Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Hip-Hop Marketing: An Interview with Nahright's Eskay by Hubspot's Dan Zarrella

I don’t do a ton of interviews, in fact I’ve only done two in this site’s history. One with Craig Newmark of Craigslist and one with Alex Bogusky formerly of CP+B. I only interview folks who I think bring a unique perspective to social media marketing.

Nah Right is considered one of the most influential Hip-Hop blogs on the web. And as a fan of rap, I often learn a ton about marketing from it. So I decided to interview Nah Right’s founder Eskay about his thoughts on marketing in the industry.

A lot of rap artists are getting involved in Twitter and doing very well with stuff like trending hashtags. Does social media actually sell records?

Eskay: I think social media contributes to the public’s awareness about an artist and that awareness then (hopefully) turns into album or single sales. Social media in the context of any recording artist is a marketing tool, and like any marketing tool can backfire on you and end up hurting you if you don’t put enough thought into it.

DZ: Beyond record and ticket sales what are Hip-Hop marketers measuring? What should they be measuring, what’s the most important metric? Followers, fans, mix tape downloads, etc?

Eskay: I think that online, it’s an artist’s overall digital footprint. How many pageviews does their website get? How many Twitter followers? How many retweets, how many Facebook friends/fans, number of mixtape downloads and Youtube views, all of that stuff can give you a picture of what kind of noise a particular act is making. At the same time though, I think you have to take those numbers with a grain of salt. On the “rap Internet”, numbers are often fabricated by dishonest artists and sites, and even legitimate numbers can fail to give you an accurate picture of how many people somebody might be reaching. I think it’s still really important to get out to the streets and shows and clubs and get a real feel for what people are connecting with.

DZ: There are a ton of examples of famous rappers becoming lifestyle brands with movies, clothing, books, beverages, etc: Diddy, Jay-Z, Dr Dre, 50 Cent, etc. What’s the key to getting this right?

Eskay: Any celebrity can sell any reasonably decent product to fans. Within the Hip-Hop community if you can maintain your integrity and not give the impression that you are selling out in any way, people will allow you to market to them. It’s an entrepreneurial culture and so for the most part I think we try to respect and support each other’s business ventures.

DZ: Jay-Z just started a lifestyle website, LifeAndTimes.com, with surprisingly little fan fare. What are your thoughts on the way he launched it?

Eskay: Personally, I’ve seen scores of artists and personalities pour tons of money and marketing muscle into launches for websites, products and services and 9 times out of 10, whatever they are selling doesn’t live up to the hoopla that preceded it. I think the quiet, guerrilla approach has its benefits. Jay knows that whatever he launches, rap and music blogs are going to cover it in excruciating detail no matter what, so why waste time and energy on a marketing campaign? The audience you’re looking for are blog readers and bloggers and you already have a built in marketing channel with those people. Plus it gives the site that kind of indie, Tumblr-esque, only-the-cool-people-know-about-this vibe that everybody responds to these days.

DZ: What are some of your favorite examples of established rappers marketing new projects?

Eskay: Honestly, nothing comes to mind. I think most of the really cool marketing stuff is happening with the smaller indie artists and labels like Duck Down, Rhymesayers and Stone’s Throw. I can’t think of a specific campaign but I know those labels always try to go a little left field. Most of the major labels are just horrible. There’s very little creativity coming out of those places. It’s like: street single, viral video, actual single, moderately budgeted video, 106th and Park appearance, release date.

DZ: I’ve written a lot about the use of social proof online. What role do you think it plays in Hip-Hop marketing?

Eskay: I’d say it’s enormously important. For all of our individuality, the Hip-Hop culture breeds sheep. In the online space, getting your music posted on the right blogs has become incredibly important to some artists, moreso than even the quality of the music they’re putting out it seems. And it becomes a situation where PR people and label flunkies hound a handful of blogs for coverage, knowing that it will probably turn into more widespread coverage if they can just get so-and-so to pay attention. But from the blogger’s perspective it just adds to the overflow of content being shoved down our throats on a daily basis and can end up being, in my opinion, detrimental to the artists. I’ve been known to ignore artists simply because their PR rep is so mindnumbingly annoying.

Beyond the Internet, I think social proof also plays a huge role in whether or not an artist’s career ever gets off the ground in the first place. Above almost everything else in Hip-Hop, fans want authenticity and without it you’re dead int he water. A lot of people hear the word authenticity in the context of Hip-Hop and equate it with street cred, but that’s not what I mean. You can be an emo skater rapper from some bumfuck town in the midwest but if you’re repping emo skater rappers from the midwest, and you’re repping them in a way that emo skater rap fans from the midwest feel is authentic, then you’re golden.

DZ: Conflict has been identified as a positive boost for certain rappers. Nas and Jay-Z come to mind. Do you think lyrical confrontation is a valid marketing strategy for up-and-coming artists?

Eskay: Yes and no. We’re at a point where fans are very savvy to all of the smoke and mirrors that artists and labels employ to get publicity. It’s to the point now where an artist will be involved in some kind of criminal incident or public dispute and people will immediately flock to Twitter and blogs to denounce it as a publicity stunt, even when it clearly is not. So yes, beef will almost always get you some kind of attention, but it might not be the type of attention you were looking for.

