Goldman Sach's Secret Rapper
A fun little article in the Financial Times about a former trader at Goldman Sachs with a passion for rap/hip hop.
Goldman Sachs’ secret rapper
By Emma Jacobs
Banker’s got a brand new bag: Jihan Bowes-Little first riffed on his Goldman-branded rucksack
It was the paean to his backpack that swung it. Jihan Bowes-Little’s ode to his bag, entitled “Goldman Rucksack”. The adrenalin rush the young American banker experienced retelling his dilemma – whether to wear his bag with the bank’s logo facing inward, unseen, or outwards and clearly visible – was his first public performance. It was there in that small west London venue that he decided to pursue a secret life as a hip-hop artist called Metis.
The dual career saw him swapping suits at the end of his office day for baggy jeans and trainers, scribbling lyrics while trading credit derivatives at Goldman Sachs, and taking calls from Tokyo after rapping at steamy gigs. After that first night’s performance, he refused to speak about his banking job to his fellow performers. He tried to keep the double life a secret from both the banking and the hip-hop fraternity – at one point even hiring a public relations consultant to keep his name out of the press.
The inspiration for his second career came seven years ago, when the American became transfixed watching Saul Williams, the spoken word poet. “It was just, like, absolutely mind-blowing,” recalls Mr Bowes-Little, sitting in a private members’ club in Notting Hill, home to bankers and the carnival. “One person on stage captivating a room full of people, no music, no distractions.”
Walking back to his flat with his friend, the pair, who had never performed in public before, challenged themselves to try their hand at it. Which is how, a week later, Mr Bowes-Little, who was then 26, found himself dry-mouthed and anxious preparing to deliver “Goldman Rucksack” on stage at an Open Mic night. The lines were public musings on his personal dilemma: “I wanted underground soul, with overseas dough, they said you maybe have one but you can’t have both.”
The rhyme was about the company bag that is issued to junior employees starting at investment banks. To Mr Bowes-Little, who is thoughtful to the point of being over-analytical, a rucksack is more than just something you use to carry stuff in. “When you walk around Wall Street, there are just hundreds of kids all walking around branded by their respective banks.”
Mr Bowes-Little, who is mixed-race and the first in his family to attend university, says that despite joining Goldman Sachs, he still had a great deal of prejudice about the elitist world of banking and a strong “sense that I didn’t want to let being in finance change who I was”.
So he refused to sport the company logo, preferring instead to carry his old beaten-up bag. “After a while I thought, ‘This is a bit contrived. I need a new bag’. So I put it on. But I was walking out of my flat, and I thought should I wear it this way, with the insignia out. Or should I wear it the other way. In or out? Is it ego? Or is going the other way equally egoistic.”
He wore it inside-out, left the gym wearing his tracksuit and headphones and got on the train. His fellow passengers backed away from him. “I was feeling quite judged. I knew all I had to do was turn my bag around to change everybody’s definition of me.”
Originally from northern California, he studied philosophy and economics at Brown University, and became attracted to banking not just because of the salary, which promised a lifestyle far more moneyed than that of his parents, but because it was “competitive” and “exciting”. He undertook an internship at Morgan Stanley, often working until 3am.
While a postgraduate student at the London School of Economics, he became mesmerised by the enigmatic Christian Siva-Jothy, then head of proprietary trading – which was subsequently banned – at Goldman Sachs. Mr Siva-Jothy’s talk to LSE students made Mr Bowes-Little “fall in love with trading”.
“There were all these rumours about him, that he lived on a private island and landed his helicopter on the top of the office . . . when Christian got up and spoke, he was really unassuming, really quiet, really humble, kind of a Buddha-like character.” Proprietary trading – in which a bank trades for its own profit, rather than a client’s, independently of the bank’s other activities – appeared philosophical and pure to the impressionable Mr Bowes-Little. “They don’t look [or act] anything like other traders. They have a centredness.”
So he joined Goldman Sachs in New York in the principal finance division before moving to London, where he was invited to join the proprietary traders as an analyst. After the traders left to set up their own hedge funds, he switched to credit derivatives in 2006. (He defends the mortgage products as “no more nuts than the people who bought houses for 10 times their own income”.)
Trading, he insists, is meritocratic, thereby ditching his youthful prejudices. “It doesn’t matter if you’re young or old, man or woman, intellectual or pseudointellectual, if you’re a braggart, you can’t really hide behind the numbers. I was judged for what I produced, which, for an ethnic minority, is a real rarity. It’s really freeing.”
Nonetheless, he was anxious about his identity as a hip-hop artist becoming known at work.
“It’s a cliché, the only black or mixed-race person on the floor being a rapper. It didn’t feel like the best way to market myself to senior management.”
So every night he would leave work and perform in open mic nights all over London.
After the 2008 credit crunch, he quit. “The atmosphere at work was tiring. The music was happening.”
He flew to Los Angeles to focus on music, cushioned by his savings. But after a year, and despite some critical success, his hip-hop career failed to take off – so he returned to London to work for a hedge fund. He refuses to disclose the fund’s name but it is easy to find by searching Google. Since his re-entry into the world of finance, he has not been tempted to leave. “I was really trapped before. I don’t feel trapped any more.”
Nonetheless, he still spends time in the studio and is preparing to launch his single, “All In”, a track that was used by Coca-Cola for its advertising campaign in Mexico.
Instead of dreaming of escaping banking, he insists, this dual life is better. Now he finds parallels between the two worlds.
“Both banking and hip hop are very competitive, both are incredibly exciting and at the very, very, very top, remunerative.”
Surely both rappers and bankers are braggarts? “Hip hop is probably the genre of music where people talk about themselves the most.” He concedes that brash, Porsche-driving traders have much in common with blingtastic gangsta-rap stars.
But he points out that “there is an incredibly poetic intelligent [strand] of hip hop as well”, suggesting there are similarities between underground spoken word performers and the ultra-discreet proprietary traders.
Today he mixes his two worlds, instead of keeping them secret and separate.
“The kinds of finance people who like to come to the hip-hop shows I never would have expected. People are more multifaceted than I think we give them credit for. It’s not obvious to me that bankers are less creative than musicians.”