YOLO: A Defining Moment in the English Language

In this lesson students will discuss YOLO’s recent inclusion into the Oxford English Dictionary and also create their own suggestions for the next slang or tech term to be added.

This year the Oxford English Dictionary added the term “YOLO”. YOLO was popularized by its use in the hip-hop song The Motto by Drake. It is defined as You Only Live Once; typically used as rationale or endorsement for impulsive or irresponsible behavior. Some consider this phrase as the present day version of “Carpe Diem”.

This lesson will also allow students to conduct a dialogue on the process of creating a new word for the dictionary.

Evaluating Gun Violence in Rap Music

In this lesson, students join the national conversation about gun violence and gun control by writing a letter to a prominent rapper that addresses the artist’s content related to gun violence. Students and teachers also have an opportunity to develop campaigns to educate their communities and raise awareness about gun violence within the context of this lesson.

Comparing Queens of the Past and Present

In this lesson, students compare the queens of ancient history with women who they define as queens of their generation by using Janelle Monae’s song “Q.U.E.E.N.” Students will also learn to express themselves poetically in their definitions of today’s queens.

Iggy Azalea

Iggy Azalea is a Real Life Catcher in the Rye: Characterization and Cyberbullying on Twitter


Iggy Azalea has quit Twitter. Let’s focus on her last tweet and her reasoning. In her final tweets, Iggy Azalea describes the “hatred and pettiness” she finds online, calling the internet the “ugliest reflection of man kind there is.”

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As you can see, not even global fame and celebrity can protect Iggy from the ills of cyberbullying in today’s age.


Iggy feels as if she is being attacked and cyber-bullied based upon her appearance. These tweets constitute a narrative and Iggy is the main character in this story. What do these tweets reveal about her character? How is she feeling? What emotions does she bring out? Iggy’s experiences strike a similarity to the experiences of a troubled character in a classic novel named Holden Caulfield from the acclaimed book, Catcher in the Rye. Now, imagine if Holden Caulfield lived in the age of social media, would he have reacted the same way? Like Iggy, Holden is brutally honest throughout the novel. In the book, the audience learns that Holden has been kicked out of yet another school. Like Iggy, Holden gives evidence throughout the book that he is disliked and misunderstood by others.


Catcher in the Rye


Cyberbullying, even on social media platforms like Twitter, can lead to people feeling victimized, causing them to verbally lash out at others. As you can see, not even global fame and celebrity can protect Iggy from these ills in today’s age.  However, the Catcher in the Rye novel shows us that this is nothing new. Holden and Iggy both show us that a true test of one’s character is how we respond to the unprovoked negativity in the world and you are only a victim if you allow yourself to become one.


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 Hubris of Hip Hop

In this lesson, students will gain an understanding of hubris by examining its prevalence in hip hop culture. Students will pick a hip hop star and analyze her/his work, style, and public displays of grandiose behavior as a means to understand the term. In a 3-4 page essay, they will then compare their artist’s acts of hubris to a those of a literary character.

Note to teachers: Hubris is originally seen in Greek mythology when a mortal thinks he is better than the gods. This lesson would be particularly applicable when your class is doing a unit on mythology or reading The Odyssey, Mythology, or any books from the Oedipus Trilogy. This does not mean, however, that hubris is limited to mythology. This lesson plan would also be useful in understanding Shakespearean works as he regularly includes hubristic characters in his plays. This theme can also be used to analyze any text in which a character’s extreme pride and arrogance ultimately leads to her/his downfall.

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.

Frank Ocean and Hip-Hop: Writing About Assumptions and Hypotheticals

The objective of this lesson is to have students think critically about the complicated and intricate role of homosexuality in hip-hop. The lesson also teaches students on how to write a persuasive essay based on assumptions and hypotheticals.

Russell Simmons once said “Rap music is one of the most homophobic genres of music we know.” However there has been a progressive shift in this genre of music in the last decade, and one of the pioneers of this new wave is R&B singer Frank Ocean. Ocean officially came out on his tumblr page, when he told the story of his first love, which was a man. His confession of his true self stirred up quite the response, even with celebrities like Tyler, the Creator, who has been condemned for using anti-gay lyrics in his music, voiced his support for him.