Though digital pipelines continue to put downward pressure on the price of music, rapper Nipsey Hussle (aka Ermias Asghedom) has market evidence that his songs are worth a premium. Hussle's latest mixtape, "Crenshaw," stunned some skeptical observers on Oct. 15 when an initial pressing of 1,000 CDs priced at $100 each sold out in 24 hours. The tape was sold at a pop-up shop in Los Angeles, where Hussle appeared in person, and on the rapper's website-12 hours before a free, sanctioned, digital version made the rounds online.
While the pricey physical copies were numbered, autographed and included a ticket to a future performance by the 28-year-old rapper, "Crenshaw" billed itself as more than merely a boldly priced deluxe edition. Rather, Hussle called the tape the first step in a new patron model, where a few super-fans shoulder the burden that artists usually spread across as broad an audience as they can muster.
"As an artist, a lot of times you're asked to sacrifice the integrity of your art for commercial interests, because you want to try and sell as much as possible," Hussle says. "By marking the price up, we're expecting to sell a lot fewer units, but we know we're selling to people who are already super-engaged. We don't have to reinvent the wheel or think too much about what we do. We just have to make sure not to stray from the course that we're already on."
Hussle, an independent artist formerly signed to Epic, calls this idea the "Proud2Pay" campaign. He says he plans to apply the strategy to future album and product releases, including debut full-length "Victory Lap," expected later this year. All Money In, Hussle's private company run with his brother Samiel (aka Blacc Sam), and business partners Jorge Peniche, Adam Andeberhan and Stephen "Fatts" Donelson, is keeping a database of customers, who Hussle says will be rewarded for their patronage on an ongoing basis.
For his support, one customer who bought Crenshaw will receive a personal phone call from the rapper and a signed photograph in the mail. Another will be invited to visit Hussle in the studio and hear an early version of Victory Lap before it's released. The perks resemble incentives in a Kickstarter or PledgeMusic campaign, but without the prepurchase agreement or third-party apparatus.
"These people stepped out and made history with us, and that's something we want them to continue to reap the benefit of," Hussle says.
Though the physical run of "Crenshaw" was initially announced as limited to an edition of 1,000, Hussle says greater than expected demand has forced All Money In to place an additional order. The company is working with an undisclosed manufacturer to press the CDs and is distributing them through Samiel's wholly owned online clothing retail business Slausonave.com. At a cost of 75 cents per unit, each sale of "Crenshaw" represents a gross profit margin of more than 99% before including recording costs.
Among supporters of the Proud2Pay movement is archetypal hip-hop entrepreneur Jay Z, who gave "Crenshaw" a boost in the press, and an air of legitimacy, when he publicly placed an order for 100 copies on release day. Peniche says that detractors who argue Hussle and his team are overreaching by charging such a lofty price for their product should take a look at the wider art world, where the value of a piece of work is often determined by a few frenzied collectors who are willing to pay top dollar.
"Some people might look at an abstract painting by Picasso and say, 'That's not worth a million dollars!' It's open to interpretation," Peniche says. "The value of music may have been depreciated, but the fact that people were willing to pay $100 for this mixtape shows that there must be something they're connecting with on more than a superficial level."
Check out Nipsey Hussle's "Crenshaw" mixtape below: