Todd Snyder: “It doesn’t surprise me that a guy like James Prince has continued to be successful.”
By Chris Akers
Over the last thirty years, the osmosis of people from the hip hop world gravitating towards the fight game has not been just restricted to rappers People such as James Prince who manage fighters, originally came from a hip hop background. The skills they learned in the hip hop game are very transferrable in the managing and promotion of fighters.
“I would argue that people like James Prince are brilliant business minds, which have come from being born in this tough, impossible set of circumstances where you have to hustle. And I mean that in a positive term,’ says Snyder. “You had to learn how to hustle and grind. It created a work ethic where you had to hustle as your life depended on it. These guys that have made it in the rap game like Jay Z and James Prince realised pretty early that if they were just going to do music, they were going to have a short career. They had to expand and diversify.
“We see this in the early 2000s, where a lot of these guys who were rap entrepreneurs start to reach into sports. The connection between sport and entertainment is closely tied.
“It doesn’t surprise me that a guy like James Prince has continued to be successful.”
Prince manages boxers the calibre of Shakur Stevenson and Jared Anderson. Fighters of this ilk trust him to manage them to success in the ring, and can relate to Prince in the sense that they have an understanding of the hard work he had to put in from the level he started at, to get to where he is at, as they have had to do the same thing.
“These guys gravitate towards James Prince. Even Andre Ward, who didn’t necessarily have your typical hip hop persona, gravitated towards James Prince because he respected his business mind,” Snyder explains. “In the same way, boxers gravitated towards Jay Z and Roc Nation Sports. These guys are brilliant business minds and they have that hustle, that spirit, that boxers respect.
“50 Cent I believe, if he had put his whole heart into being a boxing promoter, he probably would have been a very successful one, cos he’s been very successful in everything else he’s done in his career. 50 and Floyd [Mayweather] could have squashed the beef and created a union. I think he could have been a major boxing promoter today, as he’s a major business mind in pop culture and black entertainment.”
Although 50 Cent’s attempt at being a boxing promoter did not work out, it is usually when it is the other way around and boxers try to launch their own hip hop record company that tends to be unsuccessful. Zab Judah with Super Cartel, Floyd Mayweather and Philthy Rich, and Mike Tyson with Tyson Records are examples of labels established by top boxers that did not reach the heights that were expected.
“I think that’s because to be a boxer requires a certain kind of lifestyle. It’s your diet, it’s your training, it’s your dedication. It’s an around-the-clock job. I think sometimes these guys spread themselves too thin. It’s hard to be that and an entrepreneur at the same time. Guys like Zab Judah were trying to help their friends to get a deal and find their path in life. It’s very hard to make it in entertainment and also be an undefeated champion. I think that’s a tricky path because of what boxing requires of your focus, your dedication.
“There are plenty of people who want to blame Roy Jones’ losses in his career on the fact that he was also focused on other things. He was getting older and his reflexes were slowing down. But at the time he took those losses to Tarver and Glen Johnson, that’s when his albums were coming out. There’s a lot of people in boxing who look back and say that maybe he was trying to do too many things, in a sport that can be so brutal and unforgiving. You have a bad night in boxing you go to the hospital. I just think it’s tough to be that and the face of the company tat trying to make it in the entertainment business.”
With many boxers struggling to find that buzz, that purpose, and discipline that the sport gives them, it is surprising that those that want to launch a record label do not do so after retirement. Maybe boxers feeling that they are too old to do so by the time they retire is a viable reason, although Snyder feels they are other reasons at play.
“I think boxers want to use their celebrity to create these other business opportunities. Roy Jones when he put out Body Head Entertainment, was 48 and 1 and his only loss had been a disqualification to Montell Griffin. He’s at the top of his peak as far as his popularity goes. I think a lot of these guys try and maximise their celebrity at its peak and it’s harder to do that when you’re retired. It would probably be a better decision to focus on these entrepreneurial pursuits after boxing. But I think they’re trying to capitalise on their popularity, as boxing only have a tiny window.
“I think that’s one of the similarities with hip hop. You only get this tiny window of time to make it. Even great artists like Jay Z start to lose the public’s ear. One of the reasons we love Pac and Bigg so much is that they left us at the peak of their popularity. We never watched their career go down. We never watched their career ebb and flow. They passed away at the peak of their popularity. Just like a boxer who doesn’t have it anymore, it can be tough when the glitz and glamour are gone. It’s an addictive thing, that buzz, that excitement, the crowd, for both genres. It’s something that hard to let go of.”
If there is one factor over the past decade that has affected the connection between the two genres, it is social media. It has become an avenue by which fans can connect with boxers in a more immediate way than ever before. Boxers can not only start beefs with other boxers that develop into signing contracts to fight each other, but they can use the likes of Twitter and Instagram to promote themselves as a commodity and increase their bargaining power at the negotiating table. Boxers like Ryan Garcia have been very good at using the medium to put themselves in the public eye and showcase their relevance before they have started to highlight fights events on DAZN.
“I think of Adrian Broner as an example. Floyd Mayweather as well. They were the first boxer/hip hop entrepreneurs who sold themselves to the millennial generation. Floyd is always having Twitter beefs with T.I or Nelly or 50. Sam with Adrian Broner. I think you could argue Broner was boxing’s first Twitter troll!’ laughs Snyder. “That’s a very millennial thing and hip hop is tied with that too. Adrian Broner comes out during the Soundcloud era, where record deals don’t matter as much. We had Chance The Rapper who won a Grammy without a record deal. Completely independent. Now people listen to music in a different way. Back in Tupac’s day, you had to go by the CD or the cassette tape. You had to go get the product from the store. Now we listen to music instantly. Everything is about going viral. It’s about being a trending topic on Twitter.”
Such is the changing nature of boxing beefs that the number of followers one has on social media scores points in who gets the upper hand in verbal welfare in the lead up to a potential fight. Devin Haney proclaiming to Teofimo Lopez that ‘I’ve got more followers than you,’ at the Sandro Martin vs Micky Garcia fight a few weeks ago, shows the changing dynamic of these beefs. Hip hop is very in tune with that as well.
“We see Broner and Mayweather become the first hip hop pugilists who present their rhetoric online via social media and via apps. In this era, if you are famous and you have followers, and you can pay for the studio time, anyone can be a rapper and maybe be a relevant rapper. You think of Tekashi69, his fame comes from YouTube. His fame comes from Soundcloud. That’s where he made it big. It wasn’t that he was found by a record company executive. He blew himself up on social media. We’re seeing boxers and rappers both use social media to present their ethos. I think we’ll see more of this stuff. The Charlo brothers built a recording studio that’s connected to the gym they train in. You’re going to see more of this stuff in the next five to ten years.”
The American playwright and theatre director David Belasco once stated that boxing is showbusiness with blood. The glitz, the effects, the importance of the ring walk over the last thirty years have shown the truth to that quote. As Snyder mentions, the ring walks themselves are no longer just a fighter walking into the ring.
“Think about this. These ring walks are now mini-concerts. Back in the 90s, they were just playing a Tupac song, a Wu-Tang song. Now the artist is there performing, there are dancers, there are special effects. You think of Deontay Wilder’s ring walk against Tyson Fury. For the second fight, D Smoke performed his whole song. He does a poem and there’s all kinds of glitz and glamour attached to it. There’s going to be more of these Triller type events, where we have rap and boxing in the same arena. It’s part of the show, just like the Tyson-Roy Jones exhibition. I think we’ll see a lot more of this in the next four to five years. I think it will become even more normalised.”