I am a little puzzled by Christopher Wink at Technical.ly Philly’s interpretation of these remarks by Roots drummer ?uestlove. ?uest clearly seems to be making the case for moving from large cities to small cities, not the reverse:
Nobody wants to be the water boy. They all want to be Michael Jordan. So they leave to go where they think they have the best shot of becoming the biggest celebrity, he said, rather than carrying the water somewhere and growing into something great. It sounds like a euphemism for creative talent leaving one city — say, Philadelphia — for another — say, predictably, New York.
That’s about what Ahmir ‘Questlove’ Thompson, the celebrated Roots drummer and musical director, said as he left the Underground Arts Sunday night at the same time as Technically Philly. His words, shared fluidly, with his sweatshirt hood up and without looking back as he walked up the narrow stairway, were in response to a casual prompt: can Philadelphia be relevant on a national stage for creating creative talent?
His answer can carry to just about any niche, industry or community.
“You need subculture to create stars,” he said, before he walked out onto Callowhill Street, opened the passenger side door for a friend, got into his car and left the third annual ‘Future of Music’ event, organized by Little Giant Media and WXPN as part of and in partnership with Philly Tech Week Presented by AT&T
I was just talking about something similar last week with Randy LoBasso and Jake Blumgart, about how difficult it is to consistently write original insightful stuff about national politics, since the market for national political commentary is so oversaturated. By comparison, it is relatively easy to impact state and local level political debates if you are a decently persistent, persuasive and prolific writer, since there are fewer people working in those spaces, and fewer still who meet those criteria.
As a former band dude, I have also observed this phenomenon in the music world. It’s much easier to work your way to prominence in a smaller local music scene than to get noticed in a big city. If you’re one of the best bands in the Lehigh Valley, you can get noticed by promoters in Philly and NYC and play a lot of shows there. If you’re just starting out as an NYC band, it’s much more difficult to develop a fan base from scratch. Think about it. You can get fans relatively easily in an area where there are fewer shows each night, and people just go to venues to hang out and sample new bands. It’s impossible in an area where there are hundreds of shows each night, and fewer people randomly go to concerts for bands they’ve never heard of.
?uestlove is right about the importance of subcultures, and I think the right take on this is that it’s easier to gain notoriety within a smaller city’s subculture and then ascend to national fame than it is to work your way up the ladder of celebrity in a more crowded talent pool.