On Music: Hip-Hop As A Political Message-Kendrick Lamar

In the world of hip-hop, I am writing this blog post much later than I should be. Compton-based rapper Kendrick Lamar released his fourth studio album, DAMN, this past Friday. DAMN features volumes of Lamar’s political commentary, which is the subject of this blog post. (A screenshot from Lamar’s music video for “Humble,” a track on the album, appears above)

Kendrick Lamar is notorious as a rapper for his clever wordplay, unique flow, and most off all, great subject matter. His last studio album released in 2015, To Pimp A Butterfly, was given the Grammy Award for Best Rap Album as well as the Danish Music Award for International Album of the Year. To Pimp A Butterfly told the story of life in America as a black man, dealing with racism and police brutality, gang violence, and much more. With DAMN, Lamar carries over the same political message from his previous album, but puts more emphasis on topics such as dealing with media outlets like Fox News and the election of Donald Trump as President.

In a 2015 interview on Fox News, Geraldo Rivera said that “hip-hop has done more damage to young African Americans than racism in recent years” in response to Lamar’s track “Alright” off of To Pimp A Butterfly. In the track “DNA” off of DAMN, Lamar bluntly states “You m************ can’t tell me nothin’ / I’d rather die than to listen to you / My DNA not for imitation / Your DNA an abomination” in response to Rivera and those at Fox News as his interview plays in the background.

In a later song on the album entitled “Lust,” Lamar raps about his experiences on the morning following the election of Donald Trump. He says that, “We all woke up, tryna tune to the daily news / Lookin’ for confirmation, hopin’ election wasn’t true / All of us worried, all of us buried, and our feeling’s deep / None of us married to his proposal, make us feel cheap / Still and sad, distraught and mad, tell the neighbor ’bout it / Bet they agree, parade the streets with your voice proudly / Time passin’, things change / Revertin’ back to our daily programs, stuck in our ways; Lust.” Bars like these resonate with a large number of listeners throughout America who were and still are displeased with the result of the election.

Hip-hop has historically been a political genre of music, ever since the days of Public Enemy, N.W.A., 2Pac, etc. With political albums like DAMN still being released and remaining relevant in popular culture, more emphasis needs to be placed on the messages these MC’s have. The government’s power is vested in the people, and what do the people listen to more of than hip-hop?


On Literature: How To Handle A Disappointing Ending

There may be nothing so unsatisfying in this world than a novel with a poor ending. In fact, I write this blog post now with that sour taste of a disappointing novel in my mouth, and I wanted to share that with you all. (You’re welcome)

In the whole of literature, it seems that there are a countless number of ways to begin a novel in a captivating, well-written fashion, yet there is only one proper way to end a particular novel. A novel can have a first half that is witty, funny, and insightful yet emotional and potentially tear-jerking, keeping the reader up far past their bedtime. (Do people still have bedtimes?) But the second half of the novel, due to one wrong turn from the author, can leave the reader bored, unamused, and worst of all: disappointed.

Unfortunately, this is seen pretty often in books, even in some of the so-called “greats.” Take Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn for example. Throughout the story, there is so much moral growth and development in the characters, only to be washed away in the final chapters through a reversion to their former selves. In Hemingway’s Green Hills of Africa, the narrator even tells his companion, “All modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called Huckleberry Finn. If you read it you must stop where the N***** Jim is stolen from the boys. That is the real end. The rest is just cheating. But it’s the best book we’ve had. All American writing comes from that. There was nothing before. There has been nothing as good since.”

It is an upsetting ending to say the least. But, how do we handle this ending and other failed endings like it? To start, it’s just a book. I know that’s a tough pill to swallow for a lot of people, especially the die-hard fans of the Harry Potter series who disliked J.K. Rowling’s ending, but it’s just a book. I say this with a lot of bias because I myself have never been an avid reader. So, I can brush off bad endings, which is what I will have to do for Americanah by Adichie.

I’ve written a lot about Americanah and have used ideas from the novel to inspire my blog posts, but for those unaware, it is the story of two Nigerian lovers who go their separate ways in hopes of better lives as immigrants in Western nations, only to come back home to one another. Of course, for those that have read it, this a grossly oversimplified summary that does not take into account the complexities of race, class, being an immigrant, etc. In the end, I was not pleased with either of the two’s actions and my perceived message of the novel, but it is just one more book to add to the hundreds that I have read in my life and that sour taste will surely pass.


On Culture: Varying Views of Depression

In the novel I am currently reading, Americanah by Adichie, the main character’s cousin attempts suicide at sixteen years-old. Dike, the son of a Nigerian woman, has been raised in the United States practically his whole life. Being black makes him a minority at his school, and his social identity revolves around the color of his skin. He once told his mother “we black folk” and his Nigerian mother responded “you are not black.” The two have different ideas of what it means to be black in America, but unfortunately Dike’s mother’s response made him feel as though he lacked identity. This made Dike depressed and led him to nearly taking his own life. Fortunately, he survived his suicide attempt, and now I am left wondering how cultural differences in viewing depression affected Dike.

