Pantone Color Institute’s new collaboration with rapper Nas is an example of how music and color can unify, uplift and serve as a reflection of seismic cultural shifts.
To mark the release of Nas’ new single “Ultra Black,” an anthemic single that honors the Black community, the color specialists developed an exclusive color by the same name.
Just as black absorbs all light, Pantone said Ultra Black represents the unification of all people, Black joy and a promising future ahead. “While the color black often connotes feelings of darkness, Nas reimagines the term to represent its richness, complexity and profound beauty,” the company said.
The idea to create a color tied to the release of his new single “Ultra Black” was initiated by Nas, who was directly involved in the process, said Laurie Pressman, Pantone Color Institute vice president. Nas also released special “Ultra Black by Nas” merchandise including tees, playing cards, coasters and a posted featuring the Pantone swatch. A portion of the proceeds will go to charity.
“In our highly visual world, color is one of the most powerful communication tools we can use to draw immediate attention and get our voices heard,” said Pressman. “Supporting ‘Ultra Black’ with this new Ultra Black color helps Nas share his message in a visually impactful way, one that will further ensure the global reach of his inspiring and uplifting message.”
Developing a color for an artist as influential as Nas—and specifically for a song that delivers a strong and hopeful message about the Black community—is at its core what Pantone aims to achieve by presenting color as a universal language.
Trends in color, Pressman said, are connected to culture and is a language we use to express and communicate our message. “From the BLM movement to those tied to female empowerment, sustainability, financial inequality, desire for freedom all of which we saw taking place through this year, they all impact trends in color,” she said.
While some are more obvious like green being tied to sustainability and the pervasive use of red in fashion tied to female empowerment, Pressman noted that others are less so and the color choice is more tied to the bold use of color as being a more impactful way to stand out—like the use of orange and pink for the Extinction Rebellion movement to compel governments to take action against climate change.
The unprecedented events that have unfolded during 2020 will no doubt spark new color directions just as it has inspired new fashion trends and consumer mindsets. During times of turmoil, color trends shift, however, Pressman pointed out that history doesn’t always repeat itself.
“You cannot just automatically reach back and assume that today’s financial concerns for example will elicit the same response as before,” she said. “At the same time, though, you should not discount historical precedent because there is something to be gleaned and there may be some application.”
A good example would be the popularity of neutrals. A recent fall forecast by retail market intelligence company Edited named elevated loungewear and coordinating sets in “calming” neutrals as key items that men can easily pair with other items in their closets.
Pressman noted that one could easily make the case that the return to neutrals is based on their qualities like longevity, versatility and flexibility, which tend to appeal to consumers during fragmented and financially stressful times. “But if we leave it at that, it would not account for other trends which are taking place right now, which is the lack of seasonality and removal of borders between genders and generations,” she said.
Consumers also interpret color in different ways. During challenging times, Pressman said some may retreat into sober and strengthening colors like classic neutrals, while other may want to turn to colors like optimistic yellows and oranges to inject “joyful pleasure” in their day to day lives.
“You need to really look at every trend through a big enough lens and pull everything together to account for a shift,” she said.