When Rock The Bells announced that it had sealed the deal on an $8 million Series A funding round, few people were surprised at the company’s success. But no one was less surprised than James Cuthbert — the company’s president — who has been hands-on with its growth and development for quite some time.
“What we were doing was giving these heroes a platform,” he told AfroTech. “But we didn’t just want to profit off of the greats. We wanted to curate their story and tell it in a respectful way while also giving a fun, culturally relevant history lesson to our base.”
The company — named after the classic LL Cool J song of the same name — does just that. The website is just one channel of many under the Rock The Bells umbrella. Other channels include a SiriusXM station of the same name (hosted by LL, of course), video curation of some of the greatest moments from hip hop’s golden age, and of course, an online marketplace that makes everything from clothing and footwear to books and audio equipment available for purchase.
The new round of funding will be used to help grow the team, create a more diverse cohort, and specifically execute a strategy that will lead to the development of other episodic content. Of the latter, Cuthbert says that the focus will be on hip hop’s history in the hopes that it will shed light on many of the genre’s pre-digital tales of the tape.
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“Hip hop, in this way, is no different from any other genre of music,” he said. “It’s an intergenerational thing. And, believe it or not, about 30% of the listeners and clients — those who patronize the site — are from the so-called ‘new era’ of music. So contrary to what people say, there is certainly no shortage of people who want to learn their history, and that’s what we’re here for.”
But the Los Angeles-based company isn’t just about paying lip service to the greats. Perhaps because of the LL connection — a man who, himself, played a pivotal role in the golden age of Queens, NY hip hop — Rock The Bells works to make sure that those greats get the coins they may have missed out on in their prime. As a result, some of those greats — like Kool Herc, Big Daddy Kane, and Roxanne Shante, the latter of whom cast the template for every female rapper in her wake — have an ownership stake in the company today.
And while it may seem strange that a former BET and Coca-Cola executive would have such a personal tie to the golden age of hip hop, Cuthbert says it’s surprising that people are surprised.
“Rock The Bells is one of the few companies that’s owned and operated by the creators of the culture,” he said. “If anyone deserves to profit off of hip hop’s legacy, it’s these men and women. Hip hop gave a voice to the voiceless — something it continues to do to this day — and I couldn’t be happier that it’s finally getting its due.”
Editorial note: Portions of this interview have been edited and condensed for clarity.