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THAWTS: Buying back ‘The Block’ : The Cost of a Culture

Updated: Dec 7, 2019

HERON PRESTON, LAQUAN SMITH, DAILY PAPER (JEFFERSON OSEI), PYER MOSS (KERBY JEAN-RAYMOND), A-COLD-WALL (SAMUEL ROSS), WILLY CHAVARRIA; I am at a loss with how OUR (western black/hip-hop/”urban”) culture is overflowing and one could even say over-saturated with the endless amount of innovative minds that permeate the creative, entertainment and fashion industries but yet we still look to those whom I would politely call ‘tourists’ to validate a feeling within us that most would say is synonymous with success. Often finding myself at odds with the “woke” movement whilst simultaneously championing the very essence of the message of those who preach it, I fear we are living in a very convoluted ecosystem that can only breed but so much progress being that it almost seems to feed on disruption and division.


First things first lets talk about this word SUCCESS, and what the meaning of this word is within the context of 2019. There are a collection of terms we regularly hear that reciprocate what you might identify as the contemporary era we find ourselves in i.e. “the digital age”, “the age of information”, and at the centre of which social media I would say is the predominant driving force. The value that social media has generated through its increased efficacy of interpersonal communication, not to mention the unrivalled potential with whom we can now reach is most certainly evident. This very specific form of innovation has lead to a revolution in communication, the emphasis on which has not just been our typical social interactions but the most potent and significant forms of change resulting out of how an entity be it a company, brand or individual of influence interacts with their audience. Now typically and especially if your vocation is within commerce you are almost universally going to find that monetary gains are the consensus by which most measure success, since the introduction of social media however not only did we gain the value of convenience through direct communication but from this came a societal shift to adopt a new set of VALUES around which we would come to measure success; LIKES + VIEWS.


While not particularly new, the metric that many industries have embraced increasingly over the last 10 or so years as a principal system to quantify and forecast future success is attention. Having been a method utilised within entertainment for a long-standing part of its history; monitoring ‘ratings’ to identify geographical audiences, demographics and especially demand for a product, it is no surprise that many sectors within this industry such as film, television and music now use social media and its applicable mechanics to similar effect in 2019. You can see how social/digital media has contributed to the overall deviation of methods within industries like the selling and consuming of music and how it has lead to the reforming of ways we might classify this status of success. The digitisation of media has played a fundamental role in how an entire business such as music and how businesses within it operate, the biggest example of this being record sales and the transition from the selling of purely physical copies to include new methods like streaming on platforms such as YouTube, Spotify, iTunes/Apple Music and Tidal.


"WHAT IS A STREAM WORTH?" - The Joe Budden Podcast

Another avid adopter of this contemporary value system that has helped expand not just its audience but the industry itself is fashion. Social media platforms; Instagram probably being the most prominent, have become a direct link between companies/brands and their audiences, allowing for that personal interaction on a level never before experienced between a business and its consumers. In fact not only has Instagram managed to disrupt the habits of consumers from traditional high-street shopping but it has essentially cut out any and all middle men, giving a business the tools it needs to execute entire marketing campaigns on one single (digital) platform direct to potential customers, or what we might refer to in the digital age as “followers”. Being such a modern phenomenon there are outcomes that I believe even the inventors of these new forms of social interactive platforms were not able to anticipate, one of those being the rise of what have come to be known as influencers and the further disruption to an already overturned system. The idea that the “average” person who overtime amassed a large enough following on these social media sites could leverage their attention with these brands and companies, bypassing even the platform itself to make at the very least a modest level of income is something I can’t imagine anyone had the prescience to predict. This lack of foresight in essence prompting a significant shift in modern day capitalistic societies, the monetising of attention leading to one of the most potent forms of currency that many in the digital age now covet and uphold as the symbol of success.


Now considering the latest evolution of industries like fashion has a direct correlation to the emergence of these digital technologies, it would make sense that the businesses within it utilise these modern resources to their advantage. Among the many recent developments within this system that created a direct-to-consumer market you’ll find there has been an inflation in approaches designated to have an intended result, targeted marketing being a very popular one. While many of these companies and brands have found great success employing a model based on recruiting the likes of Instagram’s top “influencers” to help engage a particular audience, I would contend the ones who have attained the most significance have embraced a process that is manufactured around impact; and there is no culture on the planet today with arguably a greater impact on the population than Hip-Hop.


