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The State of the Black Creative

Updated: Aug 17, 2020

What is culture? The Oxford English Dictionary defines it as “The arts and other manifestations of human intellectual achievement regarded collectively.” This leads to the next question, what is American culture? American culture is arguably mainstream black culture. To draw this conclusion, it requires one to observe the current popular music, fashion trends, and slang.

“Minorities in the U.S. are a part of this puzzle of influence and are not sitting on the sidelines, despite not always being credited for doing so. Blacks, in particular, have an undeniable influence in the dynamics of our nation’s folklore. Historically, the Black community has displayed an inclination to be forward-thinking and innovative.” (Ashleigh Williams, Senior Research Analyst, C+R Research).

The earliest example of this influence can be traced back to the arrival of enslaved people to the southern United States, “Black culture is most credited for its creation of R&B and Hip-Hop music today. But Black culture’s impact on music dates back to when enslaved Africans were brought to this country. African-American slaves on southern plantations cultivated their musical styles, which later evolved into gospel, blues, and what is now known as bluegrass and country music.” (Ashleigh Williams, Senior Research Analyst, C+R Research).

Furthermore, Black fashion permeates mainstream American style like no other culture, which speaks volumes considering American society’s unprecedented multi-cultural nature. Fashion influence can also be traced back to the antebellum south, “Every Sunday, slaves would put on their “Sunday’s Best” for church service. It was a way for them to transform themselves from the hardships of their circumstances to “saints” who were ready to worship. This style spilled over to influence fashion across the entire region from Black sewists who created trends for Whites with embellishments and grandeur. This influence continued into the 1940s and ’50s with high fashion designer Ann Lowe, who designed the famous wedding dress for Jackie O, an exquisite example of Southern-style fashion at its very best.” (Ashleigh Williams, Senior Research Analyst, C+R Research)

This fashion influence is still seen today with the emergence of sneaker culture, which recognizes “Sneaker Heads,” spending exorbitant amounts of money on the newest Jordan’s, Yeezy’s, Lebron’s, and Hip-Hop influenced Air-Maxes. Additionally, many contemporary mainstream styles of fashion being styled after whatever the biggest Hip-Hop or R&B artist is wearing.

The most widely credited influence of Black culture resides in the evolution of dance crazes throughout American fads. “Dance is deeply ingrained in Black culture and has been a universal language cross-culturally with those outsides of the Black community. Social dance in Black culture has a rich history that dates back 200 years; it was a way for slaves to unify and communicate past various African languages, and to express an inner sense of freedom under captivity while keeping African traditions alive.

Some of the first well-known dances from the 1930s include the Lindy Hop and Charleston, developed by small Black communities in Charleston, North Carolina. At the start of the Great Migration, these dances continued to be performed by Blacks who moved to large urban cities and became a cornerstone of the Harlem Renaissance. Modern dances like the hustle and the electric slide of the 1970s and ’80s brought people together regardless of the region they were from and even crossed over to be adopted by the masses.”

Having identified American culture as Black culture and vice-versa, the next question is, what’s next? The answer to this last and most crucial question resides in the new creatives of the diaspora. These new up-and-comers will become the new era of black culture and, subsequently, American culture. These next three creatives are based in the creative and film capital of the south, Atlanta, and their visions and stories will lead the way for the next evolution of culture.

First, we have Briana Stanley, a young filmmaker with a message for mental health and black beauty, issues underrepresented within the Black culture and American culture. Briana was born and raised in Ft. Lauderdale, for half of her life until the 2008 Great Recession. She then moved to the Atlanta area seeking better housing opportunities and a better chance at success for her and her four siblings.

Briana states that moving to Georgia in and of itself was a culture shock. Microaggressions and overt expressions of racism concerning her mixed Chinese/Jamaican background were common aspects of her new surroundings. While trapped by surroundings that would have otherwise stifled any progression of self-expression, Briana’s mother had long imbibed her and her siblings with a creative nature. She says her mother introduced her to sewing at the age of seven. This early introduction to sewing manifested itself into a small sewing business in high school, where she would repair and modify her classmate’s clothing.

