Graduated from HSE’s Faculty of Philosophy (now called the Philosophy Bachelor’s Programme) in 2011 before finishing his master’s in Public and Municipal Management in 2013. Menzeleev began working at the digital advertising agency Pichesky in 2010. He later worked in digital strategic planning at various large agencies, and is currently responsible for digital strategies at Ogilvy Group Russia. In November 2014, together with the founder of the public page Hip-Hop Intellectuals on VKontakte (VK), Artem Atanesyan, Menzeleev launched the music label Hustle Flower. The label has already carried out 13 concerts by Russian and international artists, held eight music releases, and worked with artists such as Batishta, Check, and Gayana.
The state should be run by philosophers. I control my own nation in my business.
About the project
How do you find your place in life? How do you find something to do that both comes naturally to you and makes you happy? The answer is that you have to apply the knowledge you’ve gained from university and from life itself correctly. The Success Builder Project features graduates from the Higher School of Economics who have discovered themselves through an interesting business or an unexpected profession. The protagonists share their experiences, and talk about the big shots they’ve schmoozed and how they’ve made the most of the opportunities they were given.
A degree in philosophy does not mean you have to remain a theoretician, and there’s a way to transform basic knowledge into not only a business, but money as well. HSE graduate Ilya Menzeleev, the co-founder of the hip-hop and soul label Hustle Flower, tells Success Builder how the Silver Age of Russian Poetry fits into rhythm and blues, why Russians should love ‘black’ music, and how Aristotle helps the music business.
Why would someone with a degree in philosophy decide to work in the world of hip-hop?
Everything worked out the way it should have as concerns my education. As a senior, I realised I needed to further my education by studying something more tangible, which is why I got my master’s in public and municipal management. So everything turned out to be just like Plato said: the state should be run by philosophers. It’s just that I manage a little nation in my business.
The business I have with Artem Atanesyan is the music label Hustle Flower, which we’ve been doing for just over a year now. I started learning about the music industry more than six years ago when I organised evening events for freshmen, as well as proms. I brought in artists and organised the events so that students could have some fun in their first year at the university because four exam periods a year isn’t too enjoyable. Then I realised that I really enjoyed organising the freshmen events. At the time, Artem served as a Hip-Hop Intellectuals information resource and worked at a concert agency.
Why are we just now opening up a label? Because we grew up, plus there are practically no set rules of the game in the Russian music industry. We had to understand everything first and then do something.
What’s wrong with the current industry?
Nothing is institutionalised in this business. The problem is that independent artists don’t understand why a label is so important – they record themselves, put it on social networks, and think a type of release has taken place. If we’re talking mainstream (in a good sense of the word), like Ivan Dorn, everything is set up impeccably, and this is a business that works well. But pop isn’t for us. We work with ‘black music,’ which is not initially very close to the Russian mentality, even though there’s more ‘musicality’ in soul, funk, jazz, and hip-hop. ‘Black’ music is complex, and we want to draw in an audience and show them what’s so great about it. On the other hand, we want to inform the artist and show them the ropes of the business.
What is so gratifying about this music? It seems completely foreign to us.
The answer of course lies in the field of metaphysics. It seems obvious to me that Generation Y wants to do what it loves. These people believe that they are unique and everything should work out for them. A lot of freedoms and opportunities have arisen that allow them to think this way. Because of this, there are a ton of startups and freelancers that set freedom as a number one priority. And in my case, as a representative of this generation, there was no other path. I love black music; my parents and I have been listening to it since I was three years old. I even remember playing football in the yard when I was in third grade. My mom put a speaker in the window, and we played while listening to Stevie Wonder. This music is a fusion of traditions that go back to the times of tribes, shamanism, and music as a sacral instrument. In those times, people simply felt music, while today we only understand it if we’re fortunate. Because of this, loving and understanding ‘black’ music is a way to break into something very real and instinctive. And if you look at what successful Russian producers like Max Fadeev and Leonid Agutin do in their free time, you’ll see that they sit and listen to soul and jazz. They know you can’t make any money from this, but they still listen and play it for the soul. We decided to stay true to ourselves and simply select the framework needed to bring this music to people in a way that makes them accept and love it. Also, hip-hop – which is historically based on soul, jazz, and funk – is now considered the most progressive and influential genre in the world. This means our chances aren’t bad.