Major depression, more commonly referred to as just ‘depression’ is a mood disorder characterized by feelings of severe despondency and dejection. Currently, it is one of those most studied mental illnesses in the world because there is so much debate over what factors lead to depression. However, studying depression through the western lens of medicine is only one aspect of the disorder. Different cultures around the globe have their own interpretations and explanations for this common affliction.

I am no expert on mental illnesses like depression, and do not necessarily agree with one interpretation over another. I simply want to share different viewpoints for the sake of knowledge, and will keep my own opinions regarding the disease to myself.

East Asian cultures tend to value conforming to the norm, having emotional self-control, and being recognized as a family for achievement. Because of these honor-driven beliefs, mental illnesses like depression are often stigmatized, and this is why East Asia reports the lowest rates of depression in the world. This is even evident in America by studying cases of depression in college students raised in Asian countries. The story of the depressed student shielding his or her symptoms of depression by not reporting them to friends, family, or doctors is all too common. Suffering from depression is unfortunately seen as a burden to to others for some individuals, and would rather fight it alone rather than “rope others into it.” The depression, hid away inside, can manifest itself physically and Asian students in the United States are more likely to visit a clinic for abdominal pain or headaches than for psychological reasons; it is seen as taking the high road.

Though there are hundreds of different Native American tribes with their own respective belief systems, it is a fact that Native Americans in the United States experience mental illnesses like depression a disproportionate amount compared to the rest of the country’s population. This could be a result of inaccurately translating the definitions and perceptions of sadness and depressed behavior from one culture to another, but may more importantly represent the effects of history on a people. Among depression, alcohol abuse, poverty, and incrimination rates are disproportionately higher in Native American communities. So unfortunately, in these cultures, depression is seen as something normal deserving of treatment, but normal.

The Middle East and North Africa experience the highest reported rates of depression in the world, specifically Afghanistan. There are a number of potential factors that could explain the astronomical depression rates in Afghanistan. The main one would be conflict. The United States has had a military presence in Afghanistan for many years, and I am writing this blog one day after Americans dropped the largest non-nuclear bomb in history on Afghanistan. Living in constant fear of attack from a foreign nation from a young age up into adulthood could certainly cause heightened anxiety and depression. We also see incredibly high rates of depression in Afghani women especially. Societal rules dictate that women hold virtue the highest among values. Women are not allowed to leave the house without a male escort, and most cover themselves up in public. Many wives’ lives are dominated by their husbands, often much older, in Afghanistan, and it is not uncommon for women in these situations to become depressed. In sum, conflict, conservative traditions, lack of resources, and lack of freedom most likely contribute most to depression in Afghani women.

Depression is an important topic to discuss not only because of its international prevalence but because of the effects it can have on those who suffer it. Untreated depression can lead to risky behaviors like drug and alcohol abuse with regard for life, as well as an overall dislike for life and all that it has to offer. Each individual person deserves the opportunity to make the most out of the life they have been given, and unfortunately major depression and other mental illnesses can sideline people for weeks, months, or years of their lives. Each life on this planet is worth living, so fighting depression through study and clinical treatment is fighting for life and the human experience itself. And on top of that, no life on this planet is worth ending in a purposeful matter, especially in Dike’s case. Young individuals like him have some of the most to look forward to in life, which is why combating depression internationally via various, culturally specific means is necessary for all. Depression not only impacts those who suffer it directly, but also those who suffer it indirectly, because we are all connected and should care about our fellow man.


On Culture: The Hidden Dangers Of Charity


noun    char·i·ty    \ˈcher-ə-tē, ˈcha-rə-\

: the act of giving money, food, or other kinds of help to people who are poor, sick, etc.

Charity is often seen as the most gracious action that a human being can take in this world. Charitable acts help others, make you look better, and are tax-deductible! So what’s the downside?

In the novel I am currently reading, Americanah by Adichie, different perceptions of charity are explored. The main character of the novel, Ifemelu, finds herself at an affluent party hosted by the mother and father of the children she nannies. At this event, dozens of upper-class Americans are intrigued by Ifemelu’s modest Nigerian background. They assume she was worse off than she really was, and that all African nations were struggling to provide its citizens the most basic of needs. This may be true in some cases, but unfortunately is also true for a large number of Americans. Later on, notable charities that provide resources to Africans become the topic of conversation among the party-goers, putting Ifemelu off.

