They want to put you in a box. It makes sense, it’s how people make sense of things after all. But, it also means we’re stuck in a container with whatever else they toss in too.
It’s not enough to tell people what we do. We need to claim the box we fit in while boxing the competition out at the same time.
Morris Day ran into this problem in his own career back in the 1980s. Here’s how he defied history by defining his own category.
Day and his band, The Time, did not want to be thought of as a funk band. Now, we can argue if they ever won the battle, but we can’t deny they tried to fight it. Look no further than the b-side to “777-9311” titled “Grace.”
Over the course of a mock interview with reporter Bridgette Harrington, Day repeatedly pushes back on questions of category. When she asks how they get their funky sound, he tells her, “funk is something you can learn in school and ain’t nothing funky about being cool, Grace.” She responds with, “OK, but my name is Bridgette,” and he answers, “Oh, I’m sorry, Grace.”
How’s it feel to be put in a box? …Grace?
In his book, Music Is History, Questlove tells this story like a pro-marketer,
History makes categories. Sometimes simplistically. And if that’s not the bag you want to be in, you have to fight your way out. History teaches lessons. Sometimes deductively. And, if those aren’t the lessons you want to learn, you have to write your own curriculum. If you simply accept these categories and those lessons without critical pressure, without putting “Grace” under pressure, you’re history.
See that? If differentiation matters (and it does), we better own the difference-making language that defines us.
Defy history. Define your category. Don’t settle for anything less.
Got that, Grace?
And for good measure, here’s “777-9311” too (God that hi-hat pattern is something else!)