Look at Little Richard, at Jean Michael Basquiat. Look at Peaches Monroee, Rihanna, Big Freedia. Ask about Travis Scott, Beyoncé. Think of Michael Jordan, Allen Iverson, Muhammad Ali. From music to art, fashion and sports, Black culture has influenced how we speak, how we dress, how we act. But, chances are, if you are Black in America and consider yourself to be a creative, you’ve sat in a room and have had to defend Black art and culture in some way, shape or form to people who do not see the world like you do. You’ve had to explain and defend, not just the layered richness and history of Blackness, but its influence on everything; how it has, and continues to, permeate all that we engage with as consumers. It’s no wonder so many create distinctions between what we label Black culture, and what we identify as pop culture. In actuality, there is no difference—pop culture IS Black culture.
At Taylor, we’ve come a long way. When I first started at the agency almost two years ago, there weren’t many POCs in rooms, let alone POCs who have the opportunity to shape influence that directly affects not just how our audiences interact with campaigns, but also how our clients interact with us. When I started, the agency began having conversations about diversity of thought. I had heard language like this before, so I was somewhat skeptical that it would be able to play out in real time and would have real reverberations in the work we would put out into the world. Keeping an open mind and saying “yes” to the cause put myself—a 30-something-year-old Black man and father from the Bronx with only a high school diploma—in a position to use my voice and knowledge of culture in a way that would help generate ideas that would speak not only to the Black experience, but the human experience.
Far too often, Black and brown folx are brought into rooms to “diversify” and add “culture” to what are often spaces dominated by the white majority. The idea is we, as POCs, know something non-POCs don’t; that we are glued into what’s cool, trendy, and hot. We’re supposed to be on the pulse. But, the reality is, Black creatives are just as layered as non-POC and white creatives—some of us don’t watch Netflix (me, until my partner made me), don’t have Spotify Premium accounts, don’t pay attention to popular media, don’t follow Shaderoom or Bossip or can recite every line from the movie Juice by heart (that’s me).
Andre 3000 from Outkast once asked “Is everybody with dreads for the cause/Is everybody with golds for the fall?/Nah/So don’t get caught up in appearance…” What Andre is speaking to is: looking the part of being culturally savvy and knowledgeable does not always equate to BEING a part of the culture in a way that allows you to speak to it. I speak Hip-Hop. I grew up around it, lived in it. Not everyone had that privilege, or wanted it. Not every Black or brown person asked to work on a client brief knows who the influencers are that need to be attached to a campaign, know where the cool activation needs to happen, and know the language that should be used to communicate effectively to multicultural audiences. When I look at the faces at Taylor, my good friend and bomb as f*ck Account Director Sade Ayodele, Assistant Account Executives Ariel Smith and Nysah Warren, to Diageo’s impactful Senior Brand Manager Johannah Rogers, you’re not just looking at Black women who are entering spaces because they are Black. You are looking at individuals who can speak to culture and the ideas that surround who happen to be Black. It’s not enough to just put a Black or brown person in a room, it’s about putting voices in the room that understand the dynamics and intersections of culture.
From new business ventures, to our highly successful Crown Royal Apple Royal Court activation at Art Basel, I’ve been able to influence creative decks: from the ideas presented, to the images selected, all the way down to the language used. I’ve presented these ideas in front of senior management at our agency, and sat in rooms with our client partners, speaking to a culture that I not only love, but breathe. Ideas are not just ideas to the Black creatives I know and admire; the Bennett E. Bennett’s, Qimmah Saafir’s, God-Is Rivera’s, the Michell C. Clark’s and Scottie Beam’s of the world. They are our lived-in experiences. We all recognize very clearly the synergy between what we deem to be relevant in pop culture and how that is nothing but a derivative of all things popular on the same streets, blocks and Twitter and Instagram feeds we’ve spent our time on. Whether they know it or not, when clients give us a brief and ask us for ideas that speak to culture, they are asking us for ideas that come from Blackness, but speak to a wide swath of the population. That is because pop culture is inherently Black culture. I’ll be sure to keep speaking that from the mountaintops of every Google Doc I get the chance to put in front of the powers that be.