Lil’ Dicky and embarrassing ad agencies

Advertising agencies have a responsibility to foster culture, to capitalise on memes as the basis for selling products and help brands reach their desired audiences. Passing fads, novelties and limp parodies do not provide the basis for enduring and connective advertising or branding campaigns. It should be a truth universally acknowledged that comedy rap is seldom funny and often terrible, especially when being done by a privileged white person. Nevertheless the chronically unfunny Lil’ Dicky was not only born of an Advertising agency (Goodby Silverstein), he was actually rehired from Account Management to copywriting after they saw one of his parody rap videos.

Lil’ Dicky, who differentiates himself from those other [read black] rappers who ‘rap about going to the club and popping bottles’ as being a ‘normal [read white and middle class] guy’ that [white] people can relate to, is from a wealthy background a slid into a career in advertising, first as suit then as a creative. Much like Macklemore’s Thrift Shop and your aunt’s Facebook posts about Black Friday, Lil’ Dicky’s denunciation and parodying of consumerism in Hip Hop and in a broader cultural context is both classist and racist. It’s the implied ‘look how stupid and desperate these people are to get a cheap TV’ and ‘oh aren’t these rappers so garish and tacky with their gold chains and Grey Goose bottles’, it’s Iris Worldwide’s ‘Iris on Benefitsflyers but with an added racial dimension. There’s no nuanced or considered take on why consumerism is a central lyrical and visual feature in commercial Hip Hop, just a case of using comedy to browbeat the black nouveau rich and signal the distance between those without the social capital and those with all of the capital, be it economic, social or cultural. In providing an outlet for this pernicious punch-down kind of satire Ad agencies are only demonstrating how out of touch they are with today’s world and specifically with today’s America. Today’s ‘woke‘ generation are ready to pick things apart, to rally around purpose and elevate causes to the top of the cultural agenda. They crave authenticity and are ready to tear down messaging that marginalizes and belittles people.

Brands are still working out what their relationship to culture is. The days in which they could rent-out ‘cool’ by way of celebrity appearances in 30 second TV spots are gradually subsiding due to the surprising cultural elevation television whereby agencies are under more pressure to match the standard of programming with more clever and creative ads. Brands are now holding the reigns over a lot of the western world’s cultural output due to my generation’s refusal to pay for any kind of artistic or cultural produce.It is therefore important for both culture and brands that any work produced that has any pretension to being culturally relevant or artistically valid must be original, well crafted and able to resonate with its audience. This is more succinctly put in an article by upstart agency KRPT LDN in a blog post:

This battle between art vs advertising is one that could be resolved if we lived in a more transparent world where brands have a clear mission and focus on being part of culture instead of using it.

This is why I take issue with Lil’ Dicky and his cheerleaders in US Adland and this is why I feel the need to point out the contrast between the Red Bull Music Academy approach of working in a direct, organic way with artists such as A$AP Rocky, Skepta and PC Music against, the support that sportswear brands such as Adidas, Puma and Nike have shown the grime scene or how Vans remain connected to their association with the Skate scene with some of the more blundering attempts by brands and agencies to connect with the broader culture.

Part of the problem seems to be rooted in the lack of general diversity in the agency world where the old guard still very much seem to be in control of a lot of creative initiatives. The very fact that Lil’ Dicky’s mediocre comedy raps were enough to get him hired by Goodby Silverstein creative department is telling of the tone-deafness that plagues many parts of the industry. Take for example Lucky Generals’ completely over-egged collaboration with UK Hip Hop act Rylo for Pot Noodle which forces the poor aspiring rapper to create a lukewarm banger called ‘Winner’ which amounts to how your mum imagines a rap video to be.

Another instance that caught my eye was a piece in Campaign by Paul Burke which considers the creative legacy of working-class lads David Bowie and Alan Rickman.The writer makes some valid points about the status of working class creatives in the ad industry and bemoans the trend of ‘bloking down’- i.e. sticking to coded class behaviours. The problem with the article is that the cultural aspiration that Paul Burke believes to have been lost in today’s talent is largely irrelevant to today’s cultural landscape. Distinctions between high and low culture are being rapidly eroded as the ‘digitally native’ (sorry!) generation have been able to access and interpret art from both cultural spheres with ease. Beyonce videos are now written about in Pitchfork, Selfies are discussed in The Atlantic as a legitimate art form and Grime artists regularly perform at the ICA. The article in itself presents a valid argument about class but is misses the point in seeing culture as a ladder to climb up; today’s creatives are grabbing what they like from wherever they can find it and throwing it into the mix.

The challenge for creative agencies and marketers is to understand these underlying cultural trends, to engage meaningfully with today’s creatives and most importantly to not be embarrassing.

