December 5, 2014 / 1:58 PM / 3 years ago

These are the breaks: First jobs of hip-hop stars

NEW YORK (Reuters) - What was your first job ever?

British singer Estelle performs at the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics in Whistler, British Columbia February 14, 2010. REUTERS/Wolfgang Rattay

That’s the question Reuters has been asking top achievers every month for more than a year now. From CEOs to Nobel Prize winners, from baseball legends to world-famous authors, everyone has a memorable story to tell about their first gig.

Another archetype with incredible first-job stories to tell: music-industry superstars. Their imprint on the culture extends far beyond singles and albums, as they often build business empires along the way to stardom.

This month, to coincide with the nation’s monthly jobs report, Reuters talked to three musicians about their first jobs - and how those jobs helped create the people they are today.

Sway Calloway

First Job: Carnival ticket salesman

”I grew up in Oakland, and there used to be mobile carnivals that came to town. A friend’s father hired us to sell books of tickets, and told us to bring back $35 for each book. Anything we made over that, we could keep.

”So we got smart and started breaking up ticket books into smaller packages, selling them for more than they were worth. We ended up making $60, $75, even $80 a book, and we did that the whole summer. We made a lot of cash, more than I had ever been exposed to.

”Of course, I just ended up going to the carnival and spending most of it on hot dogs, cotton candy and carnival games that were impossible to win. I also bought a pair of Puma track spikes, which were the big thing when we were growing up.

“That job taught me to communicate with people from all walks of life. The Bay Area is a diverse place - white, black, south Asian, Latino, Persian - and I learned the courage and confidence to go up and approach anyone. That helped me later on, first in the music industry and then at MTV, where I talk to everyone from President Obama to Kendrick Lamar.”

Crooked I, of rap supergroup Slaughterhouse

First job: Wendy’s burger-flipper

”I was only 14, living in Oklahoma, and I lied about my age. My mom and I needed money, and I didn’t have time to be turned away because I was too young. So I filled out the application, did the interview, faked a work permit and got started flipping burgers on the grill.

”I got so good at it that I started running the whole thing. At the time, I thought it was a reward, but looking back on it, they were just cutting costs. Once the lunch rush was over, they would just leave me there and let everyone else go home. I was running the drive-thru, dropping the fries, doing everything.

”One thing I learned, sad to say, was about race relations. This was in a real Bible-belt red state, and sometimes people would come in and say ‘I don’t want that black kid making my food.’ That really stayed with me.

“But it was still a good experience, because it taught me how to work hard and make a buck. I still go by Wendy’s sometimes and order a Frosty - and remember those days when I was working my ass off.”

Estelle

First Job: Video production intern

”Back then I wanted to be a music-video director. So when a college friend said a production company in London was looking for interns, I said ‘I’ll do it!’ And I did, for two years. I thought it would be a great place to understudy and figure out how the whole industry worked.

”But really it was a lot of walking files and videotapes around. I did get to shadow people doing graphics work, and edit videos, and go on some shoots. It was for hardly any money though, and living in London, that was a challenge. I even had another part-time job at the same time.

”From that job I learned how to work hard, to anticipate people’s needs, and not be afraid to ask questions about what I wanted to know. Don’t expect anything, work at it and success will come.

”Finally, one day I walked into a meeting and said, ‘I don’t think I want to do this anymore.’ And they actually encouraged me with my music career because they thought I could be great at it. They even gave me pointers.

“Most of all I remember how tired I was. And I‘m still tired today. It’s no different.”

Follow us @ReutersMoney or here Editing by Lauren Young and Andrew Hay

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