4 months and 15 days later: Reflections on Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly

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If you’re remotely interested in Hip Hop music and culture, you’ve probably heard SOMETHING about Kendrick Lamar. “He’s the next PAC” “He’s the leader of the New School…” “He’s overrated” “He’s trash”, positive or negative, you’ve likely encountered Kendrick’s music or at least heard someone’s opinion about it.

For me, Kendrick is a lot of the positive. He’s captured the spirit of a forty-year-old Hip Hop and pushed it to a level of mainstream awareness that hasn’t really been seen since the more positive songs in Pac’s catalog. Other “high concept” hit-makers haven’t had the audience or the “power” that Kendrick has and I can say that without fear of debate. He is undeniably on top of the game.

And what do most rappers do when they’re on top of the game? They push their style, i.e. what made them famous, to another level and peddle out refined or reimagined versions of their sonic imprints. What was “poppin'” comes back at three times the measure (a la Life After Death), what wasn’t disappears into the back catalog (Life in My Times Vol. 1, and many Na$ albums).
However, with Kendrick’s To Pimp A Butterfly, we find a complete stylistic shift.

What in the earliest iterations of his career, and even up to his debut Good Kid, m.A.A.d city, was sampled jazz, soul, and funk was replaced with Neo-Jazz, Neo-Soul, and Neo-Funk played, for the most part, with real instruments. Where Dr. Dre has become infamous for having session musicians interpolate riffs and samples so he could sample them at lower rates, most of the songs on TPAB forgo that completely. This isn’t just G-Funk, this is NEO-G-SOUL-JAZZ-FUNK. In other words, an intersection of all the prominent Black music of the latter half of the 20th century. AKA Hip Hop.

The content of the album follows a similar trend of re-invigorating what we as listeners have taken for granted. To an astute and well-listened music enthusiast, Kendrick Lamar isn’t saying a lot of new ideas or concepts. Many Hip Hop artists have delved into the issues of “you can take a rapper out the hood, but you can’t take the hood out of a rapper”, slavery, gang violence, depression, politics, influence of wealth, strained ties etc. Few, if any, have so thoroughly woven a quilt of personal grievances and stories in a way that makes them so relatable.

From the poetic fuccbois-etry of “These Walls” to the pained depression of “u” and the parable of the jaded rapper that is “How Much a Dollar Cost”, Kendrick Lamar unleashes the skills and techniques that he has learned and mastered over his eight-year career. The poem that stitches each piece together provides the narrative that die-hard good kid fans were craving. The politics of Black consciousness permeate every song but are challenged in the street. Personal shortcomings erupt in painful epiphanies. This is an epic poem where a dynamic character is forced to change and fight in the face of real adversity. Kendrick wasn’t afraid to go there, and I appreciate him for that.

4 months and 15 days later, I still find myself listening to the album on a daily-weekly rotation. I’m still falling into the form and finding how deeply I feel some of the lyrics. Still discovering aspects of songs that I missed out on for some reason or another. I honestly haven’t been blessed with a more complex or complete album in my lifetime (that was released when I was of the age to purchase or acquire it). It’s closest cousins are all concept albums, but even those don’t quite sit in the same way.

I’m honored to say that this is and will be the album of the year for me. I can’t forsee anyone putting out an album that rivals it. And I’ll be listening very hard to find one that takes me on similar journies.

Until next time,

Peace

Raƒi

A Trip to Philly #NextChapter #BlackProfessional

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Hey all; hope you’ve been well,

I meant to write a little sooner, but I was spending a work week in Philadelphia (where I recently graduated from Penn) before stepping further into life as a professional. And honestly, after an intense six weeks of reflection, teaching, and learning, I really needed it.

There’s something rejuvenating about seeing the people that really helped you make it through college once you’ve begun life as a professional. In my week I spent a time with my good friend Talon, my mentors at the Greenfield Intercultural Center, members of the #POCMovieSociety, and the University Chaplain and got a good reminder of why I’m doing what I’m doing.

As much as I’ll miss the university environment, it was hard not to see that my time had already passed. As I performed a 3-song set during a Pre-Freshmen Program Open Mic, I noted the glazed over and young eyes that were staring back at me. Many of them had a great deal of talent in poetry and spoken word, but they are young. Most of them hadn’t lived away from their parents or family. Most them haven’t had to be completely responsible for themselves. I realized that even I, who’s going to live at home while I work, have more responsibility than they will for the next few years. I’m in a different place in life.

And I’m excited. Scared as hell. Worried that I won’t be able to teach at a school that is twenty minutes from home. Worried that I won’t be able to adequately manage my classes. Worried that I won’t be organized enough to handle everything. But excited nonetheless.

