Wednesday, May 16, 2012

                                     MY PORTFOLIO 

Raffi Tashjian                                                                                                                                 Dinsmore
English 114B
May 16, 2012
I loved my English 114B class! I really didn’t like my AP English classes in high school. There was a lot of reading and writing and there was nothing interesting. Professor Dinsmore’s class was different; he incorporated everything around us in to his lesson, to help us understand the class much better. By doing this, I was much more interested in the class and actually looked forward to going to it. Professor Dinsmore used his unique way of teaching for everything. When he was going over ethos, pathos, and logos, he used the Grammy Awards to make us understand them. He told us that Adele uses pathos to attract listeners. She puts a lot of emotion in her songs, like in “Someone Like You”. Other than that we learned a lot about identity construction and space. Everything we did in class kind of had to do with these two themes. The essays, projects, and activities revolved around them, and we even looked at how they affected each other. We watched the movie “Gamer” which allowed us to look at the “space” it was taking place and the “identity”. We also had a project about “space” that allowed me to look outside the classroom and discover my neighborhood. I observed my neighborhood and learned a lot about the history, the people living there, and what kind of places there are there. We wrote two essays this semester; I don’t think I’ve enjoyed writing essays this much. The theme Professor Dinsmore gave were quite broad, so it allowed me to write about whatever I want but still connect it to the theme. I wrote about the identities of two American music genres. I really like music, so I had fun.
In the first essay, I looked at the movie “Gamer” and analyzed how it was a social commentary for our society. I looked at how the “Gamer” society was much sexualized. Then I looked at pop culture and saw that they are very much alike. Female pop stars in the 21st century are highly sexualized; they’re barely wearing any clothing, singing about sex, and making music videos that put a lot of attention on their bodies. The “Gamer” society also had women who were half naked and were acting very sexual. What I learned was that the identity of pop music and our pop culture overall has become sexual.

In my second essay, I explored the identity of rap music and tried to understand it by looking at how it has evolved since its origin to today. What I learned is that the identity has changed a lot. It went from being about having a good time, to it being about living in the “hood”, and then to having money and women. As years went by, America’s values changed and so did rap’s identity.
 These two essays and every other activity in class helped me understand how identity is constructed and how it can change over time. Overall, the class was great and I learned a lot. I’m definitely recommending Professor Dinsmore to my incoming freshman homies! 

Raffi Tashjian
English 114B 
February 22, 2012

Gamer: A Social Commentary on Our Society

“Gamer” functions as a social commentary and gives the audience a look at what life has become. It gives a clear view at what our society and culture have become and where we’re headed. During the last few decades, our society has transitioned from being very conservative to being very sexualized and liberal. “Gamer”’s society reflects what our society and culture are like now. It also gives us a look at who’s behind these changes and how they control what’s going on. Overall, the movie was kind of like one big metaphor for society in the 21st century.

The “Gamer” society depicts exactly what our society and culture are like. Throughout the movie, there are scenes in which there are half naked women, girls kissing each other, and basically a very sexual society. It shows the person watching it, how our society has changed and how the world is exposed to sex more than ever, right now. The last 50 years have brought drastic changes to our society and culture. The majority of people have become a lot more accepting of almost everything. The 50’s were a very conservative time; a time where women always covered up and Lucy and Ricky had to sleep in two different beds on “I Love Lucy”. Between the 60’s and the 80’s the sexual revolution occurred, which led to the society we live. During that time, modern birth control was introduced and Madonna became famous. A few decades passed and now we are living in a world where girls are dressed in very revealing outfits, the city’s filled with billboards with half naked women on them, and if pop stars don’t act like a sluts, they won’t have a hit (except Adele, of course). The scenes with the girls, who were dressed in revealing clothes, mirror the looks of girls in our world; we have girls wearing short shorts that are getting shorter everyday and girls wearing shirts that have their stomachs showing. As society has changed its views, so has the culture. Music and movies have become very sexualized. It’s almost like singers have turned in to a big group of whores. Every aspect of pop music exposes sex. Some examples are Katy Perry, Britney Spears, and Nicki Minaj. In her video for her song, “California Gurls”, Katy Perry is shooting whipped cream out of her bra and in her “Teenage Dream” video, she is having sex with her boyfriend. Her song “Peacock” takes it to another level, in which she sings about wanting to see a guy’s “peacock”. Most Britney songs and videos are sexual; a great example of a Britney song is “3” which is about a threesome. Nicki Minaj, on the other hand is, getting a lot of attention for her “assets”. These pop stars are seen by the whole world and teenage girls look up to them. With “role models” like these and a culture that exposes sex every chance it gets, a very sex-driven and liberal society is created. “Gamer” did a very good job of showing what our world looks like.

The scene in “Gamer” where two girls are kissing each other also shows what our society is like. People have become much more accepting of people and don’t really care so much about things like two girls kissing. They feel like people should do whatever makes them happy and that people should express who they are. This was made clear during the 2003 MTV Video Music Awards, when Madonna kissed Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera. This was kind of controversial but for the most part people viewed it as normal. Years later, Lady Gaga has made videos that feature her kissing girls; an example is her “Telephone” video, where she is kissing a girl while she is at jail. Everyone loves Lady Gaga and don’t think her videos are controversial; and know ones shocked by them, her meat dress does that. Overall, “Gamer” showed how our society has come to accept people’s differences and feel okay with everything.

Another part of “Gamer” was the part where the fat, gray guy was controlling the girl. He controls her every move. This is a very important part of the movie because it really shows what our society has been like and what it’s still like. It shows the audience that men have controlled and still control women. It has always been this way. Men have always been the leaders and women did everything they were told to do. Here and there a woman came along who didn’t bow down to men, but for the most part women were the weaker sex and had to be obedient and listen to men. Going back to the example of pop stars; we know that these stars do everything their record company tells them to do. The record company is filled with rich, powerful men who help the singer become famous, but in order to get to the superstardom they get to they have to be controlled by the industry. The way they dress, the way the act, what they say, and what songs and videos they release are controlled by the record company owners and music industry executives. With these singers under their control, the industry is able to control the teenagers who look up to the singers. Another thing that popped into my head is that my sister had a Barbie back in the day, which had a shirt that only covered her breasts, leaving her stomach open. This is kind of control by the toy industry that tells girls from a young age what they’re supposed to wear. Both of these examples show how men control women and society. Through these they show what society has to be like. “Gamer” revealed this perfectly, showing a man behind the scenes controlling a woman.

“Gamer” functioned as a social commentary in a number of ways. It showed how our society and culture have evolved and changed from a conservative society to a sexualized society. The girls dressed in revealing clothing showed how it is becoming more common for women to be dressed like that. The girls kissing shows how our society has become accepting. The man controlling the woman is showing how no matter how much everything is changing, men are still in control. Overall, “Gamer” reflected the world we live in and showed the audience what our society has come to be. 

Raffi Tashjian                                                                                                                                   Dinsmore
English 114B
May 16, 2012                                                                                                                                                   

The Evolution of Rap 

Rap is a musical genre consisting of a rhythmic and rhyming speech that is chanted. Since its birth in the 1970’s, rap has become one of the most popular musical genres in the United States and worldwide. It has grown a lot since it originated in the Bronx area of New York; it has changed a lot and in many ways, including its content, style, and who performs it. Although a lot has changed, two things have not. One of them is that women aren’t accepted as rappers as easily as men are. The other thing is that most rappers were African-Americans back when rap was new and they are still largely African-Americans; the only rap superstar who is not African American is Eminem, all others are. In a very short time, rap has evolved and gone through many things.

According to, rap was born in New York’s West Bronx. Kool Herc, a Jamaican DJ came to New York, and he attempted to incorporate his Jamaican style of DJ which involved reciting improvised rhymes over the dub versions of his reggae records. New Yorkers didn’t like reggae so he started chanting over the instrumental or percussion sections of the day's popular songs. Those days, party goers initially recited popular phrases and used the slang of the day. As this phenomenon evolved, the party shouts became more elaborate and the DJ in an effort to be different began to incorporate little rhymes. Rap was all about feeling good, dancing, and having a party spirit. Soon it caught on. It offered young urban New Yorkers a chance to freely express themselves. This way they were able to rap about the difficulty of living in their neighborhoods. They didn’t need to have money or expensive resources to rap nor did they have to have a good voice. Anyone could rap, as long as they practiced, they would be able to do it. There were no real set rules, except to be original and to rhyme on time to the beat of the music. They put their personality into their raps. Laid-back people rapped at a slow pace and hyper people rapped at a fast pace. Soon everyone in “the hood” were rapping. also says that during raps early years, groups like Afrika Bambaataa, Chief Rocker Busy Bee, Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Four, Grand Wizard Theodore ad the Fantastic Romantic Five, Funky Four Plus One More, Crash Crew, and Master Don Committee had become well known for what they did. By the time they were moving on from the 'two turntables and a microphone stage', the first rap records were put out. The first records were Fat Back Band's ‘King Tem III' and Sugar Hill Gang's 'Rapper Delight'; they paved the way for countless rappers and rap songs. Soon, former gang members came together and formed dance crews and challenged each other. More and more former gang members started rapping. This led to the subgroup of hip hop music, gangsta rap. Gangsta rap became very popular. These rappers were rapping about everything that happened to them during their times as gangsters. Crime, violence, sex, racism, rape, street gangs, drive-by shootings, drug dealing, and substance abuse were always featured in their songs. Gangsta rap became a very big subgroup of hip hop and it went quite mainstream. It had a lot of impact on rap overall. Soon rap music started making its way into mainstream American music.

