“I want to be a participant in hip hop and not just a voyeur,” says Romane Armand, entrepreneur and creator of Book of Rhymes, a rhyming self-help manual.
Armand has achieved the Guinness World Record for the longest freestyle rap. He is a businessman with an innovative mindset; one who says today is the age for the creative.
As Romane sees it, everything can be outsourced except creativity. With Book of Rhymes, he has created a guide for aspiring musicians, orators, authors, and songwriters that didn’t exist previously.
But Armand’s keen mindset and intrepid work ethic was not always this distinguished. Here is his journey in full:
Romane is a Haitian immigrant. He and his family moved to the U.S. when he was about to turn four years old. Specifically, they moved to Roxbury, Boston, which, in his autobiography, Malcolm X called “the Harlem of Boston.”
“I grew up in a Haitian household within a Black community, while assimilating to the US. You’re not only learning a new country, but there’s also a subculture that you’re learning in the inner city. You’re learning black culture too.”
Romane explained that his father tried to shelter him from a lot of things growing up. The dichotomy between a two-parent Haitian household and the urban American streets was stark. But, inquisitive as he was, Romane found his own relationship to his surroundings.
“What I was able to connect with the most as far as American culture was Hip-Hop. The culture was fascinating, not just the slang and the speech, but also the attire and style.
As a teen, I wanted to be more than just a voyeur of Hip-Hop. I wanted to be a participant. I tried other elements of the culture, but it was rapping that I connected with and enjoyed the most.”Romane Armand
Romane explained to me that he wasn’t really a college-bound student in high school. He was the kid that went to school late, went to two lunches, three gyms, and also left early. “And that’s when I actually went to school,” he said with a self-deprecating chuckle, aware of how far he has come.
An innate love for rap & rhymes
Sometimes in class, he would slide a headphone through his sleeve, palm on his ear, and listen to rhymes and write down the lyrics. Pre-RapGenius, Romane was writing down the lyrics and looking up the words, doing fine-tuned research to understand the material, and study the craft.
“My high school was really hood. It was the first place where I saw crack and guns… It just showed me another side of America, how there was poverty and struggle here too.”Romane Armand
It was a love of lyrics that developed into a love for learning that ultimately set Romane on a path to success. But it wasn’t going to be easy, especially as he learned later that he has dyslexia and ADHD.
“Having dyslexia, your brain has to work five-times harder in order to read. And instead of giving up, I just gave it five times more effort than most people. That helped me to build a work ethic. Coming from a family that could not afford to help me financially with college, I had to figure things out on my own. I learned that you could get scholarships for more than just athletics and good grades. There’s all sorts of scholarships. That’s when I started diving in, doing research.”Romane Armand
Romane persevered, attributing much of his diligence to his father and the morals he instilled in him. He ended up writing so many scholarship-winning essays that he graduated from college with zero debt.
In college, Armand took business and marketing classes that gave him a point of reference for the world he wanted to get involved in. He learned about cross promotion, about strategies to find success in your own business, and this eventually helped him self-publish Book of Rhymes years later.
“I learned a lot about business and entrepreneurship through hip hop.”Romane Armand
As VP of the Marketing Association at his school, Romane presented in front of a room of corporate executives. And he did what he does best: he rapped (about marketing).
After this meeting, Romane ended up getting a position as a buyer in Walmart’s entertainment division. His first year there, he developed a product line that sold over $100 million in product.
Romane saw a void for aspiring rappers/linguists/artists who needed a place to find similar words that rhyme, while the suffixes did not fit perfectly (for example, “orange” and “foreign”, known as slant rhymes). Thus, he wrote Book of Rhymes and published it himself.
Armand has even been asked to do rhyming lectures and workshops for schools across the country.
I asked Romane what it is about his vision that elicits such success in his various endeavors.
“I’d say it’s empathy. It’s seeking to understand and relate to the end-user. I don’t think you can really make decisions on behalf of the consumer and be a steward for them if you haven’t tried to walk in their shoes and experience the pain-points that they experienced. And I think that’s what helps to inform my vision.”Romane Armand
Age of the creative
“These big companies really need to adjust, and start valuing the creative class. Because what I’m seeing is a shift where the creative is moving from bottom of the totem pole to the top of the pyramid. But in order for creatives to get to that position, they have to develop business skills and acumen.”Romane Armand
With a somber tone Romane explained how a lot of his creative ‘brothers and sisters’ don’t want to put in the work to learn the business side of things, the marketing, operations, and finance. But this ultimately puts them in a position where they are beholden to the businessman, and don’t see as much of the rewards and freedoms that they deserve.
Romane looks at the marketplace around the world and the outsourcing that takes place in business, such as LegalZoom, a company that allows people to create legal documents without necessarily having to hire a lawyer.
But the one thing, Romane notes, that can not be outsourced, is the creative.
“This is the creative age because that’s what’s going to be most vital in the value chain and give you a competitive advantage in a sea of noise. You can’t automate or outsource the creative to India. You really need creative human beings, the idea generators, the innovators.”Romane Armand
Next chapter for Romane & Book of Rhymes
After reading maybe five books in his lifetime prior to his epiphany in the lengths he can accomplish, Romane has now published a book. The diligence he needed in order to achieve his youthful aspirations set himself up to be successful in wherever his future endeavors take him.
“Just the journey from idea to it materializing [was] a long one. It’s been a tough one. And it’s one that helps me to realize how I’m built.”Romane Armand
Romane finds euphoria in seeing younger Black boys asking their parents for books like Book of Rhymes, instead of the typical gifts like video games. They want to become a better songwriter or rapper, and as Romane says, “If you could write a rhyme, you could write a script, you could write a business plan. And it’s a transferable skill that can help you with life. That’s the biggest reward and what’s so special for me, is creating something that helps people.”
I went to the city to do some apartment hunting the day after I spoke with Romane. On the steps up to the 125 Harlem Metro North station, a young man’s head shook fervently in a notebook, pen scribbling away, voice whispering and repeating out his written lines, trying to find the best rhymes possible.
It was Romane’s journey and mission visibly laid out in front of me. Art imitating life. Life imitating art. I look down at the man and shook my hand so he would look up at me. Nothing.
No movement; his body and mind were still wrapped up in his words. I thought about what Book of Rhymes means to fans of words, fans of hip-hop, or just anyone looking to better themselves. Smooth articulation enables anyone to have a better chance at succeeding in life.
Romane’s journey wasn’t just about finding himself. It was about creating opportunities for others to excel in what they feel passionate about, in what they can be creative within. Book of Rhymes is just one piece of the puzzle, but for many, it is the blueprint for how to take that first step towards prosperity.
Check out the rhyming self-help manual here.