Contributed by: Heidi Bowman, Fairbanks, Alaska
All of my students in Elim, Alaska, are Yup’ik and/or Inupiaq Eskimo. Most have never been further away than Nome (95 air miles west), and very few have been outside Alaska. They live a rural, isolated, and primarily subsistence-based lifestyle. Most do not plan ever to go far away from their home.
Perhaps surprisingly, the favorite music genres of Elim youth are rap, hip hop, and R&B. There are theme similarities between the lives of my students and those of poor, urban youth from whom rap came. There are also similar issues of being minorities in the United States. Themes of life, death, and sex are prevalent in rap, hip hop, and R&B and are also present in a very real way in the lives of my students.
This activity with a song of my choice, “People Everyday” by Arrested Development, will be an introduction to literary analysis and media/popular music literacy. Students will learn to examine critically what they view and hear. They will then use the skills learned in the analysis of “People Everyday” to examine literary devices and themes in music of their choice.
The student will be able to:
- identify at least two themes in “People Everyday” by Arrested Development;
- retell the narrative of the song in their own words; (For more advanced students/longer unit: Rewrite the narrative into an Elim version.)
- identify five terms/expressions in the song with which they are unfamiliar and brainstorm on possible meanings from context;
- identify two examples of the author choosing poetic language instead of a simpler word/phrase;
- examine usage of racial identification terms, both positive and derogatory;
- identify rhythm and rhyme scheme and devices;
- apply basic literary analysis techniques, as above, to music of their choice.
Language Arts students, grades 7-12
2-3 class periods depending on length of class periods and if additional activities are used.
CD player, music and lyrics for “People Everyday”
None. This activity can be used as an introduction to literary analysis.
In journals/small groups/partners/whole class discussion, examine the following issues and questions:
- Play the beginning of “People Everyday” (Track 16). Ask students to describe the tone of the song. What do you think the song will be about? Are there any clues? Can you identify the sounds? What do you think the “Celebration of life, death, and the struggle for our ancestors” alluded to in the introduction is about?
- Pass out the lyrics and play the entire song.
- What are five terms and/or expressions whose meaning you’re unsure of? Brainstorm on possibilities from context (i.e. “40oz,” “dissin,” “yaw’ll"). What are unique Elim words/phrases (i.e. “I jokes” and Eskimo words)?
- What are examples of the author using words/phrases that may be considered poetic (i.e. “investigation maybe she was demonstrating,” instead of “spying on me")? Why do you think that he chose these phrases instead of being more straight forward?
- What strikes you about the song? What effect does it have when people echo the melody line? Does this remind you of anything?
- What is this song about? What happens in the song?
- What are the themes discussed? Do you agree with “the moral of the story”?
- Why does the author say, “Cause if I start to hit this man they’ll have to kill me!”? Why does he feel that they’d have to kill him?
- What is a “nigga”? What do you know about this word’s origin? What do you know about its current usage? Do you think that groups of people should be able to call themselves something if they are offended by someone outside the group using it?
- How does the author use the word “nigga” in the song? Can you think of other words that are used in the same way towards other groups of people? (Such as “Gussack” for white people, perhaps) How is an insult different (if it is) when it is personally based versus when it is targeted at a person because of their ethnicity?
- How does the author use the word “African”? Is he using it technically correctly? Compare his use of the words “nigga,” “Black man,” and “African.”
- What does the author mean by, “people everyday” and “everyday people”?
- Chant the song together. Have several students drum the rhythm emphases. Have a volunteer read the song without rhythm emphases. How is the story different (poetic?) when presented with rhythm?
- How does rhyme fit with this rhythm? Are there exact and near rhymes? Is there external and end rhyme? What is the rhyme scheme? Is the rhyme flowing or does it seem stretched?
- Play the other version of the same song (Track 3). How are these two versions different?
Students will use the same questioning procedures to analyze music of their choice. They will give presentations on theme, narrative, and devices within their songs.
“People Everyday” by Arrested Development (3 Years, 5 Months and 2 Days in the Life of..., Chryaslis Records, Inc., 1992); written by Speech of Arrested Development.
Additional activities include the following:
- Why did the group choose the name “Arrested Development”? How can you learn? What are avenues of research on this topic? Allow time for Internet research, letter writing, and instruction on both. What things do you want to know about musical groups of your choice?
- Compare and contrast Arrested Development’s “People Everyday” with Sly and the Family Stone’s “Everyday People.” How is sampling used? How are the themes similar yet different? How can these reflect the different times they came from (1960’s vs. 1990’s)?