What Exactly Is A Culture Creator?

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On Wednesday of last week, I moderated a panel entitled “Making Your Mark” at this year’s Latin Mixx Conference.

The conference, now in its 5th year, is half entertainment summit, half information session and attracts a pretty varied audience of DJs, artists, and industry folk. To kick off the panel, I delivered a presentation (available below) covering a few areas of interest including: personal branding, the marketing and publishing landscape, and the role that today’s public-facing entertainer must play to thrive in the modern information economy.

To be successful in today’s business climate and attract the attention of brands and marketers, artists must fulfill the role of “Culture Creator.”

Establishing a dominant position in today’s entertainment and marketing environment requires one to vision going above and beyond the traditional, formulaic processes that comprise the bulk of today’s vapid, cookie-cutter landscape. Here are a few traits that the Culture Creator must embody, and inherently value:

Telling New Stories

Sometimes it feels like there is nothing new under the sun, but make something your own. Make it unique to you and your values. Revisit emotional territory that your FFF (friends/followers/fans) had once been emotionally invested in and reinterpret it. As Mark Pollard puts it in a brilliant blog post titled, “Why Strategists Should Make Stuff”, stories are currency; building a construct in which your content manifests values that are important to you and your community is a very important aspect to the process that cannot be ignored.

If It Doesn’t Exist, Build It

There will always be the idealists that can apply a prophetic eye towards culture and assist in the ushering in of “what’s next” by creating the mechanisms for those things to happen. This can include content platforms that begin digitally and then extend into the analog world. These people might not make total sense at first, and run the risk of being labeled disruptive, but, over time, their position shifts from the ‘idea advocate’ to the conduit through which the subsequent content, ideas, and themes are realized. To quote Jay-Z (as I frequently do), “I used to beat that block…. now I BE the block.” Fluidity is also very key to advancing one’s brand, as avoiding volatility and progression is an exercise in futility.

“Matrix Moments” of Clarity

Remember the classic scene at the end of the first Matrix, where Neo realizes he’s “The One” and proceeds to predict the karate moves of the agents because he visualized everything? We can do that now. The ability to navigate, and qualitatively extract patterns has become a phenomenon that is available to everyone with the advent of the open web. There isn’t a specific formula for developing those sensibilities- it is simply a function of paying attention and digging deeper (at ANET, we preach “the why before the what”) into the things that are relative to what you want to create. Those who work to develop a second-nature mastery will advance, those who bypass will fall to the wayside.

One of the more powerful examples of this phenomenon is Kanye West’s rise to prominence.  In the early 2000’s, a pre-iconic Kanye West took the hip-hop world by storm, ultimately driving urban culture towards its current incarnation by aggressively and holistically embodying his vision of where hip-hop was going — not just musically — but philosophically, aesthetically and materialistically as well.

Cognizant of the fact that he could better disrupt the status quo from the inside, Kanye leveraged his position as Jay-Z’s go-to producer to establish himself by trading on his credibility and changing the perception of his role in Jay-Z’s success. “I brought back the soul,” he eloquently raps on The Blueprint 2’s ‘The Bounce.’

By the time Kanye was able to tell his story on his first album in 2004 it was, essentially, already told. Every celebrated hip-hop artist at the time had either already collaborated with Kanye (Ludacris, Lil’ Kim, 50 Cent) or otherwise revived their career by leveraging his distinctive sound (Common, Twista).

His transformation from hip-hop musician to “culture creator” was a byproduct of the fact that he (and his platforms) embody everything that is of value to him.  His has successfully leveraged his curatorial voice to actively shape the urban cultural landscape. Be it sartorially (through his collaborative efforts with some of the world’s most influential personal and luxury product brands), materially, or musically (through his G.O.O.D. Music label), Kanye has created the blueprint for the modern “culture creator” role that today’s most successful icon’s embody.

Sure, not everyone has been afforded the marquee opportunities to the same magnitude that Kanye has, but that isn’t to say that artists and entertainment figures (and marketers, to an extent) can’t embody those guiding principles, and bring this weird culture thing to its next chapter.