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.

Mazik Saevitz // Down With Us

Mazik in front of Urth Cafe I’ve known Mazik for most of my career. I was making my way up as a music journalist (sometimes) called Felix The Cat, and he was half of a proud-to-be-Jewish rap duo called Blood of Abraham, signed to Eazy-E's label. They never made it.

Actually, that depends on how you look at it. Mazik and his partner Benyad were clearly talented, and that was acknowledged by many of their peers, a lot of people in the industry, and a core following of true hip hop heads.

They just never sold very many records. Or got a lot of radio play. Mazik remembers my boy Mike Caren, now EVP of A&R at Atlantic Records, once telling his group they needed to change their name. Maybe he was right.

These guys are true artists, and they never gave up their craft, just changed to a different medium. These days, Mazik — through his company Self Aviary — has been shooting music videos for big names like T.I., Everlast, and J Dilla. He and Benyad both represent a new generation of directors who are both super creative and commercial at the same time. They could be the next Spike Jonze, Michel Gondry, or maybe just great directors in their own right.

Jihaad and I had tea with Mazik at Urth Caffe just to get caught up. He’s interested in shooting video content for brands who can make use of his creative vision and guerilla production-style. I’d hire him in a second to create some viral or otherwise innovative videos.

One of the things we love to do at Rebel is connect brands with creative people like Mazik. Let me know if you need something like that and we'll put it together.

"Notorious" Screening // On the Run

A few days ago I went to the “Notorious" screening - the life & death story of Christopher Wallace, aka Notorious B.I.G. - presented by the new Sprite Green @ the ArcLight in Hollywood. First, the movie. It was a great treat to see Christopher J. Wallace, the son of the late B.I.G playing his father at a young age. I was personally taken on an emotional rollercoaster ride throughout the movie. Having cousins from Brooklyn that grew up on Greene & Grand (Bed Stuy Do or Die!) made it that much more special. There were scenes that took me back to my young adulthood that had me bopping my head. Although there were a lot of things left out of the movie and the casting wasn’t that great (Lil' Cease, Puffy, and 2Pac were a total miss), I really enjoyed the journey that the movie took me on and give it a thumbs up - maybe because I was at a lot of the places that were showcased in the film — summertime in BK, hanging out at the LG projects; the '95 Source awards; and the '97 Soul Train Awards.

Next, the actual event. After checking in, I found myself in a long line to enter the theater due to the metal detectors and pat-down to stop “tastemakers” from bringing in cell phones and cameras. The screening started an hour late while they tried to get everyone in a seat, and kick people out who were sitting in "Diddy's seats,” although he never showed up. Of note, Barron Davis (LA Clippers) Ray J (R&B artist and Kim Kardashian co-star) and Soulja Boy (rap artist) did make it.

ArcLight is one of a few high-end theaters in LA that are super clean and well organized. Every ticket comes with a seat number and every guest is seated by an usher. People are willing pay a few dollars extra for premium food and service. Except tonight. Why you would you pay to rent the ArcLight, and then not use what they bring to the table? Would you also bring in your own projector and chairs? These guys do it right, which is why you have a screening there. Let them do their jobs.

After the screening, Sprite Green set up a small afterparty in one of the upstairs bars at the ArcLight. The Notorious soundtrack was played and they showcased three special drinks while the Sprite Girls handed out drink tickets and served apps. It was great hanging out and seeing old friends Benny Boom (video director) Anthony Mandler (photographer & video director), and Nick Diamond (Diamond Supply Company). Overall, the movie was good and I got a chance to hang out with some cool folks that lived in the era when hip hop was great...

[For more info on Rebel's Jihaad Shaw, check out his bio.]

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?