Karl Fowlkes on Becoming an Entertainment Attorney, NBA Agent, and NIL Opportunities

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Karl Fowlkes is an entertainment attorney, the founder of Fowlkes Firm, and a certified NBPA player agent under Firm Sports. In this episode, he walks us through his journey to where he is today. We talk about some of the artists he has worked with, the challenges of properly communicating information, and how athletes are missing out on revenue streams. Karl also weighs in on NFTs and cryptocurrency.

Tune in for insight from a lawyer/agent who has established a name for himself both in music and in sports.

Episode Highlights:

[02:52] Karl’s transition from law school to building a network and starting a law firm

[08:08] His process for raising funds

[10:02] About Section 8 and his partnership with Lil Baby

[13:40] Creators need to focus on the following when it comes to their contracts: length, obligation, money, and ownership

[17:00] On content creation

[24:45] Why Karl decided to become an NBA agent

[28:45] On NIL (names, images or likeness), brand building, and maximizing one’s community or alumni base

[37:00] Karl’s hate-love relationship with NFTs

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Host: Dan Runcie, @RuncieDan, trapital.co

Guest: Karl Fowlkes, @esqfowlkes, Fowlkes Firm



Trapital is home for the business of hip-hop. Gain the latest insights from hip-hop’s biggest players by reading Trapital’s free weekly memo


Dan: Hey, welcome to the Trapital Podcast, I’m your host and the founder of Trapital, Dan Runcie.


Today’s guest is Karl Fowlkes, who is an entertainment attorney at the Fowlkes Firm, represents a number of big name hip hop artists and, more broadly, entertainment, and has now expanded into sports and he’s an NBA agent as well.


Karl and I have done a few podcasts together. He first came on the pod in the beginning of 2020 right before the pandemic, and then him and I did another podcast later on in the year all about music publishing and all of the catalog sales that were happening.


This time, though, we had a bit of a different conversation. We haven’t actually talked unwaxed on a podcast about Karl’s background himself and just how he was able to connect the dots to be in the type of position he is today to be a young executive himself signing some of the biggest deals with some of the biggest rising rappers, so talked to him about that and just what it’s been like for someone coming out of law school and there’s so much you hear about people that come out of law school, they can’t get legal jobs, but Karl’s been able to establish himself and build a brand around that too so we talked about some of the connections he’s made to make that happen and then we also talked about how he’s continued to position himself and how he finds the best deals for the clients he works with and how he recently became an NBA agent.


This is something that Karl had mentioned to me a little while back so it’s great to see it finally happening and he talks about passing the exam, he talks about some of the opportunities he sees, specifically for athletes that may get overlooked and that a lot of them can capitalize on.


And then we talked about what the future for the Fowlkes Firm looks like.  We talked about his perspective on NFTs, crypto, and that whole space.  It was a really great conversation and it was great to catch up with him.


As always, hope you enjoy it. Here’s my conversation with Karl Fowlkes.




Dan: All right, we got my guy Karl Fowlkes here, entertainment lawyer, back with us. He’s a repeat guest. We don’t have too many repeat guests but that means that we got the people that know what they’re talking about. So, Karl, man, it’s great to have you.


Karl: Man, it’s also awesome to be back on Trapital, man. Just kinda watching the platform continue to evolve has been pretty dope.


Dan: Thank you. Thank you. And one thing that I actually don’t think that we’ve talked about, I feel like we may have talked about it offline but I think that your rise, especially what you’ve done at such an early stage early on in your career and where you are now has been impressive, because I feel like so many people that go to law school have challenges getting legal jobs, they end up doing things that they didn’t intend to do, and you not only did that, you established your own firm and you’re carving your own path doing the exact thing you wanted to do in entertainment law.


Can you break down that journey for us? Like what was it like from law school and then being able to lay that groundwork after?


Karl: Yeah. You know, I would say I cheated a little bit because I had access to talent, you know, whether it be rappers, you know, A&Rs, just people in the music business before I even knew, you know, I wanted to kind of be in the music business.


So, having access to those people, you know, at some point in my career early on I realized it’ll be about whether I can do the work and how I can actually build and learn the material I need to be successful so, you know, you just take your lumps early on but like, you know, entertainment in particular is like a very, very who-you-know type business, almost every business is like that, but I think entertainment in particular, it’s, you know, do you have access to talent? Do you know the landscape? And can you continue to develop your brand across these different mediums that keep coming up?


