From creating authentic experiences to booking prominent talent for shows, Yusuf Muhammad stays mindful about his purpose to himself and to others. When he’s not finalizing the lineup for music festivals or managing Jidenna, he’s talking at high schools, juvenile detention centers and even the United Nations. He shares his stories and enlightens crowds that need an inspiring and uplifting perspective. He’s lost, learned, thrived, and is now sharing some gems with us.
What titles do you currently hold?
There’s a few things. One is, I am a part of Jidenna’s management team under Fear and Fancy. Fear and fancy is his company and I work for that company. Secondly, I am a talent buyer for music festivals and activations. Currently, the main festival that I’m working on is A3C, the hip-hop festival and conference. I’m also a talent buyer for an activation in Philadelphia called Heineken Green Room. I’m also a talent buyer for an activation called Who Got the Jazz. It’s a community based event that I do in Philadelphia. Last year we did it for 13 weeks in a row, showcased over 200 local artists and had over 5,000 attendees throughout the summer. So that was great.
Separate from that, on my own under Veteran Freshman, I’m a hired gun. So I do events, marketing and creative consulting. That involves coming on board to different events, activations, different projects and I kinda help feel them out. I help do the talent buying. I help with the marketing strategy. I help with, you know, just the whole kind of creative build up.
So I’ll give you an example, last year there was a party series here called The Groove in Atlanta. It’s an R&B party series. I came on board and helped turn that into a block party. So it went from an event that had 250 attendees to 850 attendees. My guy, he created this event called Vibes Come Out At Night. I came on board and we collectively doubled the capacity of that by the second event. So that’s what I like to do. I like to come on board and just be a resource for events like that.
What is a motto that fuels your work?
When I was young, when I started off, I had a hashtag called #yuiestaybusy and my mentality was, “A day without a connection or movement toward my purpose was a day wasted.” So every single day when I woke up, my goal was to figure out a way to move towards my purpose and my goals… Something many people confuse with this idea of being an influencer is understanding that you have to create authentic relationships off these apps to keep consistent. What good is having tons of followers but people aren’t attending your events? You can never underestimate building a true brand. You have to create authentic experiences for people. That will never go away. With all the fluff that we have where you see people are throwing thousands of dollars for really trash experiences, the genuine moment, memory or experience will never go away.
I’ll give you a perfect example. Vibes Come Out At Night. They had already established it and then we all creatively kind of blew it up even bigger than it was the second time around. This is a year later and people still talk about it. People still mention it. People still say, “Damn. Look at that night. That night was crazy, yo. When are y’all doing another one? I can’t wait until y’all do another one. Man, y’all parties are lit.” That’s authentic.
So I believe there are two different things. There’s influencers. Influencers are great. You need them. You need somebody to DM everybody, tweet everybody and do that. And then you need authenticators. Authenticators are people who create authentic, genuine experiences. I wish that more companies would see the value in taking marketing dollars and actually creating activations for their brand. We don’t want the company. We don’t even want the credit. We just want to be able to live comfortably and make sure that when people walk into an activation for that brand that there’s three things: One, they feel like they’re leaving the outside world; two, they’re fully engaged the entire time they’re there in this space; and three, they leave with something. Whether that’s a full stomach, whether that’s they’re drunk and they’re happy, whether that’s they leave with new friends, they leave with some sort of merchandise. So those are my three laws when they come in. If you have those three things, you’re good. You won’t have no issues.
How did you start working with the A3C festival?
A good friend of mine, an artist by the name of J-Live, had mentioned it to me. He was like, “Yo, I’m going to be a part of it. If you can, you should go.” So basically I started researching and I found that I knew some of the people who were a part of it. One goes by the name of Hustle Simmons and the other is a guy by the name of Sickamore. Sickamore now manages Travis Scott. And Hustle Simmons is just a maverick. He’s done tons of events and showcases and concerts and back in the day he was just a real powerhouse and he still is actually. Now he’s working for companies directly. Like big brands.
So I knew that they were there and I was like, “Damn if I could just connect with them then I’ll be good.” So I finessed my way on inside. At the time, I was doing some freelance work with BET, so I was like, “Hey man, I’m here with BET. I just want to come in and get some footage.” And he was like, “Oh shit. Of course.” He gave me a media pass and, you know, I’m a kid. I’m young. I’m in my 20s. I’m 21 or 22. So I had never been at an event that had that much hip-hop and that many people there and it blew my mind. I want to say that was 2009 and I ended up coming back in 2010 and I just kept attending.
