Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Being Mediocre Is Easy. Being Great Is Not.

I’ve been here before. It all feels oddly familiar, since I have done the same thing multiple times. It’s the bane of my existence, and my greatest flaw. But where am I? I am trapped in the desire to remain mediocre.
Wait what? The desire to remain mediocre? Why would anyone want to stay mediocre? Don’t we all want to reach our potential? Of course we do. I know I personally want to be the best I can be. However, being the best I can be is, well, hard.

That’s right. It’s hard. It’s not easy. I don’t get to fall asleep at 50% and wake up at 100%. I have to work my way through each and every failure and every setback. Every painful moment of it and guess what? It’s hard. It’s very hard.

The perfect example is my own personal health. As anyone who knows me, follows me on Twitter, connected to me on Facebook or on Foursquare can tell you, I work out. My fitocracy account (Adjective_J if you’re curious) is a testament to that fact. My workouts are not light. In fact, my workouts are pretty much my own personal attempts to push myself beyond what I’m comfortable with every single time I walk into the gym. I’ve actually passed out in the gym three times. Some people would tell me that I need to be far more moderate in my workout endeavors. I would respond the same way Leonidas did in 300, with kick in the chest into a deep well as I yelled, “Madness? THIS IS MY WORKOUT!!”
Lately, though I’ve been far less Leonidas and far more Ephialtes (you know, the guy who sold the Spartans out). I’ve given in to the Persian principles of oversleeping my morning workout and eating the richest foods. Side note: Little Caesar’s five dollar large pizza is surprisingly tasty. Also, it is the devil. The result? Two weeks with moderate workouts, and a noticeable increase in a gut that was previously on the decline.

And here I am. Again. The fight is hard. The odds seem insurmountable. I know I’ll never be amazingly thin. I know that the chances of me looking like my body goal (a young Dwayne Johnson, you know before he turned into a muscle bound monstrosity with two percent body fat) are slim, in fact far slimmer than I will even hope to be. However, the odds shouldn’t matter.  All that matters is when I walk out of the gym after leaving everything I had inside, I feel good about myself. About my life. About who I am. In those moments, I’m not a man who quits. I’m not a man who gives up. I’m a man who perseveres. I’m a man who has drive, the motivation to be great.
The key, for me at least, is realizing what an easy life leads to. It leads to diabetes, being overweight, unfulfilled and most importantly, it leads to me not being able to look at myself in the mirror with pride.

The same is true of any endeavor in life. At the end of the day, you won’t be able to look yourself in the eye if you know that you took the easy way through life. Life isn’t meant to be easy. Fight for what you want. If it gets hard take pride in knowing that you are alive.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Does Time Really Equal Money?

Fun fact: the saying "time is money" is attributed to the late Benjamin Franklin, inventor, elder statesman, ambassador and the face of one hundred dollar bills in America. However, as much as Mr. Franklin (or Benji depending on what era of rap you've last heard) accomplished, I take issue with this statement. Time and money, while sharing some characteristics are most definitely not equal.

Money and time are alike in that both can be spent, either wisely or foolishly. They are both commodities that many of us would love to have more of. However, there is one major difference between time and money, a difference that really sets them both firmly in separate leagues. Money can be saved. Time, however, cannot be. As much as we like to talk about time saving devices (the internet, the cell phone, text messages, etc.) the truth of the matter is, even if we used time saving devices every day, at the end of the day, we have as much as we would have if we hadn't used any. Time has to be spent. Money however does not.

I know that this seems like I'm splitting hairs, but we have to spend our time. Most of the "time saving" techniques aren't so much saving time as freeing up what we have to spend our time doing. E-mail removes the time we would spend waiting for correspondence, as does texts, cellphones, and fax machines. Remember what research was like before the internet? I have a vague recollection of giant buildings filled with books, and a decimal system invented by some guy named Dewey that only made sense if you were named Dewey as well. (that I do remeber the .700's were the fine arts, and that's where the comic book collections could be found) Research is now as simple as typing what you want to know into Google (or some other search engine that works almost as well but not quite as well) and sifting through the top ten answers to your query.

Why are we so obsessed with time? Well, clearly it's because we have a finite supply of it. Side note: there's not a finite supply of money. Or at least I don't think there is. If you disagree, Bill Gates is actively working every day to prove you wrong. Our short supply of time ensures that what we choose to do with it reveals much about ourselves. There was a time when that type of knowledge wasn't commonplace. But now, in our era of social networking and increased personal sharing? Now we all know what we do speaks volumes about us.

Why else would there be so many people actively living lifestyles that proclaim their viewpoints? If you go to the gym at noon, you'll see the young professional, walking into the gym in wingtips or heels and a bag full of workout clothes. He or she is telling everyone that they're in control of their career, of their bodies, and of their lives. Swivel a bit to the left, and you'll see the extremely muscular young man in the cut-off T-shirt sipping water and stretching. What is his time use telling you?

How we spend our time says a lot about us. Who we spend our time with, what we spend our time doing, and ultimately, how we allot the time we've all been given. The real question then is, what does the time you spend say about you?

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Why Can't I Just Be Me?

I wish I could start every blog off with a disclaimer. Something that would read along the lines of, "what do I know, I couldn't even spell negro correctly". That wish is built upon my desire to say whatever I want with no consequences. I'll even go a step further and say that I'm pretty sure everyone would love to be able to do that. For instance, Governor Mitt Romney has been plagued throughout his bid for the presidency by what he's been saying.

Of course, there are consequences for what we say, and there's not much we can do to avoid them. I personally try to pick my spots to say things, in essence concluding the less I say the less I'll ultimately be responsible for. Life has taught me that some times, in fact, most times, you should just shut up.

This often back fires on me, since the less I say, when I do say something, it carries far more weight. It's the ultimate catch-22. But every so often I see something and I just feel like I can't keep quiet. I'm sure no one will be surprised to hear that I am at such a point right now.

Last night, while killing time before falling asleep, I saw and interesting tweet on Twitter. It read: "Men. Be men. Do that and I promise I'll treat you like the KING you are." Kind of a sweet sentiment isn't it? All we as men have to do as men is be men. Yay. I should point out it was RT'd (retweeted for the non-twitter savvy) by multiple women everywhere who apparently have dealt with men not being men.

Needless to say, as a man, I have a few problems with that statement. First, isn't that a tad ambiguous? What makes a man "a man"? I can hear the backlash now as millions of women scream at me about being responsible and treating other people with respect, and being open with their emotions, and just considering the other person for a change. There's no argument against any of those things. But isn't that just being an adult? Why is it so necessary to make that being "a man"? I'm not a perfect human being, but I'd like a woman to do all of the aforementioned things in a relationship, namely because I want to date an adult and not a child, or a cleverly constructed facsimile of an adult.

In fact, I tweeted that the statement should read "Men. Be the man I want you to be. Do that and I promise I'll treat you like the KING you are." There's nothing inherently wrong with that statement either. I'm sure every man wants to be a king. I'd love to be one. I could have people beheaded any time I didn't agree with them, I could own land and people, and taxation without representation all day. That doesn't make me crazy. Even Nas had a "if I were king" platform. It was just as preposterous too. Sending all the convicts to Africa? Really Nas?

Most would like to point out that they would treat their man as a king, and therefore they would be a queen. To which I point to history, and specifically to King Henry VIII, a man who started his own church just so he could divorce his queen. My point is, don't treat anyone like a king. Respect them. Love them. Consider them. Let them be, well, them. There's no actual way to change a person, or mold them into what you want them to be. All you can do is accept them or reject them. That's it.

Ultimately, there's nothing wrong with wanting a man to be a specific type of man for you. Nothing wrong with that at all. But be willing to tell men what you want in clear and certain terms. As a man, I'm proud to say that I have no clue what every single woman in the world wants from me in a committed relationship. What I do know is that I'm willing to ask, willing to listen, and if I can fit the description I will. If not, no harm no foul. I'm sure you'll find what you're looking for if it exists.

Look, there's no hard and fast rules anymore, I think we all know that. All I'm saying is instead of resorting to cliches and societal standards for what you want, actually sit down and consider what it is that you require to be happy, as well as what you offer in return. Then go out there and find someone who wants what you have and has what you want. And yes, I did just end on an O'Jay's lyric.

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Be Willing To Fail

I'm always thinking. Sadly enough, it's normally about myself, my behaviors, my actions, how I look, etc. I believe the term that best describes me in the communications world is "high self-monitor". For instance, I'm still torn as to whether or not to leave my blog named "Full Time Knee Grow". I can't help but think that "knee grow" or even the properly spelled "negro" and professionalism don't go hand in hand and I have to be honest and admit that I feel a bit like a conspiracy theorist when I contemplate why I have that thought.

