Goldman Sachs Banker Bag Inspires Introspection, Launches Rap Career

As many of you know, employment at one of Wall Street’s investment banks– and, increasingly, law firms and hedge funds– comes not only with an enviable salary but the corporate world’s version of a free gift with purchase*: a canvas duffle bag. Typically, these bags are navy and green, with one’s respective firm’s name on the ribbon. They can often be seen riding the subway, walking down Park Avenue, and so on a so forth. For most people, the bag represents a place to put gym clothes. For a select few, the bag represents the feeling they’ve arrived. For former Goldman Sachs employee Jihan Bowes-Little, the bag represented an existential crisis. And the beginning of his trading by day/rapping by night life.

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.”

And while juggling his life as a credit derivatives trader/rapper initially proved too difficult, JB-L ultimately found a way for his identity as a financier and his identity as an artist to live in perfect harmony.

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.”

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.”

On a related note, it goes without saying but we’ll say it anyway that employees of a certain hedge fund are going to have a lot of explaining to do when someone finds out that Goldman’s pedestrian little gym bag has inspired a work of art while not one lyric has been put to paper re: his beloved fleece jackets.

Goldman Sachs’ Secret Rapper [FT]
No 516: Metis [Guardian]
VERY MUCH RELATED: Dealbreaker Banker Bag

*“Hey, here’s a contract for a high six figure salary. Also, please enjoy this finely-crafted bag.

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54 Responses to “Goldman Sachs Banker Bag Inspires Introspection, Launches Rap Career”

  1. yoda says:

    The douche is strong in this one

  2. Save their souls says:

    A tiny penis can really fuck with your motives in life

  3. Austin says:

    I don't even know what this is! This sort of thing ain't my bag, baby.

  4. Tseug says:

    I'll bet he's got a bad-ass rap name.

  5. Hobbes says:

    I doubt he was a derivatives trader if he can devote that much thought to a fucking gym bag.

  6. St. Copious says:

    Employment at a law firm "increasingly comes with an enviable salary"? Maybe fact check that one with the ATL folks.

  7. Guest says:

    Tip for FT journalists: if the person you're interviewing says they don't want disclose where they work but also list where they work on their publicly viewable linkedin profile, then it's ok to spill the beans.

  8. Help Him says:

    "He has written an autobiography, The Trade, which has been picked up by a literary agent and with which he has tried to interest Hollywood directors with a view to turning it into a film"

  9. Guest says:

    " 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."

    That moment of shock for Londoners, when they realize that a track suit actually has a function other than inadvertently revealing one's position in the class structure.

  10. Detroit says:

    His palms are sweaty, knees weak, arms are heavy
    There's vomit on his fleece vest already, Seamless spaghetti…

  11. IRS says:

    I heard they're taxing overseas dough at up to 75% these days

  12. guest says:

    Is anything more tired and annoying than a finance guy – with the exact same ambitions and greed as everyone else in the industry – pretending to be conflicted about it? You are fooling no one.

  13. Shaz's beard says:

    "After the 2008 credit crunch, he quit." = was bottom 10% and fired

    "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." = blew all meager analyst/associate bonus $$$ on coke and hookers

  14. Illmatic says:

    Somehow the rap game reminds me of the credit game.

  15. wha says:

    I didn't realize Pitbull was a trader

  16. Former Goldman says:

    So what, unlike SOME people he had the courage to put it all out there, to give it all he had. What have any of YOU done?

  17. Guy from Deleware says:

    "I was feeling quite judged. I knew all I had to do was turn my bag around to change everybody’s definition of me."

    Telling insight. That kind of perspicacious social commentary is usually the province of Shazar. I am glad there are others who can one day carry that torch which sheds light into those places otherwise inscrutable to us regular, non-rappers.

  18. Anyone says:

    where is geezer?

  19. MFIN Grad says:

    This dude, he need to stay in the shade…

    Ain't no wonder why he came out, he already in da gay parade

  20. Guest says:

    Showing off the large-faced watch is a total black guy/guido move.