Relativity Rock

In this lesson, a techno/electronica music video is used to teach students about the theory of relativity, the concept of fusion, and how E=MC squared gives an explanation for how stars emit light.

Royals: A Commentary on a Life Out of Reach, Even For a Superstar

The goal of this lesson is to give students the opportunity to explore the point of view expressed by Lorde in her hit song “Royals”. By reading the lyric passages closely, combined with classroom discussion about it, students will explore the various beliefs and points of view Lorde experienced as she became increasingly aware of fame and wealth, its glamour, as well as its pitfalls.

Students will need to consider the context of words and how word choice affects the songwriter’s message. As students read the passage and write their interpretation of the song along with class discussion and teacher feedback, students will form a deeper understanding of sentence syntax, discussion, and writing techniques. Students will also develop their ability to unpack meaning from complex sentences and underlying messages.

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I Am Not A Human Being: Afrofuturism in Pop Culture

From a different solar system many many galaxies far far away
We are the force of another creation
A new musical revelation
And we’re on this musical message to help the others listen

~ Afrika Bambataa and the Soul Sonic Force “Renegades of Funk” (1983)


What does it mean to be Black in America?

As an artist, I’ve always found ways to express this through realistic and imaginary lenses, often taking into consideration personal knowledge and experiences while also considering concepts in a broader sense. Ideally, I’ve always aimed at using themes from the past, present, and future to depict the Black experience, which encompasses both struggles and triumphs.

The rich legacy of the African Diaspora can be heavily attributed to artistic expression. Whether it was music, dance, or visual arts; artistic expression has always played a pivotal role in African culture, which began to be translated in an American context once the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade began. Often times being “alienated” from the rights of citizens in America and the Caribbean, the search for an identity and efforts of remembrance were seized with every opportunity. As a result, expressions such as the Negro Spirituals, Blues, Jazz, Funk, Hip-Hop, and countless others, emerged and eventually became a part of popular culture.


Afrofuturism: The Origins

In 1993, Mark Dery, author of Black to the Future, developed a term known as Afrofuturism. According to Mark Dery, Afrofuturism is a literary and cultural aesthetic that combines elements of science fiction, historical fiction, fantasy, Afrocentricity, and magic realism with non-Western cosmologies in order to critique not only the present-day dilemmas of people of color, but also to revise, interrogate, and re-examine the historical events of the past (wikipedia). Initially, Dery coined the term as a response to literature from authors, such as Octavia Butler and Samuel R. Delany; however, it quickly referred to musicians who also represented this aesthetic.


African-American voices have other stories to tell about culture, technology, and things to come.

Mark Dery


For instance, Sun Ra, a jazz musician who used Ancient Egyptian and space images to reflect his artistry, can be considered one of the pioneers of Afrofuturism. Albums such as, Space is the Place (1972) and The Heliocentric Words of Sun Ra (1965), incorporated conceptualized images and sounds based on his “cosmic philosophies”, which coherently also made connections between the past, present and future. The past being Ancient Egypt; the present was in the form of avant-garde jazz with the use of synthesizers and other electronic instruments; and the future being in the form of cosmic connotations that encouraged others to look beyond our earthly existence.


In an essay found on the Sun Ra Arkestra website by Stefany Anne Goldberg, she sites, “I didn’t find being black in America to be a very pleasant experience,” said Sun Ra, “but I had to have something, and that something was creating something that nobody owned but us.” She also mentions, “African-Americans had always been a secret society within greater American society, with their own music, their own language, their own rituals. This secret history could be an asset for African-Americans in the Space Age to come. African-Americans could re-invent their past and create a futurist Utopia, perhaps on a planet other than Earth, which seemed to Sun Ra unbearably steeped in chaos and confusion.”



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By the 1970s, a new wave of music emerged. Referred to as the “Funk”, George Clinton and the Parliament Funkadelic used characters, themes, and ideas that would mirror the consciousness of the Black community. They put out a series of albums and shows that sent political and sociological messages. In the article, “Turn This Mutha Out” by Robert Hicks, Clinton explains, “We had put black people in situations nobody ever thought they would be in, like the White House. I figured another place you wouldn’t think black people would be was in outer space. I was a big fan of Star Trek, so we did a thing with a pimp sitting in a spaceship shaped like a Cadillac, and we did all these James Brown-type grooves, but with street talk and ghetto slang. Make my funk the P-Funk”.


Clinton is referring to the concept behind the album cover of the Mothership Connection (1975) in which a character by the name of Starchild appears. He is a divine alien being who came to Earth from a spaceship to bring the Funk, the cause of creation and source of energy for all life, to humanity. According to The Clones of Dr. Funkenstein (1976), Starchild worked with an intergalactic master of outer space Funk, known as Dr. Funkenstein, whose “predecessors had encoded the secrets of Funk in the Pyramids because humanity wasn’t ready for its existence until the modern era” (P-Funk Mythology). In essence, Starchild was like a messiah who descended upon the earth to provide a cure for the ills of society.



Afrofuturism in Hip-Hop: Past and Present

In 1982, a song called “Planet Rock” was released by Afrika Bambataa and the Soul Sonic Force. As a DJ, Bambataa utilized a mixture of different genres in his artistry. As a former gang member of the Black Spades in New York City, he became a prominent figure in the early developmental stages of Hip-Hop and was the founder of the Universal Zulu Nation (1973), which recognized Hip-Hop as a culture that included a wide range of legitimate art forms. Heavily influenced by his predecessors, Afrika Bambataa would often practice his artistic autonomy through Afrocentric ideas and futuristic sounds. His main focus was to bring about social awareness through “peach, love, unity and having fun.”

planet rock

Other artists have followed suit as Afrofuturists, often times utilizing album covers, song titles, lyrics, and clothing to represent this genre.


Some of today’s most innovative artists have been inspired by Afrofuturist culture. One such artist is Big K.R.I.T, when mentioning the title of the album in XXL, he states, “It’s just one of those things that I was thinking about, ’cause in my first [album] cover Live From The Underground, it’s a Cadillac that has crash landed on planet earth. Just the whole storyline of being able to take you in reverse of where the Cadillac comes from. It’s creating this planet called Cadillactica where the soul and the funk comes from and being able to transcend my music with that idea.”



While Big K.R.I.T. utilized the principle of movement, Janelle Monáe’s album cover for “The ArchAndroid” uses emphasis by juxtaposing a crown on her head that reminds us of a futuristic city. Monáe is considered to be in the forefront of artists who are continuing to use Afrofuturism as an aesthetic by releasing a series of conceptual albums inspired by Fritz Lang’s science fiction classic film, Metropolis (1927).


Her themes usually highlight feminism, love, artistic freedom and disputes preconceived notions of beauty. In the article, “Janelle Monáe turns rhythm and blues into science fiction“, she states, “I feel like I have a responsibility to my community and other young girls to help redefine what it looks like to be a woman.” As an example, her newest video, “Yoga“with Jidenna, demonstrates yoga as a form of dance, challenging the popularity of twerking in mainstream media.

Today, we have artists such as Erykah Badu, Lil Wayne, DJ Spooky, Flying Lotus and countless others who have chosen to use this aesthetic to represent the Black experience. And this artistic movement is not limited to just music. It can also be found in fashion (See, “Constructing Future Forms: Afro-Futurism and Fashion in Chicago, Part II”), visual art (See, “8 Afrofuturists You Need To Follow Right Now”), and film (See, “Afrofuturism on film: five of the best”).

As Mark Dery states, “African-American voices have other stories to tell about culture, technology, and things to come.”


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.


Examining Beyonce Compared to the Most Powerful Women in History

To most of the modern world, Beyonce represents strength, independence and pride. With songs like Independent Woman, Single Ladies and Girls Run the World, she reassures females that they don’t need a man to be happy or successful. Not only is she a fearless performer and business woman, but she is also a dedicated wife and mother.