But to answer your question, I think beef is probably a better marketing tool for established rappers rather than new artists trying to make a name. Unless you’re involved in a conflict with a high profile artist, and that person is actually playing along and engaging you, nobody is going to particularly care why you’re mad at that person. My personal opinion? Leave the beef alone and focus on making great music and when you’re established you can ruffle whatever feathers you feel still need ruffling.

DZ: Certain lyrics are referenced over and over again. What do you think is the key to writing contagious lines?

Eskay: I honestly could not tell you. If I knew, I might have a rap career!


A few Thanksgivings ago I was talking to Cee-lo asking him a million questions as usual ranging from GooDie Mob to just life in general. One of the questions, I asked him was why he believed he'd evolved so much from the early GooDie Mob days, and his reply was “It’s all about the air”, I asked him what do you mean? He was referencing astrology. He’s a Gemini. He said that it’s all about being creative, pushing the envelope and evolving. I asked him about water signs too and he said the same for water, so on my way home I thought about what he said and being the researcher I am I went on Wikipedia and started looking up the birthdays of popular artists and people that I respected from musical and or evolutionary standpoints and what do you know everyone I looked up was either an air or water sign from Prince, Kanye West, Lil Wayne, Snoop Dogg, Rihanna, Katy Perry, Erykah Badu, Andre 3000 and etc. Though there is some substance to astrology, I’m not a big follower of it. However, I just thought that his take was unique and I wanted to share it. I think that everyone has a creative spark and that evolving in any area of your life is measured by your willingness and the power of choice. Awhile back, I was looking over Jay-Z’s reading list on Oprah.com and he mentioned the book “Celestine Prophecy” by James Redfield. This is an excellent book and his wife Salle Redfield is awesome and she’s actually a mentor of mine. The book is fiction and it’s about a guy who travels to find a secret book that has a series of principles. The story is a metaphor for life, meaning one could go left or right, be stuck or keep advancing. Jay-Z says it’s a book that he lives his life by and he goes on to state “Some people are happy where they are. I tried to hire a guy once, and I said, "Don't you have ambition to be bigger?" And he said, "No, I'm good." I had to respect that, but for me that was the wrong relationship”. So anyhow I just wanted to give you some food for thought with a hip-hop spin.

Hello World!

My name is Kayla Calloway and I am an Atlanta-based hip-hop PR Pro and self-proclaimed hip-hop connoisseur. Ask me anything about hip-hop? No seriously, I’m a walking hip-hop dictionary:) I’ve been in the PR industry for 5+ years. I got my start by doing freelance PR work with local hip-hop artists, namely friends of mine and with notables such as Warren G, Chrisette Michelle, Outlawz and B-Rich. When I originally started out in the PR field, I just wanted to get enough experience so that I could land a job at a top 10 PR firm, such as Edelman or Ogilvy, because I didn’t have any formal PR experience, because I was an English major, with a strong emphasis on Modern Literature. So with that being said I know exactly what it means to be self-made and work from the ground up. I eventually did land internships at those coveted firms, but in the meantime in between time I had accumulated so much hip-hop experience, specifically indie that while I was interning I had steady streams of work. In fact during my interview at Ogilvy, my soon-to-be supervisor and mentor was already urging me to start my own niche hip-hop PR firm. So after my Ogilvy post, I went to work for firms such as Communications 21 but ultimately I decided to continue on my own hip-hop PR trek. I’ve worked with many major artists and hip-hop related organizations, but along the way, I realized that one of the things I loved most was working with indie and emerging hip-hop artists who were ambitious, hell bent on starting their own movements and what I call DIYers(indie and emerging hip-hop artists who are controlling their own brands; by creating their own movements and releasing their own music) The type of hip-hop artists, indie hip-hop labels and hip-hop managers that understood the whole premise and importance of PR; artists that I could co-conspire with. So as a branch result of that realization I decided to launch this blog as a DIY information hub that caters specifically to indie and emerging hip-hop artists. So enter my world and pick-up indispensable hip-hop marketing advice along the way too.

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During my time with XXL magazine as Music Editor Kayla Calloway PR was extremely helpful in doing my job. The firm kept me abreast of the goings on within the music scene of Atlanta and whenever we worked together it was always an easy process of securing information and setting up client interviews. Anslem Samuel, Senior Producer for Digital Interactive for Black Enterprise

Kayla Calloway is on top of her game! I hired Kayla out for last minute media exposure in ATL. I contacted Kayla on Sunday night, while en route to Atlanta. Within less than 24 hours, Kayla had booked Warren on ATL's top urban >radio stations and lined up interviews with numerous print outlets. She's a hard worker, who works very well under pressure. She truly exceeded our expectations. Wron G, Warren G’s Manager

Kayla Calloway was referred to me by a business client and I was very happy with Ms. Calloway's performance and her consistent calls on keeping me updated with her progress. Ms. Calloway handled the PR for my screening for my bio documentary I Am...Choke No Joke in Atlanta, GA and I had an excellent turn out with several media outlets present. I was so impressed with Ms. Calloway’s work that I hired her again for the BET Hip Hop Awards in Atlanta, GA. Choke No Joke, BET Producer

Kayla Calloway possess an optimal mix of professionalism and personality; of heart and hustle. She is a wonder to work with and is even agreeable to disagree with. She is a surgeon among spin doctors; a flack that takes no slack, a great communicator, a compassionate conduit and she will be there, step by step, to walk that path with you. Dasun Allah, Former Editor-In-Chief of The Source- Features Editor for Hip Hop Weekly -Former Head Writer for the Star & Buc Wild Show