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Ezra Bai

The Trouble Addiction

Creative people are known to self-destruct. The pressure and attention and microscope…the need to live up to expectations that they create in their work and the persona they use to promote that work, prove to be too much.

In search of the illusive qualities of credibility and authenticity, the artist can venture down a dangerous path towards addiction, destroyed relationships, and run-ins with the law.

Cellule du quartier d'isolement de la prison Jacques-Cartier, à travers le judas, Rennes, France

By Édouard Hue (User:EdouardHue) (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Hip Hop was born in the street as an antidote and escape from the trouble that surrounded its birthplace. However, once it went on record, connecting to the corporate money machine of the music industry, the altruistic visions would take a back seat to monetary concerns.

Thank goodness it did. If Hip Hop had stayed local like, say, Go-Go in DC, I may have never heard it. Some of the most influential art and social commentary of the final quarter of 20th century may have never been created. As much as I would like to think that the popularity of Hip Hop grew because of its artistic and cultural merit alone, I know better. Had labels not taken a chance on some early Hip Hop records…had Run-DMC not proven the flexibility and financial viability of the genre by collaborating with Aerosmith…had any number of ambitious street hustlers not redirected their energies towards music…Hip Hop may have gone down the path of disco and become the fad that so many thought it would be.

No matter how much money Hip Hop generates: billions upon billions of dollars when you figure in music, fashion, technology, publications/broadcasts that support it, and endorsements, it will always be married to streets.

While there are no real creative boundaries when it comes to the subject matter, imagery, and narrative of Hip Hop music, there are conventions that seem to tilt a large portion of the commercially promoted music towards stories of drug dealing, drug abuse, violence and misogyny. And that stuff sells. And it gets attention. Human beings are naturally fascinated by sex and violence and we are enamored with the idea of escaping our reality and vicariously living through a character who seems to be confident, fearless, powerful, and potent. The Hip Hop protagonist, often presented as the artist himself, represents all of these traits while he hustles, burns trees, pops bottles and pills, and generally balls out all over the track.

Hip Hop reached the level prominence it now has because it made a lot of people a lot of money (not always the people who deserved it…but that is another discussion). It made a lot of money because it managed to cross canyon between novelty and legitimate genre and the canyon between legitimate genre and mainstream cultural fixture.

The narrative of Hip Hop is controversial but in many cases it represents a close approximation of the reality that the MC has lived or witnessed close enough to give a nuanced account. It is abundantly clear to the serious listener when the stories don’t line up, and unlike any other genre’s fans, Hip Hop followers are quick to call you on the authenticity of your story. In theory a writer should have license to create whatever story that he wishes to create to get his point across. But so much of Hip Hop is rooted in the first person narrative that it is impossible to escape the assumption that there is or should be something autobiographical in the verse.

There in lies the trap. It has been proven that you can cover any topic you want in music. You can talk about your life, your personal struggle and experience and it will be received well if it is executed well. But…stay away from that street shit if aren’t acquainted with the street…tied to the street somehow. And for whatever reason…being acquainted with and tied to and constantly speaking about the streets seems to attract circumstances where you have to justify your thug.

If shit couldn’t get real then you would never hear about rap beef escalating into physical confrontation. It is extremely personal. People don’t simply like/dislike an artist or his music. They go as far as calling his character and credibility into question. More than any in other genre Hip Hop artist comment on each others work in a very direct way. They choose sides and are pitted against each other by fans. How much of it is real and how much of it is staged and calculated? That is not the point…the point is that it gets real for the listeners. And in the hype of the moment people get tested and wind up in trouble.

There are complex socio-economic reasons why the judicial system is populated by so many black and brown people which are beyond the scope of this article. But I have to wonder whether there is something twisted by what appears to be a cycle that Hip Hop seems to be perpetuating. All of the beefing and dissing makes interesting theater. Fans love confrontation and the fastest path to attention is by skillfully dissing someone who has attention. But it is a slippery slope that can lead to disaster…especially when the interest and attention generated by the confrontation starts attracting dollars. It can be played up and escalated to no end… until it gets so emotional and personal that someone needs to prove how tough they are. And then, here comes trouble.

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I dropped out of Hip-Hop during the East Coast vs. West Coast feud of the mid 1990’s.  My fascination during the emergence of Tribe and Wu-tang Clan disintegrated into a mild passing interest.

I moved to Germany and tuned in to the electronic dance music that pumped all night in the clubs I frequented every weekend. My first taste of freedom from my rigid upbringing came while I was overseas. I created a new identity and felt all the freedom that went along with being a stranger in a strange land.