The best and worst things that happened in advertising and popular culture this year

2015 has been many things to many people. Kanye-less, Frank Ocean sophomore-lacking, ‘disruptor brands,’ gentrification, #Blacklivesmatter, Jeremy Corbyn, The Weeknd as off-beat popstar, Pig-gate, terrorism, refugees, Kendrick Lamar, Caitlin Jenner, John Lewis Christmas ads, Ed Sheeran, Hotline Bling, Adele returns- I’ll stop before this becomes a Sgt. Pepper’s cover. If there was a sentiment to encapsulate the spirit of the year it would be that people seem to generally give a fuck about stuff and high and low culture has merged into one- just ‘culture.’ The access that the Internet allows us to all forms of culture for free which has been facilitated and broadcast by popular news and ‘content’ outlets on social media has created a general public who are both more culturally rounded and aware and simultaneously more clueless than ever thanks to the overload of information which is neither fully verifiable nor fully disprovable.  It’s BLM activists who listen to Taylor Swift, English lit students you thought were cool sharing thinkpieces about the Hunger Games gender body politics, Starbucks cups being held by anti-capitalists at anti austerity marches, Where are U now?House Every Weekend, fashionistas in Reebok Classics- it’s confusing and inconsistent, maybe even hypocritical- but it’s now.:

THE BEST

Creativity fights back

The discourse around advertising in 2014 was dominated by crap pieces in The Drum about the advent of data, ‘Big Data’ and ‘Math Men.’ It was interesting for about five minutes before becoming, like Oasis’ output since Be There Now , repetitive, uninteresting and culpable for inspiring many talentless dickheads.

2015 saw creativity become cool again. It turned out that the medium of TV in fact wasn’t dead and that you couldn’t just throw a few numbers at a Creative team and expect them to paint something pretty over them. There was a resurgence of first class creative work that didn’t look like it had been graphed, charted and infographic’d to death. Nils Leonard crashed into Adland’s collective consciousness as the Kanye of advertising with Grey London returning to the fore as a culturally switched-on, innovative and iconoclastic creative power house. Adam & Eve DDB continued to produce the kind of distinctive work that could take its place alongside actual entertainment content such as TV shows, films and music videos. Danny Brooke Taylor’s creative stewardship ensured that Lucky Generals went from the plucky youngster to an irreverent yet maturing agency really hitting its stride with excellent work produced for Pot Noodle, Paddy Power and Hostelworld whilst Caroline Pay and Nick Gill can be proud of the stunning work they have done for Audi.

With the strategic and cultural midwifery of high calibrate planners such as Saatchi & Saatchi’s Richard Huntington, Grey’s Leo Rayman and Craig Mawdsley & Bridget Angear at AMV BBDO and top level suits such as Wieden & Kennedy’s highly cultured Neil Christie, the brilliant provocateur Magnus Djaba of Saatchi & Saatchi Fallon fame, James Murphy of A&E with his stellar levels of commitment to his slippery Volkswagen client and Sarah Golding leading a resurgent CHI & Partners, we can also be thankful for the business leadership, strong analytical practice and talent fostering that drives agencies t do their best work. The ‘Math Men‘ were largely pushed to the side this year despite some loud posturing by David Jones with his new ‘Brand Tech’ group You & Mr Jones and the odd creativity vs data think piece in Campaign, and were largely drawn into the debate alongside media agencies about Ad Blocking.

Oh and it’s also won mentioning Ian Leslie’s fantastic piece about creativity and the centrality of brilliant TV ads to the marketing mix in the FT called How the Mad Men Lost the Plot.

Rap gets weird/Pop gets cool/Dance gets broader

2015 has been a fascinating year in music. The Weeeknd now plays shows where fans will be hearing Siouxsie and the Banshees samples one minute and be singing get along to an Ed Sheeran collaboration the next, Justin Bieber is now more likely to be played at a gathering of twenty something grime and house aficionados as they roll zoots and bosh MDMA than at a 12 year old’s birthday part, feminist veterans debate Taylor Swift, Young Thug has been donning tutus one minute and apparently plotting to assassinate Lil Wayne the next, Kendrick Lamar dominated critical discourse with his alt-jazz infused social commentary on To Pimp a Butterfly and Drake captured everyone’s attention by dancing like someone’s uncle in what became one of the biggest music videos of the year.

One of the most exciting things was Grime’s resurgence which saw Skepta rub shoulders with everyone from Drake and Kanye to Earl Sweatshirt, Jamie XX and ASAP Mob, Stormzy began to look like the next up for crossover success, JME’s Integrity album was a solid effort with the excellent ‘Man Don’t Care’ as Giggs- assisted lead single, Novelist kept it Avant Garde with the Mumdance produced bangers ‘Take Time’ and ‘One Sec’, Wiley was honoured at his old school in Bow with a commemorative plaque and Chip reminded us why he’s worth taking seriously with his Fire in the Booth, Believe and Achieve EP and strong responses to Tinie Tempah and Bugzy Malone.

Dance music also saw some interesting developments as PC Music continued to confuse, excite, irritate and amaze whilst entering in to partnership with Colombia Records. SOPHIE released the high octane Product EP which mixed hyper-pop and experimental in a novel way whilst Danny L Harle’s Broken Flowers received a luxury refix on the new EP of the same name. Whilst some view Dance music as one of the last remaining bastions of music snobbery there were some important figures in the scene who have been subverting  the purist status quo and challenging perceptions of taste . Hudson Mohawke’s Lantern was a roaring success in allowing the artist to reconnect with his roots whilst simultaneously exploring new territory. The explosive ‘Very First Breath’ makes whiny power-pop sound triumphant and melancholy at the same time whilst ‘Scud Books’ digs into the artist’s signature stadium-trap aesthetic but adds in a kitsch pop-friendly synth riff. Rustie, another Scottish power-trap auter managed to repurpose his Trance and Happy Hardcore influences into something very relevant with his EVENIFUDONTBELIEVE album. Jamie XX had a brilliant year seeing his long-awaited solo project In Colour which repackaged 20 years of UK club culture for the Instagram generation and scored a summer hit with the Young Thug and Popcaan assisted Good Times. Diplo continued to act as the bridge between club music’s innovative underground and the pop mainstream dabbling in everything from the seminal Bieber-assisted Where are U now? to the summer smash Lean on with Major Lazer and MØ whilst working alongside outliers such as SOPHIE and A.G. Cook. Elsewhere we saw electronic experimentalist and Kanye-collaborator Evian Christ take Trance to the ICA with his much lauded Trance War exhibition and Skrillex finally managed to gain some critical acclaim for his work with Justin Bieber and spectacular live events.

