Hip-Hop Marketing: An Interview with Nah Right’s Eskay

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.

DZ: 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 publics 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, whats 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. Whats 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. Its an entrepreneurial culture and so for the most part I think we try to respect and support each others 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, Ive 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 doesnt 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 youre 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 Stones Throw. I cant 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. Theres very little creativity coming out of those places. Its like: street single, viral video, actual single, moderately budgeted video, 106th and Park appearance, release date.

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

Eskay: Id say its 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 theyre 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 bloggers 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. Ive 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 artists career ever gets off the ground in the first place. Above almost everything else in Hip-Hop, fans want authenticity and without it youre 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 thats not what I mean. You can be an emo skater rapper from some bumfuck town in the midwest but if youre repping emo skater rappers from the midwest, and youre repping them in a way that emo skater rap fans from the midwest feel is authentic, then youre 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. Were at a point where fans are very savvy to all of the smoke and mirrors that artists and labels employ to get publicity. Its 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 youre 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 youre mad at that person. My personal opinion? Leave the beef alone and focus on making great music and when youre 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!

Now it’s your turn. What are your favorite marketing lessons from Hip-Hop?