Scoring Your Life

In this lesson, students will create musical scores to represent aspects of their lives using the techniques and ideas of famed composer Hans Zimmer.

Hans Zimmer has composed scores for films such as Gladiator, Inception, The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises. To create these scores, Zimmer used various pieces of the films’ tropes and storylines to decide what type of music to use and when to use it.

The Math Behind the Music

In this lesson, students will learn about the fundamental musical concepts of meter and measure to analyze and understand the structure of their favorite songs. Taking it one step further, students will be shown how understanding song structure really just boils down to good old math!

American History through Hip Hop Lyrics

In this lesson, students pick a frequently represented city in hip hop and use lyrics as inspiration to explore the urban history of the city. They will work in groups and present their findings in an oral presentation.

Jordan 1's image thumbnail

Sneakers with a Statement: Hip-Hop Culture and the Elements of Sneaker Design


In terms of its influence on urban style, sneakers widely became the ultimate status symbol…

Sneakers are the most sought after fashion trend in the world. But why? What is it about “kicks” that make them so prominent amongst the youth? Well, most of its popularity can be attributed to the global phenomenon known as Hip-Hop culture. Beyond it being a culture that stems from the artistic expressions of inner-city youth, it has also become a multi-billion dollar industry that has influenced, or at least played a part in, almost every facet of society. In terms of its influence on urban style, sneakers widely became the ultimate status symbol, particularly because of the Adidas brand. They were the perfect shoes for b-boys due to their comfort and color variations. They became even more popular in 1986 due to the promotion of the brand by Run DMC when they stated:

“My Adidas/walked through concert doors/ and roamed all over coliseum floors/ I stepped on stage, at Live Aid/ All the people gave and the poor got paid/ And out of speakers I did speak/ I wore my sneakers but I’m not a sneak/ My Adidas cuts the sand of a foreign land/With a mic in hand I cold took command”

In the article, “Three Brothers with Three Stripes: RUN-DMC and Adidas,” it states:

“Enter Run, Jam-Master Jay and DMC. Their signature street style, a staunch mix of denim, Adidas tracksuit tops, Kangols, fedoras, heavy framed glasses, and of course Adidas Superstars (worn in true prison-style without laces) was a powerfully simple statement that recast the template.”

The relationship between Hip-Hop and shoe brands would eventually spark a sub-culture, known as the “Sneakerheads.”

The Superstars became a fashion statement that represented the streets and its direct influence from the prison system. Inmates in prison were not allowed to wear shoe laces due to the probability of using them for harmful purposes. As a result, when inmates returned to their respective communities, they continued to wear their sneakers without shoe laces. RUN DMC wanted to shy away from looking like superstars and more like the ordinary people the community would see on a daily basis. Their fashion statement would eventually gain the attention of executives at Adidas. The website Sneaker Freaker mentions “while performing the track ‘My Adidas’ to a packed crowd at Madison Square Garden in NYC, they asked the crowd to hold up their sneakers. Thousands of Adidas Superstar sneakers were raised in unison. An Adidas employee in the crowd informed the company and the subsequent million dollar deal marked a new era of corporate affiliation with hip hop music.” The relationship between Hip-Hop and shoe brands would eventually spark a sub-culture, known as the “Sneakerheads.”

The Elements of Design

Each element in a sneaker design can serve a purpose. For instance, lines can stress a word or phrase, the use of color can generate emotions, shapes can be used to attract attention, value (lightness or darkness) can be used for emphasis, size can attract attention, texture can create visual interest, and space can be used to define importance or group information. The use of color can be depicted by one particular shoe that would literally change the shoe game forever, Nike’s Air Jordan 1s.

The Black / Varsity Red model was banned by the NBA back in 1985 due to NBA color rules and this actually helped to create more publicity and interest for the shoes. In essence, the rebelliousness fell right in line with origins of Hip-Hop culture, which at times was a form of rebellion against the establishment. It became symbolic not only because of its color but also because of the man who wore them, a young, innovative athlete who overcame the odds. As a result, the Jordan Brand has been one of the top selling sneakers of all time.