So I always thought I could compete, you know, with the new age stuff, like some of these older attorneys, they’re just not probably gonna beat me on the internet. I mean, you know, it is what it is. I grew up in this ecosystem. The thing for me was always whether I was going to be able to handle the workload and, you know, I just put myself through the gauntlet early on and kind of returned profit.


Dan: So, talk to me about those relationships. Who did you know and what was that process like to get to where you are?


Karl: Sure. I mean, like, you know, I just had buddies, you know, who were interning for record labels and we’re talking going back all the way to the middle school, high school, just friends who were experiencing traditional jobs and some even from college, like, you know, we’re talking about kids who everybody in their family went to college, expected them to probably be a doctor or a lawyer or something, and then all of a sudden, they’re saying, like, “No, I wanna find the next influencer early on,” so I had a buddy named Zach Friedman who runs Homemade Projects, out in LA now but he was based in the Philadelphia area and Zach was very, very early in kind of the influencer game, just started working with influencers, a lot of viral kids and, eventually, he kinda grew his empire out to a point where, you know, he partnered with 10k Projects and Universal to get his imprint and build that out and have a huge merch business, so like I had access to Zach and everything he was doing, you know, even when I was just like a kid, I wasn’t even kind of thinking about the music industry. And then just some of the cultural points in New York City, right? Nightlife, you know, all that stuff.


You just meet a lot of kids and a lot of talented people just from a regular vantage point and I was always the first person to tell people, “Hey, I’m the next lawyer, like that’s my thing, like I’m gonna be the next lawyer,” so just putting myself out there and then even started working with some talent.


I was on the team for a couple of artists that eventually, one artist in particular, who had a viral song called “Gassed Up,” I had a buddy who was managing, he kinda brought me on as this person who does like maybe the serious side of the business, that sort of stuff kind of led me to just getting that experience that I needed and, you know, by the time I was done with that stuff, you know, I was kinda in law school, about to finish, and all of a sudden, I had access to A&Rs, people in the business, I was putting myself out there constantly and that was kind of my trek.


Dan: You spoke it into existence, man. “I’m gonna be on that level, I’m gonna be a lawyer someday.” And I think the interesting thing too is that you were in that position, I think a lot of people in your position with those connections, knowing and having access to the A&Rs, they would have been prime targets to work at a record label, work at a publishing company, and there’s so many of those jobs there but you were like, “No, I wanna start my own firm. I wanna build that out.” What was that decision like?


Karl: I mean, a lot of it was probably just a level of stubbornness, right? I mean, like, you know, I think I was trying to get out of the working industry. I mean, you know, I work probably 30 times more, you know, hours per week now as a person who runs his own law firm but, you know, I just kinda wanted to get out of the workforce so I was like that’s probably not an option. And then some of those old statements, I think, you know, as someone who really prides themselves on entrepreneurship, and black entrepreneurship, in general, we talk about those pillars like ownership, group economics, things like that, I just didn’t think the record labels and the publishing companies stood for that and part of me still feels like that today, right? So I just didn’t wanna be a part of it. I kinda wanted to be on the other side where we were going against them and trying to shift the way things were.


Dan: That makes sense. And what does the firm look like today? I know you’ve been building things up, you have the team.  What is the structure like?


Karl: Yeah, I mean, I have a full-time employee. I have some independent contractors. Hiring another attorney this fall, winter so that’ll be dope. Should be able to give a lot of workload out to them, but really just building out, you know? I think the next phase — building a law firm is different than you’re building a regular startup or early-stage small business, just the structure of it, the way you kinda build, the way profit gets made.


It’s a client serving business and, you know, just kinda hard the package that for money, you know, but you still need funding to escalate and, you know, that’s what I’m trying to do. I’m just in the process now of raising funds to actually go out there.


The same way I didn’t wanna work at these record labels, I’m trying to compete like that on the law firm side. I don’t want it to be boutique. I’m just gonna — I don’t wanna be a boutique law firm for 10 plus years, I wanna grow this.


Dan: I hear that. And you mentioned that you’re raising funds. That isn’t something that I normally hear people say that are running law firms. What does that process look like?


Karl: Yeah, I mean, it’s a difficult process. I think you’re just not gonna get — there’s so many different rules of professional conduct responsibility in the professional services industry so I can’t go out there and hit up VCs and just couldn’t send them a pitch deck to get money, but I think there are ways, whether it be grants, loans. The way you raise business money on that front is more like that, right? Not gonna give up any equity or anything but a lot of it’s leveraging personal finance in business and, obviously, the profits I made over the past three or four years and getting the best loan probably possible.


