Ibn Sina, Pharrell Williams & Ye: The Digital Renaissance
What’s the relationship between life, sound and colours? Kurt Cobain painted, Basquiat was a musician, Jimi Hendrix is a style and fashion icon for how he curated his wardrobe. Ye, the artist formerly known as Kanye West, along with being one of the best musicians of all time is also one of the best designers & visual artists of all time, he’s also known for having synesthesia which is the ability to see sounds as colours. Iconic hip hop producer Pharrell Williams was just hired by Louis Vuitton to be their head designer. Musician Lenny Kravitz is an interior design genius and legitimate expert having dedicated his life to it, with some space age themed rooms that look like they came from the year 3000, a lot like Lenny himself with his fashion and hair choices.
The Muslim Polymath Ibn Sina once said “Both the rational and the animal soul - the latter by reason of its proximity to the former - invariably love what has beauty of order, composition and harmony, as for example harmonious sounds, harmoniously blended tastes of dishes and suchlike. It recognizes that the closer a thing is to the first object of love, the more steadfast it is in its order, and the more beautiful in its harmony, and that what follow it results therefrom, viz. harmony and agreement - whereas, on the contrary, the more remote a thing is from it, the nearer is to multiplicity and such characteristics as follow it - contrast and disharmony”
Ibn Sina, commonly known in the West as Avicenna, was a Persian polymath who is regarded as one of the most significant physicians, astronomers, philosophers, and writers of the Islamic Golden Age, and the father of early modern medicine.
Ibn Sina saw harmony in things like music, cooking, architecture, medicine & various other mediums as a human quest for divine harmony. The ability to order and blend presents itself in everything, once you know how to balance, layer, merge, texturize, & harmonize, you can apply that to everything else, and it’s all inherently the same quest.
After the rise of Islam as a religious, political, social & ideological movement, many of its followers began travelling the globe to teach islam, to educate themselves, and to solve problems. The moors settled in Spain and built great architecture, many muslims studied medicine & astronomy simultaneously because they deemed it their islamic duty to be learned problem solvers.
Starting in the late seventh century, leaders of the Islamic states began gathering together scholars to translate and interpret ancient texts, such as the works of classic philosophers like Aristotle and Plato, and mathematical treatises by men like Pythagoras, Euclid and Ptolemy. Muslim polymaths like Ibn Sina were concerned about gathering and translating as much information as they possibly could from anywhere they could get it, whenever they would defeat other nations in war they would get the prisoners of war to translate the texts into their language. Not only did this help preserve the classical works that would become the foundation of the European Renaissance, but they also founded many of the ideologies that would be adopted by various important figures in human history.
The study and improvement of agricultural practices was fostered by the Islamic caliphs, because of the arid environment of the Arabian Peninsula, Islamic scientists tried to figure out ways to get the most use out of the arable land that was available. When the Islamic Moors settled in Spain, they introduced the concepts of terracing and irrigation to Europe. European states subsequently borrowed these methods, improving crop yields and helping to support a growing urban population through the Renaissance.
The muslim polymaths influenced the concept of Renaissance man, also called Universal Man, Italian Uomo Universale, an ideal that developed in Renaissance Italy from the notion expressed by one of its most accomplished representatives, Leon Battista Alberti, that “a man can do all things if he will.” The ideal embodied the basic tenets of Renaissance humanism, which considered man the center of the universe, limitless in his capacities for development, and led to the notion that men should try to embrace all knowledge and develop their own capacities as fully as possible. Thus the gifted men of the Renaissance sought to develop skills in all areas of knowledge, in physical development, in social accomplishments, and in the arts. People like Leonardo Da Vinci and Michelangelo were painters, sculptors, architects, engineers, scientists, physicists & more.
Leonardo Da Vinci made far-reaching contributions to many areas of science, technology and art. Leonardo's pioneering research into the brain led him to discoveries in neuroanatomy, he designed a plane hundreds of years before the Wright Brothers, he conceptualized robots and various machines, bridges, buildings and weapons. Sigmund Freud wrote that Da Vinci was “like a man who awoke too early in the darkness, while the others were all still asleep.”
After industrialization, Adam Smith, Henry Ford, assembly lines, factories & specialization, the idea that someone could do multiple things disappeared. You would go to school for something specific, get a job somewhere, & that’s what you would do & that’s what you were identified as. Industrialization happened in tandem with slavery, so categories like slave and master, and race, and all of these things seeped into the type of trade someone would pursue being someone’s entire identity, and that created these categories that prevented people from operating outside of them.
Everything is a language, architecture is a language, but language is already written or spoken until Shakespeare comes and creates terms that everyone starts using. If you’re born somewhere everything is already built and you’re using other people's words and letters, but what if you’ve figured out new words, and they’re just not letting you tell people what those words are and how those words feel, due to racism, classism & antiquated ideas, that has been the war of Kanye West that ended up starting this renaissance period we are seeing today.
