Top 5 Startup Tips from Jay-Z

Here at RJMetrics, we try to learn everything we can from the works of accomplished business leaders.  While guys like Warren Buffet usually top that list, there is another visionary we thought was worth mentioning: rapper Jay-Z.  And since we know everyone loves business lessons from rap stars, we thought we’d share some of his insights here.

While he’s never done a song about business intelligence or cohort analysis, Jay-Z’s discography is a rich library of business advice that has been topping the charts over a decade.   Don’t believe me?  Here are the top five lyrical excerpts that have helped shape our business philosophy.

5. Adapt to Serve Your Market

“I dumbed down for my audience to double my dollars
They criticized me for it yet they all yell ‘HOLLA!'”

Song: Moment of Clarity
Album: The Black Album
Year: 2003

Here, Jay-Z admits that he has compromised his artistic vision to make his music more commercially accessible.  Mainstream artists are often accused of “selling out” for doing exactly this, but here Jay-Z openly admits to the practice and justifies it with a simple fact: it made him rich.

As a business owner, your vision may not always appeal to the largest possible market.  The key is to keep an open mind about new opportunities and be ready to adjust your plans to seize them.  Like Jay-Z, many entrepreneurs have made their millions by constantly refining their vision and adjusting their strategy to reach the largest possible market.

4. Be a Renegade

“No lie, just know I chose my own fate
I drove by the fork in the road and went straight”

Song: Renegade
Album: The Blueprint
Year: 2001

In 2001, Jay-Z and Eminem were young stars, each several albums away from the iconic statuses they hold today.  Renegade, their rare collaboration from that year, casts the two as “Renegades” who risk becoming outcasts as they attempt to change the face of hip hop.  Today, we know that these renegades succeeded in their mission.

This track is a lesson in innovation and the rewards that are possible if you take the right risks.  While it’s often safer and easier to use your talents to feed the existing machine, there is far more opportunity in disrupting it.

3. Stay in Food and Beverage

“Shoulda stayed in food and beverage
Too much flossing
Too much Sam Rothstein”

Song: Lost One
Album: Kingdom Come
Year: 2006

Here, Jay draws a powerful business lesson from the Scorsese classic Casino. In the film, Robert De Niro plays Sam “Ace” Rothstein, a handicapper who is chosen by the mob to run a new casino in 1970s Las Vegas. Due to his criminal record, Rothstein is forced to runs things under lowly title of “Food and Beverage Director.” When he begins to pursue a more public image in the interest of personal fame, we see his downfall as it parallels the downfall of mob rule in Vegas.

As Jay’s lyrics suggest, if Ace had stayed heads-down and focused on his original goal of running a profitable enterprise, he might have never fallen. The business lesson is clear: don’t start a company to become famous; start a company to build a company. Keep your eye on the best interests of your business, and don’t let the tempting distraction of personal fame compromise your original goals.

2. Be a Business, Man

“I’m not a businessman
I’m a business, man
Let me handle my business, damn”

Song: Diamonds From Sierra Leone (Remix)
Album: Kanye West’s Late Registration
Year: 2005

With this classic lyric, Jay-Z delivers a valuable lesson for business operators by drawing a distinction between the entrepreneur and the working stiff.  His business’s success has made him something much more than just an average man, and that has enabled him to do far greater things with his life and the lives of those around him.

In the lines that follow, Jay-Z calls out to all of the family members and employees whose livelihoods depend on his continued success and whose lives are better because of what he has become.  Jay-Z reminds us that running your own business will both consume and enrich your life– and that the tradeoff is definitely worth it.

1. Data is King

“Men Lie.
Women Lie.
Numbers Don’t.”

Song: Reminder
Album: The Blueprint 3
Year: 2009

As one the best-selling recording artists of all time, Jay-Z has a pretty good response to anyone who challenges his dominance: check the numbers. This same comeback is also a foolproof way for him to dismiss unaccomplished rivals.

Similarly, in business, there is nothing more important than the numbers behind a company. When the hype dies down, the companies with the strongest fundamentals are the fiercest competitors. And the companies with the strongest understanding of their data are the best-equipped to steer those numbers in the right direction.

If you think there is value in your data that might be going uncaptured, it’s probably time to learn more about RJMetrics.


  1. Posted December 21, 2009 at 11:01 am | Permalink

    As a happy RJ metrics customer, I can only respond with, “we got 99 problems, but data ain’t one.”

  2. Posted December 21, 2009 at 11:04 am | Permalink

    I don’t know if I’d say that in 2001 Jay-Z was a “young star” or “years away from the iconic status.” In New York, the guy was an icon already and had one of rap music’s all time best albums, 1996’s reasonable doubt, under his belt. When Jay-Z dropped “Blueprint,” he was already considered the best in the business and an all time great by many within the industry even if the rest of America had no idea.

    Not to mention he was already in his 30’s (which is by no means “young star” in music world). To give you an idea of how well respected he already was, Biggie said that Jay-Z was the only rapper that ever intimidated him.

  3. Posted December 21, 2009 at 11:23 am | Permalink

    Right on, htsh. I bought Vol 2: Hard Knock Life back in the 90s, way back in middle school. Hard Knock Life was all over the radio back in the day.

  4. Posted December 21, 2009 at 11:24 am | Permalink

    I didn’t mean to come off as a buzzkill. I love this effort and this series of rap-related articles. I’d highly recommend you give “Reasonable Doubt” a listen for some additional business tips. Here is one my favorites from Reasonable Doubt:

    “True this, history school us to spend our money foolish;
    bond with jewelers and, watch for intruders.

    I stepped it up another level, meditated like a buddhist.
    Recruited lieutenants with ludicrous
    dreams of gettin cream, “let’s do this,””

    Here Jay-Z argues for fiscal responsibility while stressing the importance of finding the right partners. It also appears he’s a fan of incorporating meditation into your workflow, which I think is a fantastic idea as well.

  5. Posted December 21, 2009 at 11:40 am | Permalink

    This is a great business/startup analogy. Thanks for posting.

  6. Posted December 21, 2009 at 12:40 pm | Permalink

    And, sell crack to people you live around until you have enough money to go legit.

    But, after that, stay legit and people will forget.

  7. Jason Neal
    Posted December 21, 2009 at 1:51 pm | Permalink

    Jay Z is one of my favorite artists for these very reasons. I’ve been a fan since Reasonable Doubt. His lyrics can teach lessons in such different ways from others. Jay Z is an entrepreneur at heart. Just look at his clothing line, Rocawear as another example.

  8. Posted December 24, 2009 at 1:33 am | Permalink

    Tottally dope!

  9. Posted December 27, 2009 at 8:03 pm | Permalink

    Tha hip hop audience is a group of highly intelligent non-conformists. They don’t need music to be “dumb downed” that was just something tha execs told Jay to save his ego. It is at tha same time an insult to us. Tha fact is, Jay’s music was all about flossing at tha time when tha east coast was grimey. When Biggie died, Jay was tha only one that keep rappin while most of tha other artists cringed in tha corners somewhere. So we embraced him. It had nothin to do with him makin his egotistical flow simpler. When was it deep?

  10. Charles
    Posted January 16, 2010 at 12:26 am | Permalink

    Jay,u are da man!

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