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Book Review: I Mix What I Like: A Mixtape Manifesto by Jared Ball

Taken together, “I Mix What I Like’s” jewels represent a compelling assessment of the status not only of African America, but also of its colonial master.* – Dr. Brian Sims

Expecting there to be a sanctioned press from among the colonized that poses journalistic challenges to established power is simply irrational.” – Jared Ball

*This review originally appeared in HipHopDX and was written by Dr. Brian Sims of North Carolina A&T.

Perhaps the most consistent and conspicuous omission by those who claim expertise or authority on Hip Hop is that of the colonial status of African America. What every single one of the degenerate, traitorous, disingenuous Hip Hop talking heads you’ve ever seen on television, learned from in the classroom or heard on the radio has in common is that they conveniently never mention the fact that Hip Hop has served as a primary means by which Black folks in America are colonized- mind, body and spirit.

Dr. Jared Ball’s new book I Mix What I Like: A Mixtape Manifesto broadcasts this colonization in 1080p. Further, it offers a compelling argument for the potential of what he refers to as “Mixtape Radio” to function as Emancipatory Journalism (EJ), media work that “challenges conventional notions of journalistic practice” (p.121) and exposes the relationship of the press to society.

In 14 short, impressively precise chapters, Ball elegantly analyzes the present status of African America, contextualized not only by the aged historical narratives of political economies but also by the vibrant, living fabric of 21st century Washington, D.C. A prefatory note to the reader and introduction situate the ensuing information and perspectives in a Pan-African paradigm which weaves African metaphysical astrology, European linguistic assaults, corporate dominance, digital technology, academic scholarship and Arnold Schwarzenegger into an Internal Colonialism Theory (ICT) framework.

Yeah.

Chapter one opens with a brutally honest discussion titled “The Colonized Rhythm Nation,” which defines and clarifies the role of the United States of America as an empire, or a “…state (which) controls the effective political sovereignty of another political society” (p. 19). That other political society, of course, is the “Hip Hop Nation.” Here, Ball diverges from the time-honored talking-head playbook routinely used by (insert your favorite Hip Hop media outlet here) by arguing that whichever version of Hip Hop-as-Black-cultural-movement you subscribe to ultimately misses the point of Hip Hop’s existence as a “colonized extension of a predating and continuing colonialism” (p.20) that steals and victimizes; maims and distorts, domestically and internationally. According to Ball, the racially vague term “Hip Hop Nation” itself simultaneously conjures notions of social classification and contributes to a sort of “Hip Hop Nationalism” in which hip hoppers fight for its survival and perpetuation. This would be all good, except for the fact that during the mid-1990s “the corporate elite subsume[d] this nationalistic tendency within its own imperial designs.” (p.23).

This explains a lot. It explains Russell Simmons. It explains The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. It damn sure explains MC Hammer, Diddy, and Rick Ross. It explains why “Hip Hop culture” is euphemism for self-inflicted wound; and why drugs, sexual pathology, and conspicuous material consumption are unchallenged hallmarks of “keeping it real.” It explains why every single piece of mass-produced Hip Hop media in the history of the world has served to substantiate and reinforce the existing power relations between the oppressed and the oppressor. Ball quotes Frantz Fanon, who put it this way: “The very purpose of popular culture and media within a colony is that it “reminds the settler of the reality of colonial power and, by its very existence, dispenses safety, serenity.” In other words, Hip Hop is medicine for the beneficiaries of White Patriarchal Supremacy (WPS); and poison for its victims.

Finally, it explains why Hip Hop, despite having the industrial power to generate tens of billions of dollars per year in revenue, has resulted in more Black and Brown “plantation-like”(p.26) labor and living conditions than ever before in history. Race, then, is identified as the primary determinant of wealth, health care, standard of living, and education throughout the world. Perhaps the boldest statement in I Mix What I Like is Ball’s proclamation that:

“No amount of popular, sanctioned media is anti-colonial. They are all consciously racist products that operate as systemic defense mechanisms.  Decolonization can only come with unsanctioned media.”(p.38).

The implications of this Ballsian proclamation are profound, for if true, it indicts every single corporate sponsored website, television show, radio program, ringtone, magazine, album, newspaper, and book you’ve ever seen as racist. (Yes, that includes Facebook.) It also negates any libratory value ascribed to “progressive” “acceptable” forms of resistance (e.g. the Internet, NPR (the focus of chapter 10),Democracy Now). Most important for our purposes here, the proclamation serves as the fundamental assumption on which the argument for engaging in mixtape radio as EJ is based.