Dan: Right. And I’m sure too it’s more broadly looking at investors, like it’s not necessarily looking at venture capitalists that are looking for these homerun-type returns that they would be from, you know, Uber and Airbnb or something like that, but, oh, you have a healthy business that is gonna generate returns, you’re banking on this industry that is one of the most bankable assets, so being able to invest in you as part of that is an extension of that.


Karl: Yeah, I will say the last thing — you hit it right on the nail. I think one of the last things I pitch to people, whether it be for this business and then sort of me opening up for sports that, you know, I think we’ll talk about a little bit later, but just access to the community that, you know, these people really can’t reach.


Like, you know, everybody wants access to these athletes and entrepreneurs and artists and rappers and influencers. If I can be that person who’s the bridge, which oftentimes I am, whether it be a VC or connecting these people to different money making opportunities, I think that’s the real value add and I think it’s connecting commerce to culture.


Dan: No, that’s smart. That makes a lot of sense. And I think too just with the access you’ve had, you’ve been able to work with some artists that are doing some big things.


I know, for you recently, you had Section 8 who had produced Lil Baby’s “Bigger Picture” and that was one of the biggest songs this year and I feel like that must have been a special moment just seeing him perform that on the biggest stages this year. What was that like?


Karl: Yeah, I mean, you know, Section 8 is a kid who, 18 years old when we met, from Atlanta in just a rough environment and the kid was just — he was built for it, man. He was super impressive and just developed that relationship with Baby directly and kinda just like one of those stories, you can’t really make this stuff up, and, you know, now he’s obviously working with Baby on a bunch of stuff but he’s opened his catalogue up beyond Baby and, you know, he’s producing songs for Moneybagg Yo, Cardi B, Migos. He’s just taken that and run with it.


And, you know, kinda — you know, funny enough, he got with Baby at the right time because 2020 was arguably, you know, he was probably [inaudible] and, you know, to be the go-to producer for [inaudible], you know, that’s stuff that you dream about as a kid.


So, just seeing that and just building with him and sort of weathering the storm, right? You know, just the highs and lows on that come up has just been awesome and, you know, he’s been killing it.


You know, one of my other clients, I would say, Blxst who just, you know, Blxst is really probably — he is gonna enter that stratosphere next, like, you know, I’m talking about those Travis Scotts, those, you know, that’s where I see him going and to see him grown over the past two and a half, three years, you know, it’s kind of a testament to the sort of maybe like, you know, one of those things that, you know, if I wasn’t confident, he kinda just supported that, like, you saw that two and a half years ago and you dug into the trenches with these guys and just put in work, you know, beyond what your average lawyer does.


You know, I think for a lot of these kids, they don’t even view me as their lawyer, like it’s more of their business advisor. Sometimes, we do partner on stuff outside of my representation of them and, you know, that’s kinda how we built.


Dan: Yeah, that makes sense, and I also think that just given how much attorneys and law is ingrained with the music industry overall that people in your position do have to do more than just processing the contracts and things like that, right? You need to have the purview of everything that’s going on to be able to do your job well.


Karl: Yeah. I think, you know, just as another stakeholder in your business that has access to resources that you probably don’t have access to and a vantage point, as you just pointed out, that you might not have access to so I think, you know, I think a lot of attorneys probably are what you just said, to be honest with you. I think most are kind of paper pushers but actually getting the opportunity to provide extra value is so sort of right in front of your face that, you know, I think the next batch of entertainment attorneys probably will see themselves more as stakeholders as part of the team who are looking to contribute outside of filing trademarks and copyrights, but really just being a partner in the business as well.


Dan: And I think for you, you obviously know that encompasses so much but I think you do a good job just with your own presence and what you communicate of boiling it down into things that are tangible and easy to understand.


And you had this tweet a couple of weeks ago that stuck out to me. You had said that creators need to keep it simple and focus on four things with their contract: Life, obligation, money, and ownership.


And I felt like that was a very focused way to communicate those things that are important and it’d be great for you to talk a bit more about that, like how did you boil that down and what are some of the trends you’re seeing that led to that?


Karl: Yeah, no, I think, you know, a lot of times, you know, people get caught up in these nuance articles and they might be built for Biz or they might even get deep into like Music Business Worldwide and all these websites that are talking about deep specific issues and things that they feel might, you know, be relevant to them but they’re probably not, right? I mean, at this stage of their career.


