Time to Read

“You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, who had ever been alive.” This quote by author and activist James Baldwin has altered the way that I view reading. What was once an activity that I lost passion for after being overwhelmed by reading for school, became essential to the path of developing greater compassion for others and myself.

Slow Down and Read

For many people, especially students, reading can feel like extra work that’s adding to our already busy schedules. We are used to moving fast in a world that’s filled with instant gratification, so taking part in the slow process of reading can be difficult. When I finally forced myself to read during my free time, I learned about how rewarding the experience can be. I have connected with characters who have very different lives from my own, which allowed me to figure out that one does not have to have the same life as me in order for us to understand each other. Through reading, I have gained more compassion for people living with mental illness, incarcerated people, the lonely, the afraid, and those who are confused about their place on this Earth. These circumstances and feelings are often not talked about, which can cause us to forget about people who experience them or if we are the person experiencing them then we feel like we’re alone in our struggles. Reading helps us recognize others while feeling known.

People of Color have Stories too

As a person of color, I often felt frustrated by reading stories about people of color but told through a white lens. Although people of color have our own individual experiences, we have more personal insight on issues that people outside of our communities do not have. I recently began to read books by Maya Angelou and Toni Morrison. Their books didn’t simply tell me that “racism is bad,” something that I already knew, but they put words to the pains of being a Black woman, they guided me to feel my resilience that was sent down to me from past generations, and they helped me to know that I exist beyond oppression. Angelou and Morrison are two important figures who made room for other writers of color to tell our stories, but our stories are often still placed in the shadows. In order to prevent this from continuing to happen, we must uplift writers of color, which is what Noname’s Book Club is doing

Noname’s Book Club

Noname is a rapper from Chicago who started the book club to elevate the voices of people of color. Each month, two books by writers of color are selected and participants in the book club are strongly encouraged to access the books through libraries and local bookstores, rather than supporting large and exploitive corporations. The book club has an online community, but the goal is to have in-person discussions and to build chapters in various communities, including prisons. I have been the owner of Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis book, but I never took the time to read it until I saw that it was selected by the book club. Before reading Persepolis, Iran seemed like a distant place that I would never know anything about. After reading Persepolis, I began to care deeply about Iran and the people who call the country home. This shows another reason, and possibly one of the most important reasons, for the necessity of reading: in a world pervaded by apathy, reading forces us to care. 

Written By: Maya Dixon
Photo by: Catapult

Peep This Joint: Royce Da 5’9” – The Allegory Album Review

After reflecting on his life in the highly introspective, soul-baring album, The Book of Ryan, in 2018, rap veteran Royce Da 5’9’’ focuses his newest effort, The Allegory, on looking outwards and providing philosophical commentary on society at large. 

In an interview with legendary Los Angeles radio host, Big Boy, Royce explained the origins of the album title, revealing it as a direct reference to Plato’s Allegory of the Cave.

“The album speaks a lot about perspective, I’m intrigued by perspective these days,” Royce said. “It’s amazing to me that two people could be looking at the same thing and seeing two totally different things, and each thing being their respective truth.”

With this project marking his eighth studio album, the Detroit emcee enlists a myriad of rappers to help push the album’s focus on perspective. The Allegory runs for a little over an hour with 22 tracks total of dense lyricism and philosophical messages meant to question the listener’s current perspective on reality.

In the rap game, Royce is best known as a top-tier lyricist and storyteller. But in this project, he switches things up by producing every track on the album. Considering that he has only recently started producing beats with his first credit on Eminem’s newest album, this is an ambitious feat that deserves its own applause.

The album opens up with the song, “Mr. Grace (Intro)” where a sample of a a father teaching his daughter financial literacy is played. Lines such as “If I gave you a million dollars right now, would you buy candy or a candy store? A candy store,” and “If I gave you something for 500, and you flip it to the next man for 2000, what is that called? Upselling” indicate Royce’s invitation to listeners to question their perspective on America’s lack of financial curriculum for its children.

He confirms this later on in his verse the repercussions of this lack of literacy rapping, “But this is America, where credit is for the privileged and profit is not my amenity.” In this line it’s clear to see that Royce is targeting the oppressors, namely rich white businessman who maintain the racist status quo of oppressing minorities.

