In “The Big Payback: The History of the Business of Hip-Hop,” author Dan Charnas traces how rap grew from its obscure roots in the ghettos of 1970s New York to its culmination as the world’s predominant youth pop culture and a multibillion-dollar industry.
The event that epitomized just how far hip-hop had come was the headline-grabbing partnership between the rapper 50 Cent and the upstart beverage company Glaceau, the maker of VitaminWater. It may well have been the biggest deal in hip-hop history, propelling 50 Cent’s personal net worth toward a half-billion dollars.
In this excerpt, Charnas outlines how it happened.
By the summer of 2003, 50 Cent’s debut album, “Get Rich or Die Tryin’,” had sold more than 5 million copies, and he was easily on his way to becoming a multimillionaire on these sales alone.
Nonetheless, the rapper from Queens, who was born Curtis Jackson and had begun his career on the reputation of being shot nine times (a bullet was still lodged in his tongue), wasn’t content to remain a recording artist.
His young manager, Chris Lighty, himself a Bronx street kid turned businessman, was well-positioned to exploit 50’s stardom by creating multiple income streams. Lighty had come out of the Def Jam fold and managed such stars as Missy Elliott and LL Cool J.
With Lighty, 50 Cent created the “G-Unit” brand, including a record company, a clothing company, and a sneaker deal with Reebok’s RBK line. The G-Unit Clothing Company was a joint-venture deal, with hip-hop-influenced designer Marc Ecko fronting the money, handling the manufacturing and distribution, and splitting the profits fifty-fifty with 50.
At his Violator management company (named after a rough crew that Lighty ran with as a kid), Lighty helped pioneer the use of 900 numbers for his artists.
Over a decade later, he negotiated a different kind of phone deal: 50 Cent cellular ringtones to be sold for up to $2.99 per download. Lighty inked other agreements, too: a video game and a biopic with MTV Films and Paramount Pictures. When the agency that represented Lighty, CAA, balked at representing a rapper so closely associated with violence, Lighty secured a deal with an eager William Morris.
One of Lighty’s business acquaintances was Rohan Oza, a marketing executive who has just moved from Coca-Cola to a small Queens, N.Y., beverage company called Glaceau. Oza considered himself not a brand manager, but a brand messiah. He believed that passionate proselytizing of his products could transcend costly corporate ad campaigns.
Oza’s Vitamin Water brand was doing well at more than $100 million in sales, second only to Pepsi’s Propel brand in the $245 million “enhanced-water” market. He knew how to take them out.
Stealing a page from the hip-hop street-team and word-of-mouth ethos, Oza created a fleet of 10 “Glaceau Vitamin Water Tasting Vehicles,” staffed by 200 “hydrologists,” to cross the country and spread the gospel of Vitamin Water’s growing line. But hydrologists working one-on-one with consumers wouldn’t break Vitamin Water out of the gourmet-deli and new-age-health-food market.
Oza needed more than brand messiahs to convert individuals. He needed brand ambassadors to influence millions. That’s when Oza saw a commercial for RBK sneakers in which Lighty, rather sneakily, had his artist, 50 Cent, chug a bottle of Vitamin Water.
In a phone call soon thereafter, Lighty told Oza that he wanted to find a way to work together to make Vitamin Water huge. It turned out that 50 Cent had a true love of the product. He had grown up around alcoholics, so he didn’t drink. Instead, he spent hours a day working out and ate healthy. Like Oza who got bored with imbibing the recommended eight glasses of plain water a day, 50 had found Vitamin Water a more pleasurable way to hydrate.
On Oza’s desk in his New York office, at that very moment, was a test bottle of a new Vitamin Water flavor, recently formulated by Glaceau’s head of product development, Carol Dollard, who had worked hard to get more vitamins and nutrients into their drinks – much more than the 2 to 3 percent of the recommended daily allowance in other “enhanced” waters.
Recently, Oza had asked Dollard for a product that would make it easy to highlight this difference. She had returned with a flavor that contained 50 percent of the RDA of seven different vitamins and minerals. Oza’s marketing team responded with a great name for the new variety: Formula 50.
What better way to collaborate, Oza suggested, than to have 50 Cent endorse this new product? But Lighty didn’t want an endorsement deal. He didn’t want cash. “We want to invest,” Lighty said.
By 2004, 50 Cent was undoubtedly one of the world’s biggest pop stars. But it took some amount of convincing on Oza’s part to overcome the trepidation of Glaceau CEO Darius Bikoff and president Mike Repole. 50 Cent’s association with gunplay presented a problem: What if their chief spokesperson ended up dead in a rap beef?
But the 50 Cent who showed up for his first meeting with Bikoff was surprisingly different from the rapper’s public image: calm, respectful and deliberate, without too many flamboyant flourishes. Lighty was the rapper’s perfect business complement.
