Media Highlights

Opportunity Artist Of The Year?

This Sunday marked the 55th annual Grammy Awards. Of course, we here at Opportunity Nation were watching the incredible performances and rooting for our favorite artists. But before the stars hit the red carpet, we decided to take a look at opportunity in the areas from which music’s brightest lights emerged. Six artists tied for the most nominations, with each up to win six. We decided to ask the following question: today, what barriers to opportunity would the successors to these stars need to overcome, based on where they grew up and our Opportunity Index scores for those counties today?

Frank Ocean – New Orleans, Orleans Parish, Louisiana.

While Frank Ocean was born and recorded his album in Los Angeles, he was raised in New Orleans, Louisiana; much of the jazz- and blues-inspired quality of his hit album comes from that city’s famed musical culture. Overall, Orleans Parish has an Opportunity Score of C. Lower-than-average economy and education scores are lifted by a high community score, reflecting high rates of volunteerism and group membership. In interviews, Ocean has backed this assessment up.

The Black Keys – Akron, Summit County, Ohio.

It’s fitting that the Black Keys’ basement blues sound comes from the American heartland of Akron, Ohio; the county seat of Summit County, which received a 2012 Opportunity score of C+. While Akron has low unemployment and a relatively good education system, it has below-average scores for community life.

Kanye West – Chicago, Cook County, Illinois.

Kanye West, of course, hails from Chicago, proudly referencing his hometown at every opportunity. Cook County, with an opportunity score of C+, scores below-average on the economy but above-average on education. Additionally, Cook County has a rate of violent crime that is far higher than both national and state averages. However, opportunity in Cook County is overall slightly above the national average, gelling with West’s descriptions of a middle-class upbringing with opportunities for a college education.  However, few college dropouts will find themselves as successful as West if they don’t complete some post-secondary credential.

Jay-Z – Brooklyn, Kings County, New York

It’s always been impossible to imagine Jay-Z without Brooklyn; but it’s getting harder and harder to imagine Brooklyn without Jay-Z. A part-owner of the newly-installed Brooklyn Nets pro basketball team, Jay-Z constantly references his hometown pride in his lyrics, performances, and persona. Brooklyn has a low opportunity score – with high poverty, low on-time high school graduation, and high violent crime, all of which are referenced in Jay-Z’s music. Brooklyn scores well, however, in terms of preschool and access to fresh produce.

fun. – New York, New York County, New York

Breakout band fun.’s indie pop ruled the charts this year, both combined with Janelle Monae’s soulful voice on We Are Young and alone on Some Nights. The first multi-member band to have a number one single since Nickelback, fun. hails from opportunity-rich Manhattan in New York County. New York County receives an B in opportunity, with average economy scores, above-average education scores, and off-the-chart community scores. It’s interesting to compare New York County to Kings’ County above – the amount by which opportunity can vary even within the same city can be very surprising.

Mumford and Sons – London, England

Mumford and Sons aren’t from Kentucky, of course – they’re from London, cementing the Adele and Amy Winehouse tradition of “out-American-ing” the Americans by adopting an Appalachian-inflected roots-rock sound. Opportunity Nation’s focus is solely domestic, so we decided to find a London in the region where Mumford’s sound hails from. We picked London, Kentucky, in Laurel County – which has below-average opportunity scores across the board for an overall grade of C-.

While in the end, nearly all of the above artists won at least won award last night, Americans won’t win until people from every county have the opportunity to succeed. What barriers to opportunity do you see in your community? What artists were you rooting for at the Grammys? Sound off in the comments below.

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