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Hip Hop’s Drug Culture is Tone Deaf to the Nation’s Opioid Crisis

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Gustav Åhr was 21 years old when he died of a Xanax fueled drug overdose in November of 2017. You may have heard of him by his stage name, Lil Peep. While fast living and a face canvased by tattoos gave Åhr the appearance of being much older, make no mistake that he was a kid; depressed, deeply troubled, and addicted. Lil Peep’s untimely and tragic death is, sadly, far from an isolated incident. His death is the latest in hip hop’s legacy of gone-to-soon talents taken by drug overdoses. In today’s diverse and multi-layered hip hop culture, the prominence of prescription drug abuse is a mainstream aspect of the greater landscape, particularly among the industry’s youngest artists and fans. This aspect of hip hop is especially troubling in light of the nation’s current struggle with prescription opioid addiction.

Hip hop is a massive culture and a global community. Within that community exist various sects and subcultures all adhering to their own unique ethos and aesthetics. From conscious rap to trap music, the hip hop world is as much, if not more varied than any musical genre or sector of popular culture. That said, there exists within all variations of hip hop a cultural reference point to the world of illegal drug use. There is an unbreakable bond between hip hop and drugs. Rap as an art form was born, and largely reflective, of lower income urban communities of color. These are communities that have long battled with drug crises, from crack and heroin to modern day prescriptions pills. Still, the intent of drug references in urban music, dating back to the blues and jazz of the early 20th century, was not to fetishize but to confront. 1980’s hip hop discusses crack sales and the economics of the drug game at length, but artists rarely boasted openly of their own addictions. While the drug fiend played a prominent role in early hip hop lore, it was typically as a cautionary tale or modern-day court jester. NWA’s 1988 track, “Dopeman”, paints Eazy-E’s drug dealing anti-hero as a despicable trickster, slinging deadly product to strung out crack-heads.

In the 1990’s however, the narrative and semi-biographical nature of hip hop evolved into an era of artistic discovery through psychedelic experimentation. Much like rock-n-roll culture of the sixties and seventies, nineties hip hop used drugs as an expressive medium. Perhaps nowhere was this marriage of drugs and music more prominent than in Houston, Texas, where the regional practice of recreational codeine abuse gave way to the creation of chopped and screwed hip hop. Robert Earl Davis Jr, aka DJ Screw, popularized the use of codeine cough syrup mixed with Sprite soda, aka Lean, between the years of 1990-1993*. It was during this time that Davis invented a style of hip hop he coined, chopped and screwed. By slowing existing tracks down to a snail’s pace, then chopping and scratching the vocals, Screw was simulating the psychological effects of a codeine high. He created a full-fledged cultural phenomenon, one that still defines the hip hop landscape of the south, and eventually penetrated into both east and west coast music. In November 2000, seven years after the release of his first studio mix tape, Robert Davis was found dead in his Houston recording studio after suffering an accidental drug and alcohol overdose. Heavy amounts of codeine were found in his system.

Following the death of Screw, codeine’s grip on southern music only tightened, eventually taking the lives of Screw’s friends and collaborators Big Moe and Pimp C. Today, codeine abuse is still prominent, if not compulsive, among hip hop artists in the south. It also enjoys mainstream acceptance into the greater culture. Harlem artist ASAP Rocky raps often about the drug and about Screw’s influence on his life. His wildly popular rap group, ASAP Mob, was co-founded by Rocky’s close friend and business partner ASAP Yams, who died of a drug overdose in 2015; an overdose that was in part caused by codeine.

But narcotic cough syrup is not the only prescription drug that has found its way into the annals of rap history and contemporary culture. In more recent years, prescription painkillers, antidepressants, and sleep aids have become popular subjects of discussion in the lyrics of the industry’s most influential artists. Lil Wayne, Future, ASAP Rocky, and scores of other artists rap almost exclusively about their compulsive and destructive drug habits. But the line between confessional artistry and brazen celebration has become almost invisibly thin. Future’s hit song, “Mask Off”, features the repeating hook, “Percocet, Molly, Percocet,” over and over. A lyric that is loudly and obliviously chanted by thousands of adoring fans at Future’s performances. Although the song itself is about the artist’s struggles with addiction, synonymizing the admittance of a drug habit with the removal of a metaphorical mask, the meaning is lost on a fan base caught up in a culture that glorifies those drugs.

