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“A wise man sees failure as progress, a fool divorces his knowledge and misses the logic.” – Canibus, Poet Laureate II

Philosophy: the word comes from the Greek philo – love – and sophos, wisdom. But what does it have to do with us – or, more to the point, with modern music?

Even though a lot of people (probably your parents) dismiss rap as “not really music,” it’s an incredibly complex art form that explores questions about social justice, ethics, and other big-picture issues. Here, we’ll break down some of those topics through the lens of Classical philosophers: Plato, Aristotle, Socrates, and the other OGs someone made you read in high school history classes.

Here’s an example: in Plato’s Apology of Socrates, presented at the trial that led to Socrates’s execution in 399 BCE, Socrates is quoted saying, “Oh my friend, why do you care so much about laying up the greatest amount of money and honor and reputation, and so little about wisdom and truth and the greatest improvement of the soul?” In simpler terms, why is improving your status more important to you than improving the person that you are?

Over two thousand years later, in 1993, Nas, AZ, and Olu Dara would record Life’s a Bitch, a genre classic: “Visualizin’ the realism of life in actuality; f*** who’s the baddest, a person’s status depends on salary.” Even though the lyric initially seems to glorify financial gain and a laundry list of bad behavior when taken out of context, in a 2007 article with Rolling Stone, Nas would go on to discuss how much the collaboration had meant to him and Olu Dara, his father: “I asked my dad to play on the end of it — I told him to play whatever comes to mind when he thinks of me as a kid. I think he’s really proud to see me coming up and really taking my life serious and doing what I want.”

Both Socrates and Nas stress the importance of living an authentic life that holds true value, with the latter writing: “I woke up early on my born day; I’m 20, it’s a blessing. / The essence of adolescence leaves my body, now I’m fresh and / My physical frame is celebrated cause I made it / One quarter through life some Godly-like thing created.” The optimism and sense of rebirth and renewal in Nas’s lyric is a perfect rebuttal to the disappointment and disapproval of Socrates’s two-thousand-year-old question.

As Canibus says in his Poet Laureate II, “A wise man sees failure as progress, a fool divorces his knowledge and misses the logic.” Even though philosophy and hip hop seem to be worlds apart, the questions at the heart of both have remained largely the same for millennia, and the two complement each other in fascinating ways.

We’ve started this blog to increase interest in and appreciation of both disciplines, and we hope you’ll enjoy exploring along with us. Argue with us in the comments, suggest a song for us to deconstruct, or just reach out to let us know what you think. Thanks for reading!

School’s Out

“Most people stop for signs, but I’ve driven through it:
If it don’t touch my soul, then I can’t listen to it.” – Big K.R.I.T., The Vent

Music so often becomes accidentally, inextricably linked with moments from our lives – a first kiss, a worst day, a best friend a last goodbye – so why not use those tendencies to create meaningful, even philosophical, connections? We’ve talked about social change as a function of music before, but a listener’s interior, personal changes, while less immediately obvious, are equally important.

In Plato’s Republic, Socrates is credited as having said that “musical training is a more potent instrument than any other, because rhythm and harmony find their way into the inward places of the soul – on which they mightily fasten – imparting grace.” And even today, music maintains an important role in learning, from Mother Goose rhymes in preschool to the Top 40 lyrics that become impossible to forget when the notes we’re desperately highlighting for finals seem impossible to remember.

In their song Waiting for the Beat to Kick In, which deals with subjects as diverse and as universal as sleep, kindness, serenity, anger, integrity, and inertia, the hip hop duo Dan le Sac Vs Scroobius Pip state their mission thus: “Silently I step up with a subversive subtext, / Trying to feed the need for more than just remedial subjects: / Place my faith in the belief that the general public / Will open up their minds to more than just an industry puppet.” The idea, then, is to write – and to listen to – music that has meaning as well as entertainment value for the listener, something that will improve not only the hearer’s mood but also his mind, changing not just a day, but a life.

Happy listening – happy learning.