Another shoe that utilized the elements of design to make specific statements was the Lebron 10s.  Austin Boykins states, With LeBron James facing a wide range of opinions from fans and naysayers in the recent year, the beauty and durability of a diamond is used within the shoe to tell the story in relation to LeBron’s on and off the court abilities and experiences.” See “The Inspiration Behind the Nike LeBron 10.”


Other shoes such as Nike’s Air Galaxy Foamposites, Nike Air Mag’s, or the recently released Yeezy Boosts by Adidas all encompass a wide range of unique styles, which can be explored when taking into consideration the elements of design.

Just for KICKS: What Do You Rep?

“Suede Timbs on my feet make my cypher complete” ~ Nas “The Word is Yours”

As I think about my childhood as a military brat, I remember the distinct differences between what was worn throughout the various regions of the United States. Whether it’s Converse’s Chuck Taylors in California, “Soulja” Reeboks in New Orleans, Timberlands and Clark Wallabees in New York, or New Balances and Nike Boots in Washington, DC, each city, state or region, seemed to have a shoe that represented where they were from.

What statements do these shoes make, and why were they chosen to represent where they are from? Fashion trends aren’t necessarily limited to just sneakers; however, it is evident that you can tell where somebody is from strictly by what they are wearing. So, what does your shoe selection say about you? What do you rep? 

Test your kick game knowledge by taking the quiz after the jump…


The Art of Fresh: Fashion and Philanthropy

“Artists are the gatekeepers of truth. We are civilization’s radical voice.” ~ Paul Robeson

According to the late Paul Robeson, artists have the opportunity to use their platforms to make significant changes in society. However, some would argue that artists have no obligation to address certain issues. Although they may have a point, when I think of artists who have become icons in popular culture, I think of those who have used their voices to raise awareness, especially as it pertains to social and political issues. Artists, such as Bob Marley, Nina Simone, John Lennon, Fela Kuti, Michael Jackson, Tupac Shakur, have all taken a stand against the injustices of the world. In retrospect, they have become bigger than their artistry. They have been philanthropists, humanists, revolutionaries, and activists. They have been individuals who have lived their lives beyond just fortune and fame.

Issues, such as poverty, gun violence, police brutality, gangs, and racism continue to persist. But there is a new wave of artists who are carrying the torch. These artists are not only using their music, but also fashion to make social and political statements. For instance, in the 2004 presidential election, P. Diddy (founder of Bad Boy Records), Sean John, and Citizen Change launched a campaign to encourage more young people between the ages of 18 and 30 to vote. This helped change the face of the U.S. political landscape by encouraging the youth to “Vote or Die”, using celebrities as his support system.

The campaign was meant to show that the right to vote is a matter of life or death. This notion may not be too far-fetched, as people have literally fought and died for this freedom. I believe this resonated with young people, not only because of the celebrities involved, but also because of its simple, yet powerful position in politics. This campaign was not only successful in 2004, but also in 2008, when President Barack Obama was elected.

Jay-Z, Hip-Hop artist and co-founder of Rocawear, also attempted to use fashion as a statement. Although it was short-lived, he released a new line of t-shirts, which were meant to support the Occupy Wall Street movement in 2011. This movement served as a protest against social and economic disparities between corporations and the American people. The shirt “tweaks the phrase ‘Occupy Wall Street’ by crossing out the ‘W’ and adding an ‘S’ to make it read ‘Occupy All Streets’.”

Unfortunately, this effort led to a little bit of controversy, primarily because he never intended on sharing his profits to the actual protestors. The Business Insider states, “A Rocawear spokesperson sent us a statement confirming there’s no plan to distribute any of the profits, which will surely pour in from shirt sales, to Occupy Wall Street.” According the spokesperson, “The ‘Occupy All Streets’ T shirt was created in support of the ‘Occupy Wall Street’ movement. Rocawear strongly encourages all forms of constructive expression, whether it be artistic, political or social. ‘Occupy All Streets’ is our way of reminding people that there is change to be made everywhere, not just on Wall Street. At this time we have not made an official commitment to monetarily support the movement.”

