Urban culture is a something we’ve all heard about for a long time. But who created it? And what is it?
Largely “urban” means African American. But it us used to refer to some cultural trend (music, fashion, political, etc) that originates within African American culture but has moved to a broader audience and more racially inclusive audience: an urban audience.
These are the five most influential people and platforms without which there would be no urban (in order of impact):
1. Russell Simmons
Mr. Simmons created the culture or more accurately he was the best promoter this new culture could ever imagine. He built the house and showed the next generations how to do it. Future moguls would now have a blueprint. People like Lyor Cohen who is now at Warner Music Group added business acumen to Russell’s instinct, and Rick Rubin added talent, but Simmons was the x-factor.
2. MTV and then BET
MTV enabled young people to create a common culture. Suddenly kids in Idaho could see what kids in the Bronx were doing and wearing and it looked like fun. There weren’t an awful lot of brown-skinned people on MTV and that opened the door for another class-A entrepreneur Robert Johnson and he made a billion dollar business out of urban.
3. The Source and Vibe
Hate it or love it The Source was the Bible. If you were a fan, The Source gave you great edit. It was honest and seemed as much a part of the culture as the music. Vibe took that one step further — Vibe “urbanized” the culture and crossed it over so white kids, and Latin kids, and Asian kids really could see themselves within in the pages and thus within the culture.
4. Dr. Dre
Well not just him, but a whole West Coast crew that picked up the business when it didn’t know where to go next. And then things got a little too interesting and violent. But Dre was the glue and the business person that enabled that giant cultural leap out in the West to have credibility and staying power. He’s still there.
5. Sean “Diddy” Combs.
Sean made hip hop into pop music. In some ways the “culture’ hasn’t recovered. He showed how deeply the culture could be mined. So there are bigger talents like Jay Z, but Jay Z is a talent, and an artist, and even now a businessman. But Sean changed the culture and broadened it in a way that only he could.
So that’s it. Different people have different perspectives, but these are the pillars of the culture. What’s next? I will be doing a series of interviews with some of the people involved in the creation of the culture and we’ll see what they’re thinking. Stay tuned.