From tag-lines and background music of advertisements to the premise of television shows and even present-day vocabulary, I challenge anyone to identify a facet of popular culture where all things Hip-Hop do not move the needle when we refer to audience engagement in 2019. As a culture that a substantial portion of the black, minority and lower socio-economic/working class population identifies with it would go without saying that Hip-Hop has become one of the largest global major markets, providing the opportunity for any entity that is able to tap into this to influence those within it on more than just a purely surface level but penetrate and permeate the entire ecosystem. Now more than ever this idea of the “hometown hero”, a person who is not simply a celebrity but a celebrated member of your community has flourished due to the access granted through social media, carrying with them the potential for impact on a local, national and even global scale. The rise of individuals such as Cardi B who’s journey began on these social platforms explicitly details the evolution of this monumental culture shift, as someone who was able to navigate their own route to success through their ability to cultivate an audience; and in this very unique case of a hometown hero, a large audience within the culture of Hip-Hop with a particularly strong female following, today is one of the most sought after individuals throughout many industries as a result of this. As a culture that for decades was condemned by many for it’s political rhetoric and depictions of lifestyle that in many instances are rooted in biographical experiences whether it be in music, literature or film, I believe that within this modern ascent to popular culture bares a level of responsibility on those who would consider themselves a part of and especially a product of this environment to at the very least acknowledge both the value in their attention and capacity for impact this brings.


Considering the impact the culture of Hip-Hop has in the present-day especially on the youth, it begs the question should we take more time to examine what it is we choose to idolise or depict as representations of success? There are countless examples that illustrate what and who we sometimes choose to celebrate is not maintained as a mutual relationship of reciprocity but quite often can be shown to be an exercise in exploitation. “Gucci Gang”, “Versace”, “Dior” (this not meaning to serve as an indictment on specific individuals by any means) are a drop in the bucket of references that inadvertently celebrates the profiteering off a market I feel the ones who reap the benefits of have done very little if at all anything to earn this strong sense of loyalty and attention from. Phrases like “For the Culture” are commonly being echoed as a sentiment synonymous with appreciation for the progression of Hip-Hop that you would hope benefits those within it, yet are often misused to obscure motivations that would demonstrate actions that if transparent epitomise “For the Bag”, in effect undermining the importance of the message that comes from practising what you preach.


"GO WHERE YOU'RE CELEBRATED, NOT WHERE YOU'RE TOLERATED" - CharlamagneThaGod

It goes without saying that it would not be my intention to present a narrative that is unfair in it’s representation of a community that I hold in the highest regard and would in fact find pride in being someone whom those within it might consider me a part of. This is simply a set of questions posed in an attempt to highlight, understand and where possible add value to what I believe to be a mindset of many who’s genuine ambition is one that consists of a path to prosperity and progress. This path; though filled with obstacles that many who view this culture from the outside have never experienced, has on occasion presented those within it with an opportunity that we often do not consider possible. Karl Kani, FUBU, Cross Colours, just to name a few are prime examples of results that have occurred when an entire community synchronise their support to bring attention to and champion what I earlier referred to as “Hometown Heroes” and their endeavours to achieve a prominent level of success. This continuously being shown to not only still be possible but amplified in effect when practised in the 21st Century, aided by the social media communications revolution the culmination of this being the emergence and dominance of brands such as Off-White and most recently FENTY impacting on a global scale to a degree that previously many might have thought impossible. It is actions like these that I applaud and anticipate to be replicated throughout all industries as symbols of success that the younger generations within this culture we call Hip-Hop might identify with and perceive for themselves their own goals. Using blueprints previously laid as a foundation, now more than ever we have the ability to create opportunities for ourselves to achieve and one would hope surpass the momentous accomplishments set by the P.Diddy’s, Jay-Z’s, Tyler Perry’s, Spike Lee’s, Issa Rae’s, Lena Waithe’s, Robyn Rihanna Fenty’s, Virgil Abloh’s, Donald Glover’s (the list goes on) and everything they have come to exemplify; SUCCESS and EXCELLENCE.

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