My thoughts about experiencing Ramadan abroad via Essence online
I recently had a former student of mine send me a message that started with “Hey ms. gray dont know if u care or not but I got my g.e.d. today and I don’t know if you remember [student] but he got killed”
My initial thought was CONGRATULATIONS! And how great of an accomplishment it is to reverse a decision that you made at an earlier part of your young life. Then of course, the overwhelming sadness of the loss of a former student.
My “babies” [as I like to call them] are from Baltimore City. The odds are stacked against some of them in ways that would be considered inhumane, if they lived one county or even a street over in some cases. Not only do they have to face these unfair realities but, they also are black. In a society where the color of your skin STILL determines your life’s trajectory, they are the true definition of roses that grew from concrete. They faced each day with an [oftentimes moody] teenage curiosity and optimism that a teacher’s eye easily picks up.
So as I congratulated him and reflected about our class experiences, I felt the impending gloom and sadness about my other student’s senseless death and an even greater sadness that his friend’s great accomplishment of getting his GED will always be connected with the sudden loss of his friend.
Now, almost 5 years since they’ve had me as a teacher, when they send me messages on Facebook or text me that they remembered something funny that happened in our 9th grade class, or that they got an A on one of their college exams, or that they’re thinking of getting a new car, I still feel a great responsibility to engage with and care about them.
No matter how many times they talked too much, fell asleep at their desks, made mistakes while writing or talking, laughed when they should’ve listened, or just were typical high school students, I never stopped caring about them. To all of my former students who read this, I’m proud to have been your teacher and proud of you. To my student who received his GED, continue to do your best for yourself and your classmate who senselessly lost his life. Living 20 years is an accomplishment I’m sick of having for our people. Despite the odds, the real feat is that roses continue to grow from Baltimore City concrete.
In all seriousness, it feels good to write again. Unfortunately my 9-5 takes major brain energy and critical thinking powers so now that things have started to slow down in preparation for summer break, I can explore and become penspired.
Recently, I took some time to listen to a new album, Meek Mill’s x Dreams Worth More Than Money. The new album has lots of features from viral notables like Drake, Future, The Weeknd and of course the object of his affection, Nicki Minaj. Though I enjoyed the album, I’m not here to give it a review. I want to get into a common theme in a lot of rapper’s songs, which I would like to scholastically name the “F*** My Teacher“ theme.
Let’s get into this. Full disclosure, I’m a teacher and any time I hear rappers say “teacher” my ears perk up like they’re my students, especially because I respect the artist’s craft. Unfortunately, that sentiment isn’t always mutual. I’m sure everyone has had “good” and “bad” teachers. I’ve had a few that I didn’t care for and I had many that I really enjoyed and respected. Rappers are no different from you and in this experience. However, they have a means to express themselves for millions to hear and they also have a huge influence on society’s moldable minds, which leads to the following observation.
I can trace the “F*** My Teacher” theme back to Notorious BIG on “Juicy,” when he clearly states in the intro “…to all my teachers who said I wouldn’t amount to nothing… It’s all good baby babaayy.”
- Other examples this theme appear in Jay-Z’s “So Ambitious”
I felt so inspired by what my teacher said,// Said I’d either be dead or be a reefer head,// Not sure if thats how adults should speak ta kids,// Especially when the only thing I did was speak in class. I teach his ass.
- On his new release, Meek says in his song “Cold Hearted”
My teacher told me I would never go far//Seen him last week, he was my chauffeur…
- And on another track,” R.I.C.O.,”
For my teachers that said I wouldn’t make it here I spend a day what you make a year
- Rick Ross alludes to his teacher driving a “piece of shit” in “Holy Ghost”
My teacher told me that I was a piece of shit//Seen her the other day, driving a piece of shit”
How did teachers get such a bad rap in the lives of some of the rap game’s most prevalent? Personally, I can only speak to 3 major factors that could have diminished the student/teacher relationship. First, teachers are expected to simultaneously operate in the present and future. We are expected to push your little boo boo to do their best on their homework, quizzes and tests, while also nurturing their dreams of becoming rappers, professional athletes, doctors, lawyers, basically any and everything. In reality, all students aren’t capable of meeting those harder to reach goals and unfortunately we use the present as a monitor of ambition for students. Therefore at the expense of being realistic, some teachers limit their students ideas about their futures. Secondly, teachers battle numerous distractions each day. Disruptive students, the media, cell phones in classrooms, mountains of paperwork, standardized testing and objectives, the list goes on and on. There are some days that the psychologist and mediator hats took precedence over the encourager and career counseling hats. And depending on your school situation, students may not see their teacher’s nurturing side as often as they would like. Lastly, teachers have personal lives as well. They’re not superhuman. No elaboration necessary.