A standout track of the album is the song, “Upside Down feat. Ashley Sorrell & Benny The Butcher.” As the fourth single of the album, Royce and rising New York rapper Benny The Butcher lay down a lyrically he avy tirade against the aforementioned oppressors. With Royce rapping, “White kids graduate to relationships with a ton of perks / Black kids, just aggravated and had to take a ton of Percs,” it’s clear to see the frustration he holds over the lack of equity in today’s status quo. Benny The Butcher voices similar frustrations rapping, “Young heathens clap tools over VVS jewels / White kids pull heaters at school, wanna CBS News.”

For a rapper with one of the most sharpest pens in the game, the production throughout the album never seems too boring or stale, despite the heavy reliance of sampling and boom-bap drums. The eclectic use of a wide range of samples such as Kool & the Gang’s funky hit, “Sunny Madness” in the song, “Dope Man” or the soulful crooning of The Linton’s “Lost Love” in “Overcomer” shows the hard work Royce put in before showcasing his work to the world. It ultimately pays off with an impressive production quality not typically found in rappers who decide to dip their toes into beat-making, especially one capable of such high caliber lyricism.

Overall, The Allegory proves that Royce’s pen is still sharp as ever and showcases his new production skills in this self-produced album. If you’re itching to hear some hard hitting bars that’ll have you reflecting on your own perspective, I suggest that you peep this joint out!

Rating: 8/10

Written by: Johann Oribello

The State of the Moives: Tomorrowland – My Most Disappointing Movie Going Experience of all Time

Before I go into discussing why this movie and its existence haunts me as much as it does, I figure I ought to explain the expectations I had going into this feature.

When I first heard the concept of Tomorrowland, my 15 year old self had trouble containing his excitement. There was this overall sense of glee and joy upon hearing that a movie based off my favorite section of Disneyland was going to be made, and that it would be directed by Brad Bird who, for me, has always been one of the most inspirational directors working in Hollywood. If you’re unfamiliar with his work, he is primarily known for animation having done The Iron Giant in 1999, but he is most known for his work with Pixar having created the Incredibles and Ratatouille. It wasn’t until 2011 when Bird was given the chance to helm a live action film with Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol. I had seen all his movies and loved all of them. Until Fallout was released in 2018, Ghost Protocol was actually my favorite Mission Impossible movie.

The trailers then were released for the movie and they were very secretive in how they presented itself.

The first teaser merely showed a mysterious main character, Casey, played by Britt Robertson, checking out of what seemed to be either a prison or a police station. The police goes through all her items that she went to collect, until she notices a bizarre pin with a letter “T” painted on the front. When she touches the pin, it transports her to a wheat field with a futuristic city in the distance waiting to be explored. This was such a cool concept, the idea of being transported to a city merely by holding onto a pin, I wondered where they were gonna go with this concept.

The next few trailers were released and they slowly revealed a little more about the plot, but honestly not much else. They showcased that the pins were more of a temporary calling card to the city of Tomorrowland and that the film would actually be about the journey to the city. Admittedly, the trailers were really vague and didn’t provide much info on what the movie was about but what kept me on board for this film was the grand sense of adventure that the trailers promoted. I went into this movie under the impression that the film would be a fast paced sci-fi adventure spent mostly in the futuristic city with some possible world ending stakes involved too.

By the time I had turned 16 and the movie was ready to be released on Memorial Day Weekend of 2015, I didn’t know what to do with myself. A theater close to my house had just opened up a new IMAX theater and I forced my dad to take me to the new theater to experience this movie. I had just gotten over my anticipation for Avengers: Age of Ultron and this was a movie that deserved a proper and ultimate movie viewing experience. When I walked out, I found myself disappointed and even slightly confused by what I had just watched. It was one of the most ambitious, yet bizarre and even unsatisfying movies I’ve ever seen in my life. As a teenager, this movie cursed me because I acknowledged the potential for greatness it had but knew that this movie was just too ambitious for its own good.

