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.