Businesses often talk about their “brands,” which can be code for a manufactured, synthetic image. An alternative way for businesses to imagine and define themselves is in terms of identity and values, which typically have local roots. The most interesting and vital businesses understand and embrace the idea that where they come from determines who they are. At Knowledge Mosaic, our Seattle origins shape our values and commitments as a business. And when I talk about Seattle, I am not talking about Microsoft and Starbucks. I am talking Roots and Rhythm.
When my oldest son Danny was in 9th grade, his Portland, Oregon, cousins asked him what kids at his high school were “into” – meaning drugs. He offered uncertainly (and innocently), “I don’t know. Spirit?”
His cousins laughed, but they should have known.
Danny is Seattle to the bone.
Spirit? In Seattle, spirit is equal measure swagger and love, and from it blooms the city’s music, which – from Ray Charles to Kurt Cobain and Eddie Vedder – embodies the creative contradictions of rebellion and empathy. This spirit is woven into our daily lives. Danny himself grew up two houses from the lead guitarist for Pearl Jam. He routinely brushed by Dave Matthews at the local coffee shops.
The heart of Seattle is Garfield High School, which sits proudly reborn in Seattle’s historically black Central District. Garfield is a tough school, which survives on its spirit – grit, strut, pride, passion, love, and the ability to shape these formless emotions musically. You can trace the history of modern American music through its hallways. Ernestine Anderson. Quincy Jones. Jimi Hendrix. More recently, rising hip-hop artists such as Macklemore and Shankbone. All, like Danny, attended Garfield.
If you watch a Macklemore video (The Town) or a Shankbone video (Blaow), you’ll notice two things. First, both acts are white, a reality of how music evolves and is transformed as it enters the cultural mainstream. Second, both acts explicitly and joyfully celebrate Seattle’s, and Garfield’s, diversity, with its stew of Anglo, Asian, African, Hispanic, and Native populations. They honor the city’s music history, particularly the black foundations of the local hip-hop scene. And their videos consciously weave themes of youthful bravado, love, and elegiac sadness that transcend racial and ethnic boundaries.
At Knowledge Mosaic, we’re also into Spirit, and from it blooms our music. We occupy space in the world-famous Dusty Strings folk instrument factory. Our employees include the bass player for a kids’ rock band, a show tune composer, a hip-hop artist, and many other musicians. We think about our work musically – in terms of rhythms, riffs, melody, and harmony. This music carries us. It makes us fearless. And it fills our hearts with love.
This is our town. KM is Seattle to the bone.