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Many rappers will claim to be hustlers, but Nipsey Hussle was much more than just a rapper: he was a true entrepreneur and a visionary who changed the way we think about music marketing.
Mixtapes have traditionally been seen as an unofficial project to keep fans attention before or between studio albums. They were used as buzz builders, usually given away on websites like Datpiff.com as a free download. So how did Nipsey, born Ermias Asghedom in Crenshaw, Los Angeles, successfully sell his for $100 and even $1000 per physical copy?
Nipsey explained in a 2013 Forbes interview:
“One of my mentors suggested I read a book called Contagious,” says Asghedom, speaking to me in New York. “In the second chapter, a restaurant owner created the first $100 Philly cheese steak and got ridiculed but got a ton of prominent people interested.
This sparked the idea for Nipsey’s Proud2Pay campaigns. Beginning with the 2013 mixtape “Crenshaw,” he decided to give his fans the option to pay more for his music. In addition to giving it away for free on DatPiff, true fans could buy physical copies for $100. But why would someone pay $100 for a product they could essentially get for free? The answers are marketing and incentives.
Before the release he expertly built anticipation. His fan base was eagerly awaiting his official debut album, Victory Lap, so when he announced the Crenshaw mixtape they were hungry for new music.
He also had mixtape legend DJ Drama hosting the tape, lending weight and credibility to the project. A couple of weeks before the release date the tracklist was made public, revealing big-name featured artists and producers, and he dropped the Crenshaw documentary the same day.
Less than a week before release, Hussle put out a trailer video for the Crenshaw mixtape. He also revealed that only 1000 physical copies of the CD would be made, and sold for $100 each. His aim was to create a conversation around the music, and it worked.
Since the project was a limited edition run, his biggest fans would want the CD as a piece of memorabilia and music history. Also, each copy would be signed by the artist, raising its perceived value even more. Finally, the $100 price tag included a ticket to a private Nipsey Hussle concert you could only attend if you bought the mixtape.
With all these factors combined, physical copies of Crenshaw reportedly sold out in less than 24 hours. Even Jay-Z bought 100 of the 1000 CDs! Do the quick math: 1000 copies at $100 in under 24 hours is a $100,000 day.
The next mixtape was called Mailbox Money and Nipsey went to another level by pricing it at $1,000, again through Proud2Pay. This was unheard of at this time! Not even Jigga Man himself has ever priced his work for that much.
When fans purchased Mailbox Money they received an exclusive merch item, access to the Marathon store, and an invitation for his album listening session. Nipsey provided his fans free options but gave white-glove treatment to fans who purchased a physical copy. Fans were never disappointed with the music and Nipsey sold out all of his packages.
If we learned anything from Nipsey Hussle it’s that creative marketing can really pay off. He was innovative and operated outside of the norm when marketing his music and his brand. Solely listing the mixtapes at above-average prices is not why they were successful. He packaged limited-run projects with special items and private event tickets, turning his music from a commodity to an exclusive offer.
Nipsey Hussle was a true hustler who loved to share information with others. He surely could have taught us many more lessons if he were still here, but even in his short time, he taught us everything we need to succeed. Learn from Nipsey by being creative with your marketing and giving your true fans the option to support you at a higher price.
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