At the same time, Briana’s mind expanded from western influence with a fascination with Japanese anime. Briana says her most loved and biggest influences were, “Sailor Moon, Tsubasa, Peach Girl, Dragon Ball Z, Yu yu Hakusho (I felt like it plateaued because towards the end it wasn’t as unique as to how it started), Inuyasha, Cowboy Bebop, Ruroni Kenshi, Samurai Champloo, Mew Mew Power, Real Bout Highschool.” Anime influences have allowed her films to divert from typical western tropes within cinema, and think outside of the box as far as the flow and feel of her movies.

Briana Stanley. Photographer @jordanshootsfilm on Instagram.

After graduating high school, Briana moved in with her grandmother for six months to serve as her caretaker, and to attain state tuition for her dream school, The Fashion Institute of Technology. She sought to make use of her creative perspective towards clothing fully. After some time, Briana didn’t get into her school of choice, but that set her toward a greater passion.

Briana returned to GA and attended a two-year institution, GPC (Now Georgia State University), and became enamored with politics during the 2016 election. She saw politics as a means to invoke her spirit of service to others in the face of a chaotic political climate.

During her Political Science studies, it dawned on her to enter “Campus Moviefest,” a competition for college filmmakers to showcase their skills and the possibility of winning a cash prize. She gathered together whichever friends were interested in the goal of making some extra cash. They anointed her Producer and DIrector, which she begrudgingly accepted. Due to mistakes and complications that often arise for inexperienced filmmakers, her group didn’t place, but something interesting happened. She liked fashion and liked public service, but Briana found that she loved the life of a filmmaker.

She immersed herself in the Atlanta film community. She made the necessary connections for another run at the Campus Moviefest film competition, placing 16th with her film “Keep Love Pure.” Next would be her first film focusing on mental health called “Easy (A)nxiety,” it placed top 4 for Georgia State University, and earned a “Silver Tripod Award.” Additionally, it was her first time trying her hand at acting, winning the “Best Female Performance Award” (She states she prefers to be behind the scenes). The film was also aired overseas at the Cannes Film Festival.

Her next film, which she is particularly passionate about, “Color of Me” placed Top 16 for Georgia State University. She says, “The short film is a dramatic piece that highlights black beauty and love. It stands more so as a testament to how strong the black race is. My inspiration stems from my self-love journey, and realizing that we as a race, don’t get to acknowledge how great we are.”

Photo of Briana Stanley. Photographer @jordanshootsfilm on Instagram.

Briana now continues to work on her films concerning mental health and self-acceptance. She works as a freelance editor for content creators in Atlanta. Briana hopes to own her own production company and continue to be a Director and Producer. As far as the development of her creative nature is concerned, Briana states, “Within my creative career, I stopped watching regular films because I felt it was clouding my creativity as far as the films I was making. It’s effortless to copy something without even realizing it! I try and stay away from watching too many films. I still read books because it’s different if you read, and you’re able to visualize it yourself versus watching something, and it gets burned into your memory”. It’s a different approach to creating versus the common practice of watching films for inspiration.

DaBaby, a hugely successful rapper from North Carolina, spoke on “Big Boy’s Neighborhood Podcast.” He also evokes this technique in his creative approach, stating that when he’s making his music, he won’t listen to any projects other than his own.

As for the future of Black culture Briana states,

“I think black creatives are now forcing everyone to see our pain and no longer taking shit. At least, in my opinion, I don’t think we’re as radical as our ancestors were. I feel as though we can’t be as extreme as we were, so we’re using media as a vehicle for how we should be perceived.”

The next creative Nkosi Killikelly (Kosi), born in Brooklyn, NY, to Guyanese parents, is a graphic designer, entrepreneur, athlete, and co-founder of Kleats Sports Group. “KLEATS is a sports agency that primarily focuses on soccer through media, merchandising, and youth development. Our goal is to connect the world’s game by empowering global players and ambassadors through education, activation, and entertainment.”