But what happened that first time that I went, there was a guy who was walking around. A random guy. And I have the ability to, whenever I go in a room or any space, I can tell who is someone of importance, even though I treat everybody of like they are importance. But I could tell this person was somebody by the way he was walking around. Big tall white guy with flip-flops on at a hip-hop festival. I was like, he’s got to be somebody. So I walked over to him. This guy ended up being the owner of the entire festival. And he gives me his card and he says, “Hey, you know, I’m not really into the creative side of it, but take my card and let’s keep in touch.” And I said, “Great! Thanks! You know, I’m just a young film student. Next year is my last year of school. I’ll come back here and I’ll film for free.”
So I came back the next year and ended up filming for free, doing a bunch of stuff and I just started making relationships and connecting with people. Then in 2013 or 2014 I was doing shows. I started doing my first show in 2012 in Philadelphia. I want to say 2014 is when I was like, “You know what, I’m going to do my own showcase at A3C.” But the way that I wanted to do it was completely different. The way that I went about doing it was I wanted to take 50 artists and creatives and bring them down to Atlanta. I turned it into a whole trip. So there was a showcase and it was called “Philly to ATL” and I brought down 50 creatives. We actually came down in a big ass bus. We rented out 30 hotel rooms. I bought 50 passes. So when I did that, it resonated through A3C. All this staff was like, “Who the hell is this guy that is coming down to A3C with a bus full of people?” I had like dope headliners at my show. I had Don Cannon. I had this guy named Sean Fallion. I want to say 3way came through.
The whole goal was to bridge the gap between Philly and Atlanta. We shut down the whole block. It was really dope, and I remember that was the year that A3C asked me, they were like, “Yo, you should be an ambassador because we’ve never seen anybody do this before.” And so again, being different than other ambassadors, I travel. So I started traveling around and I’m bringing in showcases from all over the world and I’m bringing in different influencers from all over the world and I’m not working for the company. I was just an ambassador. That’s when the owner of the festival was like, “Yo, I really want to figure out a way to bring you on board. Have you ever booked festivals before?” And I was like, “No. But I would love to learn. How can I come on board?” He brought me on as the assistant programming manager and I just learned. The first year that I was involved was 2015. I did Wiz Khalifa and Curren$y co-headline and it was huge. Then after that, they brought me on. I was continuing to do part time and then once I moved, that was when I made the move to be full time which was last year and it was the best line up I’ve ever booked. I mean, Lil’ Wayne, Diplomats, Wu-Tang Clan. It was huge.
What is a key component to making connections in the business?
The biggest thing that I tell people all the time is, this whole idea that people are like, “We need to pay interns,” and, “I’m not doing no work for free,” like, this new era where people want to be paid to learn is insane. I did a ton of stuff for free. What I did was I made sure that I got value out of it. I made sure that I could get all the relationships that I could get.
Let’s say you’re in event coordination and someone says to you, “Yo, I can’t pay you but come help me out with my event.” I’m connecting with every company and every person that does that event. Who does the production? I’m getting their card. Who rents the venue? Who owns the venue? I want to meet them. The managers for all the acts, “Hey, what’s up with you? It’s so great to meet you. My name is Yusuf. I might not have the money or the funds to book you now but let’s stay in contact and I would love to be an asset for you.” The girls that are working the door, they’re not just random girls that are working the door. “Who are y’all? What’s y’all names? Who do y’all know?” The security. “Hey, what’s up? Do y’all ever do hired security? Hey man, eventually I’m going to start doing events and I’d love to have you guys connected.” “Aw man, sure. Anytime I can get more work I’m down bro.” That’s how I look at it. Now, I might not have made any money that night, but I just made $1000, $2000 off of connections alone. So for me, money cannot be your motivator. Money cannot be your driver. You cannot allow money to be how you maneuver and operate this world. Your life is the only constant that you are granted. The only thing that lives on is the memories.
What advice would you give to creatives?
I can tell creatives that one of the greatest quotes I just heard is, “You work with the budget that you have until you get the budget you deserve.” I switch it and I say, “You work with the budget you have until you get the budget you’ve earned.” I want creatives to work with the budget they have. Do not tell yourself “no.” Do not allow someone else’s “no” to change how you feel about what you can do and who you should be. You are still you. So that would be my lesson to creatives. You already have the superpower. And you have to slow down enough for your blessings to catch up with you. You also have to learn how to look at the positives and the negatives to every situation. You look at the negatives because those are things you need to learn from. Those are things you want to avoid. Those are where you set your boundaries. You look at the positives because those are things that excite you and keep you motivated. It’s perspective. You already have the tools that you need. You have to find a way to activate it for the blessings that are meant for you. And so, that would be my advice to creatives.
