Philadelphia native Tayyib Smith thinks hip-hop moguls like Jay Z, Sean Combs and Dr. Dre are perfect examples for young aspiring business owners.
The former artists and repertoire executive chose the big-name rappers as archetypes for his new Institute of Hip Hop Entrepreneurship program, aimed at under-served youth. The Knight Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to supporting innovative arts and journalism programs, recently awarded Smith a $308,000 Cities Challenge grant to fund the project. The Institute was one of 37 winners chosen from 4,500 applicants, according to the Cities Challenge website.
“Hip-hop, more so than any other genre, embodies the spirit of entrepreneurship,” Smith told CNN Money. “Our intention is to decode how hip-hop has influenced traditional business practices.”
Indeed, today’s music artists are not content with one occupation. Rappers have their hands in everything from clothing lines to liquor bottles, and they regularly top Forbes’ highest-paid celebrity lists. Their names have become the brand.
“Dre elevated Beats into a headphones empire before selling it to Apple for $3 billion,” Smith said.
Combs’ Sean John brand helped shape Black fashion, and the soon-to-be retired rapper is “doing it in the alcohol industry with his joint venture with Diageo,” Smith said.
As Jay Z — No. 3 on the Forbes Five, a ranking of hip-hop’s wealthiest artists — cleverly quipped, “I’m not a businessman. I’m business, man.”
The Institute of Hip Hop Entrepreneurship curriculum will be just as unconventional as the genre itself. Students in the nine-month program won’t have traditional lectures and exams. Instead, the institute will partner with entrepreneurs, musicians and technologists, who will teach courses infused with their own experiences.
Recruitment for the first class of 36 students begins on May 30, and the program is free for all those accepted. Classes will begin in November, according to The Philadelphia Citizen.
Smith has a wealth of personal experience to bring to the table. The 45-year-old is founding partner of Little Giant Creative, a full-service creative firm. Heineken and Adidas are just two of the boutique agency’s major clients. In 2014, Smith co-founded Pipeline Philly, a highly designed shared workspace targeting small businesses in Center City. The astute businessman also served as founder and publisher of two.one.five magazine, an arts, music and culture publication.
Smith said his own path to success took the alternative route. After years of homeschooling, Smith dropped out in his senior year to enlist in the Navy, where he completed his GED.
“People hear us say ‘hip-hop’ and they think we’re trying to create the next celebrity,” Smith said in a profile for the Citizen. “We’re not. We want to use best practices of how people became successful within hip-hop to inspire a new generation of entrepreneurs.”
Students will meet for an intensive weekend of study just once a month, the Citizen reports. The remainder of their studies will be self-directed, encouraging pupils to learn and study economic literacy and social impact as well as constructing business proposals that they will eventually pitch to investors.