About Me

5th year PhD student. Music and literature enthusiast. Hopeful romantic.

05 June 2016

lemonade and humanity's ascension into love

Lemonade is spiritual. Beyoncé has gifted us with a pitcher of sweet water. No one reading will adequately describe it. 

I have a fantasy about the album which relates to water, the Aquarian age, love, and conscious relationships.

      Water & Aquarian spirituality. Water comprises about 60% of the human body, and covers 71% of our globe. It goes with the flow. It purifies. It nourishes. It destroys. Its malleable: We can set an intent for our water, and program it so that it infuses our cells with love. We are at the mercy of water. 

These are the images of water I see in Lemonade. I also see water as a metaphor for love and healing.

Even further, these images of water relate to the Aquarian Age that Yogi Bhajan describes in yogic communities. Earth is currently ascending into this age. It will last approximately 2,000 years.

What is it? The Zodiac calls Aquarius the “water bearer.” It is a forward-looking, progressive sign. Aquarius thrives in communities and in humanitarian endeavors.

So, the Aquarian age as a whole, dominated by these principles, will destroy hierarchies—like race, gender, patriarchy, and access to knowledge—that have constricted human relationships and scarred the planet.

In its place, we are creating a unified world. It will rely on community and multiplicity. We will have equal and open access to the truth. We will dissolve creative boundaries. As a result, we will see legions of “geniuses” expressing their fullest potential at the same time.

Most importantly, Maryam Hasnaa teaches that, in this Aquarian age, spirituality will become  anchored in our relationshipsWe’ll no longer claim that enlightenment happens in isolation. We’re going to have to treat each other as if we are all reflections of divinity. 

Because we are.

      A return to love. Beyoncé is devoutly spiritual. I also think that she is well aware of this planetary shift from separation into unity, from fear into love. I suspect that Beyoncé is helping us to usher in the Aquarian age. Both her lyrical content and her promotion of radical healing support Aquarian ideals.

Of course, the album is flooded with water. Lemonade portrays water as a multidimensional entity. A few (very brief) examples: Bey soaking in the tub during “Pray You Catch Me.” Bey’s higher self watching her as she sleeps underwater. We also witness the women’s ritual by the ocean in “Love Drought.” Etc. 

Overall, these images reinforce Beyoncé’s message in her multilayered story about transmuting generational anger/pain/grief in the process of cultivating love. This healing obviously applies to her image of her relationship with Jay Z. 

But Lemonade also reflects the internal healing that we are experiencing as a collective during this time. Like Beyoncé, we are all coming home to our internal truths and to our power. 

It is monumental that Beyoncé grounds her portrayal of healing in the figure of Black woman as the “most disrespected woman in America.” She is granting visibility, a full range of emotions, healing, and hope for a group of women who have been consistently and systemically denied such. I have no doubt that she has fanned a flame in Black women that will encourage more of us to step into our power. 

This healing process will come to exist on Mother Earth, too, as she purges the poison we’ve pumped into her veins and attempts to restore balance to her natural resources. (I especially notice this in the first verse of “Love Drought.” This etheric soundscape reminds me of Michael Jackson’s “Human Nature.”)


      Conscious relationships. Finally, I believe that Beyoncé is using the image of her marriage with Jay Z to bring the idea of a “conscious relationship” into the public eye.

Yes, Bey and Jay are manipulating the media to their advantage, because drama sells. But we are getting a beautiful message. About love, and specifically, about Black love, which we have few spaces to celebrate.

I am inspired by Amoda Maa’s definition of the conscious relationship. She writes:

        When relationship is brought out of the dark ages into the light of conscious evolution, it becomes a potent force for personal and universal transformation. When love grows between two people it reverberates through every cell of their beings and radiates to touch others and the world around them. If we can make our relationship conscious, then we make the world conscious. (Radical Awakening, 162)

A conscious relationship would absolutely work through the stages of grief that Beyoncé illustrates on Lemonade. And, according to Maa, it re-emerges with a foundation based on accountability, vulnerability, honesty, communication, and cooperation – all "Aquarian" ideals. 

