Friday, December 27, 2013

Reinterpreting the Hip Hop Classics | Skyzoo & Fashawn Take On Jay-Z and Nas

Not many hip hop fans will deny that Nas's Illmatic and Jay's Reasonable Doubt are two of the greatest hip hop albums of all time. This makes the task of reappropriating these albums a difficult task. 

But when two of the most promising young hip hop artists (Fashawn & Skyzoo) took on this challenge they did more than just pay homage to the greats, they actually succeeded at bringing two fresh and creative albums to life that are both rooted in their originals yet born anew as two completely different albums. 

What we find even more interesting is the fact that hip hop, now 3-4 generations deep, is now beginning to recreate the classics in the same way that rock, jazz, blues, and country have been doing for years. 


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Ode to Old School Journalism,

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Shameless Guilty Pleasures | Justin Bieber X Chance the Rapper - Confident

Each member of the WUW? crew has his or her own pop music guilty pleasure. John's is Miley, Betty's is Limp Bizkit, Frank's is Diddy, Emily's is Puddle of Mud (which we all make fun of her for), and mine is the Biebs! How can you not like the most swagtastic like white kid since Timberlake? 

Regardless of how much we try to hide these dirty little secrets, sometimes you just have to let it out. So when I heard this track with one of the WUW? team's favorite new rapper out of Chicago - Chance the Rapper - I had to go ahead and reveal my teenage style adoration of the Biebs... just listen to the track and you will get it!

Merry happy holidays!

Friday, December 20, 2013

What if The Weeknd and Phil Collins Made Music Babies? | KES - Audio Justice EP (Album Stream & Download)

We don't know much about this dude but we came across his debut EP @ Okayplayer today. 

KES is able to strangely fuse the 80s synth pop sound with the dark downtempo R&B style of The Weeknd - the kind of music that the guys in American Psycho would dance to at a coked out club and that the fans of classic soul can get down to.

You can hear as much Prince as you can Genesis. Weird, we know, but we love this shit! As a matter of fact we can stop spinning it in the office... we are on 10 consecutive listens.

Stream below and jump on this download link while you still can.

Celebrating Musical Babies,

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Teaching at Texas A&M | Leadership, Learning, and Expecting Great Things from Your Students

Teaching is an interesting profession and teaching at a major university is even more peculiar. I always commend my friends that teach high school and junior high for their dedication to a sometimes thankless profession. They wake up early every day, give relentlessly, grade papers late into the night, and on top of all that, they are active in the life of their school. There is no way I could give what they give and survive. 

The university is a different animal. We are not necessarily responsible for the formation of our students lives. Our students are, in many, ways expected to teach themselves and are responsible for their success or failure. In the social sciences, we as teachers, have a unique opportunity to lead students to a life of deeper reflection and critical thinking. Sociology, specifically. challenges the worldview of students and challenges those structures and beliefs that reside in the realm of common sense. 

However, many college courses have reduced this opportunity to the same regurgitative learning that is expected from standardized testing in high school. Many professors complain that their students are not smart enough, don't try hard enough, can't write, and don't care. This is not true and it is our responsibility to create an environment in which learning is experiential. College students are more than capable and more than willing to push themselves to a deeper and more critical level. But, when college professors do not believe in their students abilities and/or do not push their students to that next level of thinking, they will not experience this transformative type of learning that can change a students perspective. 

This semester I have been teaching Social Global Trends. This 200 level class is occupied by mainly freshman and sophomores from a variety of majors. From preparing the syllabus to delivering the lectures and grading papers, I have been challenged to develop the appropriate balance between challenging my students and lecturing completely over their heads. I debated whether or not to use a stale text book or have my students read the complex theories that address the various dynamics that we face in this era of globalization. I was not sure if they would possess the critical ability to write insightful papers and considered resorting to multiple choice tests. I was nervous about this semester and I think that some things worked very well and other things failed miserably. My students were not engaged in every discussion but when they were the conversations were dynamic. Not every journal lived up to the standard I had set for the class but many exceeded my expectations. 

So what have I learned from this semester? 

1. Leadership:
Water Rises to the Level of it's Source

I read this line in a leadership book a few years ago. In any organization and in any leadership position, those whom you lead will not exceed your level of preparation and dedication. For example, if you want your employees to show up 15 minutes before they are scheduled, you should arrive 30-60 minutes before you are scheduled. Likewise, if you are attempting to motivate your employees to dedicate themselves to learning more about your customers, you will only be able to lead them to the extent to which you know your customers. 

How this applies in the classroom:

1.1. Engaged Lecturer = Engaged Student

I operate a discussion based class. Each day, we have a short reading about different dimensions of globalization and we discuss them in class. If this is done well, the classroom become less of a lecture and more of a conversation amongst engaged individuals. When this is done poorly, the classroom is a stale environment of lifeless conversation and boring lectures.