I also find myself wondering about how my actual abilities compare to how I perceive them. For example, when I run alone, it feels like everything is standing still and I'm a pure mecurial god floating through time and space. In my mind, I'm not just fast, I am speed itself. But then the inevitable happens. Eventually I run with someone else towards a common goal. It's usually one of us has possession of a ball of some sort and the other one of us is trying to physically oppose holder of said ball. That's when reality hits me. That's when I realize that just about everyone alive is faster than the 6'6", 290 pound guy. 

Of course, this realization doesn't mean I'm slow. Quite often, my friends will tell me that I'm actually quick (say it with me) "for a guy my size". Which is like saying that a 1998 Volkswagen Jetta is spacious for a compact. If you have to add a qualifier, it's probably closer to an insult than a compliment. But that's okay. I take it all in stride. Pun intended.

I might be wrong, but I honestly expect almost every endeavor in life to be exactly like that. In theory, it should seem as if there is no obstacle you can't overcome. I'm a planner, and in my head, my plans all lead (eventually) to some form of success. Granted, as a slightly more obsessive than normal planner, I have contingency plans for failures and backup plans but ultimately the statement still holds true: I plan for success, not for failure. 

Our plans don't always work out though, do they? Oftentimes, because of our own inabilities and imperfections, we find that our plans, though carefully laid, are dashed by time and unforeseen occurrences. What separates the successful from the unsuccessful however, isn't the quality of the plans, but it is in fact, the willingness to fail. 

You've heard it time and time again. Successful people aren't afraid to fail. I'd take that statement a step farther. Successful people are not only unafraid of failure, but they are willing to fail. You could accuse me of merely playing with semantics, and quite frankly, you'd be correct. But the rhetorical choices that we make inwardly tell us a lot about ourselves and our motivations. Think about it. When you say to yourself, "I'm not afraid to fail," what are you really saying? 

"I'm not afraid to fail," in my opinion is acknowledging that failure can happen, but that it's not necessary. In many cases, that's just not true. Think of a pharmaceutical researcher and all of the clinical trials and failures he or she must endure to find a working solution to a medicinal problem. There is a level of failure that's expected and acceptable in many cases. In fact, sometimes, we have to be willing to go and fail so that we can be successful later.

That first marketing plan may have taken you forever to conceive and put together, but it could possibly fail in three seconds. The very first business you start, the one you put your heart and soul into could tank horribly, despite how much affection and care you pour into it. 

The point being made is that you have to be willing to take that failure, learn from it, and then get back out there willingly and stare that failure in between the eyes as you try again. The old adage, "if at first you don't succeed, try try try again" applies to everything in life you want to experience success in. In some cases, that phrase might better be, "if you never succeed, try try again." I say in some cases, because there are instances where that motto will get you a restraining order and quite possibly some jail time. 

If you really feel as if you need to be motivated more, here ya go:

Go out there and fail.

Monday, October 08, 2012

Blessings Don't Come With Disguises

Being a minority in America isn't easy. There's a fine line to be walked. On one hand, it's easy to point fingers and bandy blame about while not taking any responsibility for various self-inflicted ills. On the other hand, there's statements like the ones made by John Hubbard recently in his self-published book, which read, in part, "the institution of slavery that the black race has long believed to be an abomination upon its people may actually have been a blessing in disguise".

First, let me say that before I even begin to refute this statement, I'd like to point out an interesting rhetorical choice made by Mr. Hubbard (who coincidentally is running for a public office in Arkansas).  In the statement, "the black race has long believed" Mr. Hubbard does two interesting things rhetorically. He lumps all of the black race into one entity and then proceeds to take a superior stance in knowing more about the plight of that one said monolith. This leaves me, as a black man in a weird place. Let me elaborate.

I honestly believe that each person has a unique standpoint or view of the world. That unique viewpoint may have some similarities to others who have the same similarities, but ultimately, since we're all unique, each of our viewpoints are unique. As such, there's no real way to truly completely understand someone else's plight (Standpoint Theory) So while I don't really completely understand someone else's plight, such as what it's like to be a frustrated white American male, I refuse to believe that someone who has so little in common with me can understand anything that me or my race have ever gone through. 

Secondly, Mr. Hubbard implies that black Americans are better off than they would have been had they not been taken forcefully from Africa. On what is he basing this assumption? Who knows what might have happened if slavery had been seen as unethical and contemptuous? What if instead of treating blacks as property to be used and disposed of, black immigrants had been embraced as coworkers and cofounders of this country? What if, instead of providing hundreds of years of free labor, black Americans were paid honest wages for their work and had the same opportunities as their European counterparts?

What did slaves really gain with their hard work? Many of them struggled to survive in a country that for decades refused to offer them the same brand of justice that their counterparts enjoyed.  In fact, over 3500 black Americans were lynched between 1882 and 1968, and that number is likely much higher, since for many archivists of that time period, the loss of a black life didn't even merit the use of paper and ink. 

But life got better after 1968, correct? Black people are 13% of the American population, yet somehow they make up 33% of the prison population.  Fifty-five percent of black Americans go to college, but of that percentage only 42% actually graduate. While the standard of living may be higher here than in some parts of Africa, it's abundantly clear that if this is what black slaves gave their freedom for, they severely overpaid.

What really bothers me the most about this statement is that it's allowed to be made with no real repercussions. Clearly, this statement was made with the intention of being divisive, inflammatory and offensive. I'm not disparaging the idea of freedom of speech or of the press, but the lack of outrage concerns me. Many people probably just wrote this off as merely just being another ploy to gain notoriety. This type of language isn't okay, and I personally think that the only thing that would make this write is to remove the speech from the public eye (i.e. edit the book to be politically correct) and a public apology.

Finally, I would like to say to Mr. Hubbard, that in the future, when thinking about speaking about the plight of black people and how it makes him feel, please, stop and THINK next time. 

Sunday, October 07, 2012

New Adventures Are Fun...Right?

One of the most cliched, overly done scenes in every Western is the end, let's-ride-into-the-sunset-towards-unknown-and-undocumented-adventures. It's really an amazing transition, which probably why it's used so much.

The real question is how does the person riding into the sunset feel? The sunset represents so many unknowns, and the cowboy, like any truly masculine character rides right into it, unflinchingly. It'a obviously a powerful metaphor for boldly facing the future, despite how unknown it may be, simply because it's bright. I say all of the above simply to say that I am scared. It's not the first time, though it is the first time that I've actually admitted to it. I'm riding into a sunset and though it looks pretty cool, I'm actually pretty terrified.

 My "sunset" is a future move to South Korea. I'm currently in the process of securing a job. I should be moving in November. New surroundings. New job. New people. New everything. I've never moved more than 20 miles away from my original home. There's a good chance everything will work out and I'll have the experience of a lifetime. But that bit of positive thinking doesn't make me feel too much better. Either way, I'm going. I'll be riding into the sunset. Hopefully I won't end up like young Will Hawkins.

Friday, June 22, 2012

This Is Me

This is me, in a nutshell. "Help, I'm trapped inside a giant nutshell! How did this happen?"

INTP - "Architect". Greatest precision in thought and language. Can readily discern contradictions and inconsistencies. The world exists primarily to be understood. 3.3% of total population.
Take Free Jung Personality Test
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Enneagram Test Results
Type 1 Perfectionism |||||||||||||||||| 73%
Type 2 Helpfulness |||||||||||||||||| 73%
Type 3 Image Awareness |||||||||||| 43%
Type 4 Individuality |||||||||||||| 56%
Type 5 Rationality |||||||||||||||| 66%
Type 6 Anxiety |||||| 23%
Type 7 Adventurousness |||||||||||||||| 70%
Type 8 Aggressiveness |||||||||||||| 60%
Type 9 Calmness |||||||||||||||||| 73%
Your main type is 1
Your variant is self pres
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The Necessity of the Dream

I don't think I've ever truly appreciated one of my best friends. I like to pretend that it's not really possible to appreciate a good friend, as if all humanity shared my one flaw, but the truth of the matter is, quite simply, I don't really appreciate the good things and people that I have in my life. It's hard sometimes for me to face that reality. That underneath all of my conscious desires to be a "good" person, there lurks a subconscious that is geared towards the basest of my needs. I don't view relationships as necessary on a subconscious level, and it manifests itself in my thoughts.

A funny thing happens though, in between my thoughts and my actions, my attitudes and the behavior that results. Somewhere in between, I catch myself thinking and trying to be a better person, trying so desperately  to be more than just what my lesser, baser instincts drive me to be. Ultimately, I think being able to distinguish between the drive to survive and the desire to become something more, to better oneself, or one's position, or lot in life, is what makes us successful in our endeavors.