The biggest reason for my waning interest in Hip-Hop was the sad, twisted saga of Biggie v. Pac.  I heard Tupac’s ” Hit’em Up”  in the barracks on my first weekend in Germany.  My roommate had clearly taken sides in the Biggie v. Pac debate . He kept that track on repeat for hours and gave drunken sermons about Pac’s superiority over Biggie and the West Coast’s undeniable supremacy in the rap game.

I offered no opinion. I was still trying to wrap my head around my impending departure to Bosnia and the life I left behind. I had just come through six months of sequester–basic and job training for the Army. My palette was clean. Rap didn’t taste good.

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Derrick from Syracuse played Reasonable Doubt out loud when the eight-man tent we shared  in Bosnia was mostly empty–my first exposure to Jay-Z.  I was impressed with the album, but I was checked out. In my headphones was stuff like the Cranberry’s, No Doubt, Fiona Apple…. Reasonable Doubt was a classic, if that didn’t re-ignite by passion for Hip-Hop what could? I was dealing with fear and heartbreak. I was not ready for it.

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After his acclaimed debut, Jay-Z would need to follow up strong to capitalize during the most profitable era in the history of the music industry. While it would take some time before reach he reached another creative pinnacle, over the course of three albums Jay-Z solidified his lofty position in Hip Hop as it emerged from the ashes of tragedy and searched for it’s identity.

Jay had arrived at his debut with the skill-set that would define his career already in tact. He was a finished product, older than most debut artists. His career success would depend not so much on his growth as an artist as much as his ability to find the right conceptual and sonic direction.

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220px-Jayz_inmylifetime

For In My Lifetime Vol. 1, Jay-Z presented a decidedly more commercial offering. He didn’t catch the same flack that Nas caught with his sophomore effort because the landscape had changed so much. In the wake of Biggie’s death, Mase emerged as the prince of Bad Boy and their glossy aesthetic dominated the airwaves and the dance floors. The sonic foundation of Vol. 1 was provided largely by Puffy’s Hit Men and the Track Masters. But weaved through the radio friendly tracks are reflective narratives like “Lucky Me”, and “You Must Love Me”, and street focused songs like “Where I’m From”, and “Streets is Watching”. To his credit, Jay did not resistant the sonic trends.

Jay-z-vol-2-hard-knock-life

I was making my return to Hip Hop when Vol. 2, Hard Knock Life came out. (The album that brought me back to Hip Hop and inspired me to start creating was The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. Her voice and style connected to my roots and awakened me from a four year creative slumber.) I started writing and producing and spending a lot a time at a Hip Hop club where Jay-Z was in heavy rotation. Vol. 2 still remains his most commercially successful release. It created the leverage that the brand Roc-a-Fella would carry into the new millennium. One of the most creative and memorable sample uses in the history of Hip Hop is  Orphan Annie on the hook of the autobiographical title track “Hard Knock Life”. Ja Rule’s appearance on “Can I Get A…” helped launch him into stardom.

Jay-z-vol-3-life-and-times-s-carter

The singles promoting the Volume 3…Life and Times of S. Carter. were pumping in the club during the fall of 1999…the close of the millennium. The album was more street focused than Vol. 2 which had vaulted Jay-Z to pop star status. Volume 3 could be seen as Jay’s effort to maintain his street cred. Thematically he accomplishes this with his lyrics, but what stands out most  is the production. Timbaland and Swizz Beats, the titans of modern, synth based Hip-Hop production both contributed heavily to Vol. 3. In 1998, Swizz contributed singles to both of DMX’s albums released that year, both debuted number one. Timbaland’s sound was ubiquitous throughout Hip-Hop and R&B, helping to usher in the era of the super-producer. Their contributions helped insure heavy rotation in the clubs and on the airwaves.

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All of Jay-Z’s albums released during this period performed well commercially and were well received critically. He was not, however the biggest commercial success of the era. He was one of many dominant figures on the landscape during the final years of the pre-Napster era. What is most remarkable about Jay-Z is that today, a decade and a half after the work that established his position in the music industry, he is more prominent than he was even during the era of his greatest commercial success.

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Technique and Technology

I never want to be one of those guys who complains about the effect that technology has had on hip-hop. But it may seem like that is what I am doing in this post. Maybe I am. But it is not the same complaint that you may have heard from bitter old guys who resent the fact that the cost of entry to producing professional quality music is so much cheaper than it once was.