The content in rap music has changed a lot over the past 30 years. At first the content was about the young boys’ experiences of growing up without fathers, with single mothers, and no money. The “hoods” were dangerous and they were filled with gangs and violence. The content in the songs reflected the living conditions. Some people rapped about trying to get out of the conditions and helping others, while others were rapping about what had happened to them and how it led them to bad things. Most of the content has changed now.

One major theme in rap songs that hasn’t changed is viewing women as objects to have; most rap songs and music videos show much sexualized women who are only worth to be used. In her essay, “The Exploitation of Women in Hip-hop Culture”, Ayanna says that the exploitation of women in hip hop reflects the norms of Africa-American society; women had less access to power, material wealth, and protection and so historically used sex to gain access. This transferred from the society where rap originated into hip hop culture. Like very other content in rap music, viewing women as sex objects also came from what the rappers saw and experienced. Along with having women is having wealth and luxuries; rappers either rap about having money, jewelry, cars, and mansions or they’re seen in music videos dressed in expensive clothes with their bling hung all over them, as they drive around in their Ferraris and Lamborghinis.

Rap during the 80’s and the 90’s was about the rappers’ lifestyle, whether it was growing up in a bad neighborhood or being a gangster. Artists like Tupac and the Notorious B.I.G. talked about their experiences. According to, Tupac was born to Afeni Shakur and Billy Garland, who were active members of the Black Panther Party, a group of African Americans who fought for social change. He was born a month after his mother's acquittal on more than 150 charges of "Conspiracy against the United States government and New York landmarks" in the New York Panther 21 court case. His stepfather, Mutulu, spent four years at large on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list and his godfather, Elmer "Geronimo" Pratt, a high ranking Black Panther, was convicted of murdering a school teacher during a 1968 robbery. These events influenced Tupac’s songs. He rapped about how he grew up without a father and how his mother did everything so that he can grow up good even in the conditions they were in. His song “Keep Ya Head up” talks about how men should treat women with respect and not to leave them; it also talks about the fact that the government has money for wars but no money to feed the poor. “Changes” talks about how the black community sees no changes and how everything is really bad in the neighborhood. Most of Tupac’s songs talked about social inequality, injustice, and poverty. Biggie also rapped about his life before success, like in “Juicy”, where he raps about the “one room shack” he grew up in and how he had to sell drugs, so that he can feed his daughter. The content in rap music has changed in the last decade and so has the identity of rap music.
According to the Nov 29, 1991 Washington Post article,Gangsta Rap': Rhyme That Pays”, rap music was the most violent during the 90’s with the East Coast-West Coast hip hop rivalry. It started in the early 90’s with a diss track, which eventually grew into a full rivalry, with its focal points being Tupac, in the West and Biggie, in the East. They also had a few diss singles and Tupac accused Biggie and Puff Daddy (P.Diddy, Sean Combs) of having facilitated him being robbed and shot five times in New York. Eventually, both Tupac and Biggie were shot and killed. After their deaths, the tension boiled down and the rivalry eventually ended. This ended the tough, gangster rap that had dominated rap throughout the 80’s and the 90’s. Rappers decided that it would be better to be less violent and rap about less violent subjects; this way they wouldn’t put themselves in danger and still be successful. This led to the 2000’s, where rap is not violent at all and is more about the material world.

Rappers today only talk about getting money and girls. None of them have had it bad to even be able to rap about it. Drake, for example, grew up in Toronto, Canada, in the wealthy Forest Hill neighborhood. In his early teens, he started his acting career, when he started appearing on Degrassi: The Next Generation and in 2009 he hit it big as a rapper. Just like any other rapper in the 2000’s he raps about having wealth and women. The perfect example is his song “Successful”, whose chorus says “I want the money, money and the cars, cars and the clothes, the hos I suppose”. Another example is Jay-Z and Kanye West’s album, “Watch the Throne”, which is filled with 12 songs, which are all about fame, materialism, power, and the burdens of success. It used to be about the burdens of poverty, now it’s about the burdens of success. If it’s not about the money, it’s about sex; an example of that is Lil Wayne’s “Lollipop”, which talks about sex for 5 minutes. This shows how much rap has changed in only 10 years; it’s gone from talking about harsh life and the hope of getting better to bragging about wealth and how many girls you can get.

