Chris Johnson: Rising Senior And CEO Of Lethal Mobb Entertainment LLC

Lethal Mobb Entertainment, a record label based out of Philadelphia, PA, was started by Chris Johnson, a rising senior. OCA asked Chris about his company including his inspirations, challenges, and other potential problems young entrepreneurs face.

Steph: Tell me a bit about your company– How did you get the idea to start it? What is it? How long has it been around?

Chris: Our company, Lethal Mobb Entertainment, is a startup independent record label based out of Philadelphia, PA, and operating in both Philadelphia and Shanghai. The company is purpose-driven, with an emphasis on ethical artist-management relationships as well as social justice and community development. Officially, we’ve only been operating as a company for a little over a year. We just celebrated our first birthday on June 28th. As a concept though, we’ve been together and active since 2014, when we operated under the structure of a collective, working to use the benefits of group economics to try to circumvent the barriers which are most prevalent in the career paths for independent artists. During that time, our activity was mostly limited to performing at showcases, creative Instagram captions, and funding (very) small budget ventures, though we have taken many strides since then. 

Steph: Who has been the most influential in this process? Who has been the most helpful?

Chris: When you look at how we operated in the creative space, it was very much my self and my Co-CEO, Harold Anderson, driving things. If you want to talk about influences I think it comes down solely to whoever we got artistic inspiration from because at that stage in our development it was just about the music. And also shout out The Boondocks. That’s what inspired our name. As we have transitioned towards a more traditional company structure, however, that has changed. I think among my biggest influences has been my father, me just knowing I want to make something substantial to make him proud. I would also say that my business professors have been influential in that I can take new skills or vocabulary from their classes and immediately incorporate them into what I’m doing in real-time. I think being able to see the things I learn become immediately relevant and applicable has been a transformative experience for me. Lastly, I would cite my constituents, the artists I work with. I’m grateful to be a part of a group that values collaboration and collective action, as well as transparency. I know that at the end of the day, my job is to be able to help them build their careers and if I’m not doing something as well as I could or they feel like they need to see changes they’ll let me know. Regarding who has been most helpful, I have to acknowledge the teachers from my high school. They have made significant financial contributions and have always been supportive and encouraging of what we’ve been doing, even since 2014. I also have to thank Kyle Nelson and Amari McKoy in particular. They’ve put in a lot of time and effort into coordinating our internship program and have made a huge difference for the company. 

Steph: Do you think starting this while in China was a strategic advantage? Why or Why not?

Chris: I would say that the majority of advantages China has to offer we have yet to take advantage of. However, I think these will become more prominent and a centralized part of our business after graduation if our management and administration continue to live in Shanghai. However, I think one thing that has been able to work in our favor is the prevalence of club life and the relatively unsaturated market for rap music. I think it’s been significantly easier to get bookings in Shanghai than it would have been otherwise. Additionally, there are no deposits required to hold events, which is very important to us, considering we aren’t allowed to make any money while operating with a student visa. Essentially, the cost of performing in Shanghai amounts to the cost of the Didi and however much we pay for a flyer, which is great for us financially. The last advantage, which is incredibly significant to us, is that no one is carding at clubs. Anyone who wants to see our shows can come without having to worry about being 21, which is a really nice perk. Essentially, while we’re over here, we can prioritize the craft, the art of performing, and delivering the best quality experience to the people who come to our shows. That is something I couldn’t be more thankful for.

Steph: What has been the most difficult part of this process? What do you do when you hit a roadblock?

Chris: I would say [having to deal with COVID-19] has been the most difficult test we’ve had to face, for the reason that we’ve had to pivot. Booking shows and event planning had been the primary way in which we were most active, and figuring out how to operate has been a significant challenge. That being said, this has also been the most productive and transformative experience for the company thus far. The reason for that being that doing shows made us complacent in many ways. Without being able to perform, we were forced to look at things such as the ways in which we were managing our artists, how we delegated responsibilities and managed our organizational structure, and how we could continue to grow and develop as a company. I think the most important thing to recognize has been that shows are fun, they’re great experiences for both artists and fans, but they should be looked at as more of a celebration or icing on the cake at this point in our development, rather than our primary operation. 

Steph: What has the funding process looked like?

Chris: The funding for our company has come from two places. Donations and from myself and my co-founders. Recently we have looked into pursuing grants and have sent in several applications with pending results. To date, we have had one fundraising round, from which we were able to file the legal documentation to establish ourselves as an LLC, put up our website, and secure distribution channels for our artists. We will be holding similar fundraising initiatives in the future. We encourage anyone who would like to donate to our company to do so here: https://www.lethalmobb.com/donate.

Steph: What direction do you hope to take Lethal Mobb in the future? How are you growing? 

Chris:  The company has many plans for the future including branching out into other media formats such as TV and producing content on YouTube. For the time being, however, our focus is on our label’s first collaborative project. Our first professional, big budget effort, the project will be produced this upcoming winter and will be essentially the world’s introduction to Lethal Mobb. A kind og “We’re here.” To this end we are continuing to lay very important groundwork through our internship program. We are still accepting applications and anyone interested in business or the entertainment industry is encouraged to apply here: https://forms.gle/YNJdy67aGoeU1anj6. The program is especially productive for anyone looking to see how businesses develop through the lens of a startup. Additionally, I think there’s a unique experience to be had seeing different stages in what a record label does as we go from pre-production, to entering production, to post production, which includes things like doing shows when we return to Shanghai in the spring. 

Steph: What has been the most satisfying part of starting a company?

Chris: The most satisfying thing by far has been the moments when we are able to step back and just appreciate what we’ve done. We just ran a very successful internship program this past summer and that’s something we’re very proud of. Additionally, there are still many people who know us from elementary, middle, and high school who have followed our development and what we’re doing. It’s very gratifying to know that they’re still invested. Their support means everything. Lastly, it’s satisfying to know we’re moving towards a place where we can make substantial steps towards making a meaningful impact. 

Steph: Do you have any advice for people looking to start a business?

Chris: I would give out three pieces of advice. Firstly, humble yourself. You need to be able to recognize that you don’t know everything, that there is someone who is ahead of you, that you can and will be wrong. Secondly, make sure the company is something you’re passionate about. It is expensive to start a company and even more so for your company to look professional. Additionally, you likely will not make any money within the first few years of operations and this can be draining and extremely discouraging, especially if you’re funding the company with your own money. If you’re interested in the long term make sure you’re pursuing a passion rather than just a money grab. Thirdly, I would say to build your team carefully. Of course this depends on the scope of your aspirations but one of the most important things you can do is look at your strengths and weaknesses and build around that. Find people who compliment you, who will be honest with you and keep you grounded,  and people who come from different disciplines than you. Also important is building a team of people who are as invested as you are in the vision you share for the company. Being able to operate effectively as a team is one of the most important qualities to have in my opinion.  

You can check out Lethal Mobb’s website here.

This article was written by Steph Scaglia reporting from San Francisco, California. You can reach out to the author at scs626@nyu.edu
Photo credit: Courtesy of Chris Johnson

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