Educational Mixtape

Excerpt from a paper I recently wrote on the historical legacy of slavery on hip-hop that is particularly relevant to our discussion here:

“In a space where black arts, and hip-hop in particular, are not given the same level of accreditation or legitimacy as their white counterparts, hip-hop seeks to teach outside of formal institutions and avoid the manipulation of the broader American popular culture.  As a crucial facet of hip-hop culture, the genre seeks to de-privilege knowledge that is typically gained from schools and have it accessible to people who may not get it otherwise.  Therefore, hip-hop takes on more than just the role of entertainment, but instead fills the voids left in the cracks of a racist curriculum in our educational system.”  Here are 10 songs (not in order) that exemplify and communicate such purpose:

1. Kanye West/Jay-Z – “Murder to Excellence

In this song, Kanye raps: “I feel the pain in my city wherever I go / 314 soldiers died in Iraq, 509 died in Chicago.” He’s talking about how the violence in one of our own American cities (and his hometown) is worse than what had been going on in Iraq at the time, around 2010-2011. More American people in Chicago were being killed than the U.S. soldiers at war. This song shed light on the alarmingly high murder rate in Chicago, something that many people had little to no knowledge of.

2. Kanye West – “New Slaves

In this song, Kanye depicts racism in a new era; where in his eyes, the discrimination has more to do with your financial status rather than your skin color. He raps: “You see it’s broke n*gga racism, that’s that ‘Don’t touch anything in the store’ / And it’s rich n*gga racism, that’s that ‘Come in, please buy more.'” Before Kanye attained a certain level of financial and popular success, store clerks did not even want him in their stores; yet now that he’s rich, expensive clothing companies are asking him to purchase more of their clothes and help promote their brand. This song expands on the classism struggle between the poor and the rich.

3. Kendrick Lamar – “The Blacker The Berry

While Kendrick has previously mentioned that he has no issues with white rappers like Iggy Azalea and Mackelmore, who are often accused of appropriation by the rap public, he talks about appropriation in this song: “You hate my people, your plan is to terminate my culture / You vandalize my perception, but can’t take style from me.” Speaking to the white invisible hand of the music industry, Kendrick acknowledges that there are higher powers at work that are trying to kill black culture through appropriation of the culture and thus skewing the perception of his art.

4.  J. Cole – “Be Free

J. Cole released this song in the wake of the Mike Brown shooting, incorporating audio versions of witness testimony in the track. He raps: “Every time I step outside, I see my niggas die / There ain’t no gun they make that can kill my soul.” J. Cole is expressing his disdain for the countless number of murders of black men by trigger-happy police, and tells the listener that despite the killing a gun could do, his soul will always live on, a sentiment that echoes with the families of the ones slain.

5. Kanye West – “We Don’t Care

Kanye uses this song to speak on the injustices within the black experience; for example, education funding from the government, rapping. Ye raps, “You know the kids gonna act a fool / When you stop the programs for after-school.” A lot of children in marginalized communities can find themselves in troubling situations after school. Many of these children are raised in single-parent homes; until that parent arrives home from work and unless the parent can afford a babysitter, these kids are left unattended to. Kanye is saying that if communities want their children to be kept away from crime and the influence of gang violence, they should put more money into after-school care, which is something that could benefit the community at large.            **Side Note: In the beginning of the line, he spews one of his most compelling yet simple lines, “And all my people thats drug dealin’ jus to get by stack ya money till it gets sky high/ We wasn’t supposed to make it past 25 but the jokes on you we still alive.”

6. Kanye West – “Diamonds from Sierra Leone

Here, Kanye highlights a time in Sierra Leone where diamonds were being sold internationally in order to fund weapon purchasing for the country’s own civil war. Kanye dedicates this song to the issue, rapping: “The diamonds, the chains, the bracelets, the charmses / I thought my Jesus-piece was so harmless / Til I seen a picture of a shorty armless.” He was upset with himself for buying into the materialistic nature of being a prominent figure in the rap world and owning excessive jewelry– jewelry that could’ve been used to buy a weapon that made a young girl in West Africa armless. Kanye helped to bring more attention to the issue in Sierra Leone, and warned others of purchasing jewelry from the country at the time.

