Interview With Trapital Founder & Author Dan Runcie

September 24, 2018 | Interviews

The business side of hip-hop is often overlooked. Traditional media outlets often scratch the surface when assessing hip-hop.

Trapital digs deeper. Each story breaks downs and identifies the strategic moves and principles that shape the culture.

Uptown Plug had the pleasure of speaking with Trapital Founder and Author Dan Runcie about his writing career, artist business strategies, the importance of Damon Dash to the hip hop culture, and plenty more!

1) How did you get started with your writing career?

I started writing after I graduated from business school. Time after time, I would read articles written on major publications about concepts I had previously discussed with friends. I would say to myself “I was just telling my friend about this last week!”

I decided to test my skills and wrote stories on Medium about pop culture. I eventually started getting asked to pitch different publications, which was dope. That’s when I felt like I had a something going.

After a couple years of freelancing, I started writing for larger publications, including WIRED and Pigeons & Planes.

As I became a stronger writer, I focused more on business related topics with hip-hop and pop culture I felt that my perspective would continue to add value, which is why I ultimately started Trapital.

2) With so many hip hop publications available online and in print, what makes Trapital different to other media?

Trapital provides a unique balance of hip-hop storytelling and analysis, which is missing from most hip-hop publications. A few years ago, Harvard Business School wrote a case study about Beyonce’s surprise album drop.

The case study was fantastic and had an overwhelmingly positive reception, but analyses like that were too few and far between. It was a sign that there’s strong interest in this type of writing.

Hip-hop is home to some of America’s most successful business leaders. It’s important for an outlet like Trapital to break down Cardi B and The Weeknd’s business models, partnerships, and companies.

They need to be assessed and critiqued with the same rigor that Amazon and Tesla are. It pushes the culture forward.

3) Trapital’s articles are extensive reads, how much time goes into researching and writing each piece?

Once I have a theme or concept in mind, I do a couple hours of research to better understand the facts, gather data, and decide whether to move forward or pivot. Once the story is outlined, I start drafting the piece.

It’s an iterative process. I write, conduct research, revise, and repeat. From the initial start of research to hitting the “send” button to all my email subscribers, most pieces take about 10 hours to complete.

4) You’ve written articles on Drake and J. Cole’s business strategies. What has your experience been watching these artists go from their mixtape grind to A-list superstars?

It’s been fascinating to watch both Drake and Cole rise to superstardom in completely different ways. As I wrote in Nothing Was The Same After ‘Nothing Was The Same, Drake is hip-hop’s business-to-business guru.

He’s established a Walmart-Procter Gamble style relationship with the streaming platforms where they both need each other to succeed.

On the other hand, J. Cole is the business-to-consumer master. Through his $1 concerts and free events, his 1,000 True Fans will always support him when its time for Cole to pay the bills.

In the 90s, artists didn’t “choose” business models. Back then, the model was “who do you know that knows Suge Knight or Puff Daddy?” Today, Drake and J. Cole’s distinct paths signify cultural growth and evolution.

As hip-hop becomes more ubiquitous in society and technology introduces more opportunities, I expect to see even more successful types of strategies from leading artists.

5) You also wrote a great article about how Damon Dash brought rap concerts back. I feel like Damon Dash is one of the most brilliant minds in hip hop culture but he gets misunderstood by a lot of people. What are your feelings on Dame and his contributions to the culture?

Thank you! Someone else gets its. Unfortunately, Dame often gets disregarded because of his brash delivery and approach. Dame’s biggest contribution to the culture is his focus on ownership—that’s how he brought rap concerts back.

He understood that there was more value to be captured higher up in the chain. He wanted more for Roc-a-Fella Records. The story I recently wrote about why rappers started running their own music festivals is a Dame Dash mentality.

In business and tech, it’s common to have nuanced discussions about Steve Jobs’ brash approach and unwavering demand for excellence.

Similar conversations could be had about Dame, but folks mostly want talk about his falling out with Jay Z and the Dame Dash bottle dance!

6) Looking at your analysis on successful artists, what do you think are the top factors that separate them from the rest of the pack?

Today’s most successful artists focus on a strategy and target audience. Everyone hates on Russ, but he’s been one of the most calculated and intentional artists this past year.

When he started out, he consistently put out music on a regular weekly schedule, surrounded himself with people like music industry veteran Cara Lewis, and kept grinding. It’s no surprise that he got on the Forbes Hip-Hop Cash Kings List.

Each successful artist and their teams understand their business model, the regions they perform well in, and who their biggest competitors are.

7) What has some of your favourite records released in 2018?

So far, I’ve really been liking Travis Scott’s Astroworld, Nipsey Hussle’s Victory Lap, and Mac Miller’s Swimming (RIP Mac). All three albums elevated each rapper to new heights.

These projects highlighted artistic growth—especially for Nipsey and Mac. As a fan, it’s exciting to watch.

8) Where do you see Trapital headed in the next 12 months?

In the next 12 months, I want Trapital to become the go-to source for hip-hop business. Trapital will up its content and expand to other platforms.

Trapital will become a subscription-based newsletter. I will still write one free story a week that’s available to everyone. But for those who are willing to pay for more content will get shorter-form assessments about timely hip-hop business topics several times a week.

I also plan to add a video or podcast as an extension of Trapital content. I look at Stratechery, a newsletter about the business side of tech, as a successful business model that can help shape what the next year for Trapital could look like.

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