MUSIC AND WRITING & MY HIP HOP IMAGINATION or: if my next paper is bad blame Jay Z

July 9, 2013, 3:50 pm

I’ve been reflecting on my writing process lately. I’ve noticed that when I’m working on an article or a conference talk that I seem to gravitate toward a particular artist or album to stimulate my thinking. It’s not intentional but there always seems to be a unique soundtrack for each piece.


When I was writing my book I listened to a lot of Thursday and Three 6 Mafia. When I was writing startup it was a blend of Postal Service and Lil Wayne. The R&D paper was pretty much all Amanda Palmer and Dresden Dolls. ACRL’s discovery paper was classic grunge like old Soundgarden and AIC. Yet while preparing for that presentation it was early Metallica with a shot of Kanye and ASAP


Now don’t get me wrong—I don’t limit myself to just these artists. On any given day it could be back-to-back Danzig and Dr Dre in order to spark ideas or new emotions that I want to capture in the text. But what I am noticing is that as new projects emerge there tends to be very particular songs that I repeat over and over again trace-like. They are embedded into the fabric of the paper.



Metaphorically, this is my thinking/writing style.

Obviously there is a constant blend of rock and hip hop in my mind. It’s a mix of introspection and poignancy combined with boldness and provocation.  I like to sample from a lot of different sources like retail or biology or manufacturing in order to frame my stories. A professor I’m working with said that I have a hip hop imagination; I consider that a compliment.


Early in my career I wrote a  serviceable “academic” article and the peer reviewers wrote back calling it boring and dry. I found that ironic because I was mimicking the style of everything else published in that journal. Ever since then I’ve focused on forging my own voice rather than trying to fit nicely into the scholarly community. My stuff tends to be widely read but not widely cited – and I’m okay with that.


Next Paper

I’m working on a new paper for an academic publisher. It’s one of the high impact factor journals in our field but I’m keeping the hip hop style:  lots of snippets and samples from all across history and disciplines. We’ll see how it shakes out. If they reject it I’ll likely self-publish via this blog. Regardless the pre-print will be out in late August and it picks up on the innovation theme from my recent works.


During the background-reading stage I listened to a lot of slow Testament songs, like this and this. Then over the past weekend I shifted into the composition stage and have been listening to Jay Z nonstop. While I like his older stuff I’ve been focusing on the newer material: Throne and Magna Carta.


I’ve had MCHG since July 4 and I feel that it has seeped into my writing, particularly Crown, Tom Ford, and the Rick Ross song. There is one line in there where Jay Z is talking about his competition is still using rotary phones—I love the humor of swag. My quick review: half the album is awesome, the other half is unlistenable.


What is particularly interesting and relevant for this paper is that Jay is experimenting with a new business model. I think all of my writing over the past two years can be boiled down to that same theme. The landscape around us is changing and we need new ways to create and deliver value to our users. It’s as simple as that.


The inspiration that I absorb from hip hop more than anything is the attitude rather than the content. Listen to the instrumental layers of Jay Z or Kanye or Three 6 or whoever and it’s just sonic. It helps me connect new dots in new ways. It’s about the audacity of boldness.


It is becoming an introspective summer. I want to write a longer more formal piece on the evolution of my writing progress. This is an early attempt to jot down and share some notes. I’ve had a number of newer(ish) librarians reach out to me and ask “how do you write?” — and while I’m not a good role (Steven Bell is though, he probably listens to Dylan) this is a glimpse into my writing mind.

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