4 Questions with Hip-Hop Entrepreneurs ItsTheReal

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Brothers Eric and Jeff Rosenthal carved their own niche in hip-hop. When networks wouldn’t buy the television show they were pitching, the two decided to create, fund, and release their own projects.“We said let’s give people two things: consistency and quality,” Eric said.

12 years later, the self-titled hip-hop sketch comedians have built a business from their own brand of storytelling. Their sketches have featured Nick Cannon, Bun B, Pete Wentz, and Amanda Seales. They’ve hosted Cardi B, John Legend, Migos, Jerrod Carmichael and more on their A Waste of Time podcast. They even flex their lyrical abilities on their own albums and music videos.

“I went to college thinking I was going to be a feature writer and director,” Eric said. “I thought my path was going to be a straight line. Anyone who reads this interview should know, it’s not.”

Eric (a Syracuse University grad) and Jeff (a Boston University grad) took some time to speak with FTS about their journey. The interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

For The Students: What type of sacrifices were made in order for you to pursue your career?

Eric: Money, food, literally everything. We put our all into this. We put our savings into this, there were countless Thanksgivings where relatives would ask us what are we doing, and would say, “It’s good that you’re getting this out of your system early.” When we couldn’t afford Metrocards in New York, we walked everywhere. When we couldn’t afford meals, we split meals or sacrificed meals. We put everything into this and we took a lot of chances.

Jeff: I think if we hadn’t put everything into our career, it would have felt like it was a hobby. For us, this was a 24/7, 365-day thing. It’s not just a job, it’s a lifestyle.

What were your networking tactics when you were coming up? How did you add value to what you were doing, especially when you were just starting out?

Eric: When I was in school, one of the projects we had was to find out all of the goings-on that makes a feature film. Our movie was Fast and Furious. The professor told us not to search endlessly on the internet, but to contact the producers of the film. I cold-called this guy, Neal Moritz [producer of Fast and Furious], and he returned my phone call. What I learned from that was if you have a good, strong, and different message, you can talk to anyone.

Jeff: Very early on, Eric talked about how important it was to not just email people and have a good email, but to also email people at the top. When I was graduating and wanted to be a writer, I emailed the people in the top positions of the magazines I wanted to work at. I was getting meetings while I was still in school at places like Vanity Fair and Billboard, and I didn’t have any portfolio. I think it was the idea that I had gumption [which helped get me those meetings]. Anybody can email but not a lot of people will take that step of emailing the people at the top and saying, “Hey, I’m good enough to warrant your attention.” Has it been difficult going into business being family?

Jeff: I think a lot of people worry about things that we never did. We worried about trying to make good products. We put more emphasis on the actual art as opposed to making money. We never really thought about that sort of thing. Money will screw up any sort of relationship. The fact that we’ve been living and working together for 12 years either shows that we are superhuman or that we have our priorities in the right place.

What has been the key to ItsTheReal’s longevity?

Jeff: Consistency and quality. I also think telling smaller jokes within the bigger picture is a staple of what we do. We’re very in-the-moment and [during interviews] we can do callbacks to things that people are just shocked that we remember. We also remember that we’re telling a bigger story.

Eric: Overall, something that’s continued on from 2007 to today is our authenticity.