Phlip on mixtapes

We know that record labels aren't actually RELEASING albums these days, not even from the big-draw artists unless said artists are the ones in charge of the release of their own shit.
In combat of this, it seems that lesser known and surely less talented artists are going the way of the "mixtape/street album" to get their "art" to the masses.

[Phlip note - quotation marks on the former for definition, and for ridicule on the latter]

I come from a different time, where a "Mix Tape" was exactly that - a 60 (or 90 if you could up a couple more bucks) minute cassette tape of songs you sat by the radio and recorded from the recorder set and left on pause for that moment... Extra points if you could catch the Friday and Saturday night mix shows, where they ONLY played the shit you waited all week to come on the radio... Then put in your walkman to impress people on the school bus until either...
  1. The tape broke.
  2. Some new shit came out and you recorded over it.
If you were like me, you were a middle child and had parents and grandparents who played favorites and you had an older sister who had a 2-sided tape deck that you had ready access to... Now it was on, you would co-opt granny's lawn mower and stroll the neighborhood with it and a gas can, using the profits made on more tapes and perhaps even a retail album on cassette as well. At this point, you can make even better tapes, featuring songs that were not on the radio (yet, I think back to 1991's Scenario from A Tribe Called Quest when I type that).
In the later-early and up to about the mid -- perhaps even up to the late 90's, we had the advent of mixtape DJ's, the most prominent of which being DJ Clue and Funkmaster Flex. Despite the takeover of cassette tapes as the media of choice by CD's, their product still arrived on tapes and were available in urban stores, carwashes and curb markets owned by people of Terrorist Descent. These were better described as "blend" tapes, in that they required SOME DJ'ing skills, in matching one song to the one to come after it, most often using album tracks that not many people knew of, especially down here in NC, but also exclusives as well. When people started "freestyling" over other peoples' beats, the game was changed again...
Now Flex had the The Mixtape: 60 Minutes of Funk series, which morphed off of the tape it so claimed to be in the title and onto CD -- strangely stretching to longer than 60 minutes as well -- and into retail stores, where a newly employed high schooler named me would be waiting to scoop them up. Clue's tapes were still 60 minutes, but were still only available through the original method, being bootlegged from the barber shop or the above named venues.
If Flex and Clue were the originators, also being among the first to get into stores with it, and Doo-Wop, Tony Touch and Stretch & Bobbito to a lesser extent on the strength of not getting into stores until later (if at all) then MANY copycats were born... DJ Honda, Frankie Cutlass, Whoo Kid and Envy spring to mind and I would be inclined to count them, but these always came across as Executive Produced albums with a ton of guest features and not a DJ mix in the least.
Right, the "mixtape" as we know it was dead, really... If motherfuckers had stepped their vocabularies up, they would be calling these "compilations" and not "mixtapes," but what can you expect from dudes who never graduated high school because they were busy smoking weed with their pops as the ONLY father/son moments they experienced?

Then shit changed sometime in the early to mid aughts, when the south finally caught onto a decade-old trend.

[Phlip note - look, I live down here, don't act like I can't see shit happening as it does]

Colored folks who, in a market still not QUITE ready to commit to a Southern Takeover, would piggyback on the new(ish) found popularity coming out of Atlanta thanks to Outkast and all their offshoots, then New Orleans and Houston and now something new was upon us.
No longer was a mixtape to be taken as one DJ and 60 (now up to 80, with CD technology) minutes of material mixed together, it was now one artist and maybe some people he knew or had worked with. Usually, since these people could not yet afford their own beats not made in someone's mama's living room, would rhyme over commercially available instrumentals.