Mad Men’s swansong

Although it definitely did not satiate everyone, I found that the Mad Men ending was everything that I could have asked for. It was neither crowd-pleasingly conclusive nor ironic and cold; it was open-ended but you got some idea of where the narrative was headed once the characters ceased to exist on our screens. True to form Matt Weiner and his excellent team of writers made sure to produce something that didn’t exist in a historical vacuum. Don Draper’s closing hilltop meditation scene which may or may not have led him to go on to create the subsequently shown iconic I’d like to teach the world to sing Coca Cola ad- arguably the creative genesis of brand-based advertising- signals the beginning of the cultural shift from a more collectivist and ordered understanding of society to the dawn of individualist neo-liberalism where brands and products begin to exist as components of the individual’s unique identity and self-expression. As noted in a previous piece, Adam Curtis does a great job in identifying the hippy and New Age movements as an expression of individualism that birthed the small-government, supply side and self-sufficient economic culture promoted by Reagan and Thatcher that still predominates today in his documentary The Century of the self. Wiener’s use of a spiritual retreat as the narrative endpoint for the protagonist seems like a nod to this understanding of the late 20th and early 21st century.

 

The reason why these discourses seem so relevant has been seen across pop culture and (more downstream) society, politics, conflict and economics all year. Identity and self definition has seemingly been at the centre of everything; one can cite phenomena as diverse as Caitlin Jenner, Rachel Dolezal, Donald Trump’s jingoistic understanding of what it is to be American, the Black Lives Matter movement, the continued rise of the far-right in Europe and the Islamic State in the Levant, the conspicuous presence of selfies facilitated by ever-growing social media platforms such as Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, changing attitudes to gender and sexuality- the list could be an essay in itself. These are a wide array of positive, negative and necessary happenings but what they all have in common is their rooting in today’s existential grey areas- the desire to craft one’s own unique identity whilst wanting to be a part of something in a world that is more connected than ever whilst paradoxically increasingly isolated. In placing Don Draper, the brilliant manipulator of human anxiety, on top of a cliff edge with a bunch of mentally conflicted and exasperated ‘modern’ individuals before cutting to that infamous Coca Cola ad, Weiner gave us an ending which emphasized the cultural vitalness of the whole Mad Men series.

Craig David and Kurupt FM

I’m usually weary of anything resembling starry-eyed nostalgia but Craig David’s return this year seemed like the righting of a cultural wrong. Like many black and asian artists in the UK Craig’s career was subjected to immature ridicule, miscategorization and ill-informed interference by record companies. When the brilliant Kurupt FM crew from the BBC Three/iPlayer cult hit People Just Do Nothing brought him into their Mistajam #Sixtyminuteslive session to perform his early noughties smash ‘Fill Me In’ over Jack U’s Where are U Now it began to seem like the stage was set for his return. Following the critical re-appraisal of R&B over the last few years and the resurgence of Garage, UK Funky, Deep House and Jungle into UK club culture, it appears that as this piece in Noisey suggests is the perfect time for the R n’ G veteran to reclaim his place in the UK’s homegrown dance music scene.

THE WORST

Adland’s diversity lack

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Despite some positive noises being made about the need for women to be better represented at all levels in the advertising industry, mostly thanks to the tireless work of top female ad people like Cindy Gallop with the 3% Conference and the WACL (Women in Advertising and Communications in London), there has been little improvement in making the Ad industry more diverse as a whole. Barely anyone is talking about the obvious domination of the industry by white middle class types both male and female- ethnicity and socioeconomic background features very little in any discussion that does take place.

It would be easy to pick out events and scrutinize happenings such as the incredibly classist ‘Benefits’ flyer that circulated at Iris Worldwide in London (above), this hilariously misjudged Robert Dyas spot or the Advertising Week panel called ‘Here are all the black people in advertising’ which was seemingly chaired by a bunch of white people (although as the link points out it’s more complicated than appears) but the real root of the problem is the lack of interest amongst the majority of the decision makers in the industry in reaching out to communities outside of their own. Our ‘creative industries’ which some might assume are very liberal and open to people of all backgrounds are in fact closed off to most people outside of the ABC1 bubble. One only has to look at the lack of outreach programmes aimed at youngsters from less privileged backgrounds, the extortionate subscription fees for industry publications and events and the way in which most agencies hide their job postings from any commonly accessible outlets. The whole things stinks of elitism and for all of the talk of attracting great young talent the system appears to be built to keep a certain types of people out. The whole ad industry is a lot poorer for it as powerful, evocative and effective campaigns that connect to a wider audience require a range of different inputs be they White, Black, Asian, Male, Female, Gay or Straight.