It’s been a while since I’ve seen this movie but without giving too much away, what doesn’t work about this movie?

The way Tomorrowland is presented is that the entire idea of the city is a mystery. What is it? What draws people to it? How does one get there? These questions are what is supposed to keep the plot going and hold the audience’s intrigue. This is fine as the film can potentially become more exciting due to this intrigue, especially if the characters find themselves struggling to find these answers due to unfortunate events. The problem is the excuses the script gives as to why the characters do not have all the answers they need is so lame. Let me explain.

Oftentimes, in order for Casey, played by Britt Robertson, to find the answer to a question she is looking for, she just needs to ask someone she knows for help. She comes in contact with an android, Athena, played by Raffie Cassidy, who is extremely strong and can easily fend off bad guys in an instant. As Athena helps Casey in these moments Casey finds herself asking questions like “What is going on?”, “What’s happening?”, “Why are you doing this?”, and the only response that Athena gives is “I can’t tell you that yet.” There’s no reason as to why she can’t tell her anything yet other than that the screenwriter, Damon Lindelof, would prefer you not find out the main conflict of the movie before the third act. If Athena just tells Casey all the information she and the audience needs to know, the intrigue of the movie ends right away and there’s nothing left.

The writing in this movie just feels really lazy and it even becomes frustrating as an audience member to watch. It’s fine that Lindelof chooses to leave the audience at a state of confusion throughout the movie, he should just find a way to convey that mystery in a meaningful way and he never really does. Had the characters that surround Casey either had the same questions she did or had this movie been set in Tomorrowland with the answers slowly trickling in, it would’ve been a smoother and even more satisfying experience.

Instead, what we get is a drawn out 1st act that goes on for about 90 mins and then a final act that goes on for about 30 mins where a bunch of information is dropped onto the audience. None of it feels earned or coherent, it just feels chaotic, in the worst kind of way. Once we do get to the third act of the movie, you find that the answers to your questions are really underwhelming. It’s not what you expected and although I appreciate a film that can play with your expectations, it’s important that it does so in a way that feels, once again, earned and meaningful.

Most of the movie isn’t even set in Tomorrowland. It’s mostly on Earth and they don’t even reach the city until the finale of the film. In fact, they never even call the city Tomorrowland in the movie except for once towards the end. They only refer to it as “there” or “the city when I touched the pin.” Part of this is because Casey herself doesn’t know the city name, and again they’re trying to build mystery in anyway they can, it just feels weird knowing that they aren’t even really giving you what the film itself promised. Also, it isn’t much of a mystery what the name of the city is when we see George Clooney say the name of it in the trailer and when the movie itself is titled by the city name. We only get a few minutes of the beauty of Tomorrowland before the finale with a flashback of Frank (played by George Clooney) and when Casey touches the pin until she realizes the pin has expired and she can no longer use it as a means to transport herself to the city. This film needed to be set in Tomorrowland and have a more exciting screenplay with more interesting twists. Had it done so, we probably would’ve had a really special and fun science fiction film that would be talked about today.

To be honest, this is one of the worst screenplays to one of the best looking movies I’ve ever seen.

Brad Bird does an amazing job behind the camera and every aspect on the technical side is wonderful! The cinematography, production design, color correction, visual effects and lighting are all spectacular and you can tell they got some of the most talented people in the industry to work on this project. The film was shown in the 1.90:1 IMAX aspect ratio and it made the movie feel even more alive and was actually a great way to experience it. All the scenes in the city of Tomorrowland, although brief, are fantastic! The music builds a sense of excitement and awe for the characters as we experience what seems to be a really cool city. The design of these gadgets and gizmos throughout it are very fun too having taken much influence from Walt Disney’s design of Tomorrowland at the parks and other sci-fi related media from the 50’s and 60’s. The way the buildings are created and cars are modeled feels very reminiscent of that retro look Americans had been used to in the late 50’s and early 60’s. It at times feels like a live action version of a movie like the Iron Giant, the Incredibles, or even Meet the Robinsons (not a Brad Bird film). It’s not a vision of the future we are used to seeing in today’s films but it’s one that I really admired and hope can be put to a better screenplay at some point in the future.

