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University of Pennsylvania Press

V Books: Prof. Keisha N. Blain Shows How Black Women ‘Set the World on Fire’

God is a Woman. 

It has been a recurring theme for a couple of years now. Women writers, scholars, authors, activists, as well as lesser known local heroines have been kicking a** in their respective fields of work - especially black women. It’s no secret that black women have played major roles across the workforce for generations now. But sadly, with the exception of names like Rosa Parks, Harriet Tubman, Mary McLeod Bethune, among others, black women’s accomplishments have flown under the radar.

In the midst of Ryan Coogler’s box office smash movie, Black Panther, that touches on themes of Pan-Africanism and shows young eyes what a black superhero looks like on the big screen, Professor Keisha N. Blain, Assistant Professor of History at the University of Pittsburgh, is unearthing the work of lesser known black women and their fight for black emigration to Africa. Blain’s brilliantly researched and informative new book, Set the World on Fire: Black Nationalist Women and the Global Struggle for Freedom (University of Pennsylvania Press), sheds light on black nationalist women as they combat the dangerous jaws of white supremacy.

Blain, who holds a B.A in History and Africana Studies from Binghamton University (SUNY) and a Ph.D. in History from Princeton University, examines ways that black nationalist women fought in national and global politics.

“The ‘freedom dreams’ that they envisioned propelled them to create new spaces and opportunities for women of color to openly confront racial and sexual discrimination,” Blain writes.

Along with shedding light on rarely talked about women of color who dedicated their lives to countering racial discrimination and bigotry, Set the World on Fire further peels back commercialized layers of historical figures.

For instance, Prof. Jeanne Theoharis, Distinguished Professor of Political Science at Brooklyn College, argues in her book, A More Beautiful and Terrible History: The Uses and Misuses of Civil Rights History, how the depth of the Civil Rights Movement has been diminished as a result of schools. Theoharis also states that Black History Month has become a commercialized way to celebrate pre-selected historical figures.

Theoharis makes a valid point here. One of the many strengths of Blain’s Set the World on Fire is that it's not a regurgitation of popular historical women of color. Instead, Set the World on Fire shows how instrumental the daily, and far from glamorous, grind of organizing, raising funds and other mundane activities are in combating racism. With the commercialization of Black History Month, one can be led to believe that fighting racism is achieved only by marching, sitting at a lunch counter or sitting in the front of a bus.

Dr. Blain--whose research interests include black internationalism, radical politics and global feminism--narrates the contributions of Audley ‘Queen Mother’ Moore, Ethel Maude Collins, Laura Adorker Kofey, Amy Jacques Garvey, among others.

Blain writes: “The women chronicled in this book employed multiple protest strategies and tactics. They combined numerous religious and political ideologies such as Garveyism, Ethiopianism, Pan-Africanism, and Islam.”

Capping out at only 200 pages, Set the World on Fire isn’t bogged down in tedious academic jargon, which should hold the attention of readers outside of academia.

The book commences with women of the Garvey Movement. Marcus Garvey, founder of the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA), advocated Pan-Africanism and emigration to Africa, also known as Garveyism.

Garvey has been one of the popular historical figures within the black community. But not much is known about the women and their helping minds to Garveyism.

One Garveyite that Blain highlights is Amy Ashwood, Garvey’s first wife. Ashwood’s organizational and social networking skills played major roles in the success of the UNIA. Blain details how during the early stages of the UNIA, many of the meetings were held at Ashwood’s parents’ home. Ashwood was also instrumental in the success of UNIA’s newspaper, Negro World.

Blain quotes Ashwood--an excerpt taken from Lionel Yard’s Biography of Amy Ashwood-- “From midnight until four in the morning, Marcus and I would trudge around the streets of Harlem putting a slim copy of the Negro World under people’s doors.”

Upon Ashwood and Garvey’s divorce, she moved to London where she continued to advance Pan-Africanist politics by working with activists from Nigeria, Ghana, Jamaica as well as other British territories.

Blain, who also serves as president of the African American Intellectual History Society and senior editor of Black Perspectives, examines the tireless work ethic of Webster Parish, La. native, Mittie Maude Lena Gordon.

According to Blain, Gordon was one of Chicago’s leading black nationalist “streets scholars,” who became an advocate for working poor people of color. However--and this is not to diminish Gordon’s work-- some of Gordon’s ideas were not original. Similar to Garvey’s Back to Africa Movement, Gordon established the Peace Movement of Ethiopia (PME). In December 1932, Gordon secured a hulking estimated 400,000 signatures of black people willing to move to Africa. The largest black nationalist organization established by a woman in the United States, Gordon’s PME also served as an important political space for working poor people of color.

Set the World on Fire also examines the bold activism of Celia Jane Allen, who was appointed by Gordon to organize PME strategies in Southern towns such as Long, and Matherville, Mississippi. Given the number of lynchings in Mississippi, white mob violence against activists was always a grave concern. Despite this threat, Allen never wavered in spreading PEM’s message of black political self-determination, racial pride and economic self-sufficiency.

