DAMN., Goddamn.

At some point I need to admit to myself that there are so many articles about music I can get published before people start getting annoyed at me. I’m no music critic; I’m not even an upstart music industry/related field major – I’m just an upstart politics student whose entire conception of life is framed by art.

Within 12 hours of To Pimp a Butterfly being released, I had the skeleton of an article ready. Who didn’t? There was so much to analyze, so much to deconstruct, so much to contextualize. With Kendrick Lamar’s latest release, DAMN., it’s different. It’s the kind of album you mull over for hours, listening and re-listening – and that’s not to say TPAB wasn’t that way. I still realize new things about it every time I do a full-album re-listen. But with DAMN., I don’t even know where to begin.

Actually, I do: we’ve been blessed.

Kendrick Lamar is the kind of artist who has every right to disappear after one album, let alone after (give or take – but, well, mostly give) four absolutely stellar pieces of art. He could have been a one-hit wonder and we still wouldn’t have been worthy. And that’s not out of some weird celebrity-worship; he is the absolute cream of the introspective-music crop. With each album, we are given a window into the mind of an artist, watching an author write their treatise, their magnum opus right in front of us.

Every time I go to a museum, I try to stop by the conservation galleries so I can catch a glimpse of conservators working on restoring art. I have yet to be successful in catching a restoration in progress. Still, I like to read every thing; I like to look at the tools, touch all the interactive aspects of the exhibit, try to envision what it must be like to be a conservator entrusted with handling – fixing – works of art. What an absolute honor – and what an honor to be able to witness that, right?

With DAMN., I feel like I’ve finally been able to catch a conservator in action. Hell, I feel like I’m watching Langston Hughes whisper the words of a nascent poem aloud to himself to see if it sounds right. And maybe that’s dramatic, but as a poet that uses her medium to strip herself completely raw, regarding DAMN. is both somber and exhilarating. But what is it about DAMN. that makes it the prime artistry that it is?

It was hard to anticipate how Kendrick would follow up TPAB, an album so intensely political that it leaves you feeling exhausted when you’re done with it; an album so intensely political that one of its singles became the anthem for an entire anti-oppression movement. That was the power of TPAB. But DAMN. didn’t need to be a manifesto – frankly, it didn’t need to be anything. But what it became was the breathless musing of a man coming down from a protest high: slumping down into your favorite couch, the feeling of taking your shoes off after a long day, the – well – depression and malaise after you’ve emptied every reserve of your adrenaline.

Introspection. That’s what follows. As a friend noted, DAMN. is a return to Section.80, a contemplation of self, and the role of self. Kendrick positioned himself to be a messiah of sorts in To Pimp a Butterfly, but in the life of every prophet, there is a moment of doubt; a falter, a question of “Is god actually there? Do I matter? Will anyone ever stand with me?”

We caught glimpses of that in TPAB, and certainly in good kid, m.A.A.d. city, but DAMN. tackles these questions in renderings not unlike “u” or “Swimming Pools” – especially the latter with its misleadingly party-friendly vibe. I firmly believe that if you go into a Kendrick Lamar song without heavily considering that he might be talking to himself, about himself, then you have no business having an opinion about his music. Damning (hah)? Sure. But this is a rapper that means so much in today’s politically charged climate that to access him is a privilege, and we at least owe him, and ourselves, the ability to understand where he’s coming from.

“Ain’t nobody praying for me,” he declares repeatedly, and the bravado gives way to anxiety as a motif throughout the album. Kendrick Lamar has struggled with depression throughout his life, not unlike Chance the Rapper, and both young stars have been extremely public with this fact, using music as a conduit for introspection and even extrospection. The songs in this album are so raw, pained, desperately hopeful and desperately despondent at the same time. He tries to hold the world accountable, but invariably turns back at least some accountability onto himself. There are specific times in the album (the bridge in ELEMENT., the entirety of FEEL. – especially 2:50 – the intro to PRIDE., the tail-end of FEAR.) where I want to drop every thing and cry because it hits home so hard that I need it to bruise, to be sore, so that it can linger and I can remember how I felt when I first listened to DAMN. for the rest of my life.

For an otherwise not very good class, I read literary giant Chinua Achebe’s novel Anthills of the Savannah. I had read Things Fall Apart quite a few years ago, so I knew the kind of author Achebe was and I was rightfully excited about this one. It was situated in a much more contemporary context, and unfortunately, the novel ages pretty damn well. For the corresponding essay, we had to pick our favorite passage, and mine was the following:

“Do I contradict myself?” asked Walt Whitman. “Very well, I contradict myself,” he sang defiantly. “I am large, I contain multitudes.” Every artist contains multitudes. Graham Greene is a Roman Catholic, a partisan of Rome, if you like. Why then does he write so compulsively about bad, doubtful and doubting priests? Because a genuine artist, no matter what he says he believes, must feel in his blood the ultimate enmity between art and orthodoxy […] Those who would see no blot of villainy in the beloved oppressed nor grant the faintest glimmer of humanity to the hated oppressor are partisans, patriots and party-liners.

