1:48 Part II

When I initially started writing my thoughts around the new Jay-Z album, I was pretty set on what I wanted to say. ” 4:44 is a set of journal entries of a man that’s done a lot, made a lot of mistakes, seen success, but ultimately wonders how his actions, experiences, and family will be remembered.” Seems logical and sound based on the lyrics and explanation of each song. But there’s so much more, especially when you put 4:44 in the context of when it was released and the Jay-z that released it. We can over analyze it till kingdom come but I’m just going to focus on two areas that hit me based on other things I saw/read last week. (This ended being way longer than I thought it was going to be so I split it into two parts… this is part 2 of 2)

Dave McClure and Jay-Z defining masculinity? 

Earlier this week, Dave McClure, Co-Founder of 500 Startups, stepped down as GP due to multiple claims of sexual harassment from women founders and associates. As a huge fan of 500 Startups, their mission and outcomes, I was truly saddened by these allegations but not surprised. As most people know who’ve engaged with the Silicon Valley ecosystem, there’s a bro-ish culture still entrenched in how people do business which creates a sometimes hostile environment for women and minorities. Don’t get it twisted though, its not just Silicon Valley. I’ve heard similar stories from women in other sectors; the higher you go, the more questionable and outright disrespectful behavior you encounter. Why is it that some people in power, who often happen to be men, feel they are beyond moral and ethical parameters in how they engage with others? One of the key explanations I’ve heard in the recent week or so around sexual harassment in the VC space is there’s a “machismo/masculinity” problem that needs to be addressed and I agree. As a society, we have an outdated perspective on what masculinity encapsulates. Most men (and women) still operate on masculinity 1.0. As a result, we have guys chasing outdated ideas of masculinity that disenfranchises women and other men.

Masculinity 1.0 is purely focused on the three p’s; protection, providing, and pro-creation. Any student of history and biology understands the rationale and advantage in  providing the the three p’s to your family and tribe.  Make as many kids as you can, protect your lineage and your group, and provide food and shelter for those you are responsible for. Masculinity 1.0 got us to where we are now; 7 billion + people, weapons of mass destruction, and economic system allows us to trade currency for food and shelter.

Fortunately/ unfortunately (depending at how you look at it), we live in a time where we’ve built institutions to manage the key areas that define masculinity. For most in the developed world, the state takes care of security, you can go to the store and buy food instead of hunting, you don’t have to build your house, and sometimes men aren’t even needed for procreation. (Yes smarty pants, money has become an intermediary but hold off on that thought for now.)  What does masculinity look like now that we have most of the basic external threats covered?

4:44 surprisingly encompasses this same question but from Jay-z’s perspective. He’s experienced most of his life through the masculinity 1.0 lens. From his experience hustling, building his business empire, promiscuity…etc, he’s done what he’s done to get to what we see today. Will that take him to the next level though?  Kill Jay-Z kind of gets at this struggle between who his was and who he has to be now that he has a family and is focused on building legacy. What does masculinity 2.0 look like from Jay-Z’s perspective?

  1. Legacy – its an important theme throughout 4:44. I think Jay looks at providing from a societal and generational perspective. It’s less about his kids and more about his children’s children and lifting up those around him. Many would argue this is a function of his socioeconomic realities. I’d disagree.  The “7th generation” principle taught by many Native American tribes say that in every decision, be it personal, governmental or corporate, we must consider how it will affect our descendants seven generations into the future. Legacy is something everyone can think about.
  2. Courage- I don’t know if Jay-Z could have made this album earlier in his career. Outside of my feelings about spilling your own tea, it takes a lot of courage to open up about your shortcomings. I guess Beyonce may have given him some. Courage in the face of adversity and tough times is essential to being a modern man.
  3. Self Improvement/Expertise – Jay-Z shows us in 4:44 why he’s one of the G.O.A.Ts of the music industry. 13 albums in, he’s still making quality music. He’s perfected his craft overtime and become one of the best at it. Mastery and self improvement is at the core of masculinity 2.0. What are you doing every day to improve yourself and build mastery?
  4. Morality/ Predictable framework for how you operate – Jay, for better or worst ,lays out his sense of of morality and his perception on how he tries to live his life. Living by a code, set of rules, or framework helps de-risk relationships so people know you before they meet you. It also helps to navigate gray area situations.

Transitioning away from masculinity 1.0 to a more modern day appropriate definition of masculinity will provide a new set of traits, actions and characteristics for men to aspire to. I believe a transition will do its part to eradicate some of the toxic behavior and beliefs we see as common place.

