Philadelphia’s Institute of Hip Hop Entrepreneurship, founded by Tayyib Smith and Meegan Denenberg of Little Giant Creative, “uses the ethos of Hip-Hop to connect nontraditional, ambitious young entrepreneurs with the resources, knowledge, and contacts needed to take their ideas from concept to reality.” The 9-month program funded by the Knight Cities grant and inspired by hip-hop’s creative economy leverages the capital of the cultural zeitgeist during weekend sessions that groom students to build and ultimately pitch their ventures to investors.
These entrepreneurs are the rising standard bearers working outside the spotlight, where they create solutions for social justice, civic engagement and product development with the potential to carry them beyond their respective cities and expectations. The byproduct of the founders’ combined experience in marketing and entertainment, the institute itself is similarly capable of impacting lives and changing how people view opportunities for mobility and business incubation within hip hop culture. So how did we get here and what’s the real story behind the IHHE? Tayyib and Meegan explain how they created the space to craft your hustle.
Okayplayer: Can you talk about your journey thus far and how that has led to your success or growth as an entrepreneur?
Tayyib Smith: I don’t consider myself to be successful. I think I’ve done a couple of things that have worked. I have a different scale in terms of success. I think I’ve been continually trying to redefine what that is. In terms of my path, I had always been passionate about music. I worked first as a street promoter and eventually became a club promoter. I moved to Colorado for a bit. I worked at the Fox Theatre and Red Rocks. Promoting parties and producing my own events. About 1996, I came back to Philly where I was waiting tables and still trying to do my own promotion thing. I got hooked up with King Britt, who had always encouraged me to follow whatever it is I was trying to do creatively. He introduced me to Vikter Duplaix and James Poyser. I ended up working for their production company, Axis Music Group, for about 4 or 5 years. Halfway through that period I started to do administrative work, A&R’ing and acting as the U.S. legal manager for BBE Music — for Peter Adarkwah out of London. That was a really interesting time in Philly because he was doing the Beat Generation stuff — the series of records from people like Pete Rock, Marley Marl, Jazzy Jeff…J Dilla’s Welcome 2 Detroit. Somewhere around 2004 or 2005, while I was still doing that, I started managing a band called The Nouveau Riche that had Khari Mateen, Dice Raw and Nikki Jean in it. Between that and how difficult the business was becoming, I was getting disillusioned with music. I had always, on the side even at Axis and BBE, acted as a marketer doing brand collaborations and partnerships. These were the early Scion years. I made some good relationships and got to book a lot of really cool people through that. We did events for Triple Five Soul and a couple of other brands. Then when I was done with music and trying to figure out what path I wanted to take, a former colleague had approached me with the idea of starting Two.One.Five Magazine. Little Giant Creative was always the parent company of the publication. The print publication was our focus for three years.
OKP: How did you become partners and what has the experience of building Little Giant been like for you?
Meegan Denenberg: I lived and worked in New York before returning to Philly, where I was Director of Marketing For Philly Car Share. I was planning their 5-year anniversary. We were doing this big b-boy activation and Tayyib was recommended when we were looking for someone who might be able to help pull this off. The event happened and was very successful, but I subsequently left PCS to do some consulting. When I started coming to him to talk about things that were happening, I think he and his then business partner had come to a point where they realized that the magazine wasn’t sustainable and they needed to have some kind of business model that would generate income. At that point they had been approached by VILLA for a lookbook and a fashion show. I don’t know that anyone had had prior experience in that realm and since that had been my whole career, I started putting together documents. When I came on board, it was pretty much at a point when the situation was do or die. The magazine really wasn’t sustaining itself and we needed to pay staff. We realized that marketing was the thing that would provide some income. I took a leadership role with the company and about a year later Heineken approached us. We developed an event series for Heineken Green Room. Our subsequent dealings with bigger clients like that has had a lot to do with having an agency background. After Heineken, we added Vitamin Water and a host of others. At the end we had to make the decision that a paper magazine just wasn’t financially viable. We talked to experts in the field that told us we were not going to have room to grow in that format. Especially if you want to be recognized as a national brand, a magazine isn’t the way to go. So I started focusing on the growth of the company itself. We parted ways with Tayyib’s old partner and for the next 3 years we worked on the Philly 360 initiative with Greater Philadelphia Tourism and Marketing Corporation. We did the Vitamin Water Uncapped live series. We added Drexel to our roster of clients. We expanded Heineken Green Room to D.C. and then to New York.
OKP: How have you evolved as an entrepreneur since the beginning of your career?
TS: I looked at my time at Axis Music Group as kind of like college. And my time developing Two.One.Five and Little Giant at different phases of my career, was like graduate school. I would say the magazine was graduate school and the current phase is probably when I’ve learned the most and become a little more astute about partnerships, relationships, and personal brands. The things we invest in. How I devote my time. Now I’m a little more thoughtful and more selective about what I get involved in. Before I was a lot more accessible and just down for the cause. If I had a friend who wanted to be a rapper? Someone wanted to be a producer? I was kind of that person in the scene that would invest in you. Now, because we have an overhead and salaries and employees — because I have business partners that I’m responsible to, I have to be much more prudent in the decisions I make.
OKP: Do you think that that’s a conclusion that you could only have gotten to as a result of lived experience?