the hip-hop culture can make an advertiser’s product appear cool, it’s not without risk. The advertiser has to gain street cred with the hip-hop community without offending African Americans in general. One faux pas came courtesy of Toyota Motor Co., which ran an ad in spring 2001 featuring a close-up of a smiling black man with a gold Toyota RAV4 imbedded in his front tooth. Many African Americans found this highly insulting, and the company pulled the ad and initiated a $7.8 billion diversity and job-training program after the Rev. Jesse Jackson threatened to launch a boycott of the automaker. “This is a very smart consumer and you have to be real with him. There [are] some people who can do it and some people who can’t,” says Carol H. Williams, president of Carol H. Williams Advertising in Oakland, California (No. 5 on the 2001 BE ADVERTISING AGENCY list with $91 million in total billings). “It’s about knowing who you are and who your target market is and how far in their door you are welcome at any given point.”
Entrepreneurial hip-hop artists such as Sean “P. Diddy” Combs and behind-the-scenes moguls such as Simmons and Dash employ a different strategy to market their products and artists. All three have created a series of complementary ventures. In fact, some like Simmons decided to join Madison Avenue as a means of controlling hip-hop’s image and accessibility. Two years ago, Simmons’ start-up advertising firm, Rush Media, joined forces with Deutsch Inc., a billion-dollar ad agency with high-profile clients such as IKEA, Pfizer Pharmaceuticals, and fashion designer Tommy Hilfiger, to create dRush L.L.C. The venture, co-owned by Simmons and CEO Tommy Deutsch, is seeking to be the leader in “youth-culture advertising.”
Percy “Master P” Miller has taken a different tack with his No Limit Enterprises. With $249 million in sales for 2000, the business includes music, clothing, film, television programming, electronic devices such as pagers and cellular phones, real estate, and fashion. “Most guys get into this business to be hard-core. I’m in this to show people that we could come from nothing and still be able to deal with corporate America,” Master P told BE. “I don’t have to go to Harvard, and still I’m able to get into a boardroom and show people how to make hundreds of millions of dollars.”
A strategy Master P employs is learning how big business works and emulating it. “I look at white corporate America, the way they make their dollar work for them down to the last penny,” he says. “We [African Americans] just don’t do that. We throw so much away worrying about the wrong thing.” Some of Master P’s success may be attributed to his ability to attract African American M.B.A.s to help manage his business ventures.
One of hip-hop’s more diverse entrepreneurs is the Dean family. Brothers Joaquin and Darren, along with sister Chivon, head up Ruff Ryders Entertainment, which produces everything from hip-hop music4with names such as DMX, Jadakiss, and Eve4to videos, film,