This week we are featuring stories from Renata Brito and Felipe Dana, Jeff Weiss, Maddy Crowell, Stephen Rodrick, and David Jenkins.

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In today’s edition, our editors recommend:

  • The tragic story behind one of the many boats that wash up to shore carrying the bodies of desperate migrants.
  • A profile of a Southern California rap legend with an underappreciated talent.
  • A glimpse into the life of a cybersecurity expert who rose to the top of her game.
  • Time in class with an Indian guru who boasts nine million social media followers.
  • The joy of soaking up the sights and sounds while walking in a desert.

1. Adrift

Renata Brito and Felipe Dana | The Associated Press | April 12, 2023 | 4,355 words

People call them “ghost boats,” the small vessels — at least seven in 2021 alone — that have washed up in the Caribbean and Brazil carrying dead bodies. The boats come from West Africa carrying desperate people bound for Europe via the Canary Islands, a complex, treacherous route. Somehow, somewhere the boats were forced off course and drifted out into the Atlantic, all but ensuring the deaths of the people on board. But who are those people? What are their stories? Who back home is missing them? This years-long investigation uses a handful of clues — a SIM card and scraps of clothing, for instance — to identify the dead found in one ghost boat in Tobago. Renata Brito and Felipe Dana do an impressive job situating a sensitive story about the impacts of global policies and politics within the framework of a mystery. A moving feature, and beautifully designed too. —SD

2. The (Un)holy Gospel of Suga Free

Jeff Weiss | Los Angeles Times | April 17, 2023 3,271 words

One of hip-hop’s greatest conflicts, and I’m speaking for myself here, lies in the pimp persona. Careers have been built around it. National sweethearts have leveraged it. (Looking at you, Martha Stewart’s best friend!) Undeniable artistry has flowed from it. But it remains deeply discomfiting, a strain of misogyny that you can never quite unhear. That paradox lurks deep inside Jeff Weiss’ profile of Southern California rap legend Suga Free, a man whose prodigious talent couldn’t guarantee quantitative success. Suga’s impact and influence are undeniable; every time you’ve heard a hustle-culture tech bro say “if you stay ready, you don’t have to get ready,” this is where it came from. But other than a few indelible (and NSFW) guest appearances here and there, he’s all but disappeared. For him to pop up in a feature-length profile — happy, healthy, and seemingly finally at peace with his life and his creativity — is an unanticipated joy. One of Weiss’ great gifts as a music writer is evoking the intangible aspects of an artist’s style, and here he manages a near-perfect characterization of Suga’s silky breakneck patter: “He didn’t rap, he glided like a swan at the Player’s Ball, inventing his own unquantized, improvised rhythms,” he writes. But Weiss also doesn’t shy away from confronting the outlook that suffused Suga’s lyrics, and gnaws even more insistently at the listener’s ears and brain 20 years later. That conflict never takes center stage, thankfully, but to ignore it would be equally contrived. And so it sits there, peeking out from Suga’s aphorisms and overstuffed closet. It’s part of the art and part of the artist. What it means for his legacy is for you to decide. —PR

3. The Hacker

Maddy Crowell | Columbia Journalism Review | April 17, 2023 | 4,553 words

If my observations of people and their digital habits are any indication, most tend to have poor security and password hygiene. I suspect I wouldn’t pay as much attention to computer security practices if it weren’t for my job inside a tech company. “Being hacked is not just a possibility but a likelihood,” says cybersecurity expert Runa Sandvik. Simply existing on the web comes with risks. In this piece for CJR, Maddy Crowell gives us a glimpse into Sandvik’s work and focus on internet privacy and freedom: She advises reporters and other individuals at risk, like activists and lawyers, on how to protect themselves and their data online. Growing up in Oslo’s hacking community in the 2000s, when privacy wasn’t yet a thing, Sandvik found a job in ethical hacking, and later fell into her niche as a privacy and security researcher. (Crowell recounts Sandvik’s brush with a guy who simply introduced himself as “Ed,” and would later go on to rock the very foundations of the surveillance state.) I appreciate Crowell’s look into Sandvik’s fascinating life, and her path to becoming one of the world’s top information security experts. —CLR

4. Inside the Temple of Sadhguru, the Internet’s Favourite Mystic

Stephen Rodrick | British GQ | April 11, 2023 | 5,892 words

I clearly don’t spend enough time perusing influencers on TikTok, because I had never heard of this Indian guru with more than nine million followers. Luckily, Stephen Rodrick’s editor did know of him, shipping Rodrick off to Sadhguru’s Inner Engineering class to learn more about the media-savvy mystic. Rodrick arrives at the center in McMinnville, Tennessee, with a healthy dose of skepticism (and contraband caffeine pills and prosciutto), so it is perhaps unsurprising that inner peace remains elusive. However, the guru’s oddly harsh approach and occasionally inaccurate statements seem worthy of Rodrick’s questioning. While a picture of a strange and stubborn man emerges, Rodrick also recognizes how Sadhguru’s language and tone “appeals equally to the TED talk crowd and the climate-anxious suburban parent.” Some of this crowd are with Rodrick at the center and the characters he describes and secret alliances he forms create a highly entertaining read, whether or not you’re convinced about the guru’s message — or even sure what it is. —CW

5. During a Pandemic, Walk

David Jenkins | High Country News | April 17, 2023 | 1,343 words

When I run or walk alone outdoors I almost always listen to music, a podcast, or an audiobook. In this thoughtful piece for High Country News, David Jenkins remarks upon passing a runner while on a 10-hour walk in western Colorado, the man’s ears “clogged with headphones.” The word clogged stopped me short. How true that even in solitary pursuits we compromise the peace we seek by inviting others’ words into our heads. “I puzzled over the need to listen to something other than wind and raven, the scuttle of a lizard, the skittering of small rocks underfoot,” he writes. Less is so much more, and while you’ll revel in soaking up every sight and sound the desert has to offer, the greatest beauty of Jenkins’ piece is that because he’s fully present during his walk, you can’t help but be, too. —KS

Audience Award

The piece our readers loved most this week:

How Rural America Steals Girls’ Future

Monica Potts | The Atlantic | April 6, 2023 | 3,436 words

This excerpt, from the forthcoming The Forgotten Girls: A Memoir of Friendship and Lost Promise in Rural America, captures how heartfelt Monica Pott’s exploration into small-town America is. By focusing on the women she grew up with, a story that is the same across many places becomes personal — and thus deeply resonates. —CW