Couples have always been inspired by Bey and Jay, and I know they are using their influence--and the renewed strength of their love--to encourage us to grow. We can't be "On the Run" forever. We have to anchor our love for one another into the earth. 

In Lemonade, love is the revolution. We are going to heal this “Love Drought” by sweetening the waters of our souls. Then we will pour that love into our planet which has suffered under senseless tyranny. 

And, remember, it is through relationships that our most radical work will be done: To self, to the "other," and to the world. 


Additional thoughts:

*Beyonce consistently uses the image of her expanded self to help heal, empower, and educate her fans. Each of her albums—especially since 4—has displayed her increasing vocal power and her willingness to try new sounds. This is her soul’s expansion. She has tapped into the infinite creative potential that we all share. 

*So, ultimately, I want to believe that Lemonade is part of an intricate plan. Beyonce will, album by album, elevate the consciousness of her fans so that they create a sense of self-love/devotion (4) and self-expression (Beyonce) that will help them to create healthy relationships (Lemonade). We will grow as she grows. 

*This premise is why bell hooks misinterprets the album when she assumes that Beyonce is somehow misinformed about the systemic nature of patriarchy and racism. We cannot change the world until we change ourselves. Conversely, its only by changing ourselves that we can change the world.

Once we have mastered these transformational processes, we can stand in “Formation” (the album’s cliffhanger!) ready to take on systemic injustice.

(PS: I think that when Jay Z responds to Lemonade, he’ll be showing us how men can heal, too.)

23 September 2015

affirmations for trying times

Every day is a blessing.

I live a life of abundance.

I can change the narrative.

I am grateful for every opportunity.

I freely give and I freely accept love.

I spread light, love, and joy.

I have the power to heal myself.

I am not ashamed of my mistakes.

The past is a myth. My power is the present.

I am flawed and I am flawless.

I define myself.

I do the best that I can.

My body is perfect.

I have infinite potential.

My essence is a gift.

The world needs me to be who I am.

I have the courage to face my fears.

I am never alone.

My emotions are my greatest teachers.

I accept my happiest thoughts. 

I forgive everyone who has hurt me.

Nothing is personal.

My trauma no longer serves me. 

I forgive myself.

I am proud of myself.

I love myself unconditionally. 

I follow the ebb and flow of life.

Everything is working itself out.

Life is easy. 

16 June 2015

rachel dolezal thinks my life is a joke

or, the house on the opposite end of the street

Every New Yorker has a horror story about the housing market. I began moving into my dream apartment shortly before the news about Rachel Dolezal broke. It was in my budget. It had a full bathroom. A full kitchen. Tall ceilings and windows. Plenty of light for my army of plants, plenty of floor boards for my dancing feet. And, most importantly, plenty of space for my books.

As soon as the landlord handed me the keys, he treated me like an intruder.

“This is yours now,” he said. “From now on I’ll need your permission to enter.”

I smiled. He seemed much nicer than my previous landlord. He closed the door. Then, he immediately opened it again.

“Sorry,” he said. “Just one more thing.”

He had created a pattern.

After signing the lease, I visited the apartment twice. It first needed some dusting. On the first day, I opened the windows and burned incense. I removed a stained rug from the floor. I told my boyfriend that I would hurry and just get some freshness into the space, but I was secretly taking pictures, imagining my neurotic interior designs and being able to invite my siblings over for pizza and Netflix.

On the second day, I noticed that there was a new mountain of construction materials that nearly obstructed the hallway to my apartment. In the apartment, my incense had been moved and neatly rearranged. Minute details that the naked eye might ignore. I was terrified and confused. Had it been a ghost? Or, more realistically, did I leave the door unlocked?

My boyfriend spent hours mopping the floor while I naively removed what seemed like the previous tenant’s old kitchenware from the space.

My landlord and his wife saw us moving out trash and greeted us with smiles. In her husband’s absence, the wife quietly asked me where I was from, what religion I practiced, and why I was cleaning.

“It’s dusty in there right now,” I told her. Naively. “I want a clean slate. I want light in my space. I want color and happiness.”

Afterwards, my boyfriend swiftly changed the lock to my apartment.

