Keynote Speaker: Propaganda + Dr. Alma Zaragoza-Petty


Propaganda’s music is about both divergence and connection. The rapper, raised and bred in Los Angeles, sees the intersection of all things and celebrates it in each song. His music is like the man himself, the result of many elements coming together.

Propaganda grew up in a working class black family in a mostly Latino neighborhood of LA. His dad brought home a new record every week and soul music and hip-hop blared through the house as Latin-inspired tunes blared outside. There was a sense of multiculturalism from the very beginning and Prop saw how one person’s problem could very similar to that of another person, no matter their surface differences. His dad was a Black Panther, which also inspired the rapper’s worldview. “I saw this black brilliance and innovation of people of color as I was growing up,” he notes. “It was so much more intriguing than slanging on the corner. I fell in love with hip-hop really young. For me, that was the origin of wanting to create music.”

He wasn’t sure music could be a career, though, so Prop went to college and graduated with degrees in illustration and intercultural studies. He spent six years teaching high school and had a hand in founding two charter schools in LA, one of which had a focus on the arts. Music lingered, despite any other successes, and Propaganda joined up with hip-hop collective the Tunnel Rats. By 2007, he quit teaching to pursue music full-time and began touring as a solo artist. He joined the Humble Beast family and unveiled a series of four albums that put his music on the map. Propaganda’s 2014 album, Crimson Cord, was released for free, but still managed to top several Billboard Charts. He’s toured with krs-one, Murs, De La Soul and Lecrae, and played Warped Tour, Rock The Bells and Smokeout Festival. And now Propaganda is ready to take his songs to the next level with Crooked, his fifth solo album.

Crooked is the result of two years worth of writing and recording, much of which was done in Portland. Unlike on previous albums, Prop wrote and rewrote and then rewrote again. He focused on each track to ensure that the messages were conveyed in the most effective and compelling way possible, and enlisted the help of the Humble Beast crew, as well as Copeland’s Aaron Marsh, during the recording. “It took a long time,” Propaganda admits. “But this is probably the best record I’ve made because I had so long to do it.”

The album draws its name from the idea that we’re all working towards perfection in an imperfect way. It’s about the idea of a crooked individual who has crooked relationship inside of a crooked system set up by crooked people for crooked gain, where everyone longing for a day when the crooked is made straight. It’s only in his faith and belief in an eventual day of reckoning that the individual finds solace. That theme is explored in the songs, which also grapple with Standing Rock, white supremacy, the patriarchy and self-hate within the black community. It all ties together in the subject of intersectionality, a concept used to describe the ways that oppressive systems are all connected and cannot be dealt with individuality. Prop was inspired by watching his wife, a first generation Mexican woman, face misogyny and sexism. He saw parallels to his own struggles as a black man and wanted to discuss that in his music.

Dr. Alma L. Zaragoza-Petty
Dr. Alma L. Zaragoza-Petty was born in Los Angeles but raised in Acapulco de Juarez, Mexico for most of her childhood. The firstborn of three, she is the daughter of immigrant parents who were granted amnesty under the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986.

Alma is a first-generation high school and college graduate and, having discovered a sincere passion for helping students from first generation and working-class communities gain access to higher educational institutions,
she went onto complete her Ph.D. in Education Policy and Social Context. Assisting students with personal backgrounds paralleling her own made her very cognizant of the lack of resources faced by educationally disenfranchised groups. These experiences shaped her commitment to social justice pursuits.

She is the co-host of Relevant’s The Red Couch Podcast with Propaganda and Alma and currently works as a college advisor and Student Impact and Evaluation Manager for ScholarMatch, a San Francisco-based non-profit.