The Power of Influence vs The Act of Inspiration (Part 2)
by Justin Douglas
“Motherf*****s say I’m foolish I only talk about jewels/Do you motherf*****s listen to music or do you just skim through it?” – Jay Z
The Inspiration of Def Jam and Roc-a-fella
Though Russell Simmons gets the credit for helping to start up Def Jam and furthering hip hop into the stratosphere with his entrepreneurial thinking. The inspiration behind starting Def Jam according to Russell, was to spread a rebellious music called Rap, and to expose the hip hop culture to the mainstream and corporations. Basically he wanted to help companies become cooler by embracing and getting into this new movement.
Roc-a-fella was a play on the rich & powerful Rockefeller family name, and also of a neighborhood drug dealer named Rockafella who Jay looked up too as a young hustler on the block. Jay also wanted to remain authentic to his style of storytelling of which the label wanted more stories about drugs, guns and violence. Jay chose to rap about living the lavish lifestyle of high luxury and exotic fashions, and so Jay was forced to build his own since no-one wanted to initially buy into those types of stories. This was Jay’s “ah-ha” moment, his point of inspiration for his creating the Roc-a-fella record label. But irony of it all was the fact that after being passed on by all the majors labels and of Jay Z’s seemingly outlandish request of him wanting to retain his masters, he finally landed a deal with а little known label called Freeze Records. Shortly аftеr signing Jay-Z, Freeze Records folded and wаs sold tо Russell Simmons аnd Lyor Cohen’s Def Jam Records. Later to which Jay Z would become president, talk about boss moves!
Inspiration Behind the Deals
Today, Run DMC is as synonymous with Adidas as Major League Baseball is to Ball Park hot dogs, and this is because of what inspired Russell. He was motivated to make Run DMC the first rap group to ink a major corporate endorsement deal of which no rap group had done at that time. Adidas hit NBA basketball courts in 1970 and was worn by 75 percent of all NBA players. As D.M.C., would describe, in front of 40,000 people, on the stage of the Raising Hell tour, they would routinely start the show by taking off their shoe and waving it in the air, and singing “My Adidas”, to which the crowd the crowd mimicked, is how Run DMC got a one-of-a-kind, million-dollar endorsement deal, this was Russell’s “ah-ha” moment. He got the folks at Adidas to come to the show to witness this phenomena, and the deal was done.
According to Jay Z, the music, fashion, growth and evolution of an artist is an extension of that artist as represented the hip hop culture, this was the inspiration behind creating Roccawear. He simply wanted to provide clothing that he likes, wears and raps about in his songs for his fans to wear. Jay realized that with the record labels wanting to perpetuate negative stereotypes in rap music, that he could be authentically himself and fans would gravitate to that as well. After all, everyone in the hood doesn’t aspire to be a drug dealer, and this was his “ah-ha” moment. He and his crew were examples of the train of thought of being “fly” while being legal.
“I’m not saying I’m gonna change the world, but I guarantee that I will spark the brain that will change the world.”― Tupac Shakur
A Model Mogul of Influence
When Russell was getting his mogul on in the early 80’s he was presenting the emerging hip hop culture to the corporations as a model that was to influence the mainstream. Russell had the foresight to see how progressive and influential the culture would become. Hip hop today has the influence to change the world as it has been a consistent topic in public policy as discussed in an article in The Economist. Aljazeera even talks about hip hop in foreign policy whereas the U.S uses hip hop to connect with oppressed disaffected Muslim youth to rebuild it’s tarnished image among them. The discussion of the growth of hip hop globally is a regular curriculum in academia in several universities across the country like the University of Arizona. Hip hop is even becoming more the mainstream than any other genre as referenced in this piece by Red Bull music that talks about the state of hip hop culture in places like Sweden. Presently it is the corporations that influence hip hop culture in an attempt to get in front of the culture to control it, as opposed to allowing the people of that culture to determine it’s growth and evolution, all while posing as being “hip” to the culture. Damon Dash gave a very colorful and memorable interview on the Breakfast Club and defines the term “culture vulture” where he accuses people like Lyor Cohen, of being, you can check that interview out here. Arguably, the same has been said about Ben Horowitz. I must agree with Damon Dash on the fact that a person can be considered a culture vulture when they don’t know the culture and/or not of the culture and fake being about the culture to only reap benefits from the culture. Hip hop is global, it’s becoming more and more mainstream in every geographic region, and in every corporation there is likely a large portion of their customers that are fans. So why would corporations and marketers not want to embrace a global culture?
The reason this conversation is so important is because marketers and corporations need to understand that inspiring their customers is more impactful than influencing them. This relates to our communal thought process, creating a discovery customer experience with surrounding emotional resonating elements that drives positive thought to action, leading to a long lasting impression on the customer. People will re-connect and stay loyal to the things that inspire them instead of things influence or change their course of action, even if it is a positive experience. We rarely remember what influences us, but we never forget what inspires us. Rappers do it all the time, they talk about what inspires the feeling of them wanting to rap, get money, or get out the hood…
“N****s acting like I told you sell crack / No, Hov did that so hopefully you won’t have to go through that” -Jay Z
Are we really trying to influence or inspire people?
Are we attempting to bring out the best in them? So that more people can help to improve society and quality of life for all? Are we trying to help bring more people to ah-ha moments or are we trying to alter their course of action? The “ah-ha” moment is what ever inspires your thought, the influence is whatever shapes that thought to action. So perhaps its time for a new buzz word to become the trend, instead of the ever so coveted “influencer” title, how about becoming inspirers?