20 Questions with Tayyib Smith of Little Giant Creative

Tayyib Smith is an entrepreneur, co-founder at Little Giant Creative, partner at Pipeline Philly and co-founder at the Institute of Hip Hop Entrepreneurship. Here we get to know him in 20 questions.


1. What’s the first thing you read in the morning?

This morning [I read] Cities and the Wealth of Nations: Principles of Economic Life by Jane Jacobs. Most days, [I read] Twitter, NPR, WURD, The New York Times, Democracy Now, and The Guardian, [along with] Billy Penn, Washington Post, The Inquirer, etc.  


2. What was your first job?

In the summers in the early 80s I cleaned during the day at my Uncle Lucky James’ night club Whispers, at 13th and Locust. I made $20 a day in 1983; a movie was five bucks and Nikes were $35, I thought I was rich with my little $100s a week. Life was good, I thought I was a baller, shot caller.


3. Who has influenced your career?

I don’t know yet, I feel like I’m just getting started.


4. If you weren’t a  _____ what would you be?

I am what I am via PopEye


5. 3 qualities that have helped you in your career?

I can be hard-headed with purpose; I deal with rejection well; I don’t need external positive affirmation.


6. Favorite perk of the job?

I have career, jobs are short term.


7. Worst part of the job?  

I work for myself, I have nothing to complain about in that area. I have had awful employers, I’ve suppressed those memories now, I can hardly recall them.


8. Change you’d like to see in your industry?

I would like diversity to be a holistic priority, not the rhetoric of bullet points in PowerPoints by white-led institutions.


9. How do you unwind after a bad day?

By planning ramifications for whoever created said “bad day “for me tomorrow.


10. When do you feel the freest?

When I read American history about the black experience, it makes me feel owed. Like everything within sight is owed to me with compounded interest. $$$$.


11. How much risk do you like taking?

My friend and colleague Akeem Dixon diagnosed me with Irrational Confidence, I say that to say, I am comfortable in spaces most see as risky.


12. Who’d you invite to a fantasy dinner party? Anyone dead or alive.

Grace Lee Boggs, W. E. B. Du Bois, Lorraine Hansberry, James Baldwin, Paul Robeson, Nina Simone, Toussaint Louverture.


13. When do you get nervous?

When I learned that the Median Wealth Of Black And Latino Families Could Hit Zero By The Middle Of The Century.


14. What do you think about Love?

All actions are motivated by love or fear. My thoughts on love are documented here in an interview with the renowned artist Tatyana Fazlalizadeh.


15. What are you most grateful for, right now, in this moment?

I’ll be on a beach in Mexico in two weeks.


16. I am proud to have _____

Progressive parents who gave me an African-centered education in my youth.


17. What advice would you give your 18-year-old self?

Purchase every piece of real estate or empty lot you can get your hands on in urban cores.


18. What would you like to leave behind once you’re gone?

A stellar reputation for opening doors for others and creating opportunity.


19. What’s something that makes you hopeful?

I was talking to the daughter of a friend from high school this weekend, she told me she’s going through phases. She’s 15 and in the last year she’s switched from journalism to law, and now to public policy as a focus for her career goals. After talking to her she made me feel like I need to get my life together and focus, she inspired me.


20. What was a defining moment in your career?

Launching Little Giant in 2007/2008, opening Pipeline in 2014/15, developing the Institute of Hip Hop Entrepreneurship—which provides hands-on training to non-traditional entrepreneurs—and the multi-experiential exhibit A Dream Deferred. This year we’re launching Smith n Roller, a project that will focus on historically significant properties that will nurture the arts, commerce and public engagement.