Soundtrack to my year, v. 4

Every year, I like to reflect on the albums that got me through the year. In 2016, I spent more time trying to listen than talk, and I felt these albums offered the space for me to reflect and understand the nuances of the experience of others. Each title links to where you can purchase directly from the artist (in most cases), and a few of them are even free.

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The Grammys, Kanye, Racism, and Us

On Sunday I gathered with a small number of friends to watch my second favorite awards show of the year (the Oscars take first prize). As one of said friends described, the Grammys are the equivalent—in fact, superior—to most national holidays for me.

Although ratings dropped significantly and a lot of viewers felt little more than boredom, I thought this year’s show was actually indicative of the state of more than music in America—an important step for a show that is typically just another way for celebrities to celebrate themselves.

Despite groaning that Pharrell was going to perform “Happy” two years too late, I was taken aback by his approach to the song. His dancers donned hoodies and—during a piano interlude in the middle of the song—raised their hands to indicate the now-iconic “hands up, don’t shoot” protest signal. Drawing to mind both Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown, Pharrell used his platform to nod to the African-Americans that never get the chance to succeed like him.

President Barack Obama made a surprise video appearance to speak out against domestic violence, along with a spoken word performance from activist Brooke Axtell and Katy Perry’s moving rendition of “By the Grace of God”. In the week leading up to the film release of the disgusting glorification of domestic violence (otherwise known as Fifty Shades of Gray), the three messages were bold, timely, and necessary.

Throughout the three-hour show, social messages like these were more than sprinkled throughout the broadcast. Country artist Eric Church sang “Give Me Back My Hometown” with news footage ranging from #BlackLivesMatter protests to the Je Suis Charlie demonstrations. Beyoncé’s choir also made use of the “hands up, don’t shoot” signal, Prince made reference to the #BlackLivesMatter movement, and John Legend and Common performed their beautiful Selma-inspired “Glory” to close out the show.

Art has always been meant for addressing societal ills in attempts to move people to action. In fact, part of Obama’s speech noted artists’ “unique power to change minds and attitudes and get us thinking and talking about what matters.”

This year’s Grammys seemed to center on that notion, as artists who were being recognized for their work were pointing to what really matters right now.

I couldn’t wait to discuss this with people the following day.

After logging onto Facebook, however, I found that the entire conversation around the Grammys had turned to Kanye’s speech about Beyoncé deserving the Album of the Year win over Beck. “Go away, Kanye. Just go away,” one post read. “Kanye proves to be an idiot again,” another said. Shirley Manson, lead singer of Garbage, wrote an open letter to Kanye, telling him to stop throwing his toys. These and other vulgar words and phrases were used to chastise the artist.

Let me begin by saying that Kanye’s comment about respecting “true artistry” was insulting—intentionally or not—to Beck. It was inexcusable to even accidentally imply that Beck is not a real artist (even though he later clarified that he loves Beck, the initial wording had already done its damage).

But why was that the story that media focused on the next day? You currently cannot Google the word “Grammys” by itself without Kanye’s speech popping up at the top of news stories. Is it that Kanye’s speech was the most “exciting” part of the Grammys—even if it came in the E! post-show? Is it that Kanye was dead wrong or right, depending on who you asked?

I think the real answer is that both media and now social media have trained us to care about the wrong things. In a year where we could have opened up some great and needed conversations about racial issues and domestic violence, media outlets have focused our attention to what is being described as another Kanye “rant,” “outburst,” or “tantrum.”

As I write this, I know some of you will read that last paragraph and think, “Way to go, Kanye. You ruined it.” But Kanye, though not totally innocent, was not the one who turned your focus to him. When you watched or read about the Grammys, you chose what to talk about. You chose what to digest. You chose what to post about.

What many of us do not understand about Kanye’s speech is that his opinion—though not totally clear in this speech—was rooted in very real and valid feelings about the troubling history of Grammy awards. “They need to stop playing with us” is another way of saying, “The Grammys need to stop pretending to honor black artists.” (Kanye has spoken about this before, in clearer terms.)

