After the success of NBC’s breakthrough reality show with Donald Trump anchoring the contestants with a show tagged as “The Apprentice,” BET unfolded its own series of hopeful entrepreneurs with an urban twist to see who the ultimate hustler really is. Much like Trump is synonymous with the words “successful entrepreneur,” it was only fitting that BET’s “Ultimate Hustler” be overseen and challenged by none other than one hip-hop’s most respected and successful hustlers, Damon Dash, former Roc-A-Fella Records co-owner, Armadale Vodka co-owner, Pro-Keds owner, etc. The shows been a smash thus far, and has become BET’s no. 1 rated show.
Earlier in the year, BallerStatus was reluctant to review a compilation from an upstart record label called Conduit Inc., and later we would find out that the co-owner was none other than Brian Rikuda, one of the three finalists on BET’s show. We caught up with Mr. Rikuda, talked about the past, present and future. Tune into the mind of an up-and-coming hustler, and tune in Tuesday night (December 13) to see if he’s the ultimate hustler.
BallerStatus.com: First of all, congratulations on being one of the finalists on BET’s “The Ultimate Hustler.” Tell me about the show, and how you got involved with it.
Brian Rikuda: It’s wild because I first read about it when it was press released … that there was going to be this new show featuring Dame Dash that was going to be similar to “The Apprentice.” I forgot about it because I didn’t hear anything else about it until one day I got a news alert talking about open casting calls in New York, Atlanta, and Los Angeles. I was in the Bay at the time and the casting call was the next day in L.A. I knew I couldn’t make it down in time, so I had to send in an 8 minute video tape of myself showing why I thought I was the “Ultimate Hustler.” I put something together and less than a week later they hit me up to do a phone interview. After the phone interview, I had to fly out to New York for the final round. If you interested in getting involved next year, you should hit up UltimateHustler.tv.
BallerStatus.com: People might not know this, but prior to the show, you had worked at your own upstart label and we reviewed your compilation, is that still something you’re a part of, or have you branched out into something different?
Brian Rikuda: I’m definitely involved in a lot of different ventures, but my label, Conduit Entertainment, is still the foundation. Y’all reviewed the compilation album, Big Bizness, Vol. 1, when we first put it out in stores. Big up to Ballerstatus for that one because ya’ll helped us get sales in regions we hadn’t even been in yet.
Since we put out Big Bizness, we’ve put out about three different mixtapes and sold over 10K independently. We got a few majors looking at some of our artists, but right now, we loving the independent game. I’ll sign us to a major when the money is right. I got our two man group, Suga City, shooting a video for their single off of their upcoming album. The single is titled “Lookin'” and it’s one of the hottest tracks out right now, period! Suga City is gonna bring a lot to the game that’s been gone for a while now. My business partner and our first artist, Epiphany, stays in the studio and is getting ready to drop his second album. My other solo artist, DK, just put out his own mixtape, Certified Grindin’, which has been getting heavy hood rotation down South.
Yall can get all of this on our site at ConduitInc.com.
BallerStatus.com: What goes on behind the cameras that the general audience doesn’t see on the show?
Brian Rikuda: Not much went on that the cameras didn’t catch. We had a camera and mic on us from the minute we woke up until the minute we were sleep in the bed. Now, the audience didn’t see a lot of stuff that was filmed because a lot of stuff got edited out. It’s reality TV, but they got the responsibility to tell a story and make it interesting for the general public to watch.
BallerStatus.com: What do you think separates you from the two other finalists?
Brian Rikuda: Since we haven’t shot the final show yet, I don’t want to say too much. That being said, what separates us? You don’t see them being interviewed by Ballerstatus right now!
BallerStatus.com: When’s the season finale and can people still place their votes to choose who wins?
Brian Rikuda: The season finale airs LIVE on BET at 9 p.m. on Tuesday, December 13th. Y’all can still vote, but you gotta vote for your boy. You can either text “B” to 64242 or if you not trying to spend the $0.50 it costs to do the text, vote for Brian at BET.com.
BallerStatus.com: What have you learned from the show?
Brian Rikuda: I learned the importance of being meticulous when it comes to your brand and its image. Dame [Dash] makes sure he signs off on every single thing that comes out representing his company. Selling in this industry is about selling a lifestyle. Dame always talked about how he doesn’t just sell music or clothes, but he sells a lifestyle. For anyone who wants to be a part of the lifestyle, he has a whole line of products from clothes, to liquor, to music. When you’re selling a lifestyle, your brand and image is essential. You can’t let that image fade or you lose your business.
BallerStatus.com: How much of the music is actually a part of the music business from what you’ve encountered on the show?
Brian Rikuda: It’s kinda funny, but a lot of cats who ain’t blown complain that they getting held back or something. I’m sure that’s true for some artists, but a lot of times, artists who ain’t blowin’ up, ain’t blowin’ up because no one likes they stuff. Real talk, the quality of an artist’s music can go a long way to breaking an artist. Look at someone like Kanye who didn’t have a huge push behind his first album, but because it was so fire, the public went out and supported it. Same thing happened with Lyfe Jennings. Working with Dame, you see the importance that he put on being able to pick a single and put together a quality album — that can’t be overlooked. [Making and album is] not just marketing and promotion. You can have a $5 million marketing and promotion budget and flop if ain’t nobody feeling your music.
BallerStatus.com: Do you see the game in a different light now?
Brian Rikuda: Nah.
BallerStatus.com: After this, what do you have lined up?
Brian Rikuda: The three finalists all had to come up with a big idea to pitch to Dame to see if he was interested in investing his dollars in it. So, if I win, I’ll be working with Dame on my pitch. At the same time, I am focused on putting my label, Conduit Entertainment, on the map. Right now, we got a good buzz in certain Southern markets. I want to take us everywhere. We have the Suga City video for “Lookin'” shooting right after the holidays. We got a couple of projects coming out real soon. This is gonna be a big year for Conduit.
I also got a book coming out. I am 90% complete and shopping for a good agent right now. There has been a ton of interest in the project and this is before anyone even knows the outcome of the show. I am expecting a good deal out of this one.
I also joined the board of a hot new clothing line, Okonali. Folks who watched the “Money Flip” episode saw me taking these shirts to different boutiques in New York and getting orders placed for them. The clothes are ridiculous and already making a big buzz in the fashion world.
BallerStatus.com: What are your words of wisdom to up-and-coming “hustlers?”
Brian Rikuda: I got three. If you say you’re about something, be about it. If you say you’re a producer, do that 100%. If you say you a rapper, you should really be about that craft. This a competitive industry, so if you not working day and night and always on your grind, you will get beat by someone who is working harder, straight up. I don’t care how much talent you got, you got to be willing to sacrifice and put in work. Don’t get fooled by the smoke and mirrors of the industry and think that this money comes easy. Behind every platinum chain and new whip, there is some hard work.
Surround yourself with people that got similar goals and work ethic. In business, you can’t work with someone just because they are your partna. You got to surround yourself with people that’s gonna push you to work harder and be sharper. That’s the only way your gonna be the best.
Lastly, if you really want to get that cake, join the squad because we are building a movement.