Friday, October 25, 2013

Three Questions about Creativity with Kelly Williams Brown

I found Kelly Williams Brown's book 'Adulting' a few weeks ago in a happy accident of fortune, and I decided to give it a read. The book lists 468 easy (ish) ways to become an adult, offering tips and advice to 20 somethings who are facing that all-too-scary prospect - moving out of home for the first time.

The book is full of the type of simple wisdom I wish someone had shared with me when I was a rudderless man-child living in a two room flat in a dodgy corner of town.

Besides being practical, the book was hilarious and creative, and so I decided to get in touch with Kelly and find out how both her book and career came about.

First I wanted to know who or what inspired her to start her writing career.

Both my mom and grandmother were journalists before me, and it always appealed to me as a career. But beyond that decision — which was more a rational, OK, I want to write, how can I get paid for that?-type of choice — I am someone who has always made things. When I was a kid, I was CONSTANTLY writing plays or doing paintings or working with clay. But since writing is my job now, I tend to spend my down time pursuing other creative things — right now, I'm doing a lot of crafting and trying to master Copperplate calligraphy.

Deciding on your passion and going for it doesn't seem rational to a lot of people, but it totally is! What can be more rational than making a goal and the trying to achieve it? It's easy once you've decided what you want to do.

Kelly also touched upon an important point - when your passion becomes your job, you run the risk of losing your enthusiasm for it. Finding other creative outlets in which to indulge your creativity is important.

Aside from her inspirations, I also wanted to know how she keeps herself motivated.

For me, I always need outside deadlines and expectations. I wish I was the kind of person who was self-motivated enough to write an entire book by herself without an editor breathing down her neck, but I'm not. 

For people like me, it can be really helpful to feel accountable to something outside yourself — even if it's just paying your friend $5 a week to text you every day and ask what you've made.

There are tons of things you can do to make you feel accountable for your work, whether that be paying a friend like Kelly did, or even websites like that offer to keep you in check for a small fee.

Finally, I asked Kelly what she does to jump-start her creative brain. To anyone who's struggled to get fired up at work in the morning, her response was pretty familiar.

Deadlines. I'm serious. If you (not you personally, but one) always waits until you're in this perfect beautiful creative mood to make things, you will make almost nothing. Far better is to force yourself, to develop that discipline, to realize that maybe you will make four truly mediocre things before that one great thing. No one in the world who wanted to be great at, say, basketball, would only practice when he or she was 100% feeling it. Make it non-optional. 

There's nothing more motivating than the pressure of having a time limit in which to get your work done. As much as we like to romanticize the creative work process, at the end of the day it comes down to you in front of your blank canvas, working your butt off.

Just keep working at it.

I suggest you check out this talented writer at the following outlets:
@KWilliamsBrown on twitter
Or friend her on Facebook

Or you can purchase the awesome 'Adulting' HERE

Here's Kelly promoting the book

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Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Review: Kelela - Cut 4 Me (free mixtape)

Bells and synth's precede the thumping bass of Kelela's 'Guns and Synths', the first track off her exciting debut album Cut 4 Me, a relative calm before a deep-pitched storm.  Once the boom drops, her casual flow and distinctive, if slightly restrained voice, bounce off the rubbery low-end like a pinball, pinging from the right speaker to the left, into your eardrums and zig-zagging between your neurons.

This is exemplary bass music in 2013, with spare and echo-y percussion fighting for space in the track amongst the rawkus rumble of the bassline, with this beautifully nimble songstress cutting through it all with elastic, airy vocals and lyrics that move from anger to doubt to contentment to seduction.

LA producer Nguzunguzu picks up the pace on the second track 'Enemy', with post apocalyptic Timberland percussion partnering nastily with the bassline allowing Kelela to sound threatening without her ever actually having to be so.

She knows her way around a tune. However, lacking the twitter-ready antics and the musical maximilism of most of the current R&B fore-runners and also-rans, Kelela is forging her own path, and the musical (not just r&b) landscape in 2013 is better for it.

Producer NA laces 'Do it again' with a subtle, thrilling production that threatens to unleash into a Rihanna-like mega chorus, but instead opts to keep us in suspense before tumbling into a breakdown that falls just short of the dancefloor and peters out beautifully like the extended tease it is.

This feeds perfectly into the interstitial 'Go all night', a hot (and all too short) bass-driven number that could be a lost The-Dream track, if it didn't resist igniting and instead be content to ease away slowly into the night.

Kelela's leading falsetto drives the beautifully restrained Kingdom track 'Bank Head', which was for many the track that introduced her to the world. The tune kicks up for the second verse with double time drums and persistent handclaps, and Kelela's multitracked low and high pitched vocals weave in and out of each other and then merge seamlessly time and again to cast a hypnotic spell.

An insistent kick drum drives the title track, and Kelela use it's impact to great effect as an instructional tool, imploring her fictional partner to 'talk to me, give me what I need, would you please, breakdown'.

