Hip-Hop Fight Club: Radical Theory, Education, and Practice in and Beyond the Classroom

October 29, 2013 Jared Ball 0 Comments

Originally published: Radical Teacher, No. 97, (Fall) 2013.
Fight Club and Hip-Hop as Radical Theory, Education and Practice

Jared A. Ball

“Bolekaja! … Come on down, let’s fight!” – Marimba Ani1

Introducing… In This Corner…!

Few who have any working knowledge of hip-hop are unaware of the importance battling  plays in all its elements.  Emcees battle, DJs battle, graffiti artists battle, dancers battle, everyone battles.  Well, not everyone, or at least not nearly enough.  If, as has been suggested, “hip-hop journalism” is to be a “sixth”2 element and “hip-hop scholarship” now a “seventh”3 element of hip-hop then they too must truly “Step in the Arena” or “Enta da Stage.”4

As someone loosely affiliated with each of these elements I have for sometime now thought this necessary but have only really found a home for this argument in my classrooms, as tacit pedagogy.  There I have been indirectly engaging this idea as a method of teaching communication studies and of developing a theoretical approach to media studies since 2006.  The battle I am interested in furthering is a traditional one, found in any field or any social or cultural movement, it is a political battle, an ideological battle.  From what political, cultural or ideological lineage do we or ought we to draw?  What is the nature or goal of our work?  With what organization or movement are we connected or how do we define those organizations or movements?  While I have not seen or been able to engage these arguments in ways I would like to outside the classroom I have found them to be welcomed supplements to coursework and gripping bases upon which students can gain interest or find involvement in critical – even radical – thinking.The study or application of hip-hop as pedagogy is as contested (though still not nearly contested enough) as most fields of inquiry have ever been.  Over the last 20 years or so an emergent field of “Hip-Hop Studies” (HHS) has entered the fight for relevancy even as other related fields, such as Africana/Black Studies, that once proposed to study and advance the liberation of hip-hop’s progenitors struggle for survival.5


This shift or passage of fields in and out of the dark night of U.S. “higher education” is also indicative of unfinished ideological fights among those within these fields and prefigures similar conflicts to come over the purpose of academia/academics and the relationship these fields are to have to the conditions faced by those ostensibly under study.  These fights are necessary as patterns of field insertion, co-optation, hierarchies of spokespeople and codification of their canon, narrowing of ideological limits, eventual ineffectuality, and the subsequent liberalizing or altogether dismissal loom on the horizon of predictable outcomes from unchanged systems and structures.  Hip-hop then for me becomes an avenue in the classroom through which I attempt to engage these concerns, even if in relative isolation, and struggle to have hip-hop do for my students what it continues to do for me, make plain the colonialism and the particularities of anti-Blackness in our world.My attempt at finding space for hip-hop in the university classroom has been mitigated by several factors; first, I teach at one of this nation’s under-funded Historically Black College and Universities (HBCUs), one that is public and itself part of a specifically conservative academic tradition and which is rife with our own version of being academically ghettoized by overwhelmingly persistent 4-4s (4 classes each fall/spring semester) with more than 100 students per semester, full advising loads and horribly uncompetitive pay.  All of this leads to the annual decision by departmental leadership that we simply have too many majors (more than 600, by far the largest in our College of Liberal Arts) for me to teach courses outside the narrowly-established core needed by the department,6 and secondly; I teach within a communication studies department that is experiencing its own traditional struggles of creeping commercialism and hostility between journalist practitioners and academics, and an overall anti-intellectualism, a total disrespect for terminal degrees held by those without said degrees who because of prior professional journalism experience (so we are told, though these qualifications are never truly explained) are promoted to positions of departmental/school leadership.   However, neither of these points at all approach the impediment that is the historical fact that hip-hop is an expression of colonized communities whose own literal existence can hardly be said to be “welcomed,” never mind their full inclusion as subjects or sources of intellectual inquiry in this country’s systems of [higher] education.  To much of the academic establishment, be that at HBCUs or a Predominantly White Institutions (PWIs), hip-hop conjures these uncomfortable memories of the loudly oppressed whose silence has for so long been required.

Fight Club and Hip-Hop as Introduction to Media Studies

The press does not exist merely for the purpose of enriching its proprietors or entertaining its leaders.  It is an integral part of the society, with which its purpose must be in consonance.  It must help establish a progressive political and economic system that will free [women and] men from want and poverty…. It must reach out to the masses, educate and inspire them, work for equality of [women and] men’s rights everywhere.  – Kwame Nkrumah7

