zaterdag 22 augustus 2009
vrijdag 21 augustus 2009
Yesterday we talked about invisible enemies and actionable fear based motivation.
Behold: The Monster Steam 1200 pitch.
It not only cleans 99% of all germs and bacteria, it sterilizes and sanitizes as well and protects your beloved family, from parent to babies.
donderdag 20 augustus 2009
A: You inform the public about microbes. Invsible organisms that infiltrate and get your clothes and skin dirty. They require multiple cleanings, as you never know when they are truly clean.
woensdag 19 augustus 2009
dinsdag 18 augustus 2009
maandag 17 augustus 2009
I dumb down for my audience
And double my dollars
They criticize me for it
Yet they all yell "Holla"
If skills sold
Truth be told
I'd probably be
I wanna rhyme like Common Sense
(But i did five Mil)
I ain't been rhymin like Common since
When your sense got that much in common
And you been hustlin since
Go with what makes sense
Jay-Z "Moment of Clarity"
the above lyrics show the difference between a mainstream star and a profitable one.
Talib Kweli makes a good living of his personal brand of highly intelligent, mature rap. Jay-Z on the other hand makes loads more build on a foundation of his rap skills, but less and less dependent on those rap skills.
In order to become a mainstream star, compromise around content will creep in
and stuff with no relation to your core business will become important.
And even then there is no way to be certain all this will make you a star.
As we know from work of Mark Earls, a major part of that is not in our hands.
Becoming a profitable brand on the other hand is very much within our hands.
It involves a distinct proposition that solves a problem in the lives of prospective consumers, whose value is clearly and uniquely communicated
Making sure we have healthy margins and focussing not on the mainstream,
but the people who buy our product, keeping them happy and growing that foundation.
Most people make most decisions about most products not out of loyalty towards most brands. They are open to try something new if given a compelling reason.
So next time you meet clients, ask them straight up what they really want, the fame or the fortune? One may follow the other, but it helps to know what to focus on first.
That will save both parties a lot of time and make for clear strategy, goals and accountability.
vrijdag 14 augustus 2009
There is this story Gordon Livingstone tells in his book about Vietnam. As a young luitanant in the 82d Airborne he tried to determine the position of his platoon. His platoon sargeant walked up and asked if he knew where they were.
Livingstone answered: "according to this map, there should be a hill around here. Yet I don't see it." To which the sargeant said: "If the map doesn't agree with the the ground, the map doesn't work".
Our minds work quite the same way. They do not make sense of reality.
Because humans are irrational. We know this. And as marketers we try to exploit this. Only in order for that to work, we have to be able to step back and as Chuck D said: "Dont believe the hype".
Bob Hoffman once pointed out something about car commercials. We know that the buyers of cars are older. Yet the ads are created for an different audience. Because the map we (as irrational humans) have hinders us from agreeing with the ground.
Now having a wrong map is not always the problem. Daniel Kanheman tells the story of people who were lost in the Alps.
When they returned to base and their commanding officer asked how they had made their way back. They replied, "We suddenly found a map." The officer looked at the map and said, "You found a map all right, but it's not of the Alps, it's of the Pyrenees."
The map, however wrong, gave them confidence to seek out a path down the mountains. In many ways this is what entrepreneurs and marketerts do.
The singles most important, and I would argue most difficult, skill is being able to see what is there. To just observe and notice, without starting to make assumptions. Without connecting or to letting your mind create reality.
It is something Zen Buddishm calles shoshin, beginners mind. But it would be more than just having no preconceptions or judgments. Being able to see what is there requires you to be able to focus and to be aware.
Focus, awareness and absense of judgement are the starting points to doing work that is, unexpected, capturing and effective.
Rob talked about investing in stressmamangement to help employees become better at their work.
To actively start training the mind, not to learn, but to be able to shut down the constant stream of thought it generates.
woensdag 12 augustus 2009
The above commercial shows us a bias that can help producers and consumers change their habits to more eco friendly ways without less consumption.
It is called the Diderot effect
If you buy a bigger washingmachine, you of course need a better detergent to help with the bigger loads.
So if we want to change habits on a macro scale , look outside the category and see what social and cultural cohesion the item provides. Link to it and get the consumer to be consious of the link.
Want to sell more items as a retailer, well if you sell clothes, get your local hairsalon and shoeshop to have a sale to. New haircut leads to new manicure and pedicure leads to new shoes, new bag, new clothes, new person (well untill next season that is).
