Designed by Hip-Hop

How hip-hop culture is informing the artistic works of Concordia students Mariam Sy and Jaden Warren.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of hip-hop. Since its inception, the genre has ushered in several crops of new artists who have allowed for multiple generations to carry hip-hop through five decades. 

With the rise of several rappers also came their entrepreneurial ventures: big names such as Jay-Z, Pharrell Williams and Kanye West have made business moves in every domain from fashion and film to artwork and beverages. In permeating various spheres and artistic fields within the mainstream, hip-hop has created a trickle-down effect that continues to inspire today’s youth.

Mariam Sy is a communications student and filmmaker heavily inspired by Tyler, The Creator. She became enamoured with his music upon discovering it in her early teens and further gravitated toward him because of his other career ventures. 

The California rapper is a filmmaker, fashion designer and entrepreneur who directs his own music videos, owns the streetwear brand Golf Wang, and hosts an annual music festival in California called the Camp Flog Gnaw Carnival (est. 2012). This essentially opened Sy’s eyes to the idea of branching out: “You don’t have to be labelled as one act—you can be a multidisciplinary one.” This is what inspired her idea for a collective titled “LES ENFANTS.”

Sy has released numerous short films to her Vimeo account, many of which are directly inspired by the music and visuals of artists like Kendrick Lamar and Jay-Z (see “HURT”). She sees the throughline between hip-hop and cinema as natural. “They both draw from human experiences and emotions,” she said. “They weave a cultural fabric that mirrors and influences the stories of our current society and those to come.” She believes hip-hop’s wide crossover appeal is the result of it not strictly being a musical genre, but rather a culture gathering a multitude of themes and ideas that can apply to masses of people. 

Design student Jaden Warren also sees hip-hop as boundless, bigger than music. For him, it is a convergence of various subcultures and niches including youth culture, skateboarding, streetwear, high fashion, and more. His personal style and projects are directly inspired by rappers who welded fashion and hip-hop together like A$AP Rocky, Playboi Carti and Kanye West. Warren proclaims that “all hip-hop musicians wanna look fly,” and prides himself on helping artists bring a specific vision or style to life. This is evident in his work with local rappers: he designed a custom “4EVERYOUTH” jacket for KeBenjii! and curated the visual aesthetic for Justin Tatone’s BANE & BLESSING album, inspired by vintage fashion and Balenciaga’s creative director Demna. 

Warren believes that hip-hop crosses over easily into other domains because it is a form of artistic expression. He also cites designer Virgil Abloh as a primary influence, given Abloh’s extensive work within the hip-hop sphere and ascension in the fashion realm, most notably becoming the creative director at Louis Vuitton before his tragic passing in 2021.

Abloh’s success story as a Ghanaian-American man in fashion has inspired Warren’s mission statement: “I want to show Black kids that it’s cool to be creative.” Above all, the Concordia student is motivated by his youthful approach to creating, which is centred around simply having fun and feeling like a kid. 
The young designer’s most prolific work to date has been his clothing project “I can’t buy love so I buy clothes.” However, like hip-hop, he refuses to be bound to one field or title. As he puts it, he just likes to create stuff. The brand’s latest iteration is set to be revealed in his upcoming drop, set for release on Dec. 1 via @assassinsvizualz on Instagram.


Album covers–how much do they really matter?

Concordia students and artists talk about their favourite album covers.   

When we envision the sound of a particular album, one of the first things we might think of is its visuals. This can take the shape of a music video from a loved track, or a themed photoshoot from the album rollout. In most cases, the vivid image we might have of an album comes from its cover. 

The square shape that forms an album cover is often open-ended when it comes to its artistic perception. Be it a simple portrait or an intricate painting, a meticulous collage or a straightforward photograph, music artwork holds a necessary relationship with the sound of the music project itself. 

For instance, Childish Gambino’s album 3.15.20 (2020) is seen either as a solid white-filled square or a blank cover. Either way, this minimalist and nonchalant approach doesn’t necessarily lessen the quality and weight of the project that was released unannounced. One could argue that it lets the listener create their own colours by not being influenced beforehand by any imagery.

Yasmine is a first-year student in communications studies and she relishes in The Angel You Don’t Know by Amaarae (2020). She finds the cover to be very weird—cool illustrations like big eyes and written bodies featuring flashy colours. To her, it looks like an invitation for a magnetic sonic experience that’s so captivating that she added the album to her library even before listening to it. “[The] super sick illustrations speak for the song themselves so you can just look at the cover and connect those two,” Yasmine said. 

