Should we dumb down our art?

If our art is not resonating, we may need to dumb it down (or not).

“I dumb down for my audience. And double my dollars,” rhymes Jay-Z in his track ‘Moment of Clarity' from The Black Album.

If we follow Jay-Z's strategy, we'll almost certainly attract more attention.

People enjoy things they are familiar with — whether it's a popular style beat, expression, or cliched Instagram pose. Social media helps solidify the harmonization of tastes.

But we live in the best possible age to be weird and eclectic.

While the internet rewards those who play it safe with likes and shares — it is in the effort to be genuinely different that one attracts a more ardent following.

Witness Beeple – the graphic artist has created a new piece of art every day for twelve years whether it “sucks ass” or not. And his creative infectiousness spread, so much that he caught the eye of Louis Vuitton.

Our creative work is rarely popular. As Seth Godin says, “The less reassurance we can give you the more important the work is.”

Sophistication doesn't scale. But that doesn't mean we should cheapen our work to manufacture the hits — if we're lucky enough to have one. Produce something for the masses and we'll be stuck at the hamster wheel of the same canvass forever.

“We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.”

Kurt Vonnegut

In this age, we're better off making for ourselves first and then marketing our work to the micro-market. Seeking out uniqueness is important, especially when it's so easy to adopt the conformist style.

As makers, we must remain unpredictable and experimental, never leaving our authenticity open to doubt.

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We were kids without fathers…so we found our fathers on wax and on the streets and in history.


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Magna Carta, hacked; ironically, malware that merely reflects what Jay-Z was already doing to his fans. That’s Obama wearing headphones.
Magna Carta, hacked; ironically, malware that merely reflects what Jay-Z was already doing to his fans. That’s Obama wearing headphones.

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Jay-Z Is Watching, and He Knows Your Friends

On Jay-Z forcing fans to share via their social networks in order to unlock content:

I can’t be the only one who thinks it’s creepy, especially when Edward J. Snowden’s revelations have shown the extent of government surveillance of e-mails and phone records. If Jay-Z wants to know about my phone calls and e-mail accounts, why doesn’t he join the National Security Agency? Nor is it particularly reassuring, to me anyway, that this example of data collection and forced speech was required by corporations — Samsung and Jay-Z’s Roc Nation rather than the government. — for every song.

This is why I’ve never purchased a Jay-Z album or song; just never liked him. He’s always been manipulative and selfish, more about the art of commerce than the art of meaning. Plus, Nas is a better lyricist anyway.

Fuck Jay-Z

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Brooklyn, the Remix: A Hip-Hop Tour

For many, the word “Brooklyn” now evokes artisanal cheese rather than rap artists. The disconnect between brownstone Brooklyn’s past and present is jarring in the places where rappers grew up and boasted about surviving shootouts, but where cupcakes now reign. If you look hard enough, the rougher past might still be visible under the more recently applied gloss. And if you want to buy a piece of the action, Biggie’s childhood apartment, a three-bedroom walk-up, was recently listed by a division of Sotheby’s International Realty. Asking price: $725,000.

Go Brooklyn?  Too soft.  

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Niches are growing niches and the mainstream

The array of niches is making mass appeal less attractive but much larger. The long tail makes what’s popular even more popular, like an obsession.

Just scan your newsfeed. Everyone is tying in Jay Z, Beyonce, Bieber to one of their stories, hoping to woo a wider audience.

Forcing the conversation around a sly disconnect means that both people that love it and hate it will see it. The publications and celebrities both get richer, leaving limited space for new hyper-mainstream entrants.

On the whole, people gravitate to online tribes. The Internet connects a mass of niches and curators. Styles such as jean shorts and genres such as dub-step now have huge cult followings.

We really don’t even need the mainstream. It’s unnecessary noise acceptable only to people that don't know any better. A online niche is a massive craze within itself.

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