Turntables and mixer

By Baskoner (Own work) [CC-BY-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

I am glad that the price barrier has come down. There are many creative people who have contributed to the landscape of hip-hop who we may have never heard of if they would have had to drop a few thousand dollars to gear up.

I am also glad that technology has streamlined the process of putting ideas together.  Bottom line, it is really not about tools and technology, it is about the quality of the ideas you present…

But I often find myself leaning so heavily on technology that when it comes to the point where I have to apply techniques beyond the scope of the tools that I am using…things that I know how to do and had to routinely do when I was working with live instruments and hardware based production tools… I start looking for short cuts.

Its a bad habit. When you get accustomed to a rapid work flow sometimes it is difficult to slow down and give the piece that you are working on the proper attention.  Right?

Maybe it goes along with the seemingly disposable nature of the music and the constant need to hear or create something new (but not really new), that drives this sense of urgency and harms the overall quality of the craft.

Urgency is the enemy of art. Urgency is the enemy of anything that is important. I am not saying that being hungry is not a powerful motivator to compel you into action. It is. And that hunger should drive you to sit down and start working. But once you sit down to work you have to let it go.

In my experience, the best work comes from a relaxed approach and at this point, I am only interested in putting together my best work. When I bring anxious energy I get frustrated and burnt out.

Thank goodness for the technology that we use to bring our art to life, but let us always honor our creative vision and do what ever it takes to get the sound, mood, flavor that our work requires, even if it requires us to step outside our comfort zone and applying some “outdated” techniques and tools.

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1990 was an interesting year in hip-hop. And I was for the most part just a voyeur. I had been semi-indoctrinated in hip-hop by my uncle via his late night listening sessions when he slipped in from the club at 2 or 3 am. The first thing that really caught my attention was Eric B. and Rakim’s first effort Paid in Full. I was fascinated with this music that created a soundtrack to my early mornings as a young teenager, but I was in no position to pursue my interest in the open.

Not in Rev. Odell’s house.

I loved music. I played saxophone and was into jazz because jazz is what you are into if you play saxophone, but the only music that was really played openly was gospel music. I could get away jazz because it was instrumental. There were no insidious messages that could, when internalized, damn my soul to hell.

I coped with my situation by getting way more into jazz than someone my age should, and by getting my nightly fix of hip-hop and R&B.  I had 3 or 4 years of listening under my belt when 1990 hit. Some of the most commercially successful and culturally significant music the history of hip-hop came out that year.

On the commercial side your had MC Hammer and Vanilla Ice both coming out with songs that were chart-topping smash hits (to the dismay of hip-hop purists, but, whatever…I am not gonna hate). Some notable albums that came out that year included Public Enemies Fear of Black Planet, and BDP’s Edutaiment and Ice Cube’s AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted. The genre was at a crossroads. On one hand “hip-hop” wanted to maintain its air of exclusivity as the creation and vehicle of expression for black youth, on the other hand it hand “hip-hop” had to enter mainstream in order to retain any cultural relevance it had earned during its first decade in the music industry.

It was into this environment that two albums, each from legendary groups, both widely regarded as classics, came onto the scene: Peoples Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm, the debut of A Tribe Called Quest; and Let the Rhythm Hit’em the third offering  Eric B. and Rakim.

My uncle didn’t buy A Tribe by Quest’s album for me to listen to over nights, and I don’t remember hearing Let the Rhythm Hit’em either, though I am sure that he owned it. My initial exposure to these albums was through conversations with classmates. We had a girl in our class named Bonita, so it was fitting that they nicknamed her “Applebum” even though she was as thin as a rail at the time, but I didn’t listen to Tribe’s first album all the way through until the second one came out, which I was obsessed with. I had heard a few tracks in passing, but I didn’t listen to Let the Rhythm Hit’em all the way through until years later when I was an adult, fully engaged in creating hip-hop.

While Tribe’s album represented a new sound and direction in the genre, Eric B. and Rakim’s album represented a culmination: a crowning achievement of an era of hip-hop that was about to end.

I would have loved People Instinctive Travels more if I had really listed to it before I heard Low End Theory. Some of the concepts and ideas that Tribe was experimenting with on ‘Travels, they perfected on Low End Theory. But ‘Travels had to come first. It created a lane for ATCQ outside of the mainstream and presented a viable alternative in hip-hop that was meaningful and relevant without being too heavy.  The album addressed afro-centricity, sexuality, and hip-hop culture with heart and humor. Musically, the album integrated jazz into hip-hop in a more seamless way than had been accomplished before.  The sonic atmosphere of Travels, created a unique feel that endured and became more nuanced throughout the groups catalog and shows up in the work of artists inspired by ATCQ.

