TAP: Let’s talk about how hip-hop has affected consumerism. With the highlight on higher-end cars, designer labels or just the extravagant lifestyle that hip-hop perpetuates, what do you say to people who believe that it’s that type of imagery with emphasis on materials that is damaging, in particular, to the black community?
Patton: That’s a very valid question. In terms of the imagery, one thing we know is that hip-hop music and the culture has a tremendous influence on the young people, and not just African Americans. We know that the greatest consumers are people in the suburbs and Caucasian kids. But it can be particularly damaging to those in certain environments where the lack of access combined with culture and music that promotes excess can create a challenge for certain individuals because they desire a certain lifestyle or to have certain things and that can create issues. But I think we have to realize it’s about personal responsibility at the same time. Be the program director to what your kids take in from TV, music, radio stations or whatever it is. Parents have to be the ones to accept the responsibility and be accountable for the messages and imagery that their kids are exposed to. Now there are some, unfortunately, who come from more challenged backgrounds where they don’t have that filter and don’t have a parent or both parents to make those decisions.
I think the lifestyle that is being articulated can be positive in a sense of wanting more. But recognize what the journey has been since the birth of hip-hop in the Bronx in the late eighties into the early nineties. You had this generation who, out of necessity, had to create a way out of no way. It was a struggle. And to celebrate the journey, to me, isn’t a bad thing. Individuals desire high-end and luxury brand items. It is just the American consumer culture overall that elevates premium, high-end and luxury. That’s part of what the hip-hop generation used as a way to measure success.
I do think there are times where music and the culture can conflict in terms of the message. I think that it’s a function of this generation’s desire to create unique experiences. There are brands that aren’t even marketing to an urban segment but the urban artists find a way to uniquely express themselves around that product. I think it’s an extension of the creativity within the generation.
In the book, I use the example of Hpnotiq. There has been a very significant influence within the spirits category, and it’s also one that equates to status and lifestyle. Hypnotic is a fruity blue color, right? And men weren’t drinking it for that very reason. It’s not a very masculine drink. The number one drink for urban males was, at the time, Hennessy. So the bartender realized that and mixed the Hennessy with Hynotic and it turned green, so now you have the “Incredible Hulk” and it spread from South Beach to New York, L.A and it went viral. This drink became so popular profitable!
TAP: In the video on your website, you said that you’re wanting to stay ahead of the game and sort of shape the path of hip-hop through branding in a positive way. In theory, the point is to progress the image and culture of hip-hop. Where do you see it in five years?
Patton:If you’re talking about reaching someone within the next five years, look to the 18-49 demo. That’s it. This generation is trans- cultural and diverse. This generation is the new mainstream. In the book, I talk about the seven ciphers, which are seven segments within the urban market. I reference the core urban or inner city and I tag someone like 50 Cent to that segment- to contemporary urban, which is your 30+ segment who are somewhat settled and who has the cars, the houses and money. There’s also organic urban which would be India Arie, Jill Scott and Common. So even though there’s a niche market for all things urban and it’s mainstream, within that there are distinct populations that have a unique perspective that brands should recognize. I think it’s created an opportunity for this generation to channel that creativity towards not just consuming but producing. For the longest time, this generation has been identified primarily as consumers. We consume media, we consume products and companies have realized that we consume disproportionately when compared to other populations. In my perspective, the next move is into the production side of things and taking advantage of things like content creation or other platforms that are available like digital media or social media. Embracing and mastering these things would then usher in the possibility of becoming the producers and distributors. To me that’s the real end game and I think that’s what we’ll start to see happening in the next five years or so.
TAP: What’s the hold up? There are plenty of mainstream artists who not only have the potential and star power but also the monetary wherewithal to make these things happen like yesterday. What do you think is the real hold up?
Patton: I think part of it is once they’re [celebrities] in the system, and even though some possess some entrepreneurial ambitions, it becomes an issue of resources. Individuals who are in certain positions become accustomed to having a certain machine that’s operating and constantly revved up and ready. I think sometimes it’s hard to take a step back from that and say, “well, maybe there’s another machine that can operate that same way. Maybe we need to go into development for a minute to get the new machine on the same level as the operating machine.” It’s more difficult for some to figure out what’s it’s going to take to get out there, pull resources and create a similar machine. What has to happen, not just to celebrities but those of us who represent this generation and have access to the same opportunities, is that folks will need to get out there to create and build these business models and alliances. It’s going to take people putting the pride and ego aside and say, “If I have this business and you have that business and we put our two together, we can really make something happen.” So the whole notion of cooperation is something that has to be embedded in the education system and elsewhere at a much earlier point. We need to do a better job at educating the future entrepreneurs and executives. There’s strength and power in collaborations and joint ventures. The future business owners should know how to go about making those things possible and to have that mindset, as it relates to business, because right now it’s, ‘I’m going to get mine or I got to make this happen.’ When it should be, ‘I have a market, I understand the market, I can bring value to the marketplace and at the same time I’m going to need to create partnerships and alliances.’
TAP: Who would you recommend read “Under the Infuence ?”
Patton: . This book is a tool kit for students and professionals who want a blueprint for niche marketing strategies. Anyone getting into the field of marketing, branding, P.R., et cetera. Anyone who is interested in understanding hip-hop culture and consumer behavior. I would say people who want to know how certain things happened in the branding industry in relation to sports and popular culture. Casual readers like parents who want to know why certain brands and products are significant to their children and their generation.
TAP: Mr. Patton, thank you for taking the time to speak with us today and good luck with your book!
Patton: No problem, it was my pleasure. Thank you.