As for Simone, a student in photography, Marvin Gaye’s I Want You (1976) cover holds a special place in their heart. “It makes me want to dance and lean against the one I love,” they said. Indeed, the figures in the painting seem deeply in motion, present, and engulfed in the music. The songs on Gaye’s album directly affect the movement of the body and whenever Simone listens to it, she can imagine herself among others, “loving and yearning.” For Simone, dim lighting, a cigarette and a drink on a table close by is the perfect fit for her album.

Windswept Adan by Ichiko Aoba (2020) is Sylvia’s pick. A first-year scenography student in the theatre department, she finds the cover to be reflective of the album’s instrumentals and organic sounds. “[The cover seems] very freeing and feminine to me, which I also really love and resonate with,” Sylvia explained. In her eyes, the sparkly and magical cover perfectly summarizes the world of the album, enhancing its dreamy sound with such a hazy filter. 

Lindsay, a first-year communications student, appreciates Lorde’s Solar Power album sleeve (2021). She especially noted its interesting fish eye lens. “I love how she’s [Lorde] posed and takes up the whole frame with her legs,” Lindsay said. She also pointed out the colour palette of the cover and how it offers “a happy mood which corresponds with some of the upbeat songs in the album.”

Musicians at Concordia also had some words to say in regard to their own single and album covers. Minh Tu, under the stage alias LilMid, dabbles in a bit of everything artistic like videography and sewing and has been producing music since the age of 14.

The artist released his homemade project Stage Fright in early 2023 with the intention to tell a vulnerable story by figuratively putting himself on a “stage.” This EP’s artwork complements the messages of his songs that tell of the time Minh Tu performed in front of an audience for the first time.  For the Stage Fright cover, LilMid took a blank piece of paper, drew the emotions he felt during the making of the album, cut them up, and scanned the final product for a mixed media look. He hopes to inspire people to also come out of their shells and hop on a similar figurative stage. 

For Roxanne Izzo, a singer and a second-year communications student, the visuals are probably the part she loves the most about putting out music. “Even if I have yet to release a full body of work, I always strive to attach a visual concept for each of my single covers,” she said. The vision behind her recent single “What Have You Learned?” out since October 20th was to take a super glossy, airbrushed-looking image of herself and distress it so that it looks like a disintegrated poster on a wall. Despite thinking that not every single album has to be well-versed in its visual aesthetics to be thematically or musically evocative, the singer believes that album art as a whole is important because it’s all part of the physical body of work. 

All and all, an album cover is the natural half of the pairing that is the main visual and the music itself. It is so powerful that even noticing an intriguing album cover in a record shop while casually browsing can lead to someone discovering a gem of an album.


A victory for international education in America

A new administration translates to optimism for international students.

For international students in the United States, a Biden-Harris presidency could mean positive change for their place in the country.

Openly anti-immigration Trump policies towards student visas and post-graduate work visas have severely damaged the country’s reputation as the top destination for international education. The president-elect will most likely change that.

The loss of prestige in America as an educational destination is just as clear in the data. Since Trump took office in 2016, the number of new student visas issued has plummeted by nearly half.

Throughout the campaign, Joe Biden and his team heavily concentrated their messaging around rebuilding America’s standing worldwide, especially on the education front.

Since the election was called on Nov. 7, he immediately pledged to reverse many Trump-era executive orders that discriminated against foreigners, such as the controversial ban on travellers from majority-Muslim countries in 2017.

During his victory speech in Wilmington, Del., Biden said it was “a great day for educators,” as his wife, long-term educator Dr. Jill Biden, will be assuming the role of first lady. “You’re gonna have one of your own in the White House,” Biden said, adding that teaching is “who she is.”

Biden has also pledged to reinstate the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) immigration policy that protects those who came to the US illegally as children.

DACA, which was put in place by the Obama administration in 2012, put undocumented immigrants who grew up in the US on the path to citizenship. This meant that these people would no longer be in a legal grey zone with regards to their status in the United States

According to a recent report by the Presidents’ Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration, there are approximately 450,000 undocumented people in post-secondary schooling in the US. DACA would protect over 200,000 of those students, also giving them access to federal loans and grants for schooling.

Roxane Jardel is originally from France and is currently pursuing her undergraduate studies in Political Science at McGill University.