Every artist contains multitudes. It felt incredibly timely that right after reading this novel, DAMNdropped in all of its glory, in all of its contradictions: in all of its multitudes. Kendrick Lamar is that partisan of Rome; he is that genuine artist; he is myriad and beyond. I aim to memorize that quote so I can remember the lesson inherent in it: not only is to err to be human, but to contradict oneself is to be human; to be multitudinous is to be human. What other species could carry such capacity for horror, and such unmatched capacity for beauty?

Blessed.

And maybe that’s a funny thing to say when Kendrick Lamar struggles with the concept of being blessed, or not, but regardless of whether he feels like he is god-sent, god-sped, he is for me.

There are not enough words in the world to discuss all the facets of this album that I want to. I have a feeling I will be coming back to this a lot.

Until then – I’m waiting for Sunday.

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How Hamilton ruined my life

Note: At the time that I am writing this, I have hit about 1600 words. To retain my sanity and to keep some sort of end in sight, I’m going to keep my deeper analyses limited to Hamilton and Burr (and even within those constraints I am forced to limit myself: these characters are so layered and complex I would have to devote a book to their full deconstruction. …I’m a little tempted to do just that).


 

My friends have been talking about Hamilton for a long time. And by talking about it, I mean gathering in groups at parties and singing songs from the play together as if in some sort of rapture. I was always interested in listening to the soundtrack eventually, but I have a bad habit of putting things off until I’m forced to do them; inevitable, I fall in love with whatever I’m forced to do (see below).

Jemma messaged me, saying “You have to listen to Hamilton as soon as possible.”

It was a Saturday afternoon, I wanted to veg out for a few hours, the alternative was playing Stardew Valley and totally losing my soul to it (again): it was as good a time to start listening to the OST as any. Ten seconds into the first song, I sent her a message back saying “already losing my shit.” (…like I said…)

I don’t exactly know what kind of expression I had on my face, but I imagine it must have been a little alarming. I was sitting on Adam’s bed. He was busy playing a video game while I was listening to Hamilton. At some point he turned around to check on me, did a double take, asked what was wrong and I just responded with “I’m having a religious experience.” It’s that good.

Now if rap, hip hop and R&B aren’t quite your speed, you might have a hard time letting the music itself resonate with you. But it’s the ensemble, comprised mostly of people of color telling a story of a country that has historically seen racial tensions, and academia and scholarship of a primarily monochromatic palette, that should really capture your attention; if not even that, it’s the narrative of the story doing history justice and shedding light on a forgotten Founding Father and just some really dang clever writing.

Important: I’m not American, and I know little about American history before the 20th century beyond a cursory familiarity with its founding. This musical has made me emotionally invested in long-dead historical figures. It’s a travesty.

In any case, I was straight up crying by the time “Satisfied” rolled around. It was around then that I realized this play was far more than just a fun (hah, so I thought) musical about history for me. I know I’m an emotional person – I cry at the drop of a hat over most things, particularly fictional works (you can ask basically anyone who has watched a movie with me, or watched me read books). But Hamilton touched me in a way that left me feeling like I had the wind knocked out of me. It was the spiritual equivalent of my eyes widening in realization. (Pretentiously) so much of Hamilton’s own experience resonates with me.

There’s a line in “Satisfied” where Angelica Schyler asks Hamilton where he came from, and his response is, “Unimportant, there’s a million things I haven’t done.” When I first heard that line, it made me hold my head in my hands. I was openly sobbing throughout that song. I often say I’m an easily satisfied person, and I suppose I am: all I need is good friends, good conversation, fulfilling work and I am content. But that song reminded me that true satisfaction is service, it is the pursuit of knowledge to the point of exhaustion – and for me, it is “Writing like it’s going out of style.”

And I think that’s why Hamilton struck such a chord with me. It is the story of a man who built his life from the ground up out of a hunger to be something, to do something, to stand for something or die trying; it is the story of a man who realizes that living is much harder than dying, but it is worth it so long as you live for a cause. It is the story of a man whose passion and drive nearly destroys him, and in many ways does destroy him when he has to choose between love for family and public service. It reminds me of my own fears and the human mortality of ambition.

The future excites me but often leaves me feeling grave. I cannot imagine a life where I live only for myself. I was born to do “a million things” and I am terrified there is not enough time. What do you pick when it all matters so much? Is pure drive enough? You can stand up for the right thing but not have people rallying behind you until long after you’re dead.

Is glory in life the reward? Or is it the legacy you leave behind?

And what if you become the villain of the story?

“Non-stop,” the final song of the first act, has me grinning and/or near tears for eight entire minutes. It is an exhilarating song for those of us who are relentless in our desire to work for the greater good. It is both anthem and counsel, a rallying cry and a warning: Hamilton is both soothsayer and harbinger, and that dichotomy is frightening and awesome.