The biggest thing early on is focus on those four principles that I just said, right? Like the length of agreement, how long are you in that agreement, like that should be a no-brainer but, oftentimes, the amount of people I’ve worked with who said, “I don’t know,” like — or I’m picking up — I’m trying to help them get out of a bad contract, it’s like, how long was the agreement for, and like two years and you look at it, it’s like two years with like two options on it that the company has, you know, to decide.


So it’s like, man, you don’t even know how long you’re in that contract and that’s probably one of the most pivotal points, you know? Obligation, what is this asking you to do? Like what’s the contract really — what are you obligated to do? And it seems simple but, again, like a lot of people don’t even know what they’re obligated to do when they sign the contract which is crazy.


You know, ownership. Again, like that kinda speaks for itself. When we do a license deal, do they own it? If they do own it, is there a reversion rate? Is it a work for hire? So many important things, right?


Because, you know, the work for hire, even though this stuff’s kinda being litigated in present time, you know, for the work for hire, there’s really no statutory right to reversion, like it’s a work for hire.


But if it’s a copyright transfer, you know, there is a reversion that the law says, like it’s a statutory reversion, not like a contractual [inaudible] reversion so those things like are all like simple things, you’re not gonna — as artists, you’re never gonna probably, like I try to teach my guys in digestible nuggets because, you know, it’s not their job to be an A+ wizard in law, it’s my job, you know? Like they’re just supposed to know what the hell they’re signing. And, you know, I try to boil it down to four things and, you know, all the other stuff that we can get into together.


Dan: That makes sense. And I think that just being able to do that is important because I think you’re realizing what’s right is that there’s so much information out there. That’s part of the challenge.


And we’re in this era where now everyone wants to have ownership, everyone wants to do these things and that’s all great but, at the end of the day, you do need to know, okay, what are you signing? What does this entail? And I think that communication does need to be simplified in a lot of ways.


I wish that it was easier and I wish that that was the assumption, but I think sometimes people may hear like, “Oh, well, there’s so much information out there. Why are artists still signing x, y, and z deals?” and I think as we’ve seen broader with society, just because there’s more information about things doesn’t mean that people are necessarily always better off to then act on what’s there, so being able to like have it be like not necessarily punchy but easy, quick things to remember helps things move along and I just don’t know if I’m seeing that as much outside of some of the stuff that you’re pushing.


Karl: Yeah, you know, and I’ve even tried to challenge myself over the past year, probably less, probably past four or five months, to kinda try to think about what’s next, right?


Because there is a lot of stuff out there and it’s constantly being pumped out and that’s why, you know, sort of I think Donald Passman’s book is so successful because it’s a, you know — I think the stuff that he’s saying is fairly simple stuff.


There’s some nuanced things in there and it’s a great book, but the format’s very digestible. It’s a book, right? You read it start to finish, it’s organized, kinda gives you like a step-by-step guide, “Here’s how you do it, Here’s how you digest it,” and I think that part’s been lost in law.


It’s like right now, as you just said, everything’s just on the internet, there’s no really processing how you’re gonna take it in, you know? A class format, people say you don’t need school, which might be true, but, you know, one of the things that school does is it kinda teaches you in like an organized fashion and, you know, I think that’s important, like, you know, we all learn differently but I will say organized learning is a lot better and easier than, you know, just information in a bunch of different places.


Dan: Right, and I’m sure for you too, not only does it help educate your clients but by you putting it out there, I’m sure that increases your deal flow and your access to other people to do deals with in the future.


Karl: Yeah. Yeah, no, it definitely did. I think, you know, at one point it was even kinda overwhelming, like, you know, because I was genuinely putting it out there kinda in support of a community that’s, you know, given me so much, right?


They’ve given me a career. Artists and producers have given me a career. So I feel like, you know, I owe the ones I can’t reach and I won’t be able to reach to put out good information for them kinda just pushing for it, man.


You know, it’s always about, you know, where is next up just having more resources and more information than I did and that’s really what it was about.


But, you know, on the flip side, as you said, you know, my email, you know, there’s days and weeks where I’m getting 30 intake emails, you know, a week and it’s just like, you know, it’s a bit overwhelming.


And then you start thinking, like, yo, you know, am I a content creator? Am I — Is my goal to build my firm out? Is my — you know, all those things that sort of, you know, come about over the past three, four years, and particularly the past year or two, those are just things that, you know, I’m working through just like every other entrepreneur out there.


Dan: Where do you stand on that now in terms of are you a content creator or are you, you know, just — yeah.


