What Sad Rappers Can Teach Us About Inspiration

Passion August 23, 2016

What Sad Rappers Can Teach Us About Inspiration

Val Liberman
I am a passionate, innovative leader with interests at the intersection of the behavioral science and technology. I thrive on leading without authority and developing long-lasting relationships based on trust. I am structured, analytical and detail oriented. Throw a ton of information my way, step back and watch me synthesize.

We shall draw from the heart of suffering itself the means of inspiration and survival.

Winston Churchill

Close your eyes.

Picture an inspirational poster in your mind.

Now, open your eyes.

Did you see something similar to the following image?

happy inspiration

We often think of inspiration as originating from happy, well-illuminated places by cheerful people in bright clothing. I submit that for many the source of inspiration is diametrically opposite.

What about the following version of our motivational poster?

sad inspiration

Friends often ask me: “Why do you listen to such depressing music?” I listen to rap. Russian rap, mostly. If you happen to speak Russian – let me know, I will hook you up.

Now, there is plenty of rap music that is happy and upbeat, it is just that very little of that is any good. No matter the language or country of origin, most of talented rappers come from dark, troublesome backgrounds.

Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.

Leo Tolstoy

Who knew that Tolstoy was such a connoisseur of modern music, suggesting (quite accurately in my opinion) that happy rap must be pretty boring?

Scientific community was recently able to quantify this notion of creative angst through experimental means. Modupe Akinola, a professor at Columbia Business School, recently published a research paper “The Dark Side of Creativity: Biological Vulnerability and Negative Emotions Lead to Greater Artistic Creativity”, on this very topic. In Akinola’s research, specific hormonal levels were measured, monitored and compared to observed physical responses, as participants were asked to perform creative tasks. Results of her study had showed highly correlated relationship between sadness and creative inspiration. Once again, sad rappers appear to make better music.

Thus, the resulting causal chain appears to be as follows:

two bubble
Can it really be this simple?

Here is my own theory on what connects the state of unhappiness and our enhanced ability to be inspired.

Are you ready?

Learning. Or more specifically, desire (and ability) to learn.

Evolutionary, we have developed the ability to learn in response to adverse conditions, as a way of survival:

           Is this plant poisonous?

           Should I run from this animal?

          Will I have enough food for the winter?

Fast forward to today. The humanity is continuing to learn how to overcome incoming threats: developing new medicine to help fight diseases and prolong natural life; increasing food production to sustain the growing population; forecasting and taking steps to mitigate impact of the climate change, etc.

Are you still with me?

I am speculating that the way out of the misery and towards the inspiration lies through learning. Like so:

three bubbles
Is it any wonder that our best weapons to combat precarious circumstances are inspiration and creativity? It’s not our claws and teeth that have made humans apex predators, after all.

So, here we are – in order to be truly inspired, one has got to have a strong desire to learn, motivated by the dissatisfaction of some kind. What types of dissatisfaction work well? Well, I would imagine it depends on the individual. Personally, I can share the following recent example.

I have been re-examining the state of my career, specifically focusing on my growth as a leader. As a result, I have determined that my previous professional success had contributed to somewhat rigid categorization of my skills and abilities. I guess the word I was searching for is “pigeonholed”. This fact, coupled with my aspiration of becoming a well-rounded leader, had created some dissatisfaction on my part. I had to do something and my natural reaction was to start learning. Learning about emerging business trends and technologies, learning about opportunities inside and outside of my current place of employment, learning about myself… And as all of this learning was taking place, I became inspired.

People are much more likely to act themselves into a new way of thinking, than think themselves into a new way of acting.

Richard Pascale

Thank you Mr. Pascale, for reminding us, that it is foolish to wish for the inspiration to just show up on our doorstep. If you want change – you must develop some sense of dissatisfaction, start learning and inspiration will shortly follow.

So, go ahead and release your inner sad rapper, because the world needs your music.