Hamilton was a war vet, a politician, an economist, a lawyer, but through it all he was a writer and the most prolific of writers at that. Though he resisted it at times, writing was his strength and it was what propelled him from the slums through to New York City when he was a broken young man.

“Alexander Hamilton embodies the written word,” said the play’s creator (and Hamilton himself) Lin-Manuel Miranda [paraphrased]. That theme is echoed in the play itself, particularly in “Non-stop,” when Aaron Burr and the Company demand of Hamilton:

How do you write like tomorrow won’t arrive?
How do you write like you need it to survive?
How do you write ev’ry second you’re alive?

(PS: Definitely click through to the lyrics, they’re worth reading)

At the risk of sounding self-important, I see myself in Hamilton the character/person a lot. My friend Alex asked who I was in the play and my immediate response was, “Oh, definitely one of the Schyler sisters.” And while certainly, I adore the Schyler sisters (particularly Angelica), I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t anything like Alexander Hamilton at my worst. I have to be mindful to not monopolize my time with work – “Look around, look around, how lucky we are to be alive right now” – or I risk isolating myself; but I have to remember not to completely mantle myself in people or I risk feeling like I’m losing my willpower and drive.

How lucky we are to be alive right now. But to what end does this luck serve us? What will we accomplish, in the small blip of time that we are present for in the grand scheme of things?

And what if we forget, one day, to look around because we are too busy looking forward?

In short, Hamilton brings up a lot of questions inherent to the life of a political science/IR student, or someone who wishes to enter public service or governance in any capacity.

And then there’s Aaron Burr whom all I knew about prior to this play was that he was kind of a dick. Don’t get me wrong, he still is kind of a dick, but he’s one of the most human characters in a play all about humanizing historical figures. The same friend who asked me who I was professed that he was Aaron Burr – the most Slytherin of Slytherins. Maybe that was one of the reasons I found myself focusing on Burr’s lines on my multiple re-listens of the album:

“Talk less / Smile more / Don’t let them know what you’re against or what you’re for / You want to get ahead? / Fools that run their mouths off wind up dead.”

I almost always re-listen to that entire part of the song. Beyond the fact that it sets up Hamilton and Burr as foils to one another throughout the play, and that Leslie Odom Jr.’s voice is absolute silk, it has some personal resonance. Before I gave myself the right of passage into waxing poetic (I still say mostly fluff, but at least I’m somewhat eloquent now?) I firmly believed I was always running my mouth. And really, at the end of the day my waxing is a mask; I still run my mouth.

“Fools that run their mouths off wind up dead.”

Neither Hamilton nor I know when to shut up. I all but aspire to have Aaron Burr’s self-restraint. I’m good at that when I’m in conference, representing someone else’s policy, being a politician to boot – but maaaan, my mouth is non-stop. I mentioned earlier that “Non-stop” is a warning message as well as an anthem, and Burr himself underscores this when he says “Why do you always say what you believe? / Every proclamation guarantees / Free ammunition for your enemies.”

Whoops, I’m screwed. But anyway, Burr wasn’t wrong – Hamilton made a lot of enemies with his mouth, and ensured that his own legacy would be a niche historical interest (until Lin-Manuel Miranda came around anyway).

“Wait For It”, in particular, is a beautiful testament to Aaron Burr’s entire philosophy. His sense of self-preservation is the guiding force of his life, but it doesn’t mean he does not have values and opinions he believes in; he warns Mulligan, Laurens and Lafayette to lower their voices in “My Shot” to ensure that no loyalists hear of their plot; he signs up to become George Washington’s right-hand man, only to be shoved aside in favor of Hamilton; and when he finally sees that the playing field is safe enough for him to pursue his desire to become President of the United States, he is foiled by Hamilton who mistakes his self-preservation for disinterest (for lack of a better word).

Aaron Burr at his softest is divine to listen to. The tenderness with which he sings of Theodosia (R&B at its finest in this play) segues into a broader narrative on life. It is a three-part soliloquy on love, death and Hamilton, the first two of which don’t “… discriminate / between the sinners and the saints” but all of whom “take and [they] take and [they] take.” Love, death and Hamilton: forces of nature in Aaron Burr’s world, a world where he is willing to hold his plans close to his chest. As he sees it, the fact that Theodosia is with him and no one else, and that he outlived his family – that he is even alive right now – proves he has a moment coming. He will just bide his time until he can safely secure that moment for himself. Burr does have a cause, it is just one that doesn’t manifest as chaotically tangible as Hamilton’s does. And the cherry on top of the humanity sundae?:

“I am the one thing in life I can control … I am inimitable, I am an original … I am not falling behind or running late … I’m not standing, I am lying in wait.”

If that isn’t inspirational, I don’t know what is. The entire song is Burr’s way of saying “Look around, look around, how lucky we are to be alive right now.” He has passions and opinions and ambitions like everyone else, he is just restrained and contained and so deeply R&B in a play full of rappers and beat-boxers.

