hip hop

GURU R.I.P.

Gang Starr frontman GURU died this week. If you don't know who GURU was, or want the details of his life and death, there's an excellent piece on that at URB, or The New York Times. This is a marketing blog, and as much as we at Rebel were fans of GURU and are deeply saddened by his loss, our job is to help you become better at your job of marketing your brands and products. We do that by learning from everything — I mean everything — that happens around us, including the untimely deaths of rap stars. Here we go… By some definitions, Gang Starr never made it big. They never sold records like Lil Wayne or Soulja Boy. They didn't become actors like Ice Cube or Mos Def. But they did manage to build a career that spanned two decades and brought us some of the most important hip hop records of our time.

In a word, Gang Starr were influencers. That term gets thrown around a lot these days, generally referring to anyone with more than 5 Facebook friends. But Gang Starr epitomized the role of the influencer long before marketing types could ruin the term. They were just really good at what they did. GURU was a good rapper, but his true legacy is about bringing jazz into hip hop in truly innovative ways; it's about crossing cultural borders by collaborating with artists from around the world; it's about partnering with one of the best producers in modern music to create records that would endure.

Without trying, they influenced dozens or hundreds of professional musicians to improve, and countless thousands of young kids out there to pick up a mic. And that's their legacy. Without Gang Starr — and other influential, but not famous artists — maybe there's no Nas, no Biggie, no Jay-Z. Maybe that's not the exact lineage, but you get the picture: For every one act who comes out and changes the world, there are several who served to inspire, to influence, to enable them to become who they are.

A major problem with modern society is that the role of the influencer is misunderstood. Surely, the current music business has no room left for artists like GURU or those before them like Rakim or Kool G Rap. The labels won't support an act with moderate sales over multiple albums. But these are the artists that make wannabe artists want to be artists. These are the ones that matter.

The brand world is largely the same. We're too busy looking for home runs and superstars to see the real opportunities in solid performers who don't make the a-list. If you're a sponsor, you're far better off supporting artists like Gang Starr who people actually care about than breaking your bank on someone like Lady Gaga who we won't remember next year. Even if you're not a sponsor, you should be looking within — and outside — your organization to find the real influencers who inspire you, your team, and your customers. You need to partner with them, win them over, somehow get them on your side.

Think about it: Who influences you? Who inspires you to do what you do even better? Who influences your employees, your customers? And what are you doing to participate in that cycle of influence? Leave a comment here and tell us your story.

Introducing Blend // Headlines: Rebel Makes News

Blend InviteBlend kicks off this Thursday, October 15. This is an original concept I've been developing and I'm very excited to share it with you. I grew up around music and DJs. Used to spend much of the week looking forward to what was coming out on Tuesday, and then rush to the store with whatever money I had to make sure I was up on the latest vinyl. More recently, I would spend at least 5 nights a week listening, dancing, and connecting. These days, I've given up late nights for early morning yoga and quality time with friends. The appeal of keg cups and Patron shots have been replaced by a good glass of wine.

But good wine is hard to find, with more than 5,000 producers in the US, and several times that when you add in Europe, South America, etc. Wine marketing does a really poor job at helping us navigate the choices available, and the experts' appeal is limited mainly to the hard core. For those of us who like wine but aren't ready to make the commitment of taking classes or lots of trial and error, the simple task of having something enjoyable to drink can be pretty frustrating.

Enter Blend - debuting Thursday, October 15th at 7pm - which combines wine tasting with top DJs in stylish venues. Wines are selected by Erik Kelley of the Cheese Store of Beverly Hills, and once America's youngest sommelier. Music is selected by KCRW's Garth Trinidad, who collaborates with Erik on pairing — of sorts — the wine with the music.

We are grateful to have Puma as a charter sponsor, premiering the new AFRICA collection on Thursday. Our host venue is The Celebrity Vault, a Beverly Hills gallery specializing in contemporary art and iconic photographs of celebrities. Really cool stuff to look at.

We have a couple surprises planned as well, so I'd love it if you would come out and let us know what you think. Your feedback is essential as we grow this brand.

Tickets are $30 in advance and $40 at the door. There's also a VIP ticket available at $75. You can see all the details and purchase tickets at www.blendwineandmusic.com

Friends ‘n Family 12 // Headlines: Rebel Makes News

Pete Rock on the decks Last Friday Rebel produced the 12th annual Friends ‘n Family event — a music industry soiree to kickoff Grammy weekend. This is our seventh year producing the event that went from an intimate mixer for industry elites to a downright rager for industry elites.

The first year we were involved, it was at Dominick’s. We got Richard “Humpty” Vission to do a huge favor and spin in the smallest room he’s probably played in at least a decade. I’d say the guest list was about 140.

This year was our second on the Paramount Studios lot. We shut the door down at 11:00pm after reaching capacity at around 2,000.

DJ AM and Jihaad Shaw

The talent lineup drew from the top of the pyramid: DJ AM, legendary producer Pete Rock, the Alchemist, and a live set by Talib Kweli. The show-stealer was Peanut Butter Wolf, a highly talented and credible

underground hip hop producer and label owner who nobody really expected to rock the crowd the way he did.

Notable guests included Catherine McPhee, Lil Jon, Slash ,?uestlove, Jill Scott, Eve, David Banner, The Jonas Brothers, Apollonia, Michael Rappaport, James Poyser, Tila Tequila, and most of the heads of the major record labels and publishing companies, many of whom were the hosts of the night.

Talib Kweli

Special thanks to our clients Mark and Andy from Advanced Alternative Media, who put the whole thing together, and to our friends from Red Bull, FIJI Water, Miller, BelvedereCafe Bustelo, and the Cheese Store of Beverly Hills who kept everyone refreshed.

Common x Jimmy Kimmel Show // On The Run

Common onstage at Jimmy Kimmel Couple weeks ago, I went to the Jimmy Kimmel Show to see Common perform. Thanks to Jimmy's sports booker, John Carlin for the green room and backstage hospitality, and to Juxt Interative CMO (and part-time Rebel evangelist), Josh Mooney for making it happen. Mooney brought Paul Sutton from 180 (agency for Adidas, Boost, etc.), and another dude called Duke Fightmaster — his real name, which was a topic of conversation every time we met someone new — who hosts an eponymous variety show online at dukefightmaster.com.

I think I’ve been locked away working for too long, but it really felt like a big night out.

John got us on stage for Common’s set. The curly head in the bottom center of the photo belongs to Danny Masterson, another guest that night. What you don’t see is that as I snapped this picture, Serena Williams is standing directly to my right, and Interscope’s Tim Reid to my left. Well-rounded group.

Common recently remarked that Obama will change hip hop. I hope he’s right. But it didn’t change his set. He brought the same kind of fire he always does, on this night with a live band. He even gave Pontiac its money’s worth, weaving them into a little intro freestyle to acknowledge that they sponsor the stage. I wonder how that’s paying off for them. They’re obviously getting impressions, but does anyone care at all - does it make a difference?