LL COOL J rang in hip-hop’s 50th anniversary this month at the Nasdaq’s opening bell, underscoring how influential and profitable the genre has become.
The bell-ringing at Nasdaq was last week, but today, August 11, is the official anniversary.
An industry with an economic impact of some $16 billion, hip-hop accounts for a third of music streamed in the US, outpacing country and rock music. The genre pervades music, film, advertising, and fashion and encourages political awareness and social justice.
“Nasdaq is the home of world-changing ideas that go on to be world-changing companies — part of that is culture [and] part is the business innovation,” Sehr Thadhani, chief digital officer at Nasdaq, told attendees. “The intersection of the two can power more resilient economies, more equitable outcomes, and a more sustainable world. The bell represents both the opening of the markets and the opening of a new phase in hip-hop’s evolution.”
The celebration at Nasdaq also highlighted how LL COOL J’s global brand platform, Rock The Bells, has been at the forefront of honoring hip-hop culture through content, commerce, and live experiences, while also giving those who helped create the genre an ownership stake.
“Fifty years ago in the Bronx, hip-hop was born and it has since grown into a cultural force that shapes music, fashion, art, technology, politics and more,” LL COOL J, actor, rapper, CEO, and co-founder of Rock the Bells, said at the opening bell ceremony. “Nasdaq understands the power of hip-hop and its potential to create more equitable opportunities and, with their support, opening doors to endless economic possibilities for the culture.”
Founded in 2018 and named after the third single from LL COOL J’s debut album, Rock The Bells has launched a SiriusXM channel dedicated to classic hip-hop, entered into a partnership with Paramount Global (PARA) that gives it a first-look deal with the media company, and raised $15 million in a Series B funding round. It also is the founder of its namesake annual music festival.
“As a venture capitalist, I look for great entrepreneurs and am good at being the catalyst for taking someone like [LL COOL J’s] vision, [wrapping] a business model around it, [putting] a process together, [helping] hire a team and raise the money,” said Geoff Yang, co-founder and chairman of Rock The Bells as well as a world-renowned venture capitalist and founding partner of Redpoint Ventures.
“One of the best ways to make it a success is to make it a great business [with] great partners in the ecosystem. We’re lucky to have some of those partners here today — like Mars, Ford, and Walmart,” Yang said.
Walmart (WMT) Makers Studios, Procter & Gamble (PG), M&Ms, and the James Beard Foundation were strategic partners at the Rock The Bells festival, held last Saturday. These partners put a spotlight on the creative minds behind the cultural movement of hip-hop with curated modules.
“We want to be wherever our consumers are and we know that hip-hop starts culture [and] influences everyone…from shoes to clothing to music,” Gabrielle Wesley, chief marketing officer of Mars Wrigley North America, told attendees. “Our purpose is around inspiring moments of happiness and the intersection of culture and music makes a lot of people happy. That’s why [Rock The Bells] is important for us.”
Yang sees that importance growing, with the opening bell ceremony symbolic of what could come.
“Many of the companies listed on this exchange have three things in common — a bold, exciting vision with a huge and relevant market, a passionate founder driven to success, coupled with a great team,” Yang said. “I see all these traits in Rock the Bells, and hopefully the next time we’re here on this stage, we’re ringing the bell for an IPO listing as a public company.”
Equity and ownership
Rock The Bells is also changing the old-school ownership structure by giving hip-hop icons equity in the company. When hip-hop was born, recording studios controlled the process from radio air time, marketing, ownership interests, and rights.
“I started Rock The Bells to lift up the culture and, at some point, there’ll be some sort of major liquidity event, whether we go public, and I want to make sure that people who really made a contribution have equity in the company — like DJ Kool Herc and Run DMC,” LL COOL J said. “Roxanne Shante, Big Daddy Kane, and Grandmaster Caz are owners of the company.”
Rapper Roxanne Shante, one of the first ladies in hip-hop, paved the way for women in the genre in 1978, but it wasn’t easy.
“It’s truly an honor for me to be a lady in hip-hop. It makes me proud to know everything that I went through from the beginning of hip-hop broke that ground,” Shante told Yahoo Finance. “Seeing my sisters take care of their business, in these boardrooms … understanding the business and how much control they have over their careers … I’m definitely honored by it.”
As hip-hop celebrates its golden 50th anniversary on August 11th, LL COOL J and Rock The Bells want to ensure its legacy for another fifty years.
“We’ve witnessed how artists’ tours stimulate economies, creating a ripple effect in various industries,” LL COOL J said. “As we honor the past, seize the moment, and embrace the future, let’s continue to uplift hip-hop and its impact on the world [with] Rock The Bells here to lead the charge, ensuring that the essence of this culture remains alive, not just today, but for generations to come.”
Ronda is a personal finance senior reporter for Yahoo Finance and attorney with experience in law, insurance, education, and government.