Chapter 2 engages media as ideological, and spells out the necessity of ideological control of culture in the colonial enterprise.  Ball literally equates media with popularly disseminated ideology. Also referred to en sum as “pop culture,” this ideology basically involves depicting African people as inferior and deserving of their subjugation.

Ball’s description of this in an earlier article titled “Hip-Hop As Mass Media: Cultural Imperialism, Commodity and the Politics of Economy and Image” warrants quoting in its entirety here:

Rulers of the world have long since learned that the best method for a few to control many is not by means of whips, chains or guns but by manipulating the culture of the group to be ruled. That is, have the cultural expression of the conquered be adjusted to create an appearance of inclusion and shared interests with the rulers while assuring that this remains just that, an impression, mirage, myth or lie. This is why the end results in popularized hip-hop music and imagery are focused on conspicuous consumption, misogyny, violence and these become the standard for “the Black American experience.”  This results in the perception that what is an intended, systemic occurrence – Black poverty, crime, violence, etc. – is actually the fault of flawed Black people, communities or cultures.”  (p.5).

Of course, different versions of this message are literally preached to African America on a continual basis, resulting in what is oft referred to as a destruction of African consciousness. The virtual obliteration of African America’s African consciousness is being witnessed on virtually every level, perhaps no more clearly than in America’s collective inability to identify its ideology as European. It is precisely because America’s mode of operation is not identified as European in nature and origin that Black folks are able to perpetuate its (clear) daily assaults on Black life.

Almost as a case-in-point, Chapter 2 defecates on Marxist analyses of class-rule, which are (unfortunately) often regarded as revolutionary and counter to the aims and operation of capitalist exploitation.  Ball notes that such analyses, according to Ayi Kwei Armah are limited by Marx’s “binding Eurocentricity and lack of praxis” (p.44), and highlights Fanon’s assertion that  “[t]he cause is the consequence; you are rich because you are white, you are white because you are rich.” (p.44).

In order to version what was African as “Black” it is necessary to make what is European “White”, or by proxy, “American.”   “In other words, people are defined by both who they are (or made to seem to be) and equally by who they are not” (p.50). Both Blackness and Whiteness have been constructed and revised over the years… “the colonizer [thus] being created though the creation of the colonized.” (p.50).  Returning to Fanon, Ball stresses the nature of the colonial dynamic as torturous, but not deadly.  “the aim sought is rather a continued agony than a total disappearance of the pre-existing culture.” (p.53).  For Ball “[t]he culture of the colonized must survive in some form or fashion so as to create an appearance of validity or authenticity.” (p.53).

In reading this discussion I was reminded of Nas’ classic bar from “If I Ruled The World”:

“It’s elementary / They want us all gone…eventually.” …The most important part of which is the “eventually.” It’s not that the system wants to get rid of Black and Brown folks ASAPishly. They simply can’t manage without us. Ball also refers to the re-imaging of Indigenous people into mascots like “Redskins,” “Chiefs,” “Braves,” “Fighting Illini,” and “Seminoles” has long been connected  to the genocidal atrocities committed against them. Similarly, the cultural fare of African America is systematically hijacked; African plane, African airport, European pilot.

Chapters 3-8 offer lesson after lesson in the reorganization of perception; away from perspectives which posture society’s institutions as anything other than oppressive. Succinct analysis of the educational-, journalistic-, corporate-, and media-industrial complexes orient the reader toward the largely invisible problem of hegemonic control and suffocation of creativity, autonomy, and dignity of African America on an immense scale. Ball’s ability to focus a rigorous, scientific approach to data and information synthesis through an unapologetically subjective lens is evidence not only of his scholarly talents and unquestionable intellect, but also of his years of dedicated service and sacrifice to African America.

