A Discussion about Female Empowerment and Pop Culture

This lesson’s objective is to have students discuss women’s empowerment in 21st century pop culture.

Beyonce, Lady Gaga, Nicki Minaj, and Rihanna are only a few examples of icons that represent female empowerment in pop culture. Their tracks are not only fun to listen to, but also send a message of female empowerment. Females in the entertainment industry have made great strides, however many feminist groups argue that some female artists dress too provocatively in their music videos and even do a disservice to the female population. However, others believe many of them reflect positive examples of female independence and accomplishment in a male dominated industry.

Can Science Predict Whether Justin Bieber’s Body Would Float or Sink?

In this lesson, students learn about density and how it affects whether an object will float or sink. To demonstrate how this works, students will learn about the density of different body tissues, like bone, muscle, and fat, and use this information to guess whether certain people would sink or float.

The Blueprint to Cuban Travel

In this lesson, students will explore US-Cuba relations of the past and present through the use of Jay Z’s song “Open Letter.”

After making a trip to Cuba with his wife Beyonce, Jay Z received criticism from politicians and lawmakers. In response to this criticism, he recorded a song called “Open Letter.”

Using selected lyrics from the song, students will be asked to analyze Jay Z’s rhymes and discover how his words are related to ongoing issues between the United States and Cuba. Students will also write their own open letters about US-Cuban relations.


Who’s Hot, Who’s Not? Using Algebra To Analyze Viral Phenomena

Usually, by the time your grandmother starts doing the “Dougie”, you know things have gotten out of hand. Since YouTube’s launch a decade ago, it has made it all too easy to reach millions of people with a catchy video and become a viral sensation. Many videos become “viral” overnight, but few stand the test of time. Some grow organically, others are the clever, contrived work of advertising agencies and production companies. I’m always amazed by the “started from the bottom” dance crazes, where a music video that cost nothing to make becomes a global banger. Not counting cat videos, or Bat Dad (my favorite), who makes your list for the top viral videos of all time. Furthermore, who’s got the hottest dance right now flooding the interwebs? Join the discussion below…


The Art of Fresh: Retro Hip-Hop Style

“Being fresh is more important than having money. The entire time I grew up, it was like…I only wanted money, so I could be fresh.” ~ Kanye West.

Recently, I had the chance to see the indie film entitled Dope. The movie centers on Malcolm, a straight-A student and musician from a rough neighborhood in present-day Los Angeles. Obsessed with 90s Hip-Hop music and fashion, the movie captures his search for identity while navigating the turbulence of his immediate environment. Embracing a retro style patterned after the 90s, he wears a high top fade haircut, stonewashed denim jeans, Nike Air Jordans, and other brands prevalent during the “Golden Era of Hip-Hop”. Unfortunately, he is inadvertently pulled into criminal life when he comes to posses several kilos of a drug dealer’s molly, and presented with the choice of two potential life paths. This choice between two essential life paths is presented to today’s youth on a daily basis, and the search for personal identity is universally experienced during the adolescent stage of development. So why did Malcolm look to a past aesthetic of fashion to represent his present identity?  His choice possibly was made to visually and distinctively set himself apart from the negative expectations for black males in his community.

Throughout history, all art forms have reflected the cultural elements of communities. As a result, there has been a constant exchange between artists and the communities from which they originate. Essentially, the arts have been impacted and influenced by their communal environments, and inversely, communities have been impacted by the artistic forms emanating from within them. Fashion trends as an art form, especially those prominent in Hip-Hop culture, are exemplary of this mirrored relationship. Furthermore, the art of fashion has been moved forward by the push and pull between forces of innovation and conformity within specific communities. In this vein, Malcolm’s character felt that he did not fit into the stereotypical mold of the young black male in Inglewood, California. In the midst of gangs and drugs that existed within his community, he was considered a “nerd” because he was focused on school, played in a punk band called “Oreo” with his two friends, and he was still a virgin. In his position, I believe that Malcolm and his friends embraced this particular style as a conscious derivative of the past in an attempt to escape the harsh realities of their present. Even though Malcolm and his friends did not actually live through the ‘90s, the concept of their nostalgia as a form of rebellion against the expected norm, paid homage to the idea of “better times”. Consequently, this establishes a direct link between one’s socio-economic environment and their artistic expression of their status within it. According to Dictionary.com, socio-economics is “the study of the interrelation between economics and social behavior.”

On Friday, June 26th, a documentary was released that traces the history of Hip-Hop fashion entitled, Fresh Dressed. According to this film, the term “fresh” refers to “a crisp, new-in-the-box fashion look or tidy appearance.” Not only does this film discuss the impact that fashion has made on Hip-Hop culture, but it also notes fashion’s role to express commentary on social and economic statuses. Again, the mirrored relationship exemplified in fashion is explored. So, what is the connection between socio-economic statuses and artistic forms? In this documentary, Hip-Hop mogul, Damon Dash, makes a profound statement on the matter. He mentions that the whole idea of looking fresh stems from “the insecurity of not having anything.” He continues:

“The only way that you can kind of show that you have anything and feel some kind of status is, you know, what you have on your body. What you have on your body is a reflection of how you’re economically doing. It’s just a status symbol based on insecurity.”

Shirt King Phade, Co-Founder of Shirt Kings adds to Dash’s point, “When times are bad, a lot of people tend to gravitate towards art. Art takes our mind to another place.”

