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.