So with that all said and done, what kind of story would I want to tell if I were ever given the opportunity to adapt my favorite section of Disneyland into a feature film?

I think the use of the “mystery box” that Lindelof is known for on shows like Lost was really used poorly within this feature. It felt incredibly unfocused and disorganized which really ruined the experience for me. If a producer had insisted I used the mystery box as a means to tell this story, I would have none of the characters involved in this adventure know anything about what they are encountering. In fact, I would completely redesign this screenplay as to model a more traditional sci-fi adventure film while still remaining its own unique thing. Perhaps the characters that reside on Earth can notice a disturbance on their planet and a signal coming from another mysterious planet many light years away.

From there, my screenplay would follow a group of characters on their way to the city and the oddities they come across as they head towards their destination. Tomorrrowland doesn’t even have to be a city, it can be a country. Hell, it can be a planet for all I care. If we were to go with that, the characters would have so much more to explore. Maybe there are certain parts of the planet Tomorrowland that are more desolate than others. Maybe there’s a war between the classes that reside within the city. Maybe the governor of Tomorrowland has noticed life on Earth and hopes to destroy it as a means to widen his influence in the galaxy. I know it sounds silly but there’s gotta be a way to tell this story in a more satisfying way while still remaining ambitious.

I’ve thought for a while about a screenplay for a movie called “Space Mountain” in fact based off the ride that is similar to these ideas I’ve just mentioned. I’ve structured it mostly as a journey movie where characters find more and more along the way. It’s still underdeveloped, but it’s something I have fun messing around with as a writer. I understand that Lindelof’s vision of this movie and my vision of this movie are very different, which is fine, I just wish the film took advantage of the incredible production on display and made a more fun adventure that could still hold an impact with audiences years after they’ve experienced it for the first time.

Further, the movie is so full of itself. It believes it’s this grand adventure that takes you beyond the cosmos when in reality it’s just a two hour meandering experience where grumpy characters refuse to give other characters answers to questions and where “stuff” just kind of happens with no merit or meaning behind it. I didn’t even mention the fact that one of the main subplots of the film is the relationship Frank, who is now an older man, once had with the android Athena when he was young and the pain he feels knowing that he’ll never be able to experience a meaningful relationship with her because she is an android and cannot grow or experience love. The performances just do not sell it and truthfully these are ideas I don’t feel a Disney movie can really truly do properly. As is, it just feels uncomfortable because all I see is George Clooney being sad that he cannot pursue a relationship with a child and it’s just too ambitious an idea for Disney to successfully tackle in my opinion. Lindelof believes he’s making the next Her or Under the Skin when in reality he should’ve focused more on making an accessible yet unique sci-fi adventure.

Overall, Tomorrowland is a clumsy, awkward mess of a movie that never feels satisfying or fulfilling. It’s one of the most frustrating movies I’ve seen in years and it curses me to this day that it wasn’t as good as it should be. Every once in a while I get the urge to watch it again just to confirm that it is not nearly as good as I thought it was, and I have to stop myself when I get these urges because I know that if I follow through with them, I’m settling myself in for a really disappointing ride. I really wish this movie was better, and I probably would be a better person in a world where this movie was the masterpiece it had the potential to be. I think had the story perhaps remained more simple and had they spent more time in the city, this could’ve been something really special. Brad Bird in particular does a great job with simple yet charming stories and you can tell that story wise, this project is way out of his comfort zone. I still respect that this movie was attempting to be as ambitious as it was, but I can also acknowledge when this movie ultimately fails at achieving the goal it set out towards in the first place. Tomorrow truly feels like another dream away with this one.

Written By: Christian Scognamillo

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Peep This Joint: The Brooklyn Drill Sound

A new movement has been brewing in the midst of the New York rap scene for the past couple of months.

Take the gritty, haunting production from U.K. drill and mix it with the aggressive yet charismatic delivery of Brooklyn rappers and you have the Brooklyn Drill sound. The catapult-like rise of Brooklyn rappers such as Sheff G and Pop Smoke have officially put Brooklyn back on the map.