With the release of Formation and her performance at the Super Bowl halftime show, ‘Queen Bey’ has stepped straight into the midst of praise and controversy. Everything about Formation has been called a rallying cry; the timing of the release of the song to coincide with black history month and the day that would have been Treyvon Martin’s 21st birthday, the video clip makes reference to police brutality with the words “stop shooting us” and also highlights the delayed response to Hurricane Katrina in Louisiana by showing Beyonce atop a sinking New Orleans police cruiser. Most controversial was Beyonce’s half-time show where she and her dancers wore black berets and afros, reminiscent of the way the Black Panther Movement dressed in the 1960s. The performance received criticism from former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and prompted an anti-Beyonce Protest rally.

Beyonce’s new song has also sparked a lot of positive media attention, but does this mean she has officially crossed over from pop diva to ‘political activist’? Can she be really called a ‘powerful woman’ when you compare her to some of the greats in history?

Standing Alone
Many of the most powerful women in history have pushed past barriers and taken on roles that were traditionally only given to men. Beyonce’s personal story of having taking control of her career from her father and now her husband is very similar to that of the famous Cleopatra.

In Ancient Egypt, it was tradition for female rulers to be subordinate to male co-rulers. However, at the age of 18 when Cleopatra was made co-ruler with her brother (and husband – yep, that was normal in those days), she made it clear that she was not going to share power with him. After only 5 months of ruling, Cleopatra had dropped her brother’s name from official documents and only her face appeared on the coin.

In Formation Beyonce expands on her mantra of being an independent woman by showing that she has taken control of her own career and that instead of Jay-Z, she is the one to go to ‘get your song played on the radio station’.

Influence beyond race or gender, standing for a cause
The most influential people in the world didn’t necessarily have the looks of Beyonce and didn’t necessarily call as much attention to themselves with shows and costumes but many of them stood for equality.

Rosa Parks, generally considered as quiet and as having a dignified demeanor, seems like the polar opposite to Beyonce, but they have several things in common. The obvious similarity is the message of racial equality that Rosa Parks is known for and that Formation has now tied Beyonce to.

So how do these women, with such different personalities, get to a position to have such influence? In their separate worlds, both women showed excellence and were able to use their reputation as a platform. Despite the fact that many people had been arrested for resisting bus segregation, the NAACP decided that Rosa Parks was the person whose cause they should champion. Why? Martin Luther King stated that Rosa Parks was regarded as “one of the finest citizens of Montgomery—not one of the finest N***o citizens, but one of the finest citizens of Montgomery.” Similarly, Beyonce is regarded as one of the greatest pop icons of all time – not just one of the greatest African-American artists of all time. Saturday Night Live even recently released a sketch called “The Day Beyonce Turned Black” making fun of the media reaction that Formation is getting.

Authentic Beauty: Staying True to Your Roots
Beyonce has always been a supporter of natural beauty; in the early days with Destiny’s Child, this was was expressed through the song Bootylicious. This song reached such cultural prominence that the term Bootylicious was included in the Oxford English Dictionary!

With the song Formation Beyonce reclaims the natural look of afro hair and ‘Jackson 5 nostrils’.  The film clip shows different moments in the history of Black society and tells us this is all part of the person that Beyonce is. Formation also makes reference to the hard times that the black community has gone through by showing images of Martin Luther King and by making reference to the Black Lives Matter movement.

One of the greatest artists of all time, Frida Kahlo, is also known for staying true to her heritage and for depicting herself and the struggles of the female experience without any compromise. Even though Kahlo’s works combine elements of classical religious Mexican tradition with surrealists elements, she always rejected the “surreal” label saying that her work reflected more of her reality than her dreams.

The lyrics of Formation talk primarily about Beyonce and her experience of working hard, rocking Givenchy dresses and earning all her money, but like the work of Frida Kahlo, the visual elements of Formation give us a deeper understanding of the history that has shaped the person she is.

