From our #258 issue
“Remember, there is no more tapes, it’s CDs and mp3s, the title “mixtape” became so commercialized and the word just carried weight along the way. DJ Red Alert will agree with the original concept and purpose of a mixtape in the 1980s, which was a compilation of songs blended, mixed, and scratched by a DJ for parties. However, evolution is the gradual development of something, necessary change. Mixtapes has evolved to something that is actually hard to define, it’s a term commonly used in Hip Hop today but does not carry the same definition of when it was once created.
DJ Red Alert chimes in again by stating “Mixtapes started as party tapes, it got to a point where it was so popular, other DJs soon followed the same path. Executives from record companies thought instead of going to the radio, let’s get DJs to add their songs to their mixtape due to the power the DJ held in the streets.” A trend nonetheless, but the evolution started quickly from what was once a tape of songs masterfully placed together to express a artistic statement to a big business. To understand the evolution of the mixtape is to understand the relationship of record companies and the actual DJ. One of the transitions began when DJs were being pushed to the back of the line in the industry and record companies started to pay more attention to the actual artist creating the music. So if you think back during the Eric B. and Rakim, Pete Rock and CL Smooth, and Gangstarr era, you will realize there was a DJ there but changes were being made to concentrate on the artist. DJs had to make mixtapes to stay relevant once this begun.
Mixtapes later evolved to compilations of exclusives in the mid/late 1990s and early 2000s with DJs speaking over the songs and blending the records. Scratching was later a lost component. So what is a mixtape present day? Hip Hop is now one of the very few genres that constantly gives out free “original” music. Young Chris doesn’t agree with it, “It’s f***ing up our sh*t, man, of course I have to fall in line and compete with my peers like a Pusha T and a Young Jeezy, but we waste so much good material!” It doesn’t add up either, artists are killing themselves financially and creatively just to stay afloat.
Today, artists have ignored what the mixtape once was and some are releasing full bodies of original work, some are without DJs. Sounds like a free album opposed to a mixtape, what’s even more peculiar is the budget behind some of these projects from buying beats from well known producers and shooting videos as if it was an actual album.
To each its own, mixtapes actually work for certain artists. Some artists are now touring and getting booked for shows literally off the strength of their most recent mixtape. Neef Buck adds “A lot of songs also never get cleared for an album due to the sample used, so a artist may not want to waste their songs, so they’ll release it for free.” It’s a double edge sword and can be a gift and/or a curse for some artists. For instance, Kanye West, Jay-Z, Nas, Nicki Minaj, Drake, and a few others have yet to put out a mixtape since they’ve reached their peak in stardom and they don’t have to.
So why does an artist like Lil’ Wayne or Rick Ross continue to put out mixtapes after reaching that peak? Is it for relevancy, for shows, or just for the fun of it? DJ Camillo states “Artists have to be smart and careful when creating these mixtapes. Knowing the difference between album and mixtape material is important, albums are for sale and mixtapes are free.” Unfortunately, everyone can name rappers who’ve released mixtapes before their album as a warm-up and the mixtape ended up being superior to what was supposedly the anticipated product.