In 2009 Dr. Brian Sims, professor of psychology at North Carolina A&T, combined the elements of freestyle battling, street corner oratory and radical intellectualism into what he has since then called “Fight Club.”  Each week people gather, put topics on a board and debate them until, through crowd vote, a “winner” is determined.  It is a brilliant way to engage many involved in hip-hop and higher education to develop and harness critical thinking skills and to most importantly test and challenge ideological positions.  Fight Club exemplifies my own method of teaching as a way for me to offer challenging critiques of common communication studies courses, and test a developing Africana Media Theory/Black Radical Media Criticism (AMT/BRMC) – a theoretical approach to media studies whose foundation are historical works of media analysis or journalistic practice that come from the African world/Black radical traditions of political struggle.  However, I also see this method as practice for or as a test of how those of us involved in what is often referred to as “hip-hop activism and scholarship” can have Fight Club also become a model for vigorous debate over the precise meaning of these phrases so that we can identify, define and draw some important political lines.  What do these debates mean for we who are/should be engaged in them and then also what do they mean for our work in classrooms?  The Fight Club model can be said to be my pedagogy; bring students into these and related debates with hip-hop as the fount of critical thought.  In this instance my own Fight Club chalkboard assertion becomes: “Hip-hop activists and scholars have yet to properly define or even debate their political and ideological positions and this serves to weaken the potential for hip-hop to serve the liberation of its progenitors.”The previously outlined constraints mean for me that hip-hop and my attempt to address the Fight Club position, becomes simply a component of larger courses, or as a constant anecdotal reference point to make more clear other topics being discussed.  Wildly popular courses I’ve only been allowed to teach once in my six-plus years at my current institution such as Hip-Hop as Mass Media or Hip-Hop and Pan-Africanism were, for me, merely fleeting luxuries.  However, even in the most core and basic communication studies classes hip-hop is routinely referenced in course materials and by students in their work and contributions allowing for powerful “digressions” which allow hip-hop to be a conduit through which important societal contradictions can be isolated, identified, scrutinized.  The question then becomes one of method, of strategy, of application, to allow hip-hop to perform its true and previously existing function of expressing and explaining the world, or to paraphrase Kwame Ture, aiding “the job of the conscious {which} is to make the unconscious conscious of their unconscious behavior.”  Hip-hop, when encouraged, introduces, expresses, extends a variety of radical traditions.   For me hip-hop exposed(s) the various ways in which colonized African communities around the world use the expression to communicate and identify their struggles, to locate themselves and their histories and, conversely, the ways in which the industries that subsume them reflect the mechanisms by which African people remain bound.

When it comes to some of the basic tenets of introductory college-level communication studies courses I will use examples in hip-hop that explain “mass communication,” or the technologically mediated dissemination of ideas, by simply outlining the process through which a song must go if it is to be heard via the media technologies of radio, video, printed or online presses and even internet radio broadcasts.  In textbook chapters on the music industry or radio, film, even book and magazine publishing, I will likely use hip-hop-based examples to demonstrate corporate consolidation or to challenge claims of “profit motive” for media companies’ selection of what will or will not be promoted.  This process involves complicating the discussion of money or engaging a critique of its power over behavior.  It also includes questioning an industry process of song/artist promotion that deeply reflects the process by which propaganda or psychological warfare is conducted through “message for multiplication.”

There are also any number of ways to bring issues in hip-hop into media analyses and broader social struggles.  When, for instance, in 2012 rapper Too Short was broadcast to the world by XXL magazine sharing some dangerously inappropriate sexual advice for teenagers I, with the help of Rosa Clemente and a quickly-formed “We Are the 44%” collective, was able to shift the discussion not only to one focussed on male violence against women but also as a demonstration of media function and ownership structures.8  XXL and its content were linked to its parent company Harris Publications and put in a context of media consolidation and the imperial reach afforded mostly white, male and interlocked media ownership.9  Presently, with the explosion of diverse community and political involvement in hip-hop, issues of “gatekeeping,” “narrowcasting,” and “framing” are all able to be discussed, for example, via LGBT, white, Asian and even “hip-hop republicans’” approach to the cultural expression.  But these are but the frustrating basics that I am relegated to.  I fully acknowledge that others suffer similar struggles or that others are more skillful in their application of hip-hop to their courses of study.  My frustration stems from not being able to build upon these basic ideas or to more fully practice my attempt at developing new theoretical approaches (or even finish defining and publishing them) and, of course, the grand frustration of knowing that teaching is not activism, it is not in and of itself revolutionary and it does not impact students in ways I once fantasized.

Fight Club, Hip-Hop and Africana Media Theory/Black Radical Media Criticism (AMT/BRMC)

I first studied law to become a better burglar. – Huey P. Newton10

I essentially have developed a kind of inner monologue where I am conscious of ideas and goals that are expressed quite differently via lecture or class discussion.  This is no different than what most faculty or any public speaker does, and in my classes I share with students that this is happening and describe it as an example of public relations, advertising, marketing, propaganda or even psychological warfare.  That is, while in my mind I am constantly trying to apply a still-as-yet-undefined-unpublished theoretical approach to the study of mass media I am packaging it in ways I hope will best impact my target audience.11  It is my attempt at blending, mixing, fading in and out of (puns intended) work that I want to do with work I am forced to do; specifically it is me trying to apply, while simultaneously developing, what I have tentatively called Africana Media Theory/Black Radical Media Criticism (AMT/BRMC).  How can I have hip-hop function within these accepted core courses to expose students to and encourage their deep long-term engagement with traditions of African diaspora radical media criticism and journalistic practice that have not been incorporated into mainstream media theory, even that which is called “radical” or “critical?”

