The Influence of African Americans on the Psyche of America


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An historical story told by Footsteps in 3 acts of African American cultural exploration and what it means to marketers today

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The Influence of African Americans on the Psyche of America

  1. 1. The Influence of African Americans on the Psyche of America An historical story told in 3 acts and what it means to marketers today
  2. 2. Everything old is new again… • A number of marketers have been moved by the influence of hip hop on the general market – As such, they have started to accept African American youth as cultural innovators and trendsetters • But the idea that African Americans have had a significant influence on white America is not a new one…
  3. 3. Since the beginning… • The first English settlers arrived in Jameston, Virginia in 1607 • The first Africans arrived there in 1619 • Apart from those 12 years in between, whites and blacks have jointly made America what it is today – Living together and working with each other, far more than any other racial group who now inhabits this country, African Americans have had an immeasurable impact on the thinking, ideas, perspectives, and behavior of white America
  4. 4. Hiding in plain view • What is rarely acknowledged today is the result of this impact that African Americans have had on white America • Thus, the recent impact of hip hop on white America is treated as an anomaly instead a continuation of 400 years of co-habitation
  5. 5. What kind of influence? • Given how African Americans came to this country, nearly all of their formal institutions did not survive the passageway • For that reason most of the influence of African Americans on white America is with regards to cultural/informal behavior – The arts, religion, culinary, sports, modes of expression, codes of conduct, etc. • And less so on the political, economic, or educational foundations of the country
  6. 6. Prime example • While a number of flashpoints will be used to illustrate this path, this presentation will focus much of its attention on the music of America as a way in which to tell its story of influence
  7. 7. A story told in 3 acts • A brief survey of the past explains how what we see today is just more of the same – The difference between now and yesterday is the role that technology has played in making obvious what has always been true
  8. 8. Act One: How English Puritans came to be Southerners
  9. 9. 1700’s-1800’s: How an English accent became a slow Southern drawl • Let’s talk about Time – English settlers came to America with a mechanistic sense of time in sync with their Industrial Age culture and reinforced by their Protestant sense of idle hands make for a devil’s playground • The day’s activities were scheduled to maximize efficiency and productivity, which meant that time was briskly paced, recorded faithfully and colonial life was lived accordingly
  10. 10. 1700’s-1800’s: How an English accent became a slow Southern drawl • Africans, over 90% of whom came to live in the South, had a different world-view – Africans came from an agrarian, social point-of- view that suggested that just as long as the day’s activities got done, it mattered not whether they were done at 9:00 AM or 9:15 AM or 10:00 AM • Couple that with a religious orientation that emphasized living in the now (over a concern for the future) and the pace of work life for Africans was considerably at variance with a European’s
  11. 11. 1700’s-1800’s: How a clipped English accent became a slow Southern drawl • Southern Europeans – who were more intrinsically intertwined on a day-to-day basis with Africans -- for all their initial complaining, eventually slowed their living pace down to match that of their African workers • And that’s why speech in the South came to be considerably slower than it is in the North – Despite the fact that whites from the North and South all came from common lands with the same speech preferences
  12. 12. Apart from Perceptions of Time… • Africans affected how Europeans came to become Southerners – The nature of the spirit – Their perspective of the afterlife – How and why they celebrated – What they ate and how it was prepared – The construction of their homes and the use of space
  13. 13. Eventually… • When African Americans came to migrate to the North, following in the path of their Southern counterparts, Northern whites also came to be different than they had been before
  14. 14. Act Two: How the culture of America developed rhythm
  15. 15. It came from the motherland
  16. 16. Yankee Doodle Dandy, Auld Lang Syne & Amazing Grace were huge hits in the 1790’s • And derivations of these folk ditties and hymns is what American music would sound like today without the influence of African Americans • “Almost all popular music contains elements of African American rhythms and culture” » World Book Encyclopedia and Learning Resources
  17. 17. 1900’s: From Al Jolson to Pat Boone • While Ragtime turned into the Jazz Age which soon gave way to rock & roll, America’s melodic musical tastes were inexorably being Africanized with intricate rhythms, complex harmonies, and improvisational emoting – However, most of America was not getting it from the source but their substitutes/filters Tutti Frutti Long Tall Sally The “real” jazz man?
  18. 18. Underground • While America was unaware of the musical origins of much of their favorite songs, there were pockets of the country who not only were aware of the influences but emulated them – These were the underground movements in America looking to identify with those who really were the content creators