In the weeks and months thereafter, Lighty and Oza hammered out the terms of a deal. 50 Cent would take a stake in the privately owned company, one that would graduate over time and escalate if the company hit certain numbers.
The two entities – 50 Cent on one hand and Glaceau on the other – signed an agreement of mutual confidentiality. Still, word got around that Lighty had negotiated something close to, but not more than, 10 percent of the value of the company. During these discussions, Lighty and 50 deliberated the attributes of their new product. Oza presented the pair with several flavor options for Formula 50. For Chris Lighty, the choice was simple.
Despite the high-minded science of Glaceau, their product was basically a smarter, more upscale, more aspirational version of the ultimate ghetto beverage on which Lighty and 50 had grown up: the “quarter-waters” sold in every bodega, deli and convenience store from Queens to Compton.
The quarter-waters (so named because they once cost 25 cents) were just like the Kool-Aid everybody drank at home. However, nobody drank wild flavors like strawberry and kiwi in the ‘hood, because they drank grape. Formula 50 had to be grape. Oza hated the comparison to such base beverages, but he had to admire the thought process of his new partners.
The 50 Cent-Vitamin Water deal was announced in October 2004. Behind the scenes, the relationship between the two parties wasn’t always smooth. When Lighty, in one of his first interviews about the deal, spoke of building the brand with the ultimate goal of selling it, Darius Bikoff phoned Lighty, screaming at him for disclosing the strategy. Within a few hours, Bikoff looked up to find a livid Lighty in his office, glowering at him. Lighty had driven from Manhattan to Queens to tell Bikoff one thing. “Don’t curse at me,” Lighty said, a heartbeat away from becoming a Violator once more.
Once they understood each other, Bikoff and Lighty, Vitamin Water and 50 Cent built a strong alliance. Soon billboards and bus stops across the country linked the images and joined the fates of two upstarts from Queens – one a scrappy, new-age beverage company; the other a pugnacious, provocative rapper with an eye for opportunity and a history of hitching himself to winners.
In March 2007, Chris Lighty and his friend Sean Combs were riding together from Heathrow airport to a London hotel in the back of a Maybach when Combs got some news over the phone. Fellow rap superstar Jay-Z and his two fashion-entrepreneur partners, Alex Bize and Norton Cher, had just sold the rights to their Rocawear trademark to a public company, the Iconix Brand Group.
Lighty could not stop repeating the number he heard, as he stared at Combs in disbelief. “Two hundred million? Two hundred million?” Actually, at $219 million, the sale of the Rocawear brand name was, at the time, the biggest deal in hip-hop history. Combs responded in the only way he knew how. “I need a billion for mine,” he huffed. But of those two men, it would be Lighty who reached that symbolic mark first.
Just two month later, in May 2007, the Coca-Cola Company purchased Glaceau for $4.1 billion. In the media, initial reports put 50 Cent’s cashout at $400 million, calculated by dividing the purchase amount by 50 Cent’s reputed 10 percent share. But in reality, 50 Cent’s take was much less. Another stakeholder needed to be paid off first – the diversified Indian conglomerate Tata had invested $677 million for 30 percent of Glaceau in 2006, and got $1.2 billion when Coca-Cola bought them out.
When all the other costs had been deducted, 50 Cent was thought to have walked away with a figure somewhere between $60 million and $100 million, putting his net worth at nearly a half billion dollars.
On his next album, 50 Cent could barely contain his own incredulity at the power of the dollar. “I took quarter-water, sold it in bottles for two bucks,” he rapped. “Coca-Cola came and bought it for billions. What the [f#!k]?” But Lighty silently pocketed his 15 percent and kept it moving.
It’s What You Do On A ‘Bad Day’ That Matters.
Last Friday was a bad day for me. I woke up late, missed the gym and didn’t meditate.
None of this was intentional.
I then turned my computer on to do what I do every day: blog. I was not prepared for the whirlwind that followed.
As I opened up my social media channels, there were a lot more than usual, direct messages. I started reading each one and they were from colleagues and friends who wanted to warn me that I had a large amount of hate-fuelled comments on social media. I’m usually pretty good at dealing with hate comments. Not on that day, though — I was having a ‘bad day.’
I turned off the computer and didn’t respond to anybody. In the same week, I’d been told I was now a LinkedIn Top Voice for 2018.
I should have been celebrating and I didn’t because I didn’t feel worthy. If anything, I wanted to give up there and then. Luckily I didn’t follow through with any of these ideas. I knew it was just noise in my awful day.
I went away to sit on the couch and think about what I’d just read. Without really thinking about what I was going to do for the rest of the day, I began thinking about my team at work. There were several leadership challenges that I had to solve.
One was from a customer that was being abusive to female staff. Another was a rejection I had to deliver to someone that wanted to work with us. The hardest part about delivering the rejection was that I’d already said yes.
Despite the day being bad, I made a fundamental decision — to keep doing what I do and not stop. I said to myself “How can I inspire people while simultaneously solving both these challenges?”