Thanks to everyone who made my week so special. I’m charging into the next chapter of my life with gusto because of the peace that you all gave me.

I’ll have more to share soon,

Peace,

Raƒi

A Brief Ramble

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Hey all; hope you’ve had a great weekend,

I’ve spent the better part of the past week doing nothing more than watching la novela “Rubí”, a series that my friend Chi-Chi recommended as one of the shadiest shows of all time. (She’s right, it’s now available on Netflix). In the show, the main character Rubí will do anything in order to marry a filthy rich man who can take her away from “the hood” and help her live the life she believes she deserves. Besides being an ambitious gold digger, she’s [traditionally] beautiful, self-entitled, and generally cruel to anyone who can’t help her meet her goal.

Since I’ve seen close to 90 episodes of the show this week, I can say that in almost every moment of my life since Monday I’ve been reflecting on how the characters deal with Rubí and her terrible deeds and in this Sunday’s church service it was all the same.

The Apostle of my church was talking about how the saved need to change the way they live once they become saved, or else they’ll be doomed to “falling into the same cesspool” that God saved them from. I couldn’t help but think of Rubí who claimed to change, but continued to behave in the same self-destructive and unkind ways. If a fictional character could help me find deeper connection to the idea of Christian stoicism in reality, it would have to be Rubí.

As the Apostle continued to provide example after example, I thought more about why I’ve personally withdrawn from church congregations and organized religions. It’s not because I’m atheist or deist. I fully believe that we will, in fact, get what we truly deserve in THIS life and this may be a part of the problem.

I’m not saying that we personally must go after those that have wronged us or that we shouldn’t endure some level of pain, but only that too much belief that “the next life will be better” will only lead to complacency and the defense of bigotry, racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia, etc. And that’s not something that I can be about.

We will all get some of what we deserve in this life. I truly believe that. I also believe that some of the things that we think we DESERVE are not actually deserved. Some things are given or shared that we think we deserve, but at the end of the day, we should question who is doing the giving. What we actually receive is the result of a compromise, an agreement. When we say we DESERVE something, we are saying that a higher power (God, Nature, the Law, a Supervisor etc.) has a set of qualifications or stipulations and we have met them. And though this may or may not be true, we believe that the system operates properly because we understand the stipulations.

However, the fallacy of this belief lies in the person/entity that sets the system and the reward itself. First, if we believe in said system of reward/punishment, we are believing that the only stipulations that merit reward or punishment are the ones that we have been provided beforehand. This is simply not the case. Second, if the reward is unlimited and EVERYONE can receive it if they meet the stipulations, then there is no fallacy. However, in reality, this is also not the case.

Linking the two back together, if there is a limited number of rewards or a limited number of punishments that can be given, then there will be other stipulations that will determine whether or not we receive what we deserve. These stipulations can be circumstantial (a late arrival for a giveaway or sale), prejudicial (a bias that favors men over women), or arbitrary (really anything). There is also always the factors of influence and coercion (though coercing a deity seems rather mythic/folk-tale-ish).

I’m not saying that we deserve nothing. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t fight for what we think we deserve. I’m saying that we should remember that what we deserve is based on our own beliefs and what we receive is based on the beliefs of those that do the giving. If there are stipulations concerning what we deserve and they’re not met, by all means fight for what you deserve. That is your right as someone who is responding to a written promise. However, if it is a battle of beliefs, remember that is what it is. No matter what you deserve, you can only get what you are given. If you choose to fight that and everyone believes that you are wrong, then there’ll be consequences. If you’re willing to fight, make sure that it is worth it.

Also, don’t confuse things you deserve (reward or punishment) with your rights (inalienable imo). The two are related (you deserve to have your rights respected), but your rights are not earned. Similarly, I don’t believe they should be taken.

This has been a supreme ramble…I just really wanted to write. Hopefully this turns into something more focused in the future.

Until next time,

Raƒi

Props to Baz: BazilleDX “Tanka”

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Now that I’m a few months out of college, I’ve gotten more used to not seeing many of my best friends on a regular basis anymore. I’ve had to say bye to the young poets, activists, scholars, and athletes who I’ve come to see as a family and I’m finally able to move on. However, we still stay in touch and I’m happy to be able to share in their successes.

One of my best friends from school Talon, is continuing to do great things as Hip Hop artist BazilleDX and just came off an extended interview with radio show Native Trailblazers, where something like 500,000 people got to hear him talk about his music and the stories he tells.

Today, he’s released his third free project this year Tanka, a Dakota/Lakota term for “big” and a nickname his mom’s family gave him. It’s 18 tracks of the same high-quality sample based Hip Hop that he’s been making for almost eight years now.

