How Rapper G-Eazy Uses Business Principles To Direct His Music Career
“I think that G-Eazy makes white people cool again,” said Al Branch. As general manager of the Blueprint Group, which currently manages Nicki Minaj and Lil Wayne and used to manage Kanye West and Drake, Branch knows cool. “His brand comes from James Dean, Marlon Brando and Paul Newman. He’s in line to be the next great American entertainer.”
G-Eazy is not intimidated by the weight of that mandate. The rapper, who Billboard called “The young Elvis,” is not swinging for first base. “That’s what I aspire to,” he told me. “It’s something to work towards and strive for.” Speaking about the team he’s assembled to help steer his career he adds, “We all believe that anything is possible and that the sky is the limit. And we have our mind set on the big picture.”
G-Eazy is a member of the new breed of musicians, the ones who study the music business and network MBA-style. He studied at Loyola University’s music industry program in New Orleans and is turning his hip-hop swagger and business savvy into a strategic plan.
I met G-Eazy in his dressing room after sound check at a Halloween show at the Aragon Ballroom in Chicago. He was leading a team meeting about the set list with the gravity of a CEO convening his board of directors. We talked about how he plans to make his dreams of superstardom come true.
Dress for the Job You Want
G-Eazy espouses a fake-it-till-you-make-it attitude. He acts as if he is already a star, including staging a big production. “We used to approach a small 400 person show like an arena show, as if I was a star and I was coming out on stage in front of screaming people and that I was to be larger than life,” he said. “It’s our approach to treat each show like an arena show. We over-invest in production to make the stage look bigger, turning the show into an experience and not just somebody standing around with a microphone rapping.”
It seems to be a prophecy on course to fulfillment. Not only have the venues been getting bigger and selling out, he received a compliment from Drake, for whom he opened on a leg of his tour with Lil Wayne. “Drake said, ‘You look like you’ve been up there performing 20 years. You look like a star on stage,’” he said.
Control Your Brand
“Word of mouth is the most valuable form of marketing, but you can’t buy it. You can only deliver it,” G-Eazy said. “And you have to really deliver. If we’re deciding about merch pieces, t-shirts or hats, they have to be well designed and cool enough for somebody to want to buy it and then wear it and walk around advertising me and my music.”
One of the lifestyle offerings at G-Eazy shows is a VIP package where fans can get G’s haircut from his barber. There’s a retro-style barber chair, hardwood flooring and a four-foot neon sign. Every detail is thought-out, down to what music is playing when the fans are waiting in line and how security personnel treat them. These VIP packages not only enhance the brand, they are also an astute mechanism to make the tour profitable capitalizing on the fact that some fans are willing to pay more for an enhanced experience.
“The fans recognize themselves in G-Eazy,” said Branch, who used to work with Jay Z at Roc-A-Fella records. “When I first saw Jay Z or when I saw Justin Timberlake, I saw that those guys had self-awareness about who they are. G-Eazy has done a good job of being confident in who he is. For me that’s bigger than the music at this point. If you look at our roster from Kanye West to Lil Wayne and Nicki Minaj, it’s always been about the brand first. The music goes as part of the brand but it’s not the only thing that the artist can offer. G-Eazy makes songs that fit with his brand and not songs that are generic radio songs.”
That night in Chicago, fans tweeted G-Eazy pictures of themselves dressed up as him for Halloween.
Put the Right People on the Bus, Literally
A common pitfall for young artists is to surround themselves with people they are familiar and comfortable with rather than professionals who challenge them. G-Eazy has been mindful to avoid this trap. “As we’ve added players to the team, like a videographer, a drummer, or a sound guy, we’re trying to keep a bus full of A players and keep a culture where everybody is comfortable enough to push each other in their areas to be great,” he said.
Surrounding yourself with good people isn’t just about talent. It’s also about critical thinking and constructive confrontation. “Both of my guys that I’ve been with since college, Matt Bauerschmidt and Jamil Davis [G-Eazy’s managers], are the opposite of yes men, and that’s toughened my skin over the years,” G-Eazy said. “I think it’s natural for a creative to be sensitive. If I’m in the studio and I write something, I think it’s the greatest thing in the world, it’s like my baby. I just made something out of thin air that exists now in a tangible form. It’s the biggest thrill in my life. And I’ll send it to them really eager to know what they think and they’ll tear it apart.” He laughs. “It’s the same thing with shows. Every night I get off the stage and I give it my all. I walk off drenched, beat, tired, ready to collapse on the couch and they’re there like a football coach ready to tell me what went wrong and what I did good and what needs to be fixed and all that.”
Business acumen is no shortcut. G-Eazy still has to pay his dues, put in hard work, and deliver. “This is my third show in 24 hours,” he told me. “I woke up yesterday and went straight to a radio station to do an interview, I got back from the radio station and I played one show, and as soon as I got off stage I was rushed from the stage into the bus, we drove three hours to another show where I hopped out of the bus and went on stage and played a whole other show. And then as soon as that show was finished I was rushed back onto the bus, driven back to Houston. As soon as we got there I passed out and I was woken up this morning to catch a flight here to Chicago to play this show.”
G-Eazy’s heroes growing up were Too $hort, E-40 and Mac Dre, independent artists who became successful by acting entrepreneurially. He learned from them that he would need to hustle relentlessly to get noticed. “I would go stand with a backpack full of CDs on Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley or downtown Oakland trying to get people to pay attention,” he said. “It’s really tough getting people to care, getting people to pay attention, and you hustle that.”
So far, G-Eazy’s systematic approach seems to be paying off. His album These Things Happen debuted at number 3 on Billboard’s Album Charts and stayed in the chart for 18 weeks. According to Spotify, fans are streaming G-Eazy songs at a rate of 400,000 times a day.