Keep Going: Notes on the Business of Hip-Hop

Katie Gibson
October 5, 2018
Tonya Butler Boi-1da
Tonya Butler, assistant chair of Berklee's Music Business/Management Department, with Boi-1da.
Image by Craig Bailey

Do a lot of networking. Hone your craft. And keep going.

Those were the key takeaways from the Business of Hip-Hop/Urban Music Symposium, which took place on October 2 in the Red Room at Cafe 939. Cosponsored by Forbes magazine’s 30 Under 30 Summit, the event drew a packed house of Berklee students and summit attendees. 

Forbes senior editor Zack O'Malley Greenburg began the event with a presentation on the history of hip-hop and its economic rise. Greenburg’s third book, 3 Kings, examines the careers of top-selling artists Diddy, Dr. Dre, and Jay-Z as they have capitalized on—and in many ways helped boost—the industry’s financial potential. 

Natalie Robehmed, associate editor at Forbes, moderated a conversation with Matthew Samuels, known professionally as Boi-1da. The producer talked about his childhood in Toronto, his exposure to the Jamaican dancehall music that later informed his tracks, and his experience working with some of the top names in the industry, including Drake, Rihanna, Nicki Minaj, and PartyNextDoor.

Listening Is Key to Writing Hit Tracks

Boi-1da fielded questions from audience members about everything from the equipment he’d buy for his dream studio to what makes a hit track. “There’s no formula,” he insisted. “It’s all just listening.” He gave students some encouragement, emphasizing a love for the craft and the willingness to work hard. Asked how he finds new music, the producer urged attendees to “listen to some weird stuff” and keep an open mind. He took his own advice by accepting a thumb drive of music from an audience member.

The event concluded with a management panel featuring Courtney Stewart (Khalid), Justin Lubliner (Gryffin), and Boi-1da’s own manager and friend, Simon Gebrelul. The managers emphasized the role of networking in the industry, but echoed the earlier advice about hard work and a love for the craft.