At the beginning I stated that it can be used to change habits to more eco friendly ways, but it can be, and has been, used for any number of goals. That depends on the intentions you have.
maandag 3 augustus 2009
dinsdag 28 juli 2009
maandag 20 juli 2009
Seeing as I am based in Holland, I thought it time to write a bit in Dutch, and for a Dutch blog.
donderdag 9 juli 2009
Ovens "big enough for a Christmas turkey".
woensdag 8 juli 2009
"High concept often has themes based on an existing area of popular fascination—such as sharks, dinosaurs, flying saucers, the Titanic, and so on— thus having a ready-built foundation of subsidiary issues and ever-ramifying facts that can feed the machine, on levels ranging from the superficial to the intellectually or factually exhaustive".wikipedia
dinsdag 23 juni 2009
maandag 8 juni 2009
maandag 25 mei 2009
zondag 17 mei 2009
zaterdag 16 mei 2009
The cultural and commercial worldwide success know as MTV Unplugged came about by sheer luck and coincidence.
Bon Jovi was asked to perform at the '89 MTV Awards. The crowd at home and in the audience responded with great enthusiasm to their stripped down version of two great electric songs. Executives at MTV took a chance and ran with it. The rest is history.
vrijdag 15 mei 2009
Money? No (perhaps, but for the sake of argument, let's not open that can of worms)
Stylish dressing? No
Good Looks? Don't hurt, but not really dealbreakers
Social skills? Usefull
All of the above are really just rationale that help propagate certain emotional triggers once all that matters is said and done.
So without further ado, and with an explanation following, the one thing you need to know, the only thing you will ever need to know, the thing you wish somebody had told you when you were younger... to get a date or to create advertising work that works is:
Get people to do something for you. *pin dropping*
Get people to do something for you. That's it. You don't have to believe me, and you are allowed to be sceptical.
But is it true. Under certain circumstances, which are not difficult to figure out or to set up, all you need to do, to be effective, is to get people to do something for you. Allow me to explain.
As I was walking around Berlin, I experienced something that amazed me.
Being approached by strangers, who, after spotting me and my mates standing there with camera's, would volunteer to take our picture infront of set building or whatever.
Total strangers who after taking the picture would, without being asked to, proceed to explain something about the place, ask what we had seen, so they could recommend other things and in some cases even offer to show the way or play guide. And all the while seeming to enjoy it and having a blast doing it. Absolutely amazing.
So I asked myself: would asking for it have the same effect? Would me going up to total strangers and asking to have my picture taken, have some of the same generosity effects?
It turns out that it does. Walking up to elderly, kids, mothers, police men, and off course good looking females, pretty much resulted in the same things:
1) They were more then happy to take my/our picture;
2) When given the chance to, most were happy to either walk us to some other piece of culture, tell us what they knew about that one, or exchange numbers to continue the conversation at another time.
Asking a tourist or a local was not much different as far as the actual action taken was concerned. The conversation that took place after was, but that is natural as the context changes from interaction to interaction.
This experience a bit of an eye opener. And it also helped me cristalize certain vague ideas.
First of it made me even stronger in my belief that awereness is overrated. And that people who think in terms of
are missing the point and are wasting time and money that clients and agencies could and should be using more wisely.
As I touched upon here, the idea of figuring out the conversion side of things down the line, is thinking that is not going to help convince clients with limited budgets and consumers with selective attention.
Start with action in mind and build from there.
1) solicit an (predictable)act (of culture)
2) create a conversation ( and in the case of brands a relationship, though remember that the one with the least invested controls the relationship)
3) allow for the experience to spread
This is a far more effective way to go about things. Perhaps counter intuitive but effective.
1) First off because by getting people to do something for you, instead of you doing something for them, you can cancel out major penny gap effects.
See people are inherently selfish. If you cook a meal for others, you do so off course to have them enjoy that meal, but there is also the expectation of getting some kind of compliment. Nothing wrong with that, but the selfishness is always around. Not being acknowlegded makes for sour grapes fast
And well, most brands, when making that piece of funny film, commercial, ambient or giving that stuff away for free, act friendly but expect to monetize on that friendship at some point down the line. But as Dan Ariely has shown us, doing business after we have been social does not work, most of the time and for most industries.
By asking for action from the other party first a couple of things happen. The most obvious is the fact that you learn the other party's flight or fight mechanism. If they don't run away, or turn hostile on you, well you got yourselve a keeper.
