The Number 1 Strategy That Will Make or Break You: Collaboration

One of the many reasons I have been obsessed with hip hop all my life is not only because of the great music and storytelling, but also because of the techniques and methods that are used to promote and share hip hop music to the rest of the world.

Hip hop has always been controversial and cutting edge, because in the beginning it wasn’t supported by the mainstream record labels and radio stations and was looked down upon by the general public as a bad influence.

I mean, remember the FBI’s attempts to censor NWA in the ‘80s? The struggle was real. 

One key element in hip hop has always been collaboration and a “DIY ethic”, this is because artists didn’t receive support or funding from the music industry and general public at first and so had to find alternative ways to spread their music and work together.

The collaboration between Debbie Harry (I will forever be a Blondie fan) and Grandmaster Flash was one of the first which introduced the hip hop scene to the punk scene (another generally despised, underdog community/scene) but which then resulted in rap going from Bronx and Brooklyn and moving down to Manhattan where the punk scene was hanging out.

This was one of the first steps that forced rap music into the consciousness of the general public. 

Also the collaboration between Run DMC and Aerosmith, Walk This Way, had similar crossover appeal and helped to carve a space for hip hop in the minds of the general public. 

However, in hip hop, collaboration is not just about making music with other people, it can include marketing cross promotions, collaborating with designers on products such as merchandise or clothing, or even just sharing a stage or space with an unexpected person or brand.

I remember when Dave Chapelle hosted his infamous block party in Brooklyn in 2005, which is one of the best marketing stunts ever done in my opinion. The line up for that show was insane and is still talked about today.

He actually managed to get The Fugees back together for a reunion show, which was also a great example of the “DIY Ethic” as well as an act of rebellion and collaboration in response to rejection by the mainstream. Lauryn Hill had been asked to perform solo but her label, Columbia Records, refused to license her solo music for the show so she decided to resurrect her old group and play with them instead.

Oh and another fun fact – did you know J. Cole was in the audience that day? Just jamming, enjoying the show, not knowing what was in store for the rest of his life and career.


 Here you see the worlds of stand up comedy and music colliding, but if you think about it they’re actually very similar worlds.

Both comedians and rappers perform and project their work from a stage to an audience, they both have stories to tell and both use timing, rhythm, cadence and tone to give the stories more depth and context and to turn their stories into a new form of entertainment.

You continue to see cross industry collaboration throughout the history of hip hop, like artists partnering with fashion brands, remember Run DMC and Adidas? They managed to get a huge mainstream company to endorse a rap group back in the 80s because their community and following was so strong.

Run DMC even have an entire song dedicated to Adidas – My Adidas.

Collaboration has been a key tool for hip hop as a movement to carve itself a space in the worlds music scene and has today become even more than just another music genre with mainstream appeal, hip hop essentially dictates new trends across all sorts of other industries, obviously the music industry but also fashion, sports, movies and many more. 

However I continue to see constant innovation of marketing techniques within hip hop today where collaboration is still the number one factor.

Even if you don’t like hip hop music, there is a lot to learn from the marketing techniques, DIY ethic and community building that was pioneered by hip hop artists and labels.

Hip hop artists are typically at the forefront and very innovative, especially on the internet. 

As many musicians are starting to embrace the concepts of collaboration in their music (seeing artists feature on each other’s albums and tracks is very common these days), very few understand how to use this concept in their marketing. 

In this article I want to give you some alternative ways you can start collaborating in your marketing in ways that are inspired by the hip hop community:

  1. Collaboration Through Content

As I was recently scrolling through Instagram the other day I came across a post that caught my attention by Adelante (an upcoming producer). 

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I love when musicians show how they get inspired and the process behind their music, and Adelante understands content marketing so he knows the perfect format and creates Reels which gets loads of engagement and views.

A few days go by and suddenly I saw Adelante share another post where a rapper had seen his previous post and decided to rap on it.

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And it was fire!!

This second rapper is another musician who obviously understands content marketing, when I went to check out his profile I saw that all he does is collaborate with other artists through online content.