I don't think I'm misspeaking when I say that the majority of us are geared only towards survival. In fact, from the moment we're born, we cry, not because we're struggling with some deep philosophical quandary, but because we're hungry, or we're uncomfortable. As children, we are geared to survive. In a perfect utopian world, we would shed that tendency and grow into well-balanced adults, each bright eyed and seeking the betterment of him or herself and his or her fellow man/woman.

But we don't live in a perfect utopia do we? All of us are affected in some way or another by our own inherited problems, or some fresh batch of issues thrust upon us by experimental parenting, or just plain old circumstance. Therefore, we don't all "grow up" completely. In some key areas, we are very immature, and it may take years for us to grow to a complete level of maturity in every aspect and facet of our adult minds.

This isn't a knock on anyone, per se, and it should be duly noted that I didn't arrive at this conclusion via research, or even by delving into statistics. I would label it "qualitative analysis" if it didn't feel as if I were spitting in the face of every researcher who ever did qualitative analyses by calling it that. No, this is just my grandiose opinion, and the Internet acting as a magnifying glass. There's a solid chance that none of this applies to you or to anyone you know, but indulge me for a second.

I honesty believe that each of us is childish in certain areas. For instance, I'm childish in my consideration of others. I realize that, and I'm working to be more considerate, to be a better friend. I think each of us are immature, or childish on different levels.

But what does this have to do with success? Recognizing that there is a deficiency in part of you, realizing that you aren't perfect is part of that desire to better yourself. Whatever way you choose to improve upon yourself is very much up to you, but knowing really is half the battle.  Once you know, you have the opportunity to spark the desire to better yourself. People who have that desire to improve upon themselves and their lot in life, these are the ones who are successful. Instead of merely squirrelling away nuts to avoid starving the winter, these are the ones who are out chasing their dreams, because for them, survival isn't enough. They're not satisfied to merely eke out a small existence.

They want more, and they're not afraid to do whatever it takes to get more. They'll reach for the stars with no fear of what might happen if they fail, or even what might happen if they manage to catch a star. They are driven to reach. We admire these people, as well we should. They are the dreamers. They are the wishers. They are our inspirations, and they carry with them our dreams.

Don't you want to be one of them? You can. You just have to begin by realizing what's wrong with you. It's that easy.

Thank you for your indulgence.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

I Miss English...

I just finished reading someone else's blog belittling writers who "post when they want to" and felt slightly ashamed. Side note: if you're sick of know-it-alls who don't know anything, but are a know-it-all in a world of infinite knowledge, how do you stand yourself? But I digress. I'm very much that type of writer. I fancy myself a bit of an artist, but the real word sounds much closer to lazy. There was also some mention about long rambling posts with no real sections of scannable material and what not. To that I say poppycock.

 Poppycock I say, and I add, rubbish! I'm from a different school of writing, and from a different school of reading. I'm not saying I don't believe in paragraphs, and coherent formation of ideas, or organization, I'm saying that lately, the trend towards making language easier is a bit disturbing to me. Wait, let me back track and catch you up. Google Play Books has become one of my favorite apps on my Samsung Galaxy SII. (Yes I just name dropped my phone) One reason I've grown to love it is the public domain laws. After a copyright runs out, (yes they do that) and the author is no longer alive to care, nor has descendants who care, their works become free for all. This results in many old works being available free of charge to some publisher. Google, in its infinite giving stuff away for free knowledge, has made many of these public domain works available electronically. FOR FREE. I've been delving into many old texts and it has been a veritable delight. It has also resulted in two things.

 First, I say things now like veritable delight. I've rediscovered English words that are slowly but surely going the way of dinosaur. Such as truculent. But the second thing that I've realized is that I've had it with modern books. At least, most of the one's I've read recently. Why? Today's literature feels that scandalous or salacious content is enough to make a piece of literature art. I wholeheartedly disagree. One of my favorite books is Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison. It's not without it's scandalous content (there's a vivid account of accident incest) but it doesn't rely on content alone. What pushes Ellison's book into the realm of literary art is the prose contained within his book. It's rich with symbolism, with cleverly chosen words, with vivid descriptions, in short, his book IS art.

 That dedication to writing in it's higher form seems to be lost on many popular books today, at least in my eyes. But what do I know? I'm just a guy who doesn't update his blog regularly.

Friday, April 20, 2012



I frequent several different blogs and read a lot of different articles. As a writer, that's how I "stay sharp" and keep abreast of the topics fresh on people's minds. One that I read recently didn't sit well with me. Now, I don't give press to other people's blogs, so I won't link the blog here, but the phrase that concerned me had to do with the "Twitter beatdown". For those who don't know, the Twitter beatdown occurred when one young woman, angry about what was said to her online, decided to go to the location of the young woman who said it and proceeded to assault her. We know that this happened, because it was taped and them disseminated to the masses via that bastion of humanity called World Star Hip-Hop. Side note: how are THE most ratchet (unflattering, in poor taste) of videos of primarily black people doing violent and foolish things linked to the culture of hip-hop? I will call out World Star Hip-Hop because of that social connection. Every time someone looks at me and stereotypes me as a black man, I can personally thank World Star Hip-Hop for continuing to perpetuate the most harmful of stereotypes. I bet if you checked George Zimmerman's browser history, you'd find World Star Hip-Hop. But I digress. The blog in question implied that in the world we live in, a world of "social media", we can't "help but to see" things that should make us cringe and flinch. Here is where my problems with this statement begin. First, this implies that because we live in an information age, we no longer can control what we see? Is that so? I contend that it is NOT so. There are people who are as active in social media as anyone, if not more so active than the average, who didn't watch that video. You know why? Because we recognized the contents as being reprehensible. I didn't watch that video. And I refuse to watch it. Why would I willingly take part in this woman's crime? What type of voyeuristic thrill comes from watching a human being demolish another one? The spectacle of it all reminds of the Roman Colosseum where the masses gathered to watch criminals be torn limb from limb by wild beasts. This was at the height of the Roman empire, and some scholars believe it was this turn to the perverse, this ever growing lust for the spectacle of depravity that led to the eventual downfall of the Western Roman empire. Of course, that wasn't the only contributing factor, as I'm sure the ongoing assaults from the multiple Germanic tribes that later went on to form the countries of Europe as we know them today probably were a much larger consideration, but the idea here is that a society, at its apex, being drawn to the most violent of entertainments should cause us all to pause and reflect. More importantly, the notion that we are beyond control because of being "plugged in" to social media reflects an ever growing trend to take our guilt and blame it on every external factor we can, as opposed to meeting it squarely on the grounds upon which it spawned, namely within ourselves. Whenever we watch videos of violence and share them with others, WE are enabling the future violent attackers. Whenever we laugh and point and most importantly, hand our attention over to those who seek it, WE are giving them the power that they so keenly crave. WE are responsible for the attention that WE give to others. No one else is. If someone sends me an email or a link and tells me to watch it, I, and I alone, am responsible for the decision I make to watch it. I can't shift the guilt or burden of my decisions onto someone else. It's my responsibility. When are we going to start taking that responsibility seriously? Maybe never. But I can't speak for everyone else. All I can do is recognize my responsibility and face it as a responsible adult human being should. I hope we all can do the same.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Music has long dealt with complex issues. The first songs were Gregorian chants, which were written to praise God and his benevolence or righteous vengeance against mankind. The oldest hymn, or chant stems back to 609 A.D. and deals with themes such as death, life, redemption, and grace. Music has been used by man to help establish systems of control, to persuade, and to help enforce or to tear down said established systems of control.

In the twentieth century, however, artists have often used music to fly into the face of tradition, and to raise questions in the minds of their listeners. They’ve often posed philosophical questions, or even questioned the established traditional system. One such song is No Church in the Wild, which is from the album, Watch The Throne. The rhetors involved are Jay-Z (Shawn Carter), Kanye West, The-Dream (Terius Nash) and Frank Ocean (Christopher Francis Ocean). Each of the rhetors contributed collaboratively to the song, and its content, which includes the themes discussed within it. Critics of the song have praised it’s complexity, for it tackles themes of existentialism, religious doctrine, and even existentialism. I feel that a full rhetorical criticism in the form of a close text analysis will reveal more than just passing mentions of these themes, but a deeper underlying theme that runs throughout the entire song. I also feel the best way to identify these themes is through a thorough textual analysis to identify first, what this underlying theme is, and secondly how it’s constructed and supported within the choices made by each of the rhetor’s involved in this particular rhetorical act.