Let the Rhythm Hit’em is a defining album in the DJ-driven, funk-based, break-beat era of hip-hop. I think we forget how fast hip-hop used to be. Not artificially fast like trap that registers at 140 bpm but is really 70 bpm, but like legitimately clocking in at 105-115 or more. Break-beats were for dancing and the tempo of hip-hop from that era reflects its dance roots. Eric B. table work is supreme on ‘Hit’em. Rakim is…well…the G.O.D. MC.  Many tracks on Hit’em clock in over 5 minutes long, and it is in this context that Rakim’s true mastery shines. His verses are like epic poems: on point, on meter, on subject…not a syllable wasted.  The album is a study in the power of constraints to create depth. ‘Hit’em stands firmly within the conventions of the genre that the group help to set four years earlier, but they execute with precision.

One album represents the some of the best of what hip-hop had become by 1990, the other provided a glimpse at what hip-hop would become in the years ahead. Both are essential listening for every artist and fan of hip-hop.

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Failing in Public

In my last post I talked about mastery and the serious business of investing your life in achieving it. As I reflected on the ideas overnight I recalled my own personal creative journey.

I have been on and off the path towards mastery many times. Reaching plateaus and then getting pleased with myself, complacent. Buckling under the discomfort of the steep learning curves. I have been a dabbler, dancing around the edges of challenges that arise as I try do something significant, then moving on to the next exciting thing.

There is always a rush when I embark on a new creative journey. The newness gives me energy. You can sometimes go from knowing nothing to being able to function at a basic level in one heroic leap.

In the late 1990’s I first started producing Hip Hop music. I was a novice, but I was hungry. I immersed myself in the process of learning how to operate the equipment and eek out some primitive beats, 99 percent of them sucked, but when you are working with young artists who are happy to just be in the studio making something you can get a false impression of your skill level.

When more experienced producers started coming into the studio I knew deep down inside that they were on a completely different level than me. The music seemed to emanate from their souls. The grew up immersed in Hip Hop, had spent years internalizing the subtleties of it and the energy. Their music had something that mine simply did not.

I had some musical strengths that could compliment what they did but I knew that my beats weren’t really up to par. Every once and a while I would come up with something special, but deep down inside I felt like a fraud. I dealt with these feelings of inferiority with rebellious weirdness, or by quitting.

Rebellious weirdness is the weak ploy of the amateur who is trying to camouflage a lack of skill and depth by being eccentric or abstract. It’s fake. Not all abstract or weird art is fake or shallow. Some abstract art is the fruit skilled, inspired artists connecting with a higher level of perception. The emotion of this type of work shines through the abstraction. Occasionally I would achieve this level by accident.

As fake as it was, I still learned from these accidents and I continued to get marginally better. There is something to the idea of faking it until you make it. Wherever you start, if you keep working and keep moving forward you eventually get better.

The other, worse alternative to the fraudulent feeling that every artists must feel when faced with superior talent and skill it to quit. Too often that has happened to me. At some point the progress towards mastery slows down. The gains in skills become more gradual, less noticeable, less gratifying. Creative breakthroughs are fewer and farther between. I hit the wall…

Now at this stage in my life I am less concerned with the individual work that I produce. Whereas before, when I came to a high point in my work, I would cling to it. Most of what I made never saw the light of day. I could stand on how I felt about what I had done…without having to subject it to the scrutiny and criticism of the market as long as it stayed on my hard drive.

There is no reason for that to happen any more.  I am willing to fail in public. To put my art out and keep moving on. I recognize that I have not attained the skill level I hope to reach musically, but there is still a spark. Even when my work is not all I want it to be, it might be what someone needs to here.

So I present my work not as a show of my prowess, rather as an act of courage and humilty, to show were I am and what part of my vision I have, to this point, been able to uncover.

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Nuance

Nuance is what separates the masters from the dilettantes in any creative endeavor. It is the loose mathematics, the grand design. It is the ultimate aim of focused practice and apprenticeship. The artist is not in pursuit of some sort of unattainable perfection… she is trying to capture nuance. A special moment. Authenticity. It is hard to define, but you know it when you see it, when you hear it. There is heart and commitment in it.