When LL Cool J introduced Kanye for his performance of “Only One,” he mentioned that Kanye has won 21 Grammys. What he didn’t mention was that Kanye has only won these awards in the Rap and R&B categories, which historically mostly feature only black artists. Though a relatively young genre, hip-hop albums by black artists have only been nominated for the coveted Album of the Year category eight times. Only Lauryn Hill and Outkast have gone on to win. Music legends Tupac, Notorious B.I.G., and Jay Z have never been nominated. Compare these numbers (or lack thereof) to Eminem’s four nominations, more than any other rap artist and a third of the total number.

It is easy to dismiss the Grammys as an irrelevant award show. But the reality is that, regardless of how much we vocally dismiss it, we pay attention to it. And when black artists are told they are honored by the show, but see that they are usually only honored when pitted against each other (and not when Eminem is nominated), this promise feels hollow. Yes, Pharrell and Beyoncé won against white artists for “Happy” and “Drunk In Love,” respectively. But the exceptions are never the rules.

A reality of white privilege is that we get to attribute Beck’s win over Beyoncé to musical ability and ignore any potential racial implications. People of color cannot help but be hyper-aware of racial implications, whether real or perceived. This is the reality that Kanye lives in daily, the one where he points out privilege that we are either afraid to admit or unable to even see.

I am speaking from a place of white privilege myself, but I have observed the way my students view different situations in their lives, constantly questioning whether a teacher’s reprimand or a waiter’s rudeness was racially-charged. Before teaching, I never considered that people might be treating me in a certain way based on my race. That is part of what privilege is: being able to exist without awareness of why people treat you in a certain way. The world that people of color exist in does not allow them such a carefree, inattentive attitude.

When my African-American students view the media, I want them to see a narrative that says they are valued, that the outcry of #BlackLivesMatter is not just a dream deferred, something paid homage to only by artists who already look like them. I want them to see African-American success stories without asterisks, without footnotes.

I want them to Google “Grammys” and see celebrations of Beyoncé rather than dismissive reductions of her life’s work. I want them to see people talking about Kanye’s moving tribute to his mother and daughter rather than calling him a baby for expressing real fears of prejudiced voting systems. I want them to see WHITE people fighting for African-Americans, rather than just African-Americans.

If you want to stop being part of the racist media, stop insulting Kanye on your newsfeed. Post something positive about him, or another African-American artist. Question the way media portrays him and other black artists. Start a conversation about whose voices are heard on the Grammys and whose are not. Support the #ItsOnUs campaign to help victims of domestic abuse, an issue affecting all races.

If you feel you cannot do any of these things—or don’t want to—don’t post another word about the Grammys. Don’t call Kanye a child for feeling something you have never had to feel yourself. Don’t reduce people for the sake of it, or at all. The media has already done enough damage without your cutting sword.

Let’s talk about what our world really needs right now. Because black lives really do matter. And domestic abuse is on all of us to stop. And social ills need more than artists paying tribute to them in order to be cured. You are more capable than you realize, and certainly more responsible.

Soundtrack to My Year

I wanted to take some time to talk about the greatest year of my life so far, but I couldn’t find a way to do it without being sappy. So, since I love music and since this year gave us some phenomenal music, why not write about my year through the soundtrack to it? After writing this out, it seems I said more about the music than myself; I think it’s fitting though, since this music says more about me than I ever could.

Here are my 14 favorite albums of 2013. Yes, it would make more sense to choose 13 albums for the year 2013; but I refuse to let you box me in like that, world!

Honorable Mentions: J. Cole’s Born Sinner, Atoms for Peace’s AMOK, A$AP Rocky’s Long.Live.A$AP., HAIM’s Days Are Gone, Tegan & Sara’s Heartthrob, The Great Gatsby Soundtrack.

14. Pedestrian Verse, Frightened Rabbitpedestrianverse

This was the first album of the year to catch my attention. The album starts out with “Acts of Man,” a sad song about how terrible humans are to one another when it comes to love: “Let’s promise every girl we marry we’ll always love them when we probably won’t.” It’s a sad sentiment, but by the end of the song he admits to his girl that he is just as bad as other men, “sorry, selfish, trying to improve.” It’s the beginning of an album full of blunt, honest confessions about what it means to be human. When the end of the album comes, you feel like being a little more honest with yourself and others too. “There’s still hope so I think we’ll be fine,” the singer offers, “in these disastrous times.” It was a great start to a year of self-improvement and honest admissions in difficult situations.

