The tattered stretch of West Slauson Avenue just off Crenshaw Boulevard in Los Angeles isn’t the first place you’d expect to see a Cadillac Escalade roll up and deliver a Grammy-nominated musician. At the tiny strip mall on the south side of the street, storefronts include an off-brand taco joint, a Boost Mobile outlet and an accountant’s office advertising same-day tax refund advances up to $6,000.
This is where Nipsey Hussle decided to spend a recent Friday morning, and for good reason. His Marathon Clothing store, which peddles Crenshaw hoodies alongside his own music, occupies the corner of the L-shaped plaza. His history here goes back even further—in fact, it’s where he got his name.
“Before we was renting here, I was hustling in this parking lot,” says Nipsey, 33, born Ermias Asghedom. “It’s just always been a hub for local entrepreneurs.”
Change is coming to Crenshaw, and Nipsey is aiming to be on its bleeding edge: This month, Nipsey and business partner Dave Gross swooped in to pay “a couple million” for the plaza. Within 18 months or so, they’ll knock everything down and rebuild it as a six-story residential building atop a commercial plaza where a revamped Marathon store will be the anchor tenant.
In the meantime, a light rail line is rising to link Crenshaw—which, crucially, qualifies as a tax-advantaged Opportunity Zone—to Los Angeles International Airport and other key nodes of sprawling Southern California. The plaza will be among the first to benefit: There’s a brand-new train station under construction just steps away.
Nipsey may not be hip-hop’s biggest name, but he’s certainly among the genre’s most entrepreneurial. His slow-burn career started to catch fire six years ago when Nipsey offered 1,000 copies of his mixtape Crenshaw for $100 apiece—Jay-Z bought 100 copies—and rolled the profits into his label, All Money In. He released just 100 copies of a subsequent offering, Mailbox Money, with a price tag of $1,000.
“[Nipsey] was not trying to be independent just for the sake of it, but thinking about the benefits of being an independent artist,” says Chris Lyons, who has known Nipsey for several years and runs Andreessen Horowitz’s Cultural Leadership Fund, which counts Nas and Diddy as investors. “The most important thing is his ability to just see where future trends are going and not being afraid to pioneer.”
For Nipsey, the hustle started at home. He grew up down the road from the plaza, in what he calls “the worst house on the best block,” cutting grass and shining shoes to make extra cash as a kid before falling in with local gangs. Fortunately, his musical role models were entrepreneurs as well, offering a way out of a dead-end path.
Dr. Dre, from nearby Compton, built Death Row Records into one of the most influential labels in hip-hop history before eventually shifting focus to his namesake headphone line. Watching Dre from up close and moguls like Jay-Z and Diddy from afar gave Nipsey “the blueprint of what could be done with the platform of being a successful rap artist,” he says.
Nipsey started putting out mixtapes in 2005; on one of his early songs, Hussle In The House, he made sure to include a few financial lessons of his own. “Straight off the block, I sold dope to buy groceries,” he rapped. “Now it’s rap money, no advance, it’s all royalties.” Nipsey also prophetically flicked at his future Opportunity Zone gambit: “Pay taxes to these corners and put in work, it’s a policy.”
For his first music video, he wanted to do something that both represented his hometown and offered a path to earnings beyond music. Leafing through an old yearbook, he noticed a picture of local legend Darryl Strawberry in a vintage Crenshaw High School baseball jersey. Nipsey ordered a batch of throwback blue-and-yellow shirts with “Crenshaw” scripted across the front to wear in the shoot.
When the video ended up on MTV, scores of people started asking about “Crenshaw Clothing.” Nipsey had other ideas. A friend had given him a book called The 22 Immutable Laws Of Marketing, packed with Procter & Gamble case studies. As Nipsey ruminated on these lessons in the context of his own journey, the word “Marathon” came to him—it had more potential, he thought, than Crenshaw, a location most people couldn’t place on a map.
Nipsey flirted with major labels, signing with Epic but leaving in 2010—with his catalog intact—after a management change left his official debut album in limbo. While continuing his prolific mixtape output, he became obsessed with the notion of social currency, prompting the release of his $100 mixtape in 2013.
“I believe that economics is based on scarcity of markets,” he told Forbes at the time. “And it’s possible to monetize your art without compromising the integrity of it for commerce.”
Meanwhile, Nipsey continued to give away other mixtapes to satiate his fans, who in turn supported him by buying concert tickets and merchandise. He turned down new record deals because the labels all seemed to want a piece of his burgeoning broader business.
