With clothing lines, acting careers and boutique record labels all the rage in rap, the words "hip-hop entrepreneur" have become as common in the genre as "MC."
Filmmaker Maxie Collier explores the secrets behind rap's many unexpected business success stories in his new documentary, "Paper Chasers," which premieres next week at New York's Tribeca Film Festival.
The movie, which was nearly three years in the making, features Ludacris, Fat Joe, Master P and Damon Dash among the 84 subjects interviewed for the project, although the real star is Collier himself.
Like famous documentarian Michael Moore did in "Roger and Me" and "Bowling for Columbine," Collier places himself deep within the context of his movie.
"It's about my struggles to learn the lessons I need to learn as an entrepreneur and to learn those from people who are already successful at it," Collier said Monday from the Los Angeles office of his burgeoning company, Son #1 Media.
Collier has also written "The DV Filmmaker's Handbook" and has produced a feature film. "There's a classic book called 'The Richest Man in Babylon' that came out in the '20s and it poses the question of how artists can master their craft and profit from their own skills," Collier explained. " 'Paper Chasers' is the same sort of thing."
In hip-hop, money is often referred to as paper, hence the documentary's title. And while the film includes insight from rappers at all levels — from beginners to multimillionaires — Collier feels the most entertaining element is watching entrepreneurs blossom throughout the span of their careers.
"Within six months of our first interview with Ludacris, he had propelled himself from a local DJ in Atlanta to a hot celebrity," Collier said. "Getting the opportunity to watch people make themselves like that, there are so many lessons I've learned, like people keeping their cool [and] keeping their heads together as they achieve success."
Some of Ludacris' other secrets? "He kept emphasizing time management," the filmmaker added. "And long-term strategizing. It's about pacing yourself and having a career across multiple projects."
Collier's been establishing his own career since more than a decade ago when he started as a stage manager at BET. It was watching artists like Tupac Shakur, whom Collier met when he was a roadie for Digital Underground, slowly develop into successful musicians and businessmen that gave him the idea for "Paper Chasers."
"It wasn't until years later that I went through my own development cycle as a filmmaker that I really began to think I wanted to expose myself to people who've made themselves and pluck their heads to see how they went about doing it," Collier said.
Since "Paper Chasers" documents Collier's own entrepreneurial voyage, he said the movie is not quite finished. "What will be the final part of the film will be whatever distribution deal we sign," he said. "That's going to be my favorite part of the movie."
"Paper Chasers" screens May 7 at 9:30 p.m. and May 9 at 12:30 p.m. in select New York theaters as part of the Tribeca Film Festival, which actor Robert De Niro co-founded in 2002.