Always nice to know up front and not after you did your whole song and dance routine, if only to keep you from overcommiting some sterile strategy that got the ok in focus groups (kicking a ball into the back of the net during a match is still the only way to score, nobody get's point for training extra had). Which off course does wonder for the accountability of the effectiveness of an agency, as you end up doing stuff that works in the field.
Secondly from action follows belief and enthusiasm. Or more exactly the belief that "If I do something for you, well you must be ok. Because no way in hell am I gonna do something for someone I do not like. And if I like you, well I might as well like you alot."
Asking up front for action (and by the way this can be a small action, because as long as it has some cultural/social element build into it and is asked in the right context, it will resonate and kickstart our heuristic mind and thus resulting in conversion with bigger than expected certainty) we thus avoid the problem that most guys dread: How to go from friends to lovers after you've invested time and resources, making her think you are friends. Or how to convert all that awereness into action.
2) As I said here, the magic starts after the act is performed. After having asked for an act (of culture) by the other party, and this act is performed, the other becomes part of something shared. And if it is something worth spreading, he will do so if only for the simple but powerfull reason to have something new to say to friends and relatives.
In my personal experience, having my picture taken by other tourists with a mobile phone, allowed me to get the picture bluetoothed or mailed to me, my mates there and at home and all of their friends. A simple and easy way to make the act of taking a picture into something more, a story/conversation starter.
As I noted above, one does need to take into account certain things before asking for action.
A couple of major once are:
1) the context of asking
When I asked to get my picture taken at the subway near the appartment outside of the tourist city centre, the results were not as great. Still not to bad (as most people even though we are selfish, or perhaps because we are selfish and do it to make ouselves feel good, still want to help others when asked), but not as great. So the obvious lesson is: Context.
Right time, right place, determine how forthcoming the other will be and how effective the proposition asked will enhance the status of the one being asked in the eyes of his peers (turning down a tourist in a non tourist part of town, may not make you seem a bad city ambassador as when you do it at Checkpoint Charlie.)
2) The culture of the solicitation
As noted above asking something at the right time and place makes for better response. To upp it even more the question posed has to have some culture in it. Asking somebody to take your picture at a tourist spot, feels natural and right. Our instincts do not raise red flags. And since we are genetically trained to spot that which stand out in order to survive, we should take into account the history of humans when asking.
Asking people to look after your bag in a library, or asking for a light inside a pub, also work. One because well library = earnest= safe = off course you would watch a bag. The other because pub/club = fun = flirting, fire = danger. With the smoking ban it becomes somewhat of a law defying act thus making you seem masculine. (But this all pure speculation. Though the results were good. Better then asking for your picture to be taken in a library, or having someone watch your stuff in a club).
So there you have it folks, ask (don't give) for something that seems natural, fun and sharable and people will most likey do it, with pleasure and talk about it afterwards. All markets are solliciations, so might as well ask.
dinsdag 12 mei 2009
"I came into this motherfucker a hundred grand strong
Nine to be exact, from grindin G-packs
Put this shit in motion ain't no rewindin me back
Could make 40 off a brick but one rhyme could beat that
And if somebody woulda told 'em that Hov' would sell clothin
Heh, not in this lifetime, wasn't in my right mind
That's another difference that's between me and them
Heh, I'm smarten up, open the market up
One million, two million, three million, four
In eighteen months, eighty million more "
What do you do when you sell drugs, but you figure out that your rhyming ability can earn you that much needed goal of money, cars, hoes* faster and safer? You start rhyming off course. Quite obvious really.
Now what do you do if your artform is laced with refferences with regards to luxury items, such as clothes, cars jewelry etc? Get endorsments by those? Mehh..could go that way aka the "tommy hilfigger is my nigga" namecheck strategy by Mobb Deep.
Or how about you start your own companies (RoccaWear, Roccafella Film, Roccafella records, Armadale Wodka to name a few) in one or more of the markets you are already are advertising for as a platform? Get some of that equity out of those acts of culture instead of a paycheck? Sounds more like it, right..
Well if it does sound more like it then why is it not more common?Why is Jay-z worth more than 200 million and Mobb Deep say, one or two million? Leaving aside issues of musical taste and talent, the revenue streams were there for both of them, yet one took full advantage and the other did not.
And the difference: Effectual reasoning.
Effectual reasoning is basically the mindstate of an entrepeneur. It asks the simple questions: What do I have of value?
Who am I?
Whom do I know?
Will I survive if this path fails me?
