The Intersection of Hip Hop and Gastronomy
I have two people on my mind today, Chance the Rapper and chef Grant Achatz. What do they have in common? Other than both calling Chicago home? Not much at first glance. When you look at the level they're operating at, you can find another. Chance’s new album, Coloring Book, is one of the hottest albums of the year, and Achatz is the head chef and proprietor of Alinea, considered by many to be one of the top restaurants in the world.
But why these two? Where does it collide beyond here? I think what’s important to call out is why they are different from the norm. When pursuing a path, one must decide whether that path is for you or for your customer / the market. Running is a business is not about what you want to do. Businesses have to be profitable to stay up and running. And you don’t get to decide what people will pay for. Artists on the other hand, give themselves free reign to create what they feel motivated by and hope to cultivate a following around their approach and what they create.
Every once in awhile, people defy the mainstream of their industry and find a way to pair their art with business. And that is what Achatz and Chance have done. Not in a way designed to build an empire but to fulfill their dreams.
Simply put, if you want to make great money in the music industry, one important step is landing a record label to help you produce and promote your work. Chance has defied that norm. He doesn’t like where it would likely take him and therefore is one of the few major artists not represented by a label. He doesn’t want to compromise his creative process and has taken a stand against the industry. In an interview with GQ he said, "It’s about making art when what people want from you is product." The mainstream wants Chance to make an album that has typical sounding and feeling hits and to sell it through expected mediums. Instead he produced something avant garde and gave it away for free on the web.
To make the corollary between Chase and Achatz, let’s review the business decisions of Alinea. Despite being one of San Pellegrino’s top 50 restaurants in the world in 2015, Achatz closed his restaurant for a complete revamp. They’d just had their best year ever and he walked away from it to spend a ton of money blowing up his current model, vowing to remove all current menu items and build something brand new.
When consuming art, it’s important to remember it’s not as much about the product or service itself, as the experience and story. When profiling Alinea in GQ, Grant Cornett said about dining there, "The article of faith here is that you have come to receive the work of the artist, to submit to the experience. The artist would like to satisfy and stimulate you, but not necessarily please you. Moreover, goes the conviction, the quality of your experience will ultimately be determined by how stimulated and satisfied the artist himself is."
You have bought into the artist's vision, culinary or music, and are submitting yourself to them. For myself personally, I love in the GQ piece when Achatz says, “It’s all about tension and release. It’s a kind of social experiment.”
Do you want to be an artist or an entrepreneur? Do you want to serve the market or serve yourself? There is not a right answer to my question despite the romantic notions of the story above. I have a feeling that Achatz and Chance would assume drive themselves crazy pursuing their dreams rather than worrying about an IPO a spot on TechCrunch or a shoutout in Saveur. They are in this to create and create they will.
Go Forth Boldly