The Rise of Black Alternative Culture


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A look at the psychographic dynamism in black culture and what it means for brands trying to engage 21st century African Americans and, potentially, the greater African diaspora.

The deck also highlight audience research done in conjunction with Bold As Love Magazine in 2010: "Black Rock Music and the Evolving Urban Mindset"

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The Rise of Black Alternative Culture

  1. 1. TheRiseof the Black Alternative Understanding The #NewBlackImagination September 10, 2013 Rob Fields @robfields 1
  2. 2. Hip Hop Comedy Basketball Gospel It’s time to look beyond the same old, same old if you’re serious about engaging African Americans in the 21st century. 2
  3. 3. You’re missing a big opportunity In fact. . . 3
  4. 4. A new audience segment has emerged • Culturally omnivorous • Globally-minded • Tech-savvy • Entrepreneurial • Determined to make their own voices heard 4
  5. 5. 70% of the nearly 60,000 who showed up for the 2013 Afropunk Festival were part of it 5
  6. 6. Race Gender Representation Sexuality and especially Academics call their sensibility “post-modern” It’s a way of looking at things that makes us re-evaluate assumptions about 6
  7. 7. We like to call it the New Black Imagination 7
  8. 8. It’s about defying convention and breaking out of boxes. Ebony Bones 8
  9. 9. You see it in their comedy Baratunde Thurston Elon James White Dave Chappelle W. Kamau Bell Key & Peele 9
  10. 10. Kara Walker . . .in her art 10
  11. 11. Or in these films 11
  12. 12. The aesthetic isn’t this. . .The heroes are less him. . . 12
  13. 13. . . .and more her. 13
  14. 14. Bet you never saw this coming, huh? photo: James Lee 14
  15. 15. It was just a matter of time. The signs were always there. 15
  16. 16. Music (black alt, black rock, Afropunk) Literature Theater Fashion Visual Art Film Technology Politics Music’s the hub, so that’s where we’ll start 16
  17. 17. 1950s - 1970s Betty Davis Willie Mae Thornton 17
  18. 18. 1980s In 1985, Living Colour guitarist Vernon Reid, along with two other arts activists, forms this progressive arts organization dedicated to supporting convention-defying black musicians 18
  19. 19. 1980s In 1989, author & screenwriter Trey Ellis publishes “The New Black Aesthetic” about a then new generation of artists who were global cultural polyglots and who made “art that shakes you up”. Ellis identified an initial group of artists that included comedian Chris Rock, filmmaker Spike Lee, Living Colour’s Vernon Reid, downtown luminary Fab Five Freddy, director George Wolfe, rappers Run-DMC, and writer Lisa Jones, among others. 19
  20. 20. 1980s 20
  21. 21. 1990s 21
  22. 22. 2000s 22
  23. 23. The film “Afro-Punk” strikes a nerve 2003 James Spooner’s raw and poignant documentary about blacks in the American punk rock scene serves as a rallying cry for those who feel like they’re too black for the white community, but too white for the black community. Turns out there are a lot of them. A movement is born. 23
  24. 24. 2004 “Thrivals” enter the scene Futurist Dr. Nat Irvin II, currently an endowed chair at the University of Louisville School of Business, introduces the concept of “thrivals”. He defines them as “the first generation of blacks who will aggressively compete in the battle to shape the images, ideas and the future of global culture” across every area of endeavor. 24
  25. 25. Social networking explodes 2004 2005 2006 Geography is no longer a hindrance. It’s easier than ever for creators, curators and fans to connect. Technology drives community growth. . . 2000s 25
  26. 26. And amplifies global influences & inspiration 26
  27. 27. The film “Electric Purgatory” debuts 2005 Raymond Gayle’s film highlighted the music industry’s lack of receptivity to black musicians who want to do anything outside of hip hop or R&B. Despite the odds, the bands persevere. 27
  28. 28. 2007 “But 40 years after black musicians laid down the foundations of rock. . .some blacks are again looking to reconnect with the rock scene. . . It is not the first time there has been a black presence in modern rock. But some fans and musicians say they feel that a multiethnic rock scene is gathering momentum.” --Jessica Pressler, “Truly Indie Fans,” January 28, 2007 The New York Times notices. . . 28
  29. 29. 2008 . . . and takes home a Tony Award. Black rock heads to Broadway. . . 29
  30. 30. The Daily News highlights the trend. . . 2008 “So why are such stunning changes happening now? Observers cite the same factor that has had the greatest impact on culture in general: the Internet. With digital downloads ‘people hear music before they see it,’ [Earl] Douglass [executive director of the Black Rock Coalition] says. ‘They’re not necessarily putting a face to it. All that matters is if it’s a good song.’ And this download mad shop-a-thon has changed the very notion of what’s marketable.” --Jim Farber, “Rock is the new black,” May 23, 2008 30