Karl: Yeah, I mean, honestly, I think — I don’t wanna cop out of the question but I think we’re all content creators. I think the new age professional should be content creators. Not low-hanging fruit content, I think everyone should like focus more and create niche content or, you know, really focus on creating stuff that’s gonna last and create that real valuable community, that’s how you do it. But I think all of us have the ability to, and if you do have the knowledge and you have the ability to tell stories or write, you will be a content creator.


But as you know, bandwidth is really, really important, not biting off more than you can chew and having direction. I always say a direction is more important than speed. So you kinda get lost — you could kinda get lost in the sauce kinda just putting stuff out there, feel like you’re a content creator, how can you create all this content while servicing your clients and it’s a big circle, so I’ve kinda fallen back a little bit from creating content and, you know, kinda just trying to master, really, really, really, really master my job, you know?


I know I’m good. I think I have the ability to be one of the best and, you know, for me, my focus is there and I’ll just put out content, you know, when I can, that’s kinda where I stand right now.


Dan: Well said, man. I do think that we are all content creators, it’s just a matter of like where you lie on the spectrum and, yeah, I mean, if you’re putting out anything, any of us that are on Twitter or posting things on social media, there’s some level of that, it’s just a matter of how do you balance that and have everything there so, yeah, I think that makes sense. I think that makes sense.


Karl: I mean, think about you. I mean, I feel like, you know, I’m obviously following your journey and being a fan of what you do, just seeing how you had to sort of make pivots, like you had to change, you know, some of the things you were doing in an effort to put out better stuff or, you know, create a model that makes sense for you from a financial perspective or even just from an impact perspective. It’s just like these things are constantly being tweaked and then, you know, until you feel like it’s right. Yeah?


Dan: Yeah, definitely. Yeah, I think, for me, it was, yeah, similarly, where the direction does matter more than the speed, you have to make sure that you’re looking at, okay, how does this resonate with the audience? And, ultimately, what is this getting to?


It’s one thing to just create content for content’s sake but it has to tie back to something. So I mean, like, let’s look at both of us, right? I think for you, specifically, you know where the highest revenue levers are in terms of what you’re currently doing and what you can also expand to, so if you’re creating content that doesn’t help that direct thing, how does that help you with what you’re doing?


And I think similarly, with me, I am spending a lot of my time creating content but there’s also other things that I’m doing besides that and doing the content helps those things.


So I’m cognizant, making sure that if I’m putting a piece of content out, it’s either helping, (a), the further development of what I’m doing from either the content perspective or from the other things that I have planned, not just for the business now but for lining things up down the road and in the future.


Karl: Yeah, and, honestly, again, it goes back to, you know, kinda just wanting — what are you, right? Like, you know, for me, I also realized a lot over the past three, four years, like I’m also a product guy, like I wanna put out product into the ecosystem, I wanna do a lot of brand stuff, I wanna contribute to lifestyle and culture kinda the same amount as I wanna contribute to intellectual stuff. You can’t do it all at once. You know, you got to prioritize things that make sense and I think those decisions and the way you sort of, you know, start to balance those decisions out and, you know, once you balance your priorities, it just sort of dictates where you go, right? I think it literally, you know, some people end up making the wrong decision and they’re doing something they don’t wanna do.


Other people are sort of, you know, challenging themselves to really prioritize what’s important to them, what’s not important to them, what’s important, like, you know, where you wanna be, you know, 5, 10 years from now, and that might change but, you know, every decision that you do now impacts where you’re gonna be 5, 10 years from now, you know?


Dan: Agreed, man, agreed. Let’s shift gears a bit. You mentioned this earlier in the conversation, sports and you getting more involved with sports. And I know this is something we had lightly talked about in the last conversation but now it’s dope to see because you were bringing people along the process of you wanting to become an NBA agent.


I remember when you posted about taking the exam and now you’ve done it and saw you were at Summer League and everything. So, first off, congrats. And second off, tell me the story, like what was it like getting through that process and where you are today with things?


Karl: Yeah, no, I mean, honestly, it’s like — it feels like you’re starting from the bottom again. I have a basketball background and a sport background first, like more so — I interned for the Brooklyn Nets, you know, I interned with the New York Knicks.


I played basketball, I was a good player in Jersey, like I thought basketball, I was a basketball is life kid, you know? That’s really where I was at. So I kinda always knew the game was gonna get me in the end and I just felt like I had — a lot of the stuff I was doing with music was similar to the stuff I could be doing with sports and I thought my profile was rising in music, you know, I was getting some stability and some of my clients were reaching a certain point where, you know, things were just starting to ring bells and, you know, I just wanted to use that cultural currency to kinda, again, do something that you wanna do, make an impact, tell the same story in sports.


