Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Lupe Fiasco Knows His Stuff

Got to tell you how surprised I've been as I've listened to Lupe Fiasco's new album, Lasers.  I actually saw him live at a music festival a few years ago, but at that point, I thought he was just Kanye West's Chicago buddy who was able to get some airplay with "Superstar."  I bought the album in large part because he gives a shout-out to inner-city teachers in "The Show Goes On."

Apparently, there is much more to this man.  His actual name is Wasalu Muhammad Jaco and he was born in Chicago in 1982, the son of a gourmet chef and a Black Panther-turned-operating plant engineer.  At first, he didn't like hip-hop because he was disgusted by its use of vulgarity.  When he entered sixth grade, he moved in with his father in a building next to a crack house.  As Lupe tells it:

I grew up in the hood around prostitutes, drug dealers, killers, and gangbangers, but I also grew up juxtaposed: On the doorknob outside of our apartment, there was blood from some guy who got shot; but inside, there was National Geographic magazines and encyclopedias and a little library bookshelf situation. And we didn't have cable, so we didn't have the luxury of having our brains washed by MTV. We watched public television – cooking shows and stuff like that.
His music is smart.  He knows how to make a good beat, he knows what songs to sample to generate monster hits, and he writes deep and thoughtful lyrics.  He uses the n-word in about half his songs on the new album, and I'm not sure why, but that is the only concern that I have with recommending this music to you.  No Dre-style gangsta garbage or Biggie-type misogyny on this record.

And (did you see this coming?) I'm especially impressed with his knowledge of history and politics.  He takes shots at conservative talk show hosts Bill O'Reilly and Rush Limbaugh.  He critiques the oppressive mentality that traps so many urban African-American kids.  He even shares with some of you the unfortunate opinion that it's not worth it to exercise his right to vote.

I find his song "All Black Everything" to be the most interesting on the album.  He does a historical thought experiment: "So there were no slaves in our history, were no slave ships, were no misery...see I fell asleep and I had a dream, it was all black everything."  So, if there were no slavery, what would the world have been like, Lupe?
Uh, and we ain't get exploited
White man ain't feared it so he did not destroy it
We ain't work for free, see they had to employ it
Built it up together so we equally appointed
First 400 years, see we actually enjoyed it
Constitution written by W.E.B. Du Bois
Were no Reconstructions, Civil War got avoided
Little black sambo grows up to be a lawyer
Extra extra on the news stands
Black woman voted head of Ku Klux Klan
Malcolm Little dies as an old man
Martin Luther King read the eulogy for him
How many key social studies terms can you drop in one verse?  It's almost like he was trying to write a rap song to teach high school students about U.S. history, but he left that to a bigger nerd in NYC.

So, dear students, what do you think of Lupe Fiasco?  What are your reactions to his life story?  Do you like his music?  Can you explain what Lupe is saying in the verse I've quoted above?  What does Lupe's music say about the value of hip-hop?  What do you appreciate about it?

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Perennial Extra Credit Assignments

If you are looking to boost your grade, you can always do one of the following assignments for extra credit: write a film or book review.
If you want to write a review, you can:
·         Watch a PBS American Experience documentary or an episode of the PBS show Frontline.  Watch the entire film and then write a film review.
·         Read a book about U.S. history and then write a book review.  Ask Mr. Toomajian for a book recommendation or suggest a book and ask Mr. Toomajian if he will approve it.
In your review, you must:
·         Summarize the events in the movie, show, or book.
·         Explain what you learned from the movie, show, or book and describe how it relates to the concepts that we've learned in class.
·         Give your opinion about the movie, show, or book: what surprised you, what feelings you had while watching it, etc.
The review must be in your own words and must be typed and double-spaced in 12-point Times New Roman font.  Use perfect grammar and spelling.  Indent paragraphs and organize your review logically with an introduction, a body, and a conclusion.  Your grade on this review will help to boost your project and test grades.