His remarkable handle on the complex issues, needs, and obstacles facing African America is evidenced most clearly by chapter 9, which offers a case study of the nation’s (mostly Black) capital. More specifically, Ball recounts the specific ways in which Washington D.C. is and has been developed into the premiere colony for Black and Brown folks on the North American landscape largely thorough the astonishingly effective use of radio mind control. Ball exposes Clear Channel (the world’s largest radio station owner which owns WASH 97.1 FM, WBIG 100.3 FM, and WWDC 101.1, among others in D.C.); Radio One (African America’s largest radio provider, which owns WKYS 93.9 FM, WMMJ 102.3 FM, WOL 1450 AM, and WYCB 1340 AM); and Infinity Broadcasting (which owns WPGC 95.5 FM, WPGC 1580 AM, WARW 94.7 FM, WHFS 99.1 FM, and WJFK 16.7 FM) as largely responsible for the District’s lack of internal control of its economy, its schools, and its law enforcement structure; high rates of gentrification; and militaristic and segregationist policing techniques. Also un-spared is the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), a governmental entity “whose nominal role is regulation of the public’s airwaves, has, since its inception in 1934, never been able to ensure that Black image was ever anything other than an endless string of “Uncle Toms, Mammies and Aunt Jemimas.” (p.103). Ball also critiques the Internet’s role as a colonizing force, and along the way dismisses the idea that grassroots artists are somehow more popular today than before due to newer technology. Both The Washington Post and The Washington Times get what they had coming to them, as do Disney, Viacom, General Electric and News Corp. And lest you worry, no decent analysis of media as it relates to Black folks would be complete without ripping Oprah a new one. Ball essentially clowns Winfrey for her characteristically simple-minded 2007 remarks about how (unlike inner-city kids in America who ask for iPods and sneakers) kids in South Africa “…don’t ask for money or toys. They ask for uniforms so they can go to school.” (p. 109). Ball points out that “The desire for material goods that Winfrey laments is a likely result of the formulaic, massively repetitive and news-less radio imposed upon that community- an imposition that, as previously noted, occurs regardless of a particular community’s desire to hear it.” (p.109) and then points to a 2005 marketing research study indicating that the product brand names most often mentioned in Hip Hop lyrics  that year were Mercedes Benz (#1), Nike (#2), and, you guessed it: AK-47 assault rifles, which made the list at #10.

Chapters 10 and 11 argue that the narrowing of public opinion and restricted ranges of thought effected by NPR and state mechanisms like the FBI’s Counter Intelligence Program (COINTELPRO) both serve the interests of the elite few. In the former, “the image of the colonized, in this case, becomes the product of the colonizer, and is authentic to that relationship.” (p.114). In the latter, COINTELPRO is described as a “…natural offshoot of the process of “predation” whereby the conquered must be monitored and managed.”(p.117).

These chapters set up the culminating chapters of I Mix What I Like wherein Ball lays-out the specific need for and potential of the mixtape as EJ (chapter 12); a viable solution: FreeMix Radio: The Original Mixtape Radio Show (chapter 13); and the pitfalls of cooptation threatened by White liberalism and so-called progressive journalism (chapter 14). According to Ball, “Mixtape radio is conceptually grounded in the need for the colonized to assume leadership within a broader social movement that uses media effectively, as opposed to being marginalized within a media reform movement that assumes incorrectly (and if at all) that the conditions of the most oppressed will improve with a moderately reshaped media policy.” (p. 148).

Taken together, I Mix What I Like’s jewels represent a compelling assessment of the status not only of African America, but also of its colonial master. Its singular shortcoming is not in the text itself but rather in its potential to ultimately buttress the very colonial paradigm that the mixtape is argued to confront. By publishing such a cogent, compelling framework for reinterpreting the psycho, socio and economical realities of Hip Hop for African America, Ball may have unwittingly provided the enemy with intelligence needed to further crush and dismantle the unaccounted-for liberation potential that is hidden by the oppressed’s lack of access to mainstream distribution channels. Through AK Press, Ball has ensured that the previously aforementioned pseudo-intellectual talking heads will incorporate his framework into their classrooms, nationally syndicated radio shows, books and guest appearances onHannity. Except that when they do, they will sanitize, warp and appropriate his methodology and perspective to fit their own regurgitated WPS agenda. Worse, they will omit his praxis of informed, vulnerable community engagement that has pumped libratory energy into more young minds than can be counted, including my own. They will, for example, not discuss the implications of his decision to use his publishing royalties to support political prisoners. Ultimately, by choosing not to directly call out those members of the media, academy, and political sphere who purport Black leadership and interests while spewing the colonizing colonization of the colonizer, Ball has left the door open for each and every one of them to co-opt his blueprint for revolutionary action. Nonetheless, for everyone else, as indicated by his signature sign-off, Ball has effectively elevated the urgency and relevance of Fred Hampton’s sanctioning of peace… for those who are willing to fight for it.

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