“I come from quite an educated family,” she said, adding that going to an American Ivy League school had been an option when she was applying in 2017.

She decided against it, in part due to the politics at the time.

“I didn’t feel comfortable doing my undergrad in such an atmosphere,” said Jardel, adding that the discourse being vehicled by the Trump administration went deeply against her values.

Documents they published by the Department of Homeland Security show that the number of student visas issued went from over 600,000 in 2014 to just above 389,000 in 2019.

Data published by the Institute of International Education shows this has caused a plateau in the number of international students currently in the United States, averaging approximately 1 million at any given time since Trump took office.

The Trump administration also used the COVID-19 pandemic as pretence to implement further regulation.

In July, Trump attempted to deport international students who were forced to attend online classes due to public health orders.

The decision was heavily criticised by the academic community, with Harvard University even suing the administration over the policy; forcing Trump to back off.

Biden weighed in on the issue with a tweet posted on July 7, condemning Trump over the attempt. He praised the place of international students in American society, saying they “study here, innovate here, [and] they make America who we are.”

The Trump administration tried again this September when it proposed a bill that would force international students from 59 targeted countries to reapply for their visas every two years.

This meant that students were not covered on their F-1 visas for the entirety of their studies, meaning that an immigration decision could easily prevent them from completing their studies.

According to a poll conducted jointly by the University of California, Berkeley and the University of Minnesota, many Americans were worried about what another four years of a Trump presidency would do to international education in the country.

In a recent Teen Vogue article, Andrea Flores of the ACLU’s Equality Division said the election was “critical to the future continuation of foreign students in education programs in the United States.”

Jardel agreed with this.

“Trump does well at disgusting international students,” she said, relating it to how “the trivialization of extremist right-wing speech” has also pushed many students away in France.

She added that students who have the privilege of moving overseas for their education will rarely settle for a country that doesn’t reflect their values.

With Trump’s days in the White House now numbered, it is clear that circumstances for international students will change.

The number of international students in the United States nearly doubled during Obama’s presidency, which may be an indicator of how the future looks.

If Biden does in fact implement the policies on which he campaigned, the United States could regain the ground it lost on international education in the past four years, retaining its number one spot as international educator.


Graphic by @the.beta.lab


Canadian Universities urge exchange students in Hong Kong to come home

Protests have been ongoing since June amid Chinese government attempts to amend the extradition law

Canadian universities have been urging their exchange students in Hong Kong to return home as the tension between government officials and protestors continues to escalate.

While Concordia University hasn’t released official statement asking students to return early or to put off their exchange, it has been making sure students are up to date on the current political climate of the area.

“We make sure that the students are properly informed of the situation before they go,” said Christine Archer, manager of Concordia’s Education Abroad Programs. “We go according to the travel bans on the Canadian Immigration and Citizenship (CIC) website,”

There are currently no travel bans to Hong Kong on the Canadian Travel website, however, the organization warns any travellers to be extremely cautious.

The protests began in June when the local government attempted to amend extradition laws, allowing criminal suspects to be extradited to mainland China. This was seen by many as China’s attempt to gain more influence over the semi-autonomous territory, which was interpreted as a risk to Hong Kong’s independence.

Originally a British colony, Hong Kong was handed over to China in 1997, when it was decided that while the territory would belong to China and it would have its own legal and political autonomy. They have been functioning under the motto “one country, two systems.”

The protests started off peacefully, but have since become violent. On Nov. 12, protests moved from the streets to many of Hong Kong’s university campuses.

On Nov. 17, protesters and police clashed at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University, causing a nine-day siege. Since then, most protestors have escaped, surrendered or have been captured by the police reported the CBC.

Some Canadian students in Hong Kong have been cutting their exchanges short and leaving the territory early.

“We did have one student there this semester,” said Archer. “Her host institution ended classes on Nov. 15 and she came home right after.”

According to Archer, currently all of the Concordia students who had planned to study abroad in Hong Kong have changed their minds and have asked to be placed elsewhere.

“Back in 2015, it was stable and I really enjoyed it there,” said former Concordia exchange student Étienne Crête of his exchange to Hong Kong. “It’s one of my favourite cities in the world, but I wouldn’t go back right now. Not until the situation calms down.”

While the situation has gotten better recently, universities across Canada continue to closely monitor the situation, looking out for the best interest of their students.