7. Kanye West – “Crack Music

When crack was introduced into black American communities in the early ’80’s, it brought with it devastating consequences. Kanye talks about this in “Crack Music”: “When our heroes or heroines got hooked on heroin, crack raised the murder rate in D.C. and Maryland / We invested in that, it’s like we got Merrill lynched, and we been hangin’ from the same tree ever since.” Because many of these communities were comprised of poor minorities, they saw an opportunity to invest in the drug, which made it hard to leave. The effects of the corruption of the communities is still seen today, which is what he means when he talks about people “hanging from the same tree even since.”

8. K’naan ft. Chubb Rock- “Fatima

Somalian rapper K’naan rapped about trying to live a “normal” life despite the struggles of living in war-torn Somalia in a powerful song he wrote about a childhood friend he had named Fatima.  He raps: “I fell in love with my neighbor’s daughter/ I wanted to protect and support her/ Never mind, I’m just 12 and a quarter/ I had dreams beyond our border.” Around this time, many countries in Africa were going through civil wars, and hearing of K’naan’s own experience was refreshing since U.S. news companies neglect to report much on conflicts occurring in Africa.  This song was released on K’naan second studio album “Troubadour” in 2009 yet still brings me to tears every time I hear it.

9. Lauryn Hill – “Everything is Everything

In one of Lauryn Hill’s most popular song, “Everything is Everything”, she talks about the system and the difficulties inner-city youth face making it out of their communities: “I wrote these words for everyone who struggles in their youth / Who won’t accept deception, instead of what is truth / It seems we lose the game, before we even start to play.” Here, Lauryn touches on the systematic oppression and discrimination that contribute to the slim chances of young minority children being successful and winning “the game” of life.

10. Beyoncé – “Run the World (Girls)” (<<one of her best performances)

Beyoncé’s song “Run the World” re-ignited the global discourse on gender quality when it came out in 2011. Behind the high-energy production, she shouts “Endless power / With our love we can devour,” speaking on the power that women have when they come together and build. Since traditional gender roles have changed and more women are working in today’s world, Beyonce is declaring that they deserve the same respect and recognition that men do for the same work: “I work my 9 to 5 and I cut my check!” This song is a defining record for women’s empowerment.


Why Do We Riot, Burn, Use Violence?


For me, it’s simple. We riot because our voices have been systematically silenced and are incessantly disparaged.  We burn because although you can tune out our voices, it’s hard to disregard a city lit on fire.  We use violence because it’s a language that the system has made us all to familiar with.  We do these things to demand the attention that we should be getting.  I’m not necessarily reasoning that these are the optimal forms of ways to achieve change; however, instead of dismissing and denouncing these acts of desperation, we should seek to understand why people go to such great length to be heard.  I believe that to be the root of these acts: desperation.  Desperate to be heard, respected and understood.  Through the execution of these acts, people are simply releasing their built up anger and frustration.  These acts are a response to the prevailing political and economical power structures that seem to be bent on maintaining a social hierarchy based on class and race.  Thus, marginalized groups resort to such extreme forms of activism to combat such injustices.  Once a person reaches a certain level of understanding that the system they are asking to help them is the very one that is perpetuating these issues in the first place, people carry out these acts reasoning that change through the system has been inefficient for them.  They shouldn’t be told that they are unjustified.  The institutions that serve them should instead respond by undergoing the necessary changes marginalized groups are calling for.

The Price of Change

Quite frankly, I’m exhausted.  I’m tired of grieving for every black child and adult who continues to be brutalized and dehumanized as a result of the criminalization of black bodies.  I’m tired of feeling like a stranger at my own university.  I’m tired of being ignored.  I’m tried of incessantly having to explain why it is that I’m tired. Yet above all, I’m sick and tired of being made to feel as if my concerns and experiences as an African-American woman are trivial or worse, as if they’re not valid.

In the wake of the assault and arrest of a third-year student, Martese Johnson, some of these very concerns were addressed by black students throughout the University.  Following Martese’s brutal attacks by ABC law enforcement officers, photos and video of the altercation began to circulate swiftly across various social media networks.  Before long, the University was covered by media frenzy, following black students and our allies as we demanded to seek immediate and long-term change to the current state of black students.  Appalled by the fact that a fellow student was the subject of police brutality, the incident that took place on March 17 became the catalyst for the reemergence of activism on behalf of racial tensions at UVA and the broader Charlottesville community.  For many, Martese served as an explicit reminder that as UVA students, we are not immune from the convictions of racist institutions.  Whether we’re on TJ’s scared grounds or in other public settings, the very institution that was built off of the labor of black bodies, continues to neglect our cries.