  19. 19. The White Negro: The search for authenticity • 1940’s: Hipsters: white jazz aficionados who were “cool” and on the outskirts of American Society • 1950’s: Beatniks: popularization of jazz culture language and style breakthroughs bemuses the mainstream • 1960: Mods: First evidence of globalism -- a European transformation of Jamaican rude boy culture and the r&b tastes of American serviceman
  20. 20. Act Three: How technology finally awarded African Americans credit for creating a global urban culture
  21. 21. 1970’s to present: How MTV and Soundscan changed the world • Even though the message of hip hop is now carried globally mostly via the uber technology of the Internet, hip hop originally became part of the American culture because technology spread the words of rap beyond their local origins (MTV) and then measured the effect on consumer behavior (Soundscan)
  22. 22. Video killed the radio star • Back in the dark ages before hip hop, there was no national media organ for music – There were a few national television shows like American Bandstand • But most Americans musical tastes were developed by their local radio stations • In 1981, MTV changed that…
  23. 23. The MTV Effect • From the beginning, MTV changed America’s musical consumption and rock culture – For the first time there was a 24 hour on- going video barometer of what music that the WHOLE country would be exposed to • And for the first time in America, what was once local became national – With a caveat…
  24. 24. In the beginning… • MTV had no commitment to playing music by black artists – However, when influential artists like David Bowie questioned “why not” in an on-air interview, as well as the head of CBS records, the station changed it’s policy in 1983 • Opening its doors to Michael Jackson and R&B
  25. 25. But, right around the same time… • In the South Bronx, a new black music was being born…hip hop • From the beginning it had an immediate and enormous impact on African American youth
  26. 26. 1970’s/1980’s: The hood • Hip hop fashion was associated almost exclusively with African Americans in urban areas in the 1970s and 80s… • But almost from the beginning, just like with the hipsters, the beatniks, the mods of past generations, hip white teens were enthralled with this new sound and new culture » Spiritus
  27. 27. 1988-1991: America awakens to discover what their teens are listening to • On August 8, 1988 MTV debuts Yo! MTV Raps and brings hip hop to America – The show becomes the #1 show on the network – MTV Europe, MTV Asia, and MTV Latino eventually also bring hip hop to the world
  28. 28. 1988-1991: America awakens to discover what their teens are listening to • In November, 1991, David Samuels writes an influential article in the New Republic informing America that 80% of rap music is being bought in white suburbs ( a Soundscan insight)
  29. 29. 1990’s: From the hood to the ‘burbs • Why are companies pitching products to the hip-hop crowd? Because for most of the 1990s, hordes of suburban kids--both black and white--have followed inner-city idols' in adopting everything from music to clothing to language • Scoring a hit with inner-city youths can make a product hot with the much larger and affluent white suburban market » American Demographics, November, 1996
  30. 30. 2000’s: Hip Hop becomes Pop • Hip-hop sensibilities have ingrained themselves into society: Clothing, advertisements, visual art, television, food, drink, even language have been influenced by rap and hip-hop. Not since the rise of rock ‘n’ roll has a specific musical format had such impact on pop culture » Media Life, August 7, 2003
  31. 31. 2008: Global • The point is, Hip Hop has transcended its roots from the Bronx and streets of L.A. to become a global sound » Netmix, 5/10/08 • The language of Hip Hop Culture in the United States, is … being adopted and adapted by youth around the planet, in countries as distant and diverse as Mexico, Cuba, France, Bulgaria, Ghana, Pakistan, Japan, Australia and many more. The Hip Hop Nation has, as predicted as far back as 1991, become the “Global Hip Hop Hood” » October 24, 2008
  32. 32. Preference Influence • A 2005 study of youth musical preferences showed that 65% of AA’s, Latinos, and whites listened to a hip hop song the day before – Double that of the next musical choice • Not surprising considering their overall musical preferences Overall music preference Hip Hop African- American 81 Latino 70 White 60
  33. 33. Hip hop’s effect • Unlike traditional music genres like pop, rock and country, whose artists generally make the bulk of their money selling albums and touring, hip-hop has spawned an impressive cadre of musicians-cum-entrepreneurs who have parlayed their fame into lucrative entertainment empires. Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson…made an estimated $32 million last year…he told Forbes last year. "I never got into it for the music. I got into it for the business.” » Forbes, August 16, 2007
  34. 34. Fashion • Gucci seems to realize that it owes much of its recent popularity to hip-hop’s enduring affection for the Gucciness of Gucci, which, arguably, isn’t affection for classic Gucci as signified, but affection for hip-hop’s kidnap and brainwash of Gucci, which has been successfully turned out…to represent that cultural revolution of dazzling urbanites • » NY Times, March 8, 2008
  35. 35. Hip hop and alcohol • A study of rap music indicated that references to alcohol in rap song lyrics increased five times (from 8% to 44%) from 1979 to 1997 • Alcohol references in music (1999) – Hip Hop: 47% – Country & Western: 13% – Top 40: 12% – Alternative rock: 10% – Heavy metal: 4% » Journal of the Study of Alcohol, 5/1/06
  36. 36. Online • While there are certainly notable examples of musicians from other genres pushing digital distribution…no other musical genre has moved its culture so fully online as hip hop » Salon, June 1, 1999