“Jay-Z’s ability to make money by attaching his name to products is one of his greatest strengths as a businessman, and it’s especially important given the ever-declining numbers in the record industry. Jay-Z grossed $63 million in the twelve months before this book went to press, and only one-fifth of that came from album sales. Over the past few years, Jay-Z has shilled for Reebok, Hewlett-Packard, and Budweiser to name a few…. [Jay-Z] has amassed a personal fortune of half a billion dollars. In 2010, he earned more than all but seven CEOs in the [USA],” says Zack O’Malley Greenburg in his new book, Empire State of Mind: How Jay-Z Went from Street Corner to Corner Office.
This book is not based on interviews that O’Malley conducted with Shawn Corey Carter, aka Jay-Z. Jay-Z refused the interview request because he could not see how O’Malley’s interview would benefit him. With Jay-Z it appears that it is usually about the money. The book is based on interviews that Jay-Z gave to media outlets, interviews O’Malley had with people who knew or worked with Jay-Z as well as newspaper articles.
To be transparent, I received a copy of this book from Portfolio/Penguin to review. Zack O’Malley is a staff writer for Forbes where he covers finance and music. O’Malley states that this is not a book about Jay-Z and his music but is a biography of Jay-Z the businessman. You will not find a success blueprint in Empire State of Mind: How Jay-Z Went from Street Corner to Corner Office that you can follow if you want to attain the kind of success that Jay-Z has achieved. However, there are many lessons you can learn from Jay-Z in the book, but you have to work very hard to extract them. O’Malley has covered some important information in Empire State of Mind, which teaches us what and what not to do in business and in life.
7 Lessons from Jay-Z
Evolve: Jay-Z transformed his life. He stopped dealing drugs, focused on creating music and building a diverse business. Jay-Z is very curious by nature so he asks many questions and is very open to learning new things. Through O’Malley’s account you see his evolution and he becomes more business savvy over time. He changes his attire and looks more businesslike. Jay-Z now understands what Mark Twain meant when he said, “Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society.” Jay-Z also became more even-tempered and learned how to master his emotions as he evolved. Earlier in his life, he shot his brother for taking his ring, and stabbed Lance Rivera for bootlegging his songs. “He transformed the vengeful urges of his youth into the sort of unflappability that would prove useful in the boardroom.”
Focus on Your Strengths: People who focus on their strengths often reach higher levels in their careers. As a drug dealer, Jay-Z learned to hustle and negotiate. When he gave up that life, those traits helped him to catapult to greater levels of success. When he first gave up dealing drugs, he made his first CD Reasonable Doubt, but couldn’t get a record label to take him on. Instead of giving up, he and Damon Dash traveled all over New York City – all five boroughs – selling his CDs from their cars. They sold over 350,000 CDs using this underground method. Jay-Z’s negotiation skills also allowed him to get unheard of contracts in the industry. Jay-Z said, “I am not a businessman, I am a business, man.”
Get a Mentor-Be a Mentor: Jay-Z had many mentor in his life. Among his many mentors were Jaz-O, Damon Dash and Clark Kent. Rapper Jaz-O taught him how to rhyme, Damon Dash taught him business and Clark Kent is the one who got him to focus on music instead of dealing drugs. Jay-Z is like a sponge and sucked in as much information as he could from all his mentors. Unfortunately, when he no longer needed them, he tossed them aside like dirty clothes. This is a lesson of what not to do to those who have helped you.
Jay-Z may have been suffering from issues of abandonment since his father left them when he was a teenager. His father’s departure destroyed the family. Many years later after he reconciled with his father, moths before his death, Jay-Z treated his new mentors with more respect. As a way to pay-it-forward, he became a mentor to Rihanna, Kanye West, Rick Ross, Ne-Yo, and J. Cole. He was a very good mentor to them. He also helped their careers by appearing on their CDs. He used his popularity to promote his mentees.
Hang Out With Smart People: Jay-Z was adept at hanging out with smart people and he became a more astute businessman in the process. All his advisers are impeccable. And he learns from them in the process.
Know How to Market Yourself: Jay-Z is very skilled at marketing himself and his business. In his music, he raps about his businesses and other products that he is promoting. He knows about product placement. He also learned a lot about marketing from his mentor Damon Dash.
Reinvent/Innovate: Nothing ever remains the same, so it’s important to reinvent and innovate to remain relevant. Jay-Z was always doing that. While he was the president of Def Jam he tried to get them to diversify because of what was happening in the industry. But those who had a stake in the status quo wouldn’t listen so he resigned before his term was up. Jay-Z knows when it’s time to move on, a lesson that many of us can learn from him. He was not just in the entertainment industry, Jay-Z is in apparel, restaurant and food and owns a stake in the Nets basketball team. He is always concerned about how to invest in the future. He entered into what is referred to as a 360-degree deal with Live Nation, where the firm would not only produce the record but also promote it as well. “For the upstart Live Nation, 360-degree deals were a way to lure artists from the traditional record labels that were trying to get in on the lucrative touring business.” These deals are more lucrative and beneficial to well established and successful artists like Madonna and Jay-Z.
Forgive: According to Martin Luther King, “He who is devoid of the power to forgive, is devoid of the power to love.” Jay-Z’s father left the family to search for the person who fatally stabbed his brother. He became so consumed with his quest that his absence became permanent. This abandonment affected Jay-Z and he became emotionally distant. You could see it in some of his actions. For instance, he shot an older brother for stealing a ring, and he stabbed Lance Rivera for bootlegging his songs.
Years later when his father was terminally ill, his mother encouraged Jay-Z to speak to him. He was able to verbalize his feelings and both of them were able to talk things through. He worked through the issues he had with his father and was able to forgive. Shortly after that moment, his relationship with Beyonce Knowles deepened, and he started to treat his subsequent mentors with far more respect instead of tossing them aside when he perceived their usefulness to him had come to an end.
These are seven solid lessons that you can learn from Jay-Z. Empire State of Mind: How Jay-Z Went from Street Corner to Corner Office. Zack O’Malley Greenburg has introduced me to Jay-Z who has done a lot with his life, someone who I knew little about prior to reading the book. While reading Empire State of Mind, I got the sense that for Jay-Z it’s usually about the money and how much he can add to his financial chest. He has mentored several entertainers, and given some money to charity. But to keep an open mind about the kind of person Jay-Z is, I’d like to read Decoded, which is his autobiography to hear what he has to say.
The lessons in the book are not delivered in a neat package, you have to do the work to pull them together yourself. I have this sense that with a few more years of experience, the young author would have written the book differently. I try to read broadly, so I am glad that I read Empire State of Mind. How can you use this information? What do you have to add to the conversation? Let’s keep the conversation flowing, please let me know your thoughts in the comments section below. Many readers read this blog from other sites, so why don’t you pop over to The Invisible Mentor and subscribe (top on the right hand side) by email or RSS Feed.
“Empire State of Mind” Jay-Z, Alicia Keys [OFFICIAL VIDEO]. If you cannot view this video click here.
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- Why I Wrote an Unauthorized Biography of Jay-Z (blogs.forbes.com)
- Unauthorized Biography On Jay-Z Still Released (sweetspill.com)
- Forbes Writer Details Jay-Z’s Life in ‘Empire State of Mind’ (theboombox.com)