Revolt chairman and co-founder Sean Combs took the stage for his Q&A session at the Revolt Music Conference in Miami on Oct. 18 sounding more like a preacher than a CEO. “This is going to be like church,” he told the packed room, which had been outfitted with extra chairs just for his session. “It’s going to get hot in here, so take out your fans.”
And while it wasn’t exactly a gospel service, Combs’ Q&A was inspiring, but also, surprisingly honest and disarming. During the 45-minute session, Combs never took a seat, but walked back and forth onstage, microphone in hand, wearing shades and outfitted in black from head to toe. And instead of engaging in a traditional Q&A with a moderator, he only answered questions from Twitter and directly from the audience members, most of whom paid a hefty fee to attend Revolt’s inaugural conference in Miami’s Fontainebleu Hotel.
“Thank you for investing in yourselves,” said Combs, acknowledging the effort many in the young crowd — including many up and coming artists and producers — had made to come to the conference, which drew some 800 attendees (although more were at the Q&A).
“This is a dream come true. To know that the legacy is going to continue because there are people out there who care about the future and care about being somebody.”
Combs then proceeded to answer questions that ranged from the personal to the practical to the inspirational to the mundane. Combs first acknowledged his vice chairman and conference chair Andre Harrell (“You always have to remember and thank the person who gave you that first shot,” said Combs), then proceeded to underscore the importance of hard work first and foremost.
“Especially if you’re a person of color,” he added, addressing a mixed crowd. “It’s going to be four, five times harder to accomplish. That’s what I try to tell my kids. No one’s going to give you anything here. You’re gonna have to go out there and take it. You gotta want it as bad as you want air to breathe.”
Combs was at times surprisingly humble. When asked what had been his hardest business decision, he replied: “Looking in the mirror. When you get a lot of success, it definitely turns you into an asshole. Or it magnifies who you are. Oh, I’m gonna give it to you raw now — maybe you were an asshole before. The hardest decision is you have to look from within.”
A major turning point in his career, he said, was going to a Run-D.M.C. concert and seeing Run take off his sneakers and ask everybody in the crowd to do the same. “And he’s like, ‘Whose house?’ And the crowd shouted: ‘Run’s house!’ I thought, I don’t know what that means but that’s who I want to be.”
When asked for advice, Combs offered the practical kind: Be relentless. Work hard. Follow through. Be on time. Surround yourself with people smarter than you. But there was also great insight. “Every second you are a representation of your brand,” he said when asked about the brand aspect of his business. “What you wear. How you talk. And you are representing not just yourself but your family name. I know I’m the best representation of my brand. The thing that keeps you in this game is your reputation.”