He didn’t need the cash, thanks to his ancillary income and his TuneCore catalog, which was earning him monthly royalty checks in the low six figures. After a couple of years, though, Nipsey had built up a good amount of leverage. He decided to cut a deal with Atlantic that enabled him to make Victory Lap, his official major label debut.
“It’s a partnership. … I shook hands and said I wouldn’t give full details, but we’re sharing everything: profit, masters,” he says. “I was holding out for a long time for these terms.”
Nominated for Best Rap Album at this year’s Grammy Awards, the record paired his rapidly improving socioeconomic status with a career-long message of fiscal responsibility. In one verse, he blustered about Benzes and Bentleys—and touted his trust accounts alongside the “million-dollar life insurance on my flesh.”
At the same time, Nipsey was looking for other ways to expand his empire. He met Gross, a private-equity and real-estate investor, courtside at a Lakers game several years ago. (“We started drinking tequila,” says Nipsey. “By the third quarter, we was more friendly.”) They bonded over Gross’s idea for an inner-city co-working space now known as Vector90.
They eventually teamed up to buy the plaza on West Slauson, currently zoned for buildings that max out at 40 units. Nipsey and Gross are aiming for 100 units, which requires a lengthy entitlement process, so they’ve been working with the city and local council members on the details—hence the long timeline. And they’re building smart.
Buried in the tax overhaul of 2017 is a provision to encourage investment in state-designated low-income enclaves known as Opportunity Zones. Under the law, investors can shift capital gains into institutions located in these areas, where the capital is taxed at a reduced rate; new opportunity investments can grow tax-free.
There are basically no limits on the amount of money that can be plowed into an Opportunity Zone or the amount of tax that can be avoided. Is it possible the program is excessively business-friendly? Not for its ambitious goals, backers say.
“The incentive needs to be powerful enough that it can unlock large amounts of capital, aggregate that capital into funds and force the funds to invest in distressed areas,” billionaire Sean Parker told Forbes last year. “Instead of having government hand out pools of taxpayer dollars, you have savvy investors directing money into projects they think will succeed.”
Parker was part of a diverse group of Opportunity Zone proponents that included Senators Tim Scott of South Carolina, a Republican, and Cory Booker of New Jersey, a Democrat. Like Parker, they argue that bold moves are necessary to fix entrenched ills: To qualify for the program, an area must have a median household income 80% less than nearby neighborhoods’ or a poverty rate of at least 20%.
Gross and Nipsey saw a perfect fit for Crenshaw.
“This is the quintessential Opportunity Zone investment,” says Gross. “The law is supposed to support ground-up entrepreneurship, giving opportunities and jobs to all communities and improving the neighborhood.”
The purchase of the plaza also marks the beginning of a coalition called Our Opportunity—led by Gross, with Nipsey as a founding partner—that will aim to team with local legends in 10 cities as part of a broader Opportunity Zone-based fund. From there, Nipsey envisions building a tax-advantaged lifestyle empire, all linking back to his music.
“The vision is to launch franchises,” says Nipsey, imagining a line of The Marathon Clothing stores, barbershops, fish markets, restaurants. “There’s such a narrative to this parking lot—that’s a part of my story as an artist.”
-Zack O’Malley Greenburg; Forbes Staff
Burna Boy’s The African Giant Debuts On The Daily Show With Trevor Noah
What happens when one of Africa’s global comedians meets an African global recording artist? African greatness, that’s what. Burna boy was interviewed on The Daily Show with Trevor Noah, making it a proud moment for Africans world wide.
South African born comedian Trevor Noah hosted Nigeria’s singer and song writer, Burna Boy on The Daily Show on Tuesday night.
Born Damini Ogulu, Burna Boy spoke about his recipe for Afro-fusion music, performing at Coachella and producing his album African Giant.
In a video released showing behind the scenes footage, Trevor Noah expressed his love for Nigeria.
“That’s the one thing I’ve always loved about Nigeria; it’s the love of Nigeria from Nigeria. If every African could have that, ‘we love our thing’,” Trevor refers to the zeal Nigeria has about their talent.
While at the show Burna Boy performed a medley of songs Ye and Anybody.
Burna Boy who is one of this year’s Forbes Africa 30 under 30 list makers made waves recently after releasing his much anticipated album earlier this year.
The album was released in July and includes hit songs like African Giant, Dangote, Spiritiual, and international artists like Jeremih, Future, Damian Marley and Jorja Smith.