13. Love in the Future, John Legendloveinthefuture

This was not a year of romantic love for me, but that’s okay: I got to live vicariously through John Legend’s swooning love album. I never thought I would like one of his albums as much as I did 2004’s Get Lifted, but this one had me (and  my students) crooning along often. When the title was announced awhile back, I thought Legend might describe what love will like in future times; instead, he describes love the way it should look right now. “I wanna get caught up in your love tonight/you can help me just breathe.” It’s these simple ideas that make Legend’s album a hopeful look into true love.

12. Nothing Was the Same, Drakenothingwasthesame

I have always enjoyed Drake’s music, but everyone knows I have beef with him. I used to hate how he would brag about being the best rapper just before admitting how self-conscious he is. It made both ideas of Drake, the boastful and the heartbroken, ring hollow for me. But with Nothing Was the Same, I got over it. He’s doing exactly what I, and most of us, do; we all pretend to be more confident than we are to help us through times of extreme vulnerability.This album is a perfect example of how things change and people grow apart. On “Connect,” Drake makes this confession: “She used to say, ‘You can be whoever you want, even yourself’/I show up knowing exactly who I was and always leave as someone else.” In my first year of post-grad life, as I moved to Dallas, lost good friends, made new ones, and searched for myself, this was an album I needed along for the ride to figure just who exactly I am.

11. Let’s Be Still, The Head and the Heartletsbestill

Let’s Be Still is music for the soul. While it may not have the same amount of songs that burrow into your mind like their self-title debut, Let’s Be Still explores the changing of seasons in powerful ways. On the title track, the singers ask you how necessary it is to keep up with the modern world: “The world’s just spinning a little too fast/If we don’t slow down soon, we might not last/So just for a moment, let’s be still.” I’m in a time of my life where everything seems to be swirling around me and I’m just trying to catch my breath. When I put this album on, the band gives me no choice but to sit and listen for a spell. And I’m not going to argue.

10. Because the Internet, Childish Gambinobecausetheinternet

When Donald Glover said that people who loved Camp would hate his new album, I trusted the guy and stopped looking forward to Because the Internet. But now I’ll never believe the guy again. No one was better able to capture the feeling of being a young adult in 2013 than Gambino. “House full of homies/so why I feel so the opposite?” he asks. In the Internet Age, where we are all over-connected but feel more isolated than ever, Gambino brilliantly expresses these feelings lyrically and even musically.Much of the music seems disconnected from the moment, as some songs trudge along with computer-made beats filled with solitude while others find Childish seeming to change his mind about whether he wants to rap or sing midway through.He invites you to a party at one point, then realizes he didn’t invite all of these other people, and tells everyone to get out. Well, the album is no party, but you’re invited to the isolation afterward; on the last track when he says, “because the internet, mistakes are forever/but if we —- up on this journey, at least we’re together,”  it’s a party we’re all familiar with these days.

9. My Name is My Name, Pusha Tmynameismyname

I’ve been a fan of Pusha T since he proved himself to be the best guest on Kanye’s 2010 magnum opus My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. I followed what felt like hundreds of guest features where he constantly showed up the other emcees and I not-so-patiently waited for this album. Right before it dropped, I feared I had overhyped it with the three-year wait, but then my fears were put to rest. From the opener, “King Push,” where Push boasts that, “I made a lane ’cause they blocked ours,” to the absolute jam “Numbers on the Boards,” where he talks about his “36 years of doing dirt like it’s Earth Day,” this album just makes me feel cool by proxy. Pusha thinks highly of himself, and you can’t help but feel the same about yourself while rapping along at embarrassing volumes in the car. Of course, it’s the serious moments where MNIMN really shines. On “40 Acres,” after reflecting on his family and how his mother left his father after 35 years of marriage, Pusha comforts her with these words: “You should never question if you ever stood a chance with him/Only question is: did you enjoy the dance with him?”What’s cooler than telling your mother you love her after bragging about your drug-dealing days?