Into the Light

“Meet me at the fork in the road, where the lost souls get indecisive; Meet me at the crossroads, so I can have someone to walk into the light with.” – Sage Francis, Crackpipes

As this adventure in blogging draws to a close, it’s time to look to other endings: death, while never exactly a pleasant topic, is a frequent one in art of all kinds. Music, visual art, and literature all try to explore what lies beyond the edges of our consciousness, what Shakespeare describes as “the undiscovered country from whose bourn no traveler returns” – the place no one has been and no one will come back from.

But what happens when we die? Does the essence of a person decay with his body? Our favorite artists and philosophers say no. Slug says that “a soul is a soul, and a shell is a shell – the border in between is full of everything you felt”: the body is mortal, but the soul persists after death. His thoughts are echoed by Plato’s idea that “the soul takes nothing with her to the next world but her education and her culture.” Material things, including the body, are worthless to us at the point of death. The answer, then, is not in how you die, but how you live.

Talib Kweli states that “Life without knowledge is death in disguise,” which is almost identical to the thought motivating Socrates’s declaration that “the unexamined life is not worth living.” In this light, then, truth is the highest aim of life – to know, to continually learn, is to fully experience the world around us.

So learn something every day. Listen to the people around you to see if they have something to teach you. Don’t be a lost soul when your time comes to walk into the light.

Change

“Musical innovation is full of danger to the State, for when modes of music change, the fundamental laws of the State always change with them.”  – Plato, The Republic

My Facebook feed has been nothing but my actor/magician/visual artist/dancer/singer/musician friends arguing with my other friends about funding for programming like PBS and the National Endowment for Arts. (Don’t leave – I promise, I’m pretty tired of it, too.)

The big question is, why bother funding things like music and art when there are so many other, more obvious problems to address? The answer, repeatedly, is that art is one of the things that keeps us safe from those other problems – and, as Plato notes, from the State itself.

The idea of the anti-establishment or counterculture in music is nothing new – as long as there’s been something to protest, artists have written songs to express their concerns over the current culture.

Just like a lyric as seemingly simple as Weezy’s “My girl be askin’ why I don’t wear no suit and tie – I tell her that’s what they put on you when you die” hints at something much deeper than clothes, music is indicative of the tensions, emotions, and mood of the culture that creates it.

The backlash over Beyoncé’s 2016 visual album Lemonade came not from explicit lyrics or risqué costuming, but from her decision to pose, disinterested and defiant, on the roof of a sinking police car, reflecting the anxieties of an America still reeling from the deaths of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and others at the hands of police officers. By aligning herself with the Black Lives Matter Movement, Beyoncé made a marginalized, almost taboo political topic the focus of mainstream, entertainment-based discussion: while not everyone is willing to engage in political debate, we all consume entertainment in one form or another, and ours is a celebrity culture. (After all, we did elect a reality TV star with no other qualifications as president last November.)

So music does matter. Art matters. Expression, innovation, and change matter, and for that reason, they have always been, and will always be, “full of danger.” Create responsibly.

Is Rick Ross Magnificent? Pt. 3

what up what up OG Aristotle all up in the blogpost about to create a pt 3 to a discussion that I told the kind people of Schooled of Athens would only take a pt 1. Its all good tho. graduated in 200 AD from the harvard of greece and im still trynna pay off these student loans. It isnt just mildly lyrically talented rappers that gotta eat too yafeelme which brings me to the discussion at hand. If you dont wanna read back on pt 1 and pt 2 cuz ya mind is too lethargic from all the sittin and watchin and eatin all day to now read a total of a thousand words or somethin around there then heres a summary and also a spike slap in the cheek bone. Seriously get yo ass up and pull ya self together mygod. I thought the romans were about the lazyiest a human could possibly get…draggin their sandals on the dirt roads w/ their fat little heads down as the city burns to the ground. You millennials are the worst. Heres your nice little convenient summary on a shiny silver plate: So basically we’re trynna decide if rick ross is magnificent as he claims. I say nah. in order to see why we gotta check off a few boxes on the road to conclusion. What we have discovered so far is that in order to be fully human being you gotta use rationality not just emotions, your mind not just ya heart, your brain not just ya dirty knuckles…so on so forth. This is where the concept of means come in.

