Underground hip hop artist Divine speaks about how his friendship with Ben Horowitz re-instilled his hope.
By Betsy Mikel (Editor, Women 2.0)
That is, until both publications announced a seemingly unlikely friendship between venture capitalist Ben Horowitz and up-and-coming NYC hip hop artist Divine.
Underground rapper Divine, who was incarcerated for 15 years and previously worked as a drug dealer to fund his music career, is now the “official rapper” of Andreessen Horowitz. Just a few months ago, Divine launched a video tribute to Horowitz to say happy birthday to his buddy titled Venture Capitalist (Like Ben Horowitz). That’s not all. He’ll also be performing on stage next Tuesday at our HowTo Conference!
To make a long story short (read the whole story of how their friendship developed in TechCrunch), Divine had heard Horowitz was a big hip hop fan. Though he was trying to raise money to fund his first album through Kickstarter, Divine reached out to Horowitz on Twitter eventually asking for his mentorship. What ensued was a long Twitter conversation and the two eventually became friends.
We had a chance to catch up with Divine and get to know a bit more about his backstory, his friendship with Horowitz and what he’s up to next.
Women 2.0: Why do you think you and Ben connected so quickly and became such fast friends?
Divine: I’m not in the tech industry and I don’t see Ben in that perspective. People in that industry are trying to get funded, so Ben to them is like the man. He’s like the Wizard of Oz. They want the courage and the brains. But it’s a different perspective for me because I don’t see him like that. I’m not looking for him to fund my startup.
It was an authentic love of hip hop that brought us together. Ben can relate to the black experience — really. When I first came across who he was when I was incarcerated, I was skeptical. But by reading his blog posts, I could sense he was true and real to who he was. We connected in spirit through his writings.
It was our affinity for hip hop and understanding each other, the values he held, the deeper essence of who he was through his writing. Ben’s a real dude. He’s so down to earth, it’s ridiculous. He’s super nice. He’s a genuine man. He’s very trusting, and he’s sincere.
When I saw why he loved hip hop and was in it from the early days, I was compelled to reach out to him and salute him and let him know “Yo, it’s ill I read your story about how you came into hip hop.”
Women 2.0: What parallels do you see between your life and the life of an entrepreneur?
Divine: There are definitely parallels. Being an entrepreneur -- whether it’s in tech or in any pursuit you endeavor -- there are elements of street life.
What’s your business model? What if you decide to merge? If you decide to go for an acquisitional merger, you have to know who you’re taking in. If you present that to someone else, your pitch better be right. In the streets, it’s the same if you’re trying to align yourself with a bigger drug dealer.
There are definitely parallels between living the street life and someone trying to bootstrap their startup.
But you also have to look at different social and economic backgrounds. Look at the gap between someone who is in tech and someone who is in the hood. One is educated at the finest colleges that money has to offer. One is using their intuition. You have to create something from nothing. That’s a big issue within itself.
Why is there such a gap in the tech industry? There’s not that much diversity. So as a black man or a so-called minority, I have to be twice as good as my counterpart. I have to be three times as good. If I’m not, I’m not going to make it in the tech industry. Which is crazy, because I’ve already made it in another way.
Women 2.0: What message and themes do you hope people take away from your music?
Divine: I try to share my life experiences, my pain and my struggles through my music. I try to be authentic in every regard.
I don’t try to glamorize a criminal lifestyle. I do emphasize knowledge, spirituality, redemption and growth. I try to exemplify positivity. No matter where you’re from, you can always rise above. There’s always a sliver of hope, no matter what.
Women 2.0: Tell us more about the new foundation you’re launching, HOPE Through Hip Hop.
Divine: What Ben and Felicia Horowitz did to me -- they re-instilled hope for me and strengthened it. Before I had Ben, I wasn’t hopeless, but my perseverance was being tested. I’ve been doing this for a long time, and most of the time I sold drugs to fund my career. I knew that if I got on the right stage and got the right finances behind me, I could be phenomenal in the music industry.
When Ben came into my life and blessed me and embraced me despite my background, I regained all that hope and decided to pay it forward.
A lot of brothers from where I come from are losing hope. If they had hope and put their mind to something else, it’s obvious what can be done if we have the right opportunity.
Though it’s still in the ideation stage, there will be three components of HOPE Through Hip Hop: an educational component, an entrepreneurial component and a hip hop component.
It will be for the self development and self improvement of people that were formerly incarcerated, disadvantaged or oppressed systemically or financially. I want to give them opportunity through hip hop culture.
Through hip hop culture I want to give them opportunity and hope like Ben and Felicia did for me.
Women 2:0: What’s next for you? (Besides performing at our conference next week, of course!)
Divine: New music, always new music of course. I’m looking forward to performing for you at the HowTo Conference. I’m looking forward to performing more and pushing more music out there so people can see what I’ve always wanted them to see -- my music.
I am also in a program called the Defy Ventures, it’s an entrepreneurial program for ex-convicts and ex-felons. I actually went to Harvard Business School and was taught by five professors for a day.
I have always been business-minded and business-oriented because I was always successful in my pursuits in the streets. I have some ideas and I want to see if they can get some traction in the tech industry. That’s a whole other aspect to my story that has yet to be told. My life has taken a whole new turn since I met Ben. I am so grateful to him and his wife for giving me that opportunity. Getting an opportunity means a lot to me. I am trying to do them proud and stay on the path.
Even if you’re not a hip hop fan, we hope you’re just as excited as we are to bring Divine to our HowTo Conference stage this Tuesday. Innovation is all about new experiences! See you Tuesday! (If you haven’t picked up your tickets yet, grab ‘em here.)
About the author: Betsy Mikel is the managing editor of Women 2.0 and runs the content consultancy Aveck. She has a degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and a lifelong obsession with French language and culture. When she's not biking all over every city she visits to find its best taqueria, you can find Betsy on Twitter at @betsym.