Authenticity is everything to me. Think about the last time you saw something so inauthentic it made you cringe. Everyone who consumes social media has experienced this; whether it's a brand misappropriating a hashtag or a meme, or an "influencer" promoting a product they clearly don't care about in order to collect a check, anyone with a functioning brain can see when they're being sold a false bill of goods. We know that celebrity isn't really your "creative director," or whatever title you've come up with -- they're out to make some money, just like everyone else. And when we see them photographed with your competitor's product a few weeks later, it's not a shock.
Pretty much every survey about young people comes back with the same results -- authenticity is key. This generation can sniff out anything with a hint of false pretense in a second. But how exactly do you stay authentic while continuing to grow and evolve? I've always strived to be as authentic as possible in every facet of my life and work, and while I haven't always succeeded, I've been through and seen enough that I can share some tips about how to keep it real.
Don't feel the need to sell a false narrative. In the hip-hop world, creating a fake persona can end your career. The last thing you want to do is pretend you grew up on the mean streets when you hail from a comfortable suburb and later get exposed. The only thing you can do is own who you are and be honest about your own background, and share your own truths (which are often much more relatable... look at Drake). No one gets through life without a few ups and downs, and as long as you tell your own story in a relatable way, people will respond to you.
Evolution is OK. A decade ago, I was best known for producing one of the biggest diss records in music history, "300 Bars," which featured The Game viciously attacking 50 Cent. This lead to a flurry of mixtapes under the same pretence that we put out together (which had some incredible records) and instigated one of the most notable beefs ever. I probably wouldn't throw myself into this type of drama today as I have since evolved, but it was a key moment in my life and career that helped me get to where I am now. You don't need to disown your past, but you also don't need to get stuck repeating the same things. And if something isn't working for you anymore, be it a job or a relationship, it's OK to move on. No one should be the same forever. Life is about evolution.
Do what you believe in, even if it costs you. I get approached to play records and endorse artists that I don't particularly care for all the time. Could I just take a check from everyone and cash in and call it a day? Sure, but that would be bad for my personal brand in the long term -- not to mention my soul. Sometimes saying yes to everything is the worst thing you can do. I say no way more than I say yes, and have built a stronger brand because of it even if it meant sacrificing short term money or gain.
Think about Harvard for a minute. They could, easily, accept twice as many students as they do now -- but they don't. An essential part of their brand is that they are very hard to get into, and that sets them apart from other universities. I could play every song that gets pitched to me, or create a show on Dash for every artist that I meet, but I say "no" more often than not, because I don't feel the need to just make as much money as possible (and I am more interested in long money versus short money).
In order to reach people, and really connect with them, you need to stay true to what's in your DNA. That's why Converse succeeds with its music programs -- it's been part of the rock and roll experience for years, something other shoe companies can't claim. Denny's runs a Tumblr page that's all about sharing customer experiences; it's funny and realistic and doesn't take itself too seriously, which is why kids respond. They own the fact that they're a cheap place to hang out and have pancakes in the middle of the night -- they're not hip, or haute cuisine, and they don't pretend to be.
It can be very easy to forget who you are and where you came from as you become more successful or want to be seen in a different light -- but you can't ever abandon your central truths. If you simply present who you are, rather than creating a personality built on falsehoods, you'll be better off in the long term. This is how I'm able to walk between Fortune 500 boardrooms and recording studios in Compton- I never pretend to be something I'm not.