Blain writes: “Allen’s few surviving letters capture her sense of fear as she traveled throughout the South to recruit new members and promote the message of black emigration.”

Blain also examines the activism of Ethel Waddell, who was one of the voices that advocated the Greater Liberia Bill. Sponsored by former Mississippi Senator Theodore Bilbo, the Greater Liberia Bill gave African Americans an opportunity to move to Africa. Not surprisingly though, once the Greater Libera Bill was drafted, there were major issues such as a clause that granted U.S. government military control of West Africa. Blain added that as the Greater Liberia Bill was introduced to Congress, black women did most of the promotional groundwork.

“These women laid the groundwork for a new generation of black activists and intellectuals,” Blain writes. “In many ways, the Civil Rights--Black Power era represented an extension of the political work that women like Ashwood, Jacques Garvey, De Mena, Gordon and others had begun several decades prior.”

Blain’s Set the World on Fire adds to a growing body of research that speaks to black women’s activism such as Ashley Farmer’s Remaking Black Power: How Black Women Transformed an Era and Robyn Spencer’s The Revolution Has Come: Black Power, Gender and the Black Panther Party in Oakland. Farmer examines black women’s political and cultural engagement with Black Power, while Spencer examines the Black Panther Party’s ideology, programs and gender politics.

Set the World on Fire shines because it illuminates a group of women who are not part of popular black history dialogue, yet these women took on what is often considered to be masculine roles in the fight against global white supremacy. Furthermore, Set the World on Fire offers more historical figures for young girls of color to admire.

Purchase Dr. Blain's Set the World on Fire here.

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Genres Aside, Here Are Our 25 Favorite Songs Of 2018

Keeping up with all of the music from 2018 was a full-time job, with loads of songs releasing every week and not enough ears to keep track. But the volume of music comes with an advantage: there’s something for everybody. Fittingly, our list of the 25 Best Songs of 2018 represents the multi-genre mayhem that is in everyone’s playlists this year.

Some of the entries on our list, like cuts by Drake, Travis Scott and Childish Gambino, were at the forefront of the conversation in 2018, dominating streaming services and radio around the country. Indie darling Saba made waves, and he’s included here as well. Jazz wizard Kamasi Washington dropped some of the best protest music of the year. But there are also some songs on this year’s list that spoke to the VIBE Tribe in a different way. Cardi B had hits all year, but an album cut impressed us most; Usher and Zaytoven’s new album didn’t make a huge splash commercially, but one of its songs appears here. And Beyonce appears on one of the best songs of the year that never even saw an official release–but that didn’t stop us from including it here.

Music broke the rules this year, and so did we. Read below, and tell us what surprise choices are making your songs of the year list.

READ MORE: Debate Us: The 30 Best Albums Of 2018

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A look back at the collaborator's up and down relationship.
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Remember The Time: 10 Times Drake And Kanye West Were Stronger Together

Kanye West and Drake aren’t exactly in the best place at the moment. West’s Dec. 13 Twitter rant detailed their issues, in which he accuses Drake of “sneak dissing” and threatening him.

“You sneak dissing on [Travis Scott] records and texting Kris [Jenner] talking about how’s the family.” he wrote among many other tweets and allegations against the Scorpion MC.

While this is a bump in the road, the two haven’t always been enemies. Despite the shenanigans surrounding them, Kanye West and Drake have had a very fruitful relationship. All drama aside, the duo have created many memorable moments in hip-hop and pop culture. They’ve written and recorded some incredible songs and shared countless stages during concerts and tours.

To abstain from dwelling on the negativity, VIBE has collected a list of moments taking you through the high points in the rappers’ relationship. Check it out below.

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Drake's Freestyles Over Many Beats By 'Ye

Before he was one of the most sought-after rappers in the world, Drizzy has looked up to Kanye West and sampled his work. For “Say What’s Real,” a single off his mixtape So Far Gone, the “In My Feelings” MC sampled Yeezy’s “Say You Will” off of his 2008 album 808s & Heartbreak. The admiration continued throughout the years, resulting in more freestyles over songs like “Swagga Like Us” and “Barry Bonds.” Both tracks feature beats created by the Chi-town native. 

‘Thank Me Later’ Proves Their Shared Power 

After meeting in 2009, the duo came together to bring Drake's Thank Me Later album to the next level. They collaborated on two tracks- the futuristic love songs “Show Me A Good Time,” and “Find Your Love.” With West holding down production, deep-pocketed 808’s and table-top scratch sounds were highlighted. The accolades for the latter song resulted in the No. 5 spot on the Billboard Hot 100 charts as they created their own lane.

Drake Calls Kanye “The Most Influential Person”

In a 2009 interview, the then-industry rookie had some nice words for West. Speaking specifically about the 41-year-old’s 808’s and Heartbreak album, the Toronto rapper described ‘Ye as "the most influential person” who was important to young emcees in the game.

