We don’t think anyone ever envisioned social media playing such a prominent role in Hip Hop, let alone in life. I mean, let’s face it, social media plays a huge role in the majority of all our lives. You probably came to this article from a link on Twitter, Facebook or some other third-party referrer. It’s a way of life now for most, and for me it both pays my bills and has birthed some incredible relationships. I had the pleasure of joining the HipHopDX staff about seven years ago when social media was still fairly new. I started and built HipHopDX’s Twitter, Facebook and Instagram accounts over the years. But with time came change, and with change came experience and with that experience this roundtable manifested itself.
I meet a lot of unsigned, aspiring rappers. I also work with a handful of influential brands, artists and companies. They all want to know what they can do on social media to expand their reach, to be heard and to stay relevant. Unfortunately, a lot of them were (or are) still doing it wrong. I don’t claim to have all the answers, but with years of experience, and a track record that speaks for itself, I figured it was time to gather up the troops and breakdown this thing we call social media.
The following advice comes from some of the most respected professionals in this industry—people like Rob Markman and Ty Cannon. Now, this isn’t a guarantee that this roundtable will skyrocket your career or brand, but the information will definitely help anyone trying to improve his or her social media game. Between industry veterans like J-Hatch, DJ Pain 1, Kathy Iandoli and Nadeska Alexis, there are over 100 combined years of experience on this roundtable.
Sharing their indelible insights are as follows:
J Hatch (@MogulStatus) – J Hatch aka Mogulstatus (Co Founder of iStandard, Founder of Direct 2 Exec & MusicIndustry1on1.com, Former VP of Coast 2 Coast Mixtapes)
Frankie Vegas (@xxMISSVEGASxx) – Social Media Director, Wu Music Group
Bun B (@BunBTrillOG) – Emcee, Family Man, ½ of Rap Group UGK, Teacher
Rob Markman (@RobMarkman) – MTV News, Sway in the Morning, The Rob Report
Ty Cannon (@TheRealPHD)– A&R, Aftermath Records
Kathy Iandoli (@Kath3000) – Writer for VICE, Noisey, i-D. Editor-At-Large, BET.
DJ Pain 1 (@DJPain1) – Platinum producer for Young Jeezy, Ludacris, Rick Ross, Public Enemy, and more.
Nadeska Alexis (@NewerYork) – Senior Hip Hop Writer, MTV
#1 Realize How Social Media Has Changed Everything
How do you think social media has changed Hip Hop and music in general?
IllMind: Social media allowed access. Everyone is more accessible. Music can be distributed directly to the consumer. In my opinion, it’s giving an artist the unique opportunity to cut out a significant amount of middlemen, and go direct-to-consumer.
J Hatch: It’s taken away anticipation, but also created an element of surprise in some cases. Artists like Drake, Kendrick Lamar and Beyonce have all dropped surprise projects and have seen substantial sales and streaming income [from them] as well.
One downfall is it has allowed for a digital jam up of spam links, and created a lack of building, networking skills and true relationship building. People forget they still need to go out and shake hands and kiss babies.
Frankie Vegas: In my experience, Social Media has given people in the Hip Hop industry a global voice and visual that takes exposure to a completely new level. I am a firm believer in evolvement, although I do think it has taken away some of the personal interaction that brought the Hip Hop community together in the first place. It has taken away musical authenticity. Social media is also usually driven around popularity and who stays relevant, so artists must always bring something to the table.
Bun B: I think the positive side of it is that it’s been able to connect people and performers. For a long time there has been a lot of artists in Hip Hop that maybe represent a certain niche or aren’t as mainstream as other artists. Yet there’s a collective of people who would be willing to support it if they knew it existed or knew where to get it. A lot of the old school tours that are coming together now, Social Media helps promote and market those things. Look at a Chance the Rapper, he wouldn’t have been able to be who he is if Social Media had not been able to give it directly to the people.
I think it work great in that sense, but in another sense artists have to be careful because it’s easy to show when you’re happy, when your excited and show what you are proud of. But when emotions turn into anger or sadness, artists have to be careful on what they say, how they say it, when they say it and most importantly, who they are saying it to. I think that is something artists are still trying to wrap their head around and how personal they should be.
Rob Markman: Social media changed music by breaking down the walls between artists and fans. Now with social media artists can distribute their music and videos through SoundCloud, YouTube and Twitter without a record label. As an artist you now have a direct connection to your fans, this wasn’t possible 10 or 15 years ago.
Ty Cannon: It’s like fast food. Feeds your appetite for a short time then you’re starving again.We use to get a full meal with appetizers.
Kathy Iandoli: I feel like Hip-Hop has always had the upper hand when it comes to the internet and using it as a promotional vehicle. With social media, though, I feel like it has more to do with using it as a podium or a digital press release. Want to start a beef? Go to Twitter. Label issues? Twitter. Show you’re collaborating with a fellow artist? Post a pic with them in the studio on Instagram. Cover art announcement? Instagram. I feel like things like this are all specific to Hip-Hop. Other genres tend to utilize social media for the social aspect and leave it at that, unless they’re in the mood for a Twitter rant.
DJ Pain 1: Social media has certainly made Hip-Hop music marketing and distribution direct. Artists no longer rely on labels, therefore, I believe Hip-Hop is sounding and looking and lot more diverse than it was say 20 years ago. Artists are doing what they want and letting the fans, not the labels, judge their creative direction.
Nadeska Alexis: It’s given artists the chance to connect with fans and share content directly with them, instead of having to depend on labels — and press —t o get their music out, if they’re not already a top tier artist. It’s opened the doors for a lot of newer artists to get their shine on.
#2 Use Social Media To Build Your Brands
With that said, how do you use social media to improve your personal brand or clients?
Illmind: Again, fan interaction. I genuinely care. Most of my fans are music producers, musicians or artists. Not all, but most. They’re just like me, or aspire to be where I am. We’re like-minded, and I enjoy interacting with like-minded people. When I get a placement, or I have an announcement that I want to broadcast to the world, I try to do it in a way that’s interesting and engaging.
J Hatch: Mainly for me it’s promotional, iStandard does 80 events a year in 35 cities so we try to freshen it up with engaging questions and posts from our followers. We are currently running our #10YearsOfiStandard campaign celebrating our 10th anniversary and the response has been overwhelming.
Frankie Vegas: I use Social media in various different ways, to interact and appeal to what a crowd wants and likes while still delivering my or the brand’s true intent. I believe Social Media is going to revolutionize the way we communicate with each other, and I try to keep it as inspiring and interesting as possible. It is good to be strategic with a personal touch.
Bun B: I use it to reinforce who I am and what I stand for: A man of the people, a family man, and my own little [piece of] southern hospitality. Really to reinforce me as a person, which reinforces me as a brand.
Rob Markman: I rely on social media heavily to distribute my articles and the video content I create, but more than that my Twitter and Instagram accounts allow me to make connections with people, to show them that I’m a real person. There are some days when I have nothing to promote and I may tweet my feelings about something in the news or post a pic of the Jordans I’m wearing that day. I get a lot of genuine love on social media and I give that love back. I try to support those that support me; if I find something really cool I have no problem retweeting. Some days I got on and listen to music from up and coming rappers. It’s a cool way to connect with a mass amount of people.
Ty Cannon: I’m able to give a new artist/producer a chance to get heard.
Kathy Iandoli: I use Twitter and Facebook for commentary and Instagram for visuals.
DJ Pain 1: I use my social media to give free sounds, advice, tutorials, etc. to my fans and supporters. I find that if I’m interacting with fans and giving them valuable and practical resources, they are more likely to support me when I need them.
Nadeska Alexis: Twitter and Instagram are a good way to share my articles, interviews, and behind-the-scenes photos with artists while working. Sometimes it’s stuff that fans wouldn’t be able to see in daily life.
#3 Check Yourself On Social Media For Your Own Good
What do you wish rappers would stop doing on Social Media?
Illmind: I think just having a better radar for what to say and what not to say. I don’t think it’s ever a good thing when you’re disclosing TOO much information.
