I spent a lot of my undergraduate career trying to get English professors to let me write about music. Once I even dropped out when my very thoughtful proposal of an essay about work songs as a thesis topic for a class focused on the literature of labor was turned down; I had an A and took an F for the semester in protest. Work songs and spirituals are essentially the only form of literature we have for a people who were kept illiterate systematically for many centuries, so I decided college was bullshit if they did not accept or investigate this truth. Later, I returned to college and managed to finish my degree–but I had switched to English education, since the world apparently needed better English teachers. (Also, switching to education meant I could miss stats and ditch Shakespeare and Milton for Postcolonial Women’s Literature in a Global Context.) When I finally managed to write a paper about music, it was for a Survey of Current Literary and Cultural Theory class, and the paper was about hip hop as a global postcolonial arts movement. It came with a mix CD, obviously.
Later, during my first week as a teacher in Milwaukee Public Schools, I was having a lot of difficulty managing one of my classes and getting us all to a space where any kind of meaningful learning could begin to happen. I had been waiting patiently for everyone to stop talking, and then just as I was about to have some space to communicate, one of the students locked eyes with me and said: “I salt and pepper mah mango” with that exact M.I.A. intonation. Without missing a beat, I replied: “shoot spit, at the window!” This went back and forth for a few bars, and then I told her she listened to “old” music… that had come out when I was a senior in high school (admittedly, only seven years before.) I found over time that music was actually the best way to teach language at my school; most of my students were very behind on their reading skills, but they were reciting poetry and studying argumentation all the time without realizing it. It was a way we could engage with literary things and for them to begin to find ways into reading and writing as both skills and practices. A big part of working with Black youth was actually showing them that all these things they thought were just “low” or “street” culture were actually totally valid and often foundational or pioneering forms of culture, period–down to the dialects of English they spoke.
This whole record is just an enormously fiery crash course in self-worth and self-love and some of the best proof I have heard in years that rap is not lost as a true art. Little Simz is so direct and personal in her verses, yet they hit incredibly hard. I’m not even comparing Simz to M.I.A, but Arular was the kind of record that sounded just as fresh and exciting seven years later as it did when it came out, and this is the first rap album I have heard since leaving education (around the ascendance of Kendrick Lamar) with that same level of newness, energy, insistence, and lyrical depth. More importantly (to me), it’s the first record I have heard since leaving teaching that has made me wish I could listen to it with my students and hear what they think.
The set of songs comes with the following from Little Simz. If you go to her Instagram, you can read a clearer version in her highlights.
© FUCK SAUCE MEDIA 2020