What does all this mean, 10, almost 20 years after any of these entertainers have been students? Primarily, it means that teachers have a deep and lasting impact on their students, no matter if the student was the class clown or the class president. I’m sure that many of these teachers probably don’t remember these moments or even listen to the lyrics close enough to r ealize that they’re about them, but look at what the future held. Everybody can’t have a dope teacher like Bun B or myself [chuckle]. Some of the most successful people in the music industry are still discussing the negative turned positive impact their teachers had on them.
Lastly, I hope entertainers are cognizant about the message they send to youth. Students respect these artists and hang onto their every word. When convenient [i.e. press conferences, interviews] they encourage youth to do well, stay in school blah blah blah, but then also negatively rap about their teachers. We need these influencers to spread positivity about education, especially since everyone does not share the same educational experience and school can be a positive outlet for numerous black and brown youths. Like your teacher always said “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”
Earphones. 2014 FHD. Starbucks. Wi-Fi. Laptop. I’m writing this from the airport in Istanbul, Turkey in transit to Rome for the Christmas holiday. In the last few hours I witnessed a passenger in front of me faint in the aisle of the plane while the lights were out with 90 minutes left in the flight [she was fine thank God], almost got knocked over by people running to catch a connecting flight, and a few moments ago received a really dirty look from two ladies because I saved my seat at this packed Starbucks with my backpack while I made my order [oh well…moving forward].
Needless to say, I have become increasingly more irritated with airport travel. Airports are daunting for some, especially if you are traveling alone, and especially if you are a brown girl traveling alone [we are a rarity in the world’s airports]. I typically have long layovers of 2 hours or more, so I’m always faced with the challenge of what to do to occupy my time and that usually includes a scavenger hunt for the least crowded power outlet and the best place to sit and have a bite to eat without feeling obligated to talk to strangers.
Just to clarify, I’ve never actually traveled alone. I’ve traveled through airports alone from DC and Abu Dhabi/Dubai, Paris, Istanbul, London, Doha, New Delhi, Bahrain, the list goes on, but someone or “home” is always waiting for me once I’ve arrived. Along my airport travels, I’ve garnered some tips to help with transitioning through some of the world’s largest and busiest airports, especially if you are traveling alone.
Tip #1 | Speak Up
Case and point — these ladies at Starbucks really thought they were going to take my bistro table even with my backpack there, listen, NO. Now of course you want to be tactful and courteous when approaching others regardless of language barrier, but definitely assert yourself. The response might not be what you expected, but at least you made your intentions known and I’ll take a few dirty looks for a nice corner bistro table at Starbucks.
Tip #2 | Establish Personal Space
This tip goes hand and hand with Tip #1. Clearly make your boundaries known. There’s been plenty of times where someone has gotten too close to me in the customs line or cozies up to me as I try to enjoy my quiet, chill spot. Make your presence known in a polite but assertive way. I usually use my personal items like a bag, to put a little space between me and the other person. Also, earphones are the universal symbol for “please leave me alone” so when you encounter someone who is violating your peace, pop in some earbuds, even if you aren’t listening to anything they’ll get the hint.
Tip #3 | Use Manners
First, SMILE! Don’t do the awkward walking while smiling thing, but be friendly and say please and thank you. Manners go a loooong way when you are interacting with different types of people, especially if they are helping you. Remember you are representing yourself, your family and your country. You might be the first [insert ethnicity/background here] that a stranger has encountered. People of all backgrounds can easily perceive kindness, so hold doors, say please and thank you.
