Urban Is the New Mainstream

Thoughts on Hipster-Hop and Black Creativity

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Karl Carter Karl Carter
I hope absence makes the heart grow fonder. It's been a while, but I've been trying to make a point of only writing when I something relevant to say. It's 2008 and besides being an election year, this will mark the year that the question of whether urban has gone mainstream will finally be answered. After all, how foreign can our culture be, when America could elect the first black president? Let's not miss the cultural and business impact of that move when it happens.

Tiffany Warren hit me up a couple of weeks ago to ask me how I felt as a black creative. It really forced me to think about it. I was honored that she thought to get my opinion on this, especially as I tend to dwell in the innovative marketing and content space rather than the traditional ad-creative space.

I'm definitely aware of my blackness, but I focus on being the best and having my work respected more than anything else. Most of the young creatives that I know in this multicultural marketing game don't see it as black and white anymore. A lot of the best black creatives I know are striving to make it to the "big leagues" where they can do general-market creative or at least kick ass at a high level at a truly multicultural shop.

Going strictly African American can be a risky proposition these days, especially as the younger generations are embracing a much more diverse reality. Youth culture these days is a hyperactive mish-mash of culture, race, sexuality and gender roles all fueled by the steroids of music and technology. This real world of diversity is the premise of GTM's subculture-based approach. You can check out this whitepaper on what we call INTERACTivism.

Tiffany and I had the chance to check out a really cool event in New York in January that illustrated this reality. It was a great event my good friend Asher Rapkin was producing for Flavorpill.

It featured the Cool Kids, Kid Sister and DJ A-track at the Museum of Natural History. Well over 2,000 kids packed this great venue. The crowd was a mix of young, hip kids of all races. Then Kanye West hit the stage to support his Chicago comrade, Kid Sister. Insane. This guy has gotta be the patron saint of what I'm calling Hipster-Hop. (Check out these photos from the Brooklyn Vegan blog.)

Kanye West @ Flavorpill.com's "One Step Beyond" from miguel on Vimeo

What is Hipster-Hop? It's mainstream enough for urban America, weird enough for these young hipsters. I know everyone says that hipsterism is dead, but it's just morphing into something else.

I'm seeing this happening in every city I hit. When I'm watching J DaVeY rock a totally mixed crowd at the Viper Room on Sunset in L.A., I get the same vibe as when I go to New York or when I go to see Janelle Monae in Atlanta. This new breed of artist has tapped into something, a geeky kind of coolness that embraces who they are, but also gives the crowd permission to be left of center and be who they are -- comfortable in an uncomfortable urban gray area. Urban is not what it used to be. It's everyone now.

In the thick of writing about this, an interesting reality check came out in a recent Ad Age article about diversity marketing. Despite everyone saying that diversity is important to their bottom line, a lot still don't follow through to fulfill this need with a diverse team or multicultural-agency hire.

CMO and executive level marketers listed getting management and organizational buy-in as one of the main impediments to diversity in their organizations and listed lack of interaction as one of the main issues. IN 2008!?

What's most tragic -- beyond the racial implications -- is how out of touch it is with the consumer reality. We are in a business where professionals are paid to be in touch with the target -- unless that runs counter to their usual comfort zone. Brands and agencies have got to get clued in or get left behind. Don't shoot the messenger. Just hit the targets where THEY are.
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