Your label nonetheless brings you both enjoyment and money. How does the latter happen?
Digital distribution is very weak in Russia, so it’s very difficult to make money off online record sales. This is because there’s a lot of illegal content in Russia, and people aren’t ashamed to download everything for free. A Westerner is much more familiar with the idea of buying an album online, and this is simpler. After all, this is the most natural way to thank artists for their hard work and talent. Even when the internet didn’t exist, official albums were sold in the West, while we had pirated ones. This is why Russians are used to getting everything for free without very high expectations as concerns quality. But aside from online record sales, our label organizes concerts and handles merchandising, which is our main source of income. But we still believe our mission is to teach people to pay for intellectual property.
All of the logical works described in Aristotle’s Organon remain some of the most important bits of knowledge to this day, including in the business world…
Did you invent this business model yourself?
It came about organically. We understand that in order to bring artists together with an audience, it’s necessary to first show how music marketing works before bringing them high-quality music that they can listen to and understand. This is why the Hustle Flower media website lies at the foundation of our product, serving as a bridge between the audience and the artist. The site is a tried and tested model of our VK group Hip-Hop Intellectuals. We develop positioning for the artists, write a release launch strategy, carry out the advertising campaign, and add in certain interesting touches.
But still – how do you apply philosophical knowledge to your business?
Joking aside, I ended up in the Faculty of Philosophy by chance. I initially applied for the school of law, but then changed my mind at the last minute. I realized I had done the right thing when I was in my second year, and upon finishing my bachelor’s I was certain that philosophy was the only thing I needed in life and in business. The reason is simple: philosophy forces you to think. You work with tons of information, concepts, and ideas that I couldn’t have even imagined before. As a result, your brain starts working faster. You are better at identifying trends and understanding people, and you are faster at entering into the context of what you read or hear. Then I wanted more than just a clear head – I was ready for something more practical, which is why I went into advertising. Everything happened at once – while in the philosophy faculty, I began working with issues of behavioural economics and the manipulation of consciousness. After all, all concepts of rationality and rational behaviour are derived from philosophy. Plus, in advertising, I was able to do something that changed people’s behaviour, i.e., manipulate them to a certain degree. All of the logical works described in Aristotle’s Organon remain some of the most important bits of knowledge to this day, including in the business world. In order for your brain to learn to think and familiarize itself with ever changing conditions, philosophy is the best option.
What business successes have you achieved over the last year?
In November 2014, we officially launched our label and had 13 concerts. These were fairly large-scale events that included a concert by American rapper Murs, who is truly a remarkable individual. We also released four albums and four singles. Our label has released Check, BMB SpaceKid, Gayana (which you might know from the show Golos (Voice) on Channel One), Mark Evich, Natural Sequence, Mad Junk, and Batishta, who is famous for the project Band’Eros. And we are particularly proud of the totally new and previously unknown project BTsKh, which is electronic R&B played over Silver Age poetry. The project has received accolades from not only R&B experts, but also from lovers of hip-hop and indie, as well as rappers and hipsters. This is because the project is smart, musical, and multi-layered. A good measure of the project’s success is the attention BTsKh has gotten among Moscow’s main music media, as well as the fact that we were invited to the Bosco Fresh Fest festival.
Is your journey with philosophy over?
I still have personal ‘ties’ to it. When I was in the Faculty of Philosophy, my thesis advisor was Rustem Makhmutovich Nureyev. I’m still in contact with him, and I used to work on his monographs. I’m also working with him on academic articles that are at the interface of philosophy and economics, and I’m actually thinking about getting a PhD. If you’re a philosopher, then it’s something that stays with you for life. I’m afraid it’s actually a ‘diagnosis’ you’re born with, and studying in the faculty is just a litmus test.