Hip Hop Fridays: Less Marketing, More Movements by Hadji Williams

“Yo, this right here? This is a movement!” You hear the “m-word” a lot these days in hiphop. Whenever a new album drops or a hot underground artist finally gets their first plaque we hear about the movement that got ‘em there. When some dance craze goes mainstream magazines write about the movement that propelled it: It’s a street movement… A grassroots movement… A hood movement… A global movement… A black card movement…

Well, I have some news for you one and all: You. Are. Not. A movement.

I repeat: You are not a movement. Young Jeezy going platinum is not a movement. Jibbs getting 50,000 BDS and ringtones is not a movement. A bunch of suburbanites packing their closets with the latest urban clothing line is not a movement either.

Moving people to purchase is not a movement; it is a marketing campaign. In some cases, it’s really thorough marketing campaign comprised of word-of-mouth, trendspotters feeding info to brand managers and execs who relay it to creatives and artists who translate it into compelling messaging which gets disseminated thru well-placed, well-timed media buys. But in the end, it’s not a movement, it’s just marketing campaign.

And you know what? Long as you’re honest about what you’re doing and what you’re claiming to be, there’s really nothing wrong with being a marketing campaign. But make no mistake: selling albums and products does not a movement make. Allow me to explain:

Since 1991, I’ve helped launch some of the most successful corporate brands and advertising campaigns around: Aleve. Cingular Wireless. Mercedes Benz C-Class. Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Ford Focus. I’ve also studied and some cases witnessed some of the more significant movements of not only our generation, but of generations’ past: The fall of Communism in Europe. The Civil Rights Movement in America. Terrorism as a seemingly viable weapon of protest. Capitalism as a tool of imperialism…

The biggest difference between marketing and movements is marketing is about moving units while movements are about moving minds and making a difference. And the biggest problem with that is marketing has never ever solved anything besides a client’s bottom line. (And for what it’s worth, my clients’ 4th quarter projections are always the least of my community’s problems.)

Now I’m not one of those “poor equals piety” types. I believe you can have a movement and a steady paycheck at the same time. You can work for good and make a living doing it. It’s been done before. (Tavis Smiley. Marva Collins. George Fraser. Shirley Chisolm. Tom Joyner. The Roots, Davey D., etc. (INSERT WHOEVER YOU BELIEVE IN HERE.) (I’m getting there with KNOCK THE HUSTLE. KTH isn’t on the NYT’s bestseller’s list or anything, but it’s helped a lot of people; and because I’ve been willing to step out on the truth and some faith, I’m being blessed to work with some good folks.)

From what I’ve seen in hiphop these days, Cross Movement Records for example seem to have one of the more genuine movements going. As much as they try to sell records, they are ministers first. I’m not promoting them, but I do like their music and their artists have sacrificed mainstream BDS and sales in the name of a movement. (Consider: “Yeah, I’m hopin’ that you liking the flow/ but that’s only so you can know the God that I’m writing it for!” —Lecrae, After The Show, 2006)

Now anyone who’s ever heard Lecrae or Flame knows these boys spit kerosene. But you also know that they’re rooted in a movement that puts youth ministry ahead of record sales, so they have to walk a different path. And what makes their label CMR a movement versus a brand is the messages is spread whether it’s profitable or not, whether the cameras are on or not. Or as Lecrae says, he “rides a disciple cycle to create disciples.”

Whether or not you agree with their convictions, whether or not you like their music, is irrelevant. What matters is that CMR is working towards a mission that’s equal in import to selling music. And that famlay, is what separates marketing a brand from carrying on a movement. And between the two, a strong movement can create more change than the best marketing plan.

Here’s a test:

If your “movement” isn’t driving change in your community then you don’t have a movement, you have a marketing effort. If your “movement” only puts money in your pocket then you don’t have a movement, you’re just a marketer. Does your movement make people question their behavior? Does your movement cause people to take constructive actions beyond supporting your brand? No? Then welcome to the marketing industry. Are you, as a movement leader, only taking actions designed to that reinforce your brand’s “presence” in people’s minds? Yes? Welcome to Madison Ave.

Once again, nothing wrong with being a marketer, but right about now, hiphop could really use a genuine movement.

But what hey, what do I know? I’m just a dumb marketer.

Hadji Williams is author of KNOCK THE HUSTLE (2005) and the upcoming KNOCK THE HUSTLE: Volume 2 (Spring 2007). Email him: hadji@knockthehustle.com

Hadji Williams

Friday, November 10, 2006