An interview with concert curator Yusuf Muhammad
I've had the pleasure of knowing Yusuf for a couple years and I've seen the good and the not-so-good sides of his personality.
An interview with concert curator Yusuf Muhammad
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
– Marianne Williamson
The words of Marianne Williamson are echoed daily by a young Philly-Yorker by the name of Yusuf “Yuie” Muhammad. Yusuf is a self-described concert/event “curator” under the brand “#VeteranFreshman” as well as an admitted arrogant individual whose exploits are often just as talked about as the success of his shows.
I’ve had the pleasure of knowing Yusuf for a couple years and I’ve seen the good and the not-so-good sides of his personality. He’s very much aware of the fact that many people view him as arrogant, narcissistic and even hypocritical at times. However, his imperfections don’t have the privilege of being shielded like many of ours because Yusuf has chosen to walk and speak amongst the public in a way that demands attention. And this attention translates into great promotion for his numerous endeavors. Regardless of how some people (and even myself at times) view him, he’s chosen a path and stuck to it—all while setting a great example as someone who generates results for himself and others.
In the interview below, we discuss how he’s been able to build his brand, what goes into curating a great show, and general business advice for aspiring professionals. Enjoy.
CC: You’ve created a strong brand for yourself as an event “curator.” How were you able to do so?
YM: I think I’ve built such a strong brand and a strong following just by being true to myself. There’s a quote that goes something like, “There are some people who love me and some people who hate me, but what all of them have in common is that none of them made me.” But with me, it’s the opposite. They all made me. They all contribute to the business of me. For those who love what I do, they promote it without me having to ask them. They want to be apart of it and they see the vision. They see how in such a short time, I’ve done so much. For those who dislike me, they stillni talk about me and all promotion is promotion. I enjoy it from both sides.
CC: Lol. So why would someone dislike Yusuf?
YM: I think it’s because I have a humble arrogance. And I am arrogant. I’m very much a speaker in the same lanes as a Marcus Garvey, a Martin Luther King or Malcolm X. What people don’t understand is that for any of those men—specifically Black men—to get to a place of power or to realize their dreams, they spoke. They didn’t move in silence; they were in the public eye. I have a huge festival coming up that’s going to be tied into the schools so I’m going to speak about that. I’m excited about what I do. I believe there’s a short window in which you can change the projection of your life. From the age of 25 to 35, within that period, if you really focus you can retire. And that’s the type of plan that I’m on. So I just think that kind of separates me from some people and I encourage that. Your insecurities are your insecurities—not mine.
CC: You have a strong brand with the people who will attend your shows but you also have a strong brand with the private sector—with businesses and with sponsors and publications. How were you able to do so?
YM: It’s funny because the same things that some of my peers dislike me for, major companies LOVE me for. They love my business ethic, they love the way I carry myself. They love the fact that as a young Black man, I make sh** happen. Muhammad Ali said that it’s not cocky or arrogant if you can back it up. So sponsors love that I can back it up. When they ask me to do something, it gets done. When I come to them with something, it’s already done and I’m just asking them can they contribute.
CC: What goes into curating the “perfect show?”
YM: Oh there’s NO perfect show. But how to curate a show as good as you can? Because there’s always something that’s going to go wrong. First, finding a good venue that supports the show that you’re doing. Then getting a good team of people that you know who are influencers in the city that will support your event and talk about it and spread the word for you. If you don’t have that then you have to spread the word yourself by social media and going to different events and making yourself visible. And getting talent that is responsible. That’s probably the hardest part. Getting talent that isn’t just going to talk their way onto your stage. And talent goes for every aspect, from the caterer to the bartender to everyone; people who are willing to contribute to the event. I can’t have anybody apart of my show that’s not willing to talk about it—who thinks there above the show. Like this festival that I could potentially be doing is going to have thousands of people there. But if someone tells me they’re having a show at a gallery on 7th and Chestnut, best believe I’m going to talk about it. I’m not above that.
CC: What are some things that, someone throwing a show, may overlook that are really important to the show’s success?
YM: Some of the things that people may overlook and some of the things I did when I first started was the attention to detail. The people that you commission to do certain things, you have to make sure those people are capable of doing those jobs. One of the big things you also can do is making sure, almost a month ahead of time, that you make an itinerary for everyone and yourself. Make a schedule for things that you know you need to do. The more you get done before the show, the least you have to do during the show. Like I said, there’s no perfect show but if you’re dedicated to the vision that’ll allow you to make sure that the show goes well.
Time. Time is big. If the real sound check is at 6p, the artists need to be there by 4:30-5p. And set that expectation for all the artists you work with so everyone knows that they need to be on time. I have artists that I know have been late to six other shows but for my shows they’re always on time. You can ask anyone who knows my shows. They run on time and they go on schedule. And another thing is if you’re doing a concert, don’t be afraid to cut someone off if they’re going over their time. Sometimes you have to do that because the show is more important then one person’s shine at that moment. So keeping structure and allowing the vision to guide you always works great.
CC: Any last words of advice? And what can we expect in the near future from Yusuf?
YM: Speak your success into existence. In this generation we have so much access to so many things that can push us to become successful and we don’t utilize them to our benefit as much as we should. And you can accept every helping hand but do not go around looking for handouts. Do not go around looking for handouts because you owe your vision more than to go around begging someone to help you build when you can build it yourself. And I know this sounds cliché but where there’s a will, there really is a way. If you dedicate yourself to the “win” instead of the “diss” it will happen. What I mean by the “diss” is someone saying NO to you, someone saying you can’t. To me those things don’t exist. Failing isn’t really failing, it’s just finding ten-thousand ways not to do it. So speaking your success into existence and not allowing anyone to tell you that you can’t do it is my advice.
What I got coming up next is this A3C Festival this Thursday in Atlanta. We’re going to film it and screen the film in Philadelphia when I come back. I also have Pusha T at The Blockley on October 10th and in November I have Joey Badass and Ab Soul. I’m also working on my second show in New York in November after the success of the Eve show and a few other shows.