Monday, February 13, 2006

Essay 399

The issues involving race and diversity in the advertising industry are complex, contradictory and confounding. Anyone who has ever experienced things firsthand will readily admit they could write a book on the subject. But in the end, few have the courage and conviction to do it.

Hadji Williams decided to go for it, authoring and self-publishing the controversial “Knock The Hustle: How to Save Your Job and Your Life from Corporate America.”

The back cover describes the book as “a rollercoaster ride of explosive insider info and case studies, breath-taking cautionary tales, outrageous characters and wild office antics.” Mega-hype aside, “Knock The Hustle” delivers the goods — the bad and the ugly too.

At nearly 380 pages, “Knock The Hustle” is literally and figuratively a heavy read. This book cannot be easily categorized. It’s an autobiography. It’s a how-to business guide. It’s an exposé. It’s a revolutionary’s manifesto. It’s Jerry Maguire does Madison Avenue. Williams inspires in one section, then condemns in the next. He’s full of cynicism. He’s full of hope. Some will argue he’s full of shit occasionally. The back cover also proclaims, “More than a book, Knock The Hustle is a movement destined to change how we see business, popular culture, and society for the better.” Complex. Contradictory. Confounding.

“Knock The Hustle” is probably not what you think it is. If you believe it targets an exclusively Black or minority audience, you’re wrong. If you believe it blows the doors off scandals in a Deep Throat whistleblower style, you’re wrong. If you believe it seeks to attack or cast blame on any individual or group, you’re wrong. If you’re in the advertising business and you believe there’s nothing breakthrough to discover here and you’ve heard the tales a million times already, you’re absolutely wrong.

It’s impossible to predict how folks will react to “Knock The Hustle,” mostly because it will ultimately mean different things to different people. Hey, that’s the subjective nature of stuff intertwined with race and diversity. We tend to bring our own filters and funhouse mirrors to the party.

Williams divides the book into Side A and Side B, referring to the contents as Track Lists. Like a music collection, readers may feel free to shuffle through sections and replay their favorite beats. There really isn’t a strong chronology or order to anything, which makes it all easier to digest. Indeed, it might be preferable to sample and consider the work in small portions versus absorbing the entirety in a single sitting.

“Knock The Hustle” is unique on numerous levels. Unlike the majority of advertising and marketing books, Williams forwards perspectives primarily from a grunt level. These are the observations and viewpoints of an adman who spent the bulk of his career in the trenches, actually producing ads instead of pontificating on theories and playing politics. This alone should make “Knock The Hustle” a cult classic among the cubicle denizens. It’s got a distinctive Generation X flavor — or flava, for the Hip Hop enthusiasts.

There are definitely segregated areas in the book. For example, the career tips for minorities clearly speak to a specific audience. And the parallels drawn between Corporate Life and Urban Street Life may polarize readers. But everyone will benefit from wandering through the various literary neighborhoods presented by Williams.

If you only have the opportunity to check out a single section of “Knock The Hustle,” choose the track titled, “Crop Circles and Alarm Clocks: Pride and Prejudice in Corporate America.” This part details the typical and stereotypical scenarios still prevalent in the industry today. Everyone in the business will relate to the stories, regardless of your personal role in the global drama.

It sucks that there appears to be a negative backlash surrounding the book — especially because folks seem to be reacting without reading. Again, “Knock The Hustle” is probably not what you think it is. It deserves to be judged after it’s been legitimately examined, not before. Don’t hate just for hate’s sake. If you temporarily delete your preconceived notions and biases, the book will surprise and reward you.

Can “Knock The Hustle” create measurable progress in the advertising industry — or even prompt contemplation and conversation? It’s hard to say. It will also be interesting to see the long-term effects the book has on the author. We could compare Hadji Williams to Dave Chappelle. Both artists apparently came to professional crossroads that triggered serious personal introspection and radical actions. It’s safe to conclude that Williams and Chappelle won’t simply go away. Regardless of where you stand on these affairs, this is good news for everyone.

Complex. Contradictory. Confounding.


“Knock The Hustle” is available through online sales directly from the author at — and a semi-revised edition is scheduled to release in May 2006.

Plus, features another book review from Danny G. of AdPulp.

Finally, click on the essay title above to view an online interview with Hadji Williams.

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