A lot has changed in rap, but some things just don’t. Female rappers haven’t been as successful as male rappers in the past, nor are they now. We have seen a few female rappers achieve fame, but they haven’t had the staying power or the level of success that male rappers experience. Lauryn Hill, Missy Elliott, Lil Kim, and now Nicki Minaj have become famous and have had a number of hits but it isn’t the same as it is for the men. states that Lauryn Hill’s debut album debuted at number 1 on the Billboard 200 Chart, with sales of over 400,000 copies and she won 5 Grammys for the album, including Best New Artist and Album of the Year; they are both huge accomplishments but we haven’t heard a new album from her since then and haven’t heard about her in a long time. Missy Elliott and Lil Kim were also successful, but they too have been no where lately and you don’t hear about them. It had been years since a female rapper had become famous and had an immense amount of success, until Nicki Minaj hit the scene in 2010. Billboard states that her album “Pink Friday” hit number one, she has had a number of hits on the Billboard Hot 100 Chart, and she got nominated at the Grammys, but the problem with her is that her music is more pop oriented. Lately, she has ditched rap, in favor of pop. Who knows how long her success will last, though; either she’ll become a full pop star or be forgotten. Rap is no longer about growing up in a bad neighborhood and about being a gangster, but in a way, that attitude has stayed. That is why females aren’t accepted into the rap world easily, aren’t respected easily, and don’t have that staying power that male rappers have. On the other hand, Jay-Z, for example, released his debut album in 1995 and has stayed relevant until now; during this time he’s had 11 number 1 albums and he’s won 14 Grammys. You don’t see female artists doing that. Rap has been aboutstreet credibility and about being tough (although male rappers are no longer like this either), this is the reason why women aren’t able to be as successful as the males are. 

Since rap has been about tough black men, it has also been really hard for white rappers to become successful and to gain superstardom (just like females have had it hard). The only white rapper to gain that level of fame is Eminem. With the help of veteran rapper Dr. Dre, who produced Eminem’s first major studio album, The Slim Shady LP, Eminem was able to become popular. Dr. Dre was and still is a very successful and respected rapper and producer. That was the reason people cared to check out Eminem’s album. Once they actually listened to it, they stayed because Eminem was making fun of pop culture and celebrities, was making the type of music that people wanted to listen to, and he knew how to rap (although he wasn’t black). says that he is the bestselling artist of the 2000’s decade. Although, Eminem was able to go past the racial barriers in the rap world, no other non-African American rapper has been able to do that. That’s because people still expect tough black men to be rappers. There are many jokes about the fact that Eminem’s the only white rapper, like that he’s a wannabe black guy and there are jokes that white people can’t rap. A lot has and is changing; race is a different story in rap music.
              Rap music is a very popular in today’s culture. It started in the Bronx neighborhood in New York and it has made its way to other parts of the United States and around the world. It started off as party jams, became music for young boys in the “hood”, and eventually became music for anyone who wants to make it big in the music industry. As it expanded into other areas, rap also started to evolve and change. The content in its lyrics changed and the performers changed. The lyrics became less meaningful and more materialistic. The performers became people who were well off growing up. Although these changes happened, there still is a gender and racial barriers, that won’t allow females and non-African Americans to easily get into the rap world. Some females have succeeded, but their success hasn’t lasted and Eminem has had success and is currently the only white rap superstar. Rap music’s identity has changed a lot during the last 30 years.  The values of each generation have truly influenced and constructed rap music’s identity during these years. As we head into the future, I’m looking forward to see the rest of the evolution of rap.

Sources Cited:

Chang, Jeff. Can’t Stop Won’t Stop: A History of the Hip Hop Generation. New York:     St. Martin’s Press, 2005. Print.
Kulkarni, Neil. Hip Hop: Bring the Noise The Stories Behind the Biggest Songs. New York: Thunder’s Mouth Press, 2004. Print.
Shapiro, Peter. The Rough Guide to Hip-Hop. London: Penguin, 2005. Print.

Rhyme That Pays.” Washington Post 29 Nov. 1991.

“Drake Biography,” A+E Television Networks, LLC. n.d. n.p.
“The Exploitation of Women in Hip Hop Culture,”, n.p. 14 May. 2012.
“The History of Hip Hop,” Davey D. n.d. 
“Nicki Minaj Hits No. 1 on Billboard 200, Crosses 1 Million Sales,” Keith Caulfield. 9. Feb. 2011.
“Tupac Biography,”, n.p. n.d.

Graham, Aubrey Drake, “Successful.” So Far Gone, 2009. Griffin, Gil. “Gangsta Rap': 
Jay-Z & West, Kanye, Watch the Throne, Roc-A-Fella Records, 2011. CD.
Lil Wayne, “Lollipop.” Tha Carter III, 2008.
The Notorious B.I.G., “Juicy.” Ready To Die, 1994.
Shakur, Tupac, “Changes.” Greatest Hits, 1992.
Shakur, Tupac, “Keep Ya Head Up.” Strictly 4 My N.I.G.G.A.Z.,1993.





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