On that second night, my landlord harassed called my family, whom I do not live with, in the dead of the night. He refused to speak to me, only to argue. Apparently a mysterious tenant was enraged that I had removed most of their belongings from the kitchen. This tenant conveniently noticed that I cleaned out the kitchen shortly after I had departed the unit. When the landlord deflected me to the broker, the broker spun in verbal circles until he hung up the phone.

Once again I was terrified. I felt grossly misunderstood. I felt guilty because they misled me. I felt as if I had invaded a space that was supposed to be mine.

On the third morning, my boyfriend and I visited the apartment for the final time. I asked the landlord to speak to me. He swiftly ducked into a car and sped off. I would see him a few hours later as he lied to the police, and I would feel his manipulation again as his broker sent me a colorful email that night, whose racist language is too painful for me to repeat or even to summarize.

I was lucky. I made it out of the apartment with three bags of clothes and two bags of books I had tentatively moved in. My boyfriend swiftly drove me away. Afterwards, I confronted Rachel, scrolling past the clutter of her controversy that sat on my timeline like old dust.

Rachel believed that she could pass as a Black woman by wearing wigs/weaves and accessories, by making pies and chicken, and by tanning her skin. Among many other things. But, quite frankly, I don't want to read any more articles about her.

I want people like Rachel to understand that being Black woman is not dress-up. Black womanhood is about being haunted. It’s about minute details that the naked eye might ignore. It’s about having the “perfect” credit score and the “perfect” educational history, and still reading as “bitch,” “liar,” “thief.” (Even in a city that has formally forbid racial discrimination in housing.) It’s about being constantly poked and prodded. It’s about strangers demanding that they have access to a space that you paid for through your windows and one-way doors. It’s about them being perplexed about your unwillingness to be accessible 24/7. It’s about being attacked for refusing to live in filth (the city forbids this, too). It's about language that is too hurtful to repeat. It's about taking on guilt that's not your own.

Black womanhood is about being afraid to share your story with the people you love, knowing that your suffering will crush them.

How could anyone think they could perform racial trauma? Why would you want to?

This is also Black womanhood: My entire body hurts as I write. I no longer identify with rage. I can’t sustain it. I wish to never have to write about racism again. I live a beautiful life, I have a job, and I am healthy. I am learning more about myself, about my successes and my failures, and about the experiences of other Black women. Lately, in the face of the overwhelming social media storms about racist events, I try my best to remain grounded, and to encourage others to smile.

But I cannot encourage Rachel. I refuse to let her mockery of Black womanhood to haunt me.

In the words of Toni Morrison, "this is not a story to pass on."

P.S. I never did find the tenant who "shared" my kitchen.

08 June 2015

7/11 is a feminist inside joke

I'm analyzing Beyonce again. Yes, I know, that's what her fans do. I'm also still listening to 7/11. (That's what her stans do.)

Most critics are talking about the amazingly fun visuals, or the amazingly meaningless lyrics. Few are noticing that both parts of the production are conveying a message. Fewer are noticing that the beat on this song is intentionally layered and overwhelming.

Basically, this song is a feminist inside joke.

7/11 is the personification of a woman's ego and, as such, it's laughing in the face of patriarchy.

1) Lyrical content ("Hold that cup like alcohol"). Beyonce is speaking jibberish. But most reviews of "7/11" are getting too distracted the meaning of her lyrics as opposed to how it feels to listen to them. We know we should be feeling once we realize that Beyonce's lyrics have always been simple. Beyonce wants her messages to be clear and direct. If her message is unclear, that means we are focusing on the wrong aspect of her song.

Rather, we must notice that her singing is symbolic of something huge, something that can't fit into one song. Beyonce is singing a set of patriarchal demands about how to "perform" womanhood (and manhood). Patriarchy demands that men and women only act within a certain range of predictable, simple, sexualized behaviors. It's repetitive and boring. It doesn't allow the space for a real narrative.

Hence the reason why 7/11 is garbage. That's precisely the point. Beyonce is embodying patriarchy in order to critique it.