This semester my mind has often been distracted by my studying for my preliminary exams. Thus, those weeks that I put everything into my lectures, the class discussion was amazing (you know - those classes when you feel on top of the world when 50 minutes are up). The students were engaged and I rarely had to resort to my powerpoint slides to make the key points I had prepared. Student's would engage each other and all I was left to do was play the role of referee. 

However, those weeks that I was distracted by the 75 books I am reading for prelims, the classroom was dull and lifeless. The questions I asked to stimulate conversation were confusing and did not lead to the key points of the text. My responses to students statements lead to dead ends and the students did not engage each other in dialogue. In this type of classroom, I have been forced to lecture as students fell asleep, texted under the table, or scribbled on their notebooks. Fail!

1.2. Depth of Lecturer Knowledge = Depth of Student Learning

If we want students to engage in deep reflective reading, discussion, and learning, then we must put in a greater level of reading, discussion, and learning. Again, students are not going to learn more than their professor, in the same way an employee will not develop a deeper dedication to an organization than the employer. Water can only rise to the level of its source. 

This is where studying for prelims has made me more successful this semester. I was lucky to be assigned a course that directly related to my research area. I study democracy, citizenship, political economy, and globalization. From forming the structure of the class to choosing the readings and delivering the material, I have been able to draw upon a rich source of material that provided a deeper analysis of globalization. I used this material to structure the class and, when spending 40 hours a week engrossed in globalization literature, I was able to deliver material to the class that expanded their understanding of globalization and complicated their simple, common sense understanding of globalization. My extensive reading on the subject gave me to tools to answer different questions and allow the class discussion to flow in ways I did not originally intend.

2. Expect Great Things From Your Students:
4 Ingredients to Excellence in Thinking

This is similar to the leadership of water rising to the level of its source. Students, usually, will not perform higher than what you expect and challenge them to do. I think there are 4 key ingredients to elevate the level of your student's thinking - expectations, motivation, empathy, and feedback.

2.1. Expectations

As teachers, everything about our instruction begins with our expectations of our students. This begins with syllabus construction and reading assignments. As I was preparing to teach this class this summer, my first dilemma was whether to use a textbook or to use primary research sources. At first, I planned on using a textbook because my expectation of students in a 200 level course was that they (1) wouldn't read and (2) wouldn't be able to understand the reading. 

Although this is important to consider, what I have found is that even freshman and sophomores are willing and capable of tackling tough readings, discussing them, and critically reflecting on them in their journals. I am pleased with my decision to use a reader and proceed with a discussion based class. Although some readings may have been beyond their existing knowledge base, they tackled the readings and after a class discussion they were ready to move to a deeper level of thinking. 

My second decision hinged on my decision of whether or not to use a textbook or a reader - I had to decide whether or not to have students write a reflective journal every week or write traditional argument papers. Again, I had to decide whether or not the students would be willing and able to complete such a difficult project.

2.2. Motivation - The Reflective Journal

Teaching students to engage their world critically requires the expectation that they can and then motivating them to step outside their worldview and consider the world from other subject positions. This is difficult for all of us to do and takes much practice and introspection. So the second decision - to journal or not to journal - required me to present the journal and the material in a way that motivated them to reflect on their worldview and assess the dynamics of globalization in a new way. 

The reflective journals are a great motivational tool. I first present the journal as a more authentic learning tool. I present the case that college classes should not reinforce the rote learning of high school. That as a teacher, I should not teach in a way that forces them to regurgitate what I want to hear, rather it should allow them to work though the complexities of the world in a way that makes sense to them.  

What I require is two pages a week in which the compare and summarize the reading and then reflect on them. I give them the freedom to discuss what is most immediate to them - what they can understand. Then I ask them to apply it to some part of their experience or worldview (what do they think about the article? Agree or disagree? In what way does it challenge what they have understood?) This is in many ways more difficult than a tradition paper because they must read everything and assess it. Also, their are no absolute guidelines - this is terrifying because we have all grown to learn within strict parameters and instructions. 

The journals are cumulative (I collect them twice a semester) and afford students the liberty to work through their thoughts as each reading influences their understanding of globalization. 

How effective were the journals this semester?

I was pleasantly surprised at the depth and diversity of insights my students expressed this semester. Even when I failed to provide for a good classroom discussion in a week the journal allowed them to flesh out their ideas. It is amazing to read how the student's understanding of the complexity of globalization developed over the semester and the diversity of ways in which students communicated their ideas. 

This is not to say every journal or every part of each journal met my expectations. A few students did not bother to move past their worldview, did not complete readings, and/or did not put much thought into the journal. These students were the exception and my disappointment was greatly overshadowed by the students that took the project seriously and developed a more critical understanding of the world. Which leads to the third and fourth key ingredients - empathy and feedback.