Kosi says that growing up was the best of both worlds’ experience, “Not the hood but not the suburbs either, a low, middle-class life.” His family moved to Dekalb County, Georgia, where he experienced much of the same with Dekalb’s stark contrasts of affluence and poverty. These early experiences shaped his worldview of what reality was for a large part of the world, but it also molded his black experience being of Guyanese descent; he felt the feeling of being an outsider.

Photo of Nkosi Killikelly, better known as 'Kosi'.

“Back then, if you were foreign, folks would call you an ‘African booty scratcher’ or something, nowadays it’s cool to be foreign, everyone wants to be every kind of black except for regular black!”. These early experiences of seeing what it was like to be on the outside of affluence, and on the outside of culture shaped the beginning motivations for what would become Kleats.

His family moved out to Alpharetta for the same reason many parents do to give their children the best shot at success in life. Kosi states that “Moving out to Alpharetta was a huge culture shock as a young kid being used to a certain environment and situations, but I was able to get a more diverse group of friends, Alpharetta is far from being just black, so you got a lot of white people, but you also got Asian kids, Indian kids, and everything in between which is good because back where I was, being foreign could mark you as different, but going out to Alpharetta with it being so diverse I wasn’t the only different one. Another thing is that all the kids in Alpharetta had high aspirations, everyone was talking about which college they wanted to go to or what car their parents were going to get them, it made me start looking for those things too”.

The affluence of the other kids in Alpharetta, however, was another form of being on the outside looking in. He and his newly formed friend group of soccer players came to understand this in full as they watched their classmates race down the streets of Alpharetta in their parents’ new vehicles for their ‘Sweet Sixteen.’ Kosi and his friends would joke as they were walking and witnessing their peers zip by, “Bruh, we’re bummin,” the name for their crew “Bum Squad” was coined, a premature fixture of what would become the Kleats Sports Group.

Kosi says that the curriculum at Alpharetta was at a much faster pace than what he had been used to, forcing him to find himself within academics. Adding anxiety to this process later on in high school, he says he started to see other kids narrowing down their academic interests, and career aspirations. “I understood academics were the ideal path to success, but I started looking for another way, and social media was a huge inspiration. There was a new path with social media; it made more avenues possible, like being a graphic designer ten years ago, people would have told you to get a real job.” Kosi saw that his avenue for success wasn’t the beaten path of those surrounding him but instead would use his interests and passions towards making a living. That is to say, a love of music, fashion, and pop culture. After graduating high school, Kosi expressed that he was at a loss of what to do,

“I started feeling like time is ticking, and I’m running out of it.” So Kosi leaned more into what he liked and was passionate about, “I took a graphic design class in high school, and it inspired me, “GPC (Georgia State) didn’t have a Graphic Design major, so I majored in Journalism.”

It was around this time that the idea for Kleats was formed; at this point, everything in his life aligned his experiences, passions, aspirations, and creativity. “I played soccer my whole life, got it from my Caribbean upbringing. I played club soccer, not so much high school sports. I figured out that I needed to pick the things that I enjoyed, and I needed to take a risk and make something out of it; otherwise, I’d be thinking, ‘I wish I did this or that’ the rest of my life.

Logo for Kosi's sports agency Kleats.

As a young black creative everyone has a path to choose, I know myself, as far as my work ethic, I’m not the type of person who will work under someone, I’m my own boss. Kleats was a rebellion, I’m not going to follow the traditional path, and I’m going to take a risk and make a living off of the things that I love. I’m going to connect media, music, soccer, and fashion and give it to the people that love it.”

Kosi continues to say, “I knew many good athletes, but they never had opportunities. Soccer is extremely expensive to play on a youth level in the US. In France, they pay $75 to play soccer year-round, whereas, in America, you spend at least $2,000 to play decent youth soccer.

Most minorities who love this game don’t have that wealth. The company itself sheds light on those kids who didn’t get those opportunities”.

For Kosi, being on the outside looking in, shouldn’t define someone’s path in life, he believes if anything those on the outside deserve a platform to show their talents just as much as anyone else.