Guitar Music

The famously regressive online community in the UK was most upset about Kanye West performing at Glastonbury this year. How dare this uppity Black bloke be the Saturday night headliner at Glastonbury, proclaiming himself to be the ‘Greatest Living Rockstar’ without there being a guitar in sight!? Someone started a petition, Brian McFadden and Louise Thompson got involved, your smelly 15 year old cousin from Dudley posted a video of Dave Grohl performing with a broken leg along or a meme of him laughing or something, you know how these things tend to go…

The real issue and inconvenient truth here however is the simple fact that England and the world as a whole seriously lacks in any compelling guitar bands. I’m not yet ready to deem guitar music/rock n’ roll as completely redundant but it’s hard to see who else could have convincingly filled the headline slot or in fact be deemed as a ‘rockstar’ in this day and age. I mean who really is Dave Grohl? the former drummer in a seminal band whose importance hinged on the songwriting and general character of the now deceased frontman? A cuddly mascot for a bygone era of music? What about Matt Bellamy? Well even die-hard Muse fans couldn’t stomach their latest release. Do we really have to dig up another leather clad metal outfit from the eighties or some poorly aged wig-rocker? The Libertines can provide a cheery fifty minutes of throwback singalong fun but it’s hard to claim that Pete and Carl’s druggy Edwardian/Victorian lit-expired poncing-about would be an ideal show of rock n’ roll’s relevance today.Foals had some approving nods from critics and old indie heads this year but like the more interesting Everything Everything who emerged this year with the impressive Get to Heaven, they don’t quite hold enough weight for the number one slot.  You also shouldn’t listen to those ex-NME types who seem like they’ve managed to TUPE (Google it!) over to Noisey when they tell you that Sleaford Mods are worth your time.

Tyler, the Creator banned from UK

There are plenty of reasoned debates to be had about how we should receive and interpret Tyler, the Creator’s lyrics. Concerns that some of the lyrics in his earlier material might be harmful to women in the long term by normalizing and trivializing rape seem perfectly reasonable and should be discussed at length. There do however seem to be other forces at play in this case of kneejerk censorship exercised by Home Secretary Theresa May as Joe Muggs stated in his piece for The Guardian on the subject.

Whether the move to bar Tyler, the Creator was meant as a subtle nod to Middle England or a concession to our active feminist movement (which has done great work this year- see the newly formed Women’s Equality Party) is unclear but there’s a nasty racial undercurrent that we can see when we hold these judgments up to the light. Artists such as Tyler, Chris Brown and Snoop ‘Kick this evil bastard out’ Dogg/Lion have faced a much higher bar when touring across venues in countries like the UK, Australia and Canada than artists such as Ozzy Osbourne, Cannibal Corpse and even The Decemberists all of whom have participated in either lyrical of real life misogyny and abuse of women.

There is also a point to be made about the context of Tyler, the Creator’s lyrical content. The lyrics in question which mainly feature in his early releases Bastard and Goblin are often uttered by a conflicted and disturbed alter-ego and are clearly not a reflection of the artist’s own views. Whilst these incidents of censorship are often presented as being a progressive must by responsible authorities more often than not they are at best a flimsy band-aid for the problem of systematic injustice and at worst a manifestation of a more sinister agenda.

Airbnb ‘is mankind?’

Oh man this one was bad! Despite simultaneously pricking people’s conscience and making their lives easier- a very lucrative brand position to occupy in the information age- the folks at Air B n’ B apparently see themselves as the champions of human connectivity, empathy and social justice. TBWA are a great agency with a strong legacy but they certainly misfired here in an overblown and highly pretentious campaign which wasn’t helped by a smarmy poster campaign in San Francisco addressing the recent ruling that the company had to pay hotel tax. For some reason they assumed that residents of America’s most left-leaning city would want to join in with their libertarian circle-jerk. Whilst I have no way of knowing how the company’s communications fuck ups have affected sales and growth this year- I do know that the health of the brand is vital to a startup that is starting to move into maturity.

 

 

Brand of the Year 2015: Drake

To quote the oft-overlooked mid-noughties white rapper Paul Wall, Drake has ‘got the internet going nuts.’ The Canadian multi-platinum seller has picked up where Kanye left off with 808s and Heartbreak and mixed-in the multisyllabic delivery typical of aspiring rappers eager to prove their technical chops and has, together with main producer and wingman Noah ’40’ Shebib brought R&B tinged sad-boy-meets-braggadocio to the forefront of Hip Hop’s mainstream. Now we’re a week or so into the ‘Hotline Bling’ dancing phenomenon which has seen a tidal wave of memes inspired by the music video hit our social media timelines it seems like it’s high time that we named Drake as ‘Brand of the Year’ for 2015 and take a detailed look into how the Toronto rappa-turnt-sanga-turnt-rappa-again has put his contemporaries in Hip Hop and pop culture as a whole to shame.

