From Rapper To VC: Chamillionaire’s Venture Into The Tech World

Grammy award winning recording artist Chamillionaire was photographed sitting courtside at Game 5 of the NBA Finals, wedged between hip hop legends Snoop Dogg and E-40.

The photo went viral, where users on the internet poked fun and speculated how an artist that hasn’t made a hit record in over a decade, could afford courtside seats to the game-clinching final. A game where courtside seats sold for as much as $66,000 a ticket on the secondary market.

But many don’t know his story.

Born Hakeem Seriki, the Houston-Texas based artist, was a pioneer of the era when music was experiencing a digital revolution.

A keen businessman, Seriki, knew that the next generation of artist success would be predicated on building an online following and presence.  While this doesn’t sound unusual now, in the early 2000s it was nearly unheard of for artists to embrace the digital revolution the way he did.

Chamillionaire was able to amass a huge social media following and embraced new technology to distribute his content. One of the first artist to have his own website, email list and utilized and experience with many unique marketing techniques to better connect with his following. He became a champion of creating engagement with his following, well before this became an internet marketing buzzword.

“In the music industry, i’ve seen it change over the years and evolve,  so many things in the tech world have actually taken my industry and changed it dramatically. So because of that there is a need for me to know what’s happening next,” said Chamillionaire in an interview with Suster before he joined the firm.  

It was the engagement that gave him significant leverage as an independent artist, rapping about how he would turn down major labels offers when given the chance, to remain independent and have control over his art.

Today, it’s very common for artists to do the same, remain independent and capitalize on their social media and own distribution channels.

Chamillionaire eventually signed a major label deal with Universal, capturing the world, and the White House, with his 2005 hit ‘Ridin Dirty’.

He was always an independent artist at heart however , and had many riffs regarding creative control with the label.

It was shortly after that Chamillionaire, took a step away from music and turned to the tech world, where he joined Venture capital firm Upfront Ventures as their Entrepreneur In Residence.

“I walked around the music industry for a bunch of years, right? I saw a lot of rich people. I didn’t see wealthy,” said Chamillionaire.

“I got into the tech industry, I see wealthy every day.  How many billionaires do I have to walk around the music industry to find? I’m in Silicon Valley, I’m in L.A., I’m in Santa Monica, and I’m seeing billionaires all over the place, and they’re young. That’s not the case in the music industry,” he said.

Throughout his tenure, he was one of the earliest investors in a video startup, Maker Studios, which eventually sold to Walt Disney Co (NYSE:DIS) for $500 million.

“Five-and-a-half years ago I first met Chamillionaire at a tech conference in LA. I saw him on stage at the event talking about how he used social media to engage audiences. This was 2009 and his understanding of audience engagement was far beyond anything I was hearing from most people at that time,” said Mark Suster,  partner Upfront Ventures.

Since then, it has been a trend for athletes and artists to join the venture capital scene; Kobe Bryant announced a $100 million VC fund Bryant Stibel shortly after his retirement.  Jay-Z and Kevin Durant also have their own venture capital funds and investments.

While Chamillionaire has since left Upfront ventures, he is still active in the venture capital scene.  Once you delve deeper into Chamillionaire’s past history, one won’t be surprised when he’s sitting courtside at the next NBA finals.