In Philadelphia, there is certainly no shortage of musical talent. Countless aspiring electronic musicians, practiced instrumentalists, beat makers, producers and MCs call the city home, and they might even be your neighbors. These individuals contribute to a supportive community full of music lovers, venues and studio spaces that comprise the foundation of Philly's wide auditory spectrum. Discovering the music is oftentimes the easy part, though. Finding one's own footing in a competitive world means that even the support structures need reinforcement.
Enter the Institute for Hip Hop Entrepreneurship. As a winner of the Knight Cities Challenge, the institute–a product of Little Giant Creative's Tayyib Smith and Meegan Denenberg–has made it its mission to help aspiring music makers help themselves. By offering informational sessions and firsthand experience from inside the often tricky and meandering music business, organizers hope to provide Philadelphia's present and future talent with the means to turn their dreams into reality.
A nine-month program begins by recruiting promising locals between the ages of 18 and 32. From a pool of more than 300 applicants, the inaugural class of 24 students was selected to kick off the program this year. From here, students are offered the opportunity to attend seminars with creative professionals, business leaders and members of the technology and music industries. Each weekend-long session focuses on a different aspect of building a business, such as marketing plans, staffing and fundraising, and the result is a cohesive framework with which these up-and-coming innovators can expand to fit their own unique needs.
Over the weekend of Nov. 12 and 13, the institute hosted its inaugural weekend downtown at Center City's Pipeline co-working space. In attendance were Philly musicians Bahamadia and Yusuf Muhammad, as well as Grammy award-winning producer and former co-owner of Ruffhouse Records Joe “the Butcher” Nicolo, music writer Brian Coleman, and Wurd Radio CEO/President Sara Lomax-Reese. Discussions were had about what it takes to be a business leader, how to come up with unique concepts, as well as ideas about collaboration and risk-taking. Lomax-Reese even provided the group with mindfulness techniques like meditation for when the going inevitably gets tough.
The institute's workshops call on a variety of academics and notable names in hip-hop to meet the students head-on each month, supplying them with helpful insights and training that will set them on course to become musical and entrepreneurial leaders themselves. By meeting these ambitious, nontraditional youth who are frequently denied access to such resources halfway, the program gives them the opportunity to gain important skills like brainstorming, creating business plans, and measuring the social impact of their work.
The next installment of workshops will take place on Dec. 10 and 11, and the themes in this class will explore ‘disruptive leadership.’ Students will learn to identify qualities that leaders possess that allow them to spark innovation and shake things up a bit. For the December lineup, participants can expect to hear from founder of renowned site AllHipHop.com Grouchy Greg Watkins, founder of Penalty Records/Penalty Entertainment Neil Levine, producer of Pandora's Questlove Supreme podcast Laiya St. Clair, and Coded by Kids executive director Sylvester Mobley.
Although the leadership of the Institute of Hip Hop Entrepreneurship will be the first to admit that they don't have all the answers, they are strongly invested in the idea of providing a safe environment for young creatives to gather and talk about their experiences with professionals and one another.
“The next generation of great leaders needs to come from underrepresented communities,” says co-founder Meegan Denenberg. “Far too often, young people with real ambitions are overlooked by existing educational and business communities and programs. Our goal is to create graduates with the skills, confidence and networks to be successful in Philadelphia’s wider business community.”
Marking the end of a busy six-month-long build-up full of planning and recruitment, the institute has jumped onto the scene in a big way with the start of its weekend seminars, but this is where the work really begins. Now that these fresh, fertile minds have had a chance to meet and collaborate, the growth and experimentation can begin. The Institute of Hip Hop Entrepreneurship provides the vehicle for these ambitious young individuals, but they are the ones behind the wheel. The destination is up to them.
Chip Schwartz is a Philadelphia-based freelance writer. Email him at [email protected].