What I personally appreciate about the artistic expression of fashion, especially in Hip-Hop culture, is its ability to be both definitive and flexible. While at times a person can clearly take on a specific “look”, that same person remains able to represent his or her own individuality, ideas, or personal philosophy through their stylistic choices. In a sense, fashion can be a reflection of a person’s search for an identity within a paradigm of a specific culture. In the documentary, Pharrell Williams states, “When you’re young, there’s like a sense of wanting to express yourself…an importance of individuality.” This urge to find and establish individuality is a prominent challenge for the main characters of Dope. While Malcolm is not the only exception to the perceived “black male” typecast, through his character, the film examines a spectrum of stereotypes that are projected both inside and outside of an urban community. As seen in the current events that have spurred recent protest movements, stereotypes of black males are in full swing in today’s cities throughout the world, and our youth are continually placed at the intersection between expression of their own values, cultural histories, and pressures within community environments.


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 Sneakers.fr, 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.


The Science of Food and Music



A Chef is Born, Then a Rap Star – Action Bronson

Arian Asllani, better known by the stage name Action Bronson, is an American rapper and former chef.  He was born in Flushing, Queens, New York, the son of an Albanian immigrant father and a Jewish New Yorker mother.  Before embarking on a career as a rapper, which was originally just a hobby, Bronson was a respected gourmet chef in New York City. He hosted his own online cooking show titled Action in the Kitchen.

After breaking his leg in the kitchen, Bronson concentrated solely on his music career.  But he made a return to his love of food with the latest web series F*** That’s Delicious, which chronicles his life on tour, performing and eating at the finest restaurants.  In this series, he speaks with renown chefs and exposes his viewers to the gourmet side of the rapper’s life.


Rap and Food

Rap and food converged even before Biggie Smalls was craving  “a T-bone steak, cheese eggs and Welch’s grape”; the two have since become cultural touchstones. Action Bronson is positioned right where they meet.

From the beginning, the delights of food have figured prominently in his music. His first album included tracks titled “Jerk Chicken,” “Shiraz” and “Brunch.” His lyrics have plenty of rap’s trademark swagger, and his inspiration is often culinary. Instead of the traditionally desirable qualities you might find in a successful rap star, the women don’t love him for his Benz, but because they “saw me plate some melon and prosciutt’.” Instead of dripping with gold and diamonds, he brags about his “seasonal vegetables lookin’ exceptional.”  This puts food in the listeners minds, and eating delicious food is a joyful experience.  Rappers like to write about the good life, and eating gourmet food is definitely one of those qualities.

A Unique Combination
Bronson’s show, F*** That’s Delicious has a unique dynamic as it combines elements often not seen combined, the food scene and the music scene.  One episode highlights three locations rarely listed together in a sentence: Amsterdam, London and East New York, a neighborhood in Brooklyn that is not known for its food. In another, he visits three of his favorite places to eat in Queens, plays handball and signs a fan’s pizza crust.

The cameras, along with Action Bronson’s larger than life presence, attract onlookers, who regularly join the show. One episode begins with a young boy rapping Ice Cube’s “It Was a Good Day,” while Action Bronson acts as hype man. In another, a customer at a Pakistani restaurant in Long Island City pulls out a recorder (the woodwind instrument) and ends up providing the soundtrack.

“It’s freestyle,” Action Bronson said. “We talk about where we’re going to go, but then whatever ensues, ensues.” (NYTimes).


The Science of Food and Music

Thinking about how our brain reacts to food and the senses is not new, and recently, the focus on sounds and cuisine has been featured as having more importance than we might think. In one study it was found that participants preferred piano music to be paired with peppermint flavors, while citric acid, orange flower, and especially caffeine were better paired with brass instruments.



Barbara Werner, founder of Musical Pairing, which uses a patented technique to match music with food via a formula, has conducted 30 musical-pairing dinners from San Francisco to New York over the past year. The formula sets a pairing number, based on the main protein, sauce, cooking method, and spice level, and matches it to music, based on genre, tempo, instrument, and dynamics. A chocolate lava cake matches up nicely with Coolio’s “Gangsta’s Paradise.” (Barrons)

An Oxford University study, further explored in this article’s lesson. The study details the unique findings of listening to both downbeat and upbeat music on the taste of our food, mainly that food tastes sweeter when we hear happier music.  Spence sees brands and takeout services developing sensory apps to deliver “sonic seasoning” in the future. Krug Champagne, for instance, has an app that provides musical accompaniment for its bubbly.

I’m curious to see where this focus on food and music, whether it’s through lyrics or through the sonic experience itself, goes in the future.

Learning Similes and Metaphors with Katy Perry’s Firework

In this lesson, students will learn what a similes and metaphors, and how they are used as similar forms of expression in Katy Perry’s “Firework”. This song provides a useful example of similes and metaphors; it shows how they are alike as well as how they differ, both in the song lyrics and the music video.

Firework uses similes and metaphors to address important issues for young people, such as difference, bullying, body image, and unstable family environments.

CDs, MP3s, and the Decline of the Record Industry

In this lesson, students analyze and explain the decline of the record industry over the last 10 years. As of 2003, over 2,700 music retailers across the United States have closed, including popular stores such as Virgin Megastore, Tower Records, and HMV. Sales by online music retailers like iTunes, Rhapsody, and Amazon have increased, but not enough to make up for the decline in physical album sales. In this lesson, students will develop ideas about how to save the record industry from becoming extinct.