Hopefully these tips will help to make your airport travels, whether alone or with others, a little easier.
I’m guilty. I’m an album killer. Charge me. Lock me up and throw away the key.
Death by repeat is upon us once again. New music, especially good new music is a breath of fresh air. The sighs and feelings of disappointment and longing in commercial hooks, beats and catchy radio singles are thankfully washed away by quality lyrics, creativity and profound comparisons and anecdotes. Then, like most of us, I play it to death. Because I play good music to death, I then have to reap the consequences of my actions.
Music fans are still basking in J. Cole’s 2014 Forest Hills Drive release on December 9th. Personally, I’ve been playing the whole album on repeat since the release, and actually playing it as I type this. Feelings of bittersweet remorse fill me because eventually, just like other good albums, I will kill this album. Here are some of the deadly factors for album assassination:
With any new music release, you intend to listen to it with fresh ears. You probably plan time to be able to listen without any interruption. You start a mundane task like cleaning your sneakers or organizing your bookshelf just so you can listen intently. Your goal is to hear every metaphor, every curse word, every ad-lib, every entendre without anyone or anything bothering you because you know there’s a deeper meaning to uncover and many personal connections to make.
Album killers usually commit their crimes in their homes, cars or workplaces, anyplace where music is accepted. Personally, the minute I walk through my front door, music goes on. Therefore, in attempt to remain modest with my album plays, I’ve stopped myself from playing 2014 Forest Hills Drive in my car and try to mix in some other artists to break up the impending monotony.
There’s several weapons used to kill albums. Earbuds, headphones, iPads, basically anything with speakers are obvious weapons, but let’s not forget covert ignorant music that mistakenly fills our heads through radio, social media and our less than musically aware friends who wouldn’t know a metaphor if it kissed them on the lips [personification, I know :)].
After you are properly charged with the crime of death by album repeat or album killing, you face the consequences. Ultimately this means back to your feelings of longing and despair about music that’s out there. As you sit in your holding cell, waiting to be bailed out by your next potential victim, you may start to search for another musical outlet. You might rediscover old classics. Or you could be like me and dedicate time to listen to the D’Angelo & The Vanguard Black Messiah album, only to find with the regret that the cycle then repeats itself.
Oh the inhumanity, such a vicious musical cycle! [clutches imaginary pearls]
Yesterday, I spent the day exploring the local street culture here in Dubai courtesy of
Sole DXB. I know you’re probably thinking, wheeet? Street culture where? Personally, one of the most influential parts of being a transport to a young country like the UAE, is depositing some of your culture into what is already there.
As a result of millions of people transitioning in and out of the UAE for employment and/or tourism, and the recent influx of research through social media platforms like Instagram and Twitter, an appreciation of street culture’s fashion, music and brands has emerged and is continuing to grow.
Located at Dubai’s Design District,
Sole DXB featured streetwear vendors in a literal “trunk show,” utilizing the hatch of Mini Cooper’s to showcase garments from Juniors be Junior and Nomad [pictured above] among five other streetwear labels.
Sponsored by Pepsi, Mini Cooper and Gatorade the event also featured a basketball tournament, graffiti artists, djs, breakdancing, exhibits from anchor brands, Early Retirement, PUMA, Reebok and Level Shoe District.
There were also selected private sneaker vendors showcasing popular Jordan and Nike brands available for swap or sale. I always gravitate toward Jordan brand, but there were also lots of KD’s, Lebron’s, AirForce1s and Air Max to delight any sneaker enthusiast.
Surrounding the perimeter of the event were exhibits from over 15 participating brands like Ray Ban, Vans, G-Shock, and Corcel with merchandise available for purchase.
Sole also invited guests to attend panel discussions such as Hip Hop and Your Neighborhood, featuring notable influences in Dubai’s street culture including hip-hop group The Recipe and Origins: A Panel with Kish Kash.