8. Beyoncé, Beyoncébeyonce

With the way I freaked out about this album, most people would think this would be my #1 of the year. Not quite, but that’s no insult to Beyonce; there was just a lot of good music this year. I have long been obsessed with the Queen Bey for the fact that she seems perfect in every way. Not only did she have the coolest way of dropping an album (and ruining every other pop star’s year), Beyonce made the defining album of her career. With blunt honesty about her, uh, intimate moments with Jay Z, and her shunning of radio-friendly tunes to adopt the guise of Yoncé, an even cooler persona than Sasha Fierce, the Queen Bey made an album that surprises in ways I only thought possible from Kanye. It’s not just a feminist album; it’s an album for all of humanity to feel good about yourself. I woke up like this!

7. Modern Vampires of the City, Vampire Weekendmodernvampires

In a year of albums about what it means to be growing up right now in 2013, Vampire Weekend pretty much put it the best. “Age is an honor; it’s still not the truth/Wisdom’s a gift but you’d trade it for youth,” singer Ezra Koenig pontificates. The album is rife with thoughts like this, thinking about how we choose to grow up–if at all–and whether there is anyone out there who might save a little grace for us. At one point Koenig questions how God could choose to be so mysterious in his cheeky way (“through the fire and through the flame, you won’t even say your name/only ‘I am what I am’/but who could ever live that way?”)–almost as if to really ask the listener whether we ourselves could benefit from a little mystery in the age of the over-share.

6. Reflektor, Arcade Firereflektor

It’s been said a thousand times over, so I won’t harp on how joyous Arcade Fire’s new album sounds. What I loved about this album is the influence the hundred(ish)-piece band took from a Kierkegaard essay, “The Present Age,” which basically states that we live in a time where people would rather reflect on doing great things than actually doing them. Amidst all of this sitting around, Arcade Fire looks to music as our possible redemption (taking from another influence, that of the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice) but the ultimate ending, though beautifully crafted, seems to find the two lovers separated by the inevitability of death.But this sad conclusion seemed the only possible way to go when Butler questions halfway through the first song: “We’re still connected/but are we even friends?” It’s yet another moral tale for our times about searching for something more in our isolated world. Amidst all that joyous noise is a lesson to be learned: Are we doing anything real or are we just reflektions?

5. Magna Carta Holy Grail, JAY Zmagnacarta

People didn’t seem to care for Magna Carta, but I think it was one of the best things Hov has ever done. If he had cut two or three songs, I feel like it would have received a much better rap. But who cares what you people think! The concept of the blackout art alone (Basquiat once said that he blacks words out not so that you’ll pay less attention but so you’ll pay even more attention; Jay Z said America is the same way, trying to black out the plight of African-Americans) makes the album worth a look and listen. Tracks like “Picasso Baby,” “Tom Ford,” and “****withmeyouknowigotit” are instant Jay classics, but it’s deep cuts like “Oceans” that made the album. On the Frank Ocean-assisted track, Jay and Ocean contemplate what it means to “make it” in America as a black man. “I hope my black skin don’t dirt this white tuxedo,” Ocean concedes. Elsewhere Jay Z talks about how his success gives many ignorant Americans the excuse to think that him “coming from under the thumb of this regime” is an “everyday thing” for African-Americans. At this time in my life, when I am learning about and trying to fight the social inequalities of our nation, Jay Z’s words cut deep and keep my eyes open to the injustices we have yet to overcome.

4. Pure Heroine, Lordepureheroine

This gal. If you had asked anyone which female artist would release the best pop album this year, Lorde would not have been anyone’s answer because we didn’t even know who she was. But now, the results are in. Though Beyonce came through and took over the end of the year, Lorde had our ears for most of it. This album dances the lines between pop, hip-hop, and indie. But the real greatness of this album comes from the 16-now-17 year old’s incredibly mature outlook on the world: “We live in cities you’ll never see on screen,” she recognizes. The “Royals” singer took no prisoners in dismissing the culture of materialism we have all become new slaves to (as Kanye put it in less radio-friendly terms). While she wrestles with the mainstream (my personal favorite is when she says, “I’m kind of over being told to throw my hands up in the air”) she also deals with growing up and growing old: “I know we’re not everlasting/we are train wrecks waiting to happen/one day the blood won’t flow so gladly/one day we’ll all get still.” It’s a deep thought for a girl who was only 16 when she wrote it, but it’s an honest look at mortality that most of our “we’re gonna live forever” youth culture never bothers to think about.

