Welcome to the fifth (and final) entry in The Colture Playbook, a series of five essays looking at talent management, artistic independence, and navigating the modern music industry. Co-authoring the series is Ty Baisden, an artist manager (Brent Faiyaz) and businessman who plays by his own rules. His company, Colture, stands for Can Our Leverage Teach Us Real Equity.
Cultural relevance is a never-ending conversation in hip-hop. From journalists to fans, there’s a constant examination of who is shattering ceilings and who is falling flat. The bigger the shine, the louder they speak. There are levels of relevance, but in hip-hop, every artist is one song, album, feature, or record deal away to owning the moment. Some moments last weeks, while others have lasted decades.
Cultural Capital is what Ty Baisden, one of the music industry’s most outspoken talent managers and businessmen, calls the value of relevance in hip-hop and R&B. The concept recognizes how moments in the culture all have their worth.
There’s Cultural Capital within every Drake guest feature, which is why an artist will (almost always) reach the height of their early-career popularity when he graces one of their songs. On the flip side, there’s also Cultural Capital in Drake standing next to a hot, young artist like when Lil Wayne stood beside him.
In the fifth and final volume of The Colture Playbook, Baisden breaks down the definition of Cultural Capital, the importance of an artist knowing their core audience, the idea of a “bad” record deal, and one final closing statement.
Chapter XXI: What Is Cultural Capital?
If you’re black, you’ll know when some sh*t starts to feel like it’s culturally relevant. You see it before it gets to number one at radio, before it is added to every playlist on Spotify. For example, Lil Baby, one of five favorite artists right now. You felt something when you heard “My Dawg.” The song had the “It” factor that only Lil Baby, an artist from Atlanta, could give to hip-hop culture. That’s Cultural Capital.
In the music business, we base Cultural Capital on the artist’s cultural relevance, their unique, stylistic aesthetic, and the potential that they could be something. It’s based on who talks to them and who talks about them. Think about Spotify. Like the stock market, their value is based on the belief they have value. If you can build Cultural Capital, that’s the foundation of people believing [your] art is valuable.
Word of mouth is the most potent kickstarter for growing Cultural Capital. GoldLink’s “Crew” had Cultural Capital in D.C. before it went anywhere else because the city was playing the record first. D.C. is where the label promoted the record, where DJ’s were spinning it, and where they shot the video. You could feel the song’s cultural relevance in that region.
If you want to get a credit card, an apartment, a car, a house loan, or anything that deals with capital, there is a process. Cultural Capital means you can gain revenue without having to go through the traditional means that our society knows. You know you have Cultural Capital when a n*gga gives you some money without checking your credit.
Chapter XXII: Labels Can’t Buy It
When an artist drops music or builds a brand that can create conversation, they can start building up Cultural Capital. With the hype and fans comes people spreading the word. Remember, Cultural Capital begins with word of mouth.
Once you get to the point where artists say, “Yo, I want to get on your remix” like a Drake, or they say, “I want to put you on the road with me,” like a J. Cole would do, or a producer reaches out wanting to work on your sh*t and spotlight you as a Metro Boomin would do, your Cultural Capital increases in value.
Cultural Capital is like early Bitcoin, back when only so many people knew how to cash out. A record label is where you go if you want the fastest cash in for your Cultural Capital. The label doesn’t have the infrastructure to develop Cultural Capital; they can’t go out and buy you a Drake feature. That’s why it’s worth so much.
Chapter XXIII: No Bad Deals
If you don’t know the value of your Cultural Capital, somebody will come and take advantage of you, i.e., a manager or artist, and use your Cultural Capital better than you can. That’s why I say artists shouldn’t get in business with anyone who might not care about them when they aren’t making money. You don’t want to be in business with anyone who will say, “We need to sign this,” even though it’s terrible.
I want to make sure I’m very clear about this: There’s no such thing as a bad deal if you sign that motherf*cker. Yes, the label can manipulate you. Yes, they can put money in front of you because you ain’t never seen that much money, but if you agreed to sign that sh*t, at some point, it was good.
Now, there are a lot of bad deals out there. I’ve seen bad deals. Brent [Faiyaz] has been offered bad deals. They’re bad, that’s why we walked away. The label [has] to take responsibility for their ecosystem being so fucked up and not always forthcoming and transparent. As artists and managers, we [have] to take full accountability [by admitting], “I signed a bad deal.”
Chapter XXIV: You Don’t Need Everybody
If I want to be a rapper’s rapper, I want cosigns that add to the Cultural Capital. Cosigns validate your raps in hip-hop. For instance, with my client Grip, I don’t know who sent Ebro Darden the Snubnose project. He said on Instagram that he was gifted it. That alone creates a conversation. All we are trying to do is create dialogue.
Cultural Capital can happen fast, but it’s really about building your Cultural Capital next to your actual value. Grip is a rapper’s rapper, so I want those stamps from niggas that are hip-hop heads. I want the cosign from Ebro. I want that cosign from Max October, Sway, and Carl Chery. I want the cosign from the niggas that verbally express they are hip-hop heads.
So if Ebro is tweeting, retweeting, saying this is the best thing out, check this out, now I can say, let’s get connected with Ebro. Now, we can talk more. That may turn into an interview; that may turn into a cosign. Maybe it will just be another friendly advocate for what you’re making as an artist.
You don’t need everybody; you need a core. Once you’ve got a core, you can build and have your core spread the word.
When I first started with Brent, I used to play his music to n*ggas, like some of the big homies in the music business. They were like, “This is cool.” I would play the same music for women, and they would be like, “Oh my God, who is this?” Immediately, it hit me. I was playing music for people who weren’t my core. So I stopped playing music for n*ggas, and I stopped marketing it toward men all before we dropped one song.
What a lot of artists have to realize is, the core is everybody, but you can’t market to everyone. So with Brent, I marketed [his music] toward women. Now, the women tell n*ggas about the music. The daughters tell their fathers, the girlfriends tell their boyfriends, the wives tell their husbands, etc. That’s how your core demographic becomes everyone.
Chapter XXV: Closing Statement
The music business is a boys club, and all the power comes from who you know. For me and my story, the authority has come from women and cold emails.
If it weren’t for women, there would be no Ty Baisden, Brent Faiyaz, nothing. Women were so important to every deal we were able to accomplish or achieve. Thanks to them, I could take the calculated risk, because I knew there was some level of support there.
We have to treat each other fairly. Not because somebody puts a gun to your head. Not because somebody [has] more leverage than you, but naturally. If an artist is new, they should get the same fairness that you would want people to give you. I’ve heard people say, “You’re new; you’ve got to pay your dues.”
Paying your dues has nothing to do with being shortchanged out of your business. Paying your dues is the hard work you do to get in the position so you can improve and mold your craft. Paying your dues is not getting cheated.
Be on time, keep your word, treat people fairly, and remember, money isn’t real.
By Yoh, aka Cultural Capiyoh, aka @Yoh31