From the very beginning in 1973, Hip-Hop has always been a movement. Now, 50 years later, the impact of what the genre has burgeoned into speaks for itself. The groundbreaking genre went from being birthed out of economic hard times to today being worth an estimated $7.7 billion, according to Gitnux.
In order to uplift Hip-Hop culture’s impact on the world, LL Cool J’s Rock The Bells is looking to lead the charge. The global Hip-Hop platform is led by the legendary rapper and fellow Founder and Chairman Geoff Yang, who is also a partner and co-founder of Redpoint Ventures.
On Aug. 3, Rock The Bells was part of the opening bell-ringing ceremony at Nasdaq in New York City’s Times Square, which was themed around investing in global Hip-Hop culture. The celebratory ceremony featured the likes of Roxanne Shanté, Papoose, June Ambrose, and more.
“Hopefully next time we’re here on this stage, we’re ringing the bell for our IPO listing as a public company,” said Yang, who LL Cool J credits for helping him bring his vision to life with a full-fledged business.
During a fireside chat on “The Business of Building Hip Hop: The Next 50 Years” following the ceremony, LL Cool J recalled envisioning that Rock The Bells could one day go public, and he wanted to ensure that the icons and partners who have propelled the culture forward got a piece of the pie. As previously reported by AfroTech, Rock The Bells split its stake with Hip-Hop pioneers such as DJ Kool Herc, Run-DMC, Roxanne Shanté, Salt-N-Pepa, Big Daddy Kane, Fab 5 Freddy, and more.
Making such moves all stemmed from LL Cool J’s mission to take action in elevating not only the culture but the musicians who laid the foundation.
“For too long I felt like Hip-Hop was being served in a brown greasy bag, and it needed to be served on a silver platter,” LL Cool J shared during the fireside chat. “And I felt like the companies that existed that did dabble in our culture were treating it like a commodity. They were treating it like pork belly.”
He continued, “For me, that was wrong. I felt like, respectfully, if Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Mick Jagger, Billy Joel, and all of them could be treated with reverence and love, then why can’t Rakim, Run-DMC, Nas, and Wu-Tang?”
Rock The Bells is all about ensuring that the community it’s investing in is actually reaping the benefits. In an interview with AfroTech, Rock The Bells President James Cuthbert emphasized that the company is both Black-owned and culture-owned.
“I’ve been in love with Hip-Hop since I was 12 or 13 years old,” Cuthbert, who recalled once DJing to pay for college, told AfroTech. “So for me I was growing up and listening to LL Cool J, De La Soul, Wu-Tang Clan. And I used to DJ and rap when I was younger. I’ve been involved in this community so much, so to be able to be a part of a company that literally their mission is elevating [Hip-Hop], I mean there’s no place I’d rather be.”
While elevating the culture is at the forefront, LL Cool J is cognizant that profit as a business is crucial. However, he spoke about moments where Rock The Bells has turned down checks for partnerships with companies that didn’t feel like the right fit. He also revealed a fellow rap legend whom he and his team received an investment from with open arms.
“I even had a conversation with Eminem, and we talked very candidly, so he invested,” he said. “He wrote a check. And you know what, that was a beautiful thing.”
As Rock The Bells aims to build the future of Hip-Hop for the next generations to come, LL Cool J gave a word of financial advice for upcoming rappers from his own lived experience navigating the music business.
“You have to delay instant gratification if you really want to have financial security,” LL Cool J advised. “And you have to live below your means. I have nice houses but they’re probably not the sizes that people would imagine. I don’t have as many cars as people would imagine.”
He emphasized, “I’ve never been a slave to my lifestyle at no point in my career. That’s why I can say no to anything. I’m not under any pressure, and I pay my taxes — that alone is a nice start.”
To keep the celebration of the 50th anniversary of Hip-Hop going, Rock The Bells is hosting its annual festival on Aug. 5 at Forest Hills Stadium in Queens, NY, which is LL Cool J’s hometown. The lineup features LL Cool J, Queen Latifah, Run-DMC, Method Man & Redman, Swizz Beatz, Ludacris, and more.