Jamie Foxx is the rare kind of artist who can excel in multiple industries. He’s an Academy Award- and Golden Globe- winning actor, a Grammy-winning singer, and a bestselling stand-up comedian.
Before he joined the upper echelon of the entertainment world in the early 2000s, he was a moderately successful stand-up comedian with a music degree and a desire to make the most of his two passions. In the latest episode of author and investor Tim Ferriss’ podcast, Foxx explains the networking techniques he used as a rising comedian to launch his music career.
“I was the first social media guy without social media,” Foxx tells Ferriss.
Foxx recorded every contact he made, and aggressively pursued ones that could advance his career, as long as he knew he could offer them something in return.
After graduating from Alliant International University in San Diego, Foxx decided to try stand-up comedy and found himself hooked. He moved to Los Angeles and after a couple years made it onto the cast of the Emmy-winning variety show “In Living Colour” in 1991, during which he continued to tour.
Although some people began to recognise him, he was still far from being a true star at that point, and he decided that a crucial step to getting there would be to build a network of both fans and influencers in LA. His comedy routine involved cue cards, and at the end of shows he would ask the audience to write down their names and pager numbers on the cards if they wanted to be kept in the loop for future comedy specials and events.
After some time on the road, “I had a list of about 800 people,” he tells Ferriss.
Several years later, Sean “Puff Daddy” Combs became one of the biggest names in the music industry. Anytime he came through LA, Foxx says, Combs would take over the most popular clubs, barring access to anyone not personally invited.
After Foxx released his debut R&B album in 1994 to little fanfare, he decided that acquiring Combs in his circle could open some doors. He started following Combs’ entourage anytime he rolled through LA to try to weasel his way into one of his parties.
Since this was long before the era of highly portable cameras, let alone camera phones, Foxx decided he could try adding value to Combs’ party as a cameraman. One day, he tells Ferriss, he followed Combs to a club and asked him at the entrance, giant VHS-camera in hand, “Yo, Puff. Can I record?”
Combs recognised him as the guy from “In Living Colour” and decided to make him his personal videographer for the night. Foxx’s scheme worked, and Combs called him to film more parties over the years.
In 2001, Foxx was filming one of Combs parties in Philadelphia, he says, when Combs took him aside and said, “Yo, money. You know how much this party cost? It cost a million dollars for this party.” Foxx tells Ferriss he told Combs he could throw him basically the same party at his house in LA for just $400.
A few weeks later, Combs decided to take Foxx up on his challenge. Foxx dug into his archive of contacts and reached out to all of them, from socialites to celebrities who appeared at his shows.
It was at this party that Foxx started using another networking trick, which ultimately led to chart-topping singles.
By 2001, Foxx was a more established comedian and actor, and could afford a nice home with his own small recording studio. Because he now had hundreds of people in his house at a party for Puff Daddy, he decided to bring the likes of Snoop Dogg into the studio to mess around, he says.
He turned what was essentially a joke into an actual routine: If he met a famous musician, he’d invite them to his home for a party and bring them into the studio to record new material they were playing with.
“So I turn that into a show, in a sense, to where I would just have different people I would toast and try to get my music going,” he tells Ferriss. “I had engineers from all over the city dialling in so that when real artists come, they don’t think this is just some comedian f—ing around.”
One of these musicians turned out to be Kanye West, who had a successful production career and was planning his debut album as a rapper in 2003. Foxx’s buddy Breyon Prescott, a music executive, put them in touch.
West and Foxx went into the studio, where West told him he had a song he was working on with the rapper Twista that he thought he could sing over. West sang the chorus to the song that would become “Slow Jamz,” and Foxx started singing it as he would in a traditional R&B song.
“And he says, ‘What the f— are you doing?'” Foxx tells Ferriss. After debating the merits of R&B vocals, Foxx decided to play by West’s rules, and Foxx appeared in the final version of the song.
Foxx says that he wasn’t paying close attention to the song’s reception, since he didn’t like how his vocals turned out. After the single was released that December, his friend told him, “Remember that song you said was whack? It’s No. 1 in the country.”
Of course, Foxx could be exaggerating his cavalier attitude to the song for dramatic effect, but he says had never expected it to be the one that convinced the public he could be more than a comedian. Its success led to a Grammy nomination and then the 2005 Grammy-winning collaboration with West, “Gold Digger.”
You can listen to Foxx’s full two-hour interview with Ferriss on Ferriss’ website or iTunes.
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