Karen Civil & Steve 'Steve-O' Carless Talk Consulting Firm Marathon Agency's 'Ou
(By Eric Diep 10.28.2016 for Billboard.com)
In June, Hillary Clinton’s social media advice for Donald Trump -- "Delete your account" -- was the ultimate burn after the Republican presidential candidate mocked President Barack Obama’s endorsement of the Democratic nominee. "Obama just endorsed Crooked Hillary. He wants four more years of Obama—but nobody else does!” he tweeted. The Clinton campaign’s comeback won the Internet that day, bombarding both candidates’ mentions with memes, GIFs, and more millennial sass, and even found an ally in rapper Pusha T.
Ever the opportunist, the Virginia rapper launched a Playcloths tee on July 29 emblazoned with the word "Delete Your Account,” where the proceeds from its sales went to Re-Imagine Justice, a coalition for prison reform and post-incarceration rehabilitation. The G.O.O.D. Music president continued to show he was with Her, leading a voter registration drive for National Voter Registration Day in September that promised registered voters a chance to win a backstage meet-and-greet at one of his shows. These actions may seem out of character for someone who openly raps about his cocaine-dealing past but Pusha has been an activist in the streets long before he got involved in the 2016 campaign race.
Pusha’s political endeavors are just one of the many projects spurred by the Marathon Agency, helmed by Def Jam A&R executive Steve "Steve-O" Carless, marketing savant Karen Civil and creative Jorge Peniche. The tight-knit operation -- comprised of the trio and two assistants -- can be best described as industry heavyweights combining their skill sets to help shape and execute disruptive, left-of-field concepts for their clientele: Nipsey Hussle (an investor in the company), YG,Jeezy, Nicki Minaj, Dave East, Andre Berto, Lajan Slim, and Nick Cannon.
Hussle’s #Proud2Pay campaign is an example of how the Marathon Agency takes a grandiose idea of paying $100 for his Crenshaw mixtape -- which was released for free online -- and provides a structure that allowed his fans to directly support him. (As an unsigned artist, he made $100,000 selling 1,000 copies in less than 24 hours.) Given the success of their first official collaboration as artist and agency, they joined forces again for Nipsey’s Mailbox Money mixtape in 2014, upping the ante with a similar model, but this time charging $1,000 for 100 physical copies that also came with a ticket to an advanced listening of his highly anticipated album Victory Lap.
In one of the inaugural announcements of the Marathon Agency on Carless’ Instagram in October, Hussle offered an accurate summation: "@marathonagency is the new home for the RADICALS... The REVOLUTIONARIES & THE GAME-CHANGERS that believe that they can do it their way."
"With Nipsey, he’s kind of like our silent partner. He invested like over six figures into the company," Carless explains about his involvement. "We lean to him at the end of the day to kind of give us his insight [or] his perspective on things. He has such a non-unilateral perspective on the world. He’s very good at, ‘Ah, nah, keep it left there.’ Or stays on focus. He’s definitely whimsical when it comes to stuff like that. He really goes with his gut."
Formed in 2013, the Marathon Agency is a talent-based brand attracting a diverse set of clients in all stages of their careers. On one end of the spectrum is Dave East, their newest signing, who worked with Carless to secure his Def Jam/Mass Appeal joint venture. On the other end is all-around entertainer Nick Cannon, who, with the assistance of the agency, was able to become chief creative officer for RadioShack. The company’s philosophy is internal development and building from the ground up. The namesake comes from Hussle’s Marathon branding that inspired their mission statement.
"The marathon is, of course, a long journey. It’s a race, but the race is at your pace ‘cause you’re racing against yourself,' says Carless, who runs point on administration and negotiations while Civil oversees marketing and partnerships, and Peniche spearheads art direction. "We weren’t really pacing ourselves against what was in the marketplace. We were just looking at each individual artist, client, and partner and saying, ‘Hey man, you guys are looking at it this way, and let’s keep building it that way. Let’s build this inward, then outward.’”
While Peniche, Hussle’s road manager, signed on to the Marathon Agency during the release of Hussle’s 2013 mixtape Crenshaw, Carless and Civil are two Elizabeth, New Jersey, natives who went to the same high school and have worked on special projects over the years. Their history begins as early as Juelz Santana’s sophomore album What the Game’s Been Missing! in 2005 to their recent work on YG’s My Krazy Life and Jeezy’s Seen It All: The Autobiography in 2014. Given their steep resumes in hip-hop and entertainment, the trio have earned the trust of their teams by consistently delivering for their clients.
Further explaining the interworking of their company, Civil says the individuals they chose to curate as partners grasp the notion that time and hard work go hand and hand. "They have an understanding of getting things done and coming to us to do that out-of-the-box marketing, strategy, and thinking,” she says of Marathon's roster. "That’s the wonderful thing about picking and choosing who we want to work with because I’ve been in situations where I’ve worked with someone and they thought they were gonna be on the cover of XXL in two months. I’m like, 'That’s not how it works.'”
Pusha, who isn’t signed to the Marathon Agency per se, sees the world in a similar perspective and calls on them to assist in pushing his political initiatives. On how Civil connected Pusha with the Hillary Clinton campaign, she gives credit to Terrence J, who invited her to a Champions of Change event at the White House. The women there recognized her entrepreneurial efforts with her Live Civil platform and efforts in Haiti, and she was invited back as an honoree for empowering young women in her community last September. Shortly after, Clinton’s team approached her to launch African Americans for Hillary at Clark Atlanta, an HBCU, last November, and she’s been an advocate for her since. On Oct. 13, she hosted a Liberty City block party with Pusha T to encourage voter registration alongside Democratic vice presidential nominee Tim Kaine in Miami. Pusha and Kaine also sat down for a one-on-one interview that touched on the criminal justice system and making college debt-free for everybody.
At the top of 2017, look for the Marathon Agency to officially roll out with a re-launch of their site and build an event around the announcement. In the meantime, they’ll continue to bring on new clients and nurture their existing relationships. “We want to stay on the path of building and stacking these artists and getting it out. Real excited about an impending Nipsey album. Real excited about an impending YG album," Carless says. "Those are kind of like the few first quarter things that we’ve gotten into so far. We are just strategizing that and figuring out how we are going to actually play those to the market.”
Civil adds that they’re brainstorming plans to expand products like Nipsey’s The Marathon clothing, which will have its first interactive store on Slauson Avenue in Los Angeles, Calif. soon. You can expect Victory Lap to have another #Proud2Pay campaign once the album gets an official release date. Now, how does one get down with the Marathon Agency? Be bold and fearless -- and they’ll find you.