Being a producer, being a musician, being a creative, it’s not the easily categorizable cubby that society wants to put us in. Creativity doesn’t neatly fit into Lego pieces, it’s expansive and it’s an approach to life. Ye is & has always been a legitimate genius. Not genius in the "your friend brought cups to a party where people need cups" way, like legitimate, once in a generation type of creativity. Being a music producer means understanding texture, it means understanding layers, it means understanding colours, it means understanding proportions, & shapes, but people really couldn’t see that when Kanye West was first starting out.
From the beginning of his career Ye wanted to rap, he wanted to produce, he wanted to make clothes, he wanted to design, and he wanted his influence in the culture to be so ubiquitous that they couldn’t Arsenio Hall him and get rid of him because he said something the powers that be didn’t agree with. Ye was a black male celebrity rapper that also wanted to design, and all of those categories didn’t align with what his dreams were, and people could not see outside of the categories they placed him in, & unwittingly placed themselves in.
South Park was making fish dick jokes & Jimmy Kimmel was spoofing his aspirations when Ye was first pursuing his dreams of design, talking about wanting to build architecture & water bottles, because the idea of a black male rapper didn’t fit into the idea of multidisciplinary designer. I love the Fishsticks Ye South Park episode, it was hilarious, but it is reflective of the attitude mainstream media had towards him. That episode was spawned from a photo of Ye in Paris with the Donda design team when they went to educate themselves and intern at fashion houses, but also to study the architecture, literature, ancient civilizations, attend various thrift stores to study product design, & quality to really figure out what makes something good.
Ye & the Donda team wanted to become designers and they used music as their creative outlet & incubator. They used stage design & album crafting to study architecture, lighting, sound design, acoustics, & philosophy. The Donda team wanted to use the internet & their level of influence to educate themselves, solve problems and raise the taste level of an entire generation.
My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is the best example of Kanye putting his talents together, & showcasing to the world what was possible. After dropping 4 classic albums in 5 years, influencing music, fashion & style and being called a jackass by the first black president, Kanye decided to go around Europe putting his perspective to the test and picking out everything he thought was the best and crashing it against each other. From strings to raps, to actual tea cups, to architecture, to how people should dress to dinner parties, to his take on cinematography, painting, and colors, Ye was giving you his opinion on what he thought was the best throughout his entire career, and highlighted in the Runaway movie & MBTDF album.
Ye has ideas for architecture, clothing, books, movies, ways movies can be watched through 5 dimensional screens, ideas for orphanages, farming, living spaces, and more ideas than I'm sure even he can keep track of, that he is actively pursuing, educating himself on and applying his same mindset of bringing the greatest people at doing the greatest thing in a room together to create the greatest thing, in every field he pursues.
A lot of modern society is focused on boxing people in, on reducing aspiration, on making people feel hopeless and helpless because that keeps them dependent on the infrastructure. Modern society doesn't promote an abundant, solution oriented mindset where all problems can be solved through engineering & information, modern society would rather keep you afraid, locked in your home, and dependent on corporations in everything from the food you eat to the information you recieve to the clothes you wear.
Ye was told not to produce, when he found success there he was told not to rap, when he found success there, he was told celebrities don’t make fashion, Charlamagne Tha God was even quoted saying "stick to the music, we don't care about the fashion" when he found success there they tried stopping him from becoming an architect, despite being stifled at every level, Ye has found success in every field he has approached, and his abrasive aspirations have opened the gate for this Digital renaissance period we are seeing today. It’s cliche to say Ye is a genius and to bring up the Sway interview, but the fact that Ye was kicked out of Adidas, the company lost 1.3 billion dollars, and now reports are saying they need him back is proof of how essential and influential the man is in every industry he’s in.
In 2022 Beyonce dropped her album ‘Renaissance’ & from Louis Vuitton hiring iconic producer Pharrell Williams & Architect Virgil Abloh as their head designers, to Nike giving Drake a shoe deal with royalties, this is the digital renaissance Ye was fighting for. Everything from Donald Glover & Tyler The Creator being able to seamlessly move from rapper, to comic, to actor, writer & director, to black multidisciplinary musicians & designers like Mowalola Ogunlesi having high fashion design runways in Paris, or Wole Olosunde, a multidisciplinary nurse and designer having a successful luxury clothing line, & Bluboy having high fashion brands as well as collaborating with rappers, True Religion & sprite, luxury brands like Louis Vuitton working with rappers, using streetwear designs and hiring black photographer like Tyler Mitchell, this is all the norm now, & this wasn’t always the case but people like Kanye, like Virgil, like Pharrell, these people have actually broken barriers to get us here.
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