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Commentaries: San Francisco high schoolers on the influence of music




For some, music is a source of inspiration, and even guidance. For others, it may be the beginning of a potential career path.

In these next two commentaries, high school students from the Ruth Asawa School of the Arts in San Francisco explore the significance of music in their lives.

In the first commentary, Hosanna Rubio discusses the current state of hip-hop and her aspirations for the genre.

HOSANNA RUBIO: My name is Hosanna Rubio and I am seventeen years old. Hip-hop is supposed to be poetry and activism – right now it seems as if many of the hip-hop artists have forgotten the activism-based roots of hip-hop, roots that were conscious of the law-shackled past, the change bound present and the always hopeful future.

Right now, the world of hip-hop is just a bunch of homophobic, misogynistic puppets controlled by big ballin’ companies and corporations. No longer is hip-hop a child of the ‘70s disco era, or a way to tighten the historically damaged black community. I begin to wonder how Tupac, the best rapper who ever existed, would feel about the condition of hip hop. He died back in ‘96, which coincidentally or not seemed to be the death of hip-hop. 

All rappers today talk about is how many bitches they have, how big their junk is, how much money they have and how they're living large in the hood. What does this do? 

Some men put on this phony tough guy persona all rappers wear and then boom! There goes another statistic and another stereotype. Wham! Young women see themselves as sexual objects that are not self-empowered but instead are controlled. Woom! Violence is glorified and kids don’t strive to be doctors and lawyers but strapped and slingin’. 

And the other listeners of hip-hop? They listen to hip-hop to be cool or as an act of rebellion, because most rap artists are black and the women being called bitches and hoes in the video are black, their idea of ghetto becomes not just a place, but a group of people. What it means to be black is determined by how you dress, how you speak and where you live.

This would mean that besides my brown skin tone, I am not black. I have to dig deep to find hip-hop that is somewhat clear of these things. This means no radio, just mixed CDs, and spending Saturday afternoons looking up underground rappers like Fashawn and Evidence. This means hoping and praying that quality mainstream rappers like J-Cole don’t fall into the raft of toxic puppets. He reaches out to his listeners like me and crushes a lot of hip-hop stereotypes. I like how he talks about being mixed, like myself. The condition of the black community showing consciousness and single parent living situations, also like myself, he makes hip hop relatable again, just like how it began.  J-Cole and a strong but growing community of rappers like Fashawn, Blue and Common recreate hip-hop without even knowing how much of a difference they make. 

In this next commentary, singer-songwriter Jules Cunningham presents an argument against the college experience.

JULES CUNNINGHAM: My name is Jules Cunningham, I’m seventeen, and I’m not going to college. I’m going to be a singer-songwriter and like many artists before me, I’m thinking where I’m going to learn the most as a writer is the real world.

As my junior year in high school crawls to an end and the sick dog of independent living rears its snout, I watch bags form under my fellow students’ eyes as they stay awake for four hour SAT prep classes or lose sleep looking up the right college with the right status with the right connection so they can get the right job to get the right house and then have a family and live right until retirement.

Maybe this wouldn’t be so disconcerting if I went to a normal high school, but I go to Ruth Asawa School of the Arts, the only visual and performing arts specialty high school in San Francisco. There are fields like classical music where if you get into a conservatory and work hard you can get into an orchestra and climb an established ladder, but for many of us, particularly writers, visual arts kids and actors, our art isn’t worth going to college for.

If there was a college course for how to make it big in the publishing world or how to become a famous actor or songwriter, everyone would be a major artist, but there’s not. I want to be a professional songwriter and performer, but every college I look at either has songwriting as a one-year major, or a major that should be renamed “How to kill your love of songwriting 101.” I have a hard time seeing why I should spend $30 thousand a year for a little bit of songwriting in addition of a bunch of academics I don’t care about, when I could just as easily spend four years writing songs while working a job somewhere. I’d be making money and doing what I love and I’ll have at least the same chances of making it as someone going to college for songwriting. Even if those chances are slim, I figure they get better and better the more of your life you devote to your art.

In the culture I’ve grown up in, it seems like going to college is just something you do, not because you want to or because its something you’re passionate about, but because everyone’s told you from day one that you have to. And for a lot of people, college is a way out of their situation and a way to help themselves and their families. It also provides a backup plan, something you hear a lot when you tell people you want to be an artist. “Oh, that’s nice, but you should go to college for engineering so you’ll have a fall back.”

I’m not here to say you shouldn’t go to college, I’m just saying that often times it does more harm than good. In a country where the national dropout rate is 60 percent, where student loans put people into crippling debt for the rest of their lives and the economy is so up in the air right now that a degree isn’t a guarantee of anything, I have to think, do I want to spend my time endlessly prepping to maybe do what makes me happy, or do I want to spend it doing what makes me happy?

These commentaries were produced by Maia Ipp of the Ruth Asawa School of the Arts, with help from Alyssa Kapnik and Casey Miner.