AMT/BRMC is my attempt to organize existing but disparate works from within the African world that is routinely ignored by most media theory scholarship.12  It attempts to argue against the exclusion from the field the works, for example, of Frantz Fanon and how media form part of the “polydimensional” method of colonization, or Claudia Jones’ journalism which challenged the limitations of Marxism and called into question the “internal colonialism” of Black America, or George Jackson and his call for a secret army, an alternative political party and an “underground press” that would promote revolution, all while discussing media theory or journalism history.13  Beyond that, by this I also mean to distinguish the difference between more conventional descriptions of critical or radical media theory and AMT/BRMC in a way similar to how Reiland Rabaka has looked to distinguish Africana critical theory from Africana philosophy.

Just as Rabaka distinguishes Africana philosophy as being “concerned only with ‘identifying, reconstructing, and creating traditions and repositories for thought of continental and diasporan Africans” and Africana critical theory as “theory critical of domination and discrimination in continental and diasporan African life-worlds and lived experiences” AMT/BRMC seeks to draw these distinctions between itself and dominant media criticism.14  That is, while there exists no shortage of media criticism or analysis stemming from the African or Black world and, of course, European or White media criticism – including “radical media criticism” – there exists in each tradition a tendency to either recount African/Black work in a manner reminiscent of establishing “repositories” or to simply, in the case of most Eurocentric scholarship, filter African world thought through their own lens if not omitting such perspectives altogether.  AMT/BRMC attempts, in a distinct fashion, to organize various traditions of African world thought, apply them specifically to a criticism of mass media and journalistic practice, so as to have them become, as Rabaka continues of Africana critical theory, “critiques not simply {of} imperialism but the anti-imperial theory and praxis of the past… to better confront, contradict, and correct domination in the present and offer alternatives for liberation in the future.”15

In a journalistic sense I mean this to be what I’ve previously identified as the difference between civic or advocacy journalism and what Hemant Shah once coined as “emancipatory journalism.”16 Simply stated, this refers to a practice that by name alone acknowledges a persistent unfreedom, then naturally eschews false notions of “objectivity” and openly calls for radical political organization and activity.  Connected to hip-hop I have made the case that the development of the rap music mixtape was in fact an example of anti-colonial and “national” media/journalism development.17  I argue that as a form of media theory hip-hop often demonstrates the central tenet of AMT/BMRC; hip-hop explains and clarifies a continuing absence of liberation and explicitly, even if unconsciously (hence the development of the mixtape) calls for alternative forms of communication, organization and ultimately action in response to existing conditions.  The explicit distinction between this AMT/BRMC theoretical approach and most media criticism, even that called “radical,” mirrors the distinction between Black or “minority” journalism/media criticism and the open advocacy of radical organization, even rebellion.  The continuity of gross exploitation and worsening conditions for oppressed communities demands (at minimum) a more aggressive intellectual confrontation that moves beyond simply including racially diverse contributors or media product that only includes world majority (so-called “people of color”) voices as the permanent “other” as part of an already narrowly-formed discussion.18  Beyond simple inclusion there is a desperate need for unabashed, unapologetic media and journalism produced by aggrieved communities that identifies these conditions and calls for their total eradication through radical grassroots political organization and movement-building.  In other words, the journalistic difference between the Afro-American newspaper or isolated Black columns in other presses and Black Agenda Report today or the Black Panther newspaper historically.19

Outwardly then this inner monologue is expressed by my infusion of a AMT/BRMC perspective of hip-hop’s history into classroom discussion of media-related topics.  When the textbook discusses the development of the printing press, or the telegraph I include discussions of the rise of the rap music mixtape as hip-hop’s first “national” mass medium where we can discuss the ways in which, as Dan Schiller has described of the expansion of the telegraph wire and post office service, the mixtape helped create and extend a burgeoning hip-hop “nation.”20  Described as such the history of the rap music mixtape – and even the broader and international origins and applications of the mixtape itself – can be used to explain the internal colonialism suffered by the Black and Latin American communities from which they were produced.  The necessity of a mixtape as a primary conduit for a hip-hop community/nation excluded from or demonized by existing media tells the political and cultural tale of internally colonized communities while explaining the persistent and special relationship mixtapes have to not only hip-hop lovers in general but Black and Brown communities in particular.21  Or when the imposed textbook gives one and a half full pages in their chapter on newspapers to all of the so-called “people of color” or “minority” presses we can have fruitful discussions of, again, the function the mixtape as a kind of early “hip-hop press” or how there eventually emerged an entire wing of what is now called “hip-hop journalism” – or the “6th element.”22  In extending the woeful attention given to the world’s majority, including discussions of the fully omitted radical press traditions (abolitionist, anarchist, socialist, feminist, etc.), we can add important depth to the question of why these presses or forms of journalism were/are necessary.

