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It’s about grinding up for Teflon Don

Making music wasn’t enough to build a successful career

By Chris Allen, Special to The Commercial Appeal

Monday, January 31, 2011

In the latest episode of Startup TV, rapper and entrepreneur Teflon Don proclaims “I like the grind up, to be honest, the grind up feels better when you receive. Once you get a hand out, most of the time you don’t even respect it.”

Many a Memphis entrepreneur can identify with that grind and earning a living.

No stranger to hard work, Teflon Don, born Donald Askew Jr., was raised by a single mother and grandmother in the Breedlove neighborhood of Memphis. “Being a rapper is what I always wanted to do and I knew that Memphis was the city where I could make my dream happen.”

Before his music career could launch, he joined the U.S. Army and saw combat in Tikrit and Baghdad during Operation Iraqi Freedom.

“In Iraq I never took off my protective vest. Eventually everyone just started calling me ‘Teflon Don.’ I kinda liked it and decided to keep that as my stage name.”

During his military service, Teflon kept his focus on becoming a rapper and businessman. Upon returning to Memphis after an honorable discharge from the Army, Teflon worked odd jobs and began distributing his homemade mix tapes all over the city for the next four years. His first big break came when he won a MemphisRap.com showcase that gave him the momentum to release his first official album, God, the Government, the Game, in 2009.

Realizing that making music and monetizing a music career were two different things, Teflon attended the LaunchMemphis business plan boot camp in 2009, and received valuable instruction on starting up on a budget.

“LaunchMemphis helped me a lot as I launched my business called Soul Star Entertainment,” he said. ” Their door is always open for startup business support, especially if you are willing to do the hard work — the grind that is needed to succeed in any startup business.”

It is not unusual to find music industry businesses and artists participating in LaunchMemphis programs.

“LaunchMemphis is a big friend of the music community especially given the amount of innovation and business model change in the industry right now,” said Cameron Mann, director of Memphis Music Foundation’s Music Resource Center.

“Teflon Don is really insightful to realize that a successful musical artist is also an entrepreneur.”

By all accounts for an artist 2010 was a big year for Teflon Don. He was featured in two motion picture soundtracks, “Money Makers” and “Daylight Fades.” Plus, his single “M.E.M.P.H.I.S. Grizzlies,” became the unofficial anthem of the city’s NBA franchise, receiving radio air play and earning him a chance to perform live at a game.

“It is a testament to his entrepreneurial drive day-in and day-out,” said Eric Mathews, president of LaunchMemphis. “He is an inspiration to all the potential entrepreneurs in Memphis and a model of what hard work will bring you. I know Teflon isn’t done yet.”

Ask him about another album, and Teflon shows you his entrepreneurial optimism. “It’s called 3G, Part 2 and it’s going to be bigger and even better than my first album.”

For now though, the busy rapper will be monetizing himself on other fronts. He just finished a new single highlighting Black History Month and has also landed another role in a movie.

“The way I see it, I’m still just an entrepreneur. The only difference is, my business is monetizing me.”

Chris Allen is co-founder and director of operations and marketing for LaunchMemphis. He blogs about startups and innovation for MemphisConnect.com.