FaintFlex Vol. 8 - What Lyrical Lemonade Could Do Next

And why it's the most interesting media brand in the Midwest.

Lyrical Lemonade’s launch date announcement. Thirsty yet? (Twitter)
FaintFlex is a newsletter covering new media & personality-driven startups.

Last week, Lyrical Lemonade teased the highly anticipated launch of their new beverage brand in rapper YBN Cordae’s latest music video.

As a fan of the company for nearly 2 years now, I’ve been thinking a lot about what they could do next.

Origin Story

Cole Bennett (right) on set with famous Chicago rapper Lil Bibby (2016) (Instagram)

If you’re unfamiliar with Lyrical Lemonade, watch Gary Vaynerchuk’s interview with the founder Cole Bennett back in the Spring of 2018. This is where Cole first quietly introduced the idea of launching an actual lemonade drink to their 2M YouTube subscribers at the time.

But to summarize, Cole started Lyrical Lemonade in high school as a blog to write about Chicago’s underground hip hop scene, while also producing music videos, hosting events, & throwing shows for artists.

By being one of the first music video directors to embrace & share a platform with the melodic punk, youth-inspired “Soundcloud Rap” movement in Chicago, Lyrical Lemonade quickly became a global brand and YouTube channel of 9M+ subscribers.

The channel is known for being an early showcase of the next big stars like Juice WRLD, where their first music video together did 96M views and helped lead to a $3M record deal between Juice & Interscope shortly after.

Cole describes his business as “a promotion company that coordinates events, film production, shows, music videos, and merchandise.” In other words, a modern day media empire.

What started 5 years ago as a high school blog in the cornfields of Chicago, is now the new MTV for Gen Z. Lyrical Lemonade has built & owns distribution to die-hard fans around the world, and they’re just getting starting.

Why It’s Unique

The Lyrical Lemonade team on Fox News (Instagram)

Besides great timing, one difference between Lyrical Lemonade & other digitally-driven underground music platforms like No Jumper, WorldStar, and ELEVATOR is their focus on in-house content creation over curation.

From music videos, to interviews & blogs, all content distributed to their fans is originally directed & produced in-house, which is rare in this era of endless content.

Their focus on quality over quantity forces them to be very selective about who they work with. As a result, they’ve developed unparalleled trust with their community and a great pulse on what’s up next in music. And getting a music video directed by Cole has become a rite of passage for most up-and-coming hip hop stars, even after they’re already famous.

It’s clear they’re in this for the long game, and are uninterested in doing anything inauthentic that would damage their trusted brand for frivolous paid promo or ego.

It’s the organic, it’s the authenticity of everything that keeps me going…I like LA, I like New York, but I like Chicago because it keeps me grounded. - Cole Bennett

Another major difference is it’s a company built for the youth, by the youth. The 20-something midwest kids running Lyrical Lemonade represent their fanbase of suburban youth that helped change the sound of hip hop.

Before LL, there weren’t too many places for the youth to collectively elevate their favorite new rappers from the internet beyond forums & Soundcloud.

Lyrical Lemonade happily became the visual home for this new wave. And their come up means so much more to their fans because they can relate and aspire to the story - create a dream reality with your homies, despite not having the privilege of being born near a major creative hub like New York & LA.

And the fact that they’ve stayed in Chicago creates an even greater sense of hope & purpose for the Midwest and other traditionally overlooked areas.

Follow the Money

There are many moving parts within this operation. But besides YouTube Adsense, it appears that the current main revenue streams include:

  1. Shows & Festivals: They throw at least 5 of their own shows per year, including their annual festival Summer Smash in Chicago which in its debut last year sold out 11,000 tickets. If the average ticket price was $60, that’s $660,000 (not to mention sponsors). This year prices are higher & two-day general admission passes are already sold out. They also do tour support for many of the artists they help blow up which I’m sure is compensated.

  2. Music Video Production & Distribution: Cole started off on paper thin budgets, but now works with many artists that are signed to major record labels. Budgets can range from $30k to upwards of $500k depending on the artist, and they release about 2-3 music videos to their page per month.

  3. Merchandise: Every few months they do limited releases that sellout and can generate at minimum $90k+ in minutes. I imagine they do minimal paid marketing, as their friends (famous artists & influencers) are frequently spotted wearing & supporting the brand.

Including revenues from their artist management services, I’d estimate that they’re already doing at least $4-6M/year in revenue. I assume the Summer Smash co-founding partner SPKRBX is an investor in their concerts & festivals, however their have been no public announcements of a venture capital funding round or record label partnership. But I wouldn’t be surprised if Gary Vaynerchuk is financially involved to some extent.

What’s Next - AriZona Tea for the Culture

At this point, most would have expanded into a record label or dove deeper into artist management, signing the next rising stars and gaining a percentage of their revenues. A few of the Lyrical Lemonade team members already manage artists, however this doesn’t necessarily seem to be the big picture.

Like Cole’s hero Steve Jobs, he thinks differently. He understands that he’s built a large, loyal fanbase largely through the internet & concerts, & would like to make this community even more tangible through a physical product beyond simply merchandise.

Juice WRLD at Lyrical Lemonade HQ. Can’t you already imagine a ‘Juice WRLD’ inspired flavor? (Twitter)

It’s honestly brilliant (thanks to his Mom) that he named the company Lyrical Lemonade. Launching an actual drink is the most natural extension of the brand he and his team have built around different “flavors” or styles of colorful-haired rappers.

Last year, they announced on social media that Spring 2019 will be the official launch of their new beverage brand, so expect it some time in May or early June before Summer Smash.

Lyrical Lemonade is already operating a multi-million dollar media company on a lean team. They’ve only scratched the surface with the types of new content verticals they could naturally expand into like podcasts & original shows.

And now they have the opportunity to build the “AriZona Iced Tea” for the culture.

AriZona & Rap Snacks are both popular brands started over 20 years ago. Time for something new? (Instagram)

Like AriZona, they can opt out of spending a lot of cash on marketing early on since they already have a built in audience. They can also partner with artists to introduce new flavors & distinct designs on their cans, similar to urban favorite Rap Snacks.

This could lead to another rite of passage and revenue stream for rising artists, while diversifying Lyrical Lemonade’s revenue streams + keeping things interesting. (Romeo Miller BBQ honey chips & Arnold Palmer AriZona teas were my childhood favorites).

They’ll start out going DTC, e-commerce only and maybe pop-up events at shows to test demand. Then potentially expand into wholesale as a growth strategy.

It’s already in high demand, based on responses in their comments sections. So far it’s panning out to be an interesting launch.

I can’t wait until they introduce a sparkling water version 🍋.

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Leading Chinese fashion influencer Mr. Bags expands into fine jewelry & watches.

Great influencer marketing - Demetrius Harmon & Wendy’s + Dobrik & SeatGeak

Terribly cringe marketing - KFC (Cringe works sometimes, right?)

Who’s the best artist to blow up from Soundcloud?

Thanks for reading! What do you think Lyrical Lemonade will do next? Also feel free to send me your favorite creators & interesting Instagram pages to checkout. Why isn’t there a better non-enterprise influencer discovery tool yet?

- Aaron