In other words it starts with the available means and the risk and works toward eliminating risk (thus gaining ways that work), instead of stating a problem and rewards and then working towards achieving those rewards.
Now why is this distinction important? It could inginite the industry again to become the force it was during the the 1960's and it is the writing on the wall for those who continue to hold on to the olden ways.
Couple of factors also make it the perfect time to stop and think about our way of working.
1) Abundance in the West
2) Growing importance of cultures and regions where abundance is not standard
Right now the tech advances are such that companies/citizens in the West can pretty much get all the supplies they need for free or at bargain prices. So the need to spot a gap in the market, which will always be important, is not the primary point of entry anymore. If most markets are without scarcity and work for free, you will need to be about more than product differentiation and pricing. You need to be about you. And this is good because?
Well everybody is banging on about authenticity, story, narrative, recession, budgets, monetization, accountability and the likes. And well, they are right. By looking inward at what you have build up in the last decades, at the resources at hand, you will find true differentiation in little acts of culture or in processes that are unique to you. Things that could help your customers within habits established, without it costing you a dime. Again I like to stress that it is not just about soft stuff, but also the hard stuff that you have under your noses. Change the point of view and they become assests.
Africa, Asia, Latin America. Powerhouses of the now to next. But also places where resources have been scarce. And will continue to be for some time. However because of the somewhat levelling playingfield via the web and globalisation, the culture of making the most with what you have and not being tide down to methods (because the only criteria you have is, does it work, as in does it feed me, give me shelter etc NOW) all of a sudden becomes a major business advantage.
You see just coming up with an goal idea and then trying to get it spread without any backend, is nice when you've got funding. When you have to fund yourself along the way, you learn the value of conversion and monetization. And who likes monetization? We all do, and clients the most.
(The next creative advertising revolution will come from the third world cultures, largely because their definition of creativity is different. It is creating something out of practically nothing, not getting bogged down in form exercises that serve no value, but that is a post for another time)
Taking these (out of many more ) factors in account, working from a viewpoint that allows for quick connections and affordable failure enables us to achieve more tangible results, hence not only making the adland industry gain that much needed Accountability tag, but it also allows us to slip in the social(ist)/2.0 principles the plannersphere has been wetting itself (me included) over, up to the C-level.
And doing it all while not costing the client any money. And that is important. Because reality is, fear still works. Fear of loss of face, job, prestige, budget etc works. Quite powerfully.
Right now it works to stop advances, because we can't convey the value down the line. But it could work in our advantage as we focus on taking away fears because we elimate the downside instead of trying to figure out the upside in advance.
Off course this is easier said then done, hiring practices will have to change at agencies, training has to change at agencies, compensation will have to change at agencies. But guess what..That will happen with you or without you.
Don't say I did not warn you. Smarten up, open the market up...
*lyrics by Notorious BIG
donderdag 26 maart 2009
vrijdag 20 maart 2009
Brenda Paz, 16, was an informant on Mara Salvatrucha, aka MS-13 in the state of Virginia in the USA. She wanted to turn over a new leaf, but was found out and murdered in 2003 . Paz was stabbed, and her throat was slit. Brenda Paz was 4 months pregnant.
Anthony Haynes died in Brooklyn for a blue bandanna wrapped around his head, the symbol of his allegiance to the Crips, a street gang originally from LA. At age 12 in 2000, Anthony was one of the youngest victim of the bloody gang war that was raging in south Brooklyn New York.
Their stories served as a backdrop for my personal thoughts on the interconnectedness of our lives and the fact that we need to accept that everything we do has more impact than that we think it does.
" Very few men today comprehend the totally integrating significance of the 99 percent invisible activity which is coalescing to reshape our future "
The fight against cocaine in Florida.
Cocaine as a drug got popular in the 1970s and early 80's. The drug became particularly popular in the disco culture, as cocaine usage was very common and popular in many discos such as Studio 54. So much so, that Time magazine wrote about it as the drug of the high society. And with the demand so grew the supply.
The main point of access for the South American cartels was the state of Florida. Strategically located a few miles from the Caribbean and being within driving distance of the major east coast cities, it was the perfect place to set up shop.
As members of the drug trade made immense amounts of money, this money also attracted much violence to southern Florida.
Outraged by the drug trade's increasing violence in their city, Miami citizens lobbied the federal government for help. President Reagan responded by creating a cabinet-level task force, the Vice President's Task Force on South Florida. Headed by George Bush, it combined agents from the DEA, Customs, FBI, ATF, IRS, Army and Navy to fight drug traffickers. It proved to be a success for a small period of time.
