I MiX What I Like! An Interview with Jared Ball (Part I)
As I MiX What I Like! A Mixtape Manifesto pays homage in title to a series of articles written by the late freedom fighter Steve Biko, Dr. Jared A. Ball's first book declares hip-hop's mixtape as a principle means by which to "fight the power." Provocative in his analysis, the "Funkinest Journalist" positions the "hip-hop nation" as an internal colony in need of a liberated form of expression. The music industry, Ball argues, has succumbed to ever increasing corporate consolidation homogenizing what is heard on mainstream commercial radio.
The Associate Professor of Communication Studies at Morgan State University offers a critique of the politics of popular culture that lends a framework of understanding to all those who routinely turn off the dial in disgust and wonder aloud about what happened to the state of music these days. Better yet, Ball offers a detailed vision of a politicized mixtape as an empowering alternative. Boots Riley of the Coup says of I MiX What I Like, "With this book, Jared Ball correctly and cogently posits hip-hop in its rightful place - as the most important literary form to emerge from the 20th century." (Read part two of the interview here.)
OC Weekly (Gabriel San Roman): For starters, what does your nickname, "the Funkinest Journalist," say about the nature of your work and how did you get that nickname in the first place?
Jared Ball: It actually started when I began doing a low powered FM radio program in Washington D.C. and we all needed nicknames. I had just been reading Rickey Vincent's work on the relationship and history of funk music to hip-hop. I needed a nickname and I took that one, "the Funkinest Journalist," meaning that I wanted to practice the kind of journalism that represented what Vincent was talking about in terms of what the funk is, this universal revolutionary principal, African cosmological symbol, and cultural expression, giving something new and revolutionary to the world. So I just took the nickname and ran with it for the program.
Let's talk about your journalism as it relates to your new book, I MiX What I Like, and the concept of the mixtape. It's popularly seen as a free collection of songs from artists between albums these days, but what's its history rooted in hip-hop?
The mixtape, as you said, has a lot of different applications and various definitions and as it emerged out of the DJ culture of the late '60s/early '70s around the world, I've just tried to argue, picking up something Angela Ards said in an essay some years ago, that the mixtape was really hip-hop's first mass medium, a national and dissident one. In that sense, the mixtape has a particular and specific relationship to hip-hop as opposed other communities and other various forms that it took, or takes.
What, then, do you see as its current potential as you put forth in your book?
Black and brown progenitors of hip-hop, or this "hip-hop nation" as some people call it, still have the same colonized and antagonized relationship to the United States that they always had. The mixtape, then, should still be used as a form of underground emancipatory journalism that is still a great space and is still used in hip-hop in a variety of ways to circumvent corporate and colonizing media structures. I'm arguing that it could be politicized and be put more to that use and purpose. It's still very popular in a commercial sense. It's still one of the best ways that artists promote themselves and corporations use to promote their artists in advance of official album releases. Within hip-hop, the mixtape still has a particular cultural relevance that it doesn't have in other communities that makes it a viable source for organizers to use as an underground emancipatory press in the twenty-first century.
When people read I MiX What I Like, they're going to be thinking a lot about Internal Colonialism Theory (ICT) because that's what the book really starts out with. Why do you think that's of vital importance to the context of the mixtape as an emancipatory form of journalism?
The phrase "emancipatory journalism" comes from Professor Hemant Shah at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Fifteen years ago now, he coined this philosophy of journalism that had been, and could be and should be practiced by colonized communities and nations around the world, and held that oppressed communities needed a different philosophy of journalistic practices to deal with the oppression that they faced. Building on a long line and history of people theorizing Black America as an internal colony, I just wanted to put those two concepts together and apply them to the mixtape, which has become for me my favorite form of communication over the years. In interviewing him and reading his work, he agreed actually that what I was trying to do fit the model and made sense, so I just kept running with it. Basically, if you are going to make in 2011 an argument that a low-tech, underground mass medium be developed for radical journalism and cultural expression to take place you have to go through a lot to justify that claim and to justify the reasoning behind applying this thing called emancipatory journalism to Black America. That's why I spend so much time in this book trying to deal with this concept of colonialism to say that Black people have been colonized just like many others around the world and even others within this country.
Coming from that political context, the mixtape, becomes an avenue for excluded dialogue and music, does it not?
Most definitely! We need to stop talking so much about democracy, freedom and equality and start really talking about the political nature of communication, the political nature of media in the context in which hip-hop developed and the context in which the mixtape found itself in the margins then and now. The purpose is to use all of that to say let's have some other discussions in general about where we all are politically and so on and see if some new forms of organization and movement can emerge.
Stay tuned for Part II of our interview as Dr. Ball and I discuss the Big 3 "Musical OPEC," music journalism, Lupe Fiasco, Soulja Boy, and how you can get the I MiX What I Like mixtape.
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