I love Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr’s initial friendship. Their playful banter up until “Story of Tonight (Reprise)” is frankly adorable, particularly when Hamilton tries to encourage him to pursue Theodosia and when Aaron Burr, without any spitefulness, tells Hamilton to “smile more” – on the occasion of Alexander’s wedding, it’s sweet, kind, friendly advice.

Their former friendship culminates in the infamous duel where Aaron Burr shoots to kill and Hamilton raises his gun to the sky – showing restraint, where Burr is the one who channels death and takes, and takes, and takes. Hamilton had finally decided to slow down after his son’s death and truly look around, look around at his wife and family; Burr sees his moment and attempts to seize the Presidency, only to have it taken away from him by Hamilton’s vote. It is a scene heartbreakingly rendered. So much so that I refuse to go into it in more detail than I already have.

It is also the one song I haven’t been able to bring myself to listen to again.

Description cannot do Hamilton justice. I haven’t even watched the play and it was able to garner such a visceral reaction from me. I don’t recall the last time I became so enamored of something so quickly. It has been two and a half days since I first started listening to Hamilton, and I find myself desperately trying to wrap up a 2000+ word essay because if I don’t stop myself now, I won’t stop at all.

So I will end on this abrupt note: do yourself a favor and listen to Hamilton, because 200 years from now they will remember Lin-Manuel Miranda’s genius – and how lucky we are to be alive right now.

From K-Dot to Kunta: the New Fate of Kendrick Lamar

First published in the Northeastern University Political Review

Photo by John Francis Peters for the New York Times

Compton, California has birthed its fair share of artists who have gone on to make a mark in the rap and hip hop industry, but it’s Dr. Dre’s protege, Kendrick Lamar who has taken the industry by storm. Formerly known as K-Dot,  the rapper’s Section.80, and good kid, m.A.A.d city have all been critically acclaimed. good kid, M.A.A.d city was dubbed an instant classic by many, and the album went platinum. According fellow singer-songwriter and producer Erykah Badu, good kid is, “…an album that not only tells a compelling story, but a near-definitive one of a specific time and place, offering a window on the varying complexities of turn-of-the-century Compton.”[1] An important observation; like most rappers, Lamar waxes lyrical about his upbringing, his hometown – struggling Compton – and his desire to,  in the words of the character playing his mother at a skit at the end of “Real,” “Come back a man, tell your story to these black and brown kids in Compton.” These words, taking into consideration the current context of race relations in the United States, are extremely powerful.

That brings us to his most recent release To Pimp a Butterfly, an intentional reference to To Kill a Mockingbird – appropriate, given the racially-charged content of the album. The anticipation was cultivated almost tenderly, with singles dropped periodically and the release date left unannounced until three weeks before the official launch date – March 23rd. The first single released off the album was “i,” divisive in that it deviates from the dark, cinematic undertones of Lamar’s usual fare. The single is inundated with confidence and optimism, self-love that can only be forged in the smithy of racial empowerment. Undeniably funky, it foreshadowed the jazziness that plays Atlas to Kendrick Lamar’s world in Butterfly. The second single off the album was a divergence from the uplifting message of the first, a track called “The Blacker the Berry” presumably in response to the controversial Azealia Banks’ criticism over Lamar’s comments regarding Ferguson.[2] Addressing the looting and violent rioting that some protesters following the grand jury decision were accused of, Lamar emphasized the importance of black self-respect: “[change] don’t start with just a rally, don’t start from looting — it starts from within.”[3]

“The Blacker the Berry” is scathing, and Lamar is as accusatory of America’s institutionalized racism as he is of himself, spitting, “I’m the biggest hypocrite of 2015” and weaving the theme of hypocrisy throughout the song. He explores his identity as a black man, struggling with the label of African-American, his African heritage, speaking to the “institutionalized manipulations and lies” perpetuated by the system, demanding the listener admit, “You hate me, don’t you? You hate my people […]” Anti-black slurs ricochet: “I want you to recognize that I’m a proud monkey.” At the very end of the song, he turns the mirror back towards himself, recalling his own history of gang violence – almost lambasting himself. “So why did I weep when Trayvon Martin was in the street, when gangbanging made me kill a ni**a blacker than me? Hypocrite!”

The explosive last line is unapologetically difficult to swallow, and Lamar has no intention of making Butterfly easy to swallow. Layers upon layers of historically black musicality in every song; a cacophony, if not for the masterful way in which brass, wind and bass weave together.