3. The 20/20 Experience: Part 1, Justin Timberlake2020experience

I have no shame in saying that this album was one of my most played of 2013. It was the feel-good album of the year. I disliked a lot of Part 2, but Part 1 had me doing my pseudo-Justin impersonation (both dancing and singing) all. year. long. There is not one song on this album that will make you feel bad. From the R&B-infused opener “Pusher Lover Girl” to the slow-burning closer of “Blue Ocean Floor,” I was all about this long-player. In a time where we want everything fast and hate when something demands our attention for longer than a few minutes, JT asked you to sit for longer than an hour to listen to radio jams that lasted almost 9 minutes. It was a bold comeback, and that confidence in the music as well as the confidence of the lyrics (“I heard you tell your girl friend you could do better/well, I’m the best ever”) made this album my pump-up soundtrack any time I needed confidence.

2. Trouble Will Find Me, The Nationaltroublewillfindme

The National’s new album got me in all my feels this year. I went through a lot of transitions and growing up this year, and The National was there for all of it. “If I stay here, trouble will find me,” Berninger acknowledges on the title track. I wasn’t in any particular trouble this year, but I knew there were things, people, or even just thoughts I needed to get away from. Trouble Will Find Me is an album about recognizing that where you are may not be destructive at the moment, but staying put might be your downfall. “I need somewhere to be,” Berninger notes, “but I can’t get around the river in front of me.” In the end, you get the feeling that to grow into the person you are supposed to become, it’s not going around the river that is going to help; it’s through. On the cusp of those defining moments, The National provides the perfect backdrop for feelings of fear and insecurity just before taking the next step.

1. Yeezus, Kanye West

yeezus

I hate to not surprise anyone, but Yeezy did it again. When this album came out, I did not expect it to be #1 on my list for most of the year. It’s abrasive, sometimes unpleasant to listen to, and in general not for mixed company. But over time, the ideas and the music got into my system and I could not get them out. At the height of his musical creativity and in a moment where America loves to hate him (like most moments), Kanye embraced the idea of himself as a villain (“the monster about to come alive again,” he warns on the opener) and made us all think about our place in this world and who’s on top of us. On “New Slaves,” he makes an uncomfortable sermon about how we are all enslaved to materialism, racism, corporations, and societal standards in general. We have come to accept too many things as okay in our culture, and while we reject Kanye as unacceptable, he asks us to consider what should really be unacceptable: a man who believes that he is made in God’s image despite the fact that he’s only “doing 1% of what God wants me to do right now” or a culture where people hate themselves so much that they cut musicians down who they have never even bothered to really listen to. When Kanye calls himself a god, or calls himself Yeezus, we call it blasphemy and write him off. Meanwhile he explains over and over again that he’s not saying he is the equivalent of Jesus, but spent too many years pretending he wasn’t made in the image of God, wasting time drowning in self-loathing and other people’s negative opinions of him. Instead of rejecting his sermon, perhaps it’s time we hear it for what it’s worth, take the good parts out, and leave the rest. Kanye made the album quickly, writing many of the lyrics in less than an hour, as a way of showing us that for all of its imperfections there is some truth to saying what’s on your mind and expressing your frustration with the world in both right and wrong ways. Yeezus is an album about the state of affairs in America in 2013. Its brilliance lies it in its imperfections; even if it’s not all right, at least Kanye is trying to tell the truth, or even just search for it. As I fail over and over again at being an adult and a teacher, Yeezus was a message I needed this year. I am mostly wrong about everything, definitely imperfect, but I am still made in God’s image. We all need to pay less attention to what other people think of us and more attention to how we can keep reaching up and beyond ourselves.