My goal, in its broadest sense, is to have hip-hop be that conduit through which I and my students can grapple with existing traditions of radical thought and practice.  Despite all that inhibits my own particular experience this is largely possible by simply centering hip-hop in discussions of other more “relevant” topics in communication studies, or by simply allowing hip-hop to speak for itself.  Unfettered by the political function of imposed structures hip-hop speaks well and radically to the conditions oppressed communities face.  One simple pedagogical technique is to let students hear, read and see hip-hop as it actually exists outside of dominant, corporate, colonizing impediments of mainstream media and business.  And if there is a benefit to teaching within communication studies it is that the field itself is truly interdisciplinary and as such allows for easy and sound (pun intended) connection to or interaction with any number of arenas of thought.  Hip-hop too is wildly interdisciplinary, multi-faceted and comprised of its own diverse but intersecting elements all of which are born of particular socio-cultural, political, historical and geographic contexts.  So, at least passingly, I am easily able to relate these to topics imposed by departmental structure and, more importantly, to have those avenues of thought interact with previously established and continuing radical intellectual and activist traditions.23

Fight Club and What the F&*K Is a “Hip-Hop Activist?!”

Although Hip-Hop itself was born in the early 1970’s in the wake of the heyday of the Black Power and Black Studies movements, “Hip-Hop Studies” or the mainstream study of Hip-Hop by Black academicians and journalists generally takes place and shape in the historical context of this later rendition of Black Studies mainstreamed as “African-American Studies.”   And it is what it is (“Hip-Hop Studies”).  Part of a global “Hip-Hop Revolution” it paradigmatically is not.  In actual fact, on the whole, it has an ambivalent or adversarial, even antagonistic relationship to Hip-Hop itself… If it is cliché for bourgeois (petit-bourgeois or pseudo-bourgeois) critics to pontificate on “Hip-Hop” and “commercialization” (while upholding mundane bourgeois values otherwise themselves), no commentators of note have condemned (as a “problem”) its commercialization in academia or publishing as a “new” and profitable “object of investigation.  – Greg Thomas 24The approach that I feel has had the most powerful impact in the classroom is the introduction of students to some of the debates around the popular discussion and definition of just what is “hip-hop scholarship” and “activism.”  Greg Thomas has brilliantly summarized my own general concern identifying in much of what has become hip-hop studies’ canon a tendency for authors to condemn commercialism while becoming overwhelmingly commercial themselves.  In making example of Hip-Hop Wars, the more recent book of Tricia Rose – seminal “hip-hop scholar” – Thomas writes:

What are the perspectives of this Hip-Hop on the rap that Rose recommodifies as     “Hip-    Hop,” on the “wars” or “debates” over Hip-Hop?  Moralistically, Rose criticizes     her two target paradigms without a hint of the possibility that the paradigm from which     she criticizes is a paradigm and one in dire need of criticism itself.  For even if the subject     at hand were to remain the likes of Nelly and Kanye West, under a less overblown rubric,     the evaluation of Hip-Hop and the “commercial” sold in The Hip-Hop Wars would     change drastically as soon as the Hip-Hop repressed by it returns to attack exploitation,     Western empire and the complicit academic critic with an oppositional perspective or set     of critical values, norms and ideals. 25I often challenge students to see the same in much of what has become hip-hop journalism.  In each case “wars” or “debates” are often reduced in focus to the most commercial rappers and the limited ranges of their thought.  Rarely if ever, as Thomas argues and I agree, is the focus journalists or scholars themselves and their own largely commercial, narrow, liberal and intellectually or politically debilitating content.26Having these discussions as sub-content within different courses and the fact that most students have not read much (any) of the developing “canon” I provide some shorter articles and use primarily public media, in particular mine and comrades’ radio shows.27 In this way I (largely) introduce students to what I argue are insufficient discussions of the meaning of these phrases; the limitations they set as canon, and the often ideologically conservative political positions taken by the most popular spokespeople.  Since the 2008 election of Barack Obama these discussions have centered largely around the tendency among those most popularly referred to as “hip-hop activists and scholars” to narrow “activism” to Democratic Party electoral politics and the insufficient debate around that fact within an equally nebulously defined “hip-hop community.”  The use of this media, mostly radio and some video all archived on the internet, greatly assists in introducing students in shorter periods of time students to some of what debate does take place.  In the case of my own show or my own involvement in these debates elsewhere, this media also allow for students to experience another side of their professor and for me to even become a prime example of what not to do, offering some fun moments of faculty-led, self-deprecating “teachable moments.”