Yet for all of the mayhem, the one great thing that has come out of this tragedy is that the black community at UVA has united in a way that I’ve never seen before.  As a collective, we’ve been able to assemble in these tough times and utilize media and administrators’ attention as to achieve concrete changes.  From panels, to marches, to protests and so on, the black community at UVA has come together to ensure that justice for Martese is served and that our voices will no longer be silenced.  As preliminary steps, many have demanded more effective training in de-escalation for law enforcement, tackling discriminatory spaces like rugby road and the corner, acknowledging UVA’s horrific racial past and present, restoring AccessUVA and other financial avenues for low-income students, and so on.  My prime hope is that this momentum will be used efficiently and the administration will actively work with black students and faculty to address the issues that have been ignored for far too long.




“Blood on the Leaves” Revisited


           Originally written in 1937 as a poem for the Marxist magazine, “The New Masses,” teacher and songwriter Abel Meeropol’s “Strange Fruit” continues to be one of the most iconic songs of the 20th century.  Sung and made popular by Billie Holiday, “Strange Fruit” delves into centuries of deep-rooted sorrow and debilitating pain as a result of racial discrimination and the specific practice of lynching in the United States.  Written at a time when civil rights and the opposition to white supremacy was not openly part of the larger public discourse, Holiday took a great leap of courage by shedding light on the inhumanity of racism through the medium of a protest song.  Although the lyrics of the song never directly mention the word ‘lynching,’ the metaphors are indisputably obvious:

“Southern trees bear a strange fruit,

Blood on the leaves and blood at the root,

Black body swinging in the Southern breeze,

Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.”

          Sampling Nina Simone’s cover of “Strange Fruit,” Kanye West turns the jazz classic into a gripping, industrial-sounding anthem about the repercussions of attaining a great sum of money, power and fame in the highly controversial “Blood on the Leaves.”  With the echo of Simone singing, “bodies swinging in the Southern breeze…” in the background, Kanye raps about the themes of manipulation, consumerism and relationships in the contemporary world.  Kanye pushes the envelopes of music through the use of horns, bass, Auto-Tune and other electronic effects; giving a new flare to “traditional” rap and hip-hop beats.  Yet this song’s brilliance rests in Kanye’s ability to collide two separate worlds into one, while generating original and unorthodox sounds.  Using various historical events, Kanye juxtaposes the horrors of racial discrimination through out the historical path of the U.S. and all it entails, to the new forms of oppression that black Americans experience today.  Although Kanye acknowledges that since the release of “Strange Fruit,” we as a nation have made tremendous strides in shedding our society of racially charged violence or blatant prejudice, new forms of oppression have surfaced where black people, along with the larger U.S. population, have become subjugated to the ideals and material goods released by capitalists, aka rich white men.  “Blood on the Leaves” serves as a social commentary on the superficial culture of our increasingly materialistic generation where social status is not measured by true merit but rather defined by possession of material goods and temporary fame.