Allen Iverson’s Roundball Classic Continues to Impact the Nation’s Top Recruits Through Mentorship & Training
We wrapped up #IversonWeek at the 3rd Annual Allen Iverson Roundball Classic. This roundball classic is well on it’s way to becoming a legendary annual event showcasing the best high school talent from around the country. The talent on each team get trained and mentored by Allen Iverson and other NBA legends right before the big playoff where they give it their all and leave it all on the court.
Check out our recap video below:
The Importance of Nipsey Hussle’s Legacy and How it Can Live On
As a platform, we aim to focus on current news that is inspiring and motivating. For this, we typically stay away from celebrity death topics. But Nipsey Hussle was more than a celebrity and his passing is something we need to highlight. He embodied our goal of creating mindsets where people of color can thrive.
The Grammy-nominated artist created a journey that others from similar backgrounds could use to build a new cycle of wealth. His upbringing mirrored many people who never made it out of poverty, yet he found a way to prosper.
Hussle invested with purpose and didn’t make meaningless partnerships. He stressed the importance of accumulating continuous wealth through ownership instead of endorsements.
He advanced his community in many ways, for instance he created a co-working space and business incubator for inner-city entrepreneurs in the Crenshaw district of Los Angeles. His vision was to bring representation to the science, technology and mathematics industries by creating a pipeline between his neighborhood and Silicon Valley. He hired felons who couldn’t get work, invested in influential local businesses that were declining and worked toward ending gang violence.
He approached his community’s issues as if he was a parent working to break generational curses. He built infrastructure that his community could inherit and benefit from. He provided resources to catalyze growth.
He was not only working to change dreamers into doers, but aimed to build dreamers.
This type of loss can leave us angry and hopeless for change. We’ve been robbed at a time when we need every single one of our resources. He wasn’t just a beacon of hope. He was a caretaker for the disenfranchised, putting people in places to thrive and building places for people to thrive.
So for those of you who are understandably feeling sad and lost, bring his vision to life. Invest in his businesses. Build your own businesses. Be rebellious against a system that wasn’t made for us and pursue your dream. Accumulate lasting wealth to build cycles and make strategic investments. Support reverse gentrification and support businesses of color. Give back to your community and help those who need it.
Nipsey Hussle was a loved father, husband, friend, idol and more. But importantly, he was a teacher.
Water the seed he planted by moving in his vision and adding to his momentum.
10 Things I Learned From My 2019 SXSW Experience
Every year, Austin, Texas initiates spring with its diverse 10-day festival, SXSW. Thousands of people gather in the state’s capital to enjoy the experiential marketing, assorted music acts and interactive sessions that take over the city. Though I spent February planning and organizing my SXSW trip and had seen previous coverage of the event, I didn’t know exactly what to expect. My experience exceeded my expectations and equipped me with valuable knowledge and life-long memories.
Here are my main takeaways from the festival:
1. A change in routine can benefit your mental health.
Get out of your routine and do something that gets you excited about life. As someone who works remotely, I can get into the same pattern, often working from my desk-bed (various bar stools surrounding my bed topped with tea and sticky notes) and straying away from side projects or bigger goals. Having ambitious dreams can be overwhelming at times and can seem far from achievable when your routine keeps you in one place.
SXSW was quite the opposite of a routine. My mid-SXSW self laughed at my pre-SXSW self’s plan to stick to a schedule. I spent more than a week stopping by theatrical activations, going to random interactive talks and wandering into exciting music events. Though there were certain events I planned out, every day had a new dynamic and was far from repetitive. Yes, there are people who need routine to be content. But there are also people like myself who need constant inspiration and movement in order to feel centered. SXSW reminded me that letting loose and going with the flow can provide a much needed mental cleanse.
2. Networking needs a new name.
Maybe tribe building or just… like… having a conversation.