Lil Peep’s music also heavily referenced his drug abuse as a symptom of deep depression and loneliness. Sadly, while he was alive, his fans and the industry alike tended to miss the point, obsessed with his bad boy persona and teen heart-throb magnetism. Lil Peep failed to make drugs seem dangerous. Instead he made them seem cool, even after his death. And therein lies the problem. Hip hop’s prescription drug fetish is peaking at a time when the nation is battling the worst drug crisis in American history. Rates of opioid related deaths are climbing and have been climbing for years. America is battling an addiction crisis that is killing over 100 people per day. Meanwhile, stadiums full of Future fans sing “Percocet, Molly, Percocet,” while completely missing the artist’s thinly veiled cry for help.

What we as fans must now consider, is that hip hop’s drug problem is multi-facetted. It is not simply a matter of artists abusing and dying from prescriptions drugs, but rather the distorted image of what drug addiction looks like. Most drug addicts are not famous millionaires snorting lines of Xanax in a Las Vegas suite. They are poor, working-class slobs shooting heroin with a dirty needle. Whatever enviable outer lives DJ Screw and Lil Peep led under their stage names, Robert Davis and Gustav Åhr died as painfully, as scared, and as alone as the millions of addicts that came before and will inevitably follow. Given its massive global influence, it is past time for the greater hip hop community to speak out against its own drug culture and condemn both the artists and fans that so boldly glorify prescription drug abuse. In the context of the crisis surrounding these drugs, a culture as prominent and essential as hip hop has a responsibility to affect change. Though rap music may be rooted in counter culture movements and anti-establishment rebellion, today’s rap industry is as much a part of the global zeitgeist as any aspect of human culture. As a result, the industry bares a social responsibility to shape public opinion and individual action on matters as severe as a national and humanitarian drug crisis.

* Screw did not invent Lean, but he is widely credited with introducing the codeine lifestyle to mainstream hip hop, particularly through his unique brand of hip hop.

Marriage of Convenience

The growing divide between white liberalism and communities of color

The Second Amendment is once again sparking fierce national debate, and for good reason. This past weekend, millions of demonstrators in dozens of cities took to the streets to demand strict gun reform following the tragedy of the Parkland, FL school shooting last month. Naturally, this has drawn the ire of Second Amendment protectionists groups, stoking the fires of hatred and division that already burn so bright in this country. For me, the marches highlighted an entirely different issue altogether. The history of gun control is the perfect case study for understanding the increasing cultural gap between White liberalism and America’s communities of color.

On a clear summer day in May of 1967, two dozen African American men and women marched on the California state capitol building in Sacramento, openly (and heavily) armed. The demonstrators were members of the Black Panther Party, armed with assault rifles, shotguns, and pistols, they walked into the capitol building in defiant expression of their Second Amendment rights. A pivotal, and often overlooked, aspect of the Civil Rights Movement was the struggle by communities of color to protect their Second Amendment rights at a time when the question of personal protection was far from hypothetical. An effort which was strongly opposed by the conservative government of California, as well as the US Federal government. Pressured by then Governor Ronald Reagan, the California state legislature passed the infamous Mulford Act of 1967, a prelude to the national Gun Control Act of 1968. The act, which was strongly supported by Gov. Reagan and the NRA, repealed Californians’ right to open carry and facilitated police harassment in communities of color. Even further, the march on the state capitol cemented the Black Panthers as public enemy number one during the late 60’s and early 70’s, most notably so during the Nixon Presidency.

The Black Power movement of the Panthers, and the pacifist movement of Dr. King, while sharing a common goal, could not have been more idealistically polarized. Dr. King and his followers represented an easily digestible view of African Americans; peaceful, educated, charismatic and charming. On the other hand, the Black Panthers represented America’s inner-city Black communities; angry, armed, and dangerous. Naturally, Dr. King’s movement merged seamlessly with the anti-war agenda of White liberalism. The two sides found common ground and formed a political allegiance that in many ways still defines the demographics and dynamic of the Democratic Party. In the decades since this unofficial allegiance began, Latino, Asian, and Middle-Eastern American communities have all found their way into this leftist partnership, further bolstering the voting power of the Democratic party. The problem, both then and now, is that the needs of communities of color often come secondary to the agenda of the progressive White movement.

Take for instance the staggering poverty, worsening health conditions, and poor education that plague Black and Latino communities, particularly in overwhelmingly “blue” inner-cities.  While these issues continue to get worse, progressive pundits focus on buzz topics like identity politics and gun control, rather than addressing the real world needs of their Black and Brown constituents. Even worse, since the rise of Bernie Sanders and the Democratic Socialist movement, the primary goal of White liberalism is to dismantle the foundations of American Capitalism, ignorant to the fact that millions of immigrants come to America to take part in that system. As a result, minority communities find themselves in the uncomfortable position of having to cosign to an increasingly liberal agenda. Unfortunately, the alternative for Black and Brown Americans is to support a political movement that aggressively seeks to push their communities further into the margins of society, or worse, out of the country entirely.

While I have no love for the bigoted and wrong-minded agenda of today’s Republican Party, and consider myself to be a progressive thinker, I find it increasingly difficult to support an extremist leftist philosophy to which I have never subscribed, and to which I believe the overwhelming majority of American minorities would not subscribe. The fact is that the loudest and most powerful voices coming from the American left have, and continue to be, those of White liberals who occupy positions of immense cultural and economic privilege, and for whom the consequences of most political decisions are minor. However, if not for the support of ethnic communities, those liberal voices would find themselves utterly powerless against a majority conservative opposition. This dynamic, then, becomes one of oppression if the voices of minority communities are muffled by a progressive movement that proclaims itself morally and intellectually qualified to act on behalf of communities of color.

Note: I feel the need to clarify that I am both a gun owner and a strong supporter of stricter gun control. While I wish to protect the second Amendment, I also hope that Congress will act on gun control and pass measures that will make tragedies like the one in Parkland, FL far less common. That said, it is not the call for gun control that prompted my decision to write this article, but rather the opinion of some liberals that private gun ownership is no longer necessary in modern society. This belief, in my opinion, is a symptom of a privileged and protected upbringing, one that does not reflect the experiences of America’s minority communities.

Hungry Houston: Netflix’s Ugly Delicious goes to H-Town

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Chef David Chang is probably the most trending celebrity chef in the world right now, thanks in no small part to his hit Netflix series, Ugly Delicious. If you haven’t seen the show, it’s outstanding. Educational both gastronomically and culturally, with a healthy dose of Chang’s unique brand of raw honesty and opinionated commentary. For Houstonians, particularly those of us who are invested in this city’s food scene, the show marks an important milestone in our city’s struggle for culinary respect. Episode 4 of season 1 brings to global attention what proud Houstonians have known for years; the Bayou City is a food destination on par with, or better than, any of the world’s great food towns. In terms of diversity, authenticity, and creativity, H-Town may well be second to none.

“Crawfish vs. Shrimp” is the name of the Houston-centric episode 4 of Ugly Delicious, though the first 20 minutes could have been called “Houston vs. New Orleans”, as this is the comparison that Chef Chang uses as a launching point for the episode. As a lifelong Houstonian who spent three years living in Louisiana, and has more Cajun friends than one cares to admit, I’ve heard more than my fair share of Houston trash talk. Nowhere is this anti-Houston sentiment felt more strongly than in New Orleans. New Orleanians just seem to hate Houston (because I guess they hate strong economies, diversity, functional roads, and competent government). But honestly, for those of us Houstonians who truly love the Big Easy, their irrational hatred of our city kind of stings. So I must admit that watching Chang gush over Houston’s Viet-Cajun crawfish while absolutely lambasting New Orleans chefs who refuse to break tradition was deeply satisfying. Chang does conveniently gloss over the fact that, while culinarilly creative and culturally inspired, Viet-Cajun crawfish is typically much spicier than traditional Cajun crawfish, and as such does not tend to agree with the average American palate. Nevertheless, his outpour of support for Houston’s multi-cultural food industry is pretty fun to watch.

The show is not without its faults however. Around the thirty minute mark, Chang sits down for a traditional Vietnamese dinner at the home of a Vietnamese-American family of shrimpers. During the dinner Chang peppers the self-described “Vietnamese Rednecks” with loaded questions about Middle-Eastern refugees and whether they should be given the same economic opportunities as Asian-Americans received back in the 1970’s. Johnny Tran, the son of Vietnamese immigrants, born and raised in the Gulf Coast as a fisherman and shrimper, answers Chang’s questions in a more conservative way than the obviously progressive chef was hoping for. Chang later uses Tran’s answers as an indicator that the city’s immigrant populations have naturally integrated with Texas’ strongly conservative mindset, which the host sees as a tragic loss of empathy for modern immigrants. I took issue with this assumption for two reasons. First, the Tran family are shrimpers living along the Gulf Coast, most likely in Pasadena or one of the many fishing towns that, while technically still within the greater Houston area, are far more politically conservative than Houston proper. Second, as Chang mentions earlier in the episode, Vietnamese immigrants in the 1970’s faced a harrowing journey to America, followed by years of racism and attacks by the Klu Klux Klan. In the 40 years that followed, families like the Tran family have found acceptance in the Gulf Coast, in part due to their willingness to assimilate, both culturally and politically. Chang, in an unintended display of his East Coast mentality and privileged upbringing, fails to see the Tran family’s conservative values as a fundamental aspect of their ability to coexist within their community.

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As the episode draws to a close, Change sits in the dining room of Houston’s culinary crown jewel, Underbelly, with his makeshift panel of Houston chefs, led by Underbelly owner and executive chef, Chris Shepherd. Chang poses a question to the group that illustrates an unfortunate misunderstanding that he has about Houston. He asks the group if Houstonians will soon be able to accept Middle-Eastern food as widely as they have accepted Asian food. Immediately every member of the panels responds that Houston already does accept Middle-Eastern food and culture in the same way. Of course, they are absolutely correct. Houston has more shawarma shops and Halal grocers than nearly any American city outside of New York. In fact, sitting in the dining room of Underbelly, Chang was less than two miles away from Halal Guys, Houston’s widely popular food-truck turned brick and mortar, and within five miles of dozens of halal-fusion eateries serving anything from fried chicken to Chinese food. Chang sadly brushes off the emphatic responses of his panel and quickly changes the topic.

In the end, episode 4 of Ugly Delicious is still a triumph of Houston’s cultural diversity and incredible culinary attractions. Despite his political interjections and brash oversights, Chef Chang does far more good for Houston’s reputation and image than harm. His approach of brutal honesty and controversial questioning is a refreshing alternative to food shows that typically feature a host pouring undeserving love and admiration onto every restaurant and/or chef that is ever featured on their show. When dealing with Chang’s brand of unbiased coverage and raw opinions, one must learn to take the good with the bad. Despite my objections to some of his opinions, I applaud the show for its goal of cultural outreach and political education through the medium of food.

PURPOSE PERFECTED

Tobe Nwigwe Uses Hip Hop to Teach Self Determination


 

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“I grew up listening to Fela Kuti, who was like the James Brown of Nigeria […] But I never, ever in my life thought about doing music, ever.” Tobe Nwigwe sits on a bench in the middle of a popular Houston streetwear shop, framed by sneakers and Supreme shirts, to tell me about life growing up in the SWAT*, and how a first generation Nigerian –American discovered a hidden talent that changed his life.

*Southwest Alief Texas

If not evident from the opening quote, Tobe’s personality is deeply rooted in his Nigerian heritage. He is one of five children of immigrant parents, raised in the Alief neighborhood of southwest Houston. “There were seven of us in a two bedroom condominium,” he recalls. Nwigwe’s childhood was fairly standard for an immigrant family from one of Houston’s rougher neighborhoods; low on money, short on opportunity. But young Tobe would develop a special talent early in life that paved the way for a better future.

Tobe’s first skill was hitting people; both on and off the football field. Though as he puts it, “I was trash in football all through little league.” He tells me how a “physical altercation” in the fourth grade gave him the confidence to excel in both a violent sport and a violent community. He eventually earned a scholarship to play linebacker at the University of North Texas, where a season ending injury his senior year derailed a potential NFL career. After football, the young man from Alief searched for a new purpose in life. Through his faith he was inspired to start a nonprofit organization he named Gini Bu Nkpa Gi, “but you can’t pronounce that,” he says. “So we just call it TeamGini.” TeamGini has a simple mission; to help people find their purpose. The phrase literally means, what’s your purpose, in Igbo. Nwigwe is obsessed with the concept of purpose. More specifically, with helping others find their own. His organization uses “edu-tainment” to teach low income middle and high school students in the Houston area leadership skills, responsibility, and financial literacy. It was through his work with TeamGini that he developed a relationship with Eric Thomas, the popular motivational speaker and “hip-hop preacher” whose YouTube videos boast tens of millions of views.

Eric and Tobe developed a strategic partnership a few years ago. From their shared focus on community improvement and enlightenment through entertainment, the pair began working on various projects together. That was how mere happenstance led Eric, and his business partner, to discover Tobe’s untapped hip hop potential. “Long story short, CJ just happened to be scrolling on Facebook and saw me doing a freestyle with my family. After that he told me I needed to be doing music” Despite his reservations, CJ and Eric convinced Tobe to pursue a career in hip hop. Soon he would become the debut artist for their new label, ETA Records.

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In a town known for breeding hip hop talent, Tobe Nwigwe’s music stands alone. His sophisticated lyricism and raspy baritone vocal style are somewhat out of place in the city of candy cars and purple drank. While Houston hip hop has been prolific in the past, the city has largely lacked artistically driven lyrical voices that can remain relevant in the age of Kendrick Lamar and J. Cole. In discussing his musical influences and favorite artists, I found it interesting that Tobe did not mention a single Houston rapper. Instead, stating that his two greatest musical inspirations are Lauren Hill and Andre 3000. “I always want to speak honestly about who I am and where I come from,” Tobe says. “Whenever I do music I always want to make sure I say something when I say something; if that makes any sense.” The Alief rapper goes on to say that much of what is considered “positive music” in today’s hip hop industry would be considered “corny” by the members of the communities with whom he has developed a rapport. He aims to bring a refreshing level of authenticity and street-cred to his music while still delivering a message of self improvement and positivity.

I finish my interview by asking Tobe what he wishes to bring to both hip hop culture and the city of Houston through his music, his organization, and his life’s work. He gives me a one word answer.

“Purpose.”

I guess you could say he has found his.

 

Cuba – A Photo Series

The following is a collection of photographs from a recent trip to Cuba. It is important to understand that while lush, tropical, and lined with beautiful colonial architecture, Cuba is a nation in a constant state of depression. This depression is both economic and literal. The people of Cuba are humble, kind, and surprisingly high spirited given the political and economic oppression under which they live; however, one thing they should not be called is happy. Happiness is a luxury not afforded to the overwhelming majority of Cuban citizens. The people of Cuba live a life devoid of economic mobility, personal liberties, even the freedom to travel outside the confines of their island nation. Some believe that positive changes, though gradual, have already begun. Still, many who have lived their lives under the Castro regime are suspicious of promises and doubtful of hope. These images represent my experience in Cuba. They reflect the incredible natural and architectural beauty of the island, as well as the hardship and the somber existence that is life in Cuba.

 

Why the Working Class Rejects Climate Science

Climate change and the varying opinions on its existence, gravity, and origins have become political lightning rods in the modern age. Along with race tensions, LGBTQ issues, and the pro-life/pro-choice debate, the issue of climate change is a clear line in the sand between the two Americas. Unlike social or theological issues however, climate data seems to polarize the nation along more than just the left to right political spectrum. This is a disagreement that goes deeper than party loyalty. It divides America along socioeconomic and educational lines, which is precisely what makes it a difficult and tumultuous topic for so many. In terms of the climate debate, the working class finds itself, as it has before, caught in a battle between the political mechanisms of the right and the left; manipulated, misinformed, and mistreated by both.

Much of America’s working class, particularly those in southern and gulf states, depend on the oil, gas, and coal industries for their livelihood. Most lack a college education and, at least since the Kennedy/Nixon era, most lean Republican when it comes to party loyalty. Democrats have struggled to regain any foothold or influence in the oil and gas dependent south for at least 40 years. Although much has been said about the political realignment of the South and the various issues of race, religion, and economy that drove it, I believe that the climate debate, and its implications for the southern economy, is as much to blame for the current polarization of the country as anything else. It is important to realize that the discussion about climate change itself is very different from the discussion on the implications of either denying or accepting its existence. Furthermore, one should understand that for the working class, information and its mechanisms of delivery are widely controlled by forces outside of the individual’s control. Fear tactics and misinformation have historically been leveraged for the purpose of shaping public opinion in support of political agendas. In the case of climate change, the widespread acceptance of the phenomenon by the American working class would be detrimental to the large, global organizations that largely employ it. It becomes easy then for these organizations to manipulate climate data and the delivery of such data to a population that is both under-educated and highly dependent on the continued well being of the carbon industry. Furthermore, it is all too easy for these same organizations to influence the policy and public messages of a political organization to whom the working class is already loyal. The situation is only compounded by a political opposition that, although factual in their message, has long been incapable of connecting with the working class on any level. Too often has the message of the Democratic Party been deaf to the concerns of the blue collar fossil fuel employee. Given the historic collapse of America’s blue collar industries, and the rapid loss of labor jobs to automation and foreign competition, carbon polluting companies offer the working class what few other companies can, promising and stable careers.

Personally I accept the realities of man-made climate change despite my own employment by an organization dependent on fossil fuels. Because I acknowledge the very real scientific evidence in support of the concept, but more importantly, because my education and skill set make me employable in other industries. Were I to put myself in the position of a pipeline welder without a college degree, the acceptance of climate change would mean the terrifying possibility that I will soon be out of a job. This is a scary thought for so many Americans today that live in oil dependent economies. The past three years have been a period of continued growth and stability for the greater US economy, yet they have been a period of massive layoffs and depression in an oil industry wrecked by low prices. Many see this temporary industry recession as a sign of more permanent future downturns if world governments continue a global push away from fossil fuels. Add this to the effects of propaganda machines that reject climate science and a Republican party so far corrupted by private interests that it no longer represents any discernible ideology, and the widespread rejection of climate change becomes all too predictable. The Democratic Party lost the 2016 election in part because of its inability, or perhaps refusal, to engage the working class. Long standing frustrations over the party’s focus on what some consider trivial social problems, and a general lack of solutions to the economic woes of the middle class, left millions of voters siding uncomfortably with Trump. The same issues confront the party in the fight against climate change. It is impossible to engage the middle class on an issue like climate change without first outlining clear and specific steps that will be taken to ensure job retention and cost savings in the communities most depended on fossil fuels. Climate activist Al Gore often discusses the economic upside of switching to renewables; subsidies to reduce our electricity bills, construction jobs, manufacturing jobs. But as a voter and an O&G professional living in the deep south, I have seen little penetration of this message in the areas where it most desperately needs to reach. Rather, activists and politicians on the left use traditionally liberal outlets to deliver a message to their own supporters in an echo-chamber of opinion. 

It is also impossible to engage a working class lacking higher education by belittling their intelligence and scorning their beliefs, as is standard for so much liberal collective in America. For a celebrity whose mansion’s carbon footprint exceeds that of entire city blocks, and who vacations in private jets, to preach to the middle class about climate change is both infuriating and perverse. These incidents only serve to further alienate the middle class and the blue collar voters needed to make real progress in the fight against climate change. Alternately, the patronizing of middle America by right wing news outlets and the GOP, only serves to further polarize an already divided nation. I believe that Americans are not as dimwitted as they are divided. The problem lies, as it usually does, within the systems that create information and the mechanisms through which that information is delivered to the public.

The Effects of the Great Recession on Millennial Economic Behavior

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The housing market crashed, Lehman Brothers closed its doors, and the world fell into financial chaos as millions of millennials took their first cautious steps into adulthood. Many of us were students, baring witness to the greatest economic calamity since the 1930’s. The rest, young professionals and college graduates experiencing firsthand the realities of worldwide recession. What followed were several years of unstable job markets, coupled with higher costs of living and wage stagnation. The effects on my generation were not merely economic, but psychological. Our collective response to the uncertainty of the Great Recession was a change of values. Terms like Disrupt, Start-up Culture, and Side-Hustle have become the manifestations of our experiences.