Well, just from this situation alone, we can see a key flaw within charity. A charitable society, by default, cannot be equal. To provide others with means of living assumes that the giving party is superior to the receiving party. Though whatever is being donated, whether it be food, clothing, or money, directly benefits those in need, it does nothing to assist the poor from being anything but poor. Charity is just another method of maintaining the current class structure, and on top of this, wealth is accumulated through exploitation of the poor. So for the upper class to use the people of countries rich with resources for cheap labor only to turn around and give them charitable contributions is evil. The act of giving should be solely for the benefit of the receiver, and not in the benefit of the giver.

On Hair: The Importance of Accepting The Natural Look

In the novel I am currently reading, Americanah by Adichie, the protagonist, Ifemelu, has recently decided to cut off her relaxed hair in an effort to grow out and discover her natural hair. In the process of growing out her natural hair, she utilizes the website by the name of “happilykinkynappy.com” to communicate with others in her struggles. This is something I connect to and find brave in a couple of key ways.

First off, the societal situation Ifemelu places herself in almost requires her to have relaxed, straightened hair. Unfortunately, having relaxed hair is a western standard of beauty that African women are subjected to constantly. Relaxed hair appears in magazines, on television, and just about any corner of popular cultural where black women are relevant. For her to cut off her hair despite the knowledge of employers potentially discriminating against her is courageous.

Secondly, removing the layer that allows Ifemelu to be further accepted as an American for the sake of individuality is fearless to say the least. Going natural and allowing people to perceive you the way you truly are is a scary thought.

I have written before about some thoughts I have pertaining to hair, but surprisingly I have yet to write anything too masturbatory about my own hair,  so let’s do it. I started growing my hair out a little less than two years ago, and it that time it has gone well past my shoulders. Most American men do not have hair that goes well past their shoulders. I take good care of it, and now and then I receive small compliments for it, but initially growing it out was tough for me. Constant reminders from my family and friends that my hair looked terrible nearly pushed me to cutting it. In no way are my struggles comparable to those of a Nigerian woman immigrating to America, but I understand the feeling of exposing myself to criticism.

Changing the way you look, however insignificant it may be, teaches you how to be comfortable with yourself no matter your appearance.

On Culture: The Downsides Of Small Talk

“How are you?” “I’m fine, how about you?” “I’m doing quite well, thank you.” “You’re welcome.”

If you come from the United States like myself, more specifically the Midwest, this dialogue up above may appear over a dozen times throughout the day, and it’s not healthy.

As I write this, I can hear rain hitting the kitchen window. It has been raining all day and on top of that, I have not seen the sun for going on two weeks. “In like a lamb, out like a lion” and “April showers bring May flowers” I guess. Despite all of this, when passersby asked me how I was or how I was feeling today, all my Midwestern upbringing could shoot out were “fine” and “well.” My responses were not really an indication of my mood or well-being, rather an indication that my cultural background is similar to that of the person asking me. This is a small cultural reason as to why more and more Americans struggle with mental health issues like depression. As a whole, Americans try and maintain a facade that we are the greatest country in the world, and it only harms ourselves.

In a nation like Germany, the simple act of asking someone in line for coffee or waiting for the elevator, “how are you?” is absurd. If they were to respond to that insincere question at all, they might say, “I’m a bit depressed. It has rained all day and I have not seen the sun in nearly two weeks.” They have no need for a stranger’s consideration; the only people worth asking, “how are you?” are family and loved ones. Small talk only creates expectations and conformity in a society. Humans care more about feeling genuinely cared for rather than being a part of a masquerade.


On Culture: Why Prostitution Should Be Legalized

We have all been asked the question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Some of us in our youth may have answered that we want to be a police officer or a doctor, but nobody ever answered that they want to grow up and prostitute themselves.

In the novel I am currently reading, Americanah by Adichie, the main character is forced to put herself in a potentially dangerous situation by performing sexual acts in order to afford food and rent expenses. The situation was emotionally scarring to the main character, and I thought to myself, “why would prostituting oneself ever be a criminal act in this country?” So, I am suggesting that prostituting oneself ought not be criminal and ultimately legalized.

Legalizing prostitution would protect women through regulation of the industry by government. This would include designated zones for brothels, health checks, required use of sexual protection, etc. In the status quo, women on the streets are sacrificing their safety for financial gain and this is not acceptable. To add to this, decriminalization of prostitution would not be doing enough because women’s safety is still at risk with a lack of regulation. Prostitutes would only be ensured that they will not be arrested.

Additional pros to legalized prostitution are increased tax revenue, reduced crime, and helping people out of poverty. Similar to situations in which cannabis has been legalized in certain US states, regulated prostitution would bring in lots of tax dollars. And of course, if sex work is being legalized, reduced crime rates and incarceration rates would follow suit. Finally, prostitution is often referred to as the world’s oldest profession for a reason. Unfortunately, it has been an unavoidable part of our various cultures for thousands of years, and owning that and legalizing sex work would provide an outlet for impoverished women to support themselves.