One such incident occurred in March of 2006 when I was invited on to what then Michael Eric Dyson’s Radio One radio program.  I had recently written a column criticizing Dyson’s claim to be a progressive alternative to right-wing and mainstream media while offering, as he had begun to at the time, weekly friendly visits from John McWhorter, a Black representative of the Manhattan Institute’s wildly conservative political agenda.  I argued that this was a politically damaging waste of what little media space and time that had been carved out for “us.”28  In particular I was also responding to McWhorter’s wholesale and repetitive condemnations of rap music as extensions of his blanket condemnations of Black culture and social behavior all of which was/is devoid of historical or political context or an understanding of how the music industry works or what political state function it serves.  Word got back to Dyson who one afternoon called me to invite me on to debate him and McWhorter, or as I was right to predict, to serve as the radical straw-man that gives legitimacy to the narrowly-defined ranges of acceptable debate, or the kind that can only occur between Democrat and Republican defenders of the status quo.

As a teaching tool the audio from what would be two appearances on that Dyson program allow for an introduction to some of the debate around how hip-hop is discussed in popular media, how a conservative like McWhorter could attack hip-hop (read: Black people) from the right, for a liberal like Dyson to define and limit acceptable ranges of left political criticism, and for a wonderful example of my own poor use of time and argument within a commercial media confine.  Or as I explain in class, it is not enough to be correct you must also learn the skill of managing time, staying focussed on talking points and being, in this case, radio-ready clear and engaging.  Most importantly, one must become aware of interviewing and debate techniques that rival any skilled propagandist in assuring a message is conveyed with greatest impact on its target audience.  I then also explain that they should listen to how I failed on all counts.

I had initially intended to argue that: a) In his criticism of hip-hop’s narrow and debilitating content McWhorter ignored the colonial, corporate process by which songs are selected for popularity assuring that no radical content (so much of what is actually produced around the world) ever reaches its intended audiences and, b) that allowing McWhorter to appear as a regular guest on his program Dyson was artificially establishing the boundaries within which these discussions can take place.  When he defended his right to have any guest of his choice and argued that he did not fear disagreement I suggested Dyson drop the Manhattan Institute neocolonial McWhorter and have weekly debates with people to his political left.  What happened was more akin to an episode of The Boondocks, some kind of faux BET Awards back-stage fight with Dyson descending into rants about his manhood and being unafraid to confront conservatives, and McWhorter being coy, evasive and defending himself by saying that at least his wife liked him, and me ridiculously descending into arguments over footnotes and (accurately if not effectively) equating McWhorter to an intellectual Melvin “Cotton” Smith.29  After two appearances and two hours I made few of the points I had planned to and allowed the liberal and conservative to do what the two false poles are meant to in making themselves seem the only legitimate range of argument.  At least students get a laugh.

In more serious and clear examples I at times engage students around the development and eventual (for all intents and purposes) demise of the National Hip-Hop Political Convention (NHHPC) of 2004 where many hoped this would be more akin to an internally colonized domestic non-aligned movement than the largely John Kerry, and eventual Barack Obama, campaign rallies they became.  We recently revisited this issue on my radio program offering students another opportunity to be quickly introduced to the history of the NHHPC and some of the debate around the marginalizing of women and radical politics.30  I sometimes also refer to my own earlier and obscure attempt to draw some political lines among “hip-hop scholars and activists” questioning the reduction of both to ultimately encouraging only that we vote for Democrats; an argument which prefigured the eventual full on support of the “hip-hop community” for the disaster that has been Barack Obama in 2008/2012, with even some happily claiming (incorrectly) that hip-hop is responsible for the Obama’s election.31  I often now also include in classes the important panel convened at the National Conference for Media Reform (NCMR) in 2011 by Dr. Chris Tinson that attempted to address these and related issues around “hip-hop scholarship and activism.”32  One of the many important outcomes of that panel was what I think is the first clear delineation of a distinct “hip-hop radicals” category.  Here Rosa Clemente, coining the phrase, Tinson and I sought to address some of the troubling trends in popular work around hip-hop, most notably the diminishing (if not full on erasure) of Black and Latin American radical political traditions that run far left of voting for Democrats – even as a long-standing hip-hop activist like Clemente was running in 2008 for the presidency on the Green Party ticket with former congresswoman Cynthia McKinney – and the tendency in popular hip-hop studies to over-emphasize and glorify power or agency among oppressed communities, hence the embarrassing notion that hip-hop got Obama elected or worse that we should have wanted him at all.

Bakari Kitwana joined me on my radio program recently to take up this debate over the definition of “hip-hop activism” and provided another short media piece ideal for the classroom.33  He had recently asked me to respond to some questions about hip-hop activism and found my responses puzzling, in fact, as he said, he was “shocked” to hear that I felt a need for some debates around ideology or political trajectory among those described as part of this hip-hop activist collective.  Specifically, Kitwana found troubling my views that hip-hop activism have by now become a brand, a euphemism for liberal funding of some “minorities” to ultimately and solely organize themselves to vote for the Democratic party’s candidates.  Kitwana’s acknowledgement of a diverse array of politics within the community, I argued, was not itself evidence that those ideas were equally welcomed, suggested or organized politically by those within these vague categories of “hip-hop activists and scholars.”  The wide-array of politics within these communities, pan-Africanism, Black nationalism, anti-imperialism, socialism among them, are – as in other fields – overwhelmingly marginalized in favor of liberal electoral politics.  For the classroom, however, the most important aspect of these public discussions is that students can hear them debated and be introduced to broader, more radical ideas all within a context of hip-hop.