Check it out, I know you’ll enjoy it!

A Long but Rewarding Summer: Reflections on 5 Weeks working in Houston Independent School District

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So yesterday morning I came back to Miami after five weeks of training in Houston and I have to say that it was both the most challenging five weeks of my life and the most rewarding. Even if I failed to run my classroom perfectly each and every day, it was great to be reminded that kids are kids and they need people to listen and respect them.

To not make this the longest post of life, I’m just going to list and explain five rules that I’ve thought about for teaching middle schoolers. I could definitely add to the list, but these are things that I’m going to be thinking hard about as I prepare to interview for a full-time teaching position in Miami-Dade County Public Schools.

1. Students need to know the what, how, and why of EVERYTHING that you want them to do.

Basically, only telling kids what they need to do is a recipe for misbehavior and confusion. Kids have to know what it is they’re working on, how they’re supposed to work on it, and why it is important for the long term. In order to really get at the WHY of it and engage students in the what you really have to know your kids. Which leads to rule number 2:

2. Get to know your students.

Period. This should probably be rule number 1. I couldn’t stress this part enough. Know what makes your students excited, what gets them to pay attention, what gets them upset, what makes them shut down. All of it can help you form positive relationships between student and teacher and then positive relationships between student and subject. If students look forward to coming to your class that’s a positive. If it’s because they actually enjoy doing the classwork, that’s even better.

3. Connect every single dot when you’re explaining something to your students. #ModelOften

This is something that I struggled with on multiple levels throughout the summer. This means that before you leave your kids on their own to do anything, you should have shown them exactly how they’re supposed to do it and then done it with them. If you have worksheets always have an example of how to properly answer a question on the worksheet. If you’re lecturing make sure you show exactly how the process you’re talking about works. Also, try not to just lecture, but give kids something to do while you’re talking so that they’re engaged with what you’re saying.

4. Idle hands lead to idle minds

Most middle schoolers that other corps members and I worked with either liked to talk a lot or move around a lot. If they don’t have an assigned task that will let them positively and purposefully move about or engage in conversation then they’ll get off-task or act up in ways that can derail the classroom.

I personally disagree with the always active model of education where kids have to be “on-task” working 100% of the time, but it’s important that you create a culture where kids know that work needs to get done and will proactively do it. This takes time!

5. Teaching well takes time and patience

All of these rules take time to implement and properly execute. You won’t really know your students after the first week but you still have to start working on achieving the standards for your subject. Even if they understand why, your students might not enthusiastically engage in the whats and hows until they believe in you as a teacher, mentor, role model, and person. I’m the farthest thing from a master teacher, but I can definitely say that I’m looking forward to the challenge of building strong relationships with my students and using that as the foundation for pushing students to success. It probably won’t happen for most of my kids until the third grading period, but I’m invested for the long term.

I’m looking forward to a challenging school year and for the most important 120 people in my life to grow in a positive way. I’ll let y’all know how it goes

Peace,

Raƒi

Narcy “Sun”

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It’s an early morning for me and my last week of teaching for the summer. As I reflect on some of the more beautiful moments that have happened, I can’t help but think about music.

Early in the summer, Narcy, an Iraqi-Canadian Hip Hop artist and music mogul released his newest album “World War Free Now” and it is beyond excellent. He gives me hope for the kind of music that I can make.

One of my favorite songs from the album “Sun” both captures the high quality of the music and really resonated with me as I think about my last week at TFA’s Houston Institute.

Listen and enjoy Narcy’s “Sun”:

Have a great Tuesday,

Peace,

Raƒi

Updates and Re-Commitment

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I’ve been the worst blog writer imaginable since I haven’t made a post since February. Honestly, my senior spring was a lot more taxing than I even thought possible and I never really put myself in the place of peace necessary to get the words out. Thankfully things are normalizing in a major way, so I’m hoping to put words to blog much more often.

Some updates in my life:

I’ve graduated with my BA in Communication (Honors) and Cinema Studies!

I’ve accepted a job as a secondary English teacher through Teach For America in Miami-Dade. Still needing to get placed.

I’ve taught my first group of students in Houston, Texas. Honestly, I’ve got more love for them than I could show in a few weeks and I hope that I can keep in touch with more than a few of them.

Those are definitely the main updates! I’m still working on music and actually just released a 20 minute EP called “Yadeidni” for the 4th of July. It’s critical of the American Dream as a person of color, so if you know that’s not your cup of tea, feel free to pass. If it is your cup of tea, please click play or download it!

Hope to hear from some of y’all and I’ll be back soon. Have a great weekend!!

Peace,

Raƒi