J Hatch: I wish they would stop following celebrities on social media and disrespecting them when they post content. When DJ Khaled was losing weight and working out people were calling him Fat Bastard and saying other demeaning things, yet you are following the man.
Frankie Vegas: Stop displaying only the finer things in life. Everyone loves to see how great we all are doing, but what about the hard work behind it? What about the long hours in the studio and stressful nights leading to those finer things? That would be even better to see. Everyone would truly appreciate and understand what it takes and what the journey is all about.
Bun B: Complaining.
Rob Markman: I wish rappers would stop responding to every little controversy on social media. There are times when an artist has to take to social media to clear up a situation, but don’t react to everything. I’m not the biggest Iggy Azalea fan to begin with, but it got painful to watch her respond to every little thing on Twitter. I am a big Wale fan and I hate that he feels he has to respond to his haters. That guy is an amazing lyricist and doesn’t have to answer to anyone. Don’t feed the trolls.
Ty Cannon: Telling their life story, complaining, beefing etc… Emcees in the 80s and 90s had a mystique about them. It’s no longer possible with Social Media.
Kathy Iandoli: I wish they would stop being cryptic. One word tweets or random sentiments that go nowhere. This is the age of the overt and trying to appear mysterious only makes you look thirsty and confusing.
DJ Pain 1: I wish rappers (and managers, djs, labels, etc) would stop posting their music to people who don’t ask for it. That’s like driving down the street and throwing mixtapes out of the window at people walking by. It doesn’t work and it makes our music look like a joke.
Nadeska Alexis: Spamming writers with links, because I don’t want to spend all day clicking on a million streams. It’s overwhelming and annoying.
#4 Improve Your Personal Brand By Heeding This Advice
What do you wish rappers would do more of on Social Media?
Illmind: Fan interaction, hands down. And in a way that’s positive and beneficial for both the artist and the consumer. Your fans remember those moments. You’re setting them up to become emotionally invested in you enough to the point where they are potentially lifetime consumers of your products.
J Hatch: I wish they would get more creative and engage fans. Build a brand organically and show a personal side of your life instead of jamming a mixtape or video down my throat when I don’t know who you are. I’d rather build a relationship with a real person first. Music is secondary. Also be humble it’s not always about you, it has to be about us to work effectively.
Frankie Vegas: I wish rappers would look to interact personally again like they were giving their mixtape to a fan on the street corner. It’s completely on us to bring reality back to social media. I wish more inspiring notions were taken by the influencers of a new generation.
Bun B: Selling. I think rappers should take much more advantage of Social Media for merchandising.
Rob Markman: I wish Jay Z and Eminem would tweet more. That would be cool. Other than that, there’s not anything that I wish rappers would do more of. Everybody uses social media as it relates to their brand. Everything isn’t for everybody.
Ty Cannon: Show more of the creative process. As a fan I would enjoy a sneak peak into that world.
Kathy Iandoli: Post throwback photos. Not even kidding. Show me childhood pics, all of them.
DJ Pain 1: I wish rappers would give more on social media. I see too many artists constantly posting music, asking for feedback, asking for beats, and asking for support. When are they going to give something to potential fans? Music isn’t enough anymore.
Nadeska Alexis: Reply to fans, and actually engage with them. I have the chance to interact with artists because of my work, but on a purely fan level (if I didn’t work in this industry), I would die if, say, Kendrick Lamar just decided to reply to my gushing on Twitter one day.
#5 Pay Close Attention To The Work Of Those Who Are Successful
What is the best social media campaign you have seen from a rapper/hip hop brand?
Illmind: Honestly, I think we’re all still trying to figure that out. Some campaigns seemed to have worked better than others, but I don’t think anyone’s knocked it out the ballpark just yet.
J Hatch: Best was probably a producer named Willie B @ichibandon when he dropped his instagram Beat Tape with incredible visuals he shot in NYC (although he lives in LA) and more currently @DaveEast signed to Nas’ Mass Appeal. He is just taking you into his world a little, fresh visuals, rocawear shoots behind the scenes, studio sessions, people he has met along his journey but also hood at same time and in the internet world of ‘keeping it real’ you can tell he speaks what he lives.
