In the thick of the Hip-Hop Mixtape
Dating back to the late 1970’s, the hip-hop mixtape quickly became an integral component in solidifying hip-hop culture.DJ’s would curate cassettes featuring a plethora of artists using the African tradition of story-telling to detail the issues inhibited in African-American urban communities. The segregation of America’s adopted ‘others’ carved a generation who sought to change the way they were to be emancipated through breaking their conditioned silence. Of course, record labels were uninterested in raw spoken-word narratives that challenged their supremacist desires thus, the streets marketed an object filled with veritable truths of black culture, the hip-hop mixtape.
Through its dissemination within an unregulated space, the mixtape asserted unconventional community leaders using the agency of poetry to launch a new form of protest against a system that worked so hard to keep them on the fringes. Operating under the mandate of Amiri Baraka’s (Leroi Jones) black art, the hip-hop mixtape became the space for African-Americans to write themselves back into history through self-narrations and authentic accounts of an experienced lived by the people reciting the tales. One can go back and listen to a Marley Marl mixtape from the 80s and hear an account of the urban consequences of Reganomics whilst also listening to Chance the Rapper’s 2013 Acid Rap to gain an understanding of why Chicago is now known as Chi-raq.
African-Americans now use the mixtape to trace their history as it is more than a CD but a sub-cultural artifact. As a piece of radical or protest art, the mixtape demands for that voice – booming through either speakers of headphones – to be heard. Content may be confrontation at times, with the likes of Ab Soul denouncing the government in Control Systems but in doing so he forces his listener to address the kaleidoscope of social and political injustices operating throughout America.Bound up in the politics of representation, hip-hop mixtapes begin to eradicate paternalistic practices by no longer allowing white America to speak on their behalf. As a consequence, rappers use their agency to open up a conversation.
Such sentiments enter hip-hops gender debate as the mixtape has too created a space for black women to have a voice. Often left off the feminist debate, trailing through datpiff.com – the mixtapes digital archive – you find a plethora of women from different cities telling whoever wants to listen what it truly means to be a black woman in America. In addition, failed civil rights/black power agendas are frequently revised on the mixtapes produced by the new wave of socially conscious rappers. However, it would be romantic to suggest that every mixtape has culturally redeeming value. Tales of the strip club, conspicuous consumption and utter gibberish can too be found but why the hip-hop mixtape is so relevant is because narratives of the past give meaning and legitimacy to events of today by America’s forgotten people.