illuminated series Archives - The Jose Vilson

illuminated series

Jay-Z, American Gangster

Hip-hop as a culture and a music genre has always had a dichotomous relationship with this word “teacher.” On the one end, many of the later generation of rappers were high school and college drop-outs, including 50 Cent, Notorious BIG, and Kanye West. Yet, rappers like Gangstarr’s Guru and Public Enemy’s Chuck D both graduated college. Plus, KRS-One, Rakim, and Poor Righteous Teachers always took pleasure in this idea of teaching the youth. Much of this had to do with the belief in the Five Percenter religion, but another part of it was for the same reasons 50, Biggie, and Kanye dropped out: the disdain for an educational system that many see as a pipeline for the prison industrial complex.

It’s with that sort of mentality that Jay-Z raps on “So Ambitious”:

I felt so inspired by what my teacher said,
Said I’d either be dead or be a reefer head,
Not sure if that’s how adults should speak ta kids,
Especially when the only thing i did was speak in class,
I’ll teach his ass,
Even better’s what my uncle did,
I pop my demo tape in start to beat my head,
Peaked out my eye, see if he was beating his,
He might as well have said “Beat it, kid, he’s on the list,”
It’s like I’m searching for kicks like a sneaker head,
He gon’ keep pushing me until I reach the ledge,
And when I reach the ledge i’ll tell em all to eat a d-ck,
Take a leap of faith and let my eagle wings spread,
spread spread.

Jay-Z’s exceptionalism proves the rule.

We as adults, parents, educators have the charge to provide our future students with the best possible education (life’s included here!), and yet, many of us show them a future too bleak to inspire. In the midst of trying to scare kids into a better future, we often jump over the edge in order to pull them to from it. Too many kids relate to this, and it’s not just Black and Latino kids. In a situation where many of rap’s fans come from all over the country and the world, we have an abundance of frustrated youth willing to use their talents for anything that’ll keep them entertained … and out of the classroom.

Am I saying that I’d go back in time and try to be a better teacher for Jay-Z? No, though if I was, I’d have a hard time telling kids that they couldn’t do something so long as it was legal and worth it. Maybe this sort of negative treatment was the right sort of motivation for young Shawn, who’s got millions of dollars, fans, and records now, and a book coming out in November entitled Decoded co-written with dream hampton. Yes, we have to recognize when children don’t acknowledge their true talents (or lack thereof), but rather than work in the deficit model, we should work towards a surplus model.

In other words, tell them they’re making more opportunities for themselves by learning and enhancing their skills. Don’t refer to them as dumb even when their actions are so. Take a step back and think about how you would like to be spoken to, whether you were right or wrong.

Dear Teacher, you’re probably somewhere near a speaker,
I’m balling outta control, can you hear my sneakers,
F-ck y’all …

I’m not saying Jay-Z is always right. Yet, we in the blogosphere sometimes give teachers too much credit. Just like any day at the job, we gotta take our faults with our successes. Righteous teaching requires a little humility, too.

Jose, who’s excited about the first day.

P.S. – I’ve been featured in RaceTalk for their Latino education series. People seem to like it, so I hope you do too. Very cool.


Kanye West, Illuminated

Kanye West, Illuminated

This past weekend, Kanye West went off on Twitter, reigniting the conversation about the events of last year’s MTV Video Music Awards and the aftermath that saw a music nation divided over whether the hip-hop superstar had merit in interrupting Taylor Swift’s acceptance speech. Some of the conversation was very simple: either Kanye was a “jackass” for not letting Taylor finish or he was correct in his opinion that Beyonce’s “Single Ladies” was better than any offering that night. For anyone who’s watched MTV awards shows, these antics come with the insanity and these discussions die down in a couple of days.

However, something interesting happened with Kanye: the discussions didn’t. A huge part of that is the 24-hour machine I’ve dubbed the media monster. Rather than letting a topic rest, they constantly discussed it, pushed everyone’s opinions about it (even President Obama), and constantly asked for feedback from people. None of the opinions were new, but they’d re-word the question anyways just to keep the buzz high. They write articles in which their apparent bias leans others to believe Kanye West is some canker sore on American society when they never made the same judgments about the other MTV “interrupters” previous to Kanye. This and the conglomerates that serve as umbrellas to the news orgs, music companies, and TV shows, purposefully let Kanye become this controversial figure because, no matter how we spin it, everyone but him will profit so long as the spin cycle is on.

Also worth acknowledging is the racial undertones of a Black man interrupting a White young lady with his “animalistic” behavior, a point Kanye West astutely emphasized as evidence of King Kong theory. He goes into seclusion for a few months, making random, sparse appearances in records and YouTube videos. Then he returns with a good leaked single “Power” and another collabo in “Monster” and his fans fight for him. It’s beautiful when that happens, but in the midst of conversation, a few people (Ed. Note – this is the earliest instance in my timeline) brought up the idea that, if Kanye wants to change the power structures that trapped him to begin with, he should start by following more than Justin Beiber and Taylor Swift on Twitter. Instead, he should follow people and movements and connect with “us” more.

I respect that opinion and the people who agree with the opinion, but why should he? How does Kanye West following @thejlv or anyone else make him more or less informed than if he didn’t? I’d appreciate it, but I don’t believe that’s how “power” works. If Kanye said, “Don’t shop at this spot because it’s cutting off local business,” how many people would follow him? The act of “following” on Twitter is more ego filler than movement builder. When Kanye followed the random non-famous person on Twitter at first, did people ask him to be a counsel to Kanye? No, they asked him “Can you tell @kanyewest to get on this record for me?” or “Will you get an interview for us?” or “Can you recommend my tweets to him?”

People intentionally put on a guise of the proletariat ideas when they’re more interested in being the key person or product in that idea. They’ll say, “Yeah, I agree … and you can rhyme over this track we have right here that talks about that” and “People really gotta listen to you … and if you wrote about it in this blog, you’d tap into people who’ll ride for you.” Not saying that that’s what everyone was doing when they read Kanye’s Saturday soliloquy, but I saw a fair amount of the pandering with my own eyes. Kanye owes you nothing until you pay that 10-13$ for your CD and the close to 100$ for your concert ticket. That’s what a business is, and the best way to say you agree with the direction of a musician is buy supporting the product that contains the message you’d like to hear.

We as fans of the music should focus on who and how we support artists and their music, and whether they reciprocate the love back to their fans. We should investigate why some people can pose as musicians and, with a little A&R and a beat from the latest producer, can garner so much attention and money for their obvious lack of effort. We should understand why someone in that position would try to swindle fans since musicians on record labels are work-for-hire agents, disabling many rights we as average Americans have in our workplaces. We should support artists that give free mixtapes before and after they’ve become successful, and give free or inexpensive shows for their most ardent fans.

Besides, the point for Kanye West was ostensibly more personal and cathartic. Twitter has no point besides whatever the user decides to use it for. If we use it for collective action, it won’t matter how big one voice is so long as the collective voice is largest. If Kanye joins in, he’s more than welcome. If he doesn’t, then we continue.

Why should one man have all that power?

Jose, who doesn’t care whether Kanye’s Illuminati or not so long as he makes good music …