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I just got Jamel Shabazz’s incredible book of photos, Back in the Days. In a nutshell, it documents hip hop and street culture (mostly in NYC) from 1980-1989.

The incredibly varied sense of fashion in hip hop culture during the early days is striking. It was not all homogenous the way it is today (yes, I am tired of seeing straight brimmed ballcaps and massive hoodies as the uniform of hip hoppers). People were trying different things and going their own way, whether it be in terms of dress, dance, DJ’ing, graff or MC’ing. As a result there is a palpable sense of adventure and individuality in Shabazz’s photos.

This closely parallels what is going on in PR/marketing right now. Like hip hop culture in the 1980’s and into the early 1990’s the terms of the game are far from defined. There is no playbook for the new tools. This is what makes it exciting to be working in the field right now. Different firms are using different tools in different ways every day. Like the MC’s who defined the Golden Era of hip hop, innovative marketers are, to quote Jelani Cobb, “literally creating themselves and their art form at the same time.”

Having no playbook is interesting but it won’t last forever. Hip hop definitely got one  eventually – and guys like Souljah Boy and Lil Wayne now rule the roost in the eyes of many. Thank God some folks are still throwin it down right. When the dust settles on this dynamic era, let’s hope marketers and PR folks are able to preserve the right elements of what is going on now in this most interesting of times.

What do you hope we preserve from the here and now? What do you hope gets jettisoned?

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