Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Mixtapes, Digital Humanities, and Black Studies

[By Kenton Rambsy]

In terms of hip-hop culture, mixtapes have always been a crucial part of how rappers and other musical artists produced and circulated their works beyond official channels. Afrika Bambaataa and DJ Kool Herc, back in the day, and in more recent times Nicki Minaj, Lil Wayne, and Frank Ocean utilized mixtapes to get their works out to different publics.  

With the rise of social networking, mixtapes have played an even more crucial role in shaping the musical landscape by reconfiguring how fans get access to music, what type of musical trends become popular, and what artists we listen to the most. Overall, the digital age has altered the means of production and distribution in some respects.

My talk about “mixtape culture” has relevance to the academic community in how some academics, similar to rappers, have used social networking as an innovative means to start/shape conversations about African American culture. Like hip-hop mixtape culture, online mediums (social networking) have allowed for scholars of Black Studies to begin to create digital resources that larger audiences can draw on to learn more about black political, literary, and artistic life.

Now, I do not believe the printed book will go out of style anytime soon; however, some scholars such as Mark Anthony Neal, L'HeureuxLewis-McCoy, Adam Banks, and Imani Perry and institutions such as The HistoryMakers, The Digital Schomburg, and Black Gotham Archives have reconfigured the notion of how academics create and disseminate their scholarship.  

Attention to five factors yields critical insight into the importance of developing an online presence and creating academic resources for Black Studies. The ability to: 1) Use visual mediums in posts; 2) Link to other relevant websites; 3) Post real-time updates about relevant topics; 4) Foster conversations via Twitter, Facebook, and comments section on blog; and 5) Disseminate ideas via relinks, tags, and online databases.

These factors signal how the internet and social media in general can be used to shape conversations about black studies and African American culture in general. The examples constitute what I like to call “Academic Mixtape Culture.” Similar to rappers influencing music through mix tapes, perhaps the academic community can begin to think more seriously about how scholars can create and disseminate knowledge outside of traditional publication channels and rely more on digital mediums to spur knowledge production.  Various scholars and institutions can provide different access points to Black Studies and influence how we use online materials to engage in the acquisition and production of knowledge in effective ways. 


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