Kosi also wants to use Kleats as a platform for self-expression. “Soccer is partly celebrating and highlighting your culture; just look at the World Cup. Representing your culture in itself is art; the people, the love, positivity, the media aspect captures that.

The mainstream wave of soccer hasn’t hit America yet because of the diversity, but it’s on the way, especially with the World Cup being in the US in a few years. Kleats is there to connect America to the most popular game in the world, and of course, pull up those kids who were left behind while we’re at it. Through merchandising, youth development, and innovative content, we’re going to accomplish that. Kleat’s company motto is ‘Our game, Our Style, Our Goals’.”

Concerning the overall scope of the future of Black culture, Kosi says, “I see Black creativity continuing to blow up. Black culture is number one, and it’s [often] copycatted and mimicked. As Black creatives, we have to be smarter at, doing, and better at monetizing and owning our creations, copyrights, etc. Setting examples for future generations on how to benefit from our creativity and being unapologetic about owning our content. The Kleats brand is not necessarily just for soccer, but it’s for us.”

The next Atlanta creative is Daquain Watts (DQ), from Roanoke, Alabama. DQ is an artist, designer, entrepreneur, and athlete. DQ is a country boy at heart but moved away to the Atlanta area around 6th grade with his sister and mother. He says his mother made a move along with other efforts in her quest to “will” DQ and his sister succeed and away from an environment lacking in opportunity.

Image of Daquain Watts, the artist.

DQ affirms that he was always a creative at heart, but basketball was still his first love. This preoccupation with basketball would contribute to his character development as well as his artistic career. He says that playing basketball instilled in him a persistent work ethic and steady patience for perfecting his craft in whatever he endeavored to do.

“I’ve always compared myself to Lebron, I learned how I could get a triple-double in basketball, so then I learned that I could get a triple-double in anything in life! Like fashion, photography, graphic design, art, and creative direction. It’s quadruple-double at that point.”

DQ excelled in basketball, played on championship teams with the Milton Eagles, and earned an athletic scholarship to Walsh University in Ohio. He eventually transferred to Georgia State University in pursuit of other goals. “College itself was a great inspiration for my creative building after I put up basketball.” At Georgia State, DQ majored in Art with a minor in Graphic Design, taking on a course load of painting, which progressed to 2D design and 3D Graphic Design.

DQ says of his work, “I draw inspiration from life, but nothing mimics life.” That is to say, his work takes on surreal overtones but always finds its source back to his unique nature of taking his surroundings, and metamorphosing them into a piece that speaks more than the proverbial 1,000 words.

He goes on to talk about the current state of creative occupations, “It almost seems like a lot of people proclaim themselves as creatives like it’s something to fall back on. This is all that I do. As a creative, you have to submerge yourself. Patience creates diamonds, rush your creation, and it’ll be trash, you have to do your research and understand what you’re trying to do. The more you immerse yourself in it, the more value it will have for you.” He continues to affirm that he doesn’t knock anyone pursuing creative endeavors but expounds that if you’re truly going to call yourself a creative, you have to take it seriously.

Creative design by Daquain Watts.

Speaking on the current culture, he says, “Social media has a larger impact on culture than anything, in the same way, a rapper can make songs go viral, I can make a design that’ll go viral, affecting the culture. However, a lot of creatives in the graphic design world don’t share a lot of techniques or what projects they are working on because of the fear that their ideas will be stolen.”

As for himself, DQ looks forward to the grand unveiling of his company “DQ Creative Studios” and eventually moving operations into his studio to accommodate all of his projects ranging from design and photography to music videos. Ultimately, moving away from the referrals of individuals to working with established businesses. He states, “Creating something like this will allow me to have more creative control, I’m trying to come at fashion, graphic design, and art shows.”

In regards to Black culture, “I can claim my culture is fye! Black culture is on top of the game, and the only problem is we have to own what we create! Tyler Perry just did something so huge for Black people in the film industry. Our music is huge! Our fashion is huge! The only problem is that we need to start to own more of what we create.”

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