The Power of Influence vs The Act of Inspiration (Part 1)
Justin Douglas, Author
“That’s another difference that’s between me and them/I smartened up, opened the market up/One million, two million, three million, four/In 18 months, 80 million more/Now add that number up when the one I said before/You are now looking at one smart black boy” – Jay Z
I know I have a profound fascination with Jay Z but the man simply is a person of interest, more than a top 5 rapper, a very strategic guy indeed, and lets face it, if you wanna be successful you gotta study the moves of the great ones. Jay Z is one of many who impacts my thoughts and actions today, which is the basis of this particular blog entry. There is a word that I see, hear and read on a daily basis, I mean its everywhere! When I turn on my laptop and surf the web, its there! When I peruse through my social media pages, it’s there! When I look at my friend’s posts and the people I follow, it’s there! LinkedIn even promotes these special people and gave them a title. And these people are different from the ordinary LinkedIn users, oh yes, they are the chosen ones, the ones we must listen too. So what is this word, and who are these special people? The word is Influence, affectionately bestowed “influencer” upon the chosen. There’s even a systematic strategy behind this word and it’s called influencer marketing. Definitely one of today’s top buzz words. I thought a lot about Jay Z and how and why I like to listen to him talk about strategies in industry and wondered was he either inspiring me or influencing me, or both, and is there a difference between the two words? But what exactly is influence? And what is inspiration? Why do we only hear so much of one and not the other? Why is influence such a top buzz word these days? A quick google search will yield these exact responses:
late Middle English: from Old French, or from medieval Latin influentia ‘inflow,’ from Latin influere, from in- ‘into’ + fluere ‘to flow.’ The word originally had the general sense ‘an influx, flowing matter,’ also specifically (in astrology) ‘the flowing in of ethereal fluid (affecting human destiny).’ The sense ‘imperceptible or indirect action exerted to cause changes’ was established in Scholastic Latin by the 13th century, but not recorded in English until the late 16th century.
Middle English enspire, from Old French inspirer, from Latin inspirare ‘breathe or blow into,’ from in- ‘into’ + spirare ‘breathe.’ The word was originally used of a divine or supernatural being, in the sense ‘impart a truth or idea to someone.’
These two words, influence and inspire, appear to be the same but are indeed different. Influence affects a change that is already in action (motion), while inspire imparts (lends) a thought (idea) to someone. Hmm, interesting. Marketers would rather champion being an ‘influencer” rather than being someone who inspires, why? Because a marketer or corporation can’t capitalize from lending an idea to someone, but, can possibly gain from changing someone’s course of action-to suit their own interests. Influence has a benefactor other than you, while inspiration is only about you. So how does influence and inspiration play in today’s culture?
Lets use Russell Simmons & Def Jam and Jay Z & Roc-a-fella as a case study. But first, we have to understand that both Russell and Jay are from a particular culture-the hip hop culture. Hip Hop as a culture has a direct impact and significance on the mainstream, and not just here in the U.S, but globally. Hip-hop is the most listened to genre in the world, according to Spotify analysis of 20 billion tracks. In fact if we take a closer look to Spotify’s analytics, we can see exactly which music genres have the loyalest fans here
The origins of hip hop, according to the elder KRS ONE (knowledge rules supreme over nearly everyone) defines it as a culture where people communicate, share and develop self expressions through song (emceein’), dance (breakin’), art (graffiti), music (beatboxin’), and technology (dejayin). Wait, what? Technology? Yup, technology! When DJ Kool Herc pioneered the cut & scratch technique on the turntables, he built a transformer switch to allow two records to play seamlessly at the same time-this was an early example of technology in hip hop. And here we are presently with this list of “17 Rap Artists That Are Also Successful Tech Entrepreneurs” today. And sadly, many corporations and marketers still don’t understand the importance of embracing the hip hop culture, a global culture. But how can you influence if you don’t know what inspires your fans and customers? This is the part that still gets lost in Translation with marketing companies and corporations. But, let’s get back to our case study of Russell/Def Jam and Jay Z/Roc-a-fella; the influences and inspirations. Lets first look at the influences of both Russell Simmons/Def Jam and Jay Z/Roc-a-fella.
“My Adidas, walk through concert doors / And roam all over coliseum floors / I stepped on stage, at Live Aid / All the people gave, and the poor got paid” -RUNDMC
The Influence of Def Jam and Roc-a-fella
Sugar Hill records was the label that pioneered all of hip hop music, starting from their inception in 76’ to the closing of their doors in 86’. Def Jam was both their competitor and successor. Russell Simmons was a businessman from the start, he did what came natural to him-promote business leaving the artistry to his brother Run. Def Jam was important in the hip hop world because they promoted and exposed rap to the mainstream on a very high level. Russell’s plan with Run DMC was to make black music for black people and to influence the mainstream audience, and not the other way around which is today’s story. Today, arguably, it is the mainstream that is influencing the hip hop culture. Russell was creating a new and exciting business model for the corporate heads; he helped to successfully merge this new and fresh hip hop culture with the mainstream corporations, making things, people, and products look cool-this was new model Russell was pushing. Today, hip hop is no longer just black culture, it is now as American as apple pie.
Fast forward, 1995, The Roc-a-fella era ushered in by Jay Z and co., forming a rap label and clothing retailer that includes footwear, fragrance and fashion as well as a film studio, Roc Films. Building empires in hip hop is norm today, and a good thing. Good because this creates wealth within the culture.
Roc-a-fella records was formed because of two reasons, first, Jay got turned down by all the major labels and couldn’t get a deal, and second, Roc-a-fella was supposed to be an outlet for his 1st album “Reasonable Doubt”; this was the record that ultimately cemented Jay’s reputation in the hip-hop community today.
