How the Black tech community is leveraging business models that made hip-hop become a massive cultural and business phenomenon

Josh Otis Miller
Josh Otis Miller is a filmmaker and director of the upcoming documentary “Fund Black Tech.”

  • Lauren deLisa Coleman is a trend analyst and author at the intersection of pop culture and emerging tech.
  • Coleman says business patterns in Black tech are reminiscent of the hip hop industry in the 90s.
  • For Black founders “it’s about moving strategically and blowing up,” says Coleman.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Forget the former tech mantra of move fast and break things. For Black tech entrepreneurs and founders, who receive less than 1% of venture-capital funding, it’s about moving strategically and blowing up.

Lauren deLisa Coleman
The author.

As an AI entrepreneur with a background in the hip-hop music industry, I’ve started noticing business patterns in Black tech that look a lot like what I saw during the golden era of hip hop in the 90s.

Strong business models coupled with sheer talent enabled hip hop to become a multi-billion-dollar industry.

Hip-hop artists’ unparalleled, multi-pronged approach to the business grind almost never slept. Many recording artists were also CEOs of independent labels. They may have also had a promotional company or graphic design firm, as well as a clothing label or accessories line in partnership with streetwear designers.

They were veritable factories of business and selling. And then this was all amplified by “the crew” – or in mainstream speak, a collective.

The unmatched Wu-Tang Clan was and continues to be its own kind of crew from that era; the Dogg Pound Gangstaz went beyond duo Daz and Kurupt to include artists Snoop Dogg, Warren G, Nate Dogg, and the D.O.C. You get the idea.

But these legendary crews weren’t just about creativity and recognition – they were also about sales. Hockey-stick earnings growth followed, coming from a self-supported, self-directed business approach that made many in the hip-hop industry very successful.

Read more: A Black founder raised millions from VCs. He shares his best tips on how to overcome investing bias and succeed in Silicon Valley.

Now, we’re beginning to see various ‘crews’ and collaborations emanate from the Black tech space.

A perfect example of this is the Black NFT “crew” Crypto for Black Economic Empowerment (CBEE) led by finance whiz Erikan Obotetukudo who partnered with Cuy Sheffield, a CryptoArt collector and acting head of crypto at VISA.

Obotetukudo launched the CBEE as a place for Black crypto entrepreneurs to connect and share tips. Through Sheffield, it also provides introductions and collaborations to amplify projects deemed worthy for certain entrepreneurs outside of the group.

Recently this crew banded together by pooling resources and leveraging notable names like rapper Pusha T and model Tyra Banks to support the drop of ex-Dodger MLB player-turned-artist Micah Johnson’s NFT art debut, which ended up selling out at $1.4 million in seven minutes.

And then, there’s Trillicon, a collective of technologists, photographers, and designers known as the Wu-Tang of tech.

“‘Trillicon’ is a play on the phrase ‘Trill’ or true and real,” Trillicon CEO Jason Mayden told Insider. “In 2014, as a faculty member at Stanford, I began to connect with other like-minded individuals. We formed a collective as an extension of my private design and business strategy practice.”

Trillicon CEO Jason Mayden
Trillicon CEO Jason Mayden.

“We all ran in adjacent circles; some of us went to college together and others were friends of friends. It was our faith, personal ethos, and collective aspiration to be servant leaders to advance tech and entrepreneurship,” said Mayden.

“For founders of color, our challenges and emotional and mental toils have varying degrees of complexity and nuance that result from generations of disenfranchisement. As an outsider, it was important to define my unique perspective to ideating and problem-solving.”

As much as hip hop is beloved now, initially it was very much considered persona non grata in both the major music industry and culture at large.

Kino Childrey, a manager in the music industry who’s worked artists like 2021 Grammy rap nominee Royce da 5’9, told Insider, “Hip hop was considered outside the typical recording industry parameters. We were kept out for a long time, (as) outcasts. People didn’t get it.”

Childrey says many in hip hop realized that collaboration was the key to success. By working together, artists could motivate major record labels to get on board, with the liquor and fashion industries following.

Josh Otis Miller, a filmmaker and director of an upcoming documentary entitled “Fund Black Tech” echoed these sentiments.

Josh Otis Miller
Josh Otis Miller is a filmmaker and director of the upcoming documentary “Fund Black Tech.”

“Hip hop emerged out of Black voices being suppressed,” he said, “and what is happening in the tech scene is Black voices, Black ideas, being suppressed. Today, hip hop is the biggest income generator in the music industry, the biggest culture-setter in the entire world. Imagine a world where Black ideas and Black tech businesses get a voice.”

When even the National Science Foundation SBIR grants for tech founders holds over years at an average of only 8% of award for all others than Caucasian males, you’ve gotta get creative to find your way as a founder of color.

“Tech is about reimagining,” added Childrey, “so this hip hop approach is demonstrative of that. It’s about taking the path of least resistance in order to survive and overcome those trying to hold you back.”

Lauren deLisa Coleman is a digi-cultural trend analyst, author, and speaker within the intersection of popular culture, emerging tech, and the impact of such trends on business and governance.

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