My Ten Favorite Articles That I Wrote in 2014

Last December, I highlighted my ten favorite articles that I wrote in 2013, and I’ve decided to try it again this year.

First, here’s a quick summary of my 2014: I continued writing for the Austin Chronicle, mostly covering local news. I’m still the opinion editor for The Horn and still occasionally contribute to the Dallas Observer and The Dallas Morning News. I’ve kept writing for the Texas Travesty, which was named the “Readers Best Local Non-‘Chronicle’ Publication” by the Austin Chronicle (and during the fall, I was the Travesty‘s Senior Food Critic). At school, I’ve studied and written about a variety of topics, including history, Christianity, and hip-hop. In the spring, I rapped for charity. In November, I started working part-time for Pluckers Wing Bar, handling marketing and donations.

All in all, I wrote over fifty articles this year. Below, in chronological order, are the ten of my articles from 2014 that I’m most proud of:

1. “For popular rapper, an unusual calling card: sobriety” – The Dallas Morning News – February 14:

I grew up reading The Dallas Morning News‘ Points Section every Sunday morning, and those articles definitely helped inspire me to write. So it was a dream come true when my essay about rapper Macklemore and his struggle with addiction was published in the Sunday Points section.

2. “Facebook ‘Threat’ Case Unresolved” – Austin Chronicle – February 28:

While an especially frustrating case to cover, the story of Justin Carter is an important story for me  – and anyone else who values free speech. My reporting on the case was even cited by NPR.

3. “Online Privacy: Technical, Political, or Both?” – Austin Chronicle – March 28:

As a result of whistle-blower Edward Snowden’s leaks, many Americans are becoming more conscious of their online privacy and security. I interviewed multiple experts for the story, including Phil Zimmermann, Elissa Shevinsky, and more.

4. “Stand up to injustice, even if you stand alone — and remember the ‘tank man’” – The Dallas Morning News – June 5:

The Tiananmen Square protester known simply as ‘Tank Man’ has long been a hero of mine, so I was grateful to get to write about his heroism, twenty-five years after the event.

5. “The Texas GOP Stands on a Platform of Ignorance” – Reason – June 28:

Reason is one of my favorite publications, so I was honored to write for them. Earlier this year, the Texas Republican Party’s 2014 platform condemned homosexuality, arguing that being gay “must not be presented as an acceptable alternative lifestyle.” They even supported reparative therapy, a controversial practice aimed at helping homosexuals embrace their “authentic” heterosexual identity. And I wasn’t too happy about that, so I wrote about it.

6. “The Best Bible Verse-Checks in the History of Rap” – On Faith – July 29:

In 2013, I explored the profane by writing about “The 30 Most Disturbing Songs of All Time.” This year, I strayed from the profane and focused on the sacred – I wrote about the best Biblical allusions in hip-hop.

7. “A.Dd+ Chronicle Their Nawfside Love on New Nawf EP” – Dallas Observer – August 12:

Just this last week, Dallas hip-hop duo A.Dd+ won three Dallas Observer Music Awards – Best EP, Best Rap/Hip-Hop Act, and Best Live Act. Back in August, I interviewed the duo about their Nawf EP – which pays homage to ‘Nawf Dallas,’ the neighborhood where the duo is from (and where I’m from as well).

8. “Talking Songs with Joe Purdy” – The Horn – September 10:

Joe Purdy is one of my all-time favorite musicians, and I had the privilege of interviewing the singer-songwriter before covering his concert in Austin.

9. “Pluckers is the bomb – ISIS is not” – Texas Travesty – September 23:

If there’s one thing I love, it’s Pluckers Wing Bar. If there’s one thing I hate, it’s war. So I connected the two in one of my (hopefully) humorous articles as the Texas Travesty‘s Senior Food Critic.

10. UFC Fight Night Pounds the Erwin Center” – Austin Chronicle – November 24:

While I’m generally not too big of a sports fan, I do enjoy MMA, and I was lucky enough to cover a UFC event for the Chronicle. And before covering the event itself, I had the chance to interview UFC featherweight Cub Swanson.


Sippin’ and Spittin’: Examining the Use of Lean in Hip-Hop

City of Syrup

While drugs and music have seemingly been related since the dawn of culture, few drugs are intertwined with a specific culture in the way that ‘lean’ is connected with hip-hop.  From DJ Screw and Big Moe, to Lil’ Wayne and Macklemore, to Justin Bieber and even Miley Cyrus, lean and hip-hop, hand-in-hand, have expanded their influence (Westhoff).  As ABC News put it, “It’s more than a drug; it’s a culture.  It’s what’s known on the street as “Lean,” a highly addictive cocktail of cough syrup, cold medicine, alcohol and candy — so potent it makes you “lean” over when high” (Hughes).  In this essay, I hope to examine the role of lean in hip-hop culture.  First, I’ll specifically discuss lean and its effects.  Then, I will look into the origins of how lean became infused in hip-hop culture, and how both the drug and the culture have become increasingly influential in society.  After that, I will describe some of the efforts to denounce the use of lean in hip-hop culture, before concluding.