The third single released, “King Kunta,” was quickly overshadowed by the arrival of something far bigger than it: the album itself. Accidentally released March 15 on iTunes, it was fully released on March 16th, taking many fans by surprise and setting a Spotify record with 9.6 million streams in a day.[4] Right off the bat, with “Wesley’s Theory,” you are taken on a ride akin to Jay-Z and Kanye West’s Watch the Throne: a celebration of black excellence, as Jay-Z would put it, “opulence, decadence.” A critic called Butterfly “[…] black insomuch as the album is a cosmic slop of nearly every musical movement that we Negroes have founded on this continent.”[5] The album opens with a sample of “Every Ni**er is a Star” by Boris Gardiner, and features George Clinton of the Parliaments, an avowed inspiration.[6] “King Kunta” is deceptively evocative beneath unabashed rhythm – Kendrick Lamar often refers to himself as “King Kendrick” but in this subversion he relates to Kunta Kinte, a Gambian slave who had the front part of his foot cut off as punishment for trying to escape slavery in the burgeoning United States. The next few tracks follow with similar funkadelic allusions to the race conversation that will proliferate the latter part of the album; but the arrival of “u” radically changes everything and jolts a new perspective into “i.” The outro to “These Walls” preludes “u,” with a spoken word piece by Lamar that transitions one song into the next throughout the album:

I remember you was conflicted

Misusing your influence

Sometimes I did the same

Abusing my power full of resentment

Resentment that turned into a deep depression

Found myself screaming in a hotel room…

“u,” appropriately, begins with Lamar screaming and repeating “Loving you is complicated” ten times in a frantic voice. “Complicated—” an Atlantic piece submits, “not impossible, not difficult, but complicated. Everything in Lamar’s world is complicated, probably because everything in the real world is.”[7] He stumbles through the song, crying, drinking, eviscerating himself with cruelty: he wasn’t there for his sister, he wasn’t there for his city, he wasn’t even there for his friend Chad while he died in a hospital bed save for a Facetime call.[8] The last lines in the song are jarring: “And if I told your secrets/The world’ll know money can’t stop a suicidal weakness” and lead into the cautiously optimistic “Alright” with Kendrick singing against a broken, brassy backdrop, “I’m f*cked up/homie, you f*cked up/but if God got us/then we gon’ be alright.”

Not enough can be said about the juxtaposition of “u” against “i,” but it is necessary to know that these existential questions are a pivotal part of the black experience. Kanye West explored these questions in Yeezus, and Watch the Throne is a twelve-song testament; Frank Ocean alludes to it in “Swim Good” (referenced by Kendrick in “These Walls”), Janelle Monae actively preaches against it in The Electric Lady.[9] Even the September-released “i” receives a facelift inButterfly. It gets stripped down to seem like it’s being performed live, but retains its optimism until a fight breaks out in the crowd. Kendrick stops immediately, exclaiming “Not on my time – not on my time!” and demands of the crowd, “How many ni**as we done lost, bro, this year alone?” He continues, trying to silence the arguing and instill a sense of camaraderie amongst them with an a capella verse and a lesson in linguistics: “N-E-G-U-S, definition: Royalty; King Royalty.” Instead of the “n” word – the turn of tongue that has damned so many black people to slavery, and that renders many, like Oprah who condemns the use of the “n” word, uncomfortable – he encourages the use of this word of black excellence, validating Oprah and offering an olive branch in the form of a word that only has empowering connotations.[10]

“Kendrick Lamar, by far, realest Negus alive.”

There is no way to dissect, discuss and lampshade every single track on this album under a word limit. But the last track of the album demands a paragraph of its own.

Tupac “2Pac” Shakur is regarded by many as being the most influential rapper of all time; Lamar has repeatedly mentioned 2Pac as one of his greatest influences, and it stands to reason.[11] 2Pac’s legacy is controversial but it is undeniable. His music is influenced by his family’s Black Panther notoriety, including his step-aunt Assata Shakur, the first woman to be added to the FBI’s most wanted list.[12] “Mortal Man” is to this album what “Real” was for good kid: putting lessons learnt throughout the album into perspective, to realize oneself in the grand scheme of things. Kendrick Lamar asks of the listener, “When shit hit the fan, is you still a fan?” citing all the ways in which he could get in trouble over the course of his lifetime: being framed for crimes he did not commit, arrested on exaggerated charges to fit the agenda of institutionalized racism. Not unlikely scenarios given the backdrop of continued, arguably escalated, police brutality against black people and people of color. He invokes the legacy of Nelson Mandela, a man jailed for more than two decades for his commitment against apartheid – it’s not just homage, it is a statement of intent, a promise to fight the good fight, working for justice and peace. It is a bold promise, and one that he obviously wants to be held to. But it is the outro of the song that leaves the most lasting impression. He starts reciting the poem that has laced one song to another in its totality. Blackness must unite to prevail; blackness must forget the colors of gangs; blackness must forgive itself and reject the evils of “Lucy” – Lucifer, who has haunted Kendrick through his career. “If I respect you, we unify and stop the enemy from killing us/But I don’t know, I’m no mortal man, maybe I’m just another ni**a.”