It’s clear to see that Brooklyn Drill has roots from the original drill scene in Chicago and the U.K. Nevertheless, the rappers from Brooklyn have managed to put their own signature New York flavor and created a new, bustling movement that’s taking hip-hop by storm.

The sound has already been steadily growing in the most thorough borough for a minute now with Flatbush’s own Pop Smoke’s track, “Welcome To The Party” gaining tons of traction during the summer of 2019. The song became a breakthrough hit and landed Pop Smoke at the forefront of movement. 

Unfortunately, the fast-rising rapper’s career was tragically cut short on Feb. 19 as he was fatally shot in his Hollywood Hills home during a home invasion. 

The shocking death of the promising rapper has left the rap world shocked with music artists from the rap community pouring their condolences and support on Twitter.  In light of Pop Smoke’s untimely departure, here are a few words about the young phenom as well as other Brooklyn Drill rappers to check out:

Pop Smoke

Taken from: HipHopDX

As mentioned previously, Pop Smoke reared the helm for the Brooklyn Drill scene. Listen to any of his tracks and it’s not difficult to see why. His low, gravelly voice matched with his effortless delivery and signature growl adlib caught the attention of many listeners worldwide. It even had one writer compare him to an ancient Sumerian demon. Out of all the Brooklyn Drill rappers, he saw the most commercial success garnering collaborations with artists such as H.E.R. and Travis Scott. It’s clear to see the prosperity Pop Smoke received brought much attention to the Brooklyn scene as a whole.  Now mainstream artists such as Tory Lanez, Quavo and even titans like Drake and Nicki Minaj have hopped on to the Brooklyn Drill wave. Despite the premature cut to a promising young career, his influence opened the gateway for the sound to reach the masses. 

Tracks to check out: “Welcome To The Party,” “Meet the Woo,” and “Dior.”

Sheff G

Taken from: Pitchfork

Due to Pop Smoke’s meteoric rise into the spotlight, he’s seen as the most prominent voice in the Brooklyn Drill soundscape. Before his arrival into the music scene though, Flatbush’s own Sheff G reared the helm. He first made waves back in 2017 with the release of his breakout track, “No Suburban” and then went on to release his full-length debut, The Unluccy Luccy Kid in 2019. Capitalizing off the momentum of the entire movement, the album proves to be a strong entrance for the Brooklyn rapper. If you’re new to the scene The Unluccy Luccy Kid is an amazing introduction to the subgenre as a whole.

Tracks to check out: “Flows,” “We Getting Money,” and “Menace feat. Sleepy Hallow & Mozzy.”

22Gz

Taken from: Atlantic Records

22Gz (pronounced as tutu jeez) is one of the earliest pioneers of the Brooklyn Drill wave, releasing his first song, “Blixky” back in 2016. After capturing heat with the release of his next single, “Suburban,” his career took a turn for the worse as he was arrested and charged with second-degree murder. Fortunately for the young Brooklynite, he only spent several months in jail as the murder charges were later dropped. Since then, the self-proclaimed “Brooklyn Drill General” has been steady on his grind and managed to ink a deal with Kodak Black’s label, Sniper Gang. With a successful mixtape under his belt, 22Gz is a force to look out for in the near future.

Tracks to check out: “Blixky Gang Freestyle,” “Spin the Block feat. Kodak Black,” and “Suburban Pt. 2.”

Fivio Foreign

Taken from: XXLMag

Fivio (pronounced as fabio) Foreign is another up-and-comer that’s firmly gaining traction beyond the Brooklyn music sphere. Landing a feature on Tory Lanez’ new single, “K Lo K,” Fivio shows up with an infectious energy and bounce as he puts on for the city of New York. His rapid rise to popularity has even caught the eyes of Drake who he’s rumored to have a feature with. After connecting with legendary New York rapper Mase and signing a record deal with him, Fivio is quickly becoming a force to be reckoned with in the near future. 

Tracks to check out: “Big Drip,” “Richer Than Ever feat. Rich The Kid,” and “K Lo K feat. Tory Lanez.”

If you’re looking to find out what’s currently hot right now in hip-hop, peep some of these joints out!

Written By: Johann Oribello