Six Famous Artists with Synesthesia: Taste the Rainbow

What is Synesthesia?

If you have ever listened to a song and felt like it left a sweet taste in your mouth or even a savory flavor with a touch of spice, then you most definitely have SYNESTHESIA, my friend, and you need to indulge and taste the rainbow.

Is Synesthesia Real?

If you have never heard of this ability (sometimes classified as a “condition”) then your first question is likely: “Is synesthesia even a real thing?”

Yes, synesthesia is real.

Synesthesia is essentially caused by two or more of your senses cross-connecting in your brain. This phenomenon is similar to when folks claim that they can “smell” a rainstorm coming.

If one can smell a storm coming, it isn’t far fetched at all that one can also taste the rainbow in music.

What Does Synesthesia Feel Like?

Your second thought upon learning about synesthesia would likely be: “How does this even work?”

Some people with synesthesia see music or even spoken words and letters as a specific color. To others, touch elicits a certain sound or rhythm. Even some smells can present as a strong visual representation for folks with synesthesia.

Six Famous Artists with Synesthesia

Some authors, creators and great minds that you may have heard of have experienced synesthesia.

1. Kanye West and Synesthesia

In a controversial interview with Ellen Degeneres, rapper, singer, entrepeneur and public figure Kanye West explained:

“I have a condition called synesthesia where I see sounds. Everything I sonically make is a painting. I see it. I see the importance and the value of everyone being able to experience a more beautiful life”

Kanye West and Synesthesia

2. Beyonce Discusses Her Experience with Synesthesia

While promoting her 2013 visual album, BEYONCÉ ERA V: Self Titled: The Movie in a series of Facebook videos, Beyoncé admitted to having synesthetic talents of her own, proclaiming:

“I see music. It’s more than just what I hear. When I’m connected to something, I immediately see a visual or a series of images that are tied to a feeling or an emotion [or a] a memory from my childhood, thoughts about life, my dreams or my fantasies… and they’re all connected to the music.”

3. Billie Eilish and Her Synesthetic Talents

Just last year, the young popstar Billie Eilish told Jimmy Fallon that she has a “thing in [her] brain where [she associates] random stuff to everything.”

Explaining that both her younger brother, Finneas O’Connell and her father, actor and musician Patrick O’Connell also experience synesthesia. The artist explains her synesthesia:

“So for instance, every day of the week has a color, a number, a shape. Sometimes things have a smell that I can think of or a temperature or a texture.”

4. Mary J. Blige Says She Has “That Condition,” Synesthesia

The timeless R&B legend, Mary J. Blige, told the L.A. Confidential that she experiences synesthesia:

“I have that condition, synesthesia. I see music in colors. That’s how my synesthesia plays out.”

Mary J Blige in Gold inspired by CREDIT: FRANK OCKENFELS

5. Nikola Tesla and Synesthesia

Nikola Tesla was a Serbian-American and the inventor of the Tesla Coil, the Tesla Oscillator, the radio, the induction motor and the remote control (to name just a few of his incredible contributions to science and engineering). He was also incredibly synesthetic. In an interview with Frank Leslie’s American Magazine in 1921, Tesla explains:

“During my boyhood I had suffered from a peculiar affliction due to the appearance of images, which were often accompanied by strong flashes of light. When a word was spoken, the image of the object would present itself so vividly to my vision, that I could not tell whether what I saw was real or not… Even though I reached out and passed my hand through it, the image would remain fixed in space.”

6. Pharrell Williams: His Synesthesia Story

Very few musicians have taken the singing and songwriting as far as Pharrell Williams has. Don’t just take our word for it – have you ever taken the time to go through Williams’ entire discography?

“[Synesthesia is] the only way that I can identify what something sounds like. I know when something is in key because it either matches the same color or it doesn’t. Or it feels different and it doesn’t feel right.” — Pharrell Williams

Pharrell Williams - 3BX

In an exclusive interview with NPR in 2013, Williams discussed snyesthesia both as a concept, and in his own life, at length. The icon first speaks about the improper labeling of synesthesia in the media:

“First of all, let’s dispel the connotation behind the phrase “medical condition.” Most artists have it. It’s no big deal. And there’s a lot of people who are not necessarily — they’re undiscovered artists, and they have it, too. And all it is is where — when you’re born, your nerve endings are, sort of, all melded together, if you will. And then they prune, right? So all of your sensory nerve endings are kind of connected, as I understand it, and then they sort of prune when you’re, like, 1 .Sometimes some of them stay stuck together, and for a visual and auditorial synesty, it just means that the visual nerve ending and the auditorial nerve ending are still connected. So they send ghost images to each other. So when you’re hearing music, you see it in color.”

When asked by reporter asks Williams to elaborate on what he means, the record breaking producer explains:

“Yeah. Now, to some people, it’s like, “Oh, that’s crazy.” But let me explain something to you: You have no idea what you’re seeing in your mind if you don’t really take the time to talk about it. If I tell everyone right now to picture a red truck, you’re gonna see one. But is there one in real life right there in front of you? No. That’s the power of the mind. People with synesthesia, we don’t really notice until someone brings it up and then someone else says, “Well, no, I don’t see colors when I hear music,” and that’s when you realize something’s different.”

In other interviews with The Rolling Stone and the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN), you can hear Williams further explore synesthesia and how it shaped his life.

Synesthesia and You

How does this apply to the average artist? It doesn’t.

If you are reading this, it means that you are already an above average creative or on your path to becoming the best version of yourself.

Delving deeper into your unrealized potential is the first step to becoming the best not by comparison but through self-realization.

How To Hear Sounds

How can I gain this superpower?

Most people who have it are born with it or have traumatic events that trigger it, which simply means it can be learned and even more so, it’s easier to do than you think…

How Do I Get Synesthesia?

Just mix it up a little! If you are a singer, work with writers and pay attention to how they flow with their words.

If you are an artist, think of what sound your character would make if he spoke to you and work with a novelist or comic book writer that has that same tone.

Form always follows function.

This is just cursory practice but it will help you build up those skills to start connecting your work with creators you vibe with.

Now, this idea is still a little abstract but if you want to learn more about how collaboration is the underlying flow of all creators become great, then check back next week to read my next article in this series.

“Can’t let these n****z play me – Name one Genius that ain’t crazy” – Kanye

About the Author

Born in Saint Louis, MO raised in Clinton, MD, Thompson joined the U.S. Naval Submarine fleet culminating in a 6 year tour as a 2nd Class Missile Technician before earning his Engineering degree at Old Dominion University.

Throughout his studies and military service, Thompson was simultaneously hard at work both as a songwriter and in growing his diverse network of music producers and artists.

Thompson sought to master the art of storytelling overall — not only in creating music, but also in authoring graphic novels.

After completing his first limited release novel, Dormido: Sleep Bible, the multi-disciplinary storyteller and science devotee completed his Bachelor’s of Science in nursing, releasing his most successful informative novel, The Greene Book of Black Knowledge: Youths Guide to the Future shortly after.

Today, Thompson is the founder and CEO of 3BX, an innovative platform that helps democratize success in the independent artist industry.

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