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“If you like it, keep it to yourself.” Advice for Creatives via Kenna

June 11th, 2011

Friday night confession. Definitely have a dude crush. And you can’t blame me because Kenna is undeniably tight.

The Ethiopian born, Grammy nominated artist got his start in Virginia where he teamed up with Chad Hugo of the Neptunes and later the ever-dope Pharrell Williams. But funny enough, I didn’t discover Kenna’s unique sound by hearing him featured on a track or stumbling across his music video. I found out about Kenna while perusing vimeo for old talks from The Feast conference in New York.

Started by the lovely folks at all day buffet, The Feast has grown over the past three years into one of the premiere social innovation conferences that brings together creative do-gooders from around the world. And in 2009, Kenna (dude crush) gave a quick talk entitled “Nothing Is Greater Or Less Than Us.”

On the main stage at The Times Center, Kenna describes–with reference to his music–how he tells his fans, “If you like it, keep it to yourself,” an interesting approach that even Malcom Gladwell would eventually write about in Blink.

Building communities and getting “social” is a hot hot topic these days. But I think what Kenna brilliantly highlights is the qualitative difference between a mass base and an honest constituency, a quality that’s easily overlooked in creative work. Bottom line, there’s a stark difference between having 70,000 followers on Twitter and having 100 heavy-hitting, table-pounders who will go to battle for you.

When you love and respect something–whether its a song or an idea–you’re moved to share it with people who you think will “get it” too. And as Kenna slyly comments on, if you tell someone, “Mmm…I don’t know if you’re gonna get this…I get it but I don’t know if you’re gonna get it,” their immediate reaction is “What are you talking about, give that to me.”

If you like it, keep it to yourself.

When talking about the Common Camera Project, (maybe i should send one to Kenna…) I hear the extremes. Some people assume every single traveling disposable cam will return to my humble PO Box, while others comment “you know, you’re not gonna get any cameras back, right?”

The way I see it, thanks to our fundraiser we were blessed to be able to start Common Cams with amazing people who seemed to get what we were trying to do. The instructions read “Pass the camera on to someone you trust” so each temporary owner is asked to re-pitch the project to someone they deem worthy.

And I have faith. I believe that the first owner’s initial energy is capable of being passed on 27 times from person to person before returning home. Don’t get me wrong. Not all of the cameras will get back by any stretch. But the ones that do will be in large part thanks to that contagious umph that transformed a seemingly innocuous object into something special.

Kenna’s music is refreshing. It’s a blend of urban beats, surprising constructions, smooth vocals, and expressive sounds. Who knows if he tricked me, but I feel like I “get it.” His work reminds me of how at the end of the day what we do is measured in human terms. There’s an attraction to everything from elegantly simple ideas to brilliantly inspiring people that can’t be faked or replaced by a number.

Whether or not Kenna incepted this dude crush within me is up for debate, but the truth remains that my fandom reaches beyond throwing his track on my Shuffle’s workout mix. I believe in his work and will defend it. As a creative, what more could you ask for?

Tagged: advice for creatives, All Day Buffet, blink, Common Cam, Common Camera Project, design, feastongood, kenna, kickstarter, malcom gladwell, new york, say goodbye to love, the feast