Paper crumples, and you can almost visualize Lamar looking up with an almost sheepish look on his face, “Sh*t and that’s all I wrote.” The outro quickly establishes itself as a conversation between two people: Kendrick Lamar and his idol, Tupac Shakur. The late Shakur’s words are taken from his 1994 interview with a Swedish radio station, but it doesn’t seem like a conversation with a ghost. He may as well have been talking to Dr. Dre with the familiarity and slight awe that is in Lamar’s voice.[13] They contemplate poverty, impending revolution, the future of black youth: and isn’t it natural for a 27 year-old black man against the background of Ferguson, “I Can’t Breathe,” and #BlackLivesMatter to be asking such questions of his idol? Butterfly is an album for disenfranchised youth of color struggling to find a voice in a society that purports to be post-racial and is anything but.

Perhaps Kendrick Lamar is a butterfly, and his discography is his evolution. Section.80 wove together a setting for the story of Kendrick’s Compton; good kid, m.A.A.d city was a memoir, one teeming with his experience of racism and exploring vice along the way; but To Pimp a Butterfly is bigger than Compton: it’s America. It’s Kendrick Lamar exploring his role as a black man with a voice that is becoming increasingly influential; it is the narrative of a man terrified and insecure of the temptation that surrounds him in his new-found fame, and – and perhaps most importantly – it is the manifesto of an apostle. In his words, Lamar is doing “god’s work” on earth; how timely, this album, given what is essentially the reinvocation of the civil rights movement.[14] If to To Pimp a Butterfly is a “75-minute story of “survivor’s guilt” that finds some sort of resolution at the end, the question must be begged: what is next for Kendrick Lamar?[15] Activism has always manifested itself through multiple mediums and Lamar joins the ever-increasing number of black artists that have anointed themselves activists. Will he work through musicianship? Or will he step out from behind the curtain of artistry and take the helm of the resurging civil rights movement? Continue reading “From K-Dot to Kunta: the New Fate of Kendrick Lamar”

BREAKING: Masses take to streets as distraught world struggles to come to terms with self

LONDON – The recent departure of Zayn Malik from the world-renowned boy band One Direction has left swaths of people – adolescent girls and grown men alike – distraught and confused. News that One Direction will continue as a 4-piece band has done little to alleviate the worries and concerns weighing down these bereft masses, who have taken to the streets in their wild rage.

Burnt and bloody copies of Seventeen Magazine were strewn across the asphalt. Most reporters who tried to approach the throng of protesters rioting and looting were found either absconding from the scene out of fear for their lives or abandoning recorder and mic and being absorbed into the howling crowd as their inner “Directioners” came out in a furious tempest. The few individuals who were able to collect themselves enough to respond were all clutching posters of Malik circa 2012 – notably clean-shaven and short-haired.

“I just- I don’t understand. We love him,” said one individual who wished to be identified only as ZaynLuvr97. “Wasn’t that enough?”

Shortly after giving us the quote, ZaynLuvr97 ripped a pink extension from where it was attached to her bangs and threw it into a gutter before rejoining the protest.

“All this is beyond me. He was such a handsome boy,” said Tasneem Begum, 43. A mother of 3, including a 21-year-old daughter, she immigrated to the United Kingdom while she was pregnant with her oldest. “My daughter, you know, she is a premed student. Very intelligent. Her face is a little full, only, and she has gotten a little darker recently, but very pretty. I was hoping to contact Zayn-beta’s esteemed mother for a rishta, but I’m not sure if that’s appropriate right now.”

As the press left the scene, Tasneem Begum was wondering whether a basket of laddoos and other confectionery would be a good way to send her condolences to the family, along with a picture of her daughter. The throng only thickened as time went on. As schools across the world get out, the protests are expected to become a global movement. #AlwaysInOurHeartsZaynMalik is the number one Worldwide trend on Twitter, followed by #GodIsntReal.

At press time, reporters were trying to figure out what to do with what seemed to be a husk of a 20-year-old woman who had aimlessly wandered into the office in, quote, “pursuit of some kind of meaning to life.”


My sincere condolences to any Directioners out there. And best of luck to Zayn bhai, you’re gonna kill it. Future Timbastan fo sho.

disclaimer: this is satirical etc etc

Nerdfighter confessions

There are a few words I use to identify myself if asked. Some of them are quite obvious – Pakistani and Muslim, the standard fare – and some of them to do with my personality – a passionate person and a lover of the color pink – but beyond those, there’s one other term that I identify with dearly.

I am a loud, proud Nerdfighter.

A Nerdfighter, for those who don’t know, is not a person who fights nerds. A Nerdfighter is a citizen of Nerdfighteria, a community of nerds who Don’t Forget To Be Awesome (DFTBA!)

…in more coherent terms, Nerdfighters is basically the name given to fans of John Green, Hank Green and the Vlogbrothers channel in general. It’s an online community of people who identify with all that they love and who fight to decrease world suck, the critical evil that threatens the world we live in (greed, poverty, wars, all those things) and which, incidentally, is something I aspire to do as well. It helps, then, to have a community of people – even those you’ve never met before – that inherently want the same thing.