This law enforcement pressure drove many major players out of the picture, and forced the South American cartels, which were not about to lose out on the most lucrative market for their product, to find an alternate route for the import of cocaine. They found their answer. And then some.
There are known known’s. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we know we don't know. But there are also unknown unknowns. These are things we don't know we don't know.
- Donald Rumsfeld -
Freeway Ricky, Crips and the fight against the Red Danger
The cold war was at it height in the 1980’s and the US involvement to stop communism from spreading as well. In it’s effort to fight communism the US got involved against the Sandinista government in Nicaragua. And as it turned out to fund the fight, cocaine profits were used.
The CIA, to amass as much funds as possible for the fight, allegedly recruited dealers. And to raise the money needed fast, the dealers switched tactics.
First of all to get away from the police heat they set up shop on the West Coast of America. Using Mexico to smuggle their dope. And instead of selling to the people of Beverly Hills or other places similar to the customer base they had catered to in Florida, coke dealers started selling the drugs in the ghetto markets of L.A.'s.
What at the time might have seemed as a foolish strategy to apply turned out to be the start of the longest war in the history of the US. One the government and various defense agencies did not foresee and, in the end could not control.
According to his wikipedia entry Ricky Ross was: Born on May 3, 1960 in Troup Texas and as a young child moved to South Central Los Angeles with his mother. Originally interested in tennis, he pursued a scholarship while attending high school. His coach would later find out he was illiterate and removed him from the school. To make money, he turned to selling drugs to pay for tennis lessons. It was through Henry Corrales, a college friend, that Ross was introduced to cocaine. Through Corrales, Ross found a connection to purchase cheap Nicaraguan cocaine: two Nicaraguan exiles and alleged agency recruits Oscar Blandon and Norwin.
And what helped him become the biggest dealer on the West coast of the USA was that he had access to one of the biggest gangs of LA: the Crips. And the arrival of an epidemic.
The crack that let the genie out of the bottle
Right around the time that the Latin drugs dealers, who were preparing to sell the drugs on the west coast of the usa were setting up shop, street-level drug users were figuring out how to make cocaine affordable: by cooking the powdered form into little rocks that could be smoked: crack.
Nothing was the same afterwards. Cocaine smoked gives a high unmatched by 10 times as much snorted powder. A tiny amount was needed for the high, so the price for cocaine dropped so low that everybody could buy it. More addictive and less expensive. A dealers dream.
Within a year, Ross' drug operation grew to dominate inner-city Los Angeles, and many of the biggest dealers in town were his customers. When crack hit L.A.'s streets hard in late 1983, he was the man at the right place to capitalize on this epidemic. Which he did, with a little unintended stroke of fortune.
The urge of the freedom fighting dealers to get as much money as possible drove them to give Freeway Ricky (named so because he had a lot of property along highways), drugs on consignment and at bargain prices. This allowed Ross to undercut virtually every dealer he encountered and expand his empire with rapid speed.
His main points of distribution were the Crip gangs of LA. And so with his expansion and growing wealth so did theirs grow.
The Crips are a primarily, but not exclusively, African American gang founded in Los Angeles, California. What was once a single alliance between two autonomous gangs is now a loosely connected network of individual sets, often engaged in open warfare with one another.
The Crips are one of the largest and most violent associations of street gangs in the United States with an estimated 30,000 to 35,000 members. The gang is known to be involved in murders, robberies, and drug dealing, among many other criminal pursuits.
What had before had been a local gang fighting over blocks in LA, was turning into a drug army, able to buy heavier guns and increase the violence to heights unseen before. And to places that had never heard of the Crips (and their great rivals the Bloods), but now will not see the end of them.
The rise of MS-13 as an international force of mayhem
Any major alleged US government involvement with narcotics ended with the Iran Contra scandals of the late 80’s. What did not end was the smuggling of drugs via the Mexico route.
Up until the 1970’s Mexico was a place that people went to get soft drugs, mostly marijuana.
But as stated above, with the forced exile of dealers from Florida, Mexico became the primary route smuggle cocaine through. And with the fall of the major cartels in Colombia, the Mexican smugglers and their related gangs are becoming the ringleaders.