What albums are on your list? I’m looking forward to what 2014 has to offer, but I’m pretty sure this guy will have the best album: https://soundcloud.com/therealbenshady/stoplights.

Chi-nanigans

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I fantasized ’bout this back in Chicago.

Vacations are hard work. You can spend a lot of time carefully planning out the itinerary and packing appropriately for what the weathermen and weatherwomen predict, but something will always go wrong. I have a bit of a track record for minor misfortune on trips. Approximately all of my adventures turn into a series of mishaps, and my trip to Kanye’s hometown last week was no different.

Many people questioned my venture to Chicago in the middle of April for seemingly no reason, and my answer didn’t seem to clear much up. Something you should understand about me is that I will take a trip for just about anything. If someone wants to go on some excursion, I will neither deny him or her that nor will I let it go until it happens. Positive and persistent is the name of the game.

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We made it in America.

My sister is an accountant, so when Tax Season (is that a proper title?) ended April 15th, she wanted to get out of town for a few days. Additionally, she is embarking on a cultural pilgrimage to see the Rangers play in every ballpark. They just so happened to be playing at Wrigley Field last week, which just so happens to be in Chicago, the hometown of my musical and personal hero, Kanye West. Say no more.

You should know that there is no bigger Kanye fan in the world than me. I know a lot of people say that about artists they love, but I’m not just saying that. I own over 230 of his songs, be those album tracks, B-sides, unreleased demos, features on other peoples’ songs, what-have-you. I cried both times I saw him live. I wrote my senior Religion thesis at TCU on the spirituality of his 2011 album with Jay-Z, Watch the Throne. I have the unique and annoying ability to quote him in almost every situation; I’m basically a human encyclopedia of Kanye quotes and facts. I might know more about his life than him (a stretch, I know).

The night before departure, rather than spending time looking at weather forecasts and packing my bags to carry-on perfection, I did what any sensible person does when they’re traveling to the city where their favorite artist grew up: I researched and created a log of Kanye quotes to be able to caption all of my Chicago pictures to perfection.

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Most rappers’ taste level ain’t at my waist level.

And guys, I nailed it. Every picture had such perfect captioning of my Chi-nanigans (see what I did there?) that you could bet Kanye probably wrote the line in the same place I took the picture. A famous pizza place that has served the likes of Justin Timberlake, Jay-Z, and Beyoncé even tweeted me back about my caption at their restaurant. Kanye and I are obviously connected on some deeper level of the soul than any onlooker could understand.

Now with such great captioning, you must think that our trip went off without a hitch. But you forget that you’re dealing with a guy who will commit to such trivial matters as picture captioning that he forgets to plan the rest out.

Some highlights of our lows:

Emily and I went to the Rangers-Cubs game severely underdressed for the cold, as I did not have the time to research weather conditions due to my extensive lyric research project.

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I believe.

We walked to Millenium Square from our hotel after being told it was a “few blocks away” which translates to an hour on foot. And don’t forget the rain.

We refused to buy an umbrella in the pouring rain, but ended up snatching one from a couple who left The Book of Mormon early after being offended (a rare victory for us, actually).

We failed to eat before the Second City comedy show, and only found an open Cheesecake Factory at 11 p.m. that refused to serve us for twenty minutes in protest to us showing up thirty minutes before they closed (which actually ends up being on their cheesecaked hands, not ours).

We went to the Field Museum with tired feet, complaining the whole 2-3 hours unless we were looking at dinosaur fossils. Pro tip: Don’t go to the Shedd Aquarium to look at live animals and then go to the Field Museum to look at taxidermy animals. It’s very anticlimactic, and the Museum sincerely doesn’t want you tapping on the glass to make the stuffed animals move (lesson learned).

The best living or dead, hands down, huh?
The best living or dead, hands down, huh?

We went to a couple of art museums, including the Art Institute. After failing to find the Picasso exhibit for a couple of hours, I asked someone who looked like a friendly attendant.

“Excuse me, ma’am,” I politely interrupted her daydream, “Where is the Picasso part?”

