Saturday, August 29, 2009

Death By Mixtape

I always wonder, why Hip Hop is the only genre to extensively produce the "mixtape"? Before I go any further, though;

The mixtape is actually that; a "tape" of mixes. Some 30-odd years ago, they were referred to as pause-mixes, meaning a song was recorded from it's source, onto a cassette tape, & paused until the next song was recorded. My generation would stay up late, the only time radio stations played Hip Hop in most cities back then, & record all the newest rap songs, making an "album" full of what was hot at the time. The more industrious youngster would re-record their final product, on more tapes & sell them to people. Thus, the mixtape phenomenon began.

Eventually, artists such as Too $hort & E-40 (& many others) began using this format to personally market their own albums out of cars, at strip malls, etc. Which, in short, was loosely the inception of the independent Hip Hop label. Loosely, being the operative word, because it's more to it than I'm willing to allude to in this post.

Which brings us to today. It would seem that any rap artist MUST have at least one mixtape in their catalog. The majority of which are usually throw-away verses & meh choruses over already popular instrumentals. This concept is good from a novelty P.O.V., but how far does a gimmick truly take you? In most cases, once an artist releases an original song, the listener becomes accustomed to hearing said vocalist over the music, so another artist out-doing them, in & of itself, is quite the task. It IS possible to do so, but for example; once I heard M.I.A.'s "Paper Planes", there wasn't much more that Bun B (an obviously better rapper) could do to improve on the inaugural version. Half of M.I.A.'s lyrics were barely understandable, but I stand by my point. Basically, if a song was meant for you, you'd be on it already.

Now, some tracks do deserve a much needed lyrical upgrade, which works out well occasionally, but it's still not your song(s). So, does that make it plagiarism, per se? Is it "acceptable" biting? Many say nil to both, but I beg to differ. In today's Hip Hop universe, if you throw a rock into a crowd of young people, half of them produce music. 25% of the remaining half are rappers, & the rest hang out for the free weed &/or just to get out of their mom's basement for the evening. It's not THAT hard to find someone to do beats, for free even. A halfway decent aspiring rapper can find an up & coming mediocre producer, & who knows what magic may ensue. Original magic, like Harry Houdini, not copycatted mystification, like David Blaine.

But, don't tell that to any established artists.......

In between so-so major releases, label acts fill their audio void with countless mixtape efforts, many of which fall on deaf ears. Not for nothing, but when I'm done listening to my favorite MC's studio release, I don't want to hear him on a re-mix of every song the radio murdered that summer. It was one thing for Curtis Jackson to use it as a vehicle to go from obscured anonymity to megastar, but in general it should be left to either the unknown rapster or an established artist who feels there is something to prove. Case in point; 50's digital mixtape "War Angel" was truck loads better than the last two studio albums he released.

The one understandable aspect of a mixtape is the lack of politics. An artist is free to rap about whatever he/she chooses when a Tall Israeli isn't breathing down their respective necks spewing demographic sales expectations during their writing session. It frees up more time to smoke weed & drink between takes, if you will.

Maybe I'm over-analytical (i.e. a douche), but why not save that energy for the records the record company pays you to put out? A win-win, if you ask me. & to be honest, I'm computer-savvy enough to get your actual album for free if I really wanted it, so all these cutting room throways aren't going to impress me in the slightest.

For a dude like Kid Cudi, or Charles Hamilton (& their ilk), it's a good way to set the stage for their official arrival. But, once popularity is secured, there's not much left to prove. Unless it's to themselves.

For a good comparative narrative, think about the established rappers who DON'T release mixtapes. DJ's might star them on certain series', but it's not the artist who ultimately decided, "Hey, let me make all these songs waaaaay better!".

In fact, I think I just answered my initial question; because most rap cats are one of two things. Over-confident, self-serving narcissists or genuinely talented guys who's hunger & thirst make "quit" a non-word.



Anonymous said...

Come on Grand$!

New terminology.

We used to call them EP'S.

First it was SINGLES.

But it's all CRT's(wiki it)...

$ykotic Don McCaine

Tony Grands said...

"so all these cutting room throways aren't going to impress me in the slightest."

^c'mon Don Mac, you're preaching to the choir. I WAS THERE WHEN IT WAS BORN, remember?

But I will say that the EP's of our generation were bonus'; extra QUALITY music to compliment what the artist did previously (Pete Rock & CL, Del, Souls of Mishief, NWA, Ice Cube,.......)

Singles are just minor reasons to give the possible listener more reason to purchase finished product...

But Mixtapes a/k/a CRT's? No thanks. No dice on extended remixes of every song I didn't like to begin with (with a few exceptions, obviously).

Crazy Sexy Techie Cool ! said...

For a dude like Kid Cudi, or Charles Hamilton (& their ilk), it's a good way to set the stage for their official arrival. But, once popularity is secured, there's not much left to prove. Unless it's to themselves".

I think the Mix tape can also be a good survival tool for established Artist who have either A. FELL OFF or B. they are in Record label limbo and the label will not release anything from the artist.

Take 50 Cent, I had not paid him ANY attention since GRODT but on his latest Mix tape I am King, I listend to it and liked it.

Or take Stat Quo, he has been sitting on aftermath for years now with out releasing anything, he might as well leak a mix tape to keep himself in the game and keep people interested.

So it;s not allcutting room throw aways, sometimes the artist is better on a mix tape, because he is artistically free from the label B.S and making radio hits.

Tell me Lil Wayn's mix tapes were cutting room throw..

Federal Ranga said...

Lil Wayne's mixtapes are cutting room throw. Hey, you asked, but I digress.

Grand$, how could you forget one of the mixtape's biggest purposes? Money. Show money>mixtapes>albums.

You know damn well DJs cough up some bread to get their names on unreleased material from hot artist. Why you think artists don't complain when we download their mixtapes as opposed to their albums? Cuz the money's already been made before the shit even leaks.

The Diplomats knew this and perfected the art IMO and were ALWAYS dropping mixtapes. Wayne is carrying the torch as far as quantity. And if you on that out the trunk action, you keep ALL the bread. Just saying...

E8, Monday @ 5pm!!!

Tony Grands said...

@Crazy (nina)-
Like Fed said, Wayne's got it locked, quantity-wise, so I'd say yes, a healthy majority of his mixtape material would be considered CRT's.

Good points made. The "money" aspect would be a whole next drop. Hmmm.....

Anonymous said...

Not you Grand$! For those who don't...

$ykotic Don McCaine

somebody said...