Over the weekend, JAY-Z and Beyoncé–The Carters–briefly stopped the world with the surprise release of their long-awaited joint album, Everything is Love. The nine-song opus was well worth the wait, too. Filling their roles as credible and reliable voices of black culture, Hov and Queen Bey took listeners on an exciting shotgun ride through historical and black political moments.
In recent years, the power couple has been quietly acting as activists by donating more than $1 million to the Black Lives Matter organization, and bailing Ferguson and Baltimore protesters and fathers, on Father’s Day, out of jail. They have even shed light on the tragic stories of Kalief Browder and the forthcoming series on Trayvon Martin. Of course, all of the above comes out in their music.
One song from their collaborative album, in particular, is the soul-stirring “Black Effect.” With Cool and Dre perfecting the song’s production, The Carters offer pride and confidence to black folks far and wide. Together, they run the historical gamut by covering topics such as Egypt, Sarah Baartman, Crips and Bloods, and cultural appropriation.
In the midst of Hov and Bey interrupting our regularly scheduled program, VIBE put together a “Black Effect” syllabus, a list of books that coincide with lyrics from the prideful song.
Course: The Carters’ ‘Black Effect’ 101:
1. Lyrics: See my vision with a Tec, bi**h, I’m Malcolm X (JAY-Z)
Objective: Understanding the complex life of Malcolm X
Book: Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention by Manning Marable
Lecture: Of course JAY-Z is referring to the famous picture of Malcolm X holding a rifle while peering out of a window, taken by the late Don Hogan Charles. But there’s much more to Malcolm X than this iconic photo, and his widely-read The Autobiography of Malcolm X. Other books based on the Muslim minister’s life include Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for History. Penned by the late Marable, A Life of Reinvention asserts that Malcolm may have exaggerated his early criminal life and engaged in homosexuality. Despite Malcolm’s gifted intellect, Marable also paints him as a man with flaws and insecurities, which goes against what we’ve been taught about Brother Malcolm as well as what we’ve read in his autobiography.
2. Lyrics: Get your hands up high like a false arrest (JAY-Z and Beyoncé)
Objective: Examine police brutality in American cities.
Books: They Can’t Kill Us All (Wesley Lowery), Invisible No More: Police Violence against Women and Women of Color (Andrea Ritchie), Nobody: Casualties of America’s War on the Vulnerable from Ferguson to Flint, and Beyond (Marc Lamont Hill)
Lecture: The Carters have a hushed history of supporting the Black Lives Matter movement, and this is a great example for aspiring rappers and R&B singers to follow. For those interested in digging deeper into false arrests or police brutality, Marc Lamont Hill’s Nobody: Casualties of America’s War on the Vulnerable from Ferguson to Flint, and Beyond, is a great place to start. Here, Hill shows how race, class and vulnerability are some of the main ingredients for police brutality and false arrests.
3. Lyrics: Got slowed down by the weight of my necklace, parked the Lexus in the projects, I’m reckless (JAY-Z)
Objective: To gain a better understanding of the culture of the poor and working class.
Book: Race Rebels: Culture, Politics and the Black Working Class by Robin D.G. Kelley
Lecture: Resistance isn’t limited to marches and fighting legislation. Professor Kelley’s Race Rebels examines unconventional ways in which poor and working-class blacks challenged authority. Kelley explores vast forms of resistance such as slaves hiding and destroying tools, McDonald’s workers wearing their hat backwards and cracking jokes during their work shift, and as Jay’s lyrics suggest, owning material possessions can be seen as a form of rebellion.
4. Lyrics: They even biting cornrows, put your scarecrows up (JAY-Z)
Objective: Gaining new perspectives on cultural appropriation.
Book: Soul Thieves: The Appropriation and Misrepresentation of African American Popular Culture edited by Tamara Lizette Brown and Baruti N. Kopano
Lecture: From Soul Thieves, readers are blessed with a collection of essays from scholars who trace both the historical and contemporary birthing of commercialized forms of black culture. Scholars study the impact of hip-hop, television, film, dance, fashion, and sports. Soul Thieves also shows how historically, blacks have always been at the forefront of creating popular culture.
5. Lyrics: I pull up like the Freedom Riders, hop out on Rodeo (Beyoncé)
Objective: A comprehensive history of the 1961 Freedom Riders.
Book: Freedom Riders: 1961 and the Struggle for Racial Justice by Raymond Arsenault
Lecture: In 1961, a group of students who dubbed themselves Freedom Riders challenged oppression by riding segregated buses through the Deep South. Despite federal law saying it was unconstitutional to segregate buses, Freedom Riders were met with resistance. Historian Raymond Arsenault documents their journey from personal stories, to the legal action taken, as well as the the organizing of Freedom Rides.
6. Lyrics: Stunt with your curls, your lips, Sarah Baartman hips (Beyoncé)
Objective: Examine the life of Sarah Baartman, and colonial exploitation and racism.
Book: Sarah Baartman and the Hottentot Venus: A Ghost Story and a Biography by Clifton Crais
Lecture: According to Clifton Crais, Baartman was advertised as the “perfect specimen” in European exhibits as the Hottentot Venus. Europeans believed that Baartman was ancient, yet they admired her beauty by exploiting her features in Freak Shows.
Crais also explores South Africa’s genocide, slave trade, Industrial and French revolutions, Napoleonic Wars and racial science in an effort to understand who Baartman was and the impact she had on the ideas of women. It was rumored that Beyoncé would play Baartman in a movie, however, Bey’s reps quickly shut down those rumors.
7. Lyrics: I made my own waves now they anti-Tidal (JAY-Z)
Objective: Examine black men defying the odds in the corporate world.
Book: Prince of Darkness: The Untold Story of Jeremiah Hamilton, Wall Street’s First Black Millionaire by Shane White
Lecture: Prominent historian Shane White tells a vivid story of a black man named Jeremiah Hamilton, and how he wily maneuvered through the white world to become Wall Street’s first black millionaire.
Also read Black Titan: A.G. Gaston and the making of Black Millionaire, and Richard Potter: America’s First Black Celebrity by Carol Jenkins and Elizabeth Hines, and John A. Hodgson, respectively.
8. Lyrics: Hop on the Jet with my Ebony chick (JAY-Z)
Objective: Explore global fight for black freedom
Book: Set the World on Fire: Black Nationalist Women and the Global Struggle for Freedom by Keisha N. Blain
Lecture: Yes, Jay’s wordplay is a play on Jet and Ebony magazines, but let’s dig deeper. A Brooklyn hip-hop artist hopping on a jet to travel–presumably to another country–shows the global influence of rap music. With that, the fight for black freedom is also a global struggle. Professor Keisha N. Blain, Assistant Professor of History at the University of Pittsburgh, in her recent publication, Set the World on Fire, examines ways that black nationalist women fought in national and global politics.
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.”