The Influence Behind The Deal
Prior to Run DMC there was Melle Mel (of Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five) and Afrika Bambaataa, the stage attire consisted of wearing camp African gear and Glam rock which was a mix of outrageous costumes, makeup, and hairstyles, particularly platform shoes and glitter. This was definitely not the look that was reflected in the streets, anywhere, in any hood across the country.
With Run DMC, Russel wanted the guys to rock the clothes that they authentically wore in the neighborhood, he wanted them to look real. Growing up during the 1970s on Hollis Avenue, in New York City, Russel witnessed a period of distinct changes in the city that included cultural and societal effects, this is what shaped and impacted Russell’s outlook on how Run DMC should look to people and how their dress should appeal to fans. People in their hoods were rocking adidas sneakers and track suits, much like what NBA ball players were wearing on the courts, as 75% of the NBA at that time all wore adidas.
According to Wikipedia, Rocawear, an urban clothing retailer based in New York, created in 1999 by Roc-A-Fella Records founder Jay-Z, held annual sales of $700 million! Rocawear expanded through licensing to sell clothes and accessories as well as co-branded products with Pro-Keds. Jay’s influence was clearly by the previous success that Russell had with his own Phat farm brand. Russell, in a sense, actually laid the blueprint for Jay Z to realize these types of lucrative deals and made it a norm in the industry.
The Human Need
People are more similar than we are different. We are all a products of our environments. How? We all require these 6 basic needs that shape our every thought, action and behavior; they are: Certainty (the need for safety, security, comfort, order, consistency and control). Variety (the need for diversity, challenge, change, surprise and adventure). Significance (the need for meaning, validation, feeling needed, honored, wanted and special). Love and Connection (the need for communication, intimacy, and shared love with others). Growth (the need for physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual development). Contribution (the need to give, care, protect, beyond ourselves, to serve others, and the good for all). These 6 needs are the major influencing factors in our lives that impacts our behavior and actions, this is how we become products of our environments. Why is this important?
Because the basic human needs are present in the hip hop culture and all humans are more alike than we are different, it would be wise for marketers and corporations to fully grasp this concept and approach their customers from this perspective. People that listen to hip hop aren’t different from people who don’t listen to hip hop. People are people, all having similar core needs.
From Influence to Inspiration
5 years ago I volunteered to be part of a Habitat for Humanity build. The photo above is the one of many that I took of the crew and the family owners to be while on the construction site. I did it for 2 reasons. First, I wanted to help and donate my time and service for a good cause for a family in my community in need, and secondly, I wanted to understand more about how large companies like Habitat for Humanity bought their building materials since I was starting my own import/export business at the time. I ended up learning more than what I had initially signed up for. I made strong connections with other volunteers, neighbors, Habitat staffers and even the future residing family. Among them all, a young girl who was the recipient of the home that we were all building. I overheard her singing my sister’s (Jazmine Sullivan) song “I bust your windows out your car” as she was hammering the nails into the foundation of what was to be one of the bedrooms, possibly her own bedroom.
I imagined telling my sister of the young girl that I met at the construction site and how she was singing her song, and the girl becoming overjoyed with amazement and surprise of meeting Jazmine. The meeting would leave the young girl with a new sense of pride knowing that one of the recording artist that she liked and looked up too helped to build her new home. I never told the young girl that Jazmine was my sister, because I wasn’t sure if I could deliver on the promise of Jazmine coming through because Jaz was on tour at the time promoting her 1st album “Fearless”. Although that dream wasn’t realized, I know that my sister would have been to the construction site to lend support any way she could. And this was my “ah-ha” moment, this was the inspiration that sparked my creating MAV. I even went out to shoot & edit a version of what the show would look like, check out the trailer here.
My kids like most kids are in love with video games, namely Microsoft’s Minecraft. They are so engrossed in the game that they hardly notice that I’m standing in the room observing that they haven’t regarded my instruction to clean their rooms as I had asked just moments before. I’ve learned that when I need to talk to them that I must do it with the game off so that they are more focused on what I am saying. This was my “ah-ha” moment. I noticed that when they play video games, their awareness of their surroundings become extremely limited, they have no idea whats going on around them, who’s talking, who walked in the room, the volume on everything in the world gets turned way down in their scope. This is very concerning to me as a parent, and so, I was inspired to create something that has an educational element to it, but still cool to play, while keeping them engaged. With the rise of technology in cell phones, video games and other portable devices, I sometimes feel that kids today are very disconnected from the real world by being engaged in a fantasy world most of the day. There’s a lot of distractions today that weren’t apparent when I was a kid, which is why I feel that my generation may be a tad more aware of the world than today’s millennial generation. There’s no question that the sense of community have been lost, and this is another “ah-ha” moment for me. I was inspired to develop content and simulations that addresses these concerns.
Today, my team and I are in early stage development of our app called HEIDI, (Human Enhanced Intelligent Design Interface) a VR/MR technology app, that can provide solutions to potential partners like MLB with diversity problems or NBA with reaching a more global audience, or Comcast with better human study insights as they approach the healthcare industry. The technology platform behind our application is a complex, AI based code program.
HEIDI learns about YOU and YOUR world to make it better. Our plans are to talk directly with Anomaly CMO, Eric Damassa about creating a solution for their client’s pain points, develop content with Anomaly’s Production Team for online and network broadcast TV and possibly connect with our targets in Sweden to continue to build out the application along with students from Spelman College forming a international exchange & STEM program for the HBCU.
Now that we’ve looked at the influences of both Russell Simmons/Def Jam and Jay Z/Roc-a-fella, check out Part 2 which will be about what inspired them!
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