Somewhere in America: Literary Storytelling

For the second project of our graduate design seminar, we are required to conceptualize a visual narrative based on a literary piece. Once I read the assignment, Jay Z’s “Somewhere In America” came to mind. What attracted me to the song are the witty references underneath the lyrics. For example, in the last lines he rhymes, “Feds still lurking / They see I’m still putting work in / Cause somewhere in America / Miley Cyrus is still twerkin’”. He used humor to comment on racism in America. In an interview with Elliot Wilson, Jay explains:

Yes, and that’s the thing, like reviews… think about trying to get that line. You hear that Miley Cyrus, you’re going to come to the wrong conclusion that you really understand the story. People are like, “why’s he saying ‘Miley Cyrus’ in the song?” Don’t you understand? It’s hard to understand the intention behind it. Again, it uses wit and it’s catchy, but the real story is about racism. The whole song is, somewhere in America, you can’t teach racism when your child is connected to the culture. It’s very hard to…

My original plan for the project was to create a poster with a map of America and then fill in all the visual images Jay Z mentioned in the song. The intention was to show the connection between the visual elements without words. Somewhere in America Miley Cyrus is still twerkin’. Somewhere in America Bun B is still rhyming about trill. Somewhere in America Frank Sinatra’s “My Way” is still playing in the Sonos. Somewhere in America, Jay Z is driving his yellow Lamborghini 135 miles per hour on the highway.

As I sketched out my design, I had a hard time deciding where the visual elements should be placed on the map since they don’t have to be in a specific location. The second important issue is that people who aren’t a fan of Jay Z and aren’t into hip-hop culture wouldn’t get the meaning behind the piece. As a result, I switched from a print piece to an interactive piece. The interactive piece solves the first issue because I don’t have to determine where to place the images. Users will get a random arrangement each time they visit the page. They can drag the pieces around and then click on a photo that they find interesting. Once the thumbnail is clicked, they get to see the entire image with the lyrics as well as the references Jay Z made.

I am really happy with the result and quite enjoyed working on this piece. This is one of the things that I love about school. I get to do fun and creative projects. Go ahead and play with “Somewhere in America.” I hope you enjoy it as well.