Here Are 3 Pieces of Life Advice I'd Give My Younger Self, Inspired By My Conversation With Grammy-Winning Producer Hit-Boy
Grow Your Business, Not Your Inbox
I’ve been an entrepreneur for as long as I can remember. I’d organize my family’s garage sales as a kid, from posting up signs and placing ads in the newspaper, to pricing items and selling them outside with my parents all day.
During the summer, I’d wash cars, pull weeds, you name it. In middle school, while kids sold chocolate candy for fundraisers, seeing a gap in the market, I sold the fruit kind until the administrators shut my operation down. This eventually led me to taking an entrepreneurship elective course in high school.
I never forgot the advice of my instructor, Ms. Berman, which she told me after school one day. To paraphrase her: “Never sign anything you haven’t read — and understand — fully. And if you don’t understand it, find someone who does.”
Most teenagers don’t know much about contracts. I was one of them. And, like many teenagers, I had a lot of dreams. One was a rap career (largely due to the influence of Hit-Boy and his collaborators like Nas, but more on that later). I didn’t get far, but I did get one recording contract offered to me. It wasn’t a major deal — far from it — but the contract had major consequences.
I was told that their lawyers said it was a great deal. It might as well have been written in Swahili to me. I was eager to sign, because this was my dream after all. But, heeding my instructor’s advice, I took the little money I had and paid a lawyer of my own to review it anyway.
It was a fateful decision. I walked away from it, because it was far from a great deal — at least for me. At the time, the experience left me feeling down. What luck, I thought. I didn’t know it then, but I wasn’t unlucky because I got a bad contract, rather, I was lucky I had someone in my life who gave me the advice not to sign one.
Life has a funny way of coming full circle sometimes. Fast forward to 2021, and I had the opportunity to sit down with Hit-Boy, the very same producer who played a large part in my decision to want to rap way back when. Hearing his story made me reflect on what advice I’d give my younger self if I was in that same position again.
In addition to my instructor’s advice, here’s what I’d tell myself.
1. Don’t confuse success with integrity
Once upon a time I worked for a company led by people I looked up to. They were successful and running their own business, a position I aspired to be in one day, too. So I did what they asked of me, never questioning their motives or intentions. It was only in hindsight that I realized it was an exploitative relationship disguised as an “opportunity.”
The biggest hurdle of Hit-Boy’s career has been the contract he signed when he was still a teenager. He’s a grown man in his thirties now, over a decade removed from the day he signed on the dotted line. Yet it’s still affecting him to this day. That’s because he trusted the people around him because they were successful, not realizing that they didn’t have his best interests in mind.
The takeaway here is that success doesn’t equal integrity. Just because someone is doing well, doesn’t mean they’re doing right. It’s natural to trust people in a position you aspire to be in, but that doesn’t make them good people. Regularly assess the value of what you’re bringing to the table, and push back against anyone trying to take advantage of you, regardless of your position in relation to theirs.
2. Make good decisions, not rushed ones
“Gurus” love to talk about decisiveness and making big decisions at warp speed. Don’t be misled by the so-called experts. Good decisions aren’t always hasty ones. In fact, decision speed is often tied to regret, even when the decision is a good one. Always sleep on big decisions, and never let anyone pressure you into making a decision on the spot.
During my conversation with Hit-Boy I asked him what advice he'd give to his younger self. "Trust yourself, number one," he told me. "Even if you don't have all the information, that'll come. You can get the information. You can meet different people, but don't rush into anything because somebody tells you this is what you have to do right now.”
The takeaway here is to trust your gut, and put some space between yourself and any big decision when you’re unsure. Never let the other party, or your own excitement, get the best of you. Best case scenario, you’ll regret some part of it, and worst case scenario, you’ll create an avalanche of unnecessarily problems for yourself in the future.
3. Relationships are everything
“It’s because ‘so-and-so’ knows someone” is a common crutch people lean on in an effort to excuse their own lack of progress. What these people need to understand, my younger self included, is that people don’t just meet other people and get what they want (unless they demand it at gunpoint). Like a garden, relationships take hard work, patience and maintenance.
Relationships are what make us human. They’re dynamic, alive and always evolving, and they can be developed in an infinite number of ways. A mutual friendship. A shared struggle or experience. By accident, or after being sought out with a specific intention.
Many of my most valued relationships have been made by chance encounters that, had I not taken the initiative to simply introduce myself, never would have materialized. In Hit-Boy’s case, he started off on the traditional route, handing out his CDs to people outside of record label offices. Now he regularly collaborates with artists like Nas, Big Sean, Benny The Butcher and others. It’s the relationships that have sustained him over the years despite his contractual woes.
The same is true of my own relationships. During my low points, the people closest to me were the only ones there to lend a rope for me to climb out of, or a light for me to see my way through. And the same will be true for you. No matter how you cultivate them, protect them with your life. Because in the end, it’s your relationships that can change your life — or save it.
You can watch my interview with Hit-Boy in full below: