The best brands in the world are not companies – they are the foundation from which great companies are born.
The most impactful brands are a collective of distinct interests, values and viewpoints concentrated into one intentional message vast audiences can connect with.
This message fuels a purposeful mission that births an expansive movement. From that movement – cultures connect, products naturally form and companies are organically created.
For 26-year-old Ernest Baker, the business of being yourself is both the value and catalyst of freedom. More so, it is the new business model for creators – ownership, equity and controlling your destiny. Thus, the business of being authentic is liberating, lucrative, and life changing.
As a writer, Ernest Baker is a master of conversational prose. His first-person pieces have reached millions, telling tastefully cinematic stories of wondrous adventures with friends, strangers and superstars. He’s become a staple on sites such as Complex and Four Pins.
Ernest Baker’s also a social rockstar celebrated by Drake and others as an expressive anomaly. His twitter timeline is a poetic blend of clever, comedic, subtly snark and sporadically brash commentary rarely deviating from truth. Baker’s magnetic persona powers his bi-coastal party, “The Night Shift”, along with a T-Shirt trademark “Walk In Like I’m Ernest Baker”. He’s also a skilled content marketer, serving as Sr. Copywriter at Laundry Service in New York.
Ernest Baker candidly discusses his mission, movement, business model and the importance of limitless ideas grounded in transparency.
Every great brand has a message and a movement – how do you define the Ernest Baker brand?
My message is to be who you are and defy authority at all costs. The rulemaking institutions in society exist solely to keep human beings oppressed. If there’s anything that I would like to be remembered for, it’s inspiring a sort of modern, creative anarchy that pushes to grant individuals true freedom—the type of freedom America has been marketing since its inception. Self-expression and empathy are the cornerstones of life. We’re all bound by common experiences. Embracing that leads to civil progress.
What are your thoughts on censorship and creators placing limits on their ideas?
The concept of censorship is infuriating. At the same time, it doesn’t affect me. Anyone who allows limits to be placed on their ideas isn’t really a creator. I would die before someone put restrictions on what I say, but no one is brave enough to kill me, so I’ll be talking for a while. With that said, I’ve only exposed a percentage of what I know about this world. As time advances, I’ll reveal more and my words will spark a revolution.
You’ve established a very distinct voice as a writer and in the social space – when did you realize your perspective was unique and impactful?
I’ve always known that my voice is unique and impactful. Everyone’s voice is unique and impactful. You realize this long before you start considering your voice in any professional context. It’s discovered at the lunch table in middle school, the locker room in high school, and the dorms in college. Those experiences define your perspective while simultaneously showing you the power of it. Whether your perspective makes people love you or hate you, you bear witness to its impact every day growing up. Sometimes, that perspective has enough value to sustain a business.
Many people find different value in your work- how has expressing a balance of emotions allowed you to reach a broad audience?
My following encompasses such a broad, diverse group of individuals because I’m exceedingly honest and transparent. I put my flaws on display just as much as my achievements. People relate to that. I want the kids to know that they’re not alone. A huge part of my mantra is “you can do it too.” I know this because that’s why I’ve accomplished anything. When I was high school, my mother would stress the importance of not getting caught up in other people’s successes. It was okay to find inspiration in their careers, but she wanted me to know that I was equally capable. There’s gravity in every narrative, power in every voice, and substance in every experience. I represent the person who everyone knows they can be. I’m proof that being lost is not the end. That’s why I can put my name on t-shirts and sell them for $40.
You’ve been called “the last rockstar writer left” and every rockstar spoke for a specific generation – Who do you speak for?
The people gave me that title—”the last rockstar.” I earned it, but I willed it into existence too. I said that I was “the last rockstar” until I became it. I did what Lil Wayne did with “best rapper alive.” I take the law of attraction very seriously. It’s equal parts delusion and being extremely in touch with reality. The delusional aspect comes from envisioning a life for yourself that’s essentially a fantasy. It’s what Ali meant by, “I’m the greatest, I said that before I knew I was.” Being in touch is knowing you are as special and important as you think. It’s possible to turn your dreams into reality. I’ve known my trajectory since childhood. Everyone has the capacity to do what I’ve done, but my perspective gives me the edge. I have an intimate understanding of how people work, I’ve been able to manipulate their support into a mass following by projecting an image that’s a composite of all their similarities. It’s calculated, but at the same time, it’s who I really am. I’ve started the first cult where the intention is positive. Where the goal is a greater good. That’s where the “rockstar” label comes from. Being a rockstar means operating as your truest self. I give visibility to the emotions that unite freaks and geeks with the jocks and the gangsters.
What is the message or movement of your personal brand?
My mission is to let everyone know that it’s okay to feel like you’re having an existential crisis every day. It’s actually normal. Everyone is confused. The entire human experience, everything that we know — banks, jobs, school, religion — are rooted in a search for answers that can’t be found. It’s the ultimate dilemma. The best you can hope for is to find your purpose, then pursue it aggressively. Live life to the fullest.
Getting paid to be yourself is the belief that the most profitable business is rooted in who you are. How important is it to stay true when building your business?
Staying true to yourself is everything. I speak in a lot of absolutes, but I’m an all or nothing person. The only security you have is the truth of your own identity and experiences. The profitability of personality varies from person to person, but don’t let the evils of capitalism trick you into believing that success is exclusive to money. Money is fairy dust. It’s not real. That’s why opening weekend box office records get broken every few months. Money is not worth focusing on. It’s a system of variables that you can’t control and you’ll lose yourself trying to understand it. Financial stability is nothing without self-actualization.
You’ve described yourself as the Hunter S. Thompson of our time – can you elaborate on the comparison and why it’s significant?
Hunter S. Thompson fought the establishment thoroughly and aggressively. He saw through the bullshit and didn’t take any. He defied expectations. He subverted culture and molded it into his own reality and won because of it. Hunter won because his voice was heard. Hunter won because he made an impact, and he did it his own way, compromising nothing in the process. He broke the rules and changed the game. That’s what I’m all about. I’m aware of the way that I identify with these idiosyncratic, white, male counterculture icons like Hunter and Kurt can be perceived as corny, but I don’t give a fuck. My generation needs its Hunter, its Kurt, so I’m giving it to them. But it’s 2015, so that particular brand of icon for this time is a twisted black genius.
What was your focus or intent as a writer starting your career and how has that evolved?
My focus and intent as a writer was to reach as many people as possible, and nothing has changed. I was a business student. I majored in Accountancy at Illinois. But I used to skip classes to work on my writing. I had the same vision in my head then that I do now. That vision has evolved, or rather, is evolving, because I’m reaching more people every day.
How important is authenticity in not only media, but in building a sustainable brand?
Jean-Jacques Rousseau has this quote: “I am not made like any of those I have seen. I venture to believe that I am not made like any of those who are in existence. If I am not better, at least I am different.” Diddy refined it for the contemporary period on “Hate Me Now” when he said, “You’ve never seen a nigga like me, ever in your life, and that’s what you can’t understand.” Individuality is the only authenticity. Authenticity—true authenticity, not what these corporations market as authenticity—is the purest form of trust that I have with my audience.
How do you believe a journalist should be defined and understood vs. the varying definitions we see in media today?
Journalists are robots. I play in that field when I want to, because I can, but no job description defines me. Humans are not what we do. We are what we experience. We are what we believe. I’m a person, first and foremost. I recognize that what I do involves sharing my interpretation of reality, so at most, I’m an artist. But I don’t care about the journalist label. You can call me a journalist. And I am a journalist. So is everyone with Internet access. There’s nothing special about being a member of the media anymore.
You have the ‘The Night Shift’ parties as a staple, and now the T-Shirts – how did both form and what makes them such signatures for you?
Ideas are the currency of humanity. I feel fortunate to have the resources to put some of those ideas out into the world. Even if those ideas are just a stupid T-shirt that’s commentary on influence in the digital age or a dumb party where we play Britney Spears and Meek Mill consecutively, jumping around like it’s Judgment Day. I’m already creating moments. I throw the best party in New York City, I’m on my way to being a force in the fashion world, and this is still only the beta phase of whatever it is that Ernest Baker represents. I’m testing the current market and engineering its future. By the time I get to the spaces of literature, design, film and television, the world will be fully receptive to my vision because I’m already preparing everyone for the takeover. Because all of the bravado attracts so much attention, I think my depressed, self-deprecating side doesn’t get enough credit. Those feelings are real. My misery is as potent as my happiness, but that’s why these kids connect with me. I’m a complicated person, not some false image of perfection like others who get propped up in our culture. I’m Eminem in the year 2000. You’re not getting scammed if you buy into whatever it is that I’m selling, because I’m selling a feeling. I’m selling a point of view. I’m more than the last rockstar left. I’m the last person left who these kids can trust. You’re either coming along for the ride or you’re not.
What role does race play in the media and how does it impact your approach?
Never underestimate the role that race plays in everything. The only reason why I’m a polarizing figure in the media is because I’m black. If a white guy did as much as I’ve done in the past few years, people would be lining up to congratulate him. Meanwhile, I have to fight for every bit of acknowledgment and respect. It’s forced me to go 500 times harder. A lot of what naive outsiders perceive as success is manufactured by a feedback loop that rewards conformity. But those days are coming to an end. Most of these people’s stories aren’t really reaching anybody because no one cares about tired, bland, stale narratives. We’ve heard everything you have to say before. It’s the rebel’s turn to speak. Writers who represent the outcasts—real outcasts: blacks, women, gays – the only ones coming with a new perspective. None of these basic white boys could ever compete with me and they don’t have to. They’re white. Their wins are programmed and they’re set for life. As long as they don’t step out of line and think they have any advantage over me besides an institutionalized, systemic one, we’re good.
This article was written by Julian Mitchell from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.
Originally published on Jun 29, 2015 10:00 AM, updated Sep 14, 2016