What Idris Elba, music’s former best-kept secret, teaches us about being a jack of all trades

  /  08.21.2019

As KRS-One articulated throughout his catalog and in his many teachings, “Rap is something you do, hip hop is something you live.” As the culture continues to evolve today, many feel it’s not only important, but vital to preserve and honor the fundamental elements: Graffiti, emceeing, breakdancing, deejaying and knowledge. This column called “Each One, Teach One” aims to do exactly that. It will highlight various lessons that can be passed between new and old generations alike.


The conversation surrounding the ethos of being a “jack of all trades and a master of none” strikes all sorts of compelling arguments, especially in the context of a 2019 viral moment that served as the launchpad for ones entire career. In the world in which we live in, talent can easily fall to the wayside if a person finds a way to captivate an audience doing the one thing they are notably good at. However, the paradox lurking around the corner lies in the attention span of the given audience. So, what happens when the jig is up and the spotlight is still on you? Arguably, the saving grace in this situation is to have multiple interests and an adaptive talent. The second-half of the idiom that comes into play is the tall tale that, “A jack of all trades is a master of none. But, oftentimes better than a master of one.”

For Idris Elba, he’s mastered the art of the brilliant compromise when it comes to making self-expression the means to how he earns his living. That compromise is balance. Many would argue that it’s not necessarily a compromise, though. Instead, it’s rather a mixture of passion and strategy. Regardless, Elba wears a variety of hats. In fact, many are surprised to learn that the man they know from roles in “The Wire” and “Luther” or films like Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, American Gangster, and The Avengers franchise also knows his way around a DJ booth. Elba’s career is mercurial, vibrant and hard-earned. And much like any person living out their dreams, there are plenty of gems to learn through his leading example.

Fresh off of making his directorial debut in 2018 with YARDIE, Elba has also launched his own record label, 7Wallace Music, and his own DJ-inspired fashion line called “2HR SET.” In addition, the actor has landed one of the most monumental gigs of all time: DJing the royal wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. In retrospect, Elba has gone from DJing his parents parties at a young age to helping his uncle spin at weddings. So, the actor finding himself DJing such a historic event was an accomplishment that came full circle. Curiously enough, this engagement is not a singular win for Elba. Instead, it merely served as an occasion to celebrate the culmination of hard work he’s put in over the years.

Now 46, Elba; who DJs under the moniker “DJ Big Driis,” has checked plenty of things off of his bucket list during his navigation of both the music landscape and the world of TV/movies over the years. What remains one of his most admirable traits is his ability to not lose sight of his genuine excitement nor abandon his modest nature. Elba radiates the kind of happiness that is contagious, making it no wonder that he thrives in collaborations with other creatives.

Timbaland and Idris Elba hit the studio and make music magic | ‘Cooking Up/w Timbaland’

As someone who has spent over half of his life dedicated to pursuing his passion for music, one can only imagine how he felt seeing his Netflix series, “Turn Up Charlie.” The show served as an introduction to those who didn’t realize that he had an interest in music and has maintained one of the busiest people in the industry. The series, which debuted earlier this year, stars Elba as a struggling DJ and bachelor who ends up finding reluctant work as a nanny for his famous best friend’s daughter. While it’s not difficult to see how bits and pieces of the premise are drawn from the actors real-life experiences, off-screen is a different story and a very inspirational one. To give you quick overview, Elba who’s recently married, had the opportunity to DJ at Coachella this April, and was featured on Wiley’s track titled “Boasty.” Not too shabby for someone who too many people had no idea was even interested in music.

While Elba doesn’t put his victories in front of his handshake in music or entertainment, his self-awareness and unshakeable confidence are two qualities among many that we can all learn from. When he opened up for Madonna in 2015, playing for a crowd of roughly 17,000 people; the actor and DJ celebrated the moment by referring to it as a “regular Tuesday night.” He then went on to humbly explain how the opportunity arose, saying, “I am a DJ for hire and she wanted a great one.” Now, if only we can bottle up that energy and preserve it behind glass in case of emergencies.

Elba took a leap of faith and ending up providing a monologue on the intro of JAY-Z’s tenth studio album, American Gangster. In addition, he has also created a character soundtrack of albums inspired by roles that he’s portrayed for BBC Radio 2 to celebrate African music. His authenticity as someone who loves creativity and the arts shines through. For example, Elba has even starred in and co-directed music videos. He’s collaborated with artists such as James Blake, Skepta, Ryan Leslie, Macklemore and Nigerian rapper Phyno, and more. He produced K. Michelle’s “The Rebellious Soul Musical,” which debuted in 2014. He’s recorded Christmas songs for fun and has even dressed up as Santa Claus to deliver presents to children at a hospital in London. He’s served as one of the creative directors’ for Stella Artois and starred in one of their commercials that featured one of his unreleased songs. All in all, Elba’s career is a smorgasbord of fun-fact achievements and all of them are spectacular.

While his list of accomplishments is a storied one that continues to grow, his joie de vivre doesn’t waver. On top of bringing a refreshing air into every project, Elba also knows the importance of paying homage to those who helped shape him and soundtrack his experiences. Whether it’s through his carefully selected music selection or in naming his label after the Notorious B.I.G., Elba shows gratitude to the people, places and moments that mean the most to him. The intentions behind his art are best viewed in a kaleidoscopic manner, making him an impassioned enthusiast of his craft. His brand is strong and an easy one to cheer on.

Of the many takeaways that the multifaceted career of Idris Elba’s can teach us, the value of being a jack of all trades is one of them. The ability to do so skyrockets ones life when they thoroughly enjoy what they do and cares about who they inspire.


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