Creating Shareable Content

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The above sub-title looks like something you’d see in a Powerpoint presentation given by some dead-eyed social media ‘content’ manager’ (or some equally grating title), however this is exactly what Drizzy has done. From HYFR to YOLO to ‘Started From the Bottom’ to ‘Motherfuckers never loved us’ (Worst Behaviour) to  ‘Running through the six with my woes’ to ‘just hold on we’re going home,’ Drake has crafted intensely meme-able ideas and phrases which are applicable to an infinite amount of situations that you don’t have to be a millionaire rapper to have experienced. There could be an endless chicken and egg discussion of whether the Internet has turned Drake’s lyrics into memes or whether Drake has engineered his content to create instantly recognizable and widely relatable concepts. Either way it’s hard to argue that Drake hasn’t capitalized on this phenomenon.

In a similar vein Drake has used his music videos to put across imagery that will doubtless get people talking. From the awkward photo of him goofing around on the ‘No New Friends’ video shoot, to the Drake snr assisted Congolese Sapeur reminiscent ‘Worst Behaviour‘ video, to the intentionally OTT posturing, Mum-including and comedy-skit incorporating visuals for ‘Started From the Bottom,‘ Drake has always got people talking with his music videos and given the meme-curator class of the internet months of source material to work with. It comes as no surprise then that Drake would readily embrace Director X’s vision for his ‘Hotline Bling‘ video which seems him dance around like someone’s Dad (Uncle, granddad, weird cousin etc.) alongside ironically attractive sexline workers.

Managing Controversy

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Drake has never been one to dive head-first into a controversial issue, he’s seemingly ambivalent on politics and only seems to enter rap beefs when he’s been provoked. He does however, by his very being, his success, his artistry, his circumstances spark a wide range of conversations between fans and detractors. He has been drawn into debates about ghostwriting, his lack of ‘hood credentials, his apparent lack of respect for ‘real Hip Hop’ in naming a downtempo R&B-tinged song ‘Wu Tang Forever,’ his embrace of up and coming buzzworthy artists and his penchant for airing his vulnerability in a genre so obsessed with projecting a hypermasculine image. Drake has handled these difficult points quite masterfully neither protesting too much nor completely ignoring every criticism aimed at him, sometimes a diss song is required, sometimes silence, sometimes you can let your friends and collaborators do the talking.

Owning his contradictions

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Drake is many things. A rapper, a former soap star, a brand ambassador, an Art appreciator, a sports fan, a Ford Maddox Ford/Ezra Pound- style champion of up-and-coming artists, an Aaliyah obsessive, an enthusiast for everyone from UGK and Lil Wayne to Andre 3000 and Phonte (from Little Brother), a grime fan, black, jewish, privately educated, Canadian with roots in Memphis (on his father’s side), sensitive, boastful, self-deprecating- the list goes on. In a different world he might be seen as an unmarketable mess, however in 2015, an era of culture jamming and widespread access to an endless pool of influences, he might be seen as a fairly typical male in his late 20s.

Despite being largely apolitical in his content, Drake is a product of the post-war progressive tide, social mobility, the internet’s democratization of culture, the rise of easily-shareable content and the ongoing conversations about race and gender. Drake skillful draws upon these facets of his identity when and where it is required to make a certain point, portray a certain image or address a certain issue. The recent retort to Meek Mill, a former crony of whom Drizzy has fallen foul, ‘you getting bodied by a singin’ nigga’ on ‘Charged Up’ tells us a lot more than that Drake can still deliver a bruising ‘diss’ despite his penchant for singing. It tells us that he won’t allow himself to be solely defined by only one part of his identity.

Aligning himself with tomorrow’s innovators

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The Weeknd, Chief Keef, Future, James Blake, A$AP Rocky, Party Next Door, Dej Loaf, ILOVEMAKONNEN, Fetty Wap, Skepta and BBK, Kodak Black- all of these artists and more have been given Drake’s mighty cosign whether through remixing their songs, tweeting their lyrics and videos, inviting them to perform at OVO Fest or just mentioning them in interviews, Drizzy has been either a cultural connoisseur or ‘vulture’ depending on how you look at it. Aside from doing wonders for the careers of those he has supported it also makes Drake look both influential and in tune with the innovators of tomorrow.

Cool Shit Round Up 17.07.2015

The Ads

Greatest Moments by Brothers and Sisters for Sky Sports

Rewards by Adam&Eve for Harvey Nichols

The Art

I Feel Ya: SCAD + ANDRE ‘3000’ BENJAMIN Exhibit. The innovator-supreme Andre 3000’s infamous Coachella jumpsuits are being exhibited at the Savannah College of Art and Design.

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The Song

Toro Y Moi x Rome Fortune Pitch Black

The Article

Kanye West: why can’t rock ‘n’ roll’s old guard handle him? by Tim Jonze in The Guardian 

Cool Shit Round Up 03.07.2015

The Ad

1000 years of less ordinary by W+K for Finlandia

The Art

Eggs Benedict by Niki Johnson (the last pope made out of condoms)

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The Songs

H.O.M.E. by Trinidad James (yeah he’s still about) featuring ILOVEMAKONNEN

Back Then Skepta x Plastician

The Interview

Shane Smith, CEO of Vice interviewed by Johnny Hornby, founder of CHI&Partners and The&Partnership at Cannes Lions festival.

