A documentary film about the legendary rap group A Tribe Called Quest should be a very big deal. A film about them should be as wide-ranging as this collective of talent. And the film should be as powerful as the time and culture that produced them. Most importantly, it should educate and inspire its audiences as did the group themselves. Instead its just another film that mirrors so much of what remains wrong in general; the story of truly dope Black people produced by a far less dope White one and, of course, now owned by Sony whose music wing currently assures that nothing like A Tribe Called Quest ever again even approaches a radio broadcast or video screen. Beats, Rhymes and Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest is a film for its times capturing the low end of a theory that has been so ravaged by marauders at midnight that its rhymes are beaten and stripped of their content like, as you’ve no doubt guessed, a wallet left in El Segundo.
Again, as we roll into the month of August we’d like to begin our tribute of Black August a bit early… If you didn’t know already, let me be the first to tell you that there is indeed a crisis in hip-hop politics and intellectualism. It is a crisis of separation, a crisis of deracination and of political trajectory. In part it is a crisis of euphemism and in this case its as old as calling the horrors of enslavement a “triangular trade.” But unlike the way say “urban” has become a euphemism for Black, and one known as such, “hip-hop” has become more a euphemism that erases the blackness of its progenitors and their condition.
It may be an emerging technology but the internet isn’t changing a thing. I don’t mean literally of course. The internet is changing the primary format of communication and it is certainly changing the way our brains work, the way synapses grow, and has definitely impacted our ability to concentrate or to stay focused. But I mean the big stuff. “Cyber Utopians,” as one writer calls them, must be going through the kind of withdrawal now being suffered by Obamatons. The real and big change they thought was coming just isn’t.
And as if to remind everyone of all this earlier this month the keepers of ideas have initiated the “Copyright Alert System” to let you know when your network is being used to illegally download their stuff. This, as they say, will allow eventually for a “safe and legal” internet experience for us all. Of course, as a subset of intellectual property rights, copyrights are about ownership and control of thought and the “safety” desired is simply the protection for big business to subjugate the limitlessness of the internet to corporate control. This agreement between internet service providers and the television and film industries, is about assuring that only they can determine what is considered legal or sanctioned communication. Hence, this becomes, in the words of a music industry lobbyist, a “groundbreaking agreement” that “ushers in a new day and a fresh approach to addressing the digital theft of copyrighted works.”
The agreement does not currently add any “new laws or regulations” nor does it carry threats of account termination for those warned by this system of illegal trafficking of copyrighted materials. In fact, their claim is that the new Center for Copyright Information will use these warnings to spread the gospel of copyright’s importance. And, of course, it is. The new center is another front for the major music labels, film and television studios and is designed to promote an ideology of copyright, one based on the mythology of copyright protecting artists who now so emboldened feel free to produce more art which in turn benefits us all. Aside from the pure nonsense that artistry is suppressed absent copyright protection is the basic fact that artists rarely if ever own their own copyright. So this is just recycled branding and defense of the already well-defended.
More importantly, this is about assuring that “new” media technology succumb to established social norms and order. These warnings can easily morph into greater ordering of the internet’s content. Existing research already suggests we are headed there, where a “Googlearchy” is emerging that more than replicates media consolidation elsewhere. Here, as Matthew Hindman explains, since 25% of all internet traffic is porn, email, and search engines, only 3-4% goes to news and only 1-2/10 of a percent go to political blogs, it is actually easier for media giants to gobble up more of what little space is available. Major newspapers have more of their market locked up online, roughly 30%, than in print where they still only have about 20%. And as we’ve shown before the internet does nothing to change the range of popular topics covered in online news and very little of that news deals directly with Black people and other so-called “minorities.”
Most importantly, the newer medium has had zero impact in changing our most deeply-held attitudes towards one another. As said by the previously-referenced author and internet critic Evgeny Morozov, new media technology often “only aggravate existing social problems.” But, to prove his point he, well, proved his point! Morozov’s example was taken from a leading conservative economic newspaper and their reasoning behind a claim against providing the war-torn Sudan with computers. Given that, according to Morozov, they only know a “culture of pervasive corruption” computers would be useless since Sudanese are more accustomed to, he says, “staging ambushes than typing on laptops.” Computers and the internet won’t stop African corruption any more than they will stop the Western imperialism that encourages it or the binding Euro-centricity with which even the White Left tends to interpret the rest of the world.