1:48 Part I

When I initially started writing my thoughts around the new Jay-Z album, I was pretty set on what I wanted to say. ” 4:44 is a set of journal entries of a man that’s done a lot, made a lot of mistakes, seen success, but ultimately wonders how his actions, experiences, and family will be remembered.” Seems logical and sound based on the lyrics and explanation of each song. But there’s so much more, especially when you put 4:44 in the context of when it was released and the Jay-z that released it. We can over analyze this till kingdom come but I’m just going to focus on two areas that hit me based on other things I saw/read last week. (This ended being way longer than I thought it was going to be so I split it into two parts..this is part 1 of 2)

Trauma/gossip sell for all the wrong reasons. 

My main man Vince Staples (I don’t know him like that but he’s definitely on my celebrity dinner invite list) did an interview with Ebro in the Morning last week. It’s a great interview ( I started it right in the middle but definitely watch the whole thing) but I want to focus on what he says early on. “For black people, we sell trauma. ” 

“I turned that 2 to a 4, 4 to an 8
I turned my life into a nice first week release date”

Jay-z The Story of OJ. 

Jay shared a lot of personal experiences that could definitely be described as traumatic for him or others in his life. He’s leveraged trauma and tea to go platinum in the first week on his own streaming music service and make a ton of money. He’s not the only artist that’s done it and won’t be the last, but there’s a certain air around the conversation especially with Beyonce’s miscarriages and his infidelity. I understand pain and tough times make for the best music, (Hello Mary J Blige) but there’s something about profiting from infidelity and the pain of others (even if they okay it) that doesn’t sit well with me. Somethings have to be out of bounds. But its for that exact reason 4:44 did so well. Yea, No I.D spazzed on the production and its nice to hear a rapper put some words together, but why do people find so much benefit from hearing about the worst parts of a celebrities life? Why do people like to see successful people fail or fall from grace?

 

 

The Death of Oratory

 

Something to think about as we approach the 4th of July.

“Oratory is the parent of liberty. By the constitution of things it was ordained that eloquence should be the last stay and support of liberty, and that with her she is ever destined to live, to flourish, and to die. It is to the interest of tyrants to cripple and debilitate every species of eloquence. They have no other safety. It is then, the duty of free states to foster oratory.” -Henry Hardwicke

Henry wrote a book on oratory back in the day (1896) called The History of Oratory and Orators: A study of the influence of oratory upon politics and literature, with special reference to certain orators selected as representative of their several epochs, from the earliest Dawn of Grecian civilization down to the present day. (weeew…. talk about at title) I haven’t read all of it yet but slowly going through on my ipad.

I’ll do a full review once I’m finished, but the first sentence of the book sets the tone:  “Oratory is the parent of liberty.”

Taking a look at our current political discourse, we should be weary of people who overlook great orators for those who will overly simplify positions, policies, relationships, and negotiations.

31 Day Writing Challenge

I’ve always enjoyed writing. It’s something I do casually via this blog and my personal journal. I’ve realized through conversation and interactions with colleagues that there’s ample benefit to writing consistently for professional reflection and synthesizing emergent trends.

Aside from professional/ personal goals, I really want to push myself this month to create and ship on a daily basis. A lot of my thoughts and ideas tend to stay in my brain. For this reason, I’m going on a creation spree in July. I’m challenging myself to publish one blog post a day for the whole of July. I’m most likely going to be talking about hip-hop, politics, vc, product management, education, emerging technology, and some random poems, Nigeria, Africa, International Development, current events, and anything else that comes up. 

Lets see how it goes.

An Executive Story

A fellow had just been hired as the new CEO of a large high tech corporation. The CEO who was stepping down met with him privately and presented him with three numbered envelopes. “Open these if you run up against a problem you don’t think you can solve,” he said.
Well, things went along pretty smoothly, but six months later, sales took a downturn and he was really catching a lot of heat. About at his wit’s end, he remembered the envelopes. He went to his drawer and took out the first envelope. The message read, “Blame your predecessor.”
The new CEO called a press conference and tactfully laid the blame at the feet of the previous CEO. Satisfied with his comments, the press — and Wall Street – responded positively, sales began to pick up and the problem was soon behind him.
About a year later, the company was again experiencing a slight dip in sales, combined with serious product problems. Having learned from his previous experience, the CEO quickly opened the second envelope. The message read, “Reorganize.” This he did, and the company quickly rebounded.
After several consecutive profitable quarters, the company once again fell on difficult times. The CEO went to his office, closed the door and opened the third envelope.
The message said, “Prepare three envelopes.”
In the process of looking for the author to give credit. I heard it as a story during a network event. 

