A University of Kansas graduate student has formulated a class syllabus that reflects rapper Jay-Z’s hit album 4:44.
Anthony Boynton, a PhD English candidate, came up with the idea of the “4:44 Syllabus” after listening to the rapper’s album and subsequently feeling emboldened to depict “black masculinity” which he believes is highlighted throughout the album.
“The album has so much that it can tell us about black masculinity, about black men in relationships, though I am more interested in the kind of vulnerability and emotional availability that Jay-Z ascribes to in the title track,” Boynton said.
The syllabus, formulated in August, focuses on various topics such black masculinity, gender fluidity, and even misogynoir (misogyny faced by black women).
“For the last year, I’ve been writing about pop culture and pop culture’s relationship with toxic masculinity, with masculinity [in general], and with figuring out a more progressive black masculine ethic,” Boynton explains. “Not only talking about heterosexual people who are masculine, but talking about queer folk who are masculine.”
In the syllabus, Boynton utilizes various songs to explore what he calls the “negro problem.”
In the syllabus section entitled Gender Fluidity, Boynton wants students to understand “gender identity and expression beyond the stark, heteronormative binary drawn between masculinity and femininity,” and explains that this “is a way for black men to unlearn violent behavior and embrace a more whole self.” Boynton frames this discussion around the song “Smile,” in which Jay-Z raps about how his mom suffered while concealing her queer identity.
In another section, which Boynton designates as Black Nationalism & Colonialism, he asserts that a large amount “of black radical politics relies on the creation of a black nation as a means to liberation,” a concept that the artists Jay-Z apparently promotes in the album.
In his Wealth & Capitalism section of the syllabus, Boynton ironically criticizes laissez-faire economics. He makes the suggestion that Black Americans should look for alternative ways to accumulate wealth, regardless of the fact that black artist Jay-Z has generated mass fortunes through the free market. This concept is most prevalent in Jay-Z’s song “The Story of O.J.”
Boynton argues, “How are black folk to accrue wealth after centuries of second-class citizenship that affect our bodies, our neighborhoods, our education systems, and our futures? Should we work within capitalist system despite its history of denigration of marginalized people?”
Cody Charles, associate director for diversity education and social justice programs for the Office of Multicultural Affairs, has praised the syllabus, calling it “brilliant” and “an important piece of work” and saying that it “does a great job on illustrating the complexities of black masculinity.”
Isaiah Denby is a college freshman from Tampa Bay, Florida studying economics and political science.