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Investing in both artists and music
Mr Eazi models himself after Jay-Z. He was inspired by Empire State of Mind (written by friend of the Trapital Podcast, Zack O’Malley Greenburg). The alignment between music and business attracted him to pursue both.
emPawa Africa is his Roc Nation. It’s a talent incubator turned music service company with management, publishing, and distribution. Zagadat Capital is his Marcy Venture Partners, investing in startups across the continent.
This is right in line with artist-market fit, the artist sales funnel, and several topics we’ve covered often at Trapital.
“Every artist is a product… you figure out what your unique value proposition is, your loyal customers, the idea, and you take it to market and test it.” – Mr Eazi
The upside is high for both artists and founders in West Africa. If an artist takes off and becomes the next Burna Boy, Wizkid, or Davido, the sky is the limit. With EMPIRE and Audiomack, there are record labels and music streaming services making moves.
The same is true for startups. VC firms have made bigger investments.
But the high reward comes with plenty of uncertainty and challenges too.
Listen to the full episode or read below for more.
opportunities and challenges
Despite the growth, Africa needs more funding to support its tech ecosystem.
“It’s not a lack of ideas that’s the problem, it’s getting funding, especially locally. There’s not a lot of local funding sources.” – Mr Eazi
In the United States, friends and family rounds are common. They help offer that safety net that gives founders time to build and develop a real product. These rounds are much smaller for many founders in Africa, which slows down the sector.
The music industry faces even more problems. It is rarely taken seriously. Africa’s creative sector still isn’t taken seriously by many of the continent’s business leaders. It’s a lack of awareness that’s fueling their criticism too.
“To collect publishing revenue, you need the government to enforce the laws… but in a lot of African countries, people still look at the creative sector as a joke.”
Some African artists still face challenges monetizing their music.
“To collect publishing revenue, you need the government to enforce the laws… but in a lot of African countries, people still look at the creative sector as a joke.”
— Dan Runcie (@RuncieDan) March 15, 2023
This sparked a lot of discussion on both Twitter and LinkedIn, with people sharing their own perspectives.
A few years ago, Mr Eazi spoke on a panel hosted by an African financial institution with a $500 million fund to invest in the creative sector. He said that the institution’s president said, on panel, that protecting music IP was difficult, if not impossible.
Yikes. Tough to hear from someone controlling that much capital.
These beliefs hurt everyone. But I’m curious to see what happens as artists like Drake and Ed Sheeran have sampled Afrobeats music, and whether that changes anything. It shouldn’t take Western influence to create change, but that’s an unfortunate trend we’ve seen.
“There needs to be more education (in Africa), just like with startups, for people to realize music is a business. There’s revenue to be earned, not just live, streaming and publishing too — especially now that the world is looking into Africa.”
equity in artist’s careers
Mr Eazi’s emPawa Africa takes equity stakes in artists’ careers. The firm’s not looking for a one-time exit like a startup, but “exits” from the business launches. This offers more flexibility.
He plans to make money from their revenue in live shows, merch, streaming, sponsorships, and more. There’s also money to be made off the IP if artist’s work is sampled. Major labels can also strike a deal with Mr. Eazi to “upstream” the artist.
There are similar themes to 360 deals, but the biggest issue about 360 deals is that they took a cut of revenue from business lines that record labels didn’t add value to.
If true value is added, beyond what an artist could do otherwise, then it’s a different conversation. We’ve seen similar models from Coop Records and other firms exploring alternative options.
Personally, the flexibility of today’s era excites me the most. If an artist has always wanted to be signed to a major record label, they can pursue that option. If they want an advance on streaming royalties or an investor who doesn’t own any assets, they can pursue that too.
There’s no one right path for all artists. That optionality is especially important for artists (and founders) in Africa who are making moves.
Mr Eazi and I covered a lot more in the podcast:
– investment thesis for emPawa Africa
– an uncleared sample from a Bad Bunny song
– how the major record labels have done in Africa overall
– biggest success stories
Listen to the full conversation here.
[0:22] How Mr Eazi is balancing artistry and entrepreneurship
[1:40] Similarities between music and startups
[6:19] Taking equity stakes in artists and what an “exit” looks like
[10:50] How Eazi measures success for Empawa artists
[13:00] Eazi’s investment thesis for startups
[18:10] Startup success trends in Africa
[21:30] Lack of capital is biggest challenge to Africa’s startup scene
[29:45] Raising awareness within the continent
[32:20] Biggest obstacle that African artists face
[36:52] Uncleared sample on a Bad Bunny song
[40:45] Impact of Western companies investing into Africa
[47:35] Mr Eazi is in album mode
[00:00:00] Mr. Eazi: part of me deciding to be an artist was reading the book, the Jay-Z book, Empire State of Mind. And that was when I saw it clearly and I was like, oh, wait a minute like this music is a business and the music gives you access, it gives you access to capital, access to the network it puts you, gives you a seat at the table
[00:00:20] Dan Runcie Intro: Hey, welcome to the Trapital Podcast. I’m your host and the founder of Trapital Dan Runcie, this podcast is your place to gain insights from the executives in music, media, entertainment, and more. Who are taking hip hop culture to the next level.