I also think, you know, a lot of ways, you know, athletes aren’t as — they’re missing a lot of revenue streams that they could have access to if they wanted to so I really just wanted to sort of like bringing a lot of that spirit to them too.


So, you know, just took the exam, studied for it, you know, paid the fee and, you know, now it’s just like, you know, now it’s about recruiting. Again, it’s ground floor stuff and, you know, it’s a separate entity, it’s firm sports, and, you know, I’m building a team out on that side and I was able to raise money and it’s a little cleaner process there.


Actually, I could go VC or, you know, traditional funding. I can get that on the sport side, there’s no limitations there. I think it’s a similar business model, it’s not like a quick flip, like you’re not going to invest in that agency and, you know, it’s not gonna be Uber return, right? 


Like it’s just not what it is, but you have access to — now if you’re an investor, I think it’s a relatively low cost to entry and then the access that you get with that cost to entry in the potential from each website, it’s a unique combination because, again, you can go out there and get, you know, you might have, you know, an entrepreneur — it might be, you know, one of my investors, has restaurants and things like that and he might wanna have my athletes, you know, go in those restaurants and, you know, all that stuff comes full circle for them.


So now just recruiting, man. Recruiting on the basketball side is very unique. I think it’s like a very cliquey, tight knit circle, basketball, more so than music. I think, you know, music, your homie, you know, down the street can be a producer, a rapper, and all of a sudden, you’re a manager. And all of a sudden, you know, that guy gets a hit producing from his bedroom and, you know, you’re at least in conversations that you would never got to before.


You know, basketball, I just feel like these communities have been sort of cemented for so long and people so it’s a different struggle but, you know, I think my value add as a business person, someone who, you know, helps their clients navigate the trickiness and some of the horrible things that have happened to black athletes and entrepreneurs and entertainers.


You know, I proved myself on that and I’m also aggressive, in a positive way, like, you know, I want these people to maximize their earning power, make the biggest impact possible in their communities and I know, as a young black entrepreneur, I think I know how to do that.


So my pitch on the sports side is very consistent and similar to the pitch on the music side but it’s just — my sleeves are rolled up and I’m just — I’m in there, man. I’m just competing.


Dan: I hear that. You mentioned earlier that you think athletes are missing some revenue streams. What are those revenue streams you think they’re missing?


Karl: Yeah, you know, I thought — so, one, you know, NIL, funny enough, I didn’t — I’m not that smart to time my entryway into sports, you know, the same time NIL becomes eligible, I really didn’t —


Dan: You did have perfect timing though.


Karl: It was perfect timing, so I think college athletes, in particular, are missing revenue streams. That’s obvious. They weren’t allowed to do that. But I just think that brand building in sports can be a lot better, right?


You know, you think about the middle tier or lower tier, you know, artist, I think they just do a better job of galvanizing their community on social media, telling their story, getting out there talking to fans.


When we think about like a middle tier, a lower tier athlete and, you know, at the highest level, I’m talking about professionally, be the eighth man on the Dallas Mavericks, you know, you’re making a lot of money and you have that cultural cache because you are a talent but you’re probably not maximizing or squeezing that limit to go out there and make something, you know, special like, you know, you have that ability, you can tell your story, you can, you know — it’s happening a bit more, right?


Like I’m seeing, you know, vlogs, people telling their stories or articles, but like I think almost every athlete has the potential to at least be a micro influencer, if they don’t consider themselves that, and then use that cultural currency that comes with being a professional athlete to get access to investments that other people don’t have access to, to get access to, you know, I’m looking at — it’s not that sophisticated, I think the education is off and I think some of the people, you know, who are in the sports world are — they might know the game but they’re not necessarily proven entrepreneurs or people with experience investment in building companies so, you know, I think there’s so much more value that’s being missed and I’m excited to help athletes explore it. That’s really kinda where my head’s at, you know? Let’s go out there and let’s be aggressive and let’s maximize your earning power and set you up for your days after sports.


Dan: Yeah. I think that middle tier, that lower tier point is spot on, because we see so many of the deals dominated by the superstars, right? LeBron has this movie coming out with Warner Brothers or Dwyane Wade has this show on — that Cube show that he has, like all of those people are doing the big stuff.


And maybe I’ll hear a little bit about the people that are a step lower, like I know that Spencer Dinwiddie has some things or like Josh Hart has a podcast, but I think you’re right, these are still people that have, in most cases, hundreds of thousands of followers on some type of platform, they have the ability to maximize that in some way.