  31. 31. 2008 Other media give it more credence 31
  32. 32. 2008 A sense of new possibilities emerge. . . 32
  33. 33. 2009 Maybe “rock” is no longer that bad four-letter word in the black community. . .? . . .and it ripples into unlikely spaces 33
  34. 34. It was time to learn more about the audience 34
  35. 35. Initial research • Online survey via Bold As Love Magazine ( • Fielded November 2009 - January 2010 • N = 316 full completes 35
  36. 36. Audience Topline Multigenerational, primarily 26-44 Multicultural, but skews African American Even male/female split Socially conscious Tech-savvy Actively seeks progressive arts and music culture 36
  37. 37. Audience Datapoints 62% Percentage who have undergrad or post-graduate degrees 55% & 40% Percentage with HHI over $46,000 Percentage with HHI over $60,000 37
  38. 38. Audience Datapoints 69% Percentage who said that black alt, black rock or Afropunk music had become a bigger part of their regular listening 74% Percentage who said their feelings about hip hop had become indifferent or more negative 38
  39. 39. Audience Datapoints ~90% Percentage who said they often seek out black artists who defy convention. Over half said they consistently do 50+% Percentage who said their feelings about black rock/ Afropunk/black alt music had become more positive over the previous two years 39
  40. 40. Audience Datapoints 46% Percentage who said the amount of world music they listen to has increased 70% Percentage who said it’s important/very important to stay “in the know” about cutting edge music & culture 40
  41. 41. Audience Datapoints 63% Percentage who said expressing their individuality takes precedence over allegiance to group identity 32% Percentage who said they equally feel a need to express their own identity, while maintaining a connection to the larger group (race, ethnicity, gender, etc.) 41
  42. 42. Follow-up Research • Fielding quantitative survey in late 3Q13 • Deeper exploration into audience’s evolution • Focus on psychographics, needs, lifestyle and interests 42
  43. 43. The bottom line? the #NewBlackImagination at work across all areas of creative expression You can find 43
  44. 44. Literature Percival Everett Victor LaValle Mat Johnson Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts Kiese Laymon Catherine E. McKinley Tayari Jones 44
  45. 45. Film Ava DuVernay Andrew Dosunmu Ryan Coogler Dee Rees Tanya HamiltonTerence Nance 45
  46. 46. Theater Lynn Nottage AA Dominique Morisseau Marcus Gardley Suzan-Lori Parks Keith Josef Adkins Katori Hall Radha Blank 46
  47. 47. Visual Art Sanford Biggers Mickalene Thomas Wangechi Mutu Rashaad Newsome Renee Cox Kara Walker Glenn Ligon 47
  48. 48. Music k r r Mykki Blanco Flying Lotus P.O.S. Boston Fielder Jean Grae Mykki Blanco Saul Williams The Brother Moves On Bad Rabbits The Skins Tamar-Kali 48
  49. 49. Technology Kathryn Finney Sian Morson Wayne Sutton Angela Benton Evan Narcisse Kimberly Bryant Hank Williams Tristan Walker 49
  50. 50. In 2011, we launched an entire TED-inspired festival to showcase the #NewBlackImagination visual artists cultural critics architects designers poets social innovators shit disturbers music icons entrepreneurs filmmakers technologists writers futurists remixers Watch a quick video 50
  51. 51. And that was just the TIP of the iceberg 51
  52. 52. What are the opportunities for brands? 52
  53. 53. First, there’s WAY more to choose from It’s time to think more broadly about the cultural palette you can work with to engage the #NewBlackImagination Hip hop no longer defines the limits of black authenticity 53
  54. 54. Discovery Amplification • Space & resources to help the creators create • A “lab” situation Incubation • Helping consumers find out about new voices across disciplines • Brand as guide • Focus on the “about- to-break” creators • The brand helps them make that leap Second, think curation Brand engagement will be a result of the commitment to this audience and the creators & curators they support. 54
  55. 55. By dealing with emerging culture, your brand won’t have to spend $50- or $20 million like a certain soft drink or electronics company did. . . Just sayin’. . . Third, it’s still a ground floor opportunity 55
  56. 56. • support the next round of research? Contact Rob Fields | @robfields • get smarter about capturing the #NewBlackImagination? Want to. . . Rob is an award-winning cultural strategist, who focuses on the intersection of marketing, business and contemporary culture. 56