[00:00:48] Dan Runcie: All right. Today we have the one and only Mr. Eazi, the artist, entrepreneur. How you doing man? Welcome to the pod.
[00:00:56] Mr. Eazi: I’m good. I’m good. I’m chilling. What’s, going on
[00:00:59] Dan Runcie: Me. I’m good, man. Trying to keep up with you. Trying to keep up with you, man.
[00:01:03] Mr. Eazi: I’m trying to keep up with me, bro.
[00:01:06] Dan Runcie: Well, let’s talk about that because you are someone who sits at this intersection of artist, investor, entrepreneur, and you are doing all of those three jobs and more. And it’s also happening at this moment where the entire continent of Africa is booming from an entrepreneurship perspective, booming from a music perspective.
[00:01:29] How does it feel right now? How are you operating being at the center of that?
[00:01:34] Mr. Eazi: To be honest, I just feel like it’s a blessing to be born or to be existing in this time. where like you said, everything is just like taking shape and, you know, yeah, it’s exciting and it is for me. It’s like every day I’m seeing opportunity left and right and just figuring out what is fun and what is doable and just, you know, going from thinking, oh, I’m an entrepreneur, to oh, I make music. And, it’s similar cause it’s products at the end of the day, on the bottom line, it’s like you’re selling music or you’re selling some other product. And I thought they were two different things, but you know, I’m seeing how it’s one and the same.
[00:02:17] It’s just exciting to realize that I don’t need to be two different people like I still be the same me and operating both walls.
[00:02:27] Dan Runcie: So how are they similar for you approaching both music and startups?
[00:02:32] Mr. Eazi: So I feel like every artist is like a. because the artist has a brand, has a feel, it’s like a service product, it’s an emotional product, right? And every artist, you know, that IP, there’s an IP with every artist, and the artist usually needs investment to scale. And like coming from, like when I went outta school straight into an incubator program called 440NG and I kind of, there I learned how, you know your idea and your business, you know, you have the idea, you put it together, you iterate as the business keeps on going. So what you thought was the business at the beginning, you know, your customers could give you feedback and then you realize it evolves, it accelerate and you are trying to be as lean as possible and grow to the point where you have that critical volume to sort of like ask, what’s the word as, proof that this is a valid idea either via customers or via revenue. And then you try and get to, you know, you try and scale, and you figure out what’s your, unique value proposition is, and that’s like where the startup, what’s your unique value proposition?
[00:03:46] Who are your customers? What’s the idea? You take it to market, you test it, you go get investment. And it’s the same thing with every artist so at the time where I decided to do music full-time, I was in an incubator program, and so I just started to see the similarities with the music. I’m like, okay, let me test it, put it out, people listen to it, you know, gimme the feedback, you know, and the point where I decided I was gonna take the music as a business was when like I got the first person reach out to me and say, Hey, I want to pay you for a verse. So that was the first signifier to let me know that, okay, maybe I’m onto something.
[00:04:22] Then I started to have my early fans then Lauryn Hill reached out and said she wanted me to come play at her show. And I thought it was a fluke until I found myself in America performing in Lauryn Hill, coming out to say, I love you, thank you so much for coming. And like all of that is like with a business, with a traditional startup, it could be different things, but for me, the revenue, the number of users, aka the fans, all of that were signifiers.
[00:04:51] And then I just needed, you know, the capital to take it to the next level, right? So I think those are the similarities, and I’ve tried it when I started emPawa it was at the beginning, it was to test if they were one and the same. So I was like, okay, Y Combinator send, you know, picks a few, start a couple of startups, you know, does incubator program put funding and whatnot to them?
[00:05:18] And then maybe 20% of them you know, end up working on, and I did that with 100 artists across 11 African countries, over 30,000 entries then picked 100, then gave them the same amount of money, created the emPawa YouTube channel to host their videos, service it the same way, and in the end, start to see the ones that organically started picking up.
[00:05:41] And we had success with that. So for me it was like, oh, wait a minute it’s one and the same. I’ve proved this. And that’s when emPawa then turn from, you know, the, program I was doing to actually full service music company, because I had proved that it was the same and in the same way you invest in a song.
[00:06:01] I remember the first Joeboy song, the visualizer cost me $500, and then the song ended up having like 30 million views in like a year. And you know, Joeboy just went boom, boom, boom, boom, boom. So, I start to say, okay, there is a process here and perhaps we could do it with other artists, you know? So to answer your question, that’s how I see both as, you know, one and the same in a way.
[00:06:28] Dan Runcie: That makes sense. And I wanna talk about emPawa specifically because this is you bringing so many of those startup concepts to music like you said, you saw Y Combinator is doing. How could you apply that here? The difference though is that with Y Combinator, the promises of course, an exit, so they’re hoping this companies get acquired.