And especially the NBA players, because I think, in some ways, some of those middle-tier NBA players, they’d be just as popular from a global impact perspective as some of the top-tier players in other professional sports leagues and those top-tier players in other professional sports leagues may be maximizing their platform more relatively than the mid-tier NBA player would and I think that’s a big arbitrage opportunity.


Karl: Yeah. And you think about it, like, you know, these — a lot of these athletes have been building their community, especially this next generation. I’m talking about like the Mikey Williams, the kids, the high school kids who have literally been building their brand since they’ve been an infant because that’s just the way social media has been built.


But, you know, some of these guys wanna just have community at the high school level, right? People wanna file senior, you know, whatever high school they went to, they wanna have community at the college level or are they playing immediately, you know?


You went to Michigan, right? A Michigan college basketball player, the alumni base, the fan group that went to Michigan, the strings that you’ll have in their heart will last a lifetime and then you build that community again at the professional level in these cities that you’re contributing in.


Like I said, it’s really a — I just don’t think they’re squeezing it hard enough. Some people are, right? You talked about Spencer Dinwiddie. He does some unique stuff. Andre Iguodala is obviously another person who uses cultural cache and, you know, his access to some of these billionaires and millionaires that he knows, right?


Actually I didn’t even mention, it’s the access they have to a group of people that me and you don’t have access to, I know. But we’d love to have access to. You know, guys like Andre Iguodala have proven that, you know?


Like I am an entrepreneur and I think there’s so much value to be created, you know, from the sports career that I have but I feel like it’s happening. You know, I’m optimistic. I think there’s more people like me who have led the way.


I mean, there’s people who’ve been doing it, you know, for years before I ever even thought about doing it, so shout out to them. But, you know, it’s always about pushing it forward and, you know, that’s just where my head’s at.


Dan: I think that college athlete thing and thinking about their alumni base is a really good point, because you mentioned Michigan. Obviously, I went there and I went there the time that Trey Burke was there, and Trey Burke has been in the NBA for years now.


You know, I think he’s been on a few different teams doing his thing but Michigan folks still belove Trey Burke. He’s like royalty there. I think so much of us still look at that 2013 National Championship as a big missed opportunity and we’ll complain about some of the ref calls and all that but he’s royalty there and I think there’s so much that can be tapped into, thinking about how big Michigan’s alumni base, I think it has one of the largest in the country by far. You tap into that and I think there’s some really powerful things and I think so much of the sponsorship opportunities get looked at in the same way that, you know, it’s like, okay, who gets the most highlights on House of Highlights or Bleacher Report, but it’s not about that. You gotta think about what are those powerful niches.


In some ways, this may seem like a bit of a stretch comparison but it kinda reminds me of how Cameo has been successful, like what they’ve done with some of their partnerships they’ve had with different personalities or creators and their whole thing was like, we’re finding the opportunity of people who are more famous than they are rich so that’s how you have like the guy from the Office who’s making like $2 million a year from Cameo, right?


But I feel like what you’re describing is almost a similar situation, because there are some athletes who are more famous than they could be rich based on some of those deep alumni connections that they do have.


Karl: Spot on. I think like — and, you know, part of it’s like the education that’s been around them, like you’re an athlete, do your job, you know, focus on that. But, you know, you have the ability to turn that fame, whatever level it is, into more dollars and it doesn’t have to be in a, you know, non-tasteful way.


It could be very tasteful, it can be very impact driven, it can be very, very, you know, generational wealth creating for your family and others around you for years to come. So, the dynamic athlete, I’ll call it, I think those people are gonna start coming out a little bit more.


I think people like LeBron are leading the way. I think he’s like, you know, he’s like — he’s just spot on as a person. I know he’s the greatest of all time, arguably one of the greatest of all time, but not just because of basketball, I think, you know, across the board, he’s kind of, you know, led the way in terms of like building real companies and that can’t be overlooked.


Dan: Yeah. And I think too, just given some of the people we’re talking about, the things they’re getting involved with, this landscape is just changing so fast.


I feel like there’s so many opportunities with NFTs or tokens or cryptocurrency and I feel like from an art perspective, and more broadly, an entertainment perspective, that must be impacting your work quite a bit, especially this past year. How’s that been?


Karl: Yeah, I mean, you know, I have a love-hate relationship with, you know, NFTs. I think crypto and its use case and its value are still being figured out. I think there’s a lot of — it’s more theory than practice, right?