A close text analysis is designed to look at each individual rhetorical choice made within a rhetorical act or artifact. The technique was pioneered and developed by Herman Stelzner. The goal of a close text analysis is empirical in nature, focusing on word choices, rhythms, syllables, arguments, metaphors, language, and even the amount of pauses taken, as well as where each of these pauses exist.

The chorus, sung and supposedly penned in part by Frank Ocean, opens No Church in the Wild with the words, “Human beings in a mob. What’s a mob to a king? What’s a king to a god? What’s a god to a non-believer, who don’t believe in anything?” The first thing that stands out in this particular grouping is the number of syllables used in the first two of the questioning phrases. They are each exactly six syllables, and what’s more, each of the first four groupings are separated by pauses. The pauses may be for effect, as if to add more weight to each question, or it may be strictly for rhythmic purposes, but in either case, each of these questioning phrases help establish the theme of the entire song, which is that of a subverting the traditional norms of society. In this case, the tradition that is being questioned is what’s known as the “Great Chain of Being” in which every supposed being in theology is ranked into a hierarchy. The hierarchy outlined here by No Church in the Wild challenges that very hierarchy by suggesting that a god means as much as a man does in the eyes of a non-believer. Note here that instead of the word “atheist”, the word non-believer is chosen instead. This word usage might suggest that the non-believer isn’t simply someone who questions the existence of a god in the monotheistic Christian theology, but someone who doesn’t buy into any of the traditions or trappings of society. This is reinforced by the next line, “Will he make it out alive? Alright alright, no church in the wild”. The “he” in this line may refer to the central man in Frank Ocean’s cyclical, subversive take on the Great Chain of Being. This subversion of traditional Western theology is a theme continued throughout this particular rhetorical discourse. Also of note is the statement, “no church in the wild”. The wild here may be a contrast between the ordered and structured traditional lifestyle that is traditionally advocated by religious traditions and the actual life that many actually live or practice. This, coupled with the idea that there is “no church in the wild” may refer to the life that is outside of the traditionally accepted one.

Also of interest is the music behind the opening hook, or chorus. It maintains the standard rhythmic drum section, until the line “what’s a god to a non-believer who don’t believe in anything?” At this line, suddenly an overlay of strings comes in, which may have been added to give the listener a feeling of sudden discovery, or of a revelatory truth suddenly coming to light. This makes what ‘s being said seem more like “truth” than the tradition it’s questioning, though in reality, this brand of logic would suggest that there really is no truth beyond one man.

At this point, the next rhetor, Jay-Z begins to speak. He starts off with a series of very visual phrases, “Tears on the mausoleum floor, blood stains the Colosseum doors, lies on the lips of the priest, thanksgiving disguised as a feast.” The interesting thing about each of these phrases is that they are each separated by a brief pause. This pause, just as it did with the hook, adds a certain amount of weight to each phrase. Another thing worth noting is the grouping of the four phrases into two thoughts by means of syllables. The first two phrases both share the commonality of being eight syllables apiece. The following two phrases, “lies on the lips of a priest”, and “Thanksgiving disguised as a feast” are separated by one syllable, but are still very much similar in their delivery. And the end of each of these phrases, the hissing sound of the “s” is elongated, clarifying the grouping of these two phrases together. What exactly though is Jay-Z referring to? A mausoleum is the tomb of a king, a testament to his legacy. The Colosseum, or the Flavian Amphitheatre still stands as a testament to the greatness of the Roman empire. In both cases, they are marred by the truth, in the case of a the mausoleum, the tears of the subjects, not in grieving their king, but the pain of having to supply the funding for this last great monument in his honor. The Colosseum, as a legacy is a constant reminder of the bloody past of Rome, in which the doors were “stained by blood” so to speak. This symbolism may attest to the idea that all who were entered those doors shared in the bloodshed that was contained within.

The final two phrases are equally visual in content. Again, Jay-Z is questioning established legacies. Here with these second two phrases, though, these are legacies centric to the United States of America, and its specific ideology. The first is clearly aimed at the tradition of Catholicism, otherwise, the use of the word “priest” would be completely unnecessary. This clear targeting of Catholicism may be, in part, symbolic of the entire institution of perceived Christianity. The use of Catholicism as a symbol of a Christianity in a country that was founded on Protestant beliefs, may be attributed to the sheer age of the traditions of the Catholic church. When it comes to human institutions, there are few, if any, older or more influential than that of Catholicism. In using Catholicism to portray Christianity, the rhetor may be actually attempting to the second tradition being attacked is that of American values such as freedom, and equality. Here, the reference to thanksgiving being “disguised as feast”, questions something that is viewed as pure and incorruptible by many Americans by recalling the history behind the attitude and belief system of the first Americans who established the tradition of Thanksgiving. The first feast was to express gratitude to the Native Americans who helped the first immigrants survive in their “New World”. But as history has told us, there really wasn’t really a sense gratefulness, since the same immigrants that relied on the Native American’s to survive felt that they were “superior” to them, as well as if God had preordained the land that belonged to the Native American’s to be theirs (manifest destiny).

As the rhetor continues, he mentions yet another established tradition when he says “rolling in the Rolls Royce Corniche, only the doctors got this, I’m hiding from police”. This is again establishing a tradition which juxtaposes himself with a medical doctor. As a man with no real formal college education, Jay-Z isn’t supposed to even know what a Roll Royce Corniche is. In fact, as a black man with only a high school education, if he is seen driving that car, he is a target for harassment from the police, which is why he’s “hiding from the police.” Interestingly enough, he takes the first of two pauses here, one of which is a full measure in length, or two upbeats and two downbeats in length or the second which is only three-quarters of a measure in length. These pauses serve to both separate and connect the two phrases they sandwich. It separates the ideas within each phrase, but it clearly delineates each as specific thought. The first thought questioned is the tradition of wealth, or more specifically, the path one should take to achieve wealth. Traditionally, a successful medical doctor is seen as a person deserving of wealth, and the contrast between the rhetor and such a person encourages the listener to question the tradition, since the rhetor has things that only a doctor should. The long, full measure pause helps to punctuate this idea, and separate it from the next statement.
The next phrase, “cocaine seats, all white like I got the whole thing bleached” ties into the idea of why the rhetor is hiding from the police. The imagery chosen to describe the whiteness of the seats, specifically the word cocaine, denotes an element of crime, or something illegal. This thought ties in well with the second part of the this particular phrase, “all white like I got the whole thing bleached” which gives the connotation that there was something TO be bleached. In other words, it denotes that something had to be removed, something dark or at the very least not as pure as white. The pause at the end of this piece of rhetoric helps to emphasize it, so that the impact of it lingers a bit as the rhetor then compares his lifestyle to “drug dealer chic”. This is a play on the ideal of “chic”, which is synonymous with being “stylish” or “smart” as a function or element of fashion. Whether or not the rhetor is referring to himself and his past as a drug dealer who is now fashionable or popular, or a reference to the previously aforementioned “cocaine seats” in his Rolls Royce Corniche. The next line suggests the former more than the latter.

The rhetor then asks the question, “I’m wondering if a thug’s prayers reach.” This ties into the overarching themes of whether or not God exists, but also it’s an interesting question for those who placed the label of “thug” upon others. If a thug is still capable of praying to God and being heard, then this label “thug”, which is intended to denigrate those it’s placed upon as being inferior, is rendered moot. Again this is yet another instance where what is considered traditional is questioned, though in this case, that which is considered traditional is questioned within the realms an ideology of the accepted tradition.

The next line is a direct reference to the teachings of Socrates as outlined by Plato in Euthyphro. “Is pious pious cause God loves pious?” This idea may stem back to the idea that those who would levy the judgment of “thug” against others are traditionally pious, but as postulated by Socrates in Euthyphro, many of those who feel that they are righteous or “pious” could not even define the concept themselves. Again the theme of questioning tradition surfaces, and this theme is continued in the next line, “Socrates asked whose bias do y’all seek?” The use of the word “bias” suggests the same dilemma faced by Socrates and Euthyphro in defining piety, since the belief that piety was anything that was loved by the gods, meant piety or goodness was subject to the whim of the gods, and the Greek gods were notoriously fickle. However if the gods loved pious because it was pious denotes that pious is an absolute, and isn’t subject to change. To determine which is true, Socrates essentially said it depended on whether you felt piety was absolute or relative, or the “bias” that you sought. In fact, Socrates himself was a philosopher known for his questioning of the normative traditions of his society, so much so that he was often referred to as “a gadfly”.

Also of note is the sudden speed used to deliver the line “Is Pious pious cause God loves pious?” This line may have been delivered speedily to emphasize the rhythmic nature of the sentence itself. Other purposes are possible though not readily evident.