According to the LA Times: “ About 90% of the estimated 780 tons of cocaine entering the United States each year passes through the hands of Mexican drug traffickers, according to U.S. studies. Mexican traffickers see Central America as a natural hub between their Colombian suppliers and the smuggling routes the Mexicans control on the U.S. border. A war among competing cartels to control those routes, known as "plazas" in Mexico, led to more than 2,000 killings in 2007.U.S.
Officials said that Central American organized-crime groups, working with the Mexican and Colombian cartels under a subcontracting system, are reaping huge profits. That money, in turn, is fueling a crime wave, especially in Guatemala and El Salvador.” MS-13, by accident/luck, being one of the biggest actors and profiteers of this wave.
The MS-13 gang, aka Mara Salvatrucha 13, is one of the most dangerous gangs in the United States - and one of the most organized. Like many gangs, MS-13 was named after "La Mara", a street in El Salvador and "13th Street" in Los Angeles. The gang originated in El Salvador and initially consisted of violent guerillas that fought in El Salvador's civil war.
The Mara Salvatrucha gang moved into the Los Angeles area in the late 1980's as immigrants from El Salvador began arriving in the city. The early Los Angeles MS-13 gangs sought to protect El Salvadorian immigrants from the ruthless LA gangs. As with many gangs who's original intent was to protect others, the gang soon came to prey upon the Salvadorian community themselves.
In order to break up the gang the US installed a policy of deporting members to their home countries. But a deportation policy aimed in part at breaking up a Los Angeles street gang, backfired and helped spread it across Central America and back into other parts of the United States.
Newly organized cells in El Salvador have returned to establish strongholds in metropolitan Washington, D.C and other U.S. cities. Prisons in El Salvador have become nerve centers, authorities say, where deported leaders from Los Angeles communicate with gang cliques across the United States.
The lesson of the Iroquois
"In every deliberation, we must consider the impact on the seventh generation... even if it requires having skin as thick as the bark of a pine."
- Great Law of the Iroquois -
What was intended as a short and local fight against drug dealers in Florida, turned into (via foreign policy interest) an international problem devastating urban communities in the USA, bringing Mexico to the brink of total social unrest and allowing the violence the USA wanted to fight, back into the USA bigger and stronger than ever.
The Crips are in New York. MS-13 is gaining in strength across the entire US and various countries in Central America.
Of course to just write that the killing of young Anthony or Brenda Paz, is the result of a failed foreing policy strategy of the USA in the 80's or that drug dealer Freeway Ricky is sole responsible for the spread of violence caused by the Crips and crack cocaine is to easy and most of all wrong. I am willing to bet that nobody even thought of the posibility of things turning out as they did.
Brenda Paz, born in Honduras and raised in LA, did migrate to MS-13 chapters in Virginia. Anthony did become part of the Crips in New York, because the Crpis were able to be there for him to join.
Both geographical locations are not natural habitats of these gangs, but became so due to policies and decisions made by individuals on both sides of the law.
So what does it all mean?
Perhaps it is too much to think seven generations ahead, but the Iroquois did get it right in spirit. And (don't laugh) so did Donald Rumsfeld.
The effects of our decisions are not a snapshot and do not live in a vacuum. They are always shared. Shared by all of those (known and unknown, intended and unintended) who feel the effects and act upon these decisions in their own way.
At the time of decision or down the line.
We need to remember this and "be willing to implicate ourselves in the consequences of our imagination"* and actions.
*quote by bruce mau
vrijdag 6 maart 2009
vrijdag 27 februari 2009
vrijdag 6 februari 2009
Neil Perkin asked people to help create this presentation about (online) communities.
maandag 2 februari 2009
Gangster rap is a term coined by the mainstream media to describe a certain genre of hip-hop that reflects the violent lifestyles of some inner-city youths. Gangsta is a corruption of the word gangster. The genre was pioneered around 1983 by Ice T with songs like Cold Winter Madness and Body Rock/Killers and was popularized by groups like N.W.A in the late '80s' After the national attention that Ice-T & N.W.A created in the late 80's, gangster rap became the most commercially lucrative subgenre of hip hop (wikipedia).
Lately it is been floundering and in dire need of a rewiring. I write this as an opportunity for the entire genre to reinvent itself and to reaffirm that is it still viable and profitable.
It’s morning in the hoods of America
Straight Outta Compton, Crazy Motherfucker Named Ice Cube
From The Gang Called Niggaz With Attitudes
When I'm Called Off, I Got A Sawed Off
Squeeze The Trigger, And Bodies Are Hauled Off
NWA- straight out of compton
In 1988 NWA broke down the doors for gangster rap. At it’s purest it was a depiction of the realities of life in south central LA. It was raw, uncut, the black answer to punk rock and Elvis. Four guys from Compton were able to make White America take notice of what was going on. Yet without intent they also united black and white America behind the color green; 9 million sold of “straight out of Compton” without major airplay showed that there was money to be made in bringing the hood to America.
