BANJI: Understanding Individuality and Writing Personal Essays

In this lesson, students will embrace the “BANJI Movement,” a term originally coined by Missy Elliot’s new protege, Sharaya, by explaining how they embody the concept of “Being Authentic and Never Jeopardizing Individuality” and reflecting on the aspects of their lives that have shaped their individuality. They will then use this understanding to write a personal statement or essay about an experience that shaped them into the individuals they are today.

The Neuroscience of Pop Songs

In this lesson, students familiarize themselves with the chemicals and hormones responsible for our emotions. They then use this knowledge to provide a scientific analysis of a pop song of their choice.

science of auto-tune

The Science of Auto-Tune: How WWII Spy Tech is Making a lot of Pop Stars Rich

Auto tune science

How does your voice sound? Can you rock a karoke mic or are you somebody who just lip-syncs while the crowd around you sings on? Now anyone can be a star performer with a little digital audio assistance from the Auto-Tune effect.

Ever since Cher released the song Believe way back in 1998, radio stations have been stacking their playlists with Auto-Tune tracks. Originally, Antares, the company that developed the audio effect, intended it to be used as a tool to make musicians sound like they have pitch-perfect voices. In the beginning, that’s how it was used, as a type of airbrush to hide the imperfections of a musician’s voice. Since then, it has evolved into an effect that distorts a vocal track instead of giving it a glossy perfectness. Auto-Tune has been used by everyone from Snoop Dogg to Celine Dion. T-Pain even went on to create a mobile app called I am T-Pain so you could Auto-Tune your own voice with the T-Pain Effect while singing along to his songs.

Auto-Tune has faced a lot of criticism since it was first released, yet Auto-Tuned songs are crowding the airwaves more than ever. It seems like it is a technology that is here to stay.

Basically, auto-tune is a type of vocoder, short for voice encoder, a technology developed in the late 1920′s by Bell Labs and used for encrypted high-level voice communications during World War IIAccording to Innovative Synthesis, a vocoder needs two inputs to function properly. A ‘carrier’ wave, and a ‘modulator’ input. The carrier is the sound you want to vocode through, and the modulator is your voice. The modulator takes your voice’s frequencies and converts them into levels of amplitude on a series of band pass filters (this is why some vocoders have different numbers of bands) – in general, the more bands available the more understandable your speech will be. These band pass filter signals are then passed onto the carrier wave where your final sound is created. In music, the classic vocoder was used in 70′s funk music to create a robot effect, influences that later inspired songs by Snoop Dogg, Daft Punk and of course T-Pain.

science of auto-tune

A vocoder was used to create the voice for Soundwave in the 80′s hit cartoon Transformers.

Auto-Tune science is slightly different, in that it measures and alters pitch in vocals and instrumental music, allowing pop stars who can’t sing for their life (not naming names) and making them perfectly tuned even though they’re completely off-key. The software shifts pitches to the nearest true semitone, to the exact pitch of the nearest tone (via Wikipedia). The future of music ladies and gentlemen…

Read the lesson below to take a deeper look at the science behind Auto-Tune and learn some tricks to produce similar effects. Get your hands on some free digital audio editing software similar to what is used in the industry and try making your own effect heavy beats. Can you create something that can one-up the next Kanye West track?


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.


Hamilton: Remixing the Old School for a New Audience


Hip Hop’s History of Remixing

Sampling and remixing from your forefathers has been a part of hip hop culture from day one. Bob and Earl’s opening horns to Harlem Shuffle were used as House of Pain’s opening to Jump Around. Funkadelic’s (Not Just) Knee Deep was heavily sampled by De La Soul’s breakout hit Me, Myself and I. Snoop Dogg’s What’s my name? practically sampled every bit of George Clinton’s Atomic Dog (bow-wow-wow-yippee-yo-yippee-yay). The Fugees biggest hits used hip hop to reinterpret old classics Killing Me Softly by Roberta Flack and Ready or Not, Here I Come by the Delfonics. Their reinterpretations shined a spotlight on their inspirations for a new audience to appreciate.

Funkadelic - Uncle Jam Wants You (1979) #warnerbros #funkadelic #parliament #sampled #delasoul #funk #disco #platforms #shades #style #fonk #wicker #wickerchair #georgeclinton #kneedeep #bernieworrell #bootsy #junimorrison #parlet


Enter Hamilton…

Hamilton is a Broadway musical that takes a very old school tale and spins it with a hip hop beat to update the story for today’s audience. When you think of United States historical figures like George Washington, Benjamin Franklin and John Quincy Adams, you probably think of a bunch of white dudes with puffy pants, powdered wigs and a 1 percent attitude — a strange and distant past that doesn’t seem too appealing to visit. The Broadway musical Hamilton takes this impression and turns it on its head.



Remixing A Book Into A Musical

In 2004, Ron Chernow published a book titled Alexander Hamilton, about the historic U.S. forefather. It was an acclaimed best-seller that captured the drama of Hamilton’s life and presented it in a novel-like readable manner. The book wasn’t just engaging to readers, it was also historically accurate. This book ended up being the inspiration for Lin-Manuel Miranda to pen the Pulitzer Prize-winning Broadway musical Hamilton.


In this lesson, learn about how Hamilton pays homage to classic rap, celebrates diversity and provides a compelling narrative to tell the story of a white dude with puffy pants, which is entirely historically accurate. Then try your hand at creating the next unconventional blockbuster, relating history from your point of view.

From the Backyard to Barclays: The Marketing of Your Neighborhood

In this lesson, students examine how they can create or improve upon marketing plans for their own neighborhoods.

Jay-Z grew up in a small apartment only blocks away from a stadium of the team he now partially owns. Although not a primary owner, Jay-Z played a major role in marketing the Barclays Center and the Brooklyn Nets to the stadium’s surrounding community in Brooklyn. His actions were an integral part of the overall growth of a neighborhood he once called home. In this lesson, students have an opportunity to develop ways to change their own neighborhoods and communities.