On April 14, 2016 at 9p.m., Casteel Johnson C’16 performed a unique and unforgettable final project in 1808. With the help of several campus musicians, AMP and the Mount’s music department, Johnson hosted an experience that was not only energized and engaging, but meaningful and eye opening as well.
Johnson is a senior accounting major at Mount St. Mary’s University. He was inspired, however, to do a sociological study of black music after taking Dr. Tim Wolfe’s class, “The Sociology of Black Music,” his freshman year. This year-long independent study project, executed under Dr. Wolfe’s advisement and direction, delved deep into the social issues and arguments that Kendrick Lamar brought to light in his third studio album, To Pimp a Butterfly, released March 2015.
After conducting his own independent research and analysis, Johnson then turned to the Mount community, asking for Mount musicians to assist him in manifesting this project into something palpable. With a final band consisting of ten students and Dr. Wolfe, the band rehearsed weekly starting in February and going through the week of the show.
The performance showcased five songs from the album To Pimp a Butterfly, one older but well-known Kendrick Lamar song, and then played a transition song. The show ran a bit over an hour, with only one 3-minute “intermission.”
There was confusion leading up to the performance as to what the event was—some thought it was a movie, a panel discussion—there were even rumors of Kendrick Lamar himself coming to campus. Despite the confusion, hundreds of people including students, professors, family and friends of the band came to see the exposition.
Johnson described his reasoning on why he decided to do this project:
“I did this project for two reasons: the first is that with music being a great tool for expression, [Lamar] has found a way to face major societal issues artistically, while remaining tasteful and thought-provoking enough to challenge other HipHop artists to raise their game. The second reason was to encourage students to take ownership of their educations, and to pursue something they are passionate about. At a liberal arts university, we are told [to] expand our way of thinking. With that, we shouldn’t be restricted to exploring our majors. Combining music and sociology, I was able to explore something I’m passionate about, and other students should do the same.”
The project’s band performed at the SPARC Festival closing ceremony on Thursday, April 21, and will also open at RAMPAGE on April 29. Come out and support!