2) Blatant superficiality ("Don't you drop that alcohol!!"). By even daring to make such crap into a song, Beyonce is trying to show us that she knows that patriarchy is ridiculous. She knows her shit is boring (listen to "Haunted" for more on this). She's mocking these's directions - "smack smack, side to side, smack smack," "hold alcohol but don't actually get drunk" - by making them as simple as possible and repeating them back to us like a parrot. She's showing us where patriarchy is filled with nothing but senseless rules.

3) Ego ("I know you care!"). If it's true that patriarchy only allows us to perform flat narratives, then Beyonce makes that further obvious for us by throwing a complex and trill beat on the track. That rap-trap thrill makes us re-play the song even though we know its meaningless. Even further, the bass line and distortions make Beyonce's light voice sound stereotypically aggressive, cocky, and masculine. Beyonce recognizes that taking on a "male" persona (the beat) can allow her more freedoms than her "female" persona (the patriarchal lyrics).

4) Power ("Spinning with my hands up"). In the visuals to the song, Beyonce is egotistical but also carefree. She's proving that women can be confident and still be sexy. Again, she's showing us that patriarchy is, in actuality, meaningless. And she's having fun with it.

This is the part that can be difficult to reckon with. If Beyonce knows that her confidence about a terrible song is enough to convince her fans that its good, then does that make her "manipulative" and "money hungry"? Isn't that what mainstream rap sounds like? Isn't that ultimately what capitalism does (convince us that we need to buy things that are ultimately without value)?

Are we mad at Beyonce or are we mad at ourselves?

At any time we can choose to call Beyonce out on her shit. She's calling herself out on it. This song is quite obviously terrible but also brilliant because she knows how to sell it. She's very honest about wanting to outsell herself, about wanting to out perform herself, about wanting to buy new shiny things. We buy into her antics because she inspires us to co-opt our own identities, to make ourselves feel good and feel powerful.

The best part: Beyonce seems to know that if she can't eradicate patriarchy in one foul swoop, then she might as well beat it at its own game. When she switches to the first person in the second verse, she's starts having a great time with herself. Beyonce is telling us that she's going to act like she doesn't know that you care, just to protect your ego but while simultaneously stomping all over it. She's going to make smacking and waving predictable but also complicated as hell.

The visuals to "7/11" show the impressive technical range that her lyrics and her beat can't fully convey. She also continues to break down the line between "masculine" and "feminine" by wearing clothing that is typically "unsexy" while she dances - baggy sweatpants, boyish underwear, full-bodied pajama suits, Timberland boots. She's also calculatingly exposing her physique and flipping fitted caps flipped into crowns. Yet she's smacking women on their asses and spilling alcohol everywhere... like your typical dude's rap video. (Therefore, by the end of the video, we realize that we're harsher on women for having senseless lyrics.) She's everything all at once.

"You wanna be entertained?" Beyonce asks. "You want to stare at my body? My body can do amazing and intricate things. Just watch me dance my ass off in my ugly socks."

You should try it. It feels so good.

03 December 2014

on the ground

 Brooklyn got the bright lights of surveillance. No Milky Way sparkle. No romantic cosmos stuff. We could barely see stars.

            Tonight, a hovering helicopter chops up the shady silence of Fulton Street. Bug-eyed, with wings like propellers that send small thunderclaps through the air. 

            On the ground, me and my girl LaShonda walk home from the grocery store she work at. Tired. Not saying nothing. I’m thinking about the manuscript I’m writing for my creative writing class. Had a horrible meeting with my professor today. I’m still seeing her nervously blink her eyes when I tell her that I’m gonna write a book for middle schoolers. About growing up someplace in New York that ain’t gentrified. Like the Bronx.

            “That sounds like some solid character development, Paul,” she said. “But what’s the hook here? These racial issues, these characters won’t resonate with readers who aren’t Black New Yorkers.” 

            “What’s wrong with that?” I asked.

            My professor smiled as she handed me back my paper. “Ah. Fair enough. You know what, I think this story will be good for what it is.”

            As me and Shonda turn the corner, our Timberland boots crush the light snow. The pressure makes the snow give away, creating a mush of destroyed hope. And our hoodies armor us against November’s chill. Always have. 

