Urban Sprawl

What do you think of when you hear the word "urban"?

A recent tweet by Web resurfaced this question for me. 

I think the word "urban" tends to be misused at times. This is only one example. I recall a time where I saw the word "urban" used to describe a style of clothing in a major department store. The clothing in that section included brands such as Trukfit, Hustle Gang Clothing, Rocawear, and others. You also wouldn't be hard pressed to find an "urban music" title at many of the large record labels.

I never really thought much of the word until I began to hear Steve Stoute challenge users of it. He professed that the word "urban" should be used to define a geographic space akin to how one would use the words "suburban" or "rural". I have to agree with him. If you look up the word "urban" you'll see a host of definitions, most of which serve to define the word with relation to a city or town. An urban area.

So then, if this is how the word urban is to be used, how did it evolve into a word that is used to describe certain genres or music and styles of dress? Are we then saying that those who live in suburban and rural communities don't identify with the things we label as "urban"? Are we saying that things labeled as "urban" are reserved specifically for people from the inner city?

It seems to me that the word has become an acceptable and politically correct term used to describe a culture many would correlate to the African-American and/or Hip-Hop music communities. I think a more broad and encompassing phrase for this culture would be Black Culture. Black Culture isn't by any means limited to people of only African descent. I hint at it in an earlier blog post, but I do believe much of what ends up becoming mainstream from a music and fashion perspective stems from Black Culture (others too) and that those things are enjoyed (and also created in some instances) by an extremely wide range of people from different ethnic backgrounds (any you can think of) and geographic spaces (global).

My points in saying these things are:

  • It's not always politically incorrect to  just call something what it is. If it's Hip-Hop, Rap, or R&B music, then let's call it that. If the clothing we are referencing is street wear, then let's refer to it as such. I think we'd be hard pressed to hear the creators of any of these things referring to them as "urban".
  • Embrace how big culture is. If the intent of the use of the word "urban" is to say that the consumers and creators of such things are only from the inner city, this is incorrect. I would venture to say that the things typically labeled as "urban" are enjoyed equally as much and just as frequently by those living outside the city lines as those inside. Culture is much bigger than any geographic confines.

Just some food for thought. Leave dessert in the comment section (or my mentions).

Tanning of America: Brand Assassins

Hip-hop isn’t just the music, it’s the culture. It’s a living breathing thing. -Andre Young

Last night concluded the 4-part docu-series of Steve Stoute's Tanning of America on VH1. The series centered on the impact Hip-Hop culture had on economies, as well as American culture at large. Much of the program discussed Hip-Hop's ability to breathe life into fledgling brands, create it's own brands, and also help recognizable brands tap into markets that they had not yet realized themselves.

These blurbs on the brands of 90’s past got me thinking about all of the brands that have fallen from grace, as well as those that have stood the test of time. Too, those that are still utilizing elements of the Hip-Hop culture to lease customers from the more reputable names associated with it. 

FUBU - The FUBU brand was a huge staple of Hip-Hop culture in the 90’s. Arguably the biggest. Damon John’s ability to place his product on the right celebrities, at the right times, with the right avenues for promotion proved to be the perfect storm for making FUBU a fixation of the culture. But what happened? FUBU had a drastic fall from grace. I can’t pinpoint where exactly FUBU’s descent began, but I think brands have a tendency of sparking decline when they try to be all things to all people. FUBU should have stayed away from shoes. They made great clothing, but I can’t remember anyone ever rushing out to get a pair of FUBU shoes. Also, accessibility. Seeing FUBU sold in a big box retailer is an easy way to dissuade the young brand consumer from buying your product. 

ADIDAS - Adidas has always been a middle-of-the-road brand for me, though they undoubtedly make quality product. Steve talks in Tanning about how Run DMC’s endorsement of the Adidas shell-toe sneaker sky-rocketed it’s sales. Adidas is still hanging around, but has never reached the brand recognition that some of it’s counterparts have. I think they are gaining some steam from the recent partnerships with 2Chainz and Big Sean

FILA - Fila had a pretty good run in the 90’s. Having athletes on their team like Grant Hill and Jerry Stackhouse helped their case. I’m not sure they ever TRULY caught on as a fashion staple. They made a brief come back in the early-mid 2000’s with the F-13 sneaker, but the imitation Pradas were just an all around bad look. 

TOMMY HILFIGER - Hilfiger was another popular brand during the 90’s. Tommy’s walking bilboards in Snoop Dogg, Aaliyah, Destiny’s Child, and others allowed an opportunity for the brand to tap into a new market. Still today, it’s no chore to find Tommy draped on the racks of your favorite department store, but many constituents of the Hip-Hop culture later abandoned the brand after a false rumor began to swirl about the racist attitude of Tommy himself.

NIKE/JORDAN - The Nike/Jordan brand seem to have found the fountain of youth. Years and years later, Nike and Jordan still have managed to be some of the most named checked brands there are. Nike has made it seem an easy task to land the biggest athletes as it’s clients which in turn bolsters the already glowing reputation of the brand. A fresh pair of Air Max 90's are still my shoe of choice. I think Jordan in particular has managed to maintain it's luster by staggering it's releases of retro Jordans, and also making them in limited quantities. It's no easy task these days to just walk into a shoe store and pick up a pair of Air Jordans. High demand. Recent partnerships with artists like Drake show the brand is still paying attention to the culture and evolving with it.