He finds upcoming producers he likes, rips their content from socials and he adds his value on top of it by rapping over their beats.

This is repurposing content, collaboration and networking all in one!

Not only are you grabbing the attention of upcoming musicians in the industry you are creating quality engaging content and starting conversations through this content. 

If you are collaborating with someone on a song you can also collaborate on marketing through content. Of course you will usually both be in the music video, but think content beyond this. 

When Fatboy Slim and Eats Everything launched their collaboration they also created some video series to introduce and promote the collaboration. Their DJ carpool series was hilarious and nicely showcased both of their brands together.

With this method, both artists gain exposure and promotion and most importantly the song will perform well as you will have some creative content to promote the song. Go live together and show the collaboration through all your different platforms.

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For example. A genius technique of collaborating with other artists using video (even during this time of lockdowns and restricted movement) is to create a layered video where you can sing acapella, perform a song and lots more creative uses. See this video for an example.

2. Collaboration on Stage/Live

When I saw that Drake, Travis Scott and Ninja was gonna meet up in the online game Fortnite to hang out and play it caught my attention.

Not only are 2 of my favorite rappers entering one of my favorite worlds – gaming, but also using the live stream format so geniously.

Ninja is one of the most popular Twitch streamers and has a huge following and community around him. He is a gamer who has really conquered the live stream format and has created a huge business around his brand and personality.

You have seen collaborations between hip hop and gaming for a long time now, whether it’s hip hop music being used in video games or rappers mentioning video games in their songs (Biggie – “Super Nintendo, Sega Genesis, when I was dead broke, man I couldn’t picture this”), this is very common and is a clever way to cross promote.

It is an interesting collaboration because a lot of gamers listen to hip hop and a lot of rappers are gamers in their free time.

Online gaming can be a great way to reach larger audiences for artists because it gives people a reason to come together and also makes the artists seem more real and accessible.

Just like any other social media platform, online gaming pulls down another barrier between the artist and their audience and gives the fans another insight into the personality and lifestyle of their favourite artists.

The artists have no advantage inside Fortnite, just because they’re Drake or Travis Scott doesn’t mean they’re going to be any better at the game, so you’re all playing on a level playing field. 

Of course the streaming session with Drake, Travis Scott and Ninja broke a record on Twitch (at the time 2018). Not only are Drake and Travis Scott being introduced to a potential new fanbase, they get to meet with them in a context they can control, through gaming.

They suddenly became very relatable. This trend of mixing gaming culture with hip hop culture continued for Travis Scott when he, a few months ago, created and performed a live concert inside Fortnite for a total of 12.3 million people. The numbers are incredible. 

We also continue to see hip hop artists collaborating with stand up comedians in various different ways. 

We often see them at events on lineups consisting of hip hop artists as well as comedians. However, hip hop artists also often get comedians to feature on their albums too. 

Cedric The Entertainer can often be heard on skits on Nelly’s albums, Chris Rock can be heard on albums by Busta Rhymes and Kanye West and more recently, rapper Amine has featured Instagram comedian and social media personality, Rickey Thompson in lots of his songs, skits and music videos.

If the stories and brands are similar it makes sense to share a stage or a screen and give a creative and innovative live experience together. 

Live Streaming is technically also a stage, and by finding streamers in your niche and going Live together you will grow your brand and interact with fans on different platforms and on different areas of interest. It makes you relatable and approachable.

3. Collaboration With Content Creators/Influencers

2020 has not been the best year for most of us, however a great bit of relief came when doggface208 came skating and lip syncing into our lives with some good vibes!

His video went viral as he skated and mouthed (the wrong) words to Fleetwood Mac – Dreams, which is a classic and just fits the video and vibe.

A few weeks after I then saw Wiz Khalifa join him on one of his videos on his longboard.

Yes of course it makes sense they are both kinda into the same kind of things, smoking weed, skating, listening to music and chilling, and of course the video was perfectly placed on top of a Wiz Khalifa song.

