Supply Births Demand: Ask Raekwon and E-40

Editor's note: The

views expressed inside this editorial aren't necessarily the views of or its employees.“Not all of the rappers, but most of ‘em sound alike,

I’ve been rappin since most of them knew how to ride a bike.”

- ‘Ahhh Sh*t!,’ E-40

Two new albums – Wu Massacre by Method Man, Raekwon, and Ghostface Killah and Revenue Retrievin: Night Shift/ Day Shift, a double album by E-40 – reminded me of a subject I’ve been meaning to return to since I first mentioned it in ‘How To Market (and Protect) Jay Electronica (Part I)’ when I wrote:

“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”.

Today, I’ll try to take a first step toward that.

When listening to Wu Massacre, I was reminded of what I appreciate about all three of these Brothers – on a personal and professional level (I mention a couple of qualities about all three in my book).

Chef is one of the most underrated rappers in history. He gets credit mainly for being a master of slang and specializing in certain subject matter – street episodes and drug raps. But for years I’ve recognized something about Raekwon that it seems no one else is willing to give him credit for. He has as unique and sophisticated a flow as anyone in the history of the game. How can you tell? While there are countless artists who have virtually imitated the flow of every style imaginable - from Jay-Z to Ludacris to Rick Ross to Eminem to Lil’ Wayne to 50 Cent etc, there is no one who even comes remotely close to replicating Raekwon’s delivery and flow. It’s one of the reasons why Only Built 4 Cuban Linx 2 was so well received, 14 years after the original masterpiece.

Raekwon is probably the very best rapper I’ve heard at moving in and out of 1) 3rd person narrative (where he’s describing something he’s watching as a witness or observer, including actual dialogue) 2) 1st person description (where he’s telling you the details of what he’s doing) and 3) inner thinking (where he’s letting you know what his private thoughts are).

It is absolutely amazing when you carefully listen to what he’s doing and I’ve never spoken to anyone – even high-level industry producers who could explain it before I mention it (yet it seems everyone can ‘feel’ he’s doing something very special with his lyrics). He gives you dialogue, subconscious mind, and observations in real time without breaks, and in three dimensions (your viewpoint, his viewpoint, and the circumstance without comment).

Sometimes I just laugh when people complain about not understanding Raekwon’s lyrics blaming it on the slang he innovates. They don’t understand what he’s saying because they don’t understand how he’s saying it. He’s speaking on three levels at once. Focusing on just his word play is an insult to his genius.

[Slick Rick fans, no need to debate – he and Scarface are the best pure story-tellers ever, but Chef gets his own category – doing a couple of things that not even the Ruler got around to. I don’t know anyone who can do what Rae does on ‘Surgical Gloves,’ for example. Listen to it carefully]

Because of this, not to mention his voice, humble public demeanor and rare media appearances, you can see that he will always have a core base to sell music to (beyond Wu fans). He’s different and that’s the basis for an enduring business and career – producing a unique product for a loyal network, that others can’t steal.

"Be original, your s— is sloppy

Get off the —- you m—– f—– carbon copy""Real N****z" -N.W.A.

Some can’t believe that E-40 is still doing it – 15 years in - but they just don’t understand this law of supply and demand. The result: he never loses old fans, while always attracting a younger segment of new ones. The formula that he supplies (lifestyle, personality, and ‘fun.’) remains unique and durable – beats that bounce, witty lyrics, sense of humor and the ability to select the right people to feature on collaborations. Collabos are truly an art that most artists use as a superficial promotional gimmick but not the man who is one of the Bay Area’s finest. Check “Whip It Up” featuring Gucci Mane and YV; “Can’t Stop The Boss” featuring Too Short, Snoop Dogg & Jazze Pha; “Knock ‘Em Down Music” featuring Ya Boy, Turf Talk & Cousin Fik; and “Power Up” featuring Keak Da Sneak & San Quinn.

His collaboration with Bobby V on "Stillettos & Jeans" makes so much commercial and stylistic sense – especially in the current era of R&B music that $uce$$ is only a matter of whether a critical mass of radio program directors get behind the record and a hot video can close the sale with the powers that B.E.T. Regardless – he delivered what they seem to want these days.