*Originally published July 13, 2011 / Black Agenda Report and before Bradley became Chelsea Manning
Bradley Manning, Political Imprisonment and the Myopia of the Left
As long as we continue to allow the United States to function as an empire it will. And as long as it treats many of its own “citizens” as “subjects” it is likely to impose that same status on those abroad. And to the extent that domestic struggles and the punished survivors of those struggles are ignored efforts to change the country’s impact in the world will suffer. Until there is massive unrest and protest aimed at the treatment of the Indigenous, Black, Brown and poor, until there are flotillas headed to Pelican Bay and “flytillas” to Pine Ridge claims of solidarity with the rest of the world will remain as hollow as claims of progress here. It is unfortunate the extent to which this political disconnect exists.
The Music Industry Reloads: It’s Not Dead Because We Didn’t Kill It!
by Jared A. Ball*
Look around and you will find no shortage of people describing what they call “the death of the music industry.” Music sales are down and, therefore, the industry is done. On the political Left this is a great thing occurring as the result of homogenized music not appealing to audiences who along with artists are increasingly using the internet to revolutionize music distribution which offers more opportunity for communities to determine artist popularity. On the political Right this is the obvious result of street corner bootleggers and internet pirates terrorizing innocent artists and the legitimate business practices of record labels. But the fatal flaw in either analysis is that they’re nearly exclusively focused on sales which ignores the social nature of profit or in this case the benefit derived from controlling popularity. Besides, the music industry won’t just die a slow natural death. We have to kill it.
Say what you want about the level of resistance to this country’s wonderfully constructed image and mythology, that which it creates about itself or those it holds in check; but hip-hop is a leading force in that fight. In fact, without hip-hop very little of the symbolism or artistic expression of radical resistance to the brutality this country can impose on its own would be known or felt. Without hip-hop so much of what I heard described recently as “inattentional blindness” would pass without recognition. So as another celebration of the 4th of July passes for some of us it is hip-hop that best represents in this moment the sickeningly still-relevant question of Frederick Douglass; “What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July?”
“Jared Ball is determined to rescue hip hop and left activism from increasingly subversive corporate control. This book is a manifesto that needs to be read, argued about, and yelled from the rooftops. Let the bricks fly!”—Todd Steven Burroughs, co-author of Civil Rights Chronicle
“The Funkinest Journalist breaks it all down for all servants of Soul/Funk music and Art in the 21st Century. His Mixtape Manifesto explains what we are up against battling corporate empires that control the coveted consumer-merchant access points, and offers us an option to distribute, connect, and popularize our culture.”—Head Roc, political hip-hop artist
“The revolutionary power of this book lies in its capacity to interrogate staid constructs of thought and re-pose vital questions pertaining to ’emancipatory journalism.’ For the power to pose the question is the greatest power of all.”—Frank B. Wilderson, III, author of Incognegro
In a moment of increasing corporate control in the music industry, Jared A. Ball analyzes the colonization and control of popular music and posits the homemade hip-hop mixtape as an emancipatory tool for community resistance. Equally at home in a post-colonial studies class and on the shelves of an indie record store, I Mix What I Like!* is a revolutionary investigation of the cultural dimension of anti-racist organizing in African America.
The I Mix What I Like! Companion Mixtape
In I MiX What I Like! there is an attempt made to expand the context in which we see or interpret National Public Radio (NPR) and the issue of payola or “pay-for-play” radio. In a rare instance of news reporting honesty these two topics were combined as NPR this week discussed payola and the development of “hit records” using Rihanna as an example of how it’s done. They even took a moment to include some thoughts from our friend, IndustryEars veteran and radio expert Paul Porter. But their childish approach to the issues involved speak directly to the reason I attempted to put both NPR and payola in a different political context. By NPR payola is reduced to an issue of money or at best light corporate manipulation. There is, of course, no offer of appropriate context or cultural, political or economic impact on the communities whose art is forced into this process. So there is no (can be no) discussion of the politics of popularity and of pop culture, or the colonial relationship between artists and music labels (particularly Black artists) or the very fact that, as we’ve argued, NPR’s very approach, style and it’s affluent White target audience all suggest its role as Frantz Fanon’s Radio-Alger; settler radio.