            “I’m so close to getting this Master’s, babe," I say, squeezing Shonda’s hand. “I just gotta wrap up real nice. Then it’s your turn to go to school.”

            Under the streetlights tonight, Shonda looks foreign. A glimmer of Victoria’s Secret lip gloss. A white halo of hard snowflakes. And nobody’s getting past that scowl she has protecting her from prying eyes. Not even me. All she gives me is a silent nod.

            A gun shot rings out. Neither of us flinch. But the voices of protestors marching down Atlantic Avenue sound like something Ma would watch on the nightly news. I imagine their palms raised in the air as they shout, “Don’t shoot!” The blood rushing down from their defiant arms. Their hearts pulsing harder during the discomfort. 

            Another shot ring out. I swallow air. The shot could have come from behind me. In front of me. It could have been me. 

            I feel myself starting to run. Shonda struggles to keep up with my pace. She squeezes my hand, but I ignore it. We’re close. I feel the sounds of the gunshot vibrate in my ears, in my chest. I run faster even though I can’t escape what I’m really terrified of. 

            In my mind I go somewhere, somewhere far away. The sky is purple and gold. I’m flying. 

            But I’m back to reality when I hear Shonda’s hollow boots hitting the pavement at a speedy staccato. Then she slip. Fall. 

            “Paul,” Shonda says, panting, kneeling on her knees as if begging for mercy. “Look what you done did! Help me up.”

            I pick her up by her armpits. She stands up, walking slow like the gunshots done put her in a daze.

            “You look cute,” I snap. “Real fuckin’ cute. Walk like you got somewhere to go!”
            “You look ridiculous,” she replies, “Running in the damn snow.”

            “Speed up.” 

            “No. I’m tired.”

    “We’re all tired!”

            “Oh, shut up!”

            “You shut up!”

            Suddenly we’re silent again as my grandmother’s brownstone creeps up in my peripheral. The front steps look like teeth. Christmas lights electrify the banisters and the door frame. A small photo of Black Jesus hangs from the window. 

            We home. 

            Shonda walks up first, me behind her, holding her waist so she don’t fall again on the slippery steps. Man. I got to finish school good and fast. So I can write my stories. So I can make my Black characters seem real. Make us seem real. 

            I close the door behind us as I hear the scream of an ambulance. Or, a fire truck. Who knows?

            This night of No Indictment sounds like every other. 


(this is fiction. copyright, Kesi Augustine. photo copyright, The Huffington Post) 

14 August 2014

whose monster? remembering mike brown through the legacy of walter dean myers

Last month (7/1), Walter Dean Myers died. By the moment of his passing, he had courageously written over a hundred books about Black youth. Myers used his magic pen to acquaint us with friends and with strangers; to affirm our own existence. He articulated the experiences of Black characters who navigate the streets of Harlem (his beloved hometown), the politics and promise of basketball courts (Game), the possibilities of romance (Love on 145th Street). And beyond. The stories of Myers accepted no creative bounds.

Those characters were realistic and complex. Lovable/despicable. Funny/rude. Airheaded/profound. Confident/insecure. Human. Black humans.

Myers also encouraged us to be careful and close readers. He rejected Black exceptionalism (he believed that we are all radiantly brilliant). So, he taught us about the hard stuff, like the theories of Locke and Hobbes (All the Right Stuff), and the trenches of the army (Fallen Angels). But he also actively encouraged his readers to question their narrators. To ask: Who? What? When? Where? Why? How? To recognize how narratives have the power to enlighten us, and to manipulate us.  

Last weekend (8/9), another powerful narrative about a Black adolescent emerged, this time in the press. Mike Brown (18 y/o) was shot to death by a police officer in St. Louis (Ferguson), Missouri. He was unarmed. He had surrendered. He still died. To some, it might have sounded like the stuff of fiction.

For weeks I have struggled to write even a phrase that could express my gratitude for Myers, an author who has electrified my spirit and the canon of Black young adult literature. But as the tragedy of Brown's death (and the promise of his life story) unfold through the shouts of community protests on Vine, the investigative reporting on Twitter, and the outcry of friends on Facebook, I, too, feel compelled to write. For Brown - like the countless other black men, women, boys and girls before him - is the face of Myers' literature which so strongly portrayed the humanity of his protagonists.