2.3. Empathy

A natural tendency of many of my colleagues is to focus on the overly conservative, fundamental christian, wealthy, and white composition of the students they teach. I find this to be counterproductive. No individual has the power to change the position they were born into - so blaming them for their privilege and sometimes narrow minded and oppressive worldview does not provided fertile ground for developing critical thinking. 

On the other hand, starting from a spot of empathy provides a greater opportunity for instruction. This is crucial to not only grading but also for using the reflective journal as a tool to develop a deeper way of thinking through the nuances of the human experience. 

It is easy to write of a student as narrow minded and disregard their perspective and thoughts. But, through empathy, we first attempt to understand where a student comes from - their experiences, teachings, family, socioeconomic status, religion, travels, etc. This sets us up to understand instead of condemn and thus provides the opportunity to utilize their worldview to open up other perspectives and experiences. Empathetic teaching allows us to no longer see the subject position as an obstacle and then enables us to use their worldview as a teaching tool. 

So, when a student fails to assess a topic critically and has a hard time stepping outside of their subject position we must engage them in dialogue and present feedback. 

2.4. Feedback

Here is where the journal provides an opportunity for the instructor to raise the level of the water's source. Reading these journals is time consuming and intricate. The journal is only an effective teaching tool if the instructor take time and care to understand how the student is working through the material and provide feedback. The journal provides a rare opportunity for the teacher to actually get inside the head of the student and observe how they are processing the information from the class. Thus, regardless of whether or not the student is "getting it", you as the instructor have the ability to ask further questions, present different arguments, recommend further reading, correct mistaken understandings, encourage students when they are on the right track, fill in crucial details that may have been missed, and express your thoughts on their thoughts. 

This is hard work and if the time isn't taken to give feedback then you can't expect students to put in the same effort on the next journal. If they feel like you didn't read carefully, attempt to understand where they were going, or that you simply judged them as ignorant, they will not be willing to put in the same effort to think critically and engage the material in a creative way. The goal of the journal is to provide an opportunity for the student to engage learning in a creative and open way. 

If we want our students to develop critical thinking skills than we have to expect that they are willing an able, motivate them to be great, empathize with their subject position, and then provide instructive feedback. 

Feedback is an opportunity to raise the level of the source thus raising the level that the water can rise to. In fact, without feedback, the whole goal of of developing critical thinking and changing their view of the world from simple to complex is negated. You can't ask a student to read and think critically if you don't engage their writings critically with empathy and high expectations.

3. Flexibility

I know this post is getting long, so if you are still reading I will keep this short. 

In the middle of the semester I could tell that the reading I had selected had become redundant. Even I was getting bored! I decided to substitute the scheduled readings for three reading on war and the post 9/11 world. These three weeks led to the most lively debates journal entries (about torture, drones, citizenship, democracy, public policy, and many other topics). I couldn't imagine this semester without those three weeks and I think these readings and discussions had a profound impact on the way my students understand globalization and way. 

Further, after returning to the scheduled reading for a week, I came across a speech by President Obama that addressed almost everything we had discussed throughout the semester. This seem to tie the whole semester together and provided a great teaching tool about how to use the readings to critically dissect what we read and watch in the media and presidential rhetoric.

This willingness to be flexible with the reading schedule changed the whole nature of the course. 


This has by far been the most challenging course I have taught. I have learned a lot about myself and what works and doesn't work in the classroom. Every course is composed of a different composition of student, so of course, my suggestions won't work for every class. 

What is most important is our disposition towards our students. Our preparation, knowledge, and dedication set the level of the source in which the water (our students) can rise to. Our expectations set the standard for how we will motivate our students and to what level they may rise. Our empathetic disposition enables us to provide critical feedback that rejects judgement and mindless regurgitation. 

We as social scientists have a responsibility to translate the academic language into a language discernible to the public. We have a unique opportunity to provide experiential learning that relies not on bland facts and theories but transforms the way people experience the world. 

These are just few suggestions and I hope they contribute to our ability to produce better students and better citizens.

Blogging about teaching in an era of globalization,

Friday, December 6, 2013

Music for Mandela | Reflections on Mourning, Equality, and the Prospect of a Better World | Jasiri X - Mandella (Listen to What the Drums Say)

We don't have a whole lot to say that hasn't already been said about, possibly, the most important political figure of our times. The spirit of peace, love, courage, faith, and hope, that Nelson Mandela leaves behind as we mourn his passing, should gives us all a reason to pause and reflect on the possibilities of a world that seeks equality, justice, peace, and love. Freedom, a word that is all too often relegated to a position within the market economy, has become almost empty when we think about our nation's diposition towards the poor, immigrants, minorities, and other people continually disenfranchised by the empty political rhetoric of freedom to operate as economic man. 