Broadening My Network

Social Media
Social media services such as Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn have been great tools for meeting people within my field of work/interest and expanding my network. Throughout the years, Facebook has allowed me to join groups and seek out individuals who share the same passion for music, politics, pop culture, etc.; resulting in the attainment of new information and opportunities that allow me to explore my various interests. On Twitter, I myself follow and simultaneously have built a following of people and organizations that share and promote opportunities to network within the field of politics. Similarly, with LinkedIn, I can add people to my online network that have similar interests and work in the same type of organizations I want to work in, and communicate with them.
Job Fairs
Through job fairs, I’m able to expand my network by meeting people that are already established in the politics realm. I recently attended a career fair in Georgetown, as well as UVA, where I was able to hand my resume and build connections with various firms and organizations that were affiliated with the government, functioned as non-profits, were research-based institutions, etc. Building these connections helped me expand my knowledge on the different types of work available in politics, and thus will ultimately assist me in narrowing down my ideal career path. Even if I run into a company outside of my field, simply speaking with its representatives might lead me to another firm looking for politics graduates that did not attend the job fair through their own network of connections.
Political Campaigns/Canvassing
Attending and participating in political campaigns will help me meet new people with similar political ideals, as well as political leaders that may offer me opportunities and/or refer me to other political professionals along the way. For example, when I interned for the Funds of the Public Interest this past summer, I canvassed for environmental advocacy regarding the Clean Water Act. There, I was able to create a solid network of public policy advocates and professionals that proved to be beneficial in my quest for advocacy work. Going door-to-door informing people of what the organization was trying to accomplish also allowed me to meet others interested in public policy work, further broadening my network.
Clubs/Extracurricular Activities 
University clubs also help to expand my network, specifically the Ethiopian Student Union (ESU), United Nations Women (UNW), and the International Relations Organization (IRO). These three organizations helped increase my network of peers and advisors alike that shared my interests in global development, diversity, and foreign affairs throughout my time at UVA, and continue to do so today. Through our several events and gatherings, I’ve met a number of key people that I now consider to be a part of my network, and can help me in defining my career path.


Director Richard Attenborough’s 1982 film Gandhi is a biographical film that chronicles the life of one of the most revolutionary leaders of the 20st century, Mohandas “Mahatma” Gandhi. In Southern Africa, in 1893, Indians, Arabs, blacks, or any sort of ethnicity and/or skin pigment that was not completely “white” was considered colored, and thus low class. In England, or any other area that was British-ruled, Indians were frowned upon, and sometimes attacked if seen with a Christian. Gandhi did not agree with British government and fought against them, not with violence, but with Satyagraha which meant “peaceful resistance to cooperate.” In 1894, Mahatma founded the Natal Indian Congress (NIC), which functioned under the South African Indian Congress (SAIC). The whole purpose of the Natal Indian Congress was to fight against discrimination of Indians in South Africa, and despite differences between the British government and Indian Congress, the NIC established a medical “branch” for the British in the Boer War of 1899-1902. Gandhi continued his efforts to peacefully protest against lawful British discrimination for many years until January 30th, 1948, when he was assassinated, but still lived on to be one of the greatest heroes of India.

Elshaday Abraham

Elshaday Abraham

Elshaday: The leader of India’s non-violent movement against the imperial rule of the United Kingdom was depicted throughout the film; the first scene opened up with Gandhi’s assassination, then backtracks to showcase the events leading up to that moment.  Initially, Gandhi is introduced as a stark, relatively wealthy lawyer, well-immersed in Western culture. Yet as the film progresses, Gandhi mentally and literally, sheds himself of “Western” practices and ideologies as he completely alters his attire and overall appearance and and delves into a non-cooperative, independent movement that was led by and rooted in Indian ideology.  The film itself reflected this through: images of the agricultural landscapes and rural areas of India and South African versus the industrialized settings in London, U.K., the contrasting lighting used to depict the emotions at that particular moment, and the mostly Indian soundtrack and sound effects. All of these factors contributed to create an inspirational modern film that maintains an authentic Indian feel.

Danaite Soquar

Danaite Soquar

Danaite: Social inequality perpetuated by the British government in the film prompts responses from marginalized groups characteristic to political expressions. The solidarity among Indians within gender and class symbolizes the defiance people engage in due to unifying issues fueled by the political racism within South Africa. The government’s approval of only Christian marriages and required fingerprinting of all Indians are examples of the discriminatory factors that drive the political movement by millions of Indians. The importance of political expressions to identify their purpose and the methods to employ are explored within the film. The peaceful approach, which Gandhi consistently encourages, is an example of how the political expression functioned when fighting suppression. For example, the strike Gandhi organizes required a day of prayer and fasting rather than violence towards governmental officials. The refusal of thousands to be compliant towards a repressive political system reflects how political expressions can take non-violent forms but nevertheless illustrate effective resistance.