[00:06:47] They’re hoping that they go public in music though. What does that look like for you as someone that is taking equity stakes in the artist? What does your return look like? What does your exit look like?
[00:06:59] Mr. Eazi: So, I mean, first off, the return is like when you invest, you know, you invest to create the content, you put it out, put some marketing, and you start to see, you know, the streams coming, the revenue coming, the artist is now doing live shows, getting endorsement deals, you know, you could get four, 5x, 10x multiples, you know, and time.
[00:07:24] so that’s, one. But secondly, like on a developmental standpoint, you could develop the artist and then a big label comes and says, oh, we wanna upstream. So upstreaming is like a sale. It’s like an exit, and you could still have passive rights to get passive income, on the artist. So those are like the kind of like returns and the kind of like exits.
[00:07:48] Plus you could just invest in the IP, buy it up, and next thing somebody wants to sample it and then they have to write you a big check. And it could happen now, it could happen in like 10 years, in 15 years time, you know, you could have a record just lined. I’ll give you an example, recently the Joeboy record that didn’t make it to the Joeboy is one of my artists.
[00:08:09] The song didn’t make it to his album, and so we then licensed the song to a guy called Lakizon, you know, he puts out the record, you know, there’s not so much thought to that. I wake up one day, Bad Bunny has put out, an album and I’m just listening to the album cause I’m a fan and I hear a record there and I’m like, basically what I was trying to say is, so you have that record that didn’t make it to the album, Right? And it’s just there and we license it to this guy and the next thing the record appears on a Bad Bunny album.
[00:08:43] And that’s like the biggest artist in the world last year by a lot of metrics. And so that’s like an example, you know, an exit because you make this record and then boom, and the upsides are like, you know, so high. And right now on the market, even if you wanted, you are seeing, you know, my mentor, one of my mentors, Merck Mekadalas, you see how many multiples from 10 to 23, 24xlast year’s revenue on, you know, buying rights for music. So I think there’s multiple exits and even just the music and music IP as an asset class has been proven to be a valid asset class by Merck and the likes. For instance, I was, I was part of the deal, the KKR deal that bought, I don’t know if you saw that some time ago, that bought a law of the rights, including the Weeknd et cetera.
[00:09:36] I was part of that deal, via one of the companies, and you could see how you could see what an exit looks like. So there’s multiple exits for music, whether it’s an upstreaming deal from the label or it’s a straight up acquisition of the catalog, or it’s just multiples of revenue, the artist is now beginning to earn or if your label, you could get your entire label could become upstreams or you could go into a JV type situation.
[00:10:06] Dan Runcie: So that speaks more to the flexibility that’s offered with being able to invest in music. It isn’t just this one time event that you’re hoping for as a startup investor.
[00:10:17] Mr. Eazi: Yeah. 100 percent.
[00:10:19] Dan Runcie: Yeah. Yeah And with that too, you mentioned that you have a hundred artists that at least came through the first cohort, over 30,000 had applied and when you are measuring your success for them, I’m sure that each of the things you mentioned are the things that you hope for, but along the way, what are some of those key performance indicators or what are some of those things that you’re looking for to hope that traction can be gained to hopefully get to the point where you do have, positive financial event that comes.
[00:10:51] Mr. Eazi: I mean, it starts with like hyper local recognition. So, you know, I give example, there was this like I think she was 18 or 17 at the time, Nik, her name is Nikita and she’s from Kenya. She had joined the program, she didn’t make it to the top 10, but we put out the video and you know, that song started to gain local traction in Kenya even though she didn’t make it to the Final 10.
[00:11:17] And by local traction, I mean like number of downloads, it made it to radio, you know, it made it to press picking it up. And even though she wasn’t part of the software and I didn’t give her full on funding, she got signed to Universal. So for me that’s a testament of like the success and those are like KPIs like, okay, does it get to radio in your local country?
[00:11:40] Does it get, you know, that local, you know, appreciation from the fans in your country? And then when does it start to transcend, and there’s nothing wrong with you having a popular song in Kenya or in Tanzania, but by the time it starts to go from Tanzania, you know, to rest of East Africa and then comes to the west, you know, those are the things you look out for and, you know, next level is by the time you start getting booked for shows based on the 1, 2, 3 singles you put out,
[00:12:11] Dan Runcie: That makes sense. That makes sense. Let’s shift gears a bit to startups, because I know that’s the other space that you’re actively in. What is your thesis for investing in startups?
[00:12:22] Mr. Eazi: Right now, what I do is like, you know, I can bring some form of value to. So when I look at like the idea, or like when my team, you know, sends me some deal flow and we kind of walk through it, it’s like, okay, aside the money, what else can we bring to this business? You know? And if I’m able to spot some extra form of value I can bring to help the business kill.
[00:12:53] Then I want to invest, you know, it could be marketing. Can I add some marketing? Can I add some of my experience here? Can I leverage on my network in this other side? Aside the money, and most of the investments I’ve been making haven’t been personal. They’ve been via my collectives, Zagadat Capital, and Zagadat Capital is basically, for now, it’s 12 people like myself, young, successful African boys or girls who usually, you know, find it boring to speak to the financial guys and you know, have some form of liquidity. And so when we get the deal flow, and I just look at who’s in the collective and who can add value, then we bring it to, the collective and then we invest.
[00:13:45] So it’s majorly been, it’s like 90% being Africa focused because I feel like there’s so much opportunity, on the continent and also on the sentimental level. The amount of impact the investment does when it’s, on the continent makes, is something that’s bigger than just the money.
[00:14:07] And the money is great like, you know, we’ve seen a lot of African companies hit and cross a billion dollar evaluations to become unicorns. so you know that, can happen. But at the same time, the impact, and it’s always fun when I go to an office that I’m an investor in of the like employees, they’re excited that Mr. Eazi is in our office and Mr. Eazi is a shareholder like, you can’t buy that. And I think that’s what I always wanted because like part of me deciding to be an artist was reading the book, the Jay-Z book, Empire State of Mind. And that was when I saw it clearly and I was like, oh, wait a minute like this music is a business and the music gives you access, it gives you access to capital, access to the network it puts you, gives you a seat at the table and you know your merch, merchandising could be like the three cap that chance the rapper does, or it could be Uber or it could be, you know, Power Pay, which I’ve invested in that, you know, is the number one mobile money focused payments aggregate on Africa doing over 1 million transactions a day, you know, and so it’s, different things and I know how I can bring value beyond my, cash it and just watch it grow. And it’s exciting
[00:15:28] Dan Runcie: That makes sense. So that collective, that operates a lot like a syndicate. You all are sharing deal soon where you can add value. What stage do you normally invest in and how much money are you normally putting into startups?
[00:15:41] Mr. Eazi: You know, it’s different like we’ve done like some seed stage. we did a company that was looking at listing last year on the LSE. We’ve done growth stage as well, so it really depends, it depends on where it comes to us, and it could be as low as, you know, 25K check, which just gets maybe if it’s a 25 K check, I might just take 50% of it and just say, Hey guys, do the rest, and I just put it on the platform we use and boom, boom, boom, everybody just clicks and it’s, done. Once it’s done, it’s done like I just invested in a platform called Ruka Hair, and it is a startup that, you know, provides hair for, people of African descent based out of London.
[00:16:30] And that was a small check for, and it is growth stage, you know, so it really varies. and there’s no rule. Yeah.
[00:16:41] Dan Runcie: That makes sense. Yeah, keeping it flexible and gives you the opportunity to see everything that’s coming through. What are some common trends that you’re seeing? What are some things that you’re seeing from the founders or from the startups that are coming through, especially the ones that are getting markups and getting closer to exits?
[00:16:59] Mr. Eazi: I’m seeing like, you know, companies that solve fundamental, problems. You know, and I know there’s so much bars on FinTech, it’s like everybody just gets a hardon for African FinTech. But like, for instance is, if this products are solving specific, like there’s a company called Eden Life, which I invested in.
[00:17:26] And what this company does is like, you know, there are a lot of people like myself who, we don’t in town enough, like enough for us to like have a chef and all of that. And we have very busy schedules, so we want like meal preps delivered to us and we want like our laundry picked up, you know, that’s a very middle class, sort of like early into the job market, like pre family kind of types. And so that kind of product is a product that’s like valid because like you’re solving a particular need, you know, or PISA for instance, that are invested in. So PISA gives remittance based lending.
[00:18:13] to, people in Mexico. So you know, the love Mexicans in the US sending money back to, Mexico to their family and their loved ones. And PISA uses that data of how much you get your current every month like my mom and dad, I put them on allowance. Like I pay them an allowance every month, Right? So we use like, by the way, for clarity they don’t need it like they’re good, but it’s just something I do. And the other people in cultures like African culture, like in Africa, it’s a pride for you, even if your dad is a billionaire, like being able to do something for your dad is like, it’s like a pride.
[00:18:53] It’s like you’ve achieved, right? So you have people sending money back home, you know, either to Mexico or to different parts of Africa to either family that need it or to do stuff with it, like build a house back home or to help the family school fees or whatever, or just out of sentiment, like, it’s like paying your tithes.
[00:19:15] I don’t know if you’re Christian, it’s like when you pay 10% of your income to the church. It’s something like that. and then there’s all that data, all that data because it’s like salary, right? it comes every month, usually on a certain day. So PISA uses that information to provide loans to people.
[00:19:34] And that’s like a need, that’s a specific need. So that’s what we are seeing, Yeah.
[00:19:40] Dan Runcie: What are some of the bigger challenges right now for startups in Africa?
[00:19:45] Mr. Eazi: I think one of the biggest challenges is, you know, getting funding and you see a lot of, like African startups, YC has been doing a great job, but there are, you know, and like, future Africa, which I’m part of and I’m an advisor, you know, investing in these projects. But raising fund is like so hard.
[00:20:07] There’s still a hesitance when it comes to African startup raising funds, especially at seed stage. And usually this is not a lot of money. It’s like from 20K checks to like even hundred is a lot of money, you know, but that 50 k to, get you into flight mode. So I think that’s the biggest issue is not lack of ideas, it’s, you know, getting funding, especially local funding that’s not a lot of local funding sources. There’s few options like the YC’s and it’s hard to get in generating that local funding is still a problem as a lot of the, you know, organizations and a lot of investors are still trying to understand this whole tech investment and valuation.
[00:20:55] I have my uncles ask me, you said this company is, is what, $20 million? Do they have 20 million cash in their account or do they have, buildings? Where’s the building? Where’s the physical asset, you know, it’s that culture going from brick and mortar to technology and understanding evaluation and all of that.
[00:21:15] And, then you have sectors that are now like so hot that valuations are going crazy you know, And you have, like, depending on what sector you are, a lot of the countries are just catching up to technology. And in some places there are no laws written for the kind of products you are creating.
[00:21:38] So if you’re not in sync with the regulators, the regulators might pass a law that is detrimental to your business and all of a sudden you wake up one morning and your successful business is now killed just like the motorbike railing company. I forgotten the name in Lagos. That was really growing and then with one day regulations like no motorbike, transportation in Lagos, boom, dead.
[00:22:04] So, I think it’s not just in Africa-peculiar problem. It’s like, for instance, with crypto and, you know, a lot of, you know, countries trying to understand what is going on. So you’re having innovation outpacing regulation and you know, if there’s no proper interaction you are having like regulations could just like be the end of use.
[00:22:28] So I think access to capital, and in some sectors, depending on your sector, regulation as well could be a major setback.
[00:22:38] Dan Runcie: The access to capital piece, I could see that, especially since the friends and family round is such a key piece, or having the angels outta there, such a key piece to help make that happen. But if the people that have the financial means are fewer and far between, you know, whether it’s folks like you or others that are in your syndicate or maybe some of the other co-investors you have, that means that the deal flow that you all get is heightened even more so because there’s just so fewer other places, which makes you all needing to be even more selective, I can imagine, than you maybe otherwise prefer to be. I mean, how do you feel in that perspective as someone that wants to see the space grow, but you know that you can’t back everybody even though you know, I’m sure inherently you wish you would, but you still have your own rubrics. You still have your way that you evaluate things, and that likely has to be even heightened given the number of deals that you’re seeing.
[00:23:32] Mr. Eazi: Yeah, I mean like, well one of the things I pray, I have some days, fuck you money. Do you understand? To just like, because like 1.2 billion people in Africa on the continent. And it’s like, if you think of the amount of money that comes back to Africa from the African Diaspora, it’s like, I think it’s like over a trillion dollars a year.
[00:23:54] So there’s so much opportunity. And, but like you said, what this does is it makes things a little bit harder for people, you know, entrepreneurs who need the money and the proof is in the pudding. Like I always say, like although it takes time and things are changing, don’t get me wrong, things are changing.
[00:24:15] They are more local, VCs, funding, but like I probably know like five people with networks over a hundred million, right? But now, for me to get to the point where, and these are people who’ve, amass all this wealth with brick and mortar businesses. So now you know, there’s a job to do to sort of like show proof, show validity that, hey, I invested at this point, it’s not for Gen Z it’s not a pyramid scheme.
[00:24:50] And like show people and then you get more people, coming in. And I have seen like some of my friends who are like billionaires now start to set up separate funds to say, okay, you know what? I don’t really know what this tech thing is about for, but you know, put the money in future Africa or put it in some other fund and try to learn.
[00:25:11] So it’s more sort of like publicity and sometimes the drop, the setbacks are when there’s a big startup out of the continent that then runs into all sorts of scandals and then, you know, it causes five steps backward. And that’s not peculiar to Africa like, I mean, you seen what happened to ftx, right? So that happens everywhere.
[00:25:35] The only differences, you know, because it’s still kind of new. It causes more negative effects, you know, so I think there needs to be more education, more pr to the successes of these companies. Every success is a success and should be, you know, communicated and things would get better because there is capital on the continent.
[00:26:00] There is like lose capital on, the continent looking for where to invest, you know? So I mean, things are changing like Future Africa. I always keep mentioning Future Africa, like they’ve been able to show that, you know, they know what they’re doing. There is a method to the madness. They could deliver results in terms of like revenue, you know, they invested in Move, which is a company that provides, you know, the cars for Uber drivers and it’s, you know, I think it’s now a unicorn and that’s like a very particular need because, you know, drivers need cars, but they don’t have the capital to purchase the cars, right? And going through the banking routes, you are gonna have to bring collateral, your mom’s name, your grandmother’s house, plus the high interest, you know, so they’ve identified, and this has been a problem, it’s still a problem to today that they’ve been able to solve.