This leads to questionable motives of certain artists. There seems to be a thin line between legitimacy and sincerity from the public’s point of view, especially in this day and age where there are many cultural capitalists. In my opinion, there needs to be a clear alignment between the art and actions of the individuals, which leads me to Kendrick Lamar’s recently released, “Ventilators 2” by Reebok.

Throughout his career, Lamar has repeatedly shed light on his upbringing in Compton, California, where gang culture seems to dominate the living conditions of his immediate environment. Having been heavily influenced by this reality, he has always mentioned it in both his music and interviews. With songs, such as: “Little Johnny”, “M.A.A.D. City (featuring MC Eight), and “I”, he continues to provide a voice for his constituents by emphasizing social, political, and economic discrepancies that are woven into the American fabric. His response to these discrepancies and pervasiveness of gang culture are the Ventilators 2. Complex mentions, “These Ventilators, which were previewed by, are set against an off-white suede base with alternating blue and red accents on each shoe. The gang references are apparent, and each tongue tag is inscribed with ‘Neutral,’ echoing a sentiment Kendrick has been pushing strongly during his career.”

Other artists, such as Usher and John Legend (pictured below), aren’t necessarily known for making social and political commentary in their music, but they have also been recently seen using fashion to make a statement.

As we continue to face adversities in our lives, it is important to have the opportunity to express ourselves constructively. It may not necessarily be directly based on certain social, economic, or political issues; however, we are undeniably affected by these issues in one way or another. In that regard, we should continue to find creative ways to address these issues for the betterment of mankind.

suicide rhapsody tumblr_o1o2wrTvJR1tnt8s9o1_1280 thumbnail

Suicide Squad is a Modern Day Bohemian Rhapsody


Bohemian Rhapsody is a song composed by Freddy Mercury, and recorded by the rock band, Queen.  It was released in 1975, and has stood the test of time, becoming one of the best selling singles of all time. More recently it has come back into the public’s attention through the new Suicide Squad trailer. So what exactly is the meaning behind the lyrics and its connection to this band of delinquents?

suicide rhapsody tumblr_o1o2wrTvJR1tnt8s9o1_1280


The word “Bohemian” can either refer to a native or inhabitant of Bohemia or “a person who has informal or unconventional social habits, especially an artist or writer.” The second meaning applies here, and has some bearing on the overall message of both the song and film.

This song is a very emotional tale, and tells the story of someone who usually just goes with the flow and has lived a simple life. However, he has done something terribly wrong and owns up to his crime. He faces jail time (or a death sentence).  He struggles with the realities before him in an epic battle between good and evil in his mind, and ultimately accepts his fate and returns to his past way of thinking that he, must again, go with the way the wind blows.


The crime, the confession

The song begins with someone who is disillusioned, confused, and seemingly in shock.  The subject also explains that he’s just a simple boy, and lived life modestly, and usually doesn’t care about life’s ups and downs.  But, now he’s wondering why something so bad has happened to him.

“Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy? Caught in a landslide, no escape from reality. Open your eyes, look up to the skies and see.  I’m just a poor boy, I need no sympathy, because I’m easy come, easy go, a little high, a little low. Anyway the wind blows, doesn’t really matter to me.”

Then, comes the explanation for his feelings.  A confession. Just pure truth.

Mama, just killed a man. Put a gun against his head, pulled my trigger, now he’s dead. Mama, life had just begun, but now I’ve gone and thrown it all away.

This can be connected to Deadshot’s dilemma, an assassin by trade but a family man at heart who will do anything to keep his daughter safe. Not sure if she’ll show up in the film but she plays a major role in his life in the DC Comic Universe.

deadshot joker8f-3-web

The boy now explains that he has to go face the music for his crime. Probably a jail cell. Maybe the executioner.

Mama, ooo, didn’t mean to make you cry, if I’m not back again this time tomorrow, carry on, carry on, as if nothing really matters. Too late, my time has come, sends shivers down my spine, body’s aching all the time. Goodbye, everybody I’ve got to go, gotta leave you all behind and face the truth.  Mama, ooo (anyway the wind blows). I don’t want to die, I sometimes wish I’d never been born at all.


It’s not over till the fat lady sings

After a moving guitar solo, that further iterates the despair he is feeling, things get a bit crazy. Facing imminent death can do that to people.  This section depicts the struggle between symbols of good and evil within his mind. The song proceeds with the operatic section.