In the album categorized as afrobeats has some Fela Kuti influences, he asserts himself as an African and conveys the message of how Africa should not be marginalized.
“I am an AFRICAN GIANT and will not be reduced to whatever that tiny writing means,” he wrote on Instagram.
The album was released a month after he won the BET Award for the Best International Act at the end of June.
Already garnering thousands of listeners and viewers on platforms such as YouTube and Apple Music, Burna Boy has teamed up with Spotify to launch Burna Bank.
Inspired by the artwork for the African Giant album, Burna Bank is, “the installation features a unique ATM which will be dispensing custom, collectible bills designed by Sajjad Musa.
Each bill is inspired by Burna’s Nigerian roots, and his quest to call out corruption and the disproportionate distribution of wealth.”
The Burna Bank is an ATM that distributes these notes and launches this week making him one of the first African musicians to have his own currency.
Another one of his wins this year was recording a song with Grammy award winner Beyoncé, in a single titled Ja Ara E as part of her The Lion King:The King Album.
Burna Boy continues to prove he is a force to be reckoned with as an African giant and continues to put the continent on the map.
Executive Travel: NaakMusiQ’s Dubai
The South African actor and musician was impressed with the city’s architecture, food and work ethic.
South African actor and musician Anga Makubalo, known by his stage name NaakMusiQ, calls the Middle Eastern emirate of Dubai a luxury destination.
NaakMusiQ, who hails from Port Elizabeth in South Africa’s Eastern Cape Province, shot to fame after appearing in the award-winning South African soap opera Generations and has since been in a number of television shows.
He has also had a chart-topping music hit, Ntombi ft Bucie.
NaakMusiQ’s first trip to Dubai, known as the melting pot of the Middle East, was last year on an Emirates flight when he traveled Business Class. The fashion-lover admits to being a light packer, although there are some items he would never travel without, such as cologne, a pair of sneakers, and his music.
READ MORE | Executive Travel: Nomzamo Mbatha’s Kenya
“I also carry my scripts all the time. Because of the long flights, I can get tired of watching a movie, I can get tired of listening to music, so the next best thing is to get into my script and get a head start.”
He has been to Dubai before, but only transiting the airport connecting to another flight, so this was his first official trip into the glistening city.
“Dubai is everything that people say it is,” he says. “We went to the mall. It was crazy! I’ve never seen anything like it before. [The Dubai Mall] has a full-on aquarium inside. In the middle of the center, there’s like this huge fish tank. It’s crazy! That was probably the highlight of my visit.”
The actor was also intrigued by the city’s architecture and skyscrapers.
“I’m actually very huge on architecture. It’s actually something I wanted to study. Their engineering is absolutely insane. The way they’ve built this place and the designs – it’s luxury, one after the other. We drove for hours admiring the architecture because I’m such a nerd when it comes to that. I love it.”
Dubai has a sizeable African expatriate community, and no dearth of African culture. As a musician, NaaqMusiQ had been invited to the city.
“Africans that have immigrated to Dubai request their favorite African artist to come over so that they’re still connected to Africa and home. The nice thing about that is, as much as it is our people that have invited us there to perform, they have influenced people from there [Dubai] and other parts of the country [UAE] to come and listen to our music.
“Because they’ve become residents there, they have friendships where they introduce African music to the people of Dubai. So when we went there, there were quite a lot of people, even though some couldn’t sing along, there were a lot of people who went crazy when my song [Ntombi] played.”
During his time there, NaakMusiQ was also taken to restaurants serving African food. This came as somewhat of a surprise for the actor that the Arab city boasted a range of eateries specializing in African cuisine.
“We had a lot of Kenyan food that I hadn’t tasted before, which was really nice. They’ve got Tanzanian food, they’ve got South African food, Zambian food; it’s just a whole African experience there. And they do well actually.”
READ MORE | Executive Travel: JJ Schoeman’s Prague
While NaakMusiQ didn’t interact with the natives of Dubai, he did get a sense of what they are like. The hustle and bustle of the city left him greatly motivated.
“Everyone in Dubai is there to work. Everyone is there to hustle. People think that Dubai is this big, fun place, which it can be, but even people from there aren’t out partying every night. It’s people from the countries that are visiting that are out partying. Everyone else is really working. Some people are so hectic when it comes to business and money that they don’t have a life outside of their work.
“When they do have nights off, they choose to be at home or to put in extra hours working. It just made me want to work harder. That is the impact… Everyone there wants to do better. The standards there are incredibly high. What we would consider as good here is probably entry-level there,” says the hit-maker who now plans to return to Dubai wealthier and with more cash to splurge.
Stone Town: From Freddie Mercury To The Farms
The sights, scents and sounds of Zanzibar include a 73-year-old tale of the iconic late British singer-songwriter.
Dress conservatively when walking the streets of Stone Town,” advises the tourist brochures in the predominantly Islamic society of Zanzibar, yet, the tiny Tanzanian archipelago proudly claims Freddie Mercury, the controversial frontman of British band Queen, as its own.
The singer, born in the windswept streets of Stone Town in Zanzibar in 1946 and one of the world’s most iconic voices in pop-rock, is this tourist town’s biggest currency-spinner.
Stone Town, which is a maze of historic alleys and spice bazaars with timber shutters, an old Arab fort, churches, mosques and 19th-century stone buildings, is a World Heritage Site overlooking the sea. Within its dusty bowels, leading up from its myriad walkways, is Shangani Street, starting with a white-washed, two-storied yellow building that was once Freddie Mercury’s home.
There are countless tours offered to what is emblazoned in gold outside as ‘Freddie Mercury House’, featuring four fully-furnished hotel apartments with balconies overlooking the Indian Ocean.
Outside are framed glass cases with sepia images of the songwriter and vocalist, describing his famous connection with Zanzibar. Born Farrokh Bulsara, Mercury’s family had immigrated to Zanzibar from Gujarat in India. He was born to Bomi and Jer Bulsara who were originally Parsis (a Zoroastrian community that migrated to the Indian subcontinent from Persia). In 1964, the Zanzibar Revolution forced the family to flee.
The island community’s lucrative tourist trade is even today cashing in on Mercury’s global image, with tours offered at the Zoroastrian Fire Temple where the Parsi family once worshipped, and to a restaurant named Mercury offering fresh seafood.
“Imagine, Freddie Mercury played on these white sandy beaches and clear waters at one time,” says my tourist guide, Amour, proudly, before taking me on a two-hour walking tour of Stone Town. He points to the domed white Zanzibar High Court where Mercury’s father once worked as a cashier.
His house on Shangani Street, where the first settlers arrived, is a hub of activity, with tourists, and touts selling everything from icecream to tanzanite jewelry and African bric-à-brac. Just a few steps up, is the Shangani post office and buildings boasting Indian, African and European architecture, where you discover your own Bohemian Rhapsody.
Amour helps me weave through the heaving mass of human traffic in the busy streets, to a fish and vegetable market in Stone Town that also sells spices in pretty bamboo gift-packs. The fish is sold fresh and the spices overpower the stench.
“Zanzibar used to be the largest exporter of cloves in the world, but from 70 percent, it’s only nine percent now,” Amour rues, thrusting a packet of cloves into my hand, “and that’s sad, because of declining prices, more competitors and the poor encouragement of farmers.”
Earlier, I had visited the spice farms Zanzibar is so famous for, finishing off with lunch in a Swahili home stationed on a peak in one of the scented valleys. It was modest home-cooked fare but with aromas as strong as the spice farms the ingredients came from: a banana dish with coconut milk and cardamom, flavored cassava from the fields, fried tuna, rotis and the most fragrant pilaf (rice dish) I have ever eaten, watered down with lemon grass and ginger tea.
I had been to the Muyuni village in the south tasting the sweetest mangoes and bananas in all of Africa, passing seaweed-strewn beaches, paddy fields and potholed roads with bullock carts, dala dala taxis and motorbikes.
In the lush mangroves of Jozani, I encountered the endangered red colobus monkeys. In the spice plantations, down slippery forest paths, I tasted nutmeg, cinnamon and cloves off the trees.
The natural treats along the way also included lemons and sweet green oranges. As we passed the red mahogany trees, “beware of the green mambas or pythons”, my host had warned. A vendor in the middle of the forest showed us his wares in a wicker basket: soaps and perfumes made from the Ylang-Ylang trees by the womenfolk.
“In Europe, Chanel No. 5 is made from this. Here, we call it Chanel No. 0, our products have no chemical or alcohol,” he says, pointing to the tiny bottles filled with red liquid. “These farms are so rich in spices that the chicken running around are already spiced, you don’t need to flavor them when you cook them,” laughs Amour, towards the end of our outing. From Freddie Mercury to the farms, Zanzibar beckons the senses.
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