No Sir Martin, Alex Da Kid is not a good choice for your music venture. Here are some alternatives…

Despite what you may think of him Sir Martin Sorrell is a very clever man, he wouldn’t be the global emperor of Adland if he wasn’t. It is for this reason that I am surprised at his choice of partner for WPP’s new music venture KidinaKorner. If you don’t know who Alex ‘Da Kid’ Grant is, he’s the pop mastermind behind providing the production to compliment the former provocateur and enfant terrible of pop-culture Eminem’s transformation into ex-junkie motivational speaker and MOR purveyor (i.e. ‘Love you the way you lie’ and ‘I need a Doctor’). He’s also produced some low impact chart-filler for high tier popstars such as Rihanna, Nicki Minaj, B.O.B. and Imagine Dragons (yeah those guys who Kendrick Lamar shat all over his current credibility in collaborating with).

Speaking about the venture Da Kid has stated “Music is extremely powerful and plays a very important role in people’s lives, connecting them to a moment that is uniquely personal. Unfortunately, it can often be the last thing to get attention when programs are being planned. KidinaKORNERCreate offers a new model, bringing music to the forefront of every level of the creative process; planning, strategy and execution. This approach will create more substantial and meaningful engagement with the audience.” This in itself is a fantastic, profound observation which some parts of the industry have started to pick up on.The question is whether Alex Da Kid is the right person to do this. SMS has called the producer ‘ a genuine innovator’ which, in the age of Kanyes, FKAs, James Murphys, Beyonces, Jamie XXs, James Blakes, Diplos, Tylers, ASAPs, Skeptas, Arcas, Bjorks is pretty laughable. Creative Directors, Planners and Account Handlers shouldn’t be rushing to soundtrack beautiful ads with crossover tunes which sound like they’ve been thrown together from existing loops at the last minute. I am not arguing that an established producer should be sidelined for some obscure soundcloud based minimal tech producer or ‘proper’ indie band. I am arguing that more thought should be given to selecting a partner with a real in-depth understanding  of popular music, culture and trends- and most importantly what constitutes ‘cool.’ Far be it from me to shit all over an idea without suggesting an alternative so here are my pics for a better partner in this venture:

A.G. Cook

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Kicking things off with the wild-card here, AG Cook- PC Music’s benevolent leader has a history of working with brands such as Illamasqua form whom he provided Art Direction for the company website and complied a tailored playlist and the Red Bull Music Academy who have been heavily involved in the label’s live shows. Despite making his name as a pop and dance producer, Cook’s tastes (past and present) have been wide-ranging citing Hudson Mohawke, David Guetta, Scritti Politti, Captain Beefheart, UK Garage, Girls Aloud, K-Pop, Frank Zappa and Cassie. Cook is also a good fit due to the nature of his music, unlike the broader consensus among artist, he seems open to working with brands and engaging more with the capitalist music machine. With a production style that apes commercial pop and a growing portfolio of high-level collaborations including Charlie XCX, Cook interrogates our commercial reality and is fascinated by the concept of artifice.

Pros: A history of working with brands, embraces commercial realities of music industry and has a seemingly wide understanding of popular music and culture.

Cons: Resides over sometimes controversial and divisive roster of artists and might lack music and advertising industry leverage being somewhat marginal at this stage.

Dev Hynes

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As the darling of the now R&B-friendly blogosphere and indie critic circle, the eclectic Dev Hynes has been through several musical incarnations. Starting as an indie and folk artist under the name Lightspeed Champion before moving on to post-hardcore and Dance Punk with the short-lived Test Icicles, Dev Hynes has since plateaued with his creative re-imagining of 80s New Wave and alternative R&B as Blood Orange. Despite these varied alt credentials Hynes remains a go-to songwriter and producer for everyone from Britney Spears, Diane Vickers and The Sugababes to more critically acclaimed artists such as Theophilus London, FKA Twigs, Solange and Heems. Hynes clearly has a broad knowledge of various types of music posting videos or everyone from Michael Jackson to Ice Cube to Oasis to Talking Heads to John Cage on his Facebook page. He is also something of a style icon with his interpretation of 80s normcore style making him something of an icon.

Pros: Connected to a wide range of artists across genres, proven and varied track record of creativity and deep knowledge of different types of music.

Cons: No significant experience of working with brands aside from appearing in a GAP Advert alongside Evian Christ and Kelela.

Emily Haynie

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New York’s Emile Haynie cut his teeth on the obscure Hip Hop releases of C-Rayz Walz, Cormega and Obie Trice before falling in with bigger names such as Raekwon, Ghsotface Killah, The Roots and Kid Cudi. Since then he has expanded his production credits across genres to work with Lana Del Rey, Fun, Linkin Park, Rufus Wainwright, and Lykke Li with many of the aforementioned appearing on his solo debut We Fall. This eclectic mix of collaborators from Brian Wilson to FKA Twigs to ASAP Rocky plus the fact that he has a history of brand ownership after launching the now defunct label DreamOn with Kid Cudi and Plain Pat makes Haynie and ideal candidate.

Pros: Well connected and with a proven track record of producing records across genres.

Cons: Probably working on various projects as we speak, likely to be unavailable for the foreseeable future.

