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  • Writer's pictureKadeem M. Pilgrim

5 Empowering Gems I Gathered About Being A Black Creative From A Major Record Label Art Director

Updated: May 4, 2020

Originally published on

When I hear the term “Creative” brought up in conversation, my mind always refers back to the film, “Brown Sugar”.

Allow me to set the scene for you; the image of a silver Olympus Pearlcorder J500 fades in from black and begins to slowly pan from left to right. The cassette reels can be seen turning melodically in circles, cuing the voice of Sanaa Lathan who utters one of the most memorable lines in the film.

 “So, when’d you fall in love with hip-hop?” 

Following, some of the greatest in hip-hop music, including Kool G Rap, Russell Simmons and Pete Rock, appear, each sharing bits and pieces of their own respective love affairs with music.

As a kid, I found this scene absolutely compelling. Not so much because of the dope artists that were sharing their experiences, but more so because of the storytelling involved. There was a light in their eyes as these hip-hop greats detailed their initial encounters with rap music — how it made them feel and what it invoked within them. In their eyes, I saw passion. And in that moment, I realized that storytelling, and artistry as a whole, was a gift. The ability to inspire and to galvanize a people through the arts was nothing short of magic, and those who wielded the power could change the world. At its core, the African American community, to me, is the embodiment of art.

We have always been superior storytellers; a gift that was initially employed for the preservation of our culture, storytelling has since propelled our people forward. It’s allowed us to create opportunities for ourselves in spaces that were never designed to include the Black voice. We, as a people, are creatives in every sense of the word. And yet, where are our stories? In a 2018 study, Nielsen reported that the African American community, a mere 14% of the total U.S. population, is utilizing technology at a rapid pace as a means to give ourselves a platform to express ourselves. We’re flexing our powers beyond that of the dollars we spend, an act that has given the African American community $1.3 trillion in buying power. We’re using digital platforms to create our own positions of power via new platforms, products, content, etc.

Individuals such as JaQuel Knight, Victoria Monet, Ervin A. Johnson, and NickyChulo, are a mere fraction of the diverse Black creatives’ community, and yet their stories often go untold. You may find a few videos on YouTube, a write-up or two depending on their level of notoriety and often times a social media handle, however, you are rarely ever given true insight into their journeys as young Black creatives. We’re constantly bombarded with news stories about white creatives like YouTuber Logan Paul (problematic), rising makeup artist James Charles (even more problematic) or whatever young, white, faux-Calabasas creative the internet deems interesting this week. The Black creatives' stories, however, go untold. In my own quest to learn more about these journeys, I thought it would be best to go to the source. In this case, the source was NickyChulo, the New York-born, and now NYC-based artist and art director at Atlantic Records. In a recent one-on-one that I had with Nick, I was able to glean a few key insights that made the concept of realizing your true calling a bit more real. My hope is that these five gems are as inspiring for my fellow Black creatives as they are for me. 1. The Gift of Creating is Intrinsic While the ability to create is one that can be strengthened through consistent practice and the right training, the ability to think outside of the box and offer a fresh perspective is one that is innate. The gift often makes itself apparent during childhood, and without giving it much thought, you grow curious and begin to explore your newfound talent. Maybe you played around and hit that impossible run that Brandy did in “The Boy is Mine.” Perhaps you were really good at drawing the cast of Rocket Power from memory, in contrast to your friends who would just trace from their Nickelodeon magazine. No matter how, or if, you chose to flex your creative muscle as a child, the ability to create is one that lies within you from birth, and only grows in intensity once you choose to use it. 2. Do Everything on Purpose, and Nothing by Accident If the goal is to garner success as a creative, then it becomes crucial that you move with unwavering intention. To some, your dedication may come across as an unhealthy obsession to achieving your vision, but that’s just if it’s “your” vision. Regardless of the opinion and/or actions of others, you’re the only one that can bring your dreams to fruition. Therefore, your actions should reflect your desired outcomes. 3. Setting Goals is Imperative for Growth The act of setting goals, whether large or small, is imperative for your growth and progression as a creative. And by doing so, you unknowingly begin building a map that leads to your success. Whether you want to be the creative director of a luxury fashion brand, or you want to run PR operations for the Brooklyn Nets, you get there by setting goals and standing firm in your dedication to achieving them. 4. Failures are Wins in Disguise It’s inevitable that you will come face-to-face with failure at one point or another in your journey as a young creative. You’ll face disappoint, you may feel undervalued, you may feel underpaid, you may even feel like giving up. The secret to rising from moments like this is to recognize that failures are nothing more than tests of your willpower. When failure presents itself, recognize it, pivot and refocus your energy on the wins that are waiting for you. 5. Your Intuition is Your North Star to Success Some call it a sixth sense, others call it a gut feeling. Regardless of how you choose to label it, intuition is that inner voice that guides you toward attaining your aspirations. Allow yourself to feel inspired, succumb to it like a tree does to a wildfire and let your intuition inform what it is that you do with that inspiration. Ultimately, the community of Black creatives continue to grow and shows no signs of slowing down. They are wholly and completely unfettered in how they approach life, and they don’t believe in being ordinary because they don’t know how to. They are Black creatives, and they have something to say.

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