I’m a big believer that it’s not what you say that matters; it’s what you do. Talk is cheap. I came up with a bold plan to address both challenges.
I was going to do something that made me see the good in the people involved.
Even if the people in both situations had let me down, I was going to assume they were still good.
I concocted a plan to help both people and try and show them a more positive way to move forward. If I break down the plan, it was about being an inspiration in both situations.
I didn’t feel like being inspiring.
It was not the day to be inspiring.
But it was the only way I could motivate myself to finish off this bad day and wake up the next morning fresh. It’s funny how a good nights sleep takes away all the pain and negativity from the day before.
So, by the end of the day, I enabled both plans. I set out to release inspiration in both scenarios and that was my only focus. I didn’t look at anymore hate fuelled comments or go near social media.
On that bad day last Friday, my actions helped me keep moving forward and not give up.
It’s not about necessarily seeing the good in your bad day.
I’ve read this sort of advice heaps, but it requires a lot of willpower.
“Using your actions to make the day better rather than trying to think your way out of your bad day seems to be a lot easier to implement”
It’s not about the bad day.
Bad days will happen.
It’s what you do on a bad day that determines if you’ll feel the full effect of all the negativity that can potentially knock you out like a Tsunami that comes your way when all you wanted to do was lay on the beach and soak up some sun.
I’ve learned to find situations during a day that’s not working out well for me, to do something good, and often that’s not something that benefits me. If I was to look at it another way it would be “How do I not focus on my own bad day?”
Trying to make someone else’s day good distracts you from your own bad day.
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This Is How An Ordinary Person Can Make Their Country Better.
Someone asked on the internet how they can make their country better.
They considered themselves ordinary and felt that they had to be someone special to make a difference in their country, India.
Their question made me feel a bit emotional because I can relate. I too have also dreamt of making my country better.
The most common answer to this question is to get involved in politics.
Many of you reading this find politics really boring including me. I’ve learned through my own experience that politics is not the only way you can make your country better.
Here’s how you can make your country better:
Use your voice
When I was faced with the question “How do I make my country better?” I decided to use my voice.
It was this decision that changed everything. I spent every day using my voice to stand for something. I wanted to inspire the world through entrepreneurship and personal development.
So, I started using my voice by posting on LinkedIn. I used my voice and transcribed it into words to tell the citizens of my country what I think they needed to hear.
Using your voice is incredibly scary at first. As soon as you start sharing your thoughts, many people will say nothing. You’ll get almost no feedback. As your voice starts to get louder over time (probably years) the opposite will happen and you’ll attract trolls and critics.
The hardest part about using your voice is having the courage every day to use it and not being obsessed with the outcome.
By using my voice online through blogging and LinkedIn, I managed to get a 35,000 person bank to start talking about my ideas with staff and customers, and I was voted LinkedIn Australia’s Top Voice that year.
Using the power of your voice is the number one way you can change your country.
It’s in your experiences, ideas and thoughts that you can find what it is that can help your country.
In my country, Australia, we are quite well off, but we still lack a positive mindset. Some of us work jobs we hate and we like things that only money can buy. There’s a competition to get the biggest house or the most expensive car.
It’s not a problem everyone in Australia suffers from, but it’s widespread. I believe by using my own voice to inspire people to seek alternatives, I can change my country.
The results thus far suggest I’m well on the way to changing my country.
Changing your country seems like a huge task. It sounds like something only a Nelson Mandela sort of fella can achieve. That’s not true.
A simple understanding of the power of kindness can change your country.
There was this guy I read about online that changed his country by giving out free hugs because he couldn’t run in the local marathon. He embraced his kind nature and ended up impacting millions of people in his country.
Being kind is infectious because we’re wired to do it. When we see one person be kind, we want to do the same.
The problem in my country (and many others) is that we’ve sacrificed kindness for greed.
We’ve let our country’s economy become the most important factor instead of measuring the way we treat people and the ability of a country’s nation to overcome adversity together.
Kindness is so important because every one of our countries will face adversity, and kindness is the solution to that inevitable problem.
Pick up the trash
This one seems even smaller in impact. It’s not.
I found that by picking up the rubbish I saw in places like my apartment lobby, I was able to show myself that I care about my country.
When we care about our country, we choose to make it look beautiful so others can enjoy it. Something simple like picking up the trash can take you a long way towards helping your country.
Every country has an environmental problem and picking up rubbish can help solve it. If we all picked up one piece of trash, then each of our country’s would be a hell of a lot cleaner.
Don’t think you can’t make your country better
A lot of what I’ve learned, by trying to make my own country better, has come from the belief that I can have an impact.
There are so many people who want to do nothing more than complain which wastes time and energy and doesn’t make anyone’s country better.
The way you make your country better is by believing you can and taking one or two small actions to start the process.
The people that change their country believe they can.
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