We are not economic units. We are fully feeling, believing, hoping, loving, hurting, struggling, communal people, whom long for a better world for ourselves, our children, and those around us that we love dearly. What we are missing, in our world that theorizes us as autonomous units of production and material satisfaction, is the love of those who are not close to us, who we do not identify with, who we don't understand. 

Much of the mourning about Mandela's passing and the celebration of his life is negated globally and in the United States by the disdain shown towards the poor, the unrecognized structure of racial oppression, and the ignorance of economic oppression perpetuated by the United States and the wealthy western world. 

We can not celebrate Mandela's life if we chose to be ignorant of growing inequality world wide, the continuation of racism in the United States, disgust toward providing health care and resources to the nation's and the world's most needy. 

We can not mourn the passing of one of the greatest voice of freedom while supporting endless wars of aggression, justifying torture, facelessly bombing innocent civilians, hatred of Islam, and economic injustice. 

It feels good to say that we love a man that stood for love, freedom, and equality, but this expression is empty as long as we as Americans continue to prosper off the back of dispossessed populations and people. As long as diamond engagement rings are more important that African peace and prosperity, we can not claim to hold the words and actions of Nelson Mandela sacred. As long as we continue to militarily, politically, and economically exploit and destroy the Arab world, we are not worthy to celebrate the life of a man that risked his life so that the world would recognize injustice.

We leave you with a hip hop memorial for Mandela by one of the most important, yet unheard, voices in hip hop and music. Jasiri X continues to supply politically powerful hip hop music. Check out the new single by X and make sure to listen to the powerful words.

Verse 1:
Would you go to prison to gain freedom, or get nailed to a cross to change heathens? Heal the world of this pain you're recievin?Spend a lifetime locked in chains to redeem them? When the children are starvin, would you risk it all to till the garden?

When you're enemies are stealin and robbin, will you build a brotherhood, are you willin to arm them? 

What if justice was illegal, and equality was evil? Poverty would see through the rulin body deceitful.

When the righteous need you, would you fight for your people for the slight of the feeble? 

Through the eye of the needle, was the image of a man. He reached from the clouds, he was givin me his hands. Said he was still alive, but I didn't understand. When you die for your nation then your livin in the land.

When I looked over the horizon, I saw Mandela in a sun that was risin.
He said listen to what the drums say, we are all gonna be free one day.
When I looked over the horizon, I saw Mandela with wings he was flyin.
He said listen to what the drums say, we are all gonna be free one day.

Download here:

Verse 2:
Patience is necessary for greatness. The question is how strong your faith is. Will it matter how long the wait is, if sacred is what source of your strength is? 

The definition of will power, cause real power don't have to steal power. Behind bars can you still build power? And will you stay pure when you finally feel power? 

Mandela, 27 years in hell's cellar, but you can't gel the lyric, you cant kill the spirit. When the children hear it their hearts rise, this is bigger than apartheid, it's our lives. 

It only takes one match to start fires, to light up the dark skies, the flames keep burnin even after the spark dies. Tell me what impact will your life have, when your lasts nights pass will your light last? 

When I looked over the horizon, I saw Mandela in a sun that was risin. 
He said listen to what the drums say, we are all gonna be free one day.
When I looked over the horizon, I saw Mandela with wings he was flyin.
He said listen to what the drums say, we are all gonna be free one day.

If this song is not one of the greatest works of poetry, we don't know what is. Let's take time to reflect!

Blogging for freedom,

Thursday, December 5, 2013

New Orleans Horns & Hip Hop | The Soul Rebels - Power = Power Mixtape (Free Download)

We always love a good instrumental reinterpretation of hip hop music but The Soul Rebels take it to another level with their Power = Power Mixtape. The Soul Rebels take their New Orleans jazz and big band sound and recreate some hip hop classics in a new and invigorating way. 

Stream below and then follow the download link to cop the whole album.

Spotted @ Okayplayer

The Soul Bloggers,

Monday, December 2, 2013

Download Now | Mac Miller - Delusional Thomas (Free Download)

Most of us around the WUW? office agree that Mac Miller is generally overrated. However, Mac takes his game to a new level with his alter ego project, Delusional Thomas. Complete with dark beats and lyrics and a pitched up voice, Miller takes a page out of Madlib's book of tricks. Though Delusional Thomas is no Quasimoto, he may be a doper MC than the real Mac Miller.

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Pitched Up and Beat Down,

Chicago Hip Hop | Add-2 & Khrysis - Between Heaven and Hell Mixtape

Not sure how we missed this November release by one of the WUW? crew's favorite windy city MC's. So we fired our Chicago intern and happily bring to you the new mixtape from Add-2 and the North Carolina producer Khrysis. 

As always, Add-2 hits you with conscious rhyme schemes for social justice and head nodding.

"They closed 52 schools down for real, fuck college start savin for bail" - The Death of Chicago