Right before the holidays, we reported on a Texas middle school teacher that used the sequence of the cocaine trade to teach critical thinking. While the lesson was controversial, the teacher found that aspects of the dope game was valuable to everyday life. Granted, most who venture into the trafficking of drugs end up behind bars or in a body bag. However, the fortunate hustlers, who are able to make it out, have found that their trapping pasts make for a smooth transition into the world of legitimate business.
A prime example of someone who was able to make that transition is R.M. Smith, better known as Philly. Starting out hustling work on the rough-and-tumble streets of North Philadelphia, Philly is now an innovative tastemaker/consultant in the entertainment industry, who has worked with Puff Daddy, Dr. Dre and artists under the Interscope umbrella. He is also the CEO of his own label, YacHouse (founded with friend and business partner DJ No Love), has assisted in the casting process of major films (i.e. The Fast & The Furious franchise, Transformers, Anchorman 2), authors books (check out his Self Medication series), acts as investor and is a restaurateur (owner of Philly’s in Tuscaloosa, AL). Philly credits his past on the block with providing a solid foundation for his success. “People who go to school, they can get all the book smarts they want to,” Philly explained. “I feel like street niggas have on-the-job training, having to be creative with our shit, to get out of what our plights are.”
Philly was born into a family headed by Philadelphia underworld nobility. His grandfather was a founding member of the notorious, yet prestigious Philadelphia Black Mafia (do ya Googles) and his father was a co-founder of the Junior Black Mafia. “I kinda inherited my background, fortunately and unfortunately,” said Philly.
He was raised by his grandmother, who stressed education, accepting nothing less than B’s on report cards. However, with his father in prison and a number of siblings to look out for, Philly, literally, took to the block at the age of nine. “Learning the business and who my family truly was through the words of the guys out on the block, even with how they looked out for me,” he said.
With money his uncle would give him from time to time saved up, Young Philly copped a pound of weed and bagged the bud right up out on the street, to get his feet wet in the game. “Everybody’s lookin’ at me crazy, like this is dude is a wild kid. 9-years-old old, I’m out here wild, reckless,” Philly laughed as he remembered. “To me, it was all about making sure my siblings had. I didn’t even figure out how I’m gonna get the money in the house.”
Philly’s horizons broadened as he started middle school and started meeting kids from other parts of the city. “As I got older, I started a crew and whatnot. In middle school, you branch and meet people from other hoods,” explained Philly. “You get into fights with other hoods. At the same time, there’s alliances.”
Philly recalled that his most formidable alliance came in high school, after he’d converted to Islam, which resulted from a growing disenchantment with the Church in which he was raised (and offered dope money in the collection plates). His crew grew to a 50-deep regime from all over the city (North Philly, West Oak Lane, South Philly, West Philly, etc.), where everyone played his respective position, based on his abilities. “That’s how I became powerful, because we were so spread out that we brought more people in and had a ton of allegiances,” he explained. “High school was the ripe breeding ground for that monster. So I had my hood squad, but then I also had my own team of niggas.”
Displaying superior intelligence and charisma, Philly’s role was leader. He’d stepped up to selling coke on college campuses in the city. His moral compass would not allow him to sell crack, being that he had family members who were addicts. Philly had an older cousin, who he’d go visit on campus. Unbeknownst to the older cousin, Philly was slinging white to his peers. “[My cousin] was just a convenient piece on the chessboard,” said Philly.
An awakening came for Philly, when the Philadelphia Daily News published an article about the most dangerous people in the city. “They said the most dangerous people in Philadelphia was my uncle, my dad and my right hand man,” Philly recounted. “They didn’t know who I was at the time, because I was quiet. I think that was the great role my grandmother played, because she had me in school, she had me on the right path with everything, except I was a street nigga. Once they did that paper, my grandmother was like,’You see what’s going on right?’ You can’t deny it. Everybody around me was hot, so you kind of see who’s gonna fall, which was me. I had to make every step after that a smart one.”
In 2004, Philly packed up his things, stuffed a duffel bag with a sizable sum of money, and left the “City of Brotherly Love” to start anew in Miami. One night, he hit Club Mansion, where it was $100 at the door to get in. “It was more than any Philly club and there wasn’t anybody special there,” said Philly. After getting in and looking around, he peeped about a thousand people. At this point,he made the decision to throw parties. “The math made sense. I needed to either get a club or be the guy throwing these parties.”
In Miami nightlife, clubs can charge upwards of $2,500 to get in, and folks will pay it. This was the perfect way for a former high-level trapper to supplement his income. “It was a good thing for me, because I transitioned into something where I could walk away with $50,000 in one night or invest in something and make a massive profit,” explained Philly.
As a promoter, Philly had a chance meeting with Puff Daddy. A relationship after Puffy was impressed with Philly’s presence at Opium, accented by 25 bottles of good liquors. Diddy ended up hosting his first party. From there, Philly was named one of the top promoters in Miami, which caught the eye of Dr. Dre, who summoned Philly to work for him in LA. Due to these powerful connections, Philly made a reputation for himself, and was able to carve out the life he has today.
As far as the streets translating into the business world, Philly sees a few ways that they do. “There will always be this picture painted as the streets being filled with savages, but you’re not gonna survive in the streets by being a savage. You survive in the streets by being smart. Savages get killed every day,” said Philly. “Every smart person’s vision is to make it out the streets, so every move should be calculated. Actions and reactions. Being a savage gets you nowhere. Savage is a new word for a thug and, by definition, a thug is usually just a brainless muscle; too stupid to be anything of importance, except someone to shoot and get shot at. Value yourself. Even at the worst times, you are important.”
Another parallel is the ingenuity necessary for business that also goes into a thriving street enterprise. “The best marketers, to me, are people who had success in the streets,” Philly surmised. “I can’t speak for everywhere, but in Philly, we piled up. Our homes are row homes. Same as Baltimore just on a much larger scale. We’re basically block by block, and we don’t really rock with each other like that. Not saying there’s wars going on block by block, even though there are some. You’re still fighting for the same consumer base, so you had to be creative in order to make money; to make it period, to feed your family.”
Yet another another way the streets can prepare one for business is the management of relationships, according to Philly. “If you’re someone who had a power of any sort, you learn diplomacy, you learn how to negotiate, you learn how to talk to people,” explained Philly. “I’ve never been talked to crazy in my life. People never come to me in some really disrespectful tone and just walked away from it. It never really happened. If there is an understanding, I’m gonna talk to you like a man, we can sort that out. If you want a problem after that, we can rock with that problem. We can go.”
As words of advice to anybody trying to make it in business, Philly imparted, “Never let anyone deter you. With any business,you have to have a plan. A lot of people have the money, but they don’t have a plan. Always have a plan. Money isn’t the sole thing holding people back from their dreams, it’s the planning and preparation. Money can’t fix that. People follow well-oiled machines. People always wanna be a part of and capitalize on your business. If you’re moving properly, everybody’s gonna throw money at you, because they see how you’re moving.”
He added, “Put a bunch of women on your team and don’t take advantage of them. In business, women are smarter than us, so you need At least one or two on your team. The thing about dudes, and I love my homies, everybody wants to be ‘the guy.’ There’s gonna be butting of heads. Women look at it as if you win, they win. At the end of the day, women dictate everything, as far as consumerism goes. They buy the most. They support the most. Dudes follow whatever women like. We buy things because women like them.”