'Keep it cool' could've sounded corny, with it's bloops and barks, but Kelela finds her percussive flow amongst the chaos and easily navigates us towards the bass-heavy chorus. It's another 'banger', produced by yet another bass luminary in Jam City. To the casual fan, the producers names in this albums credits may seem like heiroglyphics, but in their genre they are all about as good as it gets. For Kelela to have been able to not only solicit tracks from each of these talented producers, but to also beautifully integrate her vocal with each of them, is somewhat of an achievement.

It also helps that the music sounds consistent over the course of the whole record, which is itself a rarity.
It's a pleasure to step into Kelela's world for a whole album, and it feels especially refreshing after a year full of twerking, roaring and pouring.

Get this now. It's available for FREE download HERE

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Three Questions about Creativity with Kelly Angel

Drawing is one thing I was never good at, and so I'm extra impressed by people that are good at it.

Right now, one of my favourite artists is Kelly Angel.  I like Kelly's work for several reasons. One, she is very talented.  Two, she draws a lot, meaning I get to see new creations from her quite regularly. Three, the variety in her work is astounding.  There's variety not just in the type of art that she puts out, but also the tone and the subject matter.  She can turn out completely different pieces of work from one day to the next.

There is also a wicked sense of humour that pervades her work.

I know little about Kelly, other than she's from the UK, she's a cat lady, and she's really creative.
Wanting to know more, I asked Kelly about where this well-spring of creativity comes from. Whilst she couldn't point to anything specific in her history, she did touch on something that I've always felt helped push me to be better; having a sibling who gets what you're into and wants to pursue it as well.

I don't really know who or what inspired me to start drawing. I've always remembered doing it and enjoying it. I was lucky enough that pretty much everyone around me was really supportive - my parents, teachers etc. It also helped that my sister was so close and we're both pretty creative so we'd draw and paint a lot together. 

Like all of us, Kelly finds it hard sometimes to motivate herself to work, but she knows that there are things you can do to ensure you push past your immobility and just start working.

Sometimes I find I need to force myself to be motivated until I feel motivated. Also, I've found if you set yourself deadline(s) (say, if you have a webcomic that updates every week on a certain day) can be helpful. 

And whilst the work can be it's own reward, hearing positive words can also be helpful.

It's always really great to get feedback from people. Knowing that people are looking at your work and are enjoying it is always motivating.

I always like to finish by asking our creators for tips on getting in a creative state of mind, and Kelly articulated her process in a such a refreshing way.

I think I'm always in a creative state of mind, or most of the time anyway. However, there are a lot of things that really inspire me. It could be anything - a TV show, movie, book, cartoon, even an ugly dog I see in the street or something that piqued my interest. Watching videos of people draw/paint is really inspiring for me. It's interesting to see how different people work and watching how they build something potentially amazing from nothing. 

Sometimes it's nice just to do something for the simple pleasure of doing it and not worrying about the outcome. Mindlessly doodling on paper or just playing around with different tools is fun. There's no commitment or expectations to meet, it's just fun.  

Watching clips of other people creating was not a technique that I had thought of, and is something I'll definitely be adding in to my repertoire.

If you have any intentions of indulging your creativity, you could do a lot worse than heed Kelly's words, whether that's being always on the lookout for inspiration around you or just creating for fun to jumpstart your process.

Do yourself a favour and check Kelly's work out at the following links:

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Review: Pusha T - My Name is My Name

The album name is a quote by the character Marlo Stanfield from the TV show The Wire, a young drug king-pin who was more street than he was savvy, which proved to be his ultimate undoing. In its original context the character used the phrase as a way of re-iterating to his underlings that his name is his standing in the streets, which he views as his streets.

In the same vein, Pusha T views his career in this way.

As one of the original crack-rap dough boys, who 'came from the bottom' and arrived at the top, he felt he deserved all the plaudits usually reserved for Lil Wayne, Jay-Z et al. Imagine his dismay then, upon his ascension into Kanye West's G.O.O.D Music stable, he found himself a peer to an endless stream of fake rap hustlers and wannabe thugs. Then imagine, him having to wait 4 years to release this record. You'd be pretty pissed.

His name is his name, and the rap game is his streets.

This street mentality and underdog desperation informs his music, and the best tracks on My name is my name are the ones with the barest, rawest beats. Pusha's voice, with it's arch timbre, obliterates soundscapes, making it almost impossible for him to rap over extravagant and lush instrumentals without sounding like he's not supposed to be there.

Then again, maybe that's the point and the more commercial tracks are illlustrating his one-foot-in-the-door approach to his image. His name is his name, and whilst he may be rapping over The-Dream's gorgeous beats, or soliciting hooks from Kelly Rowland, he's may feel he's still in his streets. To our ears though, he still sounds better when he keeps it gutter, and lucky then that he spends most of his album there.

Opening track 'King Push' finds a comfy spot between Hip-Hop and Trap, putting Pusha centrestage, allowing him to reclaim his throne and restate his manifesto. "I rap niggas, about trap niggas, I don't sing hooks".

