People have always been able to be their own publicists, and social media has made that a possibility for everyone and a necessity for some. Shouts to the SM “influencers” and those who share what lip balm they’re using, the Mezcal on their bar cart, and how awesome it is to sit in first class when flying to Bali.
That’s not news. It’s information. And it’s not special, unique, or inspiring (though it’s always good to know about a new seasoning, spirit, or shopping location). It’s frequent, to be sure, and it always appears to be relevant and important. It’s usually – for lack of a better word – entertainment. There’s no shortage of it, and as well-intended as most of it is, it contributes to the digital noise that fuels disinformation, distraction, and misunderstanding.
Today, digital news and media exceed in volume what is published in print. This is good when something is urgent, and less so when something needs to be accepted, processed, and understood. So, time is truly a gift, and those who have our ears – or, more likely, our eyes – have even more of a responsibility than the academics, journalists, and instructors of days gone by. Happily, and blessedly, Zack O’Malley Greenburg knows he has a responsibility, and for more than ten years, he has acted upon this, shifted and made current his SOPs when necessary. And today, he produces and presents not only what’s possible in media and learning, he exemplifies how it’s supposed to be done.
A long, long time ago, Zack became the reason Forbes is the effective and truth-based published news bridge between traditional business, finance, and Hip Hop. Before and during his role as senior editor of media and entertainment, where he wrote over 1000 articles, Zack paired investigation, culture, and economics in his writings about music, media, and entertainment.
This author of four books, and counting, is serializing weekly the release of his latest book, We Are All Musicians Now, on Substack to everyone who signs up here. This book follows Empire State of Mind (updated, revised, and re-released in 2021), A-List Angels: How a Band of Actors, Artists and Athletes Hacked Silicon Valley (2020), 3 Kings: Diddy, Dr. Dre, Jay-Z and Hip Hop’s Multibillion-Dollar Rise (2018), and Michael Jackson, Inc.: The Rise, Fall, and Rebirth of a Billion-Dollar Empire (2014).
What – for this reporter anyway – distinguishes Empire State of Mind (whose revised version Zack signed and donated to the THHM) from so many books about business success is how it provides detailed and genuine access to intentions, behind-the-scenes operations, and strategies.
Recently, Zack and I spoke at length about the revised and updated book, and what he is currently doing.
The impetus for Empire State of Mind happened a little more than ten years ago, when he was approached by Penguin to write about Jay-Z or Diddy. Both icons were the subjects of 3 Kings, and based on Hova “constantly growing as a force – in music, business, and around the world,” the story of how he became a billionaire needed to be written.
This book – updated from front to back, with new interviews, sources, quotes, and Easter Eggs throughout – is a blueprint (word intended) of Jay-Z’s career. Zack stated, “He never laid it out that clearly.” What’s frequently missing in books about successful businesspeople is where they failed, how they reacted, and how they recovered. Just as “4:44” was the artist’s personal story about his finances, Zack saw the opportunity to present actionable advisement built on “what he’s done and what was behind it.”
In short, present the how behind the why. It can be done with basic principles accompanied by actions, focus, and dedication to goals.
For the reader, particularly the one who wants to experience the most modern type of MBA, “it all goes back to ownership. If you followed his career, you’ll see how he’s been with ownership.” Whether you’ve been a lifelong follower or not, in the early days Jay-Z didn’t want to own his own thing. He was an entrepreneur by necessity.” That choice, the accompanying conduct, and eventual, consistent diversification are absolutely Hip Hop.
Creating and launching Roc-A-Fella and Roc-A-Wear identified the value of ownership. In the ways the wisest musicians, like Prince, own their Masters, Shawn Carter built a brand as much he created sounds and styles. Zack pointed put how best practices in commerce-driven business – attach appropriate value to your assets, diversify, time things correctly – and how “it all begins with the value of ownership, and creating something that’s valuable that is ownable.” When I asked him which moment identified Jay-Z as being a business, man, Zack didn’t pause: “The biggest deal was the selling of Roc-A-Wear, because ‘fuck rich, let’s get wealthy.’”
This applied, and profitable, wisdom was summed up by economist Thomas Piketty: the returns on capital are always more than the returns on labor. There will be no multiplier effect until a business makes profit and compounds the original investment. In the early days, long before Def Jam, TIDAL, and Armand de Brignac, Jay-Z established (and eventually acquired) assets that grew on their own.
While Lady Macbeth (Macbeth, Act III, Scene II) said it first – “What’s done is done” – Jay-Z presents, via his diversified portfolio and as someone who “just keeps doing stuff,” how to become part of and exist within the international business world. As he builds, sells, and acquires, he demonstrates on the regular that he is a force, and always “blazing a trail instead of following a path.”
Zack’s contribution to Hip Hop runs deep, and always with the intention to inform and inspire. He grew up in New York City in the 1980s and 1990s, and like many of us, loved Hip Hop and gravitated to the sounds. Hip Hop was the soundtrack to his life in New York.
Nourishing the planted seeds from childhood, when Zack was asked in 2007 by editors to assist in finding the top rappers, his premiere article led to an annual series for the magazine, Hip-Hop Cash Kings. In addition to his myriad articles and appearances, 2017 included Forbes producing a mini-documentary about the unification of Hip Hop’s pioneers with the current community: “From Bronx to Billions.” Zack’s goal – for Hip Hop to be recognized in the business press not as a novelty, but as a business – has been in play via his articles, books, and love of Hip Hop since before he was at the magazine. Zack’s role as an advocate for Hip Hop, particularly in places where it was not adequately represented, makes him as responsible as anyone in the music, fashion, and entertainment worlds.
Albums that resonate hard with Zack include Jay-Z’s “The Blueprint,” “Reasonable Doubt,” and “The Black Album.” If forced to choose a favorite album, that honor goes to Kanye West’s “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.” There’s significant power in this album, and it occurred smack in the middle of the old Kanye and the new Kanye. The lyrics, beats, and accessibility identified and strengthened his new edge.
Among the moments that Zack identifies as pivotal are DJ Kool Herc’s first party on Sedgewick Avenue (which was “the Bethlehem of Hip Hop”), the countless parties that followed, and Jay-Z and Nas’s “I Declare War” tour. Besides role modeling how to be in the business world, Jay-Z and Nas closed a chapter in Hip Hop, when Jay-Z brought Nas to the sage to perform instead of dissing him. That is how pros squash a beef.
When Zack made it his “mission to bring a dignified voice to the business and visions of Hip Hop,” he committed to treating Hip Hop as a serious business in print and other media. His advocacy has been part and parcel with making people aware of what Hip Hop actually is. Awareness is the first step towards every kind of progress and accomplishment. When you know, you know. Then you can choose to do something. We become aware through access, and access – to education, information, and inspiration – helps us to do remarkable things.
Pick up your copy of Empire State of Mind Billionaire Edition, watch “From Bronx to Billions,” and access Zack O’Malley Greenburg’s latest book, We Are All Musicians Now, via its weekly chapters on Substack. Zack is on all of the socials as @zogblog.