The hip-hop academic and activist debate functions nicely in the classroom in that conflict, especially professor-involved conflict, is an exciting break from the norm of most student life.   The debate also allows for introductory level students to experience basic media studies concepts such as agenda-setting, framing or gatekeeping and where they can witness how these concepts play out in the context of arguing about hip-hop and its relationship to peoples’ lived experiences.  For more advanced students the debate allows them to witness the ideological limitations put on popular, commercial media versus the public, community radio format of my own and some of my colleagues’ media outlets, and lets them see media theory in practice.  This year, for example, graduate students in media theory will read some of the literature, watch and listen to some of these debates and analyze them via conventional (Marxist, Feminist, Critical) and unconventional (AMT/BRMC, Hip-Hop Feminism) media theories and will be encouraged to vigorously engage me in a “fight” around my initial assertion that, “Hip-hop activists and scholars have yet to properly define or even debate their political and ideological positions and this serves to weaken the potential for hip-hop to serve the liberation of its progenitors.”

Conclusion: And the Winner Is…?

I said earlier that I “feel” these debates have been most effective as a teaching tool.  I have put no science to measuring the effectiveness and am basing the statement on a more qualitative feeling of the vibe during discussions or energy in exam essays.  In other words, I have developed as of yet no empirical measurement to gauge the effectiveness of incorporating the great hip-hop debate.  I just know its value from the energy derived from the discussions, the routine with which they are referenced in student essays and the length of time students are willing to spend in post-class discussions emanating from these debates. Perhaps these can become actual variables in future studies.I find myself in the quite familiar position of those limited by their work place and broader political/media environments which seeks to locate, destroy or limit the reach of unconventional ideas.  And like many of us I struggle to find ways to be relevant which in my case means doing what I can to expose mostly working-class Black people to varieties of their own radical political and cultural traditions.  Hip-hop is part of those radical traditions and proves it whenever it is allowed to be heard, seen, experienced.  This often requires, or at least is aided by, radical media analyses, ones that come from hip-hop’s progenitors and that are overtly concerned with their liberation.  My professorial style or approach to these goals is very much akin to the Fight Club model; I walk in, put my politics on the board, and encourage students to engage me in a semester-long “fight” over ideas.  By semester’s end the the “fight” ends as Fight Club intends, as hip-hop has always intended, with hugs and pounds (which for students translates into grades and graduation), and amicable parting of the ways with the goal of later advancing political organization and struggle.  What is more “hip-hop” than that?


Dr. Jared A. Ball is the father of two brilliant and adorable daughters, Maisi (7) and Marley (5), and the fortunate husband of Nelisbeth Yariani Ball.  After that he is an associate professor of communication studies at Morgan State University in Baltimore, MD. and is the producer and host of the “Super Funky Soul Power Hour” (Fridays 11a-12p EST) on Washington, DC’s WPFW 89.3 FM Pacifica Radio.  Ball is the author of  I MiX What I Like: A MiXtape Manifesto (AK Press, 2011) and co-editor of  A Lie of Reinvention: Correcting Manning Marable’s Malcolm X (Black Classic Press, 2012). He can be found online at IMIXWHATILIKE.ORG.


1 Marimba Ani, Yurugu: An African-Centered Critique of European Cultural Thought and Behavior, Trenton: Africa World Press, 1994, 1.

2 Quoted in Herbert Altschull, Agents of Power, New York: Longman, 1984, 150.

3 Raquel Cepeda, And It Don’t Stop: The Best American Hip-Hop Journalism of the Last 25 Years. London: Faber & Faber, 2004.

4 Personal communication, a statement made to this author by scholar/emcee Dr. Jason Nichols/Haysoos, March 30, 2013.

5 Gang Starr, Step in the Arena [Album], Chrysalis/EMI Records, 1991 and Black Moon, Enta da Stage [Album], Nervous Records, 1993.

6 Travis Lars Gosa, “Colleges Love Hip-Hop, but Do They Love Black Men Too?” Chronicle of Higher Education, February 15, 2013. Archived online at: http://chronicle.com/blogs/conversation/2013/02/15/colleg es-love-hip-hop-but-do-they-love-black-men-too/. See Also, “HuffPost Live: Is a Hip-Hop Studies Minor Legitimate?” January 16, 2013, archived online at: http://newblackman.blogspot.com/2013/01/huffpost-live- is-hip-hop-studies-minor.html.

7 “The Hurricane,” The Hurricane: Music from and Inspired by the Motion Picture, MCA Records, 2000.