Marcus Reaves

Marcus Reaves

Marcus: In modern day television and film everything is dramatized. On television words have a greater effect because each line of the script is intentionally written to carry on to another scene, episode, or even movie. Whereas in reality, we say things for many reasons other than progressing to another stage of social interaction. Sometimes we speak just to pass the time, or simply to be heard. The difference is that in a written script the lines will most often have depth, meaning and importance, along with a plot to line up with so that the movie or show goes about smoothly. A movie such as Gandhi, which is a biography style film, is a little different from most Dramas, SciFi’s, or television series. In a biography style film most of the content is based on a gathering of factual information. That information is then pulled together and partially dramatized to create a movie which would be reasonably more relatable to real life since most of the story lines up with history. However most films, or televisions shows still have a “commercial” or “dramatic” feel to it, and can not be but so personal due to entertainment purposes.

Reactions to SOTU Address…

According to numerous publications, there were roughly 2.6 million tweets sent out over the duration of the State of the Union address.  Of those 2.6 million tweets, one of the trending topics that stood out to me was #SOTBU, State of the Black Union.  Tuning into the address, many, including myself, were anticipating the President to speak on the Black Lives Matter movement.  Not just speak on it, but make a clear declaration that he has heard the cries and frustration of the black community that currently feels like it’s been under attack.  But instead, he pulled an #AllLivesMatter stating,

            “We may have different takes on the events of Ferguson and New York.  But surely, we can understand a father who fears his son can’t walk home without being harassed. Surely, we can understand the wife who won’t rest until the police officer she      married walks through the front door at the end of his shift.”

In an effort to please those on “both sides” of the issue, Obama alienated many activists of the #BlackLivesMatter movement by simply dancing around the issue and never directly speaking on the correlations between race and policy brutality.  As much as I knew that he “couldn’t,” I wanted him to say it directly.  I needed to hear the President of the United States say to the Nation “Black Lives Matter.”  Those sentiments were also echoed by Black Twitter, where many found his “colorblind” rhetoric to be problematic as it ignored the main basis of the Movement.  To equate the fear of a black child walking down the street, to that of a police officer attending his post is false equivalence as the former is a fear based on systematic prejudice and oppression based on the color of one’s skin; while the latter is fear due to the dangerous nature of the job itself.  That’s not to say that the fear of officers and their families is not valid or okay but when a black person is killed every 28 hours at the hands of police, those two incidents are not of the same nature.  In addition, although Obama did mention talks about reforming the justice system and combating racial tensions, many activists on Twitter seemed to be pessimistic about when we will actually witness executive action making steps towards combat these issues.  Although there were a few moments that really spurred excitement on social media, i.e. Obama’s comedic one-liner, “I know because I won both,” overall, Twitter, especially Black Twitter, seemed to be rather disappointed with the President’s lack of proper acknowledgment towards the protests and unrest in the black community.

If I’m late to class…

If I’m ever late to class and WAS FORCED to sing out loud, I would choose between “Grown Woman,” by Beyoncé aka Queen Bey aka Goddess aka…. you get the point, “Monster,” by Kanye West and “Through the Wire,” by again, one of the greatest to ever do it, Kanye West. When we were prompted with this task, I knew both Beyoncé and Mr. Ye had to make it on the list as they’ve been my two favorite artists for as long as I could remember. Although it was difficult to limit myself to only three songs, I chose “Grown Woman” because it’s one of Beyoncé’s newer, fun, upbeat songs and perfectly embodies her movement for female empowerment. This song, like many of her others, inspires me to  dream beyond the constraints of the societal standards for women, and remember that independence, especially financial independence, is key for a grooowwwwn, successful,  I-N-D-E-P-E-N-D-E-N-T woman. #AMEN

I chose “Monster” because my older sister, Lily, used to crank the volume to as loud as it could possibly get in her old Toyota and belt out the scream that’s in the beginning of the song. Every. Single. Time. It’s one of my favorite memories I have with her and puts a smile on my face every time I think about it so this one is for her.

Lastly, I chose “Through the Wire,” because it’s one of my favorite songs from Ye and it showcases a side of him that many are not familiar with. People are quick to label him crazy, a**hole, egotistical, etc., but this song shows that there’s a lot more depth to him than what many perceive. He’s brutally honest and shows his vulnerability as he’s literally raping through wires that are holding his mouth shut, as a result of a car accident he was previously in. It’s also on his first album, “College Dropout,” which also happens to be one of my favorite albums of all time.

Grown Woman:


Through the Wire: