Ball’s revolutionary conception of the mixtape

book-cover-i-mix-what-i-likeIn his new book for AK Press, I Mix What I Like! A Mixtape Manifesto, author Jared Ball takes his time to carefully build a dialectic foundation, rather than immediately jumping into discussion of “low-tech and practical networks of community-based media and journalistic practice.”

Ball instead takes a tactic that – at first read – seems like the author is spending an inordinate amount of time laying groundwork and telling the history of why one would need said journalistic devices.

However, Ball states:

“Before dealing with the ideology of mass media within a colony and, therefore, the placement of hip-hop cultural expression, the mixtape, or the notion of the mixtape as emancipatory journalism (or even just what precisely that is!), the central concept of colonialism demands some discussion.”

This is going to require some patience on the part of any reader who picked this book up thinking it’s about bootlegs sold on strete corners and out of car trunks. It is, to a certain extent, derived from those mixtapes, and addresses the practice and legality of those mixtapes. However, Ball’s book is at its core about the lack of a positive news outlet for African America. More importantly, it is about how the idea of a mixtape can be turned from something that promotes a commercial product perpetuating “mythological creations designed to stand in for the more complex realities experienced by these people” into a tool for community-based change.

The earliest chapters of I Mix What I Like!, concerning the history of colonial oppression that has led to this situation – no freedom within an empire into which Blacks were forced – run overly long, at times seeming to hammer a point home long after it has been made. In contrast, the latter chapters, which deal more directly with the ostensible subject matter of the book – journalism, music industry, radio, etc. – are so short as to present the subject, only to walk away just as it begins to be devled into.

However, those faults are all forgiven, as they all lead to what is Ball’s defining moment. The chapter entitled “Washington, D.C.: A Case Study In the Colonizing Function of Radio” is stunning in scope and focus, using everything which the author has brought before it to present a single city that demonstrates the need for alternative media that can directly focus news and information to the Black residents of any city. Mixtapes, Ball says in his conclusion, “are freedom incarnate.” If used properly, they can be focused to gain what’s most necessary: “more freedom.”