8 “Fight Club was founded by Dr. Brian Carey Sims in 2010 as a student/community outreach initiative of the first annual Dialogue on Progressive Enlightenment (DOPE) conference at North Carolina A&T State University, and serves as the material response to students wishing to carry DOPE forward as an active means to radically interpret and engage the world to produce progressive, transformative social change. Since then the Fight Club model has been implemented in various other communities including a student-led effort in Washington, DC (Fight Club-DC) and in Ann Arbor, MI.” Quoted from an as yet unpublished essay, “Structured Dialogue in the Black College Classroom,” Drs. Brian Carey Sims and Lumas J. Helaire.

9 I will leave out the long, boring and tedious history of attempts to make such courses part of the core; suffice it to say all attempts failed.

10 Comments made during a meeting of the Patrice Lumumba Coalition, New York: NY., 1996. summarized in Jared Ball, I Mix What I Like! A Mixtape Manifesto (Baltimore: AK Press, 2011) pp. 55 and 73.

11 The week running August UrbanInsite.com/charts. 4-18, 2013,

12 Straubhaar, J., LaRose, R. and Davenport, L. (2012), Media Now: Understanding Media, Culture, and Technology, Seventh Edition, Boston, MA.: Wadsworth, Cenage Learning, p 33.

13 Ball, J. I Mix What I Like! A Mixtape Manifesto, Baltimore, MD.: AK Press, 2011.

14 “Propaganda” would become “public relations” to avoid the negative connotation the term achieved after the second World War and each have a definition and function that is interchangeable with “psychological warfare.” Each share as core to their definition and function the conscious use of techniques to mold the worldview for political purposes of a target audience, individual or mass. For a discussion of “message force multipliers” see David Barstow, ”One Man’s Military-Industrial-Media Complex,” The New York Times, November 29, 2008. Archived online: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/30/washington/30gener al.html?pagewanted=all. For a discussion of the modern- day application of what are largely indistinguishable definitions and uses of “propaganda” and “psychological warfare” see Laura Flanders’s GritTV episode, “Maintaining Bush’s Propaganda Program?” Archived online: http://blip.tv/grittv/grittv-maintaining-bush-s-propaganda- program-2800627.

15 For a discussion of “message force multipliers” see David Barstow, ”One Man’s Military-Industrial-Media Complex,” The New York Times, November 29, 2008. Archived online: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/30/washington/30gener al.html?pagewanted=all.

16 The 44% represents the number of Black and Brown girls sexually molested or assaulted before the age of 18. Public Statement: “We Are the 44%” Coalition Challenges Sexual Violence Against Black and Latina Teens, February 21, 2012. Archived online at: https://www.facebook.com/notes/wearethe44/public- statement-we-are-the-44-coalition-challenges-sexual- violence-against-blac/159855520800028.

17 To extend the similar arguments made from opposite ends of the political spectrum by Ben Bagdikian on the one hand and Zbigniew Brzezinski on the other and summarized in Jared Ball, I Mix What I Like! A Mixtape Manifesto (Baltimore: AK Press, 2011) pp. 55 and 73.

18 David Hilliard and D. Weise, The Huey P. Newton Reader. New York: Seven Stories Press, 2002, 25.

19 By African world I mean, diaspora and also mean to include Black or African Americans and the Afro-Latino diaspora as well.

20 Frantz Fanon, Toward the African Revolution, NY: Grove Press, 1964, 35.

21 See Rabaka, W.E.B. Du Bois and the Problems of the Twenty-First Century: An Essay on Africana Critical Theory (Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2008).

22 Quoted in, Bassey, Magnus O. (2007). “What is Africana Critical Theory or Black Existential Philosophy?” Journal of Black Studies, 37; 914.

23 Quoted in, Bassey, Magnus O. (2007). “What is Africana Critical Theory or Black Existential Philosophy?” Journal of Black Studies, 37; 914.

24 Quoted in, Bassey, Magnus O. (2007). “What is Africana Critical Theory or Black Existential Philosophy?” Journal of Black Studies, 37; 916.

25 Jared Ball, I Mix What I Like! A Mixtape Manifesto. Baltimore, MD.: AK Press, 2011.

26 Jared Ball, “I Mix What I Like! In Defense and Appreciation of the Rap Music Mixtape as ‘Dissident’ and ‘National’ Communication,” International Journal of Communication, vol. 5, 2011, 278-297.

27 See for instance, D. Berry and J. Theobald (eds.). Radical Mass Media Criticism: A Cultural Genealogy. Montreal: Black Rose Books, 2006. The only Black voice heard in this volume is bell hooks’ and only through the lens of the White author’s perspective.

28 This tradition can be said to run through Freedom’s Journal, The North Star, David Walker’s Appeal, the journalism of Marcus Garvey’s The Negro World and the work of Ida. B. Wells, Robert and Mabel Williams, and through much of the “minority” presses described by Juan Gonzales and Joe Torres in News For All The People: The Epic Story of Race and the American Media, London: Verso, 2011.