The rhetor continues with the line “All for Plato, screech. I’m out here balling, I know y’all hear my sneaks.” This is a metaphor that uses onomatopoeia as a clever means of word play. Here the sound “screech” echoes the sentiment of basketball players, who in the sudden stops and turns while playing basketball produce a screeching sound from their rubber-soled athletic shoes. The metaphor is in the double entendre in play, for balling can also be a slang term for someone who is doing well financially.

The verse ends with an interesting comparison, when the rhetor says “Jesus was a carpenter, Yeezy he laid beats, Hova flow the Holy Ghost, get the hell up out your seats, preach”. This line hearkens back to the chorus, in which a god was not greater or lesser than one man. Jesus, in Western Christian theology, is viewed as either God’s Son, or God within the doctrine of the Trinity. Jesus, in the gospel account of his life, was a carpenter. Here Jay-Z draws a direct correlation to his collaborating partner, Kanye West, by saying that he “laid beats”. Here beats are metaphorically being compared to bricks, which is more of a comparison than a contrast. Both a carpenter and a brick layer are responsible for creating the frame of a house or structure. In this comparison, Kanye, who is a producer, creates the framework for Jay-Z, who in this metaphor is “Hova”, which is a clear reference to the anglicized form of God’s name. This in conjunction with the idea of the words leaving Jay-Z’s mouth being personified in the form of the Holy Ghost, completes Jay-Z’s version of the Trinity. This is yet another example of a metaphor that questions the traditional Christian theology along the same framework established by the opening chorus which used cyclical logic to and rhetorical syllogisms to equate a man to a god. The theme of questioning tradition is again continued here, since what is being spoken here would be considered blasphemy within an established system of theology. The theme of theology and church is continued by the next line, “Get the hell up out your seats, PREACH!” This calls to mind imagery of “testifying” which is common in many different denominations of Christianity. The choice to use the word “hell” within the phrase “get up out your seats” is interesting in its brazenness, since the hell is clearly a theological term, but in the rhetor’s use here, it is counter to the theologically prescribed use. Also to be noted here is the pause that the rhetor places between the last sentence and the word “Preach!” which is immediately followed by the repeating of the chorus, which leads one to believe that the chorus itself is a sermon of sorts, which is a juxtaposition in and of itself with the belief that there is “no church in the wild”.

The hook happens again, and as before, once the rhetor reaches the “revelatory ideology” of a man being equal to a god, the drums become quiet or stop and a string/woodwind selection reinforces the nature of this sentence.
The next rhetor has a short piece which forms the bridge. Again the theme of religion and questioning it’s established traditions surfaces, this time by means of comparison and metaphor. The rhetor starts off, “I live by you, desire. I stand by you, walk through the fire.” Here the thought may be that the rhetor lives by desire, essentially doing what he wants as opposed to what societal standards or even religion may dictate to him. Note that the rhetor claims he stands by desire, even if it means he has to “walk through the fire”. Perhaps the rhetor feels his stance of doing what he wants despite of how society or tradition views it causes criticism or fiery opposition, or maybe this shows the extent to which the rhetor will go to get that which he desires. The latter statement seems to be supported by the line “I live by you, desire” and the following line, “your love is my scripture”, which maybe a comparison between this particular ideology and the more “traditional” ideology of Western religion. Another interesting choice by the rhetors is the same inclusion of the string/woodwind compliment which emphasizes this one particular line in the same vein as the line “what’s a god to an non-believer who don’t believe in anything?” Again this emphasis may well be an attempt by the rhetors to make this appear to be “revelatory” in nature, or an example of enlightenment.

The next line is “Let me into your encryption”. An encryption is a system designed to encode a message of some sort. This encoding then only allows those who understand it to comprehend the message. Perhaps the rhetor is asking to be allowed into the personified desire’s system of encoding, or is suggesting that in desire the system of standards is built by those who are in it, and thereby not comprehended by those on the outside of it. This supports the idea of “walking through the fire” of the criticism of those outside of the system or “encryption”.

The next line is spoken by the rhetor Kanye West, “coke on her black skin, made a stripe like a zebra, I call that jungle fever.” This is an interesting start to a verse which questions traditional norms since the established norm of what is termed “jungle fever” is traditionally a romantic relationship between a black person and white person, yet this is clearly involves a black woman and the rhetor, who is a black man. The invocation of a “jungle” and a “zebra” continues the theme of the wild, in essences recalling it to the mind of the listener. The rhetor continues with the line “you will not control the threesome, just roll the weed up until I get me some”. The theme of drugs and sex continue here, which sets up the next line of “We formed a new religion, no sins as long as there’s permission.” This statement within the context of the previously mentioned relationship of cocaine and black skin, as well as the mention of a threesome is clearly against the traditional aspects of a Western religion and theology. Therefore, as mentioned, this new religion is formed, win which the only sin is not seeking permission. The rhetor continues this thought in the next line, “and deception is the only felony, so never fuck nobody without telling me”. This is a continuation of the theme of a new religion of polyamoury, or the practice of “ethical non-monogamy”, which is also against the doctrine of Western religion. Also of note is the fact that the seriousness of deception is reinforced by the sudden stop of the music behind the rhetor as he left to speak this “truth” acapella.

The next line, “Sunglasses and Advil, last night was mad real. Sun coming up at 5 a.m., I wonder if they got cabs still?” continues the narrative started in this verse. Kanye in this narrative, is taking what is traditionally called the “walk of shame”, or the walk home the morning after a one night stand. Intriguingly enough, the rhetor claims the night was “mad real”, perhaps calling the traditional ideology of Western religion and theology that he’s comparing it to as not feeling “real”, or as if it isn’t as fulfilling as his polyamourous lifestyle. The rhetor continues with his narrative of the night before, “Thinking of the girl dressed in all leopard, who was rubbing the wood like Kiki Shepherd.” This is a direct reference to Kiki Shepherd, long time co-host of Showtime at the Apollo, a popular television show centered around the same event that took place at the Apollo theatre. The reference to “rubbing on the wood” is a double entendre, playing on the slang term of wood.
The next line sums up all of the rhetor’s arguments so far, “two tattoos one read ‘No Apologies’, the other said ‘Love Is Cursed by Monogamy’”. Here we see themes of non-monogamous love, or even desire, being unapologetically revered in a religious fashion, which run contrary to the established system of norms already established by Western theology.

The final lines of the song before the repeat of the hook are: “That’s something that the pastor don’t preach. That’s something that a teacher can’t teach. When we die the money we can’t keep. But we probably spend it all because the pain ain’t cheap…preach!” Here we see the same repetition that occurred at the outset of the song, where syllables and pauses are used to demarcate important phrases. Here in concluding his verse, the rhetor sums up the entire song with the idea that finding “truth” or “enlightenment” can’t be taught by those who we traditionally look to for answers. The rhetor may also be suggesting that the traditional methods shouldn’t be trusted, but as he has formed his own religion each person should do the same.
Finally, Kanye West makes the same statement of “Preach!” that Jay-Z had before the final repetition of the chorus, reinforcing the concept of the chorus being like a “sermon”, which ties in with the theme of “forming one’s own religion” even more strongly.

No Church in the Wild covers many complex themes, but as a close text analysis shows, two underlying themes run throughout the song. The first is the theme of questioning traditions, particularly those of Western theology and societal standards. This theme is coupled with the ideology of creating one’s own standards of living. The second theme is existential in nature, and is carried throughout the entire song by the chorus’s cyclical logic. These two themes, while supplemented by others throughout the song, are the most dominant that are developed within the song.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

For most hip-hop enthusiasts, the year 1988 signaled an paradigm shift in the culture. At its birth, hip-hop as a culture was far different from what it has evolved into today. Hip-hop’s roots were in New York, and it started as a movement to provide a creative release for young artists who were struggling to fight past the bonds of poverty in the inner city. Through the culture of hip-hop and each of its disciplines of emceeing, deejaying, breaking and tagging allowed young poets, musicians, choreographers and painters to find creative, non-violent expression. Instead of forming gangs and fighting one another, hip-hop provided a way for those in the inner-city to show pride in their various blocks and to “battle” one another with their talents, and not with their fists or worst.

However, hip-hop as a culture had begun to spread outside of New York, thanks to the rise In popularity of the music video. All over America, young men and women saw the music of hip-hop and began to emulate it. Not only did they begin to emcee, but they also began to add their own unique experiences and cultural tastes to it. This led to the creation of rap, and it’s many different genres. The evolution of rap can be seen even today, from the southern “club” rap of Houston, Memphis and Miami, to the “soul” rap from Chicago and Philly. However, there was one genre of rap that completely engulfed the artform, one that threatened to choke it out as an artistic expression completely. The genre was “gangsta rap”, and its origins were from a group that came “Straight Outta Compton” called NWA.

