Chris Brown, Associate Creative Director spoke to Little Black Book about who has influenced and inspired him creatively throughout his career.
Who would you say is your creative hero?
There's so many, and it’ll depend on the day you ask me. I could have chosen from a host of artists, designers and art directors, but the truth is people from alternative industries inspire me a bit more.
So let me offer personal insight into one of my creative heroes; Robert Diggs…'Commonly known to ya’ll as the RZA' (Or Bobby Digital. Or the Abbott. Or Ruler Zi-Zag-Zig Allah).
Known first as a rapper, producer and the innovative leader of the Wu-Tang Clan, his work and influence transcend further into film, music, gaming, art, literature, philosophy, spirituality, branding, fashion, civil rights, religion…the list goes on!
How long has this person been important to you and what are your first memories of meeting them or coming across their work?
I was first conscious of his work back in 1997, during the latter years of my time at secondary school. When 'Wu-Tang Forever' was released it (quite literally) cut through the ‘jiggy’ phase in hip hop, as well as the East/West Coast obsession, giving us his menacingly gritty signature and cinematic tracks across a double LP for the first time.
How did you learn more about them and their work?
For years after I dedicated record shop visits solely to collecting the back catalogue of work, he helped inspire and create. It made for a unique audible texture to my life growing up, and I loved it because, as flawed and brash as it could be, it proudly stood for something. It felt competitive. It felt like a movement every time I pressed play.
As the Wu's power waned, Diggs' individual creative output developed and matured. Collaboration with Quentin Tarantino saw him write a Grammy nominated score for Kill Bill as well as write and direct The Man with the Iron Fists; offering his vision to an industry and film genre he’d so long been inspired by. And whilst the limelight isn't on him as much, for me, it's this maturity in craft and 'quiet' longevity that solidifies his legend.
Why is the person such an inspiration to you?
As a creative leader, I was once told that it's not always about how creative you actually are, it's almost just as important to be able to convince others to buy into your vision. Now that could be to excite and empower a designer, art director, or writer...but also persuade account and business directors as well as the clients to hold the torch for your vision too. And this is what Diggs effectively did; literally carving out a very unique creative space for the Wu; inspiring 9 very individual and strong-willed artists (as well as hundreds of global affiliates) to join him on this quest to the top.
I also love how unmistakably disruptive and innovative as a force the Wu were, bringing their own version of guerrilla marketing to gain exposure, but then also really going against the grain sonically. Production techniques have inspired people like Kanye West. The famous winged 'W' emblem, the alter-egos, en masse collaboration, the street fashion arm... were all part of a brand that not only clearly defined their position within hip hop culture, but also opened doors for others to do the same. Things we are still seeing today in one shape or form.
I'm striving to be this persuasive and disruptive with the work I do.
How does this person influence you in your approach to your creative work?
I moved to Shanghai for work several years ago and being there solidified why Diggs' dedication to the spirituality, culture and philosophy of the region was so strong. One of my last projects out there was to launch the Ford Territory, and as I always did, made sure we bucked the trend of going 'glitzy' by making a much more authentic and intimate theatre production that centred around the internal monologue of a father in today's China. The product itself was 'Made for China', so our launch used a much more China-centric approach; from the music, heritage-driven scriptwriting, all the way to the use of clever shadowplay performances to communicate how the vehicle, and Ford, understands the needs of the market. I even spotted senior account teams defending the idea without my input!
Essentially, parts of the storytelling skills Diggs uses within his (and Wu's) work are techniques all of my work is grounded by. Cool gadgets and fads will come and go, but the foundation of good work in my opinion is based on how well a story has been told, and how people feel like they're a part of it. This has been true since the dawn of time. Whether that’s for an epic film, a game, a pitch deck...or a hip hop mega group.
What piece or pieces of this person’s work do you keep coming back to and why?
'Wu-Tang Forever'; the album feels like the monumental peak of the group's power, they had in the main matured as individual artists, returned together as a collective, and it was Grammy Nominated. There are probably way too many swears for my kids to listen to it just yet, but I won't hold back too long as 'Wu-Tang is for the children. As someone once said.