The industrial pots and pans rattle of 'Numbers on the board' sounds even better in the context of the album. The "ballers, I put numbers on the board" refers both to basketball scores and making money, this duality re-inforced with lines like "mix drug and show money". Just letting you he's still a "legend in two games, like I'm Pee Wee Kirkland".

When Pusha moves into the world of 'show money', the street impact is lost. 'Street Serenade' and 'Hold on' feature great verses that get lost amongst lush instrumentals.

'Suicide' redresses this problem, with Push and former Re-Up Gang collaborator Ab-Liva going all in over a brash and bold Pharell beat. It's like '06 Hell Hath no fury all over again.

Wedged between underwhelming The-Dream and Kelly Rowland tracks is 'No Regrets', a spritely trap piece that would've sat well on Yeezus, executive producer Kanye West's opus.

Kanye and DJ Mano contribute a buff Pharell-like instrumental with 'Who I am', with Pusha outshining young guns 2 Chainz and Big Sean.  'Nosetalgia' follows, and whilst it may be the simplest beat you'll hear all year, Pusha and Kendrick Lamar tear into it like starving lions feasting on a recent kill. It's that raw.
A couple of strong tracks finish off the album in the already released 'Pain' and the Pharell-produced 'S.N.I.T.C.H.'.

Although let down by the songs that make concessions to the bare-bones sound in search of the elusive commercial airplay, My name is my name delivers on it's title and reclaims his streets, calling out those who are keeping it reel, as opposed to keeping it real.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Three Questions about Creativity with Baratunde Thurston

Three weeks ago I'd never heard of Baratunde Thurston. Then I heard an interview with the comedian/author/entrepreneur on Marc Maron's WTF podcast. He sounded like an interesting dude, and what became apparent very quickly in the interview was that he was a man with a lust for life and and that he had seemingly bottomless reserves of energy and creativity. I quickly bought and read his great book, How to be Black.

I would go through his bio for you, but it's too damn long! You can check out his many ventures on his website here. Suffice to say, his curiosity for the world is insatiable, and when I find people like that, I just want to saw open their heads and probe their brains.

So, how does a dude who grew up in crack-era Washington DC, end up going to Harvard and selling a New York Times bestseller?

I've talked before about finding your lane, your passion, and going for it in whatever way you can. Baratunde discovered this early, thanks to a school friend.

I was a math and science kid almost entirely through high school and had no great appreciation for writing academically or for fun. A schoolmate of mine suggested I write for the high school newspaper. His name was Dave, and I don't know why he thought I'd be good at it, but he was right, and I was hooked.  

Once you've found something you love to do, find ways to keep it going.  

Once I got to university, I joined the daily college newspaper, but that wasn't enough. My frustration with how little my classmates new about the news inspired me to create a comedic newsletter called NewsPhlash. I ran it all four years, and the spirit of that experiment still powers much of my writing today: an attempt to deliver occasionally useful information in a comedic and entertaining package. 

Once Uni is over and you have to enter the real world, following your dream and indulging your creative self gets a lot more difficult because you have more responsibilities. Again, find ways to keep doing what you love, keep exploring to discover new passions, and find ways to motivate yourself to keep going.

I get excited about new things in general -- new outlets for expression, new ways of communicating the same message, so I think I'm naturally drawn to experiment with the shiny new things. Competition also keeps me motivated, both competing with others and also with my past self. I like trying to out-do what I've already put out in the world. The last motivator is impact. On occasion I'll get feedback from someone who's been affected by my work, and it's just enough to keep me from abandoning the entire enterprise for whiskey-soaked afternoons at the pub. 

Motivation comes in many forms, and you need to use it your advantage. Know your motivations and use them to power your output! 

So now you should be a curious and motivated person; but what about those times when you've just gotten out of bed, plonked down in front of the computer and your neurons aren't ready to fire up just yet. What do you do?

I prompt myself with raw material from the world, usually in the form of news. I also take moments to look back over my own recent notes and public statements to see if a new pattern or thesis emerges. On any given day, I may not be adding anything brilliant to the world, but if I take an hour to look back over a few months of work, sometimes I see something new or larger than any individual piece. All this is something I might call The Devour Method. Getting myself saturated in media/information usually inspires some connection, new thought, and then a thesis or project to commence.

What are you interested in? Dance? Well, maybe watch a bunch of you-tubes of street choreography to get you pumped!

Here's the takeaway - find your passion and follow it with everything you have, work out what motivates you to do it, and use the world as your jumping off point.

Baratunde has become a success through indulging his creativity in a variety of ways. He also knows what keeps him going. Finding your passion is just the beginning. You need to discover what gets you going and what keeps you motivated, and make those changes a part of your life.

Baratunde Thurston runs the company cultivatedwit, an awesome start-up that aim to develop solutions at the intersection of technology and comedy, by humorous storytelling and through ushering new products into the world in fun and interesting ways.

Baratunde is also an accomplished stand-up comedian. Here's he speaks at SXSW on the power of comedy.