Why UK rappers are shifting focus to building businesses

Hila May | Soho House

‘From Rap To Riches: UNTOLD’ is Shoreditch House member Hila May’s documentary exploring the rise of rappers-turned-entrepreneurs

Thursday 3 November 2022   By Sagal Mohammed

Following in the footsteps of American music moguls such as Diddy, Jay Z and Dame Dash, UK rappers are turning their hands to big business. It’s a topic that Shoreditch House member Hila May explores in a new Channel 4 documentary on the rise in entrepreneurial success among UK rappers. 

From Rap To Riches: UNTOLD follows some of the most critically acclaimed rap artists in the country as they leverage their platforms to launch affluent businesses, from a baby skincare line to vodka and CBD brands. The show, filmed across our Soho Friends Studios and Soho Works locations, stars the likes of Lady Leshurr, Wretch 32 and Krept, who give candid interviews about the highs and lows of the music industry, and their goal of creating generational wealth in their families. 

Here, we speak to May about producing the documentary, the financial flaws within the music industry and highlighting those who have shaped Black British culture. 

Hila May | Soho House

How did this documentary come about?
‘Channel 4 launched its new youth strand “UNTOLD” this year, which is being overseen by the super-talented commissioning editor Debbie Ramsay, one of the OGs in the industry. She has a wealth of experience and helped kick-start the careers of many. One of the commissioning executives working with Debbie is fellow Soho House member Symeon Brown – he really understands what young people are engaged in. The two of them gave me the opportunity to do this and I’m very appreciative. 

‘I have always had respect for Femi Oyeniran and Nicky ‘Slimting’ Walker from Fan Studios. Some of the biggest names on the UK culture scene have worked with them at their production company. After many Zooms and chats, we all tag teamed to make this happen as we shared similar ideas about what we wanted to create and have ties in the music industry.’ 

What do all the artists featured have in common? 
‘They say it takes at least 10 years to become an overnight success – and people are always so quick to say “wow he/ she/ they just rose to success and riches.” No. It takes a lot of hard work, dedication, difficulty, joy and sometimes tears. All of the contributors came from humble beginnings – they weren’t just handed things on a platter. They worked really hard to get to the level that we see them at now. 

‘One of the huge things they have in common is that they are the main financial providers to their families and friends. Leshurr looks after six of her nieces and nephews and her sister as their father passed away. Krept has his daughter Nala, and Wretch has a little girl, too. The running theme was that they were all keen to talk to us about the importance of generational wealth and being one of the first in their families to change the future generations of their family to come.’ 

Why do you think these stories are important? 
‘I think we’re so used to hearing stories of struggle in a negative light, but it’s important to celebrate all the achievements, too. We’ve been through so much the last couple of years. Everyone I speak to – friends, family, colleagues – all seem to be going through it. It’s important to highlight and remember that you grow through what you go through. It’s really something to be celebrated and looked at as a positive story. I respect everyone’s hustle.’

Hila May | Soho House

What were the best pieces of advice you heard from the artists on the show? 
‘Wretch spoke about young people in the UK from working class backgrounds not necessarily being taught about financial literacy or how credit works in schools. I think this is something I probably learnt way too late in life. Luckily, I have an older brother, Patris, who is good with finances. He sat me down and taught me most of what I needed to know, including how credit works. I think it’s important for us to take it upon ourselves from a young age to learn about the basic rules of budgeting, credit and interest.’ 

Was there anything you didn’t know about the people involved that came out in their stories?
‘I think we all know it’s always been difficult for artists to make money from music streams globally, but I hadn’t realised just how difficult it really is. Of course, artists get advances when they sign a record deal and people at music labels are brilliant – but the way recorded music and streams work, it’s hard to monetise from it as an artist. We commissioned exclusive research for the film that found only about 3% of UK rap artists make £50,000 a year or more from recorded music. That’s not much at all. Krept spoke about this openly in the film, and since then I had a few well-known artists from various genres contact me to share their personal stories and issues. It’s a fascinating world.’

Finally, what do you want the viewers to take away from the documentary?
‘I think just understanding that you can really do anything you want; I truly believe that. Our only limitation is ourselves, and that voice in our head telling us you can’t or you’re not good enough is not real. Most of the time it’s our own insecurities or imposter syndrome. I struggle with that myself sometimes – good days and bad days. We also wanted to leave people feeling inspired from hearing the success stories of these incredible artists and to really celebrate them, and how far the culture has come.’ 

‘From Rap To Riches: UNTOLD’ will be streaming on All4 and YouTube from 5 November

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