Gangsta rap was powerful for one reason and one reason only: there was nothing else like it. It was crass, rude, misogynistic, but most importantly, it shone a light on an impoverished system which was warping and tormenting those forced to live under it. In Compton, and other major metropolitan cities like it, the poor were herded into specific areas of town. This effectively ensured that the level of education in those areas was low. In each of these areas, the crime rate was high, and many of the youth who grew up in these areas, unlike the youth in New York, didn’t have the hip-hop culture to turn to. The result was gang warfare which, in the eighties became even more inflamed by an increased distribution of drugs throughout the community.
In 1988, NWA with their debut album Straight Outta Compton cast a light on the bleak situation they and others like them faced daily. The resulting popularity of the album was a shift in the way that rappers in each subgenre of rap presented their stories, poetry, songs, and themselves for the next twenty-six years. Many today feel that NWA paved the way for rappers such as Biggie Smalls, Jay-Z, Lil Wayne, T.I., and Rick Ross, each of whom have glorified their own past criminal lifestyles of guns, drugs, and misogyny in their raps. With song titles such as Who Shot Ya?, Ten Bricks, Junior M.A.F.I.A., Rubberband Man and lyrics that not only glorify the sale of illegal drugs, but clearly presents it as being a means to a very lucrative end, it’s clear that N.W.A. created a fantasy theme that still exists in the world of hip-hop today.

However despite N.W.A. and hip-hop’s many critics, no one has clearly defined the fantasy theme that was created by N.W.A., though many would quickly agree that it exists. With this critical deficiency in mind, I’ve decide to perform a fantasy-theme analysis, not on the overall genre of hip-hop, but on the titular song from the Straight Outta Compton album. Why this one song? As many hip-hop enthusiasts would agree, the Straight Outta Compton single, while not the first gangsta rap song, did still signal the beginning of the “gangsta rap” era. As already previously discussed, this era and genre of rap is characterized by references to criminal activities. To this fact, Straight Outta Compton is no exception to the rule. However further analysis of Straight Outta Compton might reveal that the fantasy theme it created is deeper than just the standard glorification of crime.

A fantasy theme criticism is a rhetorical criticism technique based upon symbolic convergence theory, which states that symbols create reality, and that individual meanings for symbols can converge to create a shared reality. The “fantasy” in this case is that created reality, which can then be shared among a group.
Straight Outta Compton is a composite of three rhetors, though it is solely by two people. Ice Cube, the first rhetor, wrote his and Easy E’s verses, and MC Ren wrote his own verse. This is worth noting, since there are similarities in the characters, actions, and settings between the two verses penned by Ice Cube. However, there are three major themes that appear in all three verses of Straight Outta Compton. The first is that of power and dominance. The second major theme is cunning, or guile. The final major theme is an almost nihilistic lack of concern for anything or anyone.
The main characters that can be identified are the three rhetors, Ice Cube, MC Ren and Easy E; a group of faceless people who are portrayed as antagonists of each of the rhetors; the police, which interestingly enough is constructed as separate from the rhetor’s antagonists and the listener, which alternates between partial observer and faceless antagonist. The faceless antagonists are framed in multiple different ways, many of them vulgar and obscene, but the recurring similarity between them is their lack of intelligence and power, or strength. In several instances, the antagonists are called “dumb”, and in another instance, they’re described as being “pussy ass niggas” or weak. In each case, the ending for each of this antagonists is the same, they are bested, and lose, either money or even their lives. Just this framing alone helps to construct the three aforementioned major themes. The scene rarely changes, as stated by each of the rhetors, the scene is the city of Compton, more specifically the “streets” of Compton, as stated by MC Ren.
The opening states that the listener is about to “witness the strength of street knowledge”. This theme is carried throughout the opening verse. Ice Cube, the first rhetor, speaks almost exclusively mainly about his own strength as a form of power. In fact he makes several references to his prowess as a fighter. He “has a sawed off, and bodies are hauled off” and if antagonists ”start to mumble, they want to rumble, (he’ll) mix em and cook in a pot like gumbo”. Throughout the verse, Ice Cube glorifies, not violence and crime, but his own power and cunning. It’s constructed as being such that only the police can stop him (“the police are going to have to come and get me, off your ass, that’s how I’m going out.”) The theme of power is continued throughout the song. In his verse, MC Ren makes references to himself as being “ not the right hand, but the hand itself” as well as his “control(ling) the automatic, for any dumb motherfucker who starts static.” The theme of power and dominance surfaces again when he says, “ Easy E continues this theme of power when he says “when I see a…cop, I don’t dodge him” and again when he says “If I ever get caught, I make bail.” In each of these instances and in more like it, the theme of power and dominance over antagonists is constructed.

Ice Cube not only brags about his strength, but also his cunning, when he says “give it up smooth, ain’t no telling when I’m down for a jack move”. This theme of cunning is reinforced by the following two rhetors, both who speak separately about their ability to commit murder without getting caught. MC Ren refers to himself as a “villain” and paints a scene where the listener is “the witness of a killing, that’s taking place without a clue.” Another interesting word choice is when MC Ren says, “once you’re on the scope your ass is through”. This implies that he’s killing his enemies from a distance while he himself if either hidden from their view, or they are unable to reach him. In another instance occurs when Easy E says he’s “smart”, and tells a story of a cop looking for him when he says “I’m smart lay low, creep a while, and when I see a punk pass, I smile, to me it’s kinda funny, the attitude showing a nigga driving, but don’t know where the fuck he going, just rolling”. Again, the theme of cunning and guile shows, such that for Easy E, the cops looking for him, which should be threatening makes him smile. This again feeds into the theme of cunning, and the fantasy that antagonists, victims, and even the cops are no match for the rhetors. The theme of striking enemies from a hidden or safe position resurfaces here: “Never seen like a shadow in the dark except when I unload, see I'll get over the hesitation and hear the scream of the one who got the lead penetration. Give a little gust of wind and I'm jetting, but leave a memory no one'll be forgetting”. This idea of being safe from antagonists or adversaries again is a construction of the theme of cunning. In both cases, the characters who are given the role of adversaries are not even capable of launching an offensive, thereby rendering themselves victims because of their lesser intelligence.

The third theme, the one of nihilism, or a complete disregard on the part of the rhetors for other human beings as well as their own well-being is constructed in several ways. First the word choice throughout the song. There is an extensive amount of disparaging language used to describe all of the characters. As mentioned before, the faceless antagonists are described with terms such as pussy ass niggas, dumb, motherfucker, and bitch. It should be noted that the police are never described as any of these things, though they are called punks by Easy E. This is a relatively important detail since the rhetors refer to themselves in the same manner as they do the faceless antagonists. Ice Cube says that he’s a “crazy motherfucker” from “a gang called Niggas With Attitudes” while MC Ren calls himself a “bad motherfucker” and Easy E says he’s a “dangerous motherfucker raising hell”. Each of the rhetors paints himself in this light as a character. It’s also of interest to note that two of the rhetors use the phrase, “I don’t give a fuck”, portraying themselves as nihilistic characters. This theme of nihilism suggests that even though the character of the rhetor is smarter and stronger than his antagonists, he’s ultimately no different. Whether this speaks to how the rhetors as people feel that the rest of society views them or is just a result of identifying with antagonists due to geographic similarities, i.e. the antagonists and the rhetors are both from Compton can’t really be ascertained. Further proof of nihilism are the lyrics, “So what about the girl who got shot? Fuck her, you think I give a damn about a girl? I ain’t a sucker.” While many would argue this is more misogynist than nihilist, the argument could be made that throughout the rest of the song, the same disregard for the other characters described can be seen throughout the song, from the disregard for other men, the law, the police, and the welfare of the rhetors themselves. This theme is in line with the statements made by the artists that their lyrics are a reflection of life in Southern California, and not just a glorification of violence. The artists may have realized that, as Social Attribution theory states, that society as a whole didn’t see their individual talents and abilities due to attribution error. The argument could be made that his led to the artists becoming nihilist in their views and the expressions of that view.

As previously stated, Straight Outta Compton wasn’t the first gangsta rap song, but it did establish a fantasy theme that came to be repeated throughout the genre of rap, namely the fantasy of power, dominance and cunning being shown on the part of the artists. At any rate, when comparing the established fantasy theme of Straight Outta Compton to those who followed it, I would argue that one find the same themes of power, dominance and cunning. However, the nihilist theme that permeates Straight Outta Compton doesn’t appear in much of the gangsta rap that followed. That nihilist theme separates the work of N.W.A. from those that followed it.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

We Made It In America?