And I think NFTs as it relates to the music industry kinda really hold no value. Like I mean, literally, I mean, you know, unless, you know, Spotify or some of these other companies adopt, you know, digitized payment systems that allow people to sort of — like it just doesn’t make sense.


And then copyright law is another thing that just kinda blows that up to a point where, you know, a lot of the same challenges I think that you’ve had, you know, before NFTs. It’s not like a — doesn’t really change the game too much from a music perspective, but I will say, blockchain has the potential to revolutionize the industry and, you know, I’m sure you’ve heard that before.


You know, I think there’s some real use case value there. But, you know, NFTs, in general, I think, probably stand, you know, right now, I think they’re their best value probably is what we kinda know, it’s like digital collectibles or art pieces.


I think it just — it makes more sense, like, you know, especially when you build your community, it’s like it doesn’t — you can’t skip the line, like you gotta have community first to build like a valuable NFT. But I think there is some real value there, right?


It’s like, you know, whether it be a digital piece art and, you know, you can see who owns it and you can see the original version, and it’s, you know, on chain. Yeah, that’s pretty cool. You know, kinda other than that, I’m sort of — I’m like, all right, we need to let some of these bigger companies, you know, if they don’t start adopting blockchain technology or sort of, I just don’t see how big of an impact it will have, I guess, for the music industry. That’s just where I stand. Yeah.


Dan: It’ll be interesting. I think we’ll probably see some varied approaches and I think the space is just so raw right now that, to your point, I think we do have to see how a lot of this will shake out, for sure.


But I guess in terms of other extensions though, are there other areas or new spaces that you haven’t entered yet that you’re excited about getting into at some point?


Karl: Yeah, I mean, definitely real estate, like, you know, I think like — I think every day and the more you see and you sort of start, you know, looking at your values and why you start doing stuff, for me, it’s always been, you know, impacting community and just, you know, those are broad words but, specifically, kinda just like the black community and black entrepreneurship and, you know, I’m based in Newark these days, you know, people are always like, “Why, out of all places, did you sort of plant your flag in like Newark, New Jersey?”


Well, you know, it has a strong black ecosystem historically, you know, black city and powerful black city, black mayor, and, you know, there’s not too many more of those types of cities in the Northeast, sizable population and some real value to be made.


So, you know, I’m not here to try to — I’m a Jersey native, I’m from the other side of the state but I just feel like, you know, it’s hard to do anything without having the spaces for people and, you know, with real estate, it’s less about me owning apartment towers and buildings, yeah, sure, I want that too, but it’s more so about creating spaces that I feel like I never had in Jersey and I kinda think I know, you know, a little bit about, you know, what spaces that young kids kinda need to create and learn and stuff like that.


So my head is kinda, all right, I’m getting some of this recognition, you know, my clients are pretty good, you know, we’re building so let me do what I’m telling the athletes to do, you know? Kinda using that cultural currency to sorta create a larger impact.


Dan: That makes sense, yeah, it’s like practice what you preach. You do it yourself, you’ll be able to make, you know, an even bigger statement when you’re trying to push other people to do it. I hear that and I respect that too, man. That’s what’s up.


Karl: Appreciate it.


Dan: Well, hey, man, this was great. It was really good to talk to you, good having you on and before we let you go, give the listeners some Spotify recommendations, specifically from some of the artists that you represent. Who are some of the people that they should check for and add to their list?


Karl: Yeah, yeah. I mentioned the Blxst name earlier. He has a song with Ty Dolla and Tyga called “Chosen,” you know, it was at the end of that stupid challenge that was on TikTok going viral, but that song, incredible. He dropped a project called No Love Lost that’s kinda universally recognized. It’s a special project.


You know, Moneybagg Yo’s killin’ it, one of my producers, “Turn Me Up YC,” that I represent, he produces, you know, almost everything for that, “Wockesha,” songs like that so Moneybagg. He actually has the top-selling hip hop album of 2021 to this moment in time. That will probably break because of Kanye and Drake, but Moneybagg Yo is a great listen.


And then Dro Kenji, a new kid I’m working with. He’s a client, shout out to his manager, John Hicks. Dro Kenji, he’s with Internet Money, 10k Projects, but it’s kinda like a cross between, you know, pop, punk, rock, R&B, rap, it’s a dope fusion, seem like, you know, a young black kid is kinda making his music and pushing, you know, the tone a little bit, it’s awesome to see, so Dro’s another guy I recommend you listen to. You know?


Dan: Good stuff. Well, thanks, bro. I appreciate it. This was dope.


Karl: Appreciate it, brother.


Dan Runcie

Dan Runcie

Founder of Trapital

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