Graphic by @sundaeghost


Concordia journalists debut their work in Canadian magazine

After 10 months of work, a Concordia journalism class, led by the New York Times’ managing editor, published their piece

Seven students from an investigative data journalism class at Concordia University have published a 11-month-long investigative journalism project under the direction of New York Times managing editor in the news services division and Concordia journalist-in-residence, Patti Sonntag. The piece, titled “Attack of the Budworms”, was published on Nov. 15 by The Walrus, a Canadian magazine.

“[The topic] evolved very, very gradually, so I started with the question of how was climate change affecting the forestry industry,” said Sonntag. She said she started looking at forest fires and infestations at first.

“I gradually started to narrow in on the story of Baie-Comeau,” she said, referring to the rural area in Quebec. “I don’t think we really knew the story, [until] mid 2016 maybe.”

The team first began their research by investigating the topic of forestry in Quebec, said Michael Wrobel, a Concordia journalism student involved in the investigative project. “We narrowed it down over the course of time to this very specific topic, which is the budworm infestation in one particular region of Quebec and how it’s affecting the forestry industry there.”

Wrobel said he was approached by the Journalism Department to participate in the independent study class, JOUR 451, which focuses on investigative data journalism. “There were five of us who continued the project beyond the scope of the class,” said Wrobel. “Even after we had gotten the credit, we still felt compelled to participate because we felt some ownership over the project too––so we saw it through to completion.”

The other journalism students who continued working on the project over the summer were Gregory Todaro, Michelle Pucci, Casandra De Masi and Joseph Arciresi. The remainder of the team included Julian McKenzie, Shaun Michaud and Wrobel.

“This [project] was considered a chance to actually go out there and make an impact and gives us a chance to really interact with the world of journalism beyond the walls of the university,” said journalism student participant and managing editor at The Concordian Gregory Todaro.

Sonntag said she first thought of the topic in November 2015. “I had no idea where the story was going,” said Sonntag. “That’s the wonderful thing about working within the university––you have the time and breath to explore if you have the impetus.”

Wrobel said it was an incredible experience to speak with so many different people in the community of Baie-Comeau, who trusted Wrobel enough to discuss their concerns about the industry, the ecology and the impact the budworms are having on the forestry industry in the city of just over 22,000 people. He said people in Baie-Comeau were very welcoming—some even let Wrobel and his classmates conduct interviews inside their homes.

“We talked to more than 100 people,” said Sonntag. She said the people of Baie-Comeau and representatives of the forestry industry were very welcoming to Sonntag and the team of student-journalists. She said the project was not just completed solemnly through the efforts of her and the group of Concordia journalists. “We had so much help from so many people,” said Sonntag. “Hundreds of people took part in the project.”

Todaro said he and the team not only interviewed community members of Baie-Comeau and corporate or labour representatives of the forestry industry––but union representatives, Innu community members and scientists knowledgeable on carbon, budworms and climate change as well.

“I am pleased with the outcome. It’s a great piece and I see a little bit of all of our research and work reflected in it,” said Wrobel.

Sonntag received a Michener-Deacon Fellowship for Journalism Education in June 2016 due to her proposal to spearhead this investigative data journalism class. Sonntag said she will be teaching a similar class at Concordia sometime in the next year. With regards to the topic, “I have some ideas but that’s about it,” she said.


Part-time faculty spearheads workshops

CUPFA workshop discusses research by part-time faculty and the challenges they face

Six Concordia part-time faculty members discussed their research, projects and experience as educators in Reframing Pedagogy, the first of six Microlink workshops on Friday, Oct. 29.

The workshops, held at Concordia’s Sir George Williams campus and hosted by the Concordia University Part-Time Faculty Association (CUPFA), are meant to encourage dialogue and feedback between faculties.

The speakers included French studies instructor Louise-Marie Bouchard; Yosra Dali, Sonia Di Maulo and Pamela Gunning and Jesse Hunter from the department of education; and Francine Tremblay, from the department of sociology. There was a small audience of Concordia instructors. After each presentation, the speakers welcomed spirited discussion..

Some of the work shared included Bouchard’s recently published book, L’art de la pensée, which challenges common perceptions of creative thinking, and Gunning’s research on ESL education and collaboration between teachers in Quebec schools. Hunter’s research on creative thought was also discussed, as well as Tremblay’s study on millennial students and disengagement.

Photo by Ana Hernandez.

