Thinking Outside the Boombox Review
By Aliyah Veira
Published February 17, 2020
Over the past couple of years, the “self-help” genre has been gaining popularity quickly and noticeably. Self-help doesn’t necessarily equate to mental health; in this instance, readers are seeking motivation from the words of affirmations, quotes, and even poetry. The increased desire for positive influence has tipped the scales in favor of books that offer words of inspiration, such as Thinking Outside the Boombox, written by Justin Ellis.
In Thinking Outside the Boombox, Ellis structures the text so that you read a phrase, quote, or anecdote that is followed by personal thought and reflection from the author. The theme of the expressions seems to shift from chapter to chapter covering topics like self-help, religion, the standards of society, politics, and existential inquiries. Although I was able to identify the themes after a closer look, I often found myself confused by the lack of relevance of some of the quotes in the first read. Various phrases seemed random, for example, from chapter one, “Never make decisions when you’re hungry or horny” in a chapter that was heavily centered on self-identity and perception. There were various instances throughout the book, where the central themes are vague and ill-defined. While the author did offer a robust selection of quotes, they often came off random and slightly aggressive, offering little to nothing to serve as an explanation.
Ellis’s goal may have been to create an experience that allowed the reader to come to individual interpretations. However, I found the lack of both elaboration and context to be slightly confusing. I can envision the style of writing Ellis had in mind, and he’s not far off; however, I feel he missed the mark. I appreciated the complex thought that was brought to the table, yet I feel towards the final chapters the commentary starts to resemble rambling and personal conspiracies rather than insightful messages that inspire more in-depth conversation. In the first few pages of the last chapter, Ellis writes, “What if aliens put the different ethnicities and cultures on different continents every few thousand years, and Antarctica is next, and that’s why there’s a clandestine government interest?” Followed by a paragraph of equally unlikely hypothetical questions that don’t seem to serve much of a purpose. I was able to get an even more holistic view of the project when I reviewed the thirteen-part Audiobook/Spotify playlist.
The playlist is claimed under Justin Ellis’ stage name, “The Juse.” The tracks include a reading from each chapter along with six original songs and a five-minute meditation. The audio chapters gave me an idea of how Ellis intended the book to be read but still offered nothing in terms of additional context. Songs like “Fake God” and “Terraforming” carried stories of belief and ancient history. “Black Bourgeoisie” caught my attention with the jazzy beat and catchy hook. Although there were some creative elements to the album, there were also some fatal flaws. The hip-hop inspired songs had lyrics that told a story but lacked consistent flow and professional mixing. The album had spirited performances and exhibited a ton of creative content. Nevertheless, it needed a touch of professionalism and eye for detail. Even though the project comes off slightly unpolished, Ellis presented some very inspirational concepts that only needed to be fleshed out and organized in a way that makes the book cohesive. I enjoyed the mixing of mediums, and creativity Ellis put into Thinking Outside the Boombox, and I hope to see more from him as a creative in the future.