In his memoir Decoded, Jay-Z talks about getting approached by Wall Street dudes who say that they take inspiration from his music. He writes that he was initially weirded out by their fandom, and then realized that they could relate to the hustling lifestyle he rapped about (pre-Blue Ivy, that is). Replace 5 a.m. slinging on the corner with 5 a.m. conference calls, high-tops with wingtips, and you’ve essentially got the same job: hustling a product, whether it’s that soft white, or questionable equity swaps.
Hova may be the choice of the young Wall Street guns, but the hip-hop guru the financially savvy should really be listening to is Christopher Wallace, a k a Notorious B.I.G. He started selling drugs at age 12, and continued doing so even after signing his record contract, until his producer Sean “Puffy” (yes, he was still Puffy back then) Combs forced him to stop. In his hustling years, the rapper collected plenty of useful tips from the streets. Here’s what we can learn from Biggie’s “10 Crack Commandments.”
Rule Number Uno: Never let no one know / How much dough you hold cause you know / The cheddar breed jealousy ‘specially / If that man fucked up, get yo’ ass stuck up
The first rule is simple: discretion. Don’t brag about how much money you have. Wise words, though perhaps a tad hypocritical coming from a man who constantly sported Versace shades, and rapped about his wealth.
Number Two: Never let ’em know your next move / Don’t you know Bad Boys move in silence and violence? / Take it from your highness / I done squeezed mad clips at these cats for their bricks and chips
If you’re building an empire, don’t leak your game plan because you never know who your competitors are. This is certainly sound, if basic, counsel.
Number Three: Never trust no-bo-dy / Your moms’ll set that ass up, properly gassed up / Hoodied and masked up, shit, for that fast buck / She be laying in the bushes to light that ass up
Who can you trust with your trade secrets? Well, as Big put it, “never trust no-bo-dy.” You can tell it’s an important rule because of the way he draws out those syllables.
Number Four: I know you heard this before / “Never get high on your own supply”
Pretty self-explanatory. Biggie actually jacked this lesson from Scarface, but it’s still noteworthy.
Number Five: Never sell no crack where you rest at / I don’t care if they want a ounce, tell ’em “bounce!”
Keep your work life and personal life separate. Doing business out of your home isn’t ideal—if you must, at least establish a separation between your home life and your business.
Number Six: That goddamn credit? Dead it / You think a crackhead paying you back, shit forget it!
Insist on getting paid upfront. Don’t loan money to people who are bad with money and won’t pay you back.
Seven: This rule is so underrated / Keep your family and business completely separated / Money and blood don’t mix like two dicks and no bitch / Find yourself in serious shit
Homophobia aside, Smalls seems unusually distrustful of his relatives (see rule number 3), but his overall point makes sense. Family, and even close friends, don’t necessarily make the best business associates, and it’s important to think hard about whether you are “work compatible” with someone, not just “life compatible,” before jumping into a venture with them.
Number Eight: Never keep no weight on you! / Them cats that squeeze your guns can hold jums too
You can’t do everything yourself. If you have the resources, hire someone to help you (become a job creator!). Even if you’re just starting out, hire interns. Just make sure you can grant them college credit!
Number Nine shoulda been Number One to me: If you ain’t gettin’ bagged stay the fuck from police / If niggas think you snitchin’ they ain’t trying to listen / They be sittin’ in your kitchen, waiting to start hittin’
I’m going to disagree with Biggie on this one and suggest you cooperate with law enforcement. But Biggie’s also talking about the importance of building trust with your colleagues.
Number Ten: A strong word called “consignment” / Strictly for live men, not for freshmen / If you ain’t got the clientele, say “hell no!” / Cause they gon’ want they money rain sleet hail snow
Be realistic about the amount of work you can do. If you can’t take on additional work, then say “hell no!” (or something slightly more professional to that effect). Because nobody will care that you volunteered to take on work, if it doesn’t get done. Under-promise and over-deliver, as they say.
In conclusion: Follow these rules you’ll have mad bread to break up
Véronique Hyland has written about fashion and music for The New York Times, W, Harper’s Bazaar, Paper and Refinery 29. She and her terrifying collection of The Shining memorabilia make their home in Brooklyn Heights.