Frankie Vegas: I would definitely have to say my family in the Wu-Tang Clan, Wu Music Group and Razor Sharp Records with their constant inspiration and loyalty of everyone who ever claimed to enjoy their music or production. The Wu symbol, overall message and brand is forever. You can’t break a foundation like that.
Bun B: Wow, that’s a great question actually. I like how J. Cole uses Social Media and makes connections with his fans. On his last album he used social media to monitor who were his most devoted fans and bring them in deeper inside the experience. One fans he actually went over to their house and played them the album early.
Rob Markman: You can always tell when Kanye West is about to drop a project because he goes to Twitter heavy. It’s very effective for him, and this is a guy that you want to hear from constantly, but he does tweet often. So when he does you’re sure to pay attention. Also, Reverend Run used to have Twitter on lock with his quotes every day, that was early, but he really branded that.
Ty Cannon: Kanye’s “New Slaves” projector premiere. It was a great, innovative way to launch his album.
Kathy Iandoli: Maybe I’m alone on this island, but I love when Kanye West snaps.
DJ Pain 1: I think Lil B was the king of fan interaction, at least initially. I don’t believe what he does is a campaign, but he’s constantly interacting with/thanking/shouting out people who interact with him. He gives people attention, which in turn gives him and his brand attention.
Nadeska Alexis: I loved the way J. Cole approached the release of his 2014 Forest Hills Drive album. He didn’t bother with releasing snippets and all of that other nonsense. Why Are We Still Releasing Snippets? And, instead, visited cities to play the album for fans and let Rikki Ma share the journey via her accounts as a correspondent. Pretty dope.
#6 Pay Attention To Which Social Media You Choose For Your Message
What is the #1 social media platform in your opinion? Why?
Illmind: I like Twitter for its’ straightforwardness. I like Instagram for the high engagement-rate. Currently those are both tied for me.
J Hatch: Right now, for what I do, Instagram is it. It allows you to post pics, video, repost, DM serious inquiries and it connects to twitter and FB so with a few adjustments you can knock out all three in one shot. Twitter is second because hootsuite capabilities allow you to schedule messages based on your needs, especially if you have a lot of content or event dates to share.
Frankie Vegas: I have a love for most Social platforms so I will give you my top three in no order. Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
I believe each are successfully different in their own ways for individual wants. Facebook is a place to connect more in depth with a community of friends; Instagram is for those who use expression through photos; and Twitter is for those who go to express their thoughts freely, just like a public diary. Fans/Friends/Family want to know what’s going on with the people that interest them. I love all of them because they all give a brand and their development a story to follow and enjoy.
Bun B: It really depends on who you are trying to talk to. Instagram is what you are saying, twitter is how you say it and Facebook is who you are saying it to.
Rob Markman: My favorite social media platform is Twitter. It’s simple to use and the quickest way to pass along information. I tweet and press send, I don’t have to resize an image, or find a filter, then add a caption. Twitter is just type and go. Plus, for me personally, it’s where I have the most followers and access to the greatest amount of people.
Ty Cannon: Twitter. Its very simple. I can find out the latest news, release music, contact anyone and buy Jordans [Laughs].
Kathy Iandoli: Instagram for me. I like the picture and text combo, though I wish they had hyperlinking. I’m still in the Facebook matrix too. It probably stems from my love of community from the message boards back in the day.
DJ Pain 1: I believe Youtube is probably the most powerful. It’s the number one source for new music in addition to being a video/social media platform. An artist can share music, music videos, live interactive broadcasts and vlogs all in the same place (and make a little money while doing it). Facebook has similar options though.
Nadeska Alexis: Depends on your goal. Facebook is a huge platform for sites in terms of getting actual page views, while Twitter is better for discussions and getting a quick update. Instagram is my personal favorite because a great photo can tell a story on it’s own (and I’m not overwhelmed by retweets everyday).
#7 Don’t Be Afraid To Get Discovered On Social Media
Have you ever found any new artists on social media?
J Hatch: Tons… Some in my own backyard like Dave East. It’s helped me book shows in all my cities and reconnect with individuals that share a common thread.