Then another week goes by and suddenly I see Snoop Dogg popping up on his content (paid collab of course but still), which also totally makes sense.

The reason it makes sense for Wiz and Snoop to collaborate with doggface208 is because they have similar interests, their brands have similarities and their audiences will crossover as well. 

There are other content creators your audience are following right now. Content creators who are not musicians.

These can be influencers, vloggers, gamers etc. The more niche you go the better! Get a clear understanding of your audience and their interests.

Most likely it is just a reflection of your own interest. I mean doggface, Wiz and Snoop are just being themselves and their audience can relate. 

Start finding content creators who have similar interests and a similar lifestyle to you and start building a relationship with them.

You can of course approach them right away with a collab proposal but you may need to do some groundwork and build a rapport at first in order to get their attention and get them to want to work with you.

Some of these content creators have so many followers and they understand how to create engaging, good quality content.

By creating content together and not just providing the background music for their content you are also placing your whole brand into their content and not just your music.

Wiz Khalifa both had his music as well as himself cruisin’ on the longboard on the video, which is way more effective than just doggface creating a video on top of wiz music. 

4. Collaborate With Other Creatives Who Are Not Musicians 

Creating some graphics and visuals around your music and brand is just a necessary part of the job now. You need artwork, logos and branding for your socials and releases and you probably need a music video too.

However you can collaborate with visual artists, illustrators and graphic designers in much more creative ways than just paying them to create your artwork and branding.

Major Lazor collaborated with Ferry Geow, an indonesian illustrator who is the creative vision and illustrator behind the Major Lazer character as well as the branding and artwork.

Major Lazor have found a way to tell their story even further through illustrations, cartoons, comic books, online games etc. Why limit your story to only your music, right?

This can be expanded in so many more formats, which Major Lazor do through turning the brand into a cartoon character. This cartoon character has its own skin in Fortnite as well.

By attaching the music to an illustrator you suddenly open up a lot more avenues to communicate through. Collaboration 2.0 

You can start with hitting some illustrators up who are in your niche and see if they are up to doing a collab on a project. A simple project can be your cover art work? Or artwork for a release or event?

Start small, Major Lazor wasn’t built in a day either. It all started with an idea that grew and grew.  

Collaboration can go into the movie and TV industries as well.

Spike Lee is one of the most sought after music video directors of all time. He has worked with Michael Jackson, Prince, Kanye West and many more. He also uses hip hop music in the feature films he directs as well.

Creating a music video for your song is one of the most effective ways for your audience to get exposed to your music because you’re attaching the music on to visuals which are perhaps telling a story and all of this is helping the song to resonate harder with your audience.

I mean, as humans we are an audio-visual species, these are the two main senses we use to navigate and evaluate the world around us, so if you want your music to make an impact on your audience the best way is to combine audio (music) with visual (a music video).

This is far more effective than just listening to the audio. By starting to think creatively around your music videos and collaborating with other creatives here you can really start to reach much wider audiences and leave lasting impressions on them.

Even collaborating with people you put in your video. Remember Alicia Silverstone in Aerosmith’s – Cryin’? Or an even more recent example is Kylie Jenner appearing in Meghan Thee Stallion and Cardi B.’s WAP Music Video (made even more memorable because of the controversy surrounding it)

Strategically putting some specific people in a music video that will help to convey the message even further is a great way of adding even more value to your content especially if you use influential people, it doesn’t matter how many followers they have really as long as they have some form of influence.

So there are some methods of using collaboration to expand your audience and reach as well as growing your brand, all these techniques have been pioneered and are still used today by hip hop artists.

Try them out and let me know how they work for you.

Rebecca Smart Bakken

Rebecca Smart Bakken

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About Me


Hi there! I’m Rebecca, a world citizen and digital marketing nomad.

Some of you may have also seen me on HGTV´s show “Beach Around the World”.

Over the years, I’ve made a name for myself in the tech/ startup industry by helping 250+ startups scale with growth hacking strategies.

Now I want to help musicians and artists to promote their music and engage better with fans on social media.

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