1. Staying positive
One of the major plus sides to freelancing is the freedom it affords to choose who I work with. With that said, there are times when freelancing can also be a bit of a slog. Spending days developing leads, writing proposals for prospective clients or pitching to editors without so much as an acknowledgement can be soul destroying at times. And after a bad run of knock backs it’s all too easy for the demons of self-doubt to intrude.
However, there is a readily available antidote. One thing swathes of hip hop provides is a constant stream of lessons in self-worth. Of course, braggadocio and freelancing aren’t necessarily the most obvious of bedfellows. No-one likes a show-off, after all. But within the self-aggrandising so commonly found in the genre there’s a lesson to be learned: Back yourself and believe in your abilities and services. If I don’t believe in their value, it’s going to be a hard sell to get anyone else to. As Biggie put it: “Stay far from timid. Only make moves when your hearts in it, and live the phrase: 'sky's the limit.’”
2. Pen inspiration
Self-confidence is a natural by-product of success. And beyond putting up numbers, the greatest MCs are masters not only of ceremony, but their craft. The amount of imagery and information some rappers are able to cram into 16 bars should benefit any copywriter searching for inspiration for concise, impactful copy.
I’m not saying we should all start working in double entendres, metaphors and punchlines into our funding materials. And I’m definitely not saying we should co-opt all of the vocabulary or content specifics (see: misogyny, homophobia, drugs, violence). But if I find myself struggling to fit an application answer within a restrictive word count, I simply put on some of Nas’ back catalogue (The Message is a great place to start) for a few spins and soak up the wordsmithery on display.
3. It's all in the telling
Using words to their fullest brings me to my next point. Everyone loves a good story. And the importance of storytelling in marketing, fundraising and communications cannot be overstated. But don’t forget: the true impact of a story is all in the telling. If I’m lucky enough, some stories will almost write themselves. But more often than not they need a little TLC to really make them shine.
Once again, hip hop provides me with the reference points to kickstart my copy. The most obvious reference point is Slick Rick’s all-time classic Children’s Story, but from Eminem’s monster hit Stan to Common’s I Used to Love H.E.R., it’s a fact that some of hip hop’s greatest tracks are from rappers spinning yarns. My personal go-to is Kendrick Lamar’s DUCKWORTH. – a masterpiece from a man who has spun stories to span multiple albums.
You’d be hard pressed to find better examples of efficient, effective storytelling. Listen to how they create context, build momentum and take you on a journey, with the impact of the reveal testament to their authors’ narrative talents. I always try to keep these in mind – especially when working on case studies or beneficiary stories – to remind myself to bring the reader with me. If I’m able to translate even some of these techniques into my work, I feel like I’m onto a winner.
4. Keeping it real
I’ve touched on the importance of authenticity before, but such is its importance it demands another mention here. I firmly believe there’s nothing less inspiring for clients than an overly refined, sterile or corporate approach. This is especially true as I’m often speaking directly with the decision makers.
Developing a strong portfolio is vital, but will only get someone so far. Because when it comes to those vital personal relationships, I’ve found it crucial to be my authentic self. If we don’t genuinely see eye to eye in the early stages of a working relationship, it’s likely we’ll run into far bigger problems down the road.
Hip hop is a really useful and constant reminder of this. I’m a huge fan of how some artists like Kanye and Andre 3000 have pushed the boundaries of the genre. But there’s a lot to be said for artists like J. Cole and the Griselda crew, who steadfastly hold their own as old-school rappers in spite of the rise of new sub-genres and styles.
To give you a flavour of what inspires me, I’ve put together a helpful Spotify playlist of all the tracks referenced or mentioned, along with a few others that stand out for me as particularly strong points of reference. Give it a spin!