And it helps that that community is somewhat-led (I use the term loosely because Hank and John have never once called themselves Head Nerdfighters – there is no such thing) by two incredible, wonderful human beings, who treat people not according to their age, but treat them with the knowledge that they are intelligent, complex human beings, capable of feeling and doing unique things. That is something so rare.

I’ve gushed about John Green before – he is probably the closest thing I have to a hero or an idol – but truly, there’s no limit to the words I could say about him. And the same goes to Hank Green, that sweet, genuine, unabashedly passionate man who sings songs about anglerfishes and Helen Hunt…together, they are the vlogbrothers, who have changed the lives of so many people and added a greater depth to others’ – including my own, not just with vlogbrothers, but with so many other off-shoots!

Scishow where Hank teaches us how to be smarter individuals; CrashCourse (World History, Biology, Ecology, Literature…) where we’re taught how to think outside the box and guided to thinking for ourselves, especially in History; the Lizzie Bennet Diaries, a modern Vlog adaptation of Pride and Prejudice; Project4Awesome, the Foundation to Decrease Worldsuck and countless other things! And let’s not forget John’s books, Hank’s music, his websites, Vidcon…I could go on.

In fact, I spent a good chunk of my TEDx talk (which I will upload as soon as it’s on the TEDx Youtube channel, bear with me here) actually talking about John and Hank, citing them as examples of how passion can take you places you never thought conceivable. And it’s true! Brotherhood 2.0 was birthed just so Hank and John could communicate textlessly! Now it’s just exploded and turned into a mutant creature of Awesome. But anyway, #TEDxWinch was trending and so a lot of people were tuned into the event and I suppose as I mentioned John and Hank, there was an explosion in the Nerdfighter community of Dubai – I’m not entirely sure, I was too busy being petrified on stage – and as I stepped off once my speech was done and checked my phone, I saw so many messages from excited Nerdfighters telling me how they loved my speech, how awesome it was that a Nerdfighter was doing a TEDx talk.

Subsequently, I felt a warmth that bubbled up in the pit of my belly and a grin that threatened to rip my cheek muscles apart…and I still don’t have any words for that experience.

That’s the wonderful thing about being in a community. The sense of unity you get, the connections you make, the fraternity in getting excited about things. And that’s exactly what Nerdfighteria is all about! Not allowing anything to restrain your joy and exhilaration when you talk about the things you love! Because why should you let anything hinder the act of showing just how much you appreciate and love something?

I’ll quote John Green himself on this one:

Because nerds like us are allowed to be unironically enthusiastic about stuff. We don’t have to be like, ‘Oh yeah that purse is okay’ or like, ‘Yeah, I like that band’s early stuff.’ Nerds are allowed to love stuff, like jump-up-and-down-in-the-chair-can’t-control-yourself-love it. Hank, when people call people nerds, mostly what they are saying is, ‘You like stuff’, which is just not a good insult at all, like ‘You are too enthusiastic about the miracle of human consciousness’.

When someone says I’m over-passionate, I’m just like “…wait, what?” because what I’m basically being told is that I’m too excited about things, that I care too much, that I’m filled with too much human emotion over something and…those aren’t inherently bad things. But you know, naturally, at first, I actually did feel bad about being passionate. I thought it was something unnecessary, something that brought down everything else about me. That passion is good but being passionate…well, you have to follow certain guidelines for it to be acceptable. …but ever since I became a part of Nerdfighteria, I realized how silly it is to apologize for being who I am, because I am a passionate person! I get excited! I love human beings, I love the world, I love the things we do and create together, I get upset about the cruel things we can do somethings, I cry over beautiful cinema and music, I sob and get angry at unfair endings, I laugh hysterically at things that are hilarious and I Never Feel More Alive than I do in those moments of intense emotion and passion.

Everyone should be able to feel that. No matter how discouraging other people’s reaction may be.

So I want to thank Hank and John Green for teaching me not to be afraid. And I want to thank Nerdfighteria for reinforcing my love of everything. As John Green said in his ode to Nerdfighteria in the Vlogbrothers’ Carnegie Hall show yesterday, “It has helped me fall in love with the world.”

It’ll take a lot to make me unlove the world. And, as a way of ending this blog post, I’ll quote something we say in my hometown:

DFTBA.

#jasonsilvawinchester – well, that just happened

So yesterday, we got some last minute good news. That good news was promptly followed by what is possibly the best beginning to a school year in the history of school.

Jason Silva, a film-maker, a TV presenter, a futurist and performance philosopher, had been in Dubai for a few days. He’s been such an inspiration to us all for a long time that, you know, the possibility of him being in the same city as us was kinda…kinda ridiculous in itself. On a whim, my English teacher emailed him saying what an absolute pleasure it would be for us if he passed by our school at some point in his trip.