“Get introduced to this drink that I sizzip.
Promethazine with codeine that’s my twizzist.”

– Beanie Sigel, “Purple Rain”

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Rhetoric of Hip Hop Blog – Friday April 4, 2014

Blogging assignment, due Friday (April 4), 5pm:

  • Visual remediation of an argument from your controversy. This is going to be a challenging exercise, so give yourself some time by getting started early.
  • Find an argument from within your controversy and re-imagine it as a still image.
  • Feel free to use materials found online and/or to take your own photographs and/or drawings to incorporate into the remediation
  • You will want to think about condensing a written argument that progresses in a linear way into a single image
  • Things to consider: color, arrangement, proportions, perspective


Rhetoric of Hip-Hop Blog Friday, February 21, 2014

This week, talk about a hip-hop text that you find interesting. Text here is loosely defined as any coherent presentation of ideas (image, video, song, advertisement, etc.), although since we’ve been working with traditional writing so far, I’d very much encourage you to use another medium. Make the text available on your blog if you can (and acknowledge the source!), and then discuss what you find interesting about it. The text you choose should have to have some sort of connection to the controversy you plan on discussing this semester.

At this point, I hope to discuss Macklemore and the social construction of hip-hop in my final paper. In relation to that topic, I’d like to discuss Macklemore’s song “Otherside” (listen above).

Macklemore’s found himself surrounding by various controversies, over topics such as white privilege and marriage equality. In The Dallas Morning News this past Sunday, I discussed Macklemore and his battle with addiction, and mentioned “Otherside.”

Rather than examining Macklemore’s issues with addiction more generally, in this blog, I’d like to specifically look into the song, “Otherside,” which first appeared in 2009 on the duo’s VS. EP. Seattle rapper Macklemore, along with Seattle producer Ryan Lewis, took the song title and sample from “Otherside” by Red Hot Chili Peppers, a song that also discusses drug addiction.

The song opens with sound bites discussing the death of rapper Pimp C, which was caused by a “combination of codeine and promethazine found in the rapper’s system, coupled with the sleep disorder apnea,” according to The Houston Chronicle.

In the song’s first verse, Macklemore discusses how he got into ‘lean’ (aka ‘syrup’), lured by the realization that lean is “the same stuff Weezy’s [rapper Lil’ Wayne] sippin, huh? / And tons of other rappers that be spittin’ hard?” With wordplay, he described how he “finally got to see what all the hype was on.” At first, Macklemore “loved that feeling” and felt on top of the world, “thinking he was pimping as he listened to the system.”

But despite the highs, “it comes with a cost / Wake up, cold sweat, scratching, itching / Trying to escape the skin that barely fit him / Gone, get another bottle just to get a couple swallows / Headed towards the bottom couldn’t get off it.” Yet, as is often common with addiction, Macklemore  “didn’t even think he had a problem,” even as his life spiraled out of control.

Macklemore begins the second verse by going back to the influence of rappers. He explains that “he just wanted to act like them / He just wanted to rap like him” before lamenting, “Us rappers underestimate the power and the effects that we have on these kids.” He continues:

The fact of it is most people that rap like this
Talking about some shit they haven’t lived

Surprise, you know the drill
Trapped in a box, declining record sales
Follow the formula: violence, drugs, and sex sells
So we try to sound like someone else

Later in the verse, Macklemore continues denouncing rap’s glorification of substance abuse, even specifically discussing Lil’ Wayne again:

Despite how Lil Wayne lives
It’s not conducive to being creative
And I know cause he’s my favorite
And I know cause I was off that same mix

Rationalize the shit that I’d try after I listen to Dedication
But he’s an alien
I’d sip that shit
Pass out or play PlayStation

Months later I’m in the same place
No music made, feeling like a failure
And trust me it’s not dope to be twenty-five
And move back to your parent’s basement

Closer to the end of the song, Macklemore continues to tell his story, an ominous warning to others:

That rush, that drug, that dope
Those pills, that crumb, that roach
Thinking I would never do that, not that drug
And growing up nobody ever does
Until you’re stuck
Looking in the mirror like I can’t believe what I’ve become
Swore I was going to be someone
And growing up everyone always does
We sell our dreams and our potential
To escape through that buzz

The song concludes with a sound bite of Bun B discussing the death of his friend and UGK partner Pimp C, and how it affects the music.

Hip-Hop has long been criticized for its promotion and glorification of drug and alcohol abuse, but critics are usually outside of the genre. In “Otherside,” Macklemore critiques the culture from within the culture, as someone who knows both sides, as someone who’s both a rapper and an addict.