George Zimmerman shot Treyvon Martin because he looked "suspicious". Everybody is talking about it. And in every conversation, I hear the same theme: disappointment. Disappointment in the justice system, disappointment in the death of a young black man who will now never get to fulfill his potential, and more importantly disappointment in America.

I hold no illusions about this country in which I live. I understand that it is the most free country in the world, culturally and socially. But my experience with America will always be bittersweet. My "freedom" in this country will always be tainted, and that is solely because I am naturally darker than the majority of the people in this country.

When you say it like that, it almost sounds ridiculous, as if I'm paranoid. Why would anyone treat me differently because I'm black? That's a question I wish I had an answer to, and one that I realize that I'm going to have to answer for any sons or daughters I may have. Why? Why are people suspicious of me because of my skin color? Why are more people like me incarcerated? What did we do to this country to deserve this?

I don't know what I'll say on the day my child asks me this. Maybe that's part of the reason I don't want or have children. I can't find suitable answers for these questions myself. How will I instill in my child the proper sense of right and wrong in this country? In this country, where black Americans are scrutinized more thoroughly than their white counterparts? In this country, where being non-white is enough to justify being stopped and harassed by the police? In this country, where a man can shoot a seventeen year old kid who defended himself when pressed into a corner? There is no justice to be had in this world. I fully realize it. Treyvon Martin's parents will never see their son smile again, never see what he will become, never know what he could have accomplished no matter what happens to George Zimmerman. I accept that fact. But that the system designed to protect all of it's rightful citizens would idly stand by and refuse to act based on a poor interpretation of the law has left me with so many more questions.

Do government officials really care about black people as constituents? We're only 13% of the population. With the exception of areas with large pockets of black constituents, why should they? Do they look at us, particularly the young male versions of us, and think, "they're all just criminals anyway"? What kind of system is that?

I do my best to be levelheaded, objective, rational, intelligent about such matters, to approach them from the standpoint that the majority of people are not so biased that they can only see what they want, that many people today are open-minded. But after incidents such as this, or the incident in Jackson, Mississippi when a group of white teens purposely said, "let's go f*** with niggers" (See that story here) I don't know how objective I truly can be.

In my mind, I'm drawn back to something that Malcolm X said in his last speech before he was assassinated. Malcolm X said,

"Whenever you and I are discussing our problems we need to be very objective, very cool, calm, collected. But that doesn't mean we should always be. There's a time to be cool and a time to be hot. See, you got messed up into thinking that there's only one time for everything. There's a time to love and a time to hate. Even Solomon said that, and he was in that Book too. You're just taking something out of the Book that fits your cowardly nature. And when you don't want to fight, you say, "Well, Jesus said don't fight." But I don't even believe Jesus said that."

Monday, February 20, 2012

What follows is a REALLY long Neo-Aristotelian criticism of Malcolm X's last speech a week before he passed. You might want to get some snacks.

The 1960’s were a very turbulent time in American history, particularly in Black American history. The 1950’s and 1960’s encompassed a struggle against segregation for Black Americans, a struggle which saw the formation of organizations such as the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) , the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and the “Nation of Islam”(NOI) movement. Each of the varying organizations were distinguished from the other by their philosophical beliefs in how the goal of equality would be reached.


The Nation of Islam movement rose to notoriety behind one of its chief advocates, a fiery young man named Malcolm X. Malcolm X was instrumental to the NOI because of his speaking ability, his keen intellect, and his courage in doing what he felt needed to be done. For many who lived through that era, he was a polarizing individual. The general perception of him among White America was that he hated all Whites and wanted to kill and remove them. His ideals of self-defense were touted as calls to violence by most of the media, and many of the Black American leaders in the Civil Rights movement were in favor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s ideology of non-violent protest.

As a member of the Nation of Islam, Malcolm X taught and believed that Black Americans, if they could not attain to freedom and justice, should fight for it “by any means necessary”. However, near the end of his life, Malcolm X experienced an interesting change of heart. After being taught by Elijah Muhammad (a central leader in the Nation of Islam) that the white man was a “blue-eyed devil” who, being inherently evil, could never come to know God (Allah) or even be a Muslim, Malcolm X rejected this belief after an educational trip overseas. His rejection of this belief, coupled with his discovery of hypocrisy on the part of Elijah Muhammad, and growing tensions within the organization, led him to reject the entire belief system of the Nation of Islam and convert to the Sunni sect of Islam. His turning away resulted in the Nation of Islam threatening his and his family’s life on numerous occasions.

On February 14, 1965, Malcolm X gave his last public speech in Ford Auditorium. Previous to this speech, on August 28, 1963, a massive peaceful protest had been staged in Washington, which culminated in Dr. King’s famous “I Have A Dream” speech, which called for equality and justice non-violently. This protest led to more and more Black Americans throughout the South mobilizing for equality non-violently. Though no longer a member of the Nation of Islam, it was no secret that Malcolm X did not belief in peacefully standing by while violence happened around him. In fact, Ebony magazine published a picture of Malcolm X shows him standing in his house, with an M1 carbine, peering out of the window of his home. Malcolm was known for his stance that violence should be met with violence.
The morning before his speech, an attempt had been made on Malcolm’s life and the life of his family. The home that he, his wife and his children lived in was firebombed while he and his family slept. Malcolm was able to escape, along with his family, but only with a few clothes and other possessions. The firebombing took place in February 14, 1965. That night, Malcolm was scheduled to speak at the Ford Auditorium, in his hometown of Detroit. This was the last speech that he gave outside of New York before he was assassinated on February 21, 1965.

Rhetor (Speaker)

Up until the point when Malcolm X left the NOI, he had been solely speaking about their beliefs in his speeches. These included beliefs that white men were creations of a scientist called Yakub, and that Black people shouldn’t just be segregated, but that they should separate entirely from America and form their own nation independent from the American government. However, after he and the Nation of Islam parted ways, Malcolm, in his speeches and in interviews and conversations with friends, showed that his personal philosophies had changed greatly from those displayed in his previous speeches. He himself said he had been a “ventriloquist’s dummy” for the Nation of Islam for twelve years, and he regretted that what he had said and done as a “Black zombie”. Malcolm X had come to realize two things: that all white men were not devils, nor did they all have ill intent towards him and the Black race, and secondly, he’d come to realize that the general public viewed him as racist and hateful because of his time spent as the sounding piece of the Nation of Islam. Further, Malcolm no longer sought for the complete segregation of the Black race, but rather, for integration and equality, as evidenced by his reaching out to the leaders of the Civil Rights movement in 1964, an action he had until then refused to take.
The change in Malcolm X’s viewpoints led to him fighting to change his image, often blaming his previous actions on Elijah Muhammad’s interference. For instance, in 1964 when he reached out to leaders of the civil rights movement he was quoted as having said that Elijah Muhammad had previously prevented him from supporting their cause.


The event at which Malcolm X spoke that night was actually an awards ceremony called the "First Annual Dignity Projection and Scholarships Award Night" sponsored by the Afro American Broadcasting Company. According to the program from that night, Malcolm X was the scheduled keynote and final speaker for that evening. The program goes on to state that the Afro American Broadcast Company was “an African American organization that was formed in 1964 primarily to produce radio programs that ‘met with our approval as spiritually free black people’ . The organization began in 1964 to produce and distribute its own radio programs about the African American experience to radio stations throughout the northeastern United States. The organization was formed in response to dissatisfaction in the African American community with the content and character of radio programs produced about African Americans on "white radio stations". The purpose of the event held that Valentine's Day in 1965 was to raise money by selling tickets to the event itself. The money was to be used to provide scholarships to Afro American youth to enter the field of ‘mass communications’. Malcolm X was particularly interested in supporting the African American media at this time because he recognized the importance of his speeches being accurately reported to the public by the media.” (http://www.flickr.com/photos/muycool/2566957647/)

The audience in attendance was one, that according to the program, felt that many of the Civil Rights leaders were “venal and subservient”, and while there is no visual documentation to ascertain the makeup of the audience, undoubtedly, the event itself can help us draw the conclusion that the men and women in attendance were supporters of the Civil Rights movement, the majority of which were undoubtedly Black Americans. It’s to these individuals that Malcolm addresses his speech, and his choice of phrasing and diction only serves to affirm this conclusion. As Malcolm himself states in the speech, he is very relaxed in his tone. He uses several colloquial terms, such as “Good night!” He quotes Bible verses, although he himself is Muslim, which would lead one to believe that he is appealing to Black civil rights activists since the overwhelming majority of them, particularly those that believed in nonviolent protests, were professed Christians.