It was a pretty long shot but the fact that Jason even considered it given his busy schedule was exciting enough, but the fact that at exactly 3:21pm, on the 4th of September, I received an email from my English teacher in supersized font practically screaming through the computer screen that JASON SILVA WAS ACTUALLY GOING TO VISIT OUR SCHOOL-

Yeah. I still can’t wrap my head around it, let alone talk about it with a fraction of the eloquence with which Jason indulged our intellectual fantasies.

It was just amazing. This video is one of his many incredible snippets of inspiration that have – you know, fittingly – inspired me and some of the most brilliant people I know to be on the warpath for daily intellectual immersion.

And the best part was how absolutely humble Jason was. Throughout the whole thing, he seemed as enthralled as we were.

That’s something.

Hell, I got my little commonplace book signed by him! And I got a hug! I won’t lie, I was unashamedly squealing, but so was everyone else. When he first walked through the door, I’m not joking, my heart actually stopped for a little while. Someone we’ve only seen in videos, someone who has brought tears to my eyes and made me actually sob with the sheer passion of his words, his awe-inspiring honesty, in the flesh, before me, talking to me, making eye-contact with me, freaking hugging me!

I’m not the only one who feels this way. The hashtag #jasonsilvawinchester is littered with people who were as overwhelmed as I was. The head rush of intellectual ecstasy is still so mind-boggling, 12 hours after his entrance into our school, and the fact that it was lovingly instigated by such a genuinely good human being makes it even better.

I wish this man – who encouraged us to keep in touch with him and patiently, even happily, entertained all our fangirling – all the luck in the world, and all the popularity that his work demands and deserves.

One day, I will meet him again, and I will have made something of myself. We all will. And until that day, I have fond memories, hastily jotted notes, a couple of autographs, pictures, a hashtag, and the ghost of possibly the best hug I will ever receive to keep me going.

Here’s to you, Jason. Thank you for everything.

Not all things are meant to be forgiven and forgotten

Do we honestly find it so easy, as a society, to forgive people like Chris Brown simply because he’s a celebrity? Or is there something deeper, a misogynistic tendency embedded deep within a society that has grown to deem it acceptable?

Let me answer that: it’s both.

We live in the kind of mass culture where on the basis of your power, wealth and prestige, you can be forgiven for heinous things for which a normal person may not just simply be rightly convicted, but the wrong person can be convicted as we watch without batting an eyelash. Institutional racism comes into mind here; if you’re an ethnic minority and well-to-do, chances are you’ll probably be considered automatically suspicious by a not-very-ethnic police officer. Heck, you don’t even have to be a police officer, most of the time, to side-eye a middle-aged black gentleman in a suit.

But forget ethnic minorities for a second and come back to heartthrob Chris Brown. He has looks, money, and an insane following. Let’s throw Rihanna into the equation. Chances are, a lot of people liked her less because she was ruining their erotomanic desire for Chris Brown.

Now let’s throw a few punches into the equation. Chris Brown made a big, big boo boo. One that, righteously, should leave him hated and ensure a quick fall from stardom.

Except, now, in 2012, he gets defended by people because obviously, Rihanna had it coming. And it’s not like he caused permanent damage or anything, right? Besides, the chick’s making songs about how much chains and whips excite her! Look, he’s obviously remorseful, look at all those songs he’s making about how she ruined his life just because he messed up her face a little.

And everyone falls for it. It’s Rihanna’s fault for being a strong, black woman. She should have known better than to ruin Chris Brown’s career, that harlot!

If Rihanna was your sister, you’d be feeling very, very differently about forgiving Chris Brown. If you were a decent human being, you would despise Chris Brown because men like that do not deserve to be forgiven if they hit their significant other and whine about it in songs about heartbreak.

But this isn’t even an isolated event, this happens all the time. Take yesterday, where half the world was mourning the lost of songstress Whitney Houston, while the other half was muttering, “she had it coming, that lousy drug addict,” and making ha-larious graphics about how they can’t tell Michelle Obama, Oprah and Whitney apart because, here’s the kicker, they’re all black!

Conveniently, everyone chooses the forget the abuse she was subject to by her husband, Bobbi Brown. Everyone forgives Charlie Sheen because he’s funny. No one raised a fuss against Mel Gibson, cause he was Jesus Christ, you guys!

Take a step back, world, and start thinking about acquiring a bit of decency. Women, this goes out to you too – oftentimes, we’re the ones judging our own sex, we’re the ones putting ourselves down, we’re the ones making snide comments and setting the egalitarian movement back a couple decades with every Fair & Lovely add we watch.

Think a little. I’ve heard it’s something some humans can do.

Also, courtesy of the incredible Kate Beaton:

 

EDIT: For a detailed account of what exactly happened the night Chris Brown beat Rihanna, go here.
EDIT 2: If this isn’t the perfect example of psychotic ignorance slash cult worshiping of celebrities, I don’t know what is. Thank you to a friend who showed me this article!