The Power of Nostalgia in Black Culture

We examine the comedic style and cultural impact of Katt Williams, exploring how the comedian's approach to humor has resonated with audiences and delves into the notion of nostalgia in the entertainment industry.

My father and I have a little debate we can’t seem to defuse.

Every time I see my father in person, we have a huge hearty hug, exchange pleasantries and talk about our little worlds, and then somehow fall into a debate about music. It’s his fault, of course; he’s the reason why I built such a strong relationship with the craft. He was there at every single stage of my music career, from my piano recitals playing hot cross buns, to my final marching band performance, finishing as the section leader of the Morehouse College Drumline. Music has always been his religion: he literally cried in front of Jimi Hendrix’s grave and played nothing but the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, and The Who during every single road trip.

It’s probably why the debates about today’s music get so hectic.

To him, today’s music isn’t really music. They’re not playing real instruments, he says. It’s too easy, too repeatable, too simple for any Tom, Dick, or Harold to get famous without the hard work.

I try to bring up the technological developments that both Jimi Hendrix and the Beatles exploited, but it’s to no avail. I try to discuss how we can find shitty musicians, but geniuses are present in the past and today. Here’s what I realized: what really matters to us consumers, isn’t what’s better, but whether we decide to fixate on today — or yesterday.

Volodymyr Hryshchenko via Unsplash

This is why I realized Katt Williams is one of my heroes.

Let me remind you what happened a few days ago. When he was on Joe Budden’s Podcast, the hosts pushed him on cancel culture, and he pushed back:

“If all that’s gonna happen is that we have to be more sensitive in the way that we talk, isn’t that what we want anyway?” asked Williams. At the same time, he assured the curmudgeons who want to say whatever they want, that they still have that right. “If you want to offend somebody, nobody took those words away from you.” But he cautions against going that route because, for starters, it’s probably bad for business. “Your job as a comedian is to please the most people with your art,” Williams said.”

No one is debating that Katt’s had a complicated time in the spotlight. It’s Pimpin, Pimpin is a comedian’s staple — you deserve to go back and watch some of the highlights. Katt also deserved every morsel of that Emmy appearance for his few minutes in Atlanta as the Alligator Man. At that same time, those who know culture remember that Katt got rocked by that one 7th grader during prime World Star HipHop season, and how he recently blamed Cedric the Entertainer for stealing one of his jokes.

Something you have to admit: Katt is authentic in this world of ours. Katt’s media appearances are always an event, and we as an audience have the privilege to use his escapades as a mirror for what we stand for.

Will we defend our intellectual property, against all odds?

Will we get choked up by a middle schooler to defend our honor?

Will we stand up against the culture of nostalgia?

I have a question for you: which culture matters more? The past, or the future?

I must admit, on its nose, this is an unfair question. These two are inextricably connected: Paolo Friere talked about how one of the reasons why we focus so heavily on the future as humans is because we recognize and remember the impact of the world from our past. I bring it up not as a rule to be followed, but as a perspective humans tend to fall into, and the problems with harping on the past.

Are you the type to spend inordinate time thinking about which rapper, actor, comedian, or politician from the 2000s era is the greatest of all time? Have you sat down and reminisced on your teenage or childhood years with fondness, wondering if you’ll ever get back that physical or cognitive flexibility again?

What causes that feeling?

Jon Tyson via Unsplash

So many of our understandings of the past are colored by our memories, and Lord knows human memory is far from perfect. However, businesses and politics that dominate our society have recognized exactly how much power nostalgia offers.

How many big-budget movies over the past decade have been sequels?

How does Verzuz, a social media-based music competition developed by Timbaland and Swizz Beats, keep going after so many Americans are enjoying outside?

Which old shows are you watching along with your favorite Youtube personality? (For me, it’s Avatar the Last Airbender.)

It’s addictive, subversive, and if we let it be, all-encompassing. It makes us think that the past is more important than the future — even though we can’t get the past back. It makes us remember more than it makes us imagine. And, more than that, it makes powerful people — either with funds or public platforms — rail against the vanguard for the new era.

And it must be stopped.

How do we stop it? Here’s a starter list.

As consumers, we support the vanguards of the new generation. The media industry finds reliable creators and makes assets built on those successes. Fortunately, the world has been filled to the brim with new artists hungry for opportunity. When’s the last time you gave a new fling a chance?

Try that topic you were always interested in — and put a new flair on an old concept. When I was learning to play drums, we learned from the old masters. I learned from Max Roach, ?uestLove, from Carter Beauford. In the back of my mind, I knew I would have learned to love finger drumming, hang drumming, and non=Western drumming techniques. Yes, we’ll suck at first, but we’ll learn something about ourselves in the process.

Celebrate the new — in the face of people who can only remember the old. Here’s my hot take: it’s easier to sink into nostalgia. Complaining about today’s generation and harkening for the old days keeps us from truly engaging with the imperfect present. It’s why we need more people, who are willing to advocate for changemakers who are doing the work today.

Via WallpaperCave

This is what Katt did with this platform.

I’m an innovation researcher. That means an essential part of my work is motivated by an ethics of possibility. As many crises are stacking on top of each other today, I choose to recognize that humans — however muddy and bloody as we can get — can make the future better than the past.

As I continue to build and grow, I don’t want to be the type of person that expects the best years of my life are behind me. There’s still more to do, learn, build, and grow. And, what I care out is what I want to surround myself with:

I can’t imagine a world where no anime will ever be better than Cowboy Bebop,

where we only debate the greatest of all time rapper instead of who’s moving the culture right now;

where a new sci-fi movie makes me feel the way the Matrix feels.

What, then, is the reason for living?

Marija Zaric via Unsplash

Why else is nostalgia a silent poison? Its logic affects how we assign value to society.

Our leaders, disconnected from today’s people and problems use the past to overly assume how those problems should be solved. When politicians try to get coal jobs back in the States, and when leading Democrats try to build bipartisan coalitions with silent supporters of the January insurrection because they yearn for mid-20th century politics, you know we have a problem. Our stories — and their cultural consequences — reflect a relationship with the past that we’ll never get back again. The world changes, and we can’t get caught in the past while that change is happening.

Here’s one massive red flag: look for what powerful people are angry about. Katt Williams recognized that many cultural geniuses have built their careers on building art that capitalizes on evolving social thought. That same evolution has continued, and those geniuses have decided to evolve into hypocrites in the long run, by critiquing social developments and the vanguards who continue to ride the wave.

And, it means we should be thinking about these others — the KevOnStages, the Chikas, the Alexandria Ocasio-Cortezes — that building a future where these people slowly fade into the background. That’s fine. All we can do is continue to look forward.

Nostalgia is cool, but the future is better. Connect with our Equity Innovation team today to see what we can build together.