Cool Shit Round Up 19.06.2015

The Ad 

Germs on Holiday by DKLW Lowe for Domestos

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The Art

Low Poly Game of Thrones by Mordi Levi

 

The Tune

Leaders by Rome Fortune x Fourtet

The idea

James Murphy, veteran New Yorker and the man behind the excellent LCD Soundsystem is making a symphony from NY Subway bleeps


The Article
‘photographing strip club culture in the south’ by Felicity Kinsella at i-D

Lantern, Hudson Mohawke reclaims his brand


When news of Hudson Mohawke’s Lantern tracklist first broke, many of us were surprised that there appeared to be no rappers featuring. Existing for the last couple of years as a sought-after beat-smith for A-list rappers such as Kanye, Drake, Pusha T and Rick Ross, it seemed logical that he would put out a release affirming his position as chief purveyor of Trap. Fresh from these huge Hip Hop releases and the short lived TNGHT project with Canadian fellow Trap avant-gardist Lunice, the Scottish wonder-kid has turned his back on Hip Hop-based releases in favour of electronic Power-R&B.
Throughout the record Mohawke riffs on popular EDM, pop, Hip Hop and R&B to create a kind of kitsch interpretation of contemporary dance music. The big drums from his Trap releases such as last year’s Chimes EP remain but they are matched with stadium synths and pop riffs. Mohawke makes it clear that this is the music that he wants to be associated with for now and seems keenly aware of  the potential for his brand to pigeon-holed into Trap producer to the stars and takes a radical left turn. This is not to say that he has a foolhardy approach to brand consistency, his trademark electronic sonic maximalism remains but the absence of the expected rap gods in favour of the subdued Jhene Aiko, Antony of Anthony and the Johnsons and Irfane tells us that he is more interested in building his own sound.

‘Scud Books’ and ‘Kettles’ both nod towards his signature maximalist approach whilst embracing epic stadium-level triumphantism, with ‘Very First Breath’ we get an RnB-tinged electro-pop effort with powerful evocative synth work and HudMo’s signature experimentalism is indulged on ‘Little Djembe.’ The Hudson Mohawke brand is demonstrated to be as fluid as Kanye West’s or David Bowie’s and like the aforementioned he retains his core creative values of immaculate execution, disregard of genre confinement and unabridged risk-taking.

The album isn’t perfect, I’d score it a strong 7/10 in terms of the final product, some of the clunky songwriting on ‘Warriorz’ and the underwhelming Jhene Aiko assisted ‘Resistance’ falls a little flat. From a ‘brand’ point of view however, the record proves to be a clever move by the producer to create something that clearly belongs to his own artistic ambitions, defies pigeon-holing and lays the foundations of a varied and exciting career.

Cool Shit Round Up 12.06.2015

The Ad

Apple Music- History of Sound by TBWA Media Arts Lab

The Art

Federico Babina Inkonic Faces

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See full collection here.

The Music

I’m a bit late to Washington DC’s Goldlink but I started checking out his stuff this week and it’s fantastic. Offering insightful yet casually free flowing raps over a Soul and House infused sound- this is definitely worth a listen. Stream his mixtape The God Complex on Spotify.

The Article

‘The Revolution Will Not Be Digitized’ Amir Kassaei, CCO of DDB Worldwide in Campaign US

Miscellaneous

Music Round Up May 2015 over at Mook Life. I can’t praise this guy enough for the diversity of releases here, make sure you check it out if you’re stuck for something new to listen to.

What The Labour Party can learn from Hip Hop

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So the dust has settled following Labour’s crushing GE2015 defeat. Ed Miliband has faded into Memedom, four hats remain in the ring after Chuka ‘strictly vinyl’ Umunna bowed out gracefully from the Leadership race and Labour’s Left-Flank are battling it out with the more pragmatic centrists over the soul of the party. This isn’t a politics blog so please do not expect any deep analysis of the results or persuasive rhetoric, it is simply a few thoughts on what the Labour Party can learn from Hip Hop culture when considering the root of its brand.

Left Wing politics doesn’t always have an easy relationship with the world of art despite the popular perception of artists, writers and musicians as a gaggle of Marxists and Various shades of socialist. Art, in all of its forms has a distinctly individualistic streak which requires freedom, autonomy, innovation- and quite frankly- selfishness. This of course doesn’t include phenomena such as Social Realsim, the didactic poetry of the 60s American counterculture and the stringent leftism of musicians such as Rage Against the Machine and Public Enemy. Neither does it mean that art cannot or should not be political, this is a debate for theorists which will likely rage on for as long as humans continue to create.

Despite humanity’s long history of protest-art there are numerous examples of how the conflict between the individual and the collective within th artistic community has seen many artist favour the former. One only has to think of the Italian Futurists who embraced a kind of dynamic right wing political undercurrent to their innovations, the notable fascist Ezra ‘make it new’ Pound, the CIA’s covert sponsorship of Abstract Expression and Cool Jazz, Jack Kerouac’s hatred of Communism, the fierce individualism of Punk/post-Punk bands such as the Sex Pistols and Joy Division (although the former would never admit to sharing common ground with the right), Iggy Pop’s Reaganism, Gilbert and Geroge’s adoration of Margaret Thatcher, Vincent Gallo’s ‘Conservatie radicalism’ and Tracy Emin’s heaping of praise upon David Cameron and Boris Johnson.

One of the few artistic movements which has effectively managed to keep a foot in the capitalist individualist camp whilst also maintaining a sense of duty to the wider community is Hip Hop. You might argue that Hip Hop in its current form is probably the least Left Wing genre around (bar Country & Western and Skinhead Nazi Punk).  The emphasis on acquiring money, expensive champagne, luxury cars and designer clothing remains prevalent to this day and parties only seem worth attending if one has the freedom to throw copious amounts of their income at strippers. Consumerism is alive and well in Hip Hop as the top commercial tier of artists lend their names to various brands in the form of endorsements and rappers continue to personify the raison d’être of brand-based advertising (whether they’re being paid for it or not!).