What followed was a flood of gangster rap. From those who witnessed to those who had participated in crime, everybody grabbed the mike to spit the truth. And a couple of things started to change from the original vision of NWA.
1. Gang affiliation started infiltrating the genre (most noticeable in the early ‘90’s via Snoop Doggy Dogg, who was/ is a Crip). This lead to the loss of independance in storytelling that had been visible in the work of NWA. Now you were telling your story, which of course means somebody else’s was not being told.
2. The celebration of wealth (in contrast to the celebration/empowerment of life that had been the dominant theme up until then via good time rap of Fresh Prince e.a or political rap of Public Enemy) started to take center stage, which in turn led to mediated tales of life on the streets being told. Characters like scarface (the movie) and the “pimp” got a polished rounding and struck a nerve with record buying public, thus even more pushing the tales that were being told in a certain direction.
3. Looking back, we can also see that, much like during the Mafia Castellammarese Wars in the 1930 in the US, when many bought “made men status” because there was a war going on and soldiers were needed (thus applying less strict rules to those who entered the organizations), cred was being sold by those who could give in on order to ensure that the one getting the affiliation would be more successful. Record companies and artists alike created a web of onscreen personas and off screen deals to ensure that the pie was big enough for all to eat of.
It worked. At it’s height gangster rap was the major genre in rap, commercially and artistically. Yet factors outside of its influence were about to bring it to its knees.
The end of street cred and the gangsta as we knew him
Picture this. You can flow a bit, and live in the hood. Maybe you’ve even dealt a little dope or hustled a bit to support yourself. You spot rap as a way out, so do some of the people in your crew. You make a record about your area and talk about the trials and tribulations you’ve been through. It’s a success. You are on MTV BET or what ever. The record company is happy, you are happy. Middle America thinks you are the reincarnation of Capone and for now you are content to keep sending out this image. Every now and then people would hear about rappers having beef (sometimes fatal) about reputations.
Those wanting to steal the throne would check somebody’s Gangsta. But because of technology and media being controllable and sender orientated, the record company and the artist are not forced to take these attacks to serious. As long as the major media transmit the image that you want nothing is in danger.
Well as we all know, shift happens. The first sign was the “Wanksta” track with which 50 cent ended the career of Ja rule to launch his own. 50 cent was one of the first artists to utilize alternative channels of communication to get the message out about Ja rule. He flooded the streets of New York with mix tapes, which were being bought and resold across America. In essence the mix tape was the you tube before you tube.
This plan was carried over in the age of 2.0. Rappers started making disstracks on youtube, challenging each other’s street cred and focusing mainly on showing off their (limited) wealth. The focus got lost from telling stories about what is going on to trying to eliminate the competition by discrediting them.
Basically every gangsta rapper has now become Motrin and a Motrin-Mom in one. .
So now the genre is occupied by people who’s image can be destroyed by anybody who grew up with them and has a grudge. This has lead to gangster rappers either going in hiding, on the offensive destroying others or creating alternative personas (that of someone with swagger, or that of a business man) in order to still be relevant and to capitalize on the need of a younger public to hear and buy these stories.
And after reviewing the downward sales figures of 50 cent, the major star of the genre, and those of non-gangster rap outfits Outkast or Kanye West, we can say that it has not worked. Kanye West outsold 50 cent in a first week album battle two years ago to become the biggest star in hip-hop, period. It was Ali’s phantom punch delivered to gangster rap.
"I think you need a lot of context to examine anything." -Augustus Haynes The Wire episode 2 season 5.
What does it all mean? This is the question that we need to ask in order to restore the genre. Strangely enough the answer came from two middle aged white guys. Ed Burns and David Simon, co-creators of the show the Wire. A former cop and journalist/teacher who‘ve spend more than 20 years in the ghetto of Baltimore.
At its heart the show is a modern ganster rap classic. It tells everything we would be expecting to hear from rappers. It’s got gangsters, corrupt cops and politicians. But is has more. It has context.