First, he explains that he feels like a clown, just a fool before his “court” or his mental judgement. A Scaramouch is a clown-like character from classical Italian comedy, often depicted as a coward. I think we can all figure out who the clown is in this bunch.

I see a little silhouetto of a man, Scaramouch, scaramouch will you do the fandango?

Ever dance with the devil in the pale moon light? Wait, wrong movie.

Then, he feels fear, and thinks on Gallileo Galilei – the famous scientist who played a major role in the scientific revolution during the Renaissance in the 1600s.  Perhaps he thinks on him because Galileo was deemed a heretic and had to live under house arrest for the a good portion of his life. Wishful thinking?

Do we know any crazy doctors that had to be kept in confinement? Why yes, yes we do.

Thunderbolt and lightning, very very frightening me. Gallileo, Gallileo, Gallileo, Gallileo, Gallileo Figaro – magnifico.  But I’m just a poor boy and nobody loves me. He’s just a poor boy from a poor family. Spare him his life from this monstrosity.  Easy come easy go will you let me go?

Bismillah is Arabic for “In the name of God” or “In the name of Allah,” so in this section it would appear he is having an inner battle, portraying his persecutors and saviors at the same time.

Bismillah! No, we will not let you go. Let him go. Bismillah! We will not let you go. Let him go. Bismillah! We will not let you go. Let me go. Will not let you go. Let me go (never). Never let you go. Let me go. Never let me go ooo. No, no, no, no, no, no, no. Oh mama mia, mama mia, mama mia let me go.

Then, this section indicates he is prepared for the worst, and assumes he will be facing the devil for his crime.

Beelzebub has a devil put aside for me. For me. For me.

If there is any character dealing with an internal battle of good and evil, it’s the Enchantress. It is believed that the Enchantress is possessed by a separate evil entity controlling her powers and she goes to desperate measures to eliminate the demonic force within her.



After insanity, comes anger, then acceptance

Now, comes the anger.  It would appear that the boy who normally doesn’t seem to care about anything and goes anywhere the wind blows has become angered, perhaps thinking of the emotions that inspired his crime?

So you think you can stop me and spit in my eye? So you think you can love me and leave me to die? Oh baby, can’t do this to me baby, Just gotta get out just gotta get right outta here.

But, after the anger, comes the passivity again, returning to his usual state of mind.  Maybe it’s a way of not letting the pain become too much to bear.

Ooh yeah, ooh yeah. Nothing really matters, anyone can see. Nothing really matters. Nothing really matters to me. Anyway the wind blows

Each member of the crew carries a burden to bear and a deep darkness within them, but they’re not called the Suicide Squad for nothing. Whether by choice or by the orders of Amanda Waller, they all face certain death and none seem to care about what awaits them.



Other interpretations

Mercury himself has refused to explain the composition of this song, other than saying it was about relationships. Could the entire song represent the highs and lows of loving someone and then losing that person?  Maybe a jealous rage caused the fictional crime? Or perhaps, it was about Mercury’s own inner turmoil and confusion since it was written after he understood his own orientation in his life, ending his relationship with women.

Brian May, the guitarist for Queen, supports suggestions that the song contained veiled references to Mercury’s personal traumas. He recalls “Freddie was a very complex person: flippant and funny on the surface, but he concealed insecurities and problems in squaring up his life with his childhood. He never explained the lyrics, but I think he put a lot of himself into that song.” May, though, says the band had agreed that the core of the lyrics was a private issue for the composer.

The song ended up being a huge commercial success, despite it being an unconventional 5 minutes 55 seconds long. It has become one of the best selling singles of all time, all around the world.  It is definitely one of the most memorable songs I’ll ever hear, and will surely add a new layer of meaning to this year’s blockbuster film about a misfit band of lost souls.

Eminem Vs. Shakespeare: A Poetry Lesson Part 1

The goal of this lesson is for students to engage with Shakespeare’s poetry by comparing it to the lyrics of Hip-Hop artist Eminem. Teachers can also introduce or review literary devices, rhyme scheme, meter, and poetic structure within the context of this lesson.