The 90's spoiled people. As previously discussed at length in these pages, the 90s was (were?) a golden age in hip hop and that period lasted until about 2003. We can call that a gift as well as a curse, because it was during this time that the music was selling itself on the strength of being actually GOOD. During this time, labels forgot how in the fuck to work an artist's product, instead trying to emulate the most recent last big thing and the next thing we know, everyone became more and more alike, up to and including the need for a DJ Drama - assisted mixtape, even if you weren't necessarily from down south. Hell, Drama himself isn't...
Anyway, with the sharp dropoff in the QUALITY of music, so went the SALES of music, and the labels sat on their hands instead of actually working to fix the trend, opting instead to follow everyone else in the country/world and blame it on George Bush. We would watch as labels folded and sold off to their fiercest competitors, or otherwise went to shit without fully going under as the guy in charge ruins the careers of those signed to the label that he does not like while his album is the ONLY one being properly promoted (yes, I am talking about Def Jam during the Jay-Z regime).
That being said, the leg work to clear samples ($$) and see to it that the album would be released to recoup the moneys was not being done, so artists stagnated on majors while their buzz went ICE cold. In such a situation, one could either put out a CD full of their own exclusives, not putting it in stores -- therefore sample clearance be damned -- selling it out the trunks of cars or back of vans to make some cash off of them at the least. The tool, though, would be to keep your name hot in everyone's mouths [pause...] until someone decided to get you in stores. This was apparently deemed effective due to 50 Cent's success at this approach, which was then co-opted by Lil Wayne who worked it to the tune of a million sold in an opening week.

Dammit...

Now every coon who THINKS they can rap MUST have a "new mix tape settin' dese skreetz on fiyah," even if they will NEVER have a song on the radio or albums in stores. No, they're not talking about their forthcoming album, for which they're to expect to be compensated, but for a mixtape that it is technically illegal for them to make money off of.
What's worse is that they have a fucking new one out every couple of weeks, which they can only offer up for free download through the normal blog channels and on datpiff...
Each and every one of them is so fucking unoriginal, with written "freestyles" over beats we've already grown tired of, complete lack of song structure or concepts and -- worse of all in my opinion -- what ATTEMPTS to pretend to be an actual release, complete with intros, skits and outros. What has been missing, though, is artistic direction, sound quality or anything resembling a product that would lead me to believe I should spend $10.00 on this shit whenever the album drops.
Exceptions to this rule do exist, one being the aforementioned Lil Wayne... He has been KILLING the mixtape shit for years now, using them as a PROMOTIONAL tool for his albums, and considering my understanding that he is a "swing 50 times to land one punch" type of artists, who records just THAT much shit to where he can afford to give music away. Ludacris has done this for the last couple of albums too, but I am full willing to bet he will knock that shit off when consideration is given that the last 2 have been better than the album they were promoting. (Oops!)
Another would be Sean Price, one of my personal favorites. He generally releases ONE mixtape to promote an album, and the concept of it sticks CLOSE to that of the album it promotes... Donkey Sean Jr. promoted Monkey Bars, as Master P did for Jesus Price Supastar, and now we have Kimbo Price heading us into Mic Tyson, and if you can't see the correlation from each mixtape to the album that follows based on naming conventions alone, I almost hate that you have read this many words into this post. It's not that Sean particularly seems to care about selling a billion and a half copies, so much as feeding his kids (and buying Nikes, if fellow Sean P Stan Dallas Penn is to be believed)

Reactive as ever, the labels look to this as the new promotional tool, as it removes all blame for a flop (see Asher Roth) or otherwise shittily boring hipster bullshit (Kid Cudi) album from their shoulders. They stupidly watch the internets as if that is any indication of who will buy albums and strike quickly on the next huge mixtape sensation, which explains the careers of not only Gucci Mane, but those of his understudies OJ Da Juiceman and Wacka Flocka Flame. One could spend a weekend, or any 4 weekdays on one of those hip hop-related sites and see them whoring up to this shit for page impressions that I would love to have for my own blog.
The end result is the fact that one can't go 20 minutes on coon urban radio without at least one song featuring Gucci Mane and/or Lil Wayne, no matter how shitty the song should so happen to be. Album sales are stil in the toilet as a result of marketing information being gleaned from fucking idiots. One could draw a parallel on the acceptance of family advice from, say... Sarah Palin. The end result is artists who SHOULD be getting their necessary shine who can ONLY be heard by means of the "street album," Killer Mike comes to mind.

Times like this, I feel like a grumpy-assed old man... As described, I have taken you on a ride from a fond musical memory of my childhood and adolescence, into the whoring of the very idea, a commercial overplay of it into and through it's utter ruin under the ashes of hip hop in general. No longer is it about making good music. No longer, even, is it about making good money on bad music. Hell, it isn't even about NOT making money on bad music. It seems that it has all boiled down to making people THINK you're making money by giving them a weekly dose of fucking abhorrent "music."

[Phlip note - the return of the 'quotation marks for effect' tool]


One might chance saying that I am a little bitter and would respond that I am a whole fucking lot bitter.
That and I am not having the greatest of weeks...
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