“Do you mean the Picasso exhibit?” she sassed.

“Yes, where the Picasso paintings are,” I returned.

How I'm supposed to stand out when everybody got dressed up?
How I’m supposed to stand out when everybody got dressed up?

“Try the double doors up the stairs with the big sign that says PICASSO,”she snapped, inflecting ‘Picasso’ to make it sound like a dirty word.

Suffice it to say, I could not enjoy the Picasso exhibit because I kept returning to retorts I should have given the woman. “Thanks, I hadn’t gotten that far,” I kept muttering under my breath. “I could’ve sworn the sign that says Picasso lead to the Rembrandt exhibit, but you’re right.”

When all was said and done though, the biggest disappointment was that I did not get to see Kanye’s childhood neighborhood. On the last day of our trip, Em and I went to see the University of Chicago. On the way back, we had the brilliant idea to convince our cab driver to go through Southside on the way to the airport.

But this was not to be. “We need to go to our hotel to get our bags,” I told the large Ugandan driver. My sister gave me a look to keep going. “Umm. And. Also. Could we perhaps go through Southside on the way there?”

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Inner-city anthems based off inter-century tantrums.

The man turned and looked at me. “What?”

“The thing is,” I began, “I am the biggest Kanye fan in the world, and I was kind of hoping to see where he grew up.”

The driver laughed, and turned back around. “You don’t want to go there,” he said, and headed for the hotel.

There’s something about humans that lets them get easily hung up on disappointments. People are only full of so many chances for others before they give up and write someone or something off.

All of the little hang-ups in Chi-City did nothing to stop my big sis and me from having the time of our lives (this is Ben Taylor you’re talking to—I could have fun with a pile of dirt), but I can guarantee they would ruin someone else’s day. Some lady on our flight to Chicago complained to anyone with ears that she was late flying in, as if the rest of us weren’t arriving at the same time as her. The couple next to me at The Book of Mormon left thirty minutes into the musical because they were so offended they couldn’t stick around for the message behind the vulgarity. Our cab driver on the last day knew too much about Southside to even drive through it for me.

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If you talkin’ bout classics, do my name get brought up?

And I have a sneaking suspicion that some of you read that I love Kanye, and shut down to anything I might say about him. He offends you, doesn’t he? The mentioning of his name pulls you back five years to that incident with Taylor Swift, or a few years before to that incident with Katrina, or any incident at all that involved Kanye on national television. To many, he is nothing but an arrogant child that can’t keep his mouth shut.

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Chi-town till I’m on my back, Chi-town till I’m on my back.

But Kanye West has done more for me than a lot of people in my life. Here is a man who grew up middle-class in Chicago, but still managed to speak out against the murder happening in his city while other rappers boasted about killing others. Here is a man who was told for years he couldn’t rap and now has released 7 albums, won 21 Grammys, and is notorious for releasing classic after classic. Here is a man who got famous for a song about his walk with Jesus, and then spent the rest of his career being criticized by Christians while he continued to search for God in his misery. Here is a man who lost his mother and all four of his grandparents in one year, and wrote an entire album about what it’s like to have everything in the world in the way of fame and girls and money, and yet have nothing at all.

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She askin’ bout the speedboats; I admit we rented ’em.

Here is a man who is a human being in a world full of fakes.

He’s the sole reason I started rapping and doing spoken word, a large part of the reason I started writing, and the reason I don’t see people as good or bad, right or wrong, but both good and bad and right and wrong and totally and fully human. Imagine that: I was inspired by someone I don’t idolize as a god, but by someone I believe points me to God.

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Can we get much higher?

You don’t have to love all of a person or a place or a thing to learn from it. The world isn’t so simple, and people certainly aren’t. Vacations are wonderful things that often contain many small mishaps, but those mishaps are part of what makes them so great. In the same way, people are complicated beings that often contain many big mistakes, but those mistakes are part of what makes us human. Last week I saw the home of someone who taught me to love where I am and who I’m with, regardless of what goes wrong. It was truly an experience to remember.

If you don’t know by now, I’m talkin’ bout Chi-town.

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On this day we become legendary. Everything we dreamed of