When you think of traditional networking, there can be so much pressure to say the right thing or come off qualified and polished. SXSW affirmed the fact that you don’t have to be in business casual attire at a glitzy event in order to network. You can have conversations at anytime that lead to a business connection. During SXSW, I met CEO’s who were wearing T-shirts and shorts at concerts. Most of the connections I made started with a conversation with someone I didn’t even know I needed to talk to. Queue the next thing learned…
3. There’s power in having one conversation.
The excitement of the festival fueled me to talk to every single person that I came across. Whether it was with someone I was standing next to at a concert or someone who asked a great question during a panel, I was ready to start a conversation. This came in handy during my first night of the festival when I was attending a launch party at Latitude 30, SXSW’s British Music Embassy.
I walked into the event after the first band had already begun playing. I asked two guys in front of me if they knew the band’s name and they said they didn’t know them too well but that they were about to go on next. I then asked them what type of music they play and where they were from. They then told me they were one of the artists on the label of the launch party we were at. This led to a great conversation where they eventually introduced me to various team members of the label including the CEO and founders. All of this came about simply because I started one conversation.
4. Shoot your shot.
One of SXSW’s goals is to foster networking by connecting you with industry leaders through events like meet ups, mentor sessions and round table talks. Even if you don’t attend one of these events, most of your idols are hanging around after a talk or in the crowd at a venue. From celebrities to trailblazers, you’ll most likely come across someone you’ve always dreamt of chatting with. I am here to tell you to shoot your shot. Don’t be discouraged by fame or status. The worst that can happen is your conversation gets cut short. This is a small risk when there’s the possibility of having a meaningful conversation and exchanging contact information with someone you admire.
I saw one of my favorite bands, Big Joanie, at Cheer Up Charlie’s during SXSW. After their set, I noticed them off to the side of the crowd watching the next acts. I was hesitant at first but decided to introduce myself. I told them how inspiring they were and that I wish I had their music for my younger self. We had such a great conversation and they ended up giving me their contact information and told me to reach out if I ever needed anything. I was in shock after but I was so thankful that I took that leap to approach them.
5. Successful people are legit just people.
SXSW was a week of listening to people tell their stories and share their trials and tribulations. Arlan Hamilton, founder and CEO of Backstage Capital, spoke about starting her company from her car while she was homeless. Lance Bass talked about having imposter syndrome during his NSYNC days. These talks helped me remember that my idols were once in the beginning stages of their careers too. Constantly hearing success journeys will make you realize that you are in the middle of yours.
6. A good tribe can keep you motivated.
I met people during my first day of roaming around SXSW and we instantly connected and bonded. Though we were all in different fields, we had similar views, ambitions and energies. We were interested in the same talks, liked the same music and hyped each other up when each of us had something work related to do. This experienced reminded me of the power of connecting with ambitious peers who are working toward amazing things. It’s important to be around people who have inspiring paths, support your work and motivate you to keep achieving greatness.
7. It’s important to get involved with things outside your field.
SXSW is a playground of experiences with something new to offer almost every hour. There were events that taught me about important issues, compelling topics or refreshed my interest in old subjects. It’s the perfect place to dabble in something that you wouldn’t normally incorporate into your daily life.
I met someone who informed me on the serious issue of food waste. She shared jarring statistics with me that motivated me to attend a panel on the subject. This is how you stay informed, connected and inspired. Throughout my SXSW experience, I was introduced to new issues, organizations, and businesses that I hadn’t known about.
8. Comfort isn’t everything.
I can be a perfectionist and I often need things to be organized and comfortable in order to have a good time. SXSW helped me stray away from this notion. Once you dance at concert with a tripod in your hand or attend an event alone that’s outside your field, you tend to lose the need for comfort. I had to adapt to certain situations by embracing the uncomfortable and focusing on the positives. Things don’t have to be perfect and comfortable in order to be successful.
9. Your Uber can double as a travel guide.
I had conversations with 90% of my Uber and Lyft drivers and they all gave me the local tea: where to eat, what places to avoid at certain times, nicknames for parts of the city, local issues. Rideshare drivers really know what’s up and can help you in more ways than one when navigating a new city.
10. You can actually do whatever you want.
Your dreams are attainable as long as you keep an open and determined mindset. Imposter syndrome can often creep in and convince you that you don’t have enough qualifications to make progress toward your goals. SXSW was a reminder that there are many diverse methods and outlets that people use to achieve what they want. Spending 10 days experiencing creative ideas and messages motivated me and revived my own dreams.
It is also refreshing to know that SXSW can be used as an outlet to aid your aspirations. Whether you’re going there to meet like-minded people, organize a talk or set up an activation, the festival has various opportunities for you to share your message and execute your goals. SXSW is definitely a tool that needs to be added to everyone’s professional bucket list.
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