Standing together
Beyonce, like many of the great women in our history, is trying to create a movement to create a change. Amelia Earhart didn’t just fly solo across the Atlantic, but she was an early supporter of the Equal Rights Amendment and was also a member of the National Woman’s Party. In a more active and personal level Amelia Earhart was instrumental in the ‘formation’ (see what I did there?) of the Ninety-nines, an organization created to help female pilots with their careers.

The message of Beyonce’s songs have increasingly become about a sisterhood, and Formation is a reiteration of this message. However, Beyonce also puts her money where her mouth is! Beyonce has supported most of the causes mentioned in the Formation video clip both financially and through personal action.

After Hurricane Katrina, Beyonce along with Kelly Rowland and her mother Solange Knowles set up the Survivor Foundation to help families after Hurricane Katrina. Beyonce and her husband Jay-Z have been supporting the Black Lives Matter Movement financially helping get protesters out on bail. In the tradition of Beyonce’s Girl’s Run the World, Beyonce and Selma Hayak set up Chime for Change, an organization that raises funds and awareness for projects promoting Education, Health and Justice for girls and women.

Despite all the media that currently surrounds Beyonce and the release of Formation and the similarities between Beyonce and the great women described in this article, it is still hard to say if Beyonce will one day go down in the history books as one of the greats – what do you think?

The Deconstruction of Kanye West

This lesson will allow students to demonstrate a basic understanding of the concept of deconstruction and conduct a critical interpretation of Kanye West, his music as well as his artistic vision. Students will listen to select Kanye West songs, interviews and articles and deconstruct their contents. As Hip Hop music continues to grow in various directions, Kanye West continues to be one of the most influential voices of the genre and polarizing figures in pop culture. His music crossed over to various communities. His songs have touched upon many topics and issues including capitalism, racism, materialism and consumerism. This lesson will allow students an opportunity to look at hip hop in a light that involves more than just beats and rhymes.

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Sound Properties and Careers in Music

Courtesy of April Galloway and Christine Scott. Edited by Julie McCann. Provided by CareerStart.

This lesson is intended for grade six and uses a hands-on lab to help students understand key concepts in the properties of sound and how they can be applied to careers in music.

1. Students will explore concepts of sound, including frequency, amplitude, loudness, and how sound travels through different materials.
2. Students will conduct investigations to build an understanding of the nature and properties of sound.
3. Students will learn how these concepts can be applied to careers in music.

Time Required For Lesson
Approximately 80 to 90 minutes. 
The time needed for this lesson is relatively flexible. Preparing each lab station ahead of time will save 10 to 15 minutes of student work. See Lab Procedure below for more detailed information. Homework time may also be added to reduce classroom time.

Advance Preparation
Students should have prior knowledge of the properties of sound and how it relates to musical instruments. Critical vocabulary (defined on the handout Student Study Guide: Nature of Sound, Properties of Sound, and Combining Sound Waves) should be discussed prior to this lesson. This handout can be used as a review just before the lab or used earlier in the week as an introduction to a unit on the properties of sound.

Deconstructing Reggaeton Music: Degrading Women or Freedom of Speech?

In this lesson, students will analyze a Reggaeton song by popular Puerto Rican recording artist Don Omar and decide whether it is worth banning. The country of Cuba has recently outlawed the music genre known as Reggaeton, which is a fusion of Reggae, Latin, and Hip Hop. Originating in Panama over 20+ years ago and spreading all over Latin America and the U.S., this music is being banned for its aggressive, sexual and obscene lyrics.

Poetic Justice: Using Kendrick Lamar’s Hit Song to Understand Literary Devices

In this lesson, students use the lyrics and video for Kendrick Lamar’s “Poetic Justice” to understand and analyze how this song and video define and depict the literary device of the same name. Once the students understand the concept they will apply it to a piece of literature of their choice, identifying examples of poetic justice in a 1-2 page paper and explaining how it might inspire an audience.

YOLO: Take Care of Your Ears!

In this lesson, The Lonely Island’s “YOLO” is used to introduce the topics of noise and hearing loss. Students learn about how the inner workings of our ears enable us to hear and how these sensitive mechanisms are easily and irreparably harmed.