To put it frankly: Brown's tragic misrepresentation was Myers' biggest fear for all of his young readers.

Myers’ most popular novel, Monster, represents this fear. His protagonist, Steve Harmon, struggles with the burden of being labelled a criminal before a judge has delivered a verdict about his alleged crime. Steve is told he’s guilty so many times that he begins to think that he is. He internalizes and emotionally acts out the charges put against him.

Monster bears witness to the real politics that penetrate the lives of Black youth. Unlike Steve, Mike Brown was not involved in a robbery, and yet, he was still subject to a trial. Mike Brown’s death due to racial profiling shows the fatal power of that same stereotype about Black people as inherently criminal. Monstrous.

Unfortunately, historically, the “monster” represents the charges that have always been pressed upon the collective race. Consequently, the earliest developments of literature by Black Americans immediately set out to contradict this branding. Like Walter Dean Myers, writers have consistently used fiction and nonfiction to bear witness to the intricacies of Black life, especially concerning excessive police force and the misreporting of mob riots in the press (sound familiar?).


Women like Ida B. Wells contributed to this literary war against stereotypes. In her famous pamphlet Southern Horrors (1892), she debunked the belief that Black men were “beasts” and “monsters” (rapists). Instead, she revealed how the majority of lynchings were on false charges. Black men were assumed to be inherently violent and guilty, and they were mistreated as such. Later, Charles Chesnutt used The Marrow of Tradition (1901) as the creative space in which he could show the motivations and the psychology of white mobs in ways that the propagandist papers of the South blatantly covered up or misreported. Both Wells and Chesnutt used writing to reveal how false charges against Black populations were used to justify the violence imposed upon their communities.

This legacy has haunted Black literature – Black lives. Remember the horror of Richard Wright’s Native Son (1940), in which Bigger Thomas commits a horrendous series of crimes because he is so afraid of being perceived as that typical Black rapist.

If history shows us how literature can create stereotypes, writers like Wells, Chesnutt, Wright, and Myers show us how writing can also dismantle them. The line between “fiction” and “non-fiction” is not so clearly defined. Literature has offered, and continues to offer, Black writers the creative space to tell their own truths. To continue to ask: Who? What? When? Where? Why? How?

At the same time, our most dominant news outlets have the potential to spin fictive tales. We must pay attention to the language of our “texts” (speech acts, transcriptions from press conferences, newspapers, blog posts, etc.) to decode their statements and their silences.

Like our civil rights leaders before us, our alternative movements show our keen awareness about how images are used to construct narratives about Steve Harmon, about Mike Brown, about us. When we tweet, when we write, we affirm our existence. (see for example, #IfTheyGunnedMeDown).

If there is any silver lining in our emotional turmoil, it is the countless writers who carry on tradition. Who affirm Black lives.

If the language in literature reflects our national psyche (as Toni Morrison has argued) then we need to continue to reject the boundaries of the publishing industry and, by extension, the boundaries of the mainstream perspective on Black boys like Mike Brown. Black girls like Renisha McBride. Black men like Eric Garner. Black women like Marissa Alexander.

May our fallen angels rest in peace.

*I never knew Walter Dean Myers nor Michael Brown. And their deaths have taken place under radically different circumstances. I write not to diminish their passing as merely metaphorical fodder, or to claim the authority to represent their lives, but rather, to show how the dialogue surrounding their lives has deeply impacted me to think critically about the capabilities of literature and language. 

23 March 2014

We Made It(?)

The pyramids at Giza. The great pyramid was the tallest building in the world for over 4,000 years. (source: Chancellor Williams, The Destruction of Black Civilization, p. 72) Today rappers like Pusha T—who has a “Giza” shirt in his Play Cloths line—use Giza to represent the “pinnacle” of Black excellence.

We already know that Jay Electronica and Jay-Z’s “We Made It” (Remix) is hard. But we can choose to interpret the track with optimism or with pessimism.

A Push Forward—“Y'all hella jealous of my melatonin!"