[00:26:54] So I think the more people know about this, the more education, the more things will open up.
[00:27:01] Dan Runcie: The PR piece you mentioned is interesting because from my side, living in the states, I’ll see the articles about a company like Carry1st, which I do think has had a fair amount of PR, I feel like one of their announcements got an got an article in the Hollywood Reporter, so I remember seeing things like that, but I feel like it does become fewer and farther between, at least from what you are seeing, from the awareness of some of these
[00:27:27] Mr. Eazi: Yeah, you’re correct and it’s not so much I understand why like there’s a lot of PR outside looking PR like you said, you know, New York Times, you know, LA blah, blah, blah, because that’s where the money’s coming from, right? But like, I’m talking more intra-Africa PR like for the money on the continent, you know, because that’s like easily, like it’s right there in your face, you know, there’s enough money in Lagos for them not to be any need to raise capital from outside . You get what I’m saying? There’s so much capital in Lagos, like from Lagos, you feel me? Or from Rwanda, you know, and, Rwanda is trying to position itself as startup, you know, pro-startup investing, you know, so there’s money on the continent and it’s like
[00:28:22] that’s what I mean by PR and publicity and awareness. if I wasn’t friends with, like, I met in, was co-founder of, Flutterwave with and then Andela, you know, and then Move. So three unicorns, right? And, you know, we’ve been friends and we’ve been investing together. if there was not that proximity to him or to Shola the founder of Paystack that got bought by Stripe, I wouldn’t know that this was going on.
[00:28:50] You feel me? Maybe, you know, I wouldn’t have known. So that’s what I mean, you know, because like every A-list, Afro-B artist can be you know, can be invested, you know, so that’s exactly what I mean.
[00:29:08] Dan Runcie: It is interesting you bring up the music piece because I’d be curious to hear how you feel some of these challenges that African startups may face. How do the African artists themselves fare in that regard? Do you think that they have similar challenges with funding or with regulations in that way?
[00:29:26] Mr. Eazi: There’s regulation issues, like for instance, collecting, publishing revenue on the continent. It’s a joke, right?
[00:29:34] Dan Runcie: Why is that?
[00:29:34] Mr. Eazi: Or collecting streaming revenue because like for you to be able to collect publishing revenue, you need the government to enforce the laws for the radio stations to pay you, you know, publishing royalties on the music they place for the bars to be able to pay for what they play, like for the use of your music. So you need strong in a lot of African countries, these laws are there, but there’s no enforcement because I would say it’s worse for creatives because people still look at the creative sector as a joke.
[00:30:08] The orange economy is like, ah, that’s not really business like that’s just young people with dreadlocks, just singing and dancing and jumping across the world. Yes, they hear the music everywhere. Yes, now things are getting better because they’re seeing teams at the Grammys, they’re seeing Burna Boy, you know, and whiskey doing Madison Square Garden, but there’s not a lot of education for them to really understand the business of music or creativity.
[00:30:36] So even, I remember like two years ago I spoke to almost all the bank MDs, or three years ago, almost all the bank MDs in Nigeria trying to convince them on why music is a business is a valid business, but I couldn’t get funding. And that’s me being a successful African artist showing the revenue, showing all of that, like I once got on a panel with, you know, a financial institution that was meant that. they have a fund, they have like a 500 million dollar fund for investing in creatives. And I was on a panel with somebody there and the person said, oh, it is impossible to protect music IP, it is difficult to protect music IP, and I was like, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, What? And like, are you kidding me? Like, there’s Shazam technology, there’s like, every song has an ISRC code and like if you upload the song in Kenya or in in Afghanistan, like on YouTube, like it will pick it up instantly. So when you have a situation where you have an institution that has up to a billion to invest in creatives. But you are having the key stakeholders who decide who gets what telling you or speaking out confidently and saying is hard to protect the IP, you know, then that just shows you where it sucks. So there’s still a lot, but I feel like that’s why there needs to be more education, you know, just like for startups to music, to let people realize that this is a business, like there’s revenue to be earned. Not just live revenue, like streaming revenue, publishing revenue, especially now that the world is looking to Africa. Like you’re seeing early starters jumping on Afro Beats records, like, what’s that song?
[00:32:31] Essence, Essence was a hit song before Justin Bieber jumped on it. It was already a global smash. Peru was a, global smash before, Ed Sheeran jumped on it. So you are having like pure Afro Beats records in our local language produced locally in some hotel room in Lagos, you know, going on to be big songs globally without any major support from without necessarily, you know, I know A and R like support, like his producers locally. And you’re seeing this, so you do know that this is the time, or you know, like the example I gave, you know, Bad Bunny, you know, sampling a Joeboy record and putting it on his album, putting an Afro Beats record on his album, you know, that’s an ex example.
[00:33:18] Dan Runcie: And by the way, that was declared properly and like I’m about to go, you know, go crazy with the lawyers to make sure I get my bread. And more importantly, the writers and the producers get, their due credit and revenue and, you know, Did Bad Bunny’s team reach out before this?
[00:33:39] Mr. Eazi: No, no, no, I literally just listened to Bad Bunny’s album and I just heard Joe Boy’s voice at the end of the record, and I was like, I’ve heard this record before. And then I realized is a record, I didn’t make it to his album. And I’m like, wait a minute. And then my team start speaking to them since May of, last year.
[00:33:55] And it’s just back and forth to the point where I’m like, okay, you know what, you guys have had fun with this. Like, I’m just going brazen on this, let’s get lawyers. Let’s make it like a proper lawsuit. But what I’m trying to, or you have, you know, Beyonce, you know, doing the Lion King, the gift and having created from all of Africa put it so like, you know, you are having Drake, you know, with Whiskey on one dance you’re having Ed Sheeran, Justin Bieber jump on multiple Afro Beats records that are Afro Beats records. You’re having people more and more people sampling Afro Beats records, you know, and maybe not giving proper credit or do, or you are having, like I once produce. and was on co-produced and wrote and featured on a record involving Bad Bunny on the Joint album and Afro Beats record.
[00:34:45] So you’re seeing is becoming more global and global. So we need to be able to tell these stories to the funding sources back home to establish that this is indeed a business. So it’s education the same way education for the startups, but even more for music because music was never, and creatives, you know, was never looked at as a valid business.
[00:35:09] It was looked at as things, people who don’t graduate from school or people who just wanna be jokers do. But right now people are sitting, wait a minute, wow, that artist bought car that artist’s bought a house. that artist did this, did that or Grammys or this, that, that. So, but there still needs to be more information back home to the business side of the music to know that behind that sold out.
[00:35:36] MSG is a check, and behind that billboard is a check, you know, and even the TikTokers, like I was speaking to someone at the bank and explaining to my bank MD friend that, you know, I showed him a lot of payments, like TikTokers in Nigeria are getting paid as much as $10,000 to put up a post on their TikTok.
[00:35:59] 17 year old, 18 year old, you know, and I had to show this and he was like, what? Are you serious? And then he went back to ask his kids. And find out that, oh wow, this is a thing, you know? So it’s that education, I mean, because there is the capital on the continent, it’s just like, how do you get it?
[00:36:17] And it is a lot of work to do to basically explain and explain and explain. And one needs to have the patience. And it’s hard to do that while still running my label, doing everything I’m doing, putting out music for myself, you know, so, you know, but thankfully I’m not the only one doing it, Don Jazzy is doing it.
[00:36:39] Olamide is doing it. They’re more examples. So one way or the other people are saying it.
[00:36:44] Dan Runcie: How do you feel about the investment in African music that has come from the West? So thinking about Universal Music group opening up record label in Africa and some of the other majors having different concentration in Nigeria or elsewhere, how has that been and what type of impact has that had, if any, on your end?
[00:37:07] Mr. Eazi: I mean, I think it’s good. It’s a good signifier because all these labels were in Africa from the years before Fella, right? You had all these labels in Nigeria before, you know, the nationalization where, you know, the government had passed that all the companies should be nationalized and the labels got sold to local owners.
[00:37:26] So you are just having, you have Majek Fashek that was on the late, late show, the late night show in 1991, bro. So when people say, oh, African music is then becoming popular. It’s been popular. And it’s coming back again with technology and everything. So I think it’s good. I think the more, you know, major labels coming to Africa, but not just as, or let’s test to see what happens.
[00:37:52] But the more investment that comes, the more structure there will be for the business and the more signifiers, you know, to show people who wanna invest, you know, so yeah, I welcome it. And I think there should be more funding and there should be more, like the local companies should be autonomous, you know, I think that’s been the only drawback with the majors, pardon of me, I might be wrong. Don’t quote me where you are seeing the local, you know, Universal Nigeria or Sony or whatever, you know, that lookout team not having a lot of, autonomy in the checks they’re writing to the artists or taking those risks they have to get approval from maybe South Africa or, you know, London or LA.
[00:38:43] Meanwhile, everything is happening on the ground in Lagos, so you are having distributors. So I think a lot of the most recent successes have been by more distributors than record label in breaking artists. So more like Empire or ONErpm or the Orchid or emPawa or, you know, Believe, because these distributors are more flexible and have been able to give a lot more autonomy to the local guys who are running, these local companies to write those checks because like, what is somebody in London like with all due respect, like I always say this as a joke. There’s no songwriter in the world that would’ve written, I don’t care how many Grammys you’ve, gotten, you cannot write Soco, Soco, Soco, Soco, Soco, baby.
[00:39:42] You. That’s the Wizkid song, you can’t write that song or, one of my favorite artists Wande Coal, there’s a part of his song where he just spits jibberish, like he don’t mean anything, like it’s a vibe. So like without due respect to your A and R ears, you don’t know the music like even me, I’m from Nigeria, but I always have to be updated.