Plato-raphael

At first these special moments are few and far between. And in between these flashes of brilliance and pure expression there is frustration and resistance. You will want to give up. Most people do. Quietly. Inside. They keep going through the motions. They continue to give what appears to be a valiant effort, but in reality they are just clinging to the ground they have conquered. They write different versions of the same song, compose different versions of the same music, tell the same story they have told before.

There is nothing wrong with going deeper into your domain. But as you go deeper you should emerge with something more pure, and more honest. Something that moves people in a way that they can’t explain, but can’t deny.

Capturing this level of nuance in your craft is a years long, maybe lifelong journey. At every step there will be temptation to compromise. To sell out a little bit. To lie to yourself a little bit and settle for what you know is not your very best work.

If, for example you are an MC, who has mastered his flow then you should be able to effortlessly apply that lyrical skill to explore a universe that extends beyond the comfort of your block, the shiny trappings of materialism, or any of the other go-to subjects in the genre. Or better still, when you cover these common themes you should do so in a way that is personal, courageous, and authentic. Your art should tell a story that only you can tell.

But if you have not mastered your flow or any of the elements of the craft of being an MC, then you will perpetually be stuck in a state of follow-ship. You will be constantly trying to jump on the next thing that is hot and you will only be able to produce cheap knock-offs of the work put forward by people who set the trends.

Once you become a master, or once you fully commit to the path of mastery it is good to dive into new styles and give your interpretation of the latest trends on the scene. But it is best to approach it as an exercise to expand your overall skill and not to expect your “me-too” to be your ticket. Even if you have your greatest commercial success with a trendy effort, it should not distract you on the path to mastery. This is your life, and your life’s work, you should never stop exploring and growing as an artist.

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Hip Hop on Trial

Is Hip Hop a facade?

Is it a composite of affectation and posturing? Is it a presentation in attempt to manage other’s perception of who you are? Or is it a lens? Is it a filter that shades the way the artist and listener view the world. Is it useful? Is it’s purpose to make a statement? Does that statement influence the speaker as well as the audience?

The words you speak…if they have any truth or value…effect you, the speaker. Words are prophesy. Words are a catalyst to thinking. They follow thought and then pick up the train and lead thoughts down a certain path. They create an expectation and tension and promise. They urge you; pull you in a direction.

Paul Aichele - Sirènes

Because hip-hop is so language driven it is easy for the rapper to run into the trap of the literal. Your artistic integrity and street credibility can become unnecessarily entangled. The metaphor gets lost; the message gets perverted.

How does the MC deal with the fact that he is talking about destructive things? How can he justify or defend the value of vulgarity? Not subjective vulgarity, but absolute basic depravity. Murder. Rape. Addiction. A metaphor that is buried so deep in a barrage of language is hard to see as a metaphor at all.

How many rappers have been slain…been on the wrong side of a rape charge? How is it still cool to be so entrenched in the street that you lose years? Can that be badge of honor, a source of credibility? How do you discuss or cover a topic like drug dealing, or drug abuse without glorifying or condoning it? Where do our words lead us?If we continue this narrative how can it end well?

Maybe it is unfair to impose a different standard on music than we impose on other forms of creative expression. But it could be that our music and the culture that surrounds it is more insidious and has more power to sway and to encode the collective psyche of the community than any other art form.

Outsiders can appreciate the narrative of Hip Hop as a fantasy…like watching a movie…but when the pictures we paint so closely represent the reality of so many people who love and follow the music how can they detect the fantasy.

The art of hip-hop is beautifully seductive, but is its beauty enough to justify its existence if it can be, at the same time, a tool of self destruction?

Words are power and the power of words is amplified by music. Music is an agent that drives words directly into the psyche. The music a person listens to becomes a part of their identity. It creates pressure and tension and assaults the integrity. Words constrain freedom and direct the energy of music. Music is suggestive; words are explicit.

I love hip-hop and I am terrified by it. I am firmly under its spell and I am afraid of what it might do to me.

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Words on the Street

Stories from the street: from drug dealing, to pimping, to gang-banging, have served as a prevailing context of Hip Hop since the mid eighties. Whether they speak from the point of view of social commentary describing and decrying the conditions in the ghetto…or through first person narratives from the point of view of the drug dealer or pimp or thug…or if they draw metaphorical parallels between the rap game and street life, MC’s draw endless inspiration from the ‘hood.

If a street narrative is to work, the stories must have authenticity. Pure fantasy misses the mark. You must be acquainted with the emotions associated with the stories. That is not to say you need to sell drugs, pander, or squeeze a trigger, but you must have some insight into the lives and minds of people who do, to be good at crafting songs that feel real.

