“Album Review: Despots’ Mixtape,” by Matt Kolbet

Jan 27th, 2016 | By | Category: Fake Nonfiction, Prose

Everybody’s dropping mixtapes now, and it can be hard to figure out which ones are worth your time. This reviewer has unearthed a collection that is both historical and fantastic. No mere concept album or casual listen, this compendium will practically revolutionize what you think you know about music and potentates. When it takes over the airwaves, you’ll be happy to listen.

Other albums claim to represent the wicked influence of some of history’s most incorrigible leaders, but they either misrepresent their connections, rarely go beyond fascists like Hitler, Mussolini, Franco, or rely too heavily on modern ballads that comment on Assad. It’s unusual to hear a track that Pol Pot would like, the kind of killer associations only discerning listeners will understand naturally, while others have to labor for it. Despots’ Mixtape gives you ideological insight into Idi Amin, Kaiser Wilhelm II, and a rendering of One Direction’s “Drag Me” Down that would certainly speak to Hideki Tojo.

Nor does this anthology limit itself to tracks by Soulja Boy, because nobody needs to tell Kim Jong-Un to crank that—he knows. The compilation astutely offers up what would be Mugabe’s pet pick, “Many Men” by 50 Cent, “You Belong With Me” for Mao Zedong, and “Hey There, Delilah,” strangely Lenin’s favorite. The link between Saddam Hussein and Justin Bieber’s “What Do You Mean?” feels so patently obvious that it’s astonishing no one else has included it on previous dictator pop records. Other fan darlings include “Love Myself” for Yahya Khan, a man who knew how to scream his own name, and “Rotten to the Core” for Yakubu Gowon. The only weak spots on the album are how the producers try to pair Stalin with Shaggy’s 2000 hit “It Wasn’t Me,” and the inclusion of “Back 2 Back” by Drake, but these are easily compensated for by the coupling of Nicholas II with Cam’s “Burning House.”

While artists from Springsteen to Foo Fighters to Orleans to Boston have fought politicians who try to co-opt their music to bolster their campaigns, Despots’ Mixtape uses some of history’s most memorable men, and they’re no longer fighting back. So drop your maps, cancel your planned invasions, don’t let any Maginot Lines stop you—get the album today.


Matt Kolbet teaches and writes near Portland, Oregon.  He is the author of the novel The Futility of Nicknames.

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