Frankie Vegas: I have found a massive amount of extremely talented artists on social media so it’s pretty crazy! I am still a fan of them to this day.
I feel as though I have an ear for talent because of being born into music. Every artist that I find tends to be very successful in a short time after. Ha! You gotta love social media. It’s amazing how many people who didn’t have a chance to be heard by anyone are now getting record deals because of singing videos they’ve shared on social media. I get a lot of submissions/shares creating #MusicMonday’s for Wu Music Group. It gave the label a social platform to highlight rising artists in the music industry. That is the key, sharing and discovering so much talent and intrigue.
Bun B: Yep. Chance the Rapper. That’s actually how I found out about him.
Rob Markman: I find a ton of new artists on social media. Back when MTV used to do “RapFix Live” we had a segment called “Get in the Game” where we’d pick one new rapper to spotlight each week, I was mostly responsible for that select every week. I would comb Twitter and find the best videos and give those guys a shot. From time to time I also do these #InvincibleDreamers listening sessions. I get new artists to use the hashtag and I give them feedback on their music.
Most people in the industry look down on artists who send out music links via Twitter and it honestly disgusts me when I see people call them names like “struggle rapper” and shit all over someone else’s dream. My attitude is everyone’s gotta start somewhere, and young artists flock to social media because it’s the only thing they have. I’ve come across some pretty talented artists too, and put quite a few of them on TV.
Ty Cannon: I found a few that are very talented. I still have old school ways. I attend local shows and also go off word of mouth.
Kathy Iandoli: Always. I consider Soundcloud a form of social media, though. Audiomack too.
DJ Pain 1: I have forged relationships with tons of artists via social media like Euroz, Mistah Fab, Tef Poe, etc.
Nadeska Alexis: Yes. Kehlani for example, I started following on Instagram before I actually heard her music because she was so entertaining.
#8 Make Sure To Anticipate Where Social Media May Be Headed
Where do you see social media and hip hop in the next 10 years?
Illmind: I hope to see more interaction, more innovation, and more artists building empires on their own, completely cutting the unnecessary middlemen. It’s time for us all to build our own healthy, lucrative and independent movements.
J Hatch: I see more interactivity, but I also feel as if it will force people to be present again, nothing can ever replace a handshake or look in the eyes when communicating. It will continue to be informative and help discover talents however it will always lead you back to a firm handshake.
Frankie Vegas: I hope in 10 years Social Media has helped direct Hip-Hop to places where it’s never been before. Thats the beauty of Hip Hop music, there’s a certain aura about it that is not conveyed in many other styles. Social media will be the voice of artists technology/digital reach continues to advance at the pace it is.
Bun B: Well, I think there are going to be a lot more platforms that are going to be able to take people deeper into the experience. What I see is more App based Social Media and getting deeper into an a particular artist. You will be able to follow them, but also post inside of their App.I think we are going to be taking elements from Facebook, Twitter, etc., combining and giving them a more well rounded experience.
Rob Markman: Social media will continue to grow, fans will want even more access and artists will want a more intimate connection. I think in the next few years we’ll see more social media centered on streaming live video content. There are a ton of platforms out there, but none that have really been perfected for mobile. I think that’s next.
Kathy Iandoli: Completely different from how it is today. Hip-Hop is constantly innovating. Who knows?
DJ Pain 1: I unfortunately think Hip Hop has the potential to alienate social media users in the next ten years. If artists keep flooding Facebook timelines and inboxes and Youtube comments with this “listen to my music now” trash, people are going to get frustrated and take it out on Hip Hop as a whole. Country artists aren’t doing stuff like this.
Nadeska Alexis: Soon we won’t even be writing articles. Everything will be GIFs and 140 character posts, at which point I’ll retire to a beach.
Michael Trampe is a Social Media & Marketing guru from Philadelphia, PA. He owns MAAD Management, LLC & MikeTrampeTV.com. Prior to joining HipHopDX in 2007, Trampe had been a DJ, owned and operated a recording studio, managed producers and artists & worked promotions for TDE (Top Dawg Entertainment). You can follow him on twitter @MikeTrampeTV, Instagram (@MikeTrampeTV), Facebook and YouTube.