In five seasons it took me from the towers and drugs of West Baltimore, to political Washington, the white polish working class in the harbors, the empty class rooms of schools across Maryland and via the corrupt media desks back to the drug fields of West Baltimore. It showed me what it all means and how the dots are connected. That is also the power of gangsta rap. It has the allure. We all like the bad guy, we are fascinated by this archetype. So let’s use it to give people their medicine with it.
The so called “backpack rappers” like a Kanye West or Outkast do sell. They sell big time. But in my view they would lack the appeal to talk about the wider social issues, that a Jay-Z or DMX would have. Their starting point is the gritty tales of the criminal. That they take you on a social journey as well is gravy.
As I am writing about the state of American gangsta rap from my living room in Rotterdam- Holland, Tropa Elite is playing on the telly. A movie about corrupt cops in Brazil who are at the heart of a lot of violence in the city of Rio.
The world has gotten smaller for me and it has gotten smaller for those who want to get their story out. A kid in Brooklyn can start a blog or post vids on youtube to tell how his life is being affected by the stuff around him. An unknown rapper in Atlanta can spit crazy lyrics and become a hit on the web.
“I'll tell you half the story, the rest you fill it in. Long as the villian win..”
Jay-Z Reasonable Doubt
But what they can’t do is create the context needed to understand the bigger picture. For that you need to live in more that one world. You need to be street, corporate, white, black, suburb, downtown, Rio and Compton. You need a bit of “gangsta”.
The above lyric is from Jay-Z on the track “dead presidents II” and it’s exactly half the solution. From hinting at stuff that is happening, rappers need to go to connecting dots and filling in the blank space, they need to shine light on the shadows.
Follow the money
Now why should they do all this you ask? Hip-hop is a young mans game and the kids wanna have fun. Well because there is money in it. Huge money.
Hip Hop is over 20 years old. Its listeners have grown up with it. The demographics are there to capitalize on. Yet there is no one talking to the 30+ about stuff they want/need now in the manner that they have grown accustomed to.
Sure we can all appreciate the brilliance of the “ Whisper Song” and like the shock rap or Mr. Mather’s.
But the more we learn the more questions we have. How do drugs get in the ghettos, how can an AK-47 from Russian factories end up on the streets of Compton? What’s the connection between the Mexican drug lords, Salvadorian left wing radicals and the brutal killing of a latino female in Maryland? Why is no one tackling the tales of drug use by US soldiers in Iraq, or the fact that gangs send their people to the army, so that they learn the use of weapons?
The need to understand the world around is the greatest market in the 21 century. More than that, people are willing to invest time and money in order to make sense of the world around them. If cash is king, then context is the new cash. I repeat, Context is cash.
And it is at this need-point that the current crop of gangsta rappers has an advantage over their younger challengers. The up and comers can talk about their short life or the good life. The older crew can talk about life.
So not only are they relevant, they have a shot at extending their careers for another 5-10 years. Springsteen wrote Born to Run about his own little world, he wrote the Rising, about the world at large. Both sold millions.
Ice Cube is a great example. His record “laugh now” has sold over 400.000 copies. He distributed it independently. With the average retail price of $ 10,- that amounts to gross turnover of $ 4000.000,-. Seeing as it was recorded in his own studio for less that $ 100.000,- and it sold without a major push by record companies, that a very healthy gross margin. And let’s face it, gross margin is what keeps us in business. It would be very interesting to see the breakdown of the buyers by age, but I’ll give you 5:1 it’s mostly 30 years and over.
Of course the record labels have to take a hard look at themselves as well. They need to cultivate talent differently. For all it’s fault’s, and there are many, the advertising world and it’s agencies take care of their creative. They make sure that the stimuli is there, that a understanding of the broader culture is there. That a creative filters this in his or her own way is their thing. The input is there. (P.S. if an ad agency or research company is looking for a new market, check out the music industry…and let me know when it pays of)
Why would you sign a major talent and then not help develop him to his full potential over time? That’s just bad business.
NWA sold over 9 million of their album “straight out of Compton” without major airplay by bringing the hood to the world. You know what they called their brand of rap: Reality Rap.
So we are back a square one, but with a shot of reliving success all over again.
The gangsta has the ability to hook us in with his tales of power and crime, but he is also able to school us on more once he has us. We need stop talking about us, and start showing how our lives are connected to you and the world. The means to communicate are there, the stories are there, and the audience is there.
But we do need to change how labels groom their talents past a certain age, we need to create corporate awareness about the demographic changes in hip hop buying audiences and start catering to them. And we need to tell our creative that they don’t need to chase to 15 year old to make money.
Now let’s make some money!