On Culture: Tipping in America

In the novel I am reading, Americanah, the act of tipping a waiter or waitress is mentioned as an aspect of American culture unfamiliar to the Nigerian protagonist. The act of tipping, giving a server additional payment for their service, is a staple of multiple industries and professions. Tipping at its inception was a way for a customer to acknowledge their server’s hard work, but has unfortunately become the primary source of income for waiters/waitresses, hotel bellmen, bartenders, and valets.

An overwhelming majority of waiters and waitresses in restaurants are paid under the minimum wage by their employers, and make up the rest in tips from customers. In fact, over 80% of a restaurant server’s income comes in the form of tips. The main positive to this dilemma is that tipping is a form of quality assurance; waiters and waitresses feel compelled to perform their job well in order to receive tips. However, the negative sides to this situation far outweigh the positives.

First, companies that hire service workers, like restaurants, taxi cab services, and bars, are able to legally get away with underpaying their employees. Although some waiters may make more annually than a person making minimum wage, they are not guaranteed the same financial security. Second, customers are being ripped off in a sense that they carry the burden of paying a server’s salary as opposed to their employer. Tipping is unjust to both the server and the customer. In fact, the tipping triangle between an employer, a server, and a customer only benefits the employer. Finally, because a large number of service industry jobs with low pay are filled by low-income individuals and immigrants who recently came to America, the cultural “norm” of tipping is a form of oppression to these groups of people. So next time you decide to tip less than fifteen percent, or not at all, consider the impact you just made on another’s livelihood.


On Travel: Which Passport Is The Best?

I just saw the new Beauty and the Beast adaptation with Emma Watson, and I have to say that it was a great adaptation of the original. In the new version, some elements were added to give new life to an old story. Among these was a magical book that the Beast allows Belle to use in order to travel anywhere in the world that she desires. So naturally, as I was admiring Disney’s newest film, I asked myself, “If I could visit any place in the world, where would I visit?” But before I could even answer my own question, another thought occurred to me: the nationality of a traveler affects their ability to travel internationally. So, instead of perusing the web for Beauty and the Beast fan theories, I researched various passports from around the globe. This is what I found.

Americans, though we like to think we are the best at just about everything, do not have the world’s best passport. In fact, we don’t even have the second best, or third even. America is ranked by Passport Index as having the world’s fourth most powerful passport, tied with eight other nations. The Passport Index ranks passports by how many other nations it can visit visa-free. The world’s best passport belongs to the Germans, with their ability to travel to 160 nations without visa.  So, if a young girl in Germany just saw Die Schone und das Biest, it is her that has the most travel potential.

What does this mean on a bigger scale? It means nationalism from decades and centuries ago still affects our lives in a meaningful way today. There is a reason Americans cannot visit Pakistan or Iran without visa, or why Colombians need a visa to travel to Costa Rica but Mexicans do not. That reason is tension. That reason is the existence of allies and enemies. That reason is our inability to forget the past and look forward on a global scale. We should be gazing in that direction, aspiring to one day be global citizens and not consider a fantasy trip to be fantasy at all. We should be one.


On Beliefs: Religion Is Inherently Toxic

Let me begin this blog post by putting it out there that I myself do not belong to any particular religion. Drawing this conclusion based on the title probably would not be too difficult, but stating this eliminates the possibility of me surprising anyone and writing “EXCEPT FOR MY RELIGION! MY RELIGION IS NOT TOXIC! I BELONG TO THE BEST RELIGION!” at the end.

According to some estimates, there are currently 4,200 religions in the world, with new sects of older religions coming into existence constantly. Throughout human history, it is difficult to estimate the number of faiths that have ever existed. There have been overlapping faiths, where one God in one faith is equivalent to one God in another, such as the Greek Zeus and Roman Jupiter. There were also many religions that most likely went undocumented and we have no knowledge of today. To be conservative, there have probably been tens of thousands of religions throughout history. So for someone to convince themselves that their religion, their God or Gods are the real Gods, is hogwash.

Religions by definition are exclusive to non-followers and assert that they, and no other religions, are correct. With tens of thousands of religions having existed, and only one being “correct,” conservative calculations put 99.99% of all religions being wrong. So why do these religions deserve say in creation of government policies all around the globe? Why do they deserve tax breaks? Why do they deserve the following of billions around the globe? Many teach intolerance, impede scientific discovery, hinder women’s rights, and kill in the name of their God or Gods. And worst of all, the pious are viewed as those who need to be protected the most in society.

Ultimately, religion is outdated and harmful. Man created God in his image as a means of bringing people together, which lead to those in power using Him to control the masses. Today, religion is unnecessary. We no longer have a justifiable use for God as we have science. Religion is toxic, and needs to be phased out if we want a peaceful future here on earth.