Intersection Of Tech And Hip-Hop: ‘It’s The Hustle, The Grit, The Grind, The Ability To Create Something From Nothing’
Written by Dana Sanchez
James Andrews makes a living showing people how they can own their stories and then use platforms to distribute that narrative. So it’s not surprising that this entrepreneur’s best hook is his story.
The CEO and co-founder of Authentic Ventures, Andrews had a grandfather who was a German Jew, his father was from the Bahamas, and he says he has slavery and Holocaust in his DNA.
It’s what Andrews refers to as immigrant hustle. “It really fuels all parts of me as an entrepreneur,” he said.
Andrews helps Fortune 100 companies invest in culture through media and advertising, and he helps startups launch and scale. He helps clients invest in what’s trending by bringing culture into the marketing and corporate mainstream.
“We look at the world of culture as a must-have,” Andrews told Moguldom on the sidelines of the Black Enterprise TechConneXt Summit in San Francisco. “We think that no technology — nothing in business — scales without culture.”
Here’s more from the interview with Moguldom.
Moguldom: How do you monentize your business?
James Andrews: What used to be top-down investing by brands has now become bottom-up. Who do you go to when you want to buy that cool, unique trend or cool influencer in the market or that emerging entrepreneur who’s building something in the city? We’re a layer of venture that helps make pouring capital investments by big brands into unique culture opportunities.
That could be an event, an event property. The great thing about the internet is it’s created these tons of Oprahs. There are people who, because of the internet have built their own movements. We’re experts at understanding how that movement can relate to a brand and where to deploy the best investments. We’re also raising capital. In case a brand doesn’t want to invest in that, we’ll go ahead and start making some investments in cultural opportunities.
Culture’s a really broad word for us. It doesn’t mean African American. It doesn’t mean Asian or Hispanic. It’s really about what are those unique social communities that bind together? Hip-hop is one example of what we consider a culture. It’s an example that I have been a part of in my career. I’ve had elements of hip-hop as an early executive and we take a lot of those ideas around inclusive community into our business.
Moguldom: How does tech and hip-hop intersect in your business?
James Andrews: The makings of hip-hop are rooted and based in innovation, so we took a generation of Jamaicans and Dominicans who came to the Bronx with sound systems. They effectively had to find … the red and green wires. We often refer to them as our first black and brown engineers. Many of those folks are early engineers. If they were in Palo Alto, they’d have gone to Stanford and be called engineers, but in 1972 they were just guys who tinkered with technology.
Grandmaster Flash actually invented scratch and bite by taking apart the turntable and putting it back together again. If he was in Atlanta and he went to Georgia Tech, he’d be called an engineer. He was in the Bronx. The underpinnings of hip-hop are all really tech rooted. Even the 808 speaker — the sound of hip-hop actually helped create new ways of looking at speakers. A company called Beats By Dre sold for $3 billion to Apple. It was a tech company that Dr. Dre started from him being an engineer and hip-hop producer. The underpinnings of it is what we find really tech rooted.
We think of hip-hop as a hack — a cultural hack. The machines weren’t supposed to do that and black and brown kids took them apart and put them back together. That’s one way of looking at hip-hop. The business side of it is really critical though. The hustle, the grit, the grind, the ability to create something from nothing — it’s all hip-hop. It’s what we call the world’s first-ever lean startup.
We took entrepreneurs who came from black and brown communities, who created businesses and took something from nothing. Their names are Puffy. Their names are Jay Z. You know them as pop culture, but when I grew up in the business they were all entrepreneurs who built amazing businesses and amazing startups that we now refer to as hip-hop companies. So it’s rooted in entrepreneurship and it’s rooted in technology.
Moguldom: What are some of your successes in your business?
James Andrews: I’ve been blessed to build a company in Web 1.0. In 1998 I built a website — what you would call a blog today. I built it and sold it to a company. In Web 2.0 which was the early 2000s, I built a social media agency and built that company, and in Web 3.0 which is where we live today I’m building an innovation lab that’s rooted culturally. I’ve worked on Nike, Beats by Dr. Dre, I’ve worked on the Grammy Awards. My specialty in the social media days was using data to try and track traffic. Today our successes are around amazing Fortune 100 companies and also cities that we now call clients.
Moguldom: Who are some of your clients?
James Andrews: We don’t talk a lot about our clients right now … but I have an amazing track record helping clients tell their stories. It’s what I’m talking about at Black Enterprise today — about how you tell your story. My expertise is around helping organizations, startups, small businesses and cities tell their unique story and how they can own that narrative and then use platforms to distribute that narrative. So it’s really a content distribution expertise that I have.
Moguldom: Tell me about where your company is going and what your hopes are.
James Andrews: My hope is to continue to help large organizations scale and think like startups. We often say that we’re helping brands think like startups. My hopes are to find and identify amazing startups and help scale and grow those startups. I hope to find cities around the world that need some help and maybe could use our expertise and our network. We can pour a little gas on it and help develop their economies, mainly outside of places like this. This is Silicon Valley — they’re in no need of help — but places outside of America, places inside America that are not Austin, not Palo Alto, not New York. It’s my hope and desire as a company to bring innovation, bring capital and bring resources.
I can draw the connection, sometimes diasporically, between Nairobi and Minnesota, Minnesota and Brooklyn, Brooklyn and Jamaica, Jamaica and Brixton, and start to use some rethinking to stimulate economies.