Journey to Freedom, Week 3: Love

Vincent Anthony
9 Min Read

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For this week’s Journey to Freedom challenge, Michelle Williams challenges us to “celebrate a mindful moment of self-love.”  Self-love, Michelle says, is an essential precursor to being able to obtain romantic love.  After all, if you don’t love yourself… how can you expect someone else to love you?  This is an important stepping stone in one’s journey to freedom, especially if one of the goals of your journey is to experience love from another person.

With the songs selected this week, the artists all have very courageously shared their own internal conflicts with the world.  Some of the songs also encourage the listener to love his or her self as well.  So, without further adieu, lets take a look at the list!


1.  “One Is the Magic #” by Jill Scott puts things very bluntly on this midtempo, latin-flavored track off her debut album released in 2000, Who Is Jill Scott?.  With a sass that only Jill can infuse into a neo-soul song, she asserts that “there’s just me, one is the magic number.”  While illustrated through a series of clever wordplay, her point is clear, that she must live for herself and disregard the opinions of others.  My favorite lyric: “So many times I defined my pride through somebody else’s eyes.  Then I looked inside and found my own stride, I found the lasting love for me.”  Well said, Miss Scott.

2.  “Me,” by Tamia has an interesting concept.  In the song, taken from 2006’s Between Friends, Tamia is ending her relationship with an unfulfilling lover.  As she does, he asks if there’s someone else, and she says yes, there is… another woman.  However, that other woman’s name is “Me.”  She proceeds to tell him about all of the things that he has done wrong to “Me.”  This cleverly written, emotional track is most definitely worth the listen.

3.  “Crooked Smile” by J. Cole features TLC on this “Unpretty” reminiscent track from his 2013 sophomore release, Born Sinner.  I considered including “Unpretty” on the list as well, but since both essentially share the same thing, I opted for the song I prefer: “Crooked Smile.”  On this song, Cole directs his words towards anyone who is insecure, but specifically women, encouraging women to embrace their imperfections.  It is nice to see a male hip-hop artist send such a positive message to women considering the rampant degradation that lives in music by some other rappers.  Cole has always set himself apart from the rest by having a mostly positive, socially conscious air about his work.  My favorite line, though, is about himself:  “I keep my twisted grill, just to show the kids its real.  We ain’t picture perfect, but we worth the picture still.”  

4.  “Take Me As I Am” by Mary J. Blige is pulled from her 2005 album, The Breakthrough, which, like No More Drama, is seen as one of her defining albums released at one of the defining moments of her life, for several reasons.  Mary sings to her haters in this self-love anthem.  “She’s confident this is not the end.  Ask me how I know?  Cause she is me,” sings Mary.  There comes a point in every person’s journey to freedom where they finally come to love who they are, as they are.  This song encapsulate’s that moment.

5.  “Pretty Hurts” by Beyoncé is another song dealing with the topic of imperfection, which was a theme across the BEYONCÉ albumHowever, “Pretty Hurts” is a bit different.  The song is beauty-pageant-themed, and opens with “Miss Third Ward” being interviewed, and asked what her aspiration in life is.  Her response?  “To be happy.”  And really, that is what the journey to freedom is about.  A journey to freedom… to find fulfillment, and happiness.  However, “Pretty Hurts” specifically deals with the unhealthy expectations to be “pretty” and thin that is placed on young girls in our culture.  Beyoncé ends the song with this affecting verse:


“When you’re alone all by yourself, 

And you’re lying in your bed,

Reflection stares right into you, 

Are you happy with yourself?  

You’ve stripped away the masquerade, 

The illusion has been shed… 

Are you happy with yourself?”  


Self-love is about finally being capable of looking at your reflection in the mirror, and loving who looks back for you… physically, and mentally.  When you can truly do this, then you truly love yourself; imperfections and all.  Beyoncé closes the song by answering her own question, with a ‘yes.”

6.  “I Can” by Nas is an uplifting inspirational track aimed at young people.  The song encourages the youth to follow their dreams and strive toward whatever dream they most desire.  Specifically, the song encourages young African-American children to aspire without limitation.  Nas serves a history lesson on “I Can,” with a flow and a vocabulary that few of his peers can compete with.  I still recall how impressed I was by Nas’ historical flow on this song when I first heard it back in 2002.

7.  “Can’t Take That Away” by Mariah Carey is also called “Mariah’s Theme.”  The song, released on the Rainbow album in 1999, came at a pivotal, transitionary moment in Mariah’s career.  She had just divorced her husband (and head of Sony Music), Tommy Mottolla, and was on her way out of the label.  Feeling as though “people” were out to get her and sabotage her career, she wrote this song about perseverance and self-love.  She also says that it was in part inspired by the tragic Columbine Shooting in 1999.  “Can’t Take That Away” also became a single from the album after an intense fight with the label ensued.  Mariah eventually won, with the help of a fan petition, and got the song released with an emotional video featuring her fans. Unfortunately, it wasn’t very successful.  Regardless, the song is a highlight in her catalogue for both personal and musical reasons.  The vocal run at the end of the bridge is perhaps one of her most impressive.  Its lyrics, while a bit cliché, are extremely relatable and inspirational, and often cited by fans as a song that has helped them through hard times.

8.  “Dot” by Destiny’s Child is a bonus track on the Charlie’s Angels Soundtrack which birthed the more notable “Independent Women Part 1.”  While it’s title really makes no sense aside from the fact that the sound is repeated on the song’s chorus, otherwise, the song is most likely born from a personal place.  Written by Beyoncé following the drama that swirled around Destiny’s Child in 2000, it features lyrics like, “if something’s wrong, blame it on me, B-E-Y-O-N-C-E.”  Undoubtedly, Beyoncé wrote this song to uplift herself after having been torn down by the media who called her dozens of harmful names.  Which would be a hard thing to deal with for any 19 year old.  Perhaps, that’s why she felt the need to pass this inspiration message along to her fans: “Love yourself enough to live life for you, and nobody else.”  

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Vincent is the founder of the magazine and has had a strong passion for popular music since, well, 1997! If it's not obvious, his favorite artists include Destiny's Child, Mariah Carey, Janet Jackson, Michael Jackson, P!nk, and many more. Vincent lives in New York, where he is a high school English teacher, and currently he is pursuing a Master's in Journalism at the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at CUNY.