessly to implement and execute that skill into a product or a service. They must understand potential customers, develop a “refuse to lose” attitude and get comfortable with the word no. You will be told no often as a business owner, you have to find alternative solutions to the issue(s) you are trying to solve.
AllHipHop: Final words?
Ernest Ruffin: YES is fortunate to be hosting two awesome programs in the US Virgin Islands. The YES National Business Plan Challenge in St Croix November 4th – 7th bring the winning teams from the local challenges to St. Croix to compete for a grand prize of $1,000 each winning team member and honor executives, professors and community leaders like Chuck Creekmur CEO of AllHipHop.com for his support of youth entrepreneurship over the years.
The YES US Virgin Islands HBCU Basketball Classic (December 29th – January 2nd) going to be a great weekend. We have a New Year’s Eve party, a New Years Day beach party. Google volunteers are teaching St Thomas kids to code beats. YES taught (they will be recognized that weekend) St Thomas youth the foundation of entrepreneurship, all this rolled into a weekend, going to be a blast. We are very excited.