"Before I ever got the chance to meet him, Kanye West shaped a lot of what I do, as far as music goes," Drake said. He knows how to utilize great sounds and great music. So before I met him, I had the utmost respect for Kanye West. I'd even go as far as to say he's the most influential person as far as a musician that I'd ever had in my life."

Their Collaborations On Wax 

The pair has been making music together for nearly 10 years, with some standout tracks including “Forever,” the remix to “All Of The Lights,” and “Pop Style.” On their 2017 song “Glow” off of Drake’s playlist More Life, both rappers discuss their growing, limitless success. West was rumored to initially appear on Drizzy’s smash-hit “Nice For What.” He reportedly had a verse on the critically-acclaimed track until the beef between Drake and his G.O.O.D. Music cohort Pusha T became lethal.

The Joint Mixtape That Never Happened

Drake and Kanye are no strangers when it comes to making joint albums with other artists. Drake worked with Future on the platinum-selling album What A Time To Be Alive, while Kanye released Watch The Throne with JAY-Z to critical acclaim. However, it has been hinted for the longest time that the two were working on a full-length album of their own.

Kanye confirmed the plan to release an album with Drake to Vogue in 2016, shortly after hinting at a joint project during OVO Fest. The Take Care rapper co-signed the announcement, saying "What my brother was asking before was, are you ready if we make an album?"

Drake Writing For Kanye’s ‘The Life Of Pablo’

Drake wrote a song for Kanye’s 2016 effort, The Life of Pablo. The Canadian hip-hop star helped pen the Isaac Hayes and Nelly-sampled “30 Hours.” Drizzy was also reportedly on the original, unreleased version of Pablo’s “Wolves,” which featured Icelandic artist Bjork (the album version features Vic Mensa and Sia).

The Duo Become Friendly, Competitive Neighbors

By the time of their initial meeting in 2009, Kanye already clocked in nearly a decade of music industry knowledge, and Drake was making the transition from teen TV star to full-time rapper. But who would have thought the duo would have eventually become actual neighbors?

Drake eventually moved to Calabasas, Calif.- a neighborhood in Los Angeles many celebrities call home- around the same time West began publicly dating his now-wife, Kim Kardashian. In the 2016 bop “Summer Sixteen,” Drizzy jokes, “Now I got a house in LA, now I got a bigger pool than Ye / And look man, Ye’s pool is nice, mine's just bigger's what I’m saying.”

 

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There goes the neighborhood

A post shared by champagnepapi (@champagnepapi) on Nov 7, 2016 at 3:05am PST

Kanye Supports OVO Fest

Drake created a hip-hop festival called OVO Fest in 2010. Not only does it feature notable acts in urban music, but it also gave a platform to upcoming artists from Canada who might not have gotten a platform back home. Kanye West was one of the first supports of the music event, performing at three of the festivals.

He also admitted that Drake inspired him and JAY-Z to record Watch The Throne during 2013’s OVO Fest, stating, "Me and Hov would've never made Watch the Throne if this ni**a wasn't putting pressure on us like that, so I just wanna pay my respects.”

Kanye Apologizes To Drake Over G.O.O.D. Music Album Rollouts

Earlier this fall, Kanye West apologized to Drake in a series of tweets for planning the rollout of albums by artists under his G.O.O.D music roster around the proposed release of Scorpion.

In one of the tweets, Kanye wrote “Let me start by apologizing for stepping on your release date in the first place. We were building a bond and working on music together including squashing the issues with Cudi at our office.” In another tweet, ‘Ye revealed that he never listened to the diss tracks between him and Pusha, and didn’t have conversations regarding Drake’s child with him.

Let me start by apologizing for stepping on your release date in the first place … We were building a bond and working on music together including squashing the issues with Cudi at our office.

— ye (@kanyewest) September 5, 2018

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VIBE / Nick Rice

Debate Us: The 30 Best Albums Of 2018

What a year 2018 has been for music lovers.

Listeners enjoyed a buffet of diverse melodies, savoring in the choice of curating the tunes they craved as opposed to consuming more than they can digest. Rumored albums from veterans like Lil Wayne's Tha Carter V and The Carters' first joint project battled its way to the top of our personal charts alongside music's innovators like Noname, The Internet, Buddy, and Janelle Monae.

Within that aforementioned list of artists, a new generation of lyricists and vocalists found their footing with fans and critics alike. The rising crop of talent released projects that should motivate each of them to carve out space for forthcoming awards. While we took into account the albums released from Dec. 1, 2017 to Nov. 20, 2018, that moved us emotionally, we also checked off a list of requirements like replay value, overall production, critical reception, and cultural impact.

Here are the 30 albums (in alphabetical order, not ranked), that instilled pride in our culture, made us take a look within, and encouraged us to appreciate music all over again.

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