In 2016, Simon Sinek gave a now viral lecture on millennials in the workplace. Pointing to bad parenting, social media addiction, impatience, and environment, Sinek paints a convincing and concise argument for why millennials are unhappy in their careers. What Simon neglects to mention are the many frustrations millennials have developed toward employers, particularly during the Great Recession and in the years that followed. For example, the average CEO-to-worker pay ratio for major US corporations in 2015 was 276-1; up from a 1965 ratio of 20-1. Over the past 40 years CEO pay has increased by nearly 1,000%, while worker pay has increased by a mere 10%. The rise in executive pay is a direct result of the explosive growth of American corporations. However, lower level employee compensation has remained largely unaffected by revenue growth. This disparity is only magnified by the fact that the Great Recession created years of job market instability. Millennials entered adulthood during a period of massive layoffs and financial insecurity. Adding to the problems of low pay and job loss is the fact that corporate cultures are slow to change and often seem to disregard individual concerns. While the economy has now made a full recovery from the recession of 2008, our trust in corporate culture has not.

The theory of Disruptive Innovation precedes the Great Recession and millennial culture by more than a decade. Harvard professor Clayton M. Cristensen coined the term in 1995 to describe an innovation that, through simplicity and affordability, creates a niche market which will eventually overtake an existing one. In today’s business world the term has taken on a much broader definition. Any company or entrepreneur willing to challenge conventional thought or implement innovative culture is deemed a disruptor. Millennials are overwhelmingly drawn to these modern disruptors, often developing cult like obsessions. But what are the economic and cultural factors that drive this attraction? For one, higher costs of living and lower pay have created a need for economic alternatives to everyday products. This need is driving the current explosion of direct-to-consumer business models. Most popularly implemented by Dollar Shave Club, Warby Parker and Casper Mattress, direct-to-consumer brands are using online distribution and social marketing to significantly disrupt retail industries. Social marketing is an important facet of millennial culture. We seek to connect with brands that share our values. Social media introduces avenues for brands to form these relationships. Beyond financial incentives and the convenience factor, disruptors represent a lifestyle that millennials crave; one that centers on entrepreneurship and innovation.

Compounding the effects of lower pay and career instability are substantially higher costs of living. Compared to previous generations, millennials’ are saddled with more debt and higher living expenses. What many now find upon entering the workforce is that they simply cannot afford the same quality of life that their parents enjoyed on single incomes. That reality drives our generational obsession with the “Side-Hustle”, a popular term for secondary sources of income used to supplement primary salaries. A 2016 survey by CareerBuilder found that millennials are working second jobs much more often than their older colleagues. While only 29% of workers reported having a second job, 39% of those 18-24 and 44% of those 25-34 reported earning money on the side. Those figures suggest that nearly half of the millennial group most strongly impacted by the Great Recession have turned to side-hustles to supplement their salaries. What’s more, young people who are pursuing secondary sources of income are seeking avenues that fit their values and lifestyles. Companies that focus on mobility, convenience, and flexibility have strongly benefited from the human capital that millennials offer. Firms like Uber, AirBnB, and Etsy have exploded in recent years thanks to young professionals looking for extra cash. Millennial entrepreneurs are also reshaping the business landscape; launching businesses earlier in life than previous generations. On average, millennials launch their first business at 27, compared to 35 for baby boomers. According to Forbes, these younger business owners are having noticeable impacts on business culture. As owners, millennials are able to implement the startup culture they once craved in their work environment with little or no resistance.

As of a 2016 US census report, millennials have officially surpassed baby boomers as the largest living American generation. At 75.4 million, the influence we have on business culture is much more profound than the creation of niche industries. Start-up cultures have begun to replace corporate cultures, traditional retailers are losing significant market share to direct-to-consumer brands, and social media is becoming the primary platform for marketing and the distribution of information. Our generational values, not long ago in their infancy, are becoming the guidebook for successful businesses. In the aftermath of the Great Recession, millennials are using their influence to usher in a new economy.