Queensbridge Houses

By Metro Centric (Queensbridge Houses) [CC-BY-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Thankfully, the art is not limited to treatments of the street. Many of the most successful recordings deal with more universal themes…life and love (and of course sex). The only thing you sacrifice when don’t cover “street” themes is the audience that equates Hip Hop and “street” hop. Some artists get caught up in an effort to establish street credibility and end up losing touch with reality and their true creative voice.

There will always be people who impose their judgement and tastes on others and belittle anything that falls outside their conceptions of what hip-hop is supposed to be.

There is a line beyond which music should no longer be called Hip Hop. But that line has nothing to do with the subject matter or message of the song. Just like any other art form, Hip Hop can address any topic or subject and still be valid.

People listen to music for different reasons. Speak your truth and you will eventually find an audience if you are good enough.

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What MC’s Do

The advance of digital technology had a monumental effect on music and the music industry did a particularly poor job in making the leap and embracing the new paradigm. For nearly two decades major record companies lined their coffers with the increased profit margin achieved through CD sales. It seemed like the perfect media…extremely high quality sound that did not degrade over time. And they charged the consumer a premium. Album prices climbed as high as $18 or more per release in some cases.

The first chink in the recording industry’s armor was the inclusion of CD burners in most PC’s which allowed people to make copies of music without losing any sound quality. They could then share music with their friends. Along with the CD burner came software that allowed you to store your music collection on the hard drive of your computer. Then came software to convert the digital files to a more compact format to save space on the hard drive. And finally, peer-to-peer sharing platforms enabled people to share their files with anyone on the planet for free. Ultimately it was not a music company that figured out how to effectively monetize the distribution of music online. It was a computer company with a perfect combination of software (iTunes) and hardware (the iPod).

Steve Jobs WWDC07

(While the music powers were busy fighting Napster et al., Apple’s  i-Tunes revolutionized digital distribution)

By Acaben, cropped by Kyro (Flickr) [CC-BY-SA-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Hip-hop artists have set the standard for navigating the digital landscape. As a genre hip-hop satisfies the market’s lust for the “new”. The release cycle for hip-hop is daily not weekly. With thousands of channels and more music coming out than it is possible to keep up with, competition for mind-share is fierce.

Marketers of all types of digital content can learn from the innovative ways that hip-hop artists gain attention and cut through the noise.

Here are a few tactics/practices that MC’s/Rappers use:

They form strategic alliances.

They pick fights.

They openly steal each others content.

They iterate quickly and cannibalize their own products.

They flood the market.

They plug into trends and leverage other peoples marketing.

They manufacture controversy.

They exploit shock value.

They use sex and violence as a tool.

They embrace contradictions.

They network relentlessly.

They make news.

They are polarizing.

They fake it till they make it.

They manipulate and exploit the media.

They interact with fans.

They create multimedia content.

They build a brand by association with brands.

They are taste-makers.

They focus on relationships not transactions.

They survive a long sales cycle.

They create alter egos.

They fuel fantasy.

They start movements.

They coin phrases and create languages.

They start cults…..

Are you willing/able to apply any of these to your projects?

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Trendsetter

Miles Davis maintained his relevance across four decades by continuously reinventing himself. How do you both stay true to yourself and reinvent yourself? Can you master some principles and fundamentals of your craft without marrying the current incarnation of those principles?

Miles Davis by Palumbo

A Young Miles

By Tom Palumbo from New York City, USA (Miles Davis) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

As an independent creative person it is tempting and maybe sometimes necessary to go off the deep-end creatively. It is good to do to a fair amount of challenging your audience. As long as you are coming from place of legitimate skill (not simply pulling cheap stunts) you will have a chance to make an authentic connection.

When I first started creating hip-hop music I tried to hide my lack of skill by being abstract. Maybe I still do that now when my skill level isn’t quite high enough to execute my creative vision. You can only fake your way through so long before you realize that you just have to get your weight up and improve your craft.

What always seems to work for me is considering the goal of the song and then doing what is necessary to convey the desired emotion. Even if it is something that has been done before. I have to subdue the my creative arrogance and do what I can to serve the purpose of the song.

Creative people tend to be rebels. They resist labels, but it is not always necessary to attempt to defy categories. Sometimes it helpful for the audience when you give them a familiar frame of reference. We all want to be trendsetters, but we also want our art to be heard and our message to get across. How far out do you want to be?

Constantly question everything, remain open, and experiment along the edges of the conventional, but make sure that your art is valid.

(As Heath would say) Don’t bullshit yourself.

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