with any human action there is a mean. That is…there is some sorta middle ground that everybody should aim for which lies between some sorta excess and some sorta deficiency. Take the human action of anger. If someone told you that the wu-tang-clan was made up of a bunch of phony wack garbage MCs and you played it cool like someone just accidently bumped your side on a busy sidewalk then that would be an example of a deficiency of anger cuz although I highly doubt this needs to be said but for whatever wild reason that it does…the wut-tang-clan is in fact made up of some of the greatest human beings ever to step in front of a mic. But if you reacted in the same scenario by head butting that poorly misunderstood person in the face and then slamming him into the hard concrete until there was enough blood on the floor to draw out the entire lryics of ‘aint nothing to f*** with’ next to that now unconscious and barley breathing body, then that would be an example of an excess of anger. In both cases when a person acts in a deficient or excessive way they are letting their emotions exclusively to make decisions. Which as we’ve come to conclude in pt 2 is not acting as a human being in the complete sense the same way the drug dealer sellin parsley is not a drug dealer in the complete sense. Contemplating about means as you make decisions forces u to use ya brain. In other words when u trynna to be deliberate and sensible with ya actions and daily decisions you can transform any emotional activity into a rational one and become more fully human yafeelme.

This process of means happens everywhere. At ya crib, on the block, at the trapspot, on the internet or….when ya pockets are fat and u trynna to decide if u should cop yoself a new baby jesus emblem with his eyes made of rubies and his hair made of diamonds or split some of that paper w/ the homeless foundation.\

hint hint hint

Ah shit…again and again. My mind and my word count way too high right now. Guess that means a pt 4? See u on the other side.

 

 

 

 

Is Rick Ross Magnificent Pt. 2

OG Aristotle up in this blogpost trynna continue my analysis of ricky ross the boss. The kind people of Schooled of Athens let me write a pt. 2 cuz no one likes cliff hangers and not that this is a big surprise or anything but i prefer my pockets fat. jussto recap in the case ur lazyass is too lazy to click the back button and read another 300 word or-so post (seriously ive seen about 100 generations and u millenials or the worst in terms of work ethic)… rick ross thinks hes magnificent cuz he spends his paper on things he really doesnt need and i think that he isnt magnificent for the exact same reason. aight now that we got that outta the way lets get busy and talk about what it means to be a human being which we will then connect with the idea of means (maybe in pt 3?) which we will finally connect back to the idea of what it means to be magnificent and decide once and for all if rick ross is in fact magnificent. its a process yo deal with it. lets go

step one: who is a human being

if ur reading this then congratulations ur a human being. if u look outside ur window and see the neighbor mowin his lawn then congratulations thats a human being. if ur fightin with ur homie cuz he jus cheated on your girl then congratulations ur homie is a human being…no less a decent one. everyone u see walkin and talkin and bickerin and fightin is a human being the same way that the person at the traphouse sellin bags of weed is a drug dealer…but…if the drug dealer starts to sell bags of pizza herbs every time he breaks the ten crack commandments (#4) then is he still a drug dealer?  i guess you could say he is a drug dealer since hes still sellin drugs at least some of the time but he forsure isnt actin fully as a drug dealer…that is…because he sometimes dosent sell drugs and breaks away from the duties of his job then he isnt fulfilling 100% of his total drug dealin capabilities yafeelme. he just a half-ass drug dealer. same thing with human beings. to be a full human being we gotta use our full capabilities. we gotta let the love flow thru our viens but we also cant forget to use our heads at the same time. that’ what keeps us in a different category from cats and dogs and giraffes and chimpanzees and rick ross and drake. animals can only use their emotions, they juswanna drink eat and reproduce until the sun goes down yafeelme. humans can rise above this. they can eat drink and reproduce too but they also can use their brains to make rational decisions like coppin a jacket when it snows out instead of payin for a new Kanye West mixtape that you can just stream for free. so if u a human being who only uses ur emotions then you kinda like that drug dealer who has to sell bags of cilantro and parsley whenever he burns out his own supply. u still a human being yo you just not actin as a full human being cuz if it isnt clear at this point ur not using your brain and to be a full person, to actualize ur fullest human potenial u gotta be using ur brain cuz thats what makes u a human being in large part

so we should prob amend the original question a lil..instead of who is a human being we should ask..who is the most human being... and the answer, as this brief analysis has shown, is the person who feels and thinks at the same time

aight take a breather, listen to that new joey bada$$ album and make yourself a vegan omlet. Pt. 3 comin up which means more paper for me and more knowledge for you. once again its a win-win

peace,

OG Aristotle

Kendrick, Boethius and God

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Photo used from http://www.tinymixtapes.com

Kendrick Lamar’s latest release, DAMN., is one of his most raw albums yet. One of the more common themes on the record is Kendrick’s image of God’s ultimate plan for him; who has control over his life, and who is worrying about him while he’s doing good deeds for others? Or, in his own words; “Ain’t nobody praying for me”.