Rocawear, Sean John, Enyce, And1, Ecko. Just a handful of the brands we all used to love in the 90’s. What were some of your favorites? Let me know on Twitter

Beats Beats Spotify?

My first thought upon touching the Beats Music app last week….wow! I was extremely impressed. The user interface was extremely clean and free-flowing. I was enthralled by the precision of the curated playlists. The “Gangsta Rap” playlist hit the spot on impact, as did the “Behind the Boards: Just Blaze” playlist. (How do I find these playlists again? I didn’t save them! Help!)

I don’t think Beats can quite replace Spotify for me just yet, but it absolutely can supplement it. Beats is missing some key features that would make me a full time streamer:

  • Radio 
  • Ability to save and quickly find my favorite genres
  • A place where I can see all music posted by the curators I follow

I do think Beats is a step ahead when it comes to genuine discovery. I’ve re-discovered songs that I remember riding with my dad to when I was about 8 or 9 that I haven’t heard since. It’s also made for some prime opportunities for new music discovery that I might not have had without it.

The Sentence feature is pretty cool, and also is a great supplement for discovery, but sometimes you want a more focused and streamlined curation of music. I think a genuine radio feature would come in handy here. Spotify’s Jadakiss radio has yet to disappoint. I’d like to see some form of a radio feature integrated into the next version of Beats Music. Sentences have been hit or miss for me thus far. 

The Highlight feature hasn’t done much for me yet. I’m pretty open-minded musically, but I’m not overly enthusiastic about the ‘Britney Spears Workout Mix’ sitting atop my Highlights tab right now. Maybe the Highlights tab will grow closer to my interests as I begin to ‘like’ more songs. 

Going forward, I think my music streaming will be a combination of both Beats Music and Spotify. The question then becomes, which one do I pay for? Both service sit at a $10/month price point, though Spotify does offer a free version that forces you to shuffle albums and playlists out of their original order, and includes ads. I think for now, I’ll pay for Beats, and see how tolerable the ad infused version of Spotify is. 

For me, Beats Music deserves a chance because of what the entire brand stands for. Beats has made it appear simple to sit at the exact cross-section of premium sound, a fashionable product, and willingness eagerness to continue propping up the culture. And for this, I don’t mind being a paying supporter. 

-My Latest Sentence-

I’m Sick Of Being Cold

& Feel Like Saving The World

With My Entourage

To Hip Hop

Anyone want to take a guess at what I’m listening to based on this sentence? ……..”Thong Song” by Sisqo. :-(

Hit me up on Twitter

Nothing is Stopping You

In August of this year, Big Sean dropped his sophomore studio album entitled, "Hall of Fame"

I personally didn’t think this was Sean’s best work (I’m partial to Detroit), but I did find some enjoyment in several of the tracks on this LP. Namely, the opening track, “Nothing is Stopping You”. <——-Give it a listen (excuse the language). 

On this track, Sean gives us several gems that I think we could all learn from, and apply in our own lives:

Support System

Toward the end of the first verse, Sean gives a tidbit of the story of his first run-in with, arguably, one of the world’s biggest celebrities, Kanye West. Kanye was at a Detroit radio station doing some promo work, and Sean was encouraged by a friend to go show off his rapping ability for the hip-hop mogul. Reluctantly, Sean obliged. In short, Sean taking advantage of this opportunity resulted in him landing a record deal, and an eventual platform to launch his music career on a global stage. 

The message here is that a solid support system is invaluable. It pays to have people in your corner who not only support you, but recognize potential opportunities, and encourage you to pursue them. 

Pay it Forward

Later in the song, Sean raps about an instance where he was at a radio station doing some promo work of his own, and he was stopped by an aspiring rapper on his way out. The story is oddly similar to his own experience with Kanye. Running late for his next engagement, Sean still agrees to listen to some bars from the young emcee. The rapper’s lines were less than stellar, but Sean reflects to his own similar experience, and realizes that his raps may have been less that stellar in his exhibition for Kanye, too. Sean then agrees to give the aspirant his email address, and notes that if his song is worthy, then he’ll reply. 

No details are given about what may have later happened to the young aspirant, but I think the message here is still that Sean paid forward the same opportunity that was given to him by Ye. He took time from his busy schedule to give someone in a lesser position a chance to prove himself.

It’s important that we never forget where we’ve come from, or the obstacles that we had to overcome to get to where we are. Always take advantage of an opportunity you might have to help someone trying to travel down a similar path as you. 

Positivity

Sean’s final line on the song is: “All the faith that I have just ain’t all the faith that I need. I’m sorry.” The track then cuts to audio of Sean’s mom scolding him for his negative energy. She emphasizes to her son that he should shift his negative energy toward the positive end of the spectrum, and that the easiest way to do that is to be grateful for the things that he did have, as opposed to focusing on the things he did not.

You’ll hear me say this over and over, but I am a huge proponent of maintaining a positive attitude. As difficult as it can be sometimes, I think it makes all the difference. Seldom do favorable results come out of an unfavorable mindset. 

Tons of others gems in this song, but these are the few that stood out to me. What are your thoughts? Feel free to drop a few “bars” in the comment section, or on Twitter.