29 Jared Ball, “I Mix What I Like! In Defense and Appreciation of the Rap Music Mixtape as ‘Dissident’ and ‘National’ Communication,” International Journal of Communication, vol. 5, 2011, 278-297.

30 Jared Ball, “I Mix What I Like! In Defense and Appreciation of the Rap Music Mixtape as ‘Dissident’ and ‘National’ Communication,” International Journal of Communication, vol. 5, 2011, 278-297.

31 Raquel Cepeda, And It Don’t Stop: The Best American Hip-Hop Journalism of the Last 25 Years. London: Faber & Faber, 2004. This is not to suggest that the content or perspective of this journalism deserves to go unchallenged.

32 These movements would include anti-imperialist, pan-Africanist, as well as Black involvement in socialist, communist, anarchist and labor movements most of whose intellectual and press traditions are ignored. See, for instance, Juan Gonzales and Joe Torres, News For All The People: The Epic Story of Race and the American Media, London: Verso, 2011, John Downing, Radical Media: Rebellious Communication and Social Movements. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, 2001 or the earlier press history classic, David Armstrong, A Trumpet to Arms. Boston: South End Press, 1981.

33 Greg Thomas, “Hip-Hop vs. The Bourgeois West … and ‘Hip-Hop Studies’?” June 14, 2010, imixwhatilike.org. Found online March 30, 2013 at:https://imixwhatilike.org/2010/06/14/thomasvrose/.

34 Greg Thomas, “Hip-Hop vs. The Bourgeois West … and ‘Hip-Hop Studies’?” June 14, 2010, imixwhatilike.org. Found online March 30, 2013 at:https://imixwhatilike.org/2010/06/14/thomasvrose/.

35 I have also attempted to make this argument here: “Stand and Deliver: Political Activism, Leadership and Hip- Hop Culture by Yvonne Bynoe” (Book Review) in The Global Journal of Hip-Hop Culture, Vo. 3, No. 1, January 2007, and here:“Stealing Empire: P2P, Intellectual Property and Hip-Hop Subversion by Adam Haupt” (Book Review) in The Global Journal of Hip-Hop Culture, vol. 4, no. 1, June 2009.

36 My show, The Super Funky Soul Power Hour airs Fridays 11a-12p on WPFW 89.3 FM Washington, DC. My comrades Dr. Chris Tinson and Carlos ‘Rec’ McBride do even better and more Hip Hop-grounded work on TRGGR Radio Fridays 6-8p on WMUA 91.1FM in Amherst, MA. as does, JR and BlockReportRadio.com, Hard Knock Radio from KPFA 94.1 FM in Berkley, CA. and DaveyD with Breakdown FM at DaveyD.com.

37 Jared Ball, “Et tu Michael Eric Dyson? Fraternizing with the Devil,” BlackCommentator.com, March 16, 2006. Archived online at: http://www.blackcommentator.com/175/175_dyson_ball_g uest_pf.html.

38 FBI infiltrator of the Los Angeles chapter of the Black Panther Party who aided state officials in capturing, framing and convicting BPP member Geronimo Pratt in 1969. See, Ward Churchill and Jim Vander Wall, Agents of Repression, Cambridge, MA.: South End Press, 1990, 84- 87.

39 “The Non-Aligned Movement is a movement of 115 members representing the interests and priorities of developing countries. The Movement has its origin in the Asia-Africa Conference held in Bandung, Indonesia in 1955. The meeting was convened upon the invitation of the Prime Ministers of Burma, Ceylon, India, Indonesia and Pakistan and brought together leaders of 29 states, mostly former colonies, from the two continents of Africa and Asia, to discuss common concerns and to develop joint policies in international relations. Prime Minister Nehru, the acknowledged senior statesman, along with Prime Ministers Sukarno and Nasser, led the conference. At the meeting Third World leaders shared their similar problems of resisting the pressures of the major powers, maintaining their independence and opposing colonialism and neo- colonialism, especially western domination. The Non- Aligned Movement: Description and History, The Government Communication and Information System (GCIS) of South Africa. Retrieved September 15, 2013, archived online: http://www.nam.gov.za/background/background.htm.

40 “Women Tell Some of the Untold Story of the Rise and Fall of the Hip-Hop Political Convention and Saying ‘No’ to Clear Channel!” March 15, 2013. Archived online at: https://imixwhatilike.org/2013/07/02/women-tell-the- untold-story-of-the-rise-and-fall-of-the-hip-hop-political- convention/.

41 “Beyond the Beats: Towards a Radical Analysis of the State of Hip-Hop,” a panel at the National Conference for Media Reform, April 14, 2011. Archived online: https://imixwhatilike.org/2011/04/09/beyond-the-beats- towards-a-radical-analysis-of-the-state-of-hip-hop/.

42 “What is Hip-Hop Activism?” with Bakari Kitwana, October 12, 2012. Archived online at: https://imixwhatilike.org/2012/10/12/what-is-hip-hop- activism-w-bakari-kitwana/.


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