The New York Times nailed it when it said of E-40’s new double album, “One of hip-hop’s great rhythmic innovators, E-40 has spent more than 20 years defying conventional cadences, rapping in croaks and hiccups and slurs and nibbles. At times he’s been at the forefront of Bay Area rap, and at times more of a benevolent uncle. On this pair of albums (packaged and sold separately), his 11th and 12th full-length recordings, he’s both.”

When one considers his role in the Hyphy Movement (for better or worse) and his continued presence and relevance, it is obvious that E-40 supplies music, image, and lifestyle not just because hewants to, but because he knows how to read what the people want.

And there’s a big difference.

When I advise clients, one of the first things I describe and help them be clear on is that there can be an important difference in the creative force that drives entrepreneurs, artists, and inventors to innovate and the force that drives consumers, fans, and followers to purchase, support and rally behind their product or service. The sad fact is that most artists make music for themselves and their immediate crew. They are driven by ambition, circumstance and the desire for self-expression more than they are interested in being scientific about learning what it is about their work that people like, and then determining how to market themselves accordingly, without compromising who they are.

The emergence of a hot artist, commercially successful style or new trend can seem "random" because the vast majority of us can’t predict when a person will reach the point when they want to ‘create,’ for the benefit of the public or when people will like something or why. But the illusion of surprise disappears when we look at the matter from a supply and demand point of view. Most artists have a horrible time balancing their need to supply something that they want with answering the question of what the people demand in the present tense and what they want now and in the future which no one is currently supplying.

Stubborn artists fall into either 1) a take it or leave it attitude (eff’anybody who ain’t feeling me!’) or 2) conformity (‘I’ll act like I’m original but really Jeezy is the father of my style…’).

If more artists would trust their instincts while studying the unique aspects to their style that people like - and which no one else is offering commercially – they can build something special and long-lasting.

This means the usually self-centered artists have to fall back a bit and learn from their audience - accepting that the ‘demand’ for some things can only manifest after it is supplied. You can’t be sure that you ‘have something,’ in many cases, until you offer it in the marketplace and study the reaction.

Evan Schwartz put it well when he wrote in, Juice: The Creative Fuel That Drives World Class Inventors:

The most common explanation of what drives inventive activity is the age-old maxim, “Necessity is the mother of invention.” But that…explains almost nothing and is wrong in most instances. Because new scientific discoveries or technological possibilities often give rise to new desires, it’s usually even more correct to say the opposite: “Invention is the mother of necessity.” Although successful inventions seem in retrospect to fill a clear human need, what they really do is to generate the demand in the first place. Only a handful of people imagined the telephone, the electric light, and the airplane beforehand. After these things existed, however, masses of people suddenly couldn’t do without them.

"Let me tell these n——s something God. I don’t want n——s soundin’ like me on no album!"

"Shark N****s," Ghostface Killah (on album skit for Only Built 4 Cuban Linx)

The emphasis on originality in rap music died largely because the major record labels, radio stations, and video outlets took the power to define what ‘the people’ wanted and because artists accepted the definition - wanting the easy route to these platforms. This is also the state of affairs because artists typically surround themselves with "yes men" and "yes women" - lacking advisers who understand marketing and how to make business decisions (the big dude serving as security/manager/personal assistant doesn’t qualify).

Now, with the rise of the Internet, affordable audio and video production equipment, and social networking, the ‘industry’ is out of the hands of a small list of companies and risk-taking for artists can become more rewarding than ever, with the right team.

It just boils down to knowing what people are longing for, converting it into demand and delivering it consistently.

Take the lesson of Raekwon and E-40 and run with it – creatively and commercially. Understanding what you are doing and how it affects others is the root of longevity. This is also called the Knowledge of Self and Others.

Supply really can create its own demand.

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. Cedric is author of the book, ‘The Entrepreneurial Secret’ ( He can be contacted via e-mail at: cedric(at)