Sole Dubai provided me evidence to believe that street culture is developing among the UAE streets. In my day to day when I’m running errands in Air Max 95s or grocery shopping in Jordan 10s, I’ve gotten varied reactions. As with anything different, I think there are some negative perceptions, which ultimately breed a curiosity within the local community.
[A few take aways] Outside of the newest releases and high end sneaker collabs, rarely have I seen, met or heard any other females here with what sneaker enthusiasts would describe as “heat.” I did see a few at
Sole Dubai which was refreshing, but because of this I am interested in seeing how street culture and this event continues to grow each year because it provides the reinforcement of a familiar comfort zone for some expats, especially.
The surface level of street culture is becoming easier to participate in for example sneakers and fashion, but the depth of street culture and street fashion originated from necessity [a conversation I’m def willing to have with anyone] So, the next challenge is how do you invite others, especially local citizens to actively participate in order to grow the streetwear movement here in Dubai so that it becomes not just something to see or do on the weekends, but a way of life?
Anybody else watch the first season of Sisterhood of Hip Hop? Initially, I didn’t think I was going to like the show as much as I actually did. One of the featured artists from the show, Bia [@pericoprincess], dropped #CHOLASEASON. With solid production and a catchy flow, Bia def shows promise for female rap artists. Plus, Skateboard P x her mentor, Fam Lay are blessing tracks once again. Looove. Listen here!
Though all of the aforementioned artists each made her claim in the music world with amazing vocals and musical compositions, Davonne D’Neil’s recent release of “Round Midnight” is also refreshing sound oozing with femininity, nostalgic R&B samples, and lyrics that might have you reading through old text messages from you know who.
The album from the D[M]V artist, which boasts 17 tracks, is easy to relate to and perfectly describes familiar scenarios perfectly, like catching someone’s eye in On The Low, sharing a dance with your favorite person in All Night Long [which also features a live instrumentation go-go inspired beat], or reflecting on lost love in my personal fave, Charlie.
The album has plenty of features as well. Davonne shows her vocal creativity alongside other artists in several songs including, Coffeehouse Conversation, You’re Like, Wine Side and Hey Baby.
I can say much more about Round Midnight but I definitely invite you to enjoy this refresher for yourself. The production, lyrics and vocal abilities of Davonne make it easy to listen to this album over and over again.
Now can I get a Charlliiiiiiieeeeee….?
Buy Round Midnight here
Follow IG @davonnedneil
I’m a fan of Drake. Ever since I listened to him say “Shake up the world that is what I’m bout to do…” and sample Goapele’s “Closer” on Comeback Season, I’ve been addicted to his lyrics and ability to harmonize and rap on the same track all while being transparent about his personal life and experiences.
The self-proclaimed, October’s Very Own [OVO], recently dropped 3 new tracks proving his ownership of the title OVO. Here are some of my favorite one-liners from the tracks below.
Heat of the Moment
“They don’t read anymore…They don’t even read anymore”
This line is funny to me! As a teacher, I always talk about how my students now and in the past, don’t f’n read! It sucks! Drake too sounds concerned about the future generations and their lack of literary interest. This track describes how the rapper and younger generations are primarily interested in the now, living in the heat of the moment, rather than their impact on the future. Oh, and it also features a really funny phone call clip from Drake’s dad.
How About Now
“Remember when you had to take the bar exam, I drove in the snow for you”
“I bought your dad a bunch of sh*t for Christmas he aint even say thank you.”
I feel like a lot of guys who felt unappreciated in a relationship are going to make this song their anthem. Drake compares his extraordinary efforts in a failed relationship with the girl’s lack of effort, then basically throws it all back in her face over a Jodeci sample. If I was this girl, I would definitely feel some type of way! And whoever’s dad that is who didn’t say thank you for the Christmas gift… What a shame *French Montana voice*
“Sold a couple bentleeeeys last week, they want my old toys”
“You was poppin’ back when usher wore a U-chain”
“Nobody really likes us, except for us”
Perfect song for doing your cardio routine or sh*t talking, or both. Drake extends the ending of some words at the end of a bar and creates a really infectious flow. This song will definitely get lots of plays in clubs.
What new release from Drake is your favorite?