[00:40:09] So there needs to be more investment and more autonomy. But I love it like the more labels come in and the more distribution companies come in and there’s this competition, the more money is invest invested. And when you invest money, then you start to structure it then you start to say, Hey, why are we not making as much money locally?
[00:40:29] Okay, let’s invest in touring, you know, in Nigeria, in on the continent. let’s go lobby for enforcement of collection of royalties. So, yeah.
[00:40:40] Dan Runcie: Have you seen any success stories from the major record label side in Africa yet?
[00:40:48] Mr. Eazi: There’s none that comes to mind in terms of breaking an artist. So you have Wizkid signed, you have Diplo signed, you have Burna Boy signed. you know, and this is like A-list, A-list, right? But if you look at all the artists that have broken Buju for instance, initially signed to Burna Boy and then Empire, broke him, you know, that’s Buju, Fire Boy via Empire and Olamide’s YBNteams, you know, independently broke with, her record. I think she’s been upstreamed now. So in terms of sort of like carrying that conversation, you know, outside to the rest of the world, yes, I’m sure there’s been a lot of success like the Wizkid record, you know, Burna Boy, entire Renaissance.
[00:41:44] And you could go on and on, but in terms of actually finding an artist and breaking the artist, there’s not a lot of successes. And I think that’s down to autonomy because, you know, you have some executives moves from the label to the distributors and do well, you know, we just understanding you know, how to a and r and how to put our music, on the continent, and you can’t just bring like somebody who’s of Nigerian descent and just expect that they don’t understand. Like, I am Nigerian, but every time I go back to Lagos, I’m like, whoa, the sound has changed, you know? So that underground on the ground, you know, and there’s a lot of work.
[00:42:31] Dan Runcie: Definitely, and yeah, I know that there’s so much interest, but like you said, if they don’t have the control or the ability to really make decisions on their own, I can easily see why an Empire or some of the other distributors have been able to have success there. But Mr. Eazi, man, this was great. I feel like you gave us a snapshot of where everything is right now on music and investing side.
[00:42:53] But before we let you go, for you, what’s big on the road for you still beginning of the year? What’s big on the deck for you? What do you got coming up?
[00:43:02] Mr. Eazi: I mean, I kind of like needed a break from putting out music and touring and when COVID happened I was like, oh, thank God, like because I was battling with, oh, if I should, I pause, like it was just routine doing the same thing and it was like too much for me. So I was able to have that pause, and put some of the attention towards like growing emPawa with my co-founder.
[00:43:27] And then leaving it to him to sort of like, you know, and come back to iterate, iterate change the model, blah, blah, blah, build the team. And I just went off and started doing like investment and putting more time in the startups I was investing in. And now, I’m in Cape Town recording. I’m putting out two albums this year, one in September and one in, I think April or May.
[00:43:55] So I’m just recording that now and I feel like, and now I want to go back on the road, but not first as my usual live band touring, but first as sort of like a curator, where I bring like, you know, the way Major Lazer tour where they have the sound system with Walshy and Diplo and Ape Drums. But instead of Diplo and Ape Drums, I select like the DJs, maybe one playing Afro Pop, one playing Ama one playing something else.
[00:44:27] And I am the Walshy Fire, sort of like putting it together, hype man MC. So that’s what I want to tour. The first part of the year once I put out the Chop Life album, so that’s called Chop Life. To chop life means to enjoy life. So I’m making an sort of Afro dance album that I’ll put out first and then I will talk as Chop Life sound system with doing these parties.
[00:44:53] you know, of majorly Afro Beat parties, sound system across the world. And then I dropped the album, the second album, and I taught as, okay, this is my album tour. So that’s the plan. Hopefully I’m able to complete the first album. The second album is done, it is just in mixing a mastering, that’s the September one.
[00:45:13] It’s done just in mix. And my string phase and then this first one, I’m recording. That’s what I’m recording right now. Recording downstairs.
[00:45:21] Dan Runcie: Nice. Nice. Well, looking forward to all of that, man, and thank you. No, this has been a pleasure. And yeah, so people that wanna follow along and keep up with all that, where should they go to follow you?
[00:45:30] Mr. Eazi: Follow me everywhere on social media @mreazi, M R E A Z I, Mr. Eazi. Yeah, everywhere, everywhere on social media.
[00:45:44] And I wanna see you at one of my shows. You have to come maybe when I do the parties, where are you right now?
[00:45:49] Dan Runcie: Me, I’m in San Francisco
[00:45:51] Mr. Eazi: Cool. I’m, sure I’ll be coming around LA, San Fran, at some point
[00:45:55] Dan Runcie: Yeah, come through.
[00:45:57] Mr. Eazi: I’d send you an invite,
[00:45:58] Dan Runcie: Definitely, definitely. All right, man. We’ll talk soon.
[00:46:01] Mr. Eazi: All right. Have a good one. Thank you.
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