28 Things I’ve Learned In 28 Years

So I got a year older last week. Upon some reflection, I’d like to share some life lessons I’ve learned in 28 years of existence. Hope you’ll enjoy. 🙂

  1. Eat before you go out for a drink with a good friend. Its called being prepared for whatever the night might throw at you.
  2. Have a hard reset on how you feel about people everyday when you go sleep. Don’t bring negativity into the next day.
  3. Drink for taste.
  4. This might sound counter intuitive, but enjoy the dark moments in your life. It will make the bright ones feel even better.
  5. Sometimes you accidentally burn bridges. Just take the L but don’t lose the lesson.
  6. You are not immortal. The faster you come to terms with your mortality, the better off you’ll be.
  7. Eat for taste.
  8. The size of your audience doesn’t matter. Keep up the good work.
  9. Bad things happen to good people, and good things happen to bad people. This is life. Life really doesn’t owe you anything so don’t expect karma to work for or against you.
  10. It’s hard but think ahead of the game. Most people are thinking about how they are going to get through the day. Think about five, ten, twenty years from now and how you’re going to get there.
  11. Appreciate people when you can. They won’t be around forever
  12. Sounds pretty cliche but fill your cup before you try to fill the cup of others.
  13. Get really good at something outside of your profession. I should have never quit the saxophone.
  14. Stay in your lane. Run your own race.
  15. Most problems in life can be prevented from communicating expectations early on.
  16. Your parents are people.
  17. Your bosses are people.
  18. You are a person not a machine.
  19. Give back to those that came before you.
  20. Fall in love with the process not the outcome.***** (MAJOR KEY ALERT)
  21. Find a mentor.
  22. Mentor someone
  23. Don’t get mad at people that aren’t in your life anymore. People have their seasons.
  24. Age does not always equal adulthood. I would say adulthood = the amount of responsibilities you take on successfully.
  25. Try to get better everyday. You’ll be surprised what 365 days of getting better can do.
  26. Take a walk in another persons shoes every now and then. Just make sure to wear socks.
  27. Have something that helps you anchor the past. I have a ton of vinyls…it helps me remember the past but also how far we’ve come.
  28. Call instead of text. It always works out better.

Sapiens and the Oscars

I have very few newsletters that I hold in such high esteem as Farnam Street. If you enjoy thinking about things in new ways and awesome book recommendations, I suggest you sign up here. It’s so good, I’m giving a free shout out. The newsletter will change your life, but I digress.

One of the most recent book recommendations from the Farnam Street is called Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind.   I haven’t gotten a chance to read the book yet but I was totally enthralled with the descriptions in the newsletters. It’s definitely on my to read list.

One of the most important takeaways from the book is captured in this short quote below:

What was the Sapiens’ secret of success? How did we manage to settle so rapidly in so many distant and ecologically different habitats? How did we push all other human species into oblivion? Why couldn’t even the strong, brainy, cold-proof Neanderthals survive our onslaught? The debate continues to rage. The most likely answer is the very thing that makes the debate possible: Homo sapiens conquered the world thanks above all to its unique language.

Most people would agree that language was a huge game changer but not for the reason you’d think:

As far as we know, only Sapiens can talk about entire kinds of entities that they have never seen, touched, or smelled. Legends, myths, gods, and religions appeared for the first time with the Cognitive Revolution. Many animals and human species could previously say ‘Careful! A lion! Thanks to the Cognitive Revolution, Homo sapiens acquired the ability to say. ‘The lion is the guardian spirit of our tribe.’ This ability to speak about fictions is the most unique feature of Sapiens language…You could never convince a monkey to give you a banana by promising him limitless bananas after death in monkey heaven. 

To Harari, the most important function of language is we can describe things we cannot see or understand. “It is our collective fiction that defines us” By doing this, human beings are better suited to work in large groups effectively and flexibly than other animals. Real world applications of this is state, religious, fraternal, or basic assumptions we take as truth.

The collective myth and our ability to believe or not, is what differentiates us from other animals. To be clear, not all of these myths are lies but some of them are. We believe them because the opposite is too difficult to handle. For example, sapiens are horrible at evaluating talent or a subjective “best”. We’ve seen it in finance, education, entertainment, and other industries. We rely on human evaluations and get burnt. We consistently overvalue and undervalue, which leads to faulty and less than ideal outcomes. If we look at this from Harari’s perspective, we’ve bought into the myth that we can make objective evaluations.

Earlier last week, the Academy released their nominees for the Oscars. There were complaints about the lack of diversity in the nominees. I agree, there should be more representation, especially from a 2015 that saw quality movies from minority leads. However, its a symptom of a larger myth; A group of industry leaders can make an objective evaluation on what are some of the best performances the year prior. I say this as a huge Will Smith, Leonardo DiCaprio and Christopher Nolan fan. (None of them have won Oscars)

I’ve started to take human informed decisions with a grain of salt. I can’t afford to buy into the idea that a group of us can make the best decision. Now, believing that is difficult to handle because it has implications larger than the Academy Awards. I’ll just let your mind wander…