That being said, Hip Hop has never lost its social consciousness. This isn’t an analysis of your standard lefty outliers like the militant socialist Immortal Technique or Dead Prez or your Afro- hippy cliques such as Arrested Development, De La Soul and early-A Tribe Called Quest or social justice campaigners such as Common, Talib Kweli and The Roots.  The focus of this piece is how mainstream artists within Hip Hop, many of whom may be considered to be betraying the genres ‘conscious’ roots, demonstrate an ideological framework that should be at the core of the the Labour Party’s centre-left politics. It is worth mentioning some of the negative aspects of mainstream (and often underground) Hip Hop that any party of government would rightly denounce such as the sexism, violence and homophobia. These issues are topical battlegrounds for Hip Hop commentators and despite significant progressive strides being made, there are clearly cultural changes that need to happen however for the sake of this argument I’m going to set these aside.

Artists like Jay Z, Kanye West, Nas, Young Jeezy and the late-greats Tupac and Biggie all laced their heavily materialistic lyrics with social commentary when and where they can/could. Take Jay Z, Labour leadership candidate Liz Kendall’s favourite rapper, aka ‘ Che Guevara with bling on’ who raps ‘ how can I help the poor if I’m one of them?/I got rich and gave back that’s the win win’ on the Eminem-produced Black Album cut ‘Moment of Clarity.’ Jay Z embodies the bootstrap rags-to-riches story that defines the conservative narrative and often emphasises his ascent from the Bed Stuy projects to the upper echelons of wealth and status. In an interview with Zadie Smith, Jay expressed a mixture of sympathy and skepticism on the subject of the Occupy Wall Street movement speaking against both the practices of the rapacious business elite or ‘1 percent’ and the enterprenure-bashing of the far left stating ‘ this is free enterprise. This is what America was built on.’ If that doesn’t sound like it’s come straight out of the Labour centre’s (or right spending on how you measure it) playbook then I don’t know what does. Despite the smears of his GOP opponents Barack Obama is no socialist, at least not compared to the domestic policies of FDR (or even Nixon for that matter) or his counterparts on the mainstream European Left however it is worth considering that Jay Z would have a lot more to gain tax-wise from a Republican administration. Nevertheless Jay and Beyoncé continue to rub shoulders with the Obamas as well as speaking out on social issues and quietly paying bail for anti-police brutality demonstrators.

Kanye West is another example of a Hip Hop artist that reaches out on social issues whilst continuing to embody excessive materialism through his fashion endeavours, corporate deals and flashy lifestyle. Mr West has spoken on a range of social issues throughout his career such as the Bush Administration’s response to Hurricane Katrina, Reagan-era CIA corruption, violence and deprivation in his native Chicago, theconflictedness of wealthy African Americans and classism. Lecturing at places as diverse as the Oxford University Natural History Museum, inner-city schools in Chicago, Technical Colleges and at student unions for Black and Ethnic Minority undergraduates, Kanye is all about ‘Education, education, education.’ Kanye is known to be a conflicted character on record, frequently flirting between considering buying ’50 gold chains’ to rubbing shoulders with the head of the CIA to calling out racial profiling at airports- it has become something of a USP for him and it is something that the Labour Party can learn from. There are downsides to being all things to all men but being tiring mono-focussed is the greater risk.

Another character to consider would be Nas whose subject matter is often caught between ‘the hoes and the ice, 4-4s or Black Christ.’ You might see him walikng down the Road to Zion with Damien Marley  confessing being ‘guilty of materialism’ or you might see him next to Diddy with a gold chain as cars explode behind him. One minute he’s discussing the Prison Industrial Complex with Civil Rights veteran Angela Davies next he’s joining grassroots movements such as the African American Anti-Defamation group ‘Color of Change’  all whilst holding it down as an entrepreneur backing various start ups and investing in Mass Appeal magazine.

Regardless of how wealthy rappers become there remains a sense of duty to their respective communities that sits beside their own individual advancement. Whether it’s Young Jeezy’s critiquing both the actions of the police in Ferguson and the ineffectiveness of rioting whilst simultaneously being the ‘Snowman’ poster boy for the illicit capitalism of the drug market or Tupac’s Versace-clad proclamations that ‘everyone needs a little help on their way to be self reliant‘ (equality of opportunity anyone?)Hip Hop artists always seem to veer to the centre-left once they reach a certain level of financial comfort. As Labour now looks to redefine its brand the word ‘aspiration’ is being thrown around by almost all of the Leadership contenders, this seems like a sensible idea to consider as the the individualist ideas of the 80s do seem to persist within the national consciousness. There is still room for a sense of societal belonging as Miliband’s ‘Mansion Tax’ policy and his highlighting of inequality seemed to resonate with the general public, however the British voters proved to still be largely concerned with self-interest, something that New Labour-for all it’s faults-seemed to understand. Despite the tendency towards ostentatiously flaunting wealth and status, Hip Hop has never seemed to lose its sense of responsibility to the community- this kind of balance should be at the centre of The Labour Party’s rebranding regardless of who is elected leader this autumn.