What can you learn from the world’s best rappers at the top of their game? Plenty. Part of our Lessons for Creatives series, this is a guest post from Australian strategist Grace Gordon who’s currently living in NYC.
1. Don’t be scared to break the status quo.
I just like to do things that people don’t do, you feel me? When I was wearing pink, I was doing it because everyone wasn’t doing it. Then when everybody started doing it, I stopped doing it… I see I have such an effect on people with colors… like I’m Crayola.
Cam’ron a.k.a Killa Cam, flamboyant Harlem rapper and Dipset founder (arguably more influential than Jay Z on New York in the early 00’s) was never scared to do what was different at the risk of ridicule. His pink jeeps and fluffy chinchilla coats are now legendary tumblr fodder for the ages.
2. Escape your bubble: you can find inspiration outside your own field.
“F+ck this industry – Bitch, i’m in these streets.” Needless to say, Waka Flocka Flame is about that life. Just like rappers not getting caught up in the politics of the industry, creatives must try to look to other avenues (outside of YouTubes of the latest W+K spots) for inspiration and a reality dose.
3. Embrace your unique strengths.
I just found my lane… I figured out what people love me for — ad-libs, the crunk, the energy of my voice! I didn’t want to be distracted by people saying, ‘Waka’s not lyrical.’ I didn’t want to lose my path by trying to be lyrical. Hell, no. I can’t fall off my hustle.
- Waka Flocka Flame.
Waka Flocka Flame shares the path to his unique style that paved the current trend towards aggressive production and simple hooks. Waka’s approach learns us – instead of being distracted by lifting your game on an area that will never be ‘you’, focus on your own lane.
4. There’s no secret formula… or is there?
…Top Dawg penned the five-point plan that hangs on the studio wall. Modeled loosely around 50 Cent’s rise to success, the poster board details the core traits necessary to become a rap star: Charisma, Substance, Lyrics, Uniqueness and Work Ethic.
Taken from Andrew Nosnitsky’s piece on the ascending tour de force that is the Black Hippy crew, these simple ingredients for success could be applied to creativity in any field – swap out ‘lyrics.’
5. The dynamics of a creative partnership can be complex.
His life revolves around hating on me, and this is a guy who used to live in my house. My mom took care of him. Before I had a record deal we were sharing dinner plates and shit.
- A$AP Rocky.
Here A$AP Rocky speaks on his notorious beef with SpaceGhostPurp, who produced the beats of arguably a couple of his best tracks, in addition to rapping with the now-famous darling of New York rap on remixes and crew tunes with an undeniable shared charisma and energy. In other words: even if you win at Cannes, you might still hate each other.
On the flip side:
I really don’t know if I could keep making music without 40 – I really don’t know. That’s one of the biggest fears I have, is losing 40.
- Prolific Canadian rapper Drake speaks on the creative connection he shares with his producer and partner, Noah ‘40’ Shebib. If you find a good thing, stick with it.
6. Bide your time, not everyone is going to win overnight.
People said [Playaz Circle] didn’t do good numbers-wise but I’m confident in the material even up to this day. A lot of rappers who maybe didn’t [sell] well damn near committed suicide but I always thought there was something wrong with everybody else. They didn’t get it.
The increasingly popular 2Chainz described his slow-burn to success. Perhaps more directly, he brags on T.R.U. REALigion’s opening track, Got One: ”The crazy thing about it, I been known I had it/ I was being patient, y’all was being stagnant.” His current fame has been a long time in the making, a testament to his patience and determination that hard work and passion will pay off. In other words… keep at it.
7. Don’t be a hater. Collaborate without ego.
When you beef, you put negative energy out there and it brings negative energy back. When you put something positive out there, it brings positive energy back. I feel like if you want to beef go to the streets, beef with niggas that really wanna beef. If you have nothing to live for. Beef is not about money…You should avoid beef if you trying to make money. People get scared when you try to beef with people. In general, [even in street shit] nobody want to stand next to you if somebody about to shoot you, unless you have a a big lick [Ed. Note—A "lick" means a hustle.] They [used to] do that with 50 [Cent] because 50 was the bank. They knew he was going to win. People ain’t doing that [anymore].
The currently chart-topping, South Bronx-dwelling French Montana reflects on his conscious decision to stay friendly with a range of tense crews. The sentiment is simple: no one wants to do business with someone who creates and involves themselves in negativity.
8. Stay based, and positive.
Based means being yourself. Not being scared of what people think about you. Not being afraid to do what you wanna do. Being positive. When I was younger, based was a negative term that meant like dopehead, or basehead. People used to make fun of me. They was like, “You’re based.” They’d use it as a negative. And what I did was turn that negative into a positive. I started embracing it like, “Yeah, I’m based.” I made it mine. I embedded it in my head. Based is positive.
- Lil B. What words are there for the rap game’s most unique, creative individual? Lil B is possibly the W+K OId Spice campaign of the Rap Game, fathering the inspiration of a generation of young YouTube rappers who came after him. The rapper, who recently lectured at NYU, consistently preaches the importance of positivity and remaining ‘based’. In many creative industries it’s certainly easy to become jaded or negative – a little Lil B optimism wouldn’t go astray for all of us.
9. Say what you mean, mean what you say.
Yeah, if you say you don’t like somebody, you rap about them. How can you see them and not attack them or fight them?
Gucci Mane recently revealed why sometimes he doesn’t shy away from actually doing what he claims in lyrics. Although nobody condones violence, it’s certainly important to occasionally stand your ground and feel confident to give your opinion when critiquing work, whether your own or others. The best ideas emerge from the most debate – so make like Gucci and allow for unabashed honesty to fuel your creative products.
10. Sometimes it’s best to let the work speak for itself.
I like purple ’cause purple is like red to me. I like red too, but purple is just like red. Don’t it look just like red to you? Think about it… [...] I hate interviews.
In a now infamous Fader interview, Chicago drill rap star Chief Keef gave a few quotes that basically offered little to no insight on the character of some of the most arguably visceral and inspired rap of this year. Lesson: If you’re not adding value to an incredible piece of creative work, sometimes it’s best to say nothing. Especially if it doesn’t feel natural.
This is a guest post from Grace Gordon (@1800GRACIE): strategist, Australian-in-NYC, Nextness fan, rap aficionado. Thank you based Grace. If you enjoyed it, why not explore Lessons for Creatives from Lena Dunham | Patti Smith | David Hockney | Keith Richards | Miranda July?