It’s a Monday morning in Shana Lawson’s music class. About 17 students at Aspirations Diploma High School walk in wearing an assortment of hoodies and Yankee hats. Some are eager, but others seem to drag their feet.
Using a blue marker, Lawson writes today’s subject on a dry erase board: Imagery – Painting pictures with your lyrics with descriptions that would make the audience see, taste, hear, feel or smell (5 senses) what you are describing.
Some students don’t have their notebooks out yet. “You guys need to be getting these notes down or I’ll erase the board,” Lawson warns. “Alright, basketball convos up – done!”
A girl who isn’t part of the class walks in to say hello to a friend. Lawson walks over to her and gently guides her to the classroom exit as the girl laughs.
When the class is finally settled, Lawson sits on a stool and asks the students to think about what they could say to make readers feel as if they themselves are drinking water.
“Septic tank,” cries out one student. Everyone laughs.
“Water so cold, I get the chills,” Lawson suggests enthusiastically.
“Projects water – killed my daughter,” says another student. Everyone laughs again.
Lawson, undeterred, gets up and walks over to a computer in front of the room. Her Internet browsing can be viewed on a large projector. She looks up types of “visual imagery” and reads out some examples for each.
She warns some of her male students again about basketball discussions in the classroom.
“I swear – you guys better not be talking about basketball,” she says. “Carmelo didn’t give you any money. I don’t care about those people.”
Now comes the class assignment.
Lawson wants each student to come up with two bars of lyrics describing the smell of something so intense that the reader can sniff it, too. The students have three minutes. Lawson pauses, reconsiders. Four minutes. Make sure it rhymes, she tells her class.
Some students write in small spiral notebooks, others on loose-leaf paper. Lawson asks one student about his notebook, which is closed.
“I don’t have a pen,” he says. She lets him get up and find one.
Time is up soon up and Lawson sits down on her stool again. It’s time for students to share their lyrics.
One girl reads: “Sweet strawberry smell. It’ll cool your mouth like toothpaste.”
Dressed in a black Ecko shirt, one guy talks about sour candies that make your nose burn. “Oh shit, police! I gotta bust a U-turn,” he concludes.
A guy, who sits in front of the classroom, shares his piece: “When weed is lit, it smells like a campfire and some candles in it.”
“A dead carcass around the circus. What’s that smell?” reads a tall, lanky student. The class laughs.
Lawson wants her students to write lyrics that their readers would be able to see. “Let’s make it easy.” she says. “Describe the most gorgeous guy or girl you’ve ever seen. The finest thing you ever looked at.”
Not everyone writes this next set of lyrics. One guy, sipping on his apple juice, laughs and talks to another, who is distracted by his cell phone. Cell phones aren’t allowed at Aspirations, but some students find their way around the rule. Two girls by the front of the room discuss attractive qualities in the opposite sex.
“Yo – that’s a turn on!” says one to the other.
After several minutes, Lawson asks the class who wants to share their lyrics first. She walks around the classroom and notices one studen with large silver-colored headphones around his neck. “You didn’t write anything,”she tells him. “You don’t know any pretty girls?”
“No,” he says.
“You sure?” she prods.
She gives the class two more minutes.
One guy reads: “She is a light skin hottie – modest body. Nice, red, black hair. Smile so sexy, making angels wanna test me.”
A piece of another student’s lyrics: “Shorty was so exotic, I thought she was Cambodian.”
Another guy shares his piece: “She flawless, skin buttered up like a bagel in the morning. In life she has all types of niggas falling, tripping on they shoelaces. Can’t be a king cause she only deals with aces.”