While the workshop focused on topics pertaining to education and pedagogy, both presenters and attendees did not shy away from discussing the controversies surrounding part-time work at Concordia and other post-secondary institutions. Dali shared the results of her case study of three part-time staff members outside of Concordia, each of whom had experienced feelings of isolation and a lack of organization from an administrative standpoint. She also described the fear her study’s participants felt regarding job security.

“[A study participant] was asking, ‘Am I going to have a session next year?… Will I have to go back to teaching at the high school level? Will I have to go back to telemarketing?’ [These instructors] are living from session to session,” Dali said.

Dali’s findings prompted conversation with the audience, with some members agreeing that part-time staff members do face administrative difficulties, while others felt isolation wasn’t a problem at Concordia, since there is a relatively high number of part-time faculty members. “It’s different [at Concordia],” said Hunter. “Part-time staff [are] the lifeblood of the university.”

Photo by Ana Hernandez.

Tremblay’s presentation on millennial students and disengagement in post-secondary studies also prompted an engaged conversation among attendees. At the beginning of her study, Tremblay had expected to find that technology was a major factor in “disengagement,” but she later concluded that this was misrepresenting the problem. She found that many students are disengaged because they are extremely stressed and facing a competitive job market after graduation. Students understand that they will likely need further education after a bachelor’s degree, and as a result they are less in engaged in subject matter and more focused on passing, graduating and finding a job as quickly as possible. “Students today are extremely stressed and extremely anxious,” she said. “They cannot project themselves in the future, and the competition today is fierce.”

Many professors in attendance agreed with this sentiment, voicing both sympathy for students and frustration with their lack of engagement in recent years.

CUPFA is hoping this enthusiastic, engaging dialogue will continue at its upcoming workshops, scheduled once a month between November and March.


The problem with theatre audiences today

The average university student, especially those who are studying English literature, will most likely have read more plays than they will have seen performed.

It’s definitely not for lack of shows; Montreal has over 70 English theatre companies and hosts the Fringe Festival, a month long festival featuring over 500 shows. University students simply aren’t interested. Out of 50 students surveyed by The Concordian, only 13 acknowledged that they like to go to plays.

The general response as to why these students didn’t see plays was that television was easier to access and they didn’t have the time or any particular interest in seeing a theatre production. Some students said they attended Broadway musical-type shows such as Wicked and The Lion King, but hadn’t gone to see any Montreal-produced shows of the non-musical variety.

Despite school, work and social obligations, many students still find the time and money to see movies in the theatre. On average, the price of a student ticket to see a theatre production is not much more than the price of a movie ticket, but students are more likely to attend a movie rather than a show.

Quincy Armorer, the artistic director of Black Theatre Workshop believes it’s because students have an idea that theatre is vastly different from seeing a film. And it is different. Theatre is live, the actors are mere meters away from you and anything can happen; if an actor flubs a line or loses a prop there’s no ‘re-shoot.’ Some would say this makes it all the more exciting and impressive.

In terms of genres, theatres offer similar selections as movie theatres. Montreal offers a range of productions in the genres of drama, comedy, romance, tragedy, mystery and adventure. On the other hand, theatre productions rarely have special effects, high speed car chases or dramatic gun battles; things that only the medium of film can pull off. However, a film can still be enjoyable without these elements and therefore, logically, so can theatre.

Joseph Shragge the Co-Artistic Director of Scapegoat Carnivale, feels that one reason that students don’t attend shows is because of “a lack of outreach on the part of the company.”

“I’ve felt that the more effort we put into letting students know about our plays, the more attendance we’ve gotten,” he said. Companies often find it difficult to get information out to students. Armorer notes that his company relies heavily on student media. His company has tried to get permission to post promotional material in schools but the bureaucracy involved often makes this difficult.

Would more students attend theatre productions if they were inducted with the same media campaigning that films use? After all, promotional film material is everywhere; television, online, on public transportation, in restaurants, even in our washrooms. Theatre companies, on the other hand, don’t have a large enough marketing budget to blitz students the way films do. What can be done then?

Theatre companies have to be more creative and thrifty by doing things such as school tours, social networking and using student press. But perhaps it would be useful for Montreal theatre companies to band together and try campaigning to dispel the myth that theatre is boring or not worth a student’s time. After all, students are the new blood, without them theatres will have no fuel once older generations pass on. Instead of 70 different theatre companies spread all across Montreal, maybe resources should be combined to offer students easier access and to cultivate their interest in the productions on offer.

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