1) Toward a “new” African American history. Both Jays (Jay E./Jay-Z) are fed up with the mainstream history that portrays African Americans as passive and degraded. They offer an alternative approach – they extend our history so it begins not with slavery, but with our ancestors in Africa. Like many African American artists before them, the Jays believe we must free our minds to best understand (and to love) ourselves. Otherwise, we might overly invest in images about our inferiority. We might forget that we have much to celebrate, from our social accomplishments, to our very DNA:

“I’m on my Lupita Nyong’o /
Stuntin on stage, got the 12 Years a Slave,
This Ace of Spaces look like an Oscar!
Black tux, look like a mobster
Don’t make me RRRAAA ya, nigga watch your tone
I come to court with black boxers on,
Y’all hella jealous of my melatonin,
I could black out at any given moment,
I’m God, G is the seventh letter made…”

The imagery equating blackness with the diety is especially important. As Chancellor Williams explains, as Africa became more racially mixed, some Africans with dark skin took pride in their appearance, believing their dark skin was a blessing from the Sun God—“their very blackness, therefore, was religious, a blessing and an honor” (p. 130). In the bars above, Jay-Z recognizes that honor. 

    2) Money as power. The track's title alerts us to the "makings" of slavery. Slaves made the modern capitalistic society that we live in today. Their bodies, according to theorists like Frank Wilderson, were the fuel that capitalism was built on. Even further, slaves created the material bills and coins that filled American financial districts. 

   If we use Jay’s success as model of contrast, his sheer amount of wealth complicates the historical presence of African Americans as creators of money that they could not own themselves. He does not exist to create money for someone else. Like his wife BeyonceJay-Z is rich, and distributes his own image ("I own my own master!") He flourishes in the very system originally meant to keep African Americans from achieving economic success. 

A Push Back—You took your chain… to Jacob?

    1) Africa has a specific history. In an attempt to uplift our thinking about our history of African Americans, we have to be honest about that history. Like Jay-Z, I have the tendency to romanticize “Africa” as that distant motherland from which my ancestors came. But, it’s not always a sign of genius for your bars to go over people’s heads. It’s not enough to vaguely refer to “kings and queens,” “oceans,” and “pyramids.” We don’t fully honor our ancestors if we don’t acknowledge them.

*What about the legend Candace of Meroe of Kush (Nubia)? Supposedly, she was so trill that she sent Alexander the Great running away in fear of the strength of her armies in 332 BC.

*Or, what about the Poro Society? This all-male secret society for mutual aid featured a communal distribution of knowledge and power. Historians like Marcus Rediker believe that mutual societies like the Poro influenced the rebellion aboard the Amistad in 1839. Craig Wilder claims that the Poro inspired the establishments that African Americans created in cities like New York during the 18th and 19th centuries to help them navigate the political realm of an unequal United States.

I have a lot of work to do in educating myself about this history, and I would love for Jay-Z to consistently encourage us to learn specifics, as he does with Mansa Musa on Rick Ross’s “The Devil is a Lie.”

After all, being specific about Africa doesn’t mean that we stop talking about agency, power, and wealth.

    2) Money doesn’t equal freedom. We can also complicate Jay-Z’s line of thinking that having money means that you have freedom. In 2013 alone, we witnessed him have to take a defensive stance in response to the racial controversy with Barneys, in addition to his trip with Beyonce to Cuba. He wrote a letter explaining his rationale concerning the latter, and his freestyle about Cuba, “Open Letter,” bemoaned his inability to take a vacation without it becoming a news headline.  

    Having more money may allow Jay to be more "authentic" than “Mrs. Drizzy,” but that doesn’t situate him above political scrutiny, nor does it prevent him from sometimes bending to appease those criticisms. Money constrains. Or rather, it exposes the politics that penetrate all of our lives. The absence of slavery does not always equal the presence of freedom. 

    3) Nothing compares to slavery. We will always seem to have “progressed” if we compare our behaviors and our relationships to one another to slavery. These are not equal parallels. We must remember that slaves were forced to come to the United States from “the bottom of the boat,” and forced to relate to one another--and to their masters--in submissive ways as dictated by the law. 

If you’re interested in geeking it out any further…