Kung Fu Kenny has always had illusions to Christianity in his lyrics, but DAMN. takes it to another level. Kendrick mentions the Book of Deuteronomy in the song YAH., saying, “Deuteronomy say that we all been cursed”. He’s referencing the curses for breaking God’s laws, being some truly awful punishment involving pestilence, fire, and illnesses. God has control over Kendrick’s life if he strays away from the “noble path” that God wishes him to go on: the Christian path. Kendrick is obviously worried about not going on this path in the album, mentioning on YAH., FEAR., and GOD. his own morality and doubts about himself.

The Post-Plato philosopher, Boethius, thought similarly to Kendrick. In his Consolation of Philosophy, he talks about determinism and wonders, like Kendrick, if God is really all powerful. Boethius describes his Wheel of Fortune idea, in which a person goes through various stages of grief and happiness in their life. Kendrick’s patterns of depression in his music as well as the songs on DAMN. being a lyrical mix of typical hip hop tropes like getting money and fame, while others are introspective pieces on himself, his family, and his relationship to God and his fans, who consider him a type of god.

Kendrick’s final song on the album, DUCKWORTH., also describes fate. Near the end of the song, he mentions an incident that happened between his father, known in the song as Ducky, and his future CEO of Kendrick’s record company, Anthony “Top Dawg” Tiffith. When Kendrick was three, Anthony robbed a KFC that Kendrick’s father worked at but didn’t kill him. Kendrick wonders, “Because if Anthony killed Ducky/ Top Dawg could be servin’ life/ While I grew up without a father and die in a gunfight”. Kendrick’s life could’ve been dramatically changed by this encounter, but because of the way it went down, Kendrick, Ducky, and Anthony are where they are today. One little change could’ve robbed all of them of a future. Fate seemed to work itself that day for the better.

DAMN., while being a phenomenal hip hop album for 2017, analyzes common fears that human beings have about their fate and place in the world. It’s an excellent addition to Kendrick’s already amazing discography.

Is Rick Ross Really Magnificent? Pt. 1

marble-flooring-galleryWhat up what up its OG Aristotle here. id like to give a major shoutout to the people at Schooled of Athens for inviting me to write on their blog. at first i was kinda skeptical cuz lets be honest…Schooled of Athens is a mad corny title. But you know what isn’t corny? When youre walking down 5th ave with your pockets fat about to cop yourself a fur coat cuz its already september and the groundhog missed its hole by six weeks. so after some quick deliberation i accepted the invitation and now im here about to break down some philosophical truths with some help from the homie Rick Ross

first off i got nothin but mad respect for Rick Ross so when i say that hes got it twisted in his song Magnificent when he opens up each verse with the lines “im the magnificent with a sensational style” youll know that im sayin it because i got nothin but love. btw if the kind people at Schooled of Athens invite me back maybe ill breakdown the philosophy of friendships but for now lets talk about what it means to be magnificent

according to Rick Ross to be magnificent means to have the flooring of your crib constructed out of marble thats, and i quote, “flowin like the nile.” its the same thing as being a don, a boss, a profit and a G. basically u have to be stackin paper and be spendin it on things like gold emblems, bottles of expensive wine wrapped in gold and exotic modes of transportation

i dont wanna beat around the bush or anything so let me just be straight with yall…rick ross is confused. spendin large amounts money can make you magnificent…but spendin it on unecssary toys makes you vulgar. my apologizes for the term but its what i came up with a couple thousand years ago and tbh ive done enough adopting

to show u how rick ross is wrong we first gotta talk about what it means to be a human being and since ive reached my word limit (or thereabout) ill have to make another post which means more paper for me and more knowledge for you. its a win-win really