Invention: Ethos (Character)

Malcolm X begins to build his ethos from the very start of his speech. At the start, he begins to construct a character with an appeal to the pathos of the audience. His first few sentences deal with the attack on his life, which he uses constructs as a means to build upon his own ethos, or character. He mentions that his wife and children were also in the house that was attacked, but that his wife, and particularly his children, understood what he was doing and would rather he continue on his course than “grow up in shame and in disgrace”. Here, Malcolm X is painting himself as a person who will not even let fear for his own life or the lives of his own family to stand between him and his goals, and what he believes to be right.
Next, Malcolm X takes steps to build his ethos in the eyes of his audience. He alludes to the Nation of Islam as the “Black Muslim movement”. This choice of words aligns him more with his audience, since it removed the religious aspects of the Nation of Islam and lowered it to being simply a “movement”, which carries the connotation of it as being a fad, or something that was popular and served a purpose, but would fade as soon as that purpose faded. Also, many of his audience used the term “Black Muslim movement” to describe the Nation of Islam, either derisively or otherwise.

As Malcolm continues speaking, he constantly establishes his ethos by connecting himself to his audience. In another instance, he acknowledges that he is a Muslim. Then he carefully makes an interesting distinction. Instead of using this to set himself apart, by mentioning what he doesn’t believe about the Christian faith, he instead highlights the monotheistic commonality of the two faiths. Malcolm X tells the crowd that he believes in the God who created the universe. He then clarifies the use of the word Allah, saying simply that the Jews called him Jehovah, and “if you could understand Hebrew, you’d call him Jehovah too. If you could understand Arabic, you’d call him Allah.” Here, logos or logic is used to support the established ethos of Malcolm’s character of being similar to his listeners. They believe in the same God, and if they spoke a different language, or were under a different government, they would both presumably be Muslim.

Logos (Logic)

As he establishes his connection to his audience, Malcolm X then refers to an “African revolution”, one that frightens not only the United States, but France and Great Britain as well, since “there are so many people of African ancestry within the domestic confines or jurisdiction of these various governments.” Interestingly enough, Malcolm doesn’t refer to these people as “citizens” of these governments, which would be the case in the United States. By referring to all people of African ancestry as merely residing within the confines of the various governments, he is removing the barrier of nationalism. His intended audience is Black Americans who are struggling for equality in their own country. Malcolm X skillfully removes any allegiances to America or nationalistic tendencies of his listeners by grouping them all together as being of African ancestry and all within the confines of some ruling power.

Malcolm X then pauses to talk about his travels throughout Europe and Africa, and how he had seen the unity and industriousness of Africans around the world that he had not seen in Black Americans, specifically how many of the Black Americans in other countries had turned their backs on the struggles they had left behind. He then contrasts them with the South African refugees he’d met in Ghana, who were still concerned with their compatriots back home. Here is a skillful enthymeme on Malcolm’s part. By comparing the struggles of South Africans with that of Black Americans, Malcolm unites all Black Americans, though during that time there was a divide between the two, in fact, a divide that Malcolm himself addresses later in his speech. Here, the central theme of Malcolm’s discourse, however, is unity, not just nationally, but globally, and by establishing this contrast, he first presents the unspoken idea that Black Americans not in America are still related to the ongoing Civil Rights struggle by proxy, and then by contrasting them with the South Africans in Ghana, he reinforces the idea that they too are just as much a part of a struggle for what he termed “human rights”.

Malcolm continues to call for global unity among those of African descent when he mentions that any one of the members of the audience in attendance could “look as much Congolese as a Congolese does.” He goes on to ask how they would answer for their government’s action in the Congo. This again is an enthymeme, one that places the audience in a strange place. Malcolm X is asserting that because one is American, he supports everything the American government does by default. In fact, he says that they would be unable to say otherwise without going to an extreme to prove they didn’t support US actions in the Congo.

This same enthymeme makes one of Malcolm X’s second points: returning violence with violence in what he terms self-defense. From a civil standpoint, this is an extremely foolish strategy. Blacks in America during the 1960’s were a true minority, both in numbers and in terms of power. However, from a global perspective, one in which those of African and Hispanic decent were a majority, this was a legitimate strategy. Malcolm X never paints this philosophy in the context of the Civil Right movement, however, focusing on the global perspective. When he mentions the violence of the US, every time he mentions their violence domestically, it is in conjunction with their “brutality” overseas. Even in the example he mentions of an incident of violence, in which a sheriff attacked a Black woman, he mentions that he himself was overseas when he saw it. He paints an interesting metaphor of brute force as a “language” and then applies it to the concept of negotiations between two people who don’t speak the same language. As he suggests, understanding and communication can only come about when brute force is met with brute force, but he skillfully phrases it almost playfully when he says, “once you know his language, learn how to speak his language, and he'll get the point. There'll be some dialogue, some communication, and some understanding will be developed.” His point is made even more strongly by his account of the warning he wired to George Lincoln Rockwell. This real life account of violence producing results emphasizes this idea of brute force as a language. Again, when speaking of violence in this context, Malcolm X addresses it almost playfully, ending the statement saying jokingly that he “hasn’t heard from Rockwell since”.
Malcolm X’s continues to call for unity when he condemns the press and the government’s manipulation it. Malcolm first highlights the hypocrisy of the press in its depiction of him, by recalling an anecdote in which a white woman after having spoken to him for thirty minutes is shocked to discover that he is Malcolm X. He uses the story to emphasize his statement: “No matter what the [white] man says, you better look into it”. Later in his speech he again criticizes the press and its handling of the Harlem riots, clearly showing his listeners the bias in how the riots were reported. Then he highlights how a similar bias was shown by the press in its coverage of the bombing of the Congo. Again, Malcolm X is emphasizing the similarities between people of African descent, and deemphasizing the geographic and cultural distance between Black Americans and their African counterparts.


Malcolm X was fully aware of the popular perception of him. Many viewed him as a racist who advocated violence, no better than the White men he actively condemned. In this speech, we can see that instead of just establishing his character at the beginning and then presenting his logical persuasion, he starts off establishing his character and then continues to establish his character throughout the entire speech. Some of this may be to offset the inflammatory nature of the speech itself, or even just part of a campaign by Malcolm X to revamp his image, but in either case, the decision to continue building his ethos is clearly a conscious one, and not by chance.

The speech itself, in the speaker’s effort to promote a global world view often gives examples of a local nature, then compares those to examples of an international level. This again builds into his overall theme of unity among “people of African descent”.


Malcolm X’s style reveals his intended audience. His use of colloquial phrases, the calmness of his delivery, coupled with the simplicity of his words helps him reach his intended audience. As aforementioned, Malcolm X uses several colloquial terms in his speech, and is extremely conversational in the way he talks. He even mentions that he likes to speak in an informal or relaxed manner, since as he says, “Whenever you and I are discussing our problems we need to be very objective, very cool, calm, collected.” Several times, Malcolm calls those in the crowd “brothers and sisters”. This phrase itself invokes the idea of unity, painting a picture that all of those of African descent, and their sympathizers were all united as if by blood.


Video of this speech isn’t available, however, there is audio preserved of it. Listening to the audio of Malcolm X speak, several things stand out. His voice is of a calm nature, which he uses to support the enthymeme he creates stating that approaching things and appearing calm is approaching them rationally or logically. Throughout his speech, the audience can be heard laughing and applauding in response to Malcolm X’s speech. No doubt this speech was tailored to mirror the popular speeches of Southern Black ministers in its informality, wit, and smoothness.


Was Malcolm X truly effective in reaching his audience? At first, one is inclined to say no. History has painted Malcolm X in a cruel light, as a man who was an advocate of violence, a man who wanted to see the destruction of the entire White race.

However, as you listen to the audio of his speech you can hear the audience applauding many of his talking points. One of the main goals that Malcolm X had in this speech was to humanize himself, to remove the image of a man filled hatred and bile towards the White race, and replace it as a man who was willing to fight when he deemed it necessary for survival. As you listen to the audience’s reaction to his speech, it’s clear that he accomplished this goal. They are not silent, or quietly listening to what he has to say, but they are applauding and even laughing at the way he says it. I believe that any Civil Rights activists who were in attendance at this speech would come away with the idea that Malcolm X wasn’t a man advocating violence and murder, but a man who would fight against it unflinchingly in order to protect his family and his people.

As far as creating a sense of unity for those of African descent, it’s harder for one to determine whether or not Malcolm X was truly successful with that goal. Whether or not anyone in that audience viewed the world in a different way is difficult to ascertain. The argument could be made that just by sharing what he did with each member of that audience that he was able to alter their perception, but as we look back through history, we can see that often times the struggle for equality in America, though it members of that struggle frequently made use of the African continent as a symbol, has been focused solely on America. If the focus of this speech was to move