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Name: Adam Bernard
Home: Fairfield, Connecticut, United States
About Me: Veteran music journalist with 20+ years of experience. Supporter of indie artists. Lover of day baseball, & B-movies. Part time ninja. Kicked cancer’s ass. My memoir, ChemBro, is out now!
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Dude, Where’s My Mixtape?
Wednesday, April 18, 2007

In a classic scene from the 1992 movie Juice, Omar Epps’ character, Q, is looking to sell his latest mixtape to a friend. The friend initially balks when he hears the new higher price for the tape. Q asks if the last party was hot. His friend replies yes. Q then asks if his friend scored with the girl he was looking to score with. His friend smiles, and says yes. Without another question being asked or word being said Q then hits him once again with the higher price, which his friend ends up paying. This is what the mixtape scene used to be like. There used to be DJs who would release tapes that everyone knew would have the hottest music and make for the best parties. Fifteen years after Q was raising his rates in Juice, however, the game has changed significantly, and the mixtape scene is one that, although crowded to new highs in terms of product, has been weakened to new lows when it comes to talent.

DJ Yonny of Power 105.1 in New York laments the current mixtape scene saying “it’s not about skills anymore, it’s not about the hottest mixes, it’s all about who has the first exclusives and artists on your mixtapes, that’s all it is now. The level of skill has gone down tremendously since the ages of Kid Capri, Red Alert and Marley Marl.” DJ Status of Hushh, which stands for Help Us Save Hip-Hop, agrees, saying “in the past several years the whole rap game has taken a step up with commercial exposure and a step down with talent and skills. The result has been the game has been getting oversaturated with the so-called mixtape DJs and rappers.” So-called is right according to Yonny, who gets frustrated by the fact that “now you can just put the two letters DJ in front of anybody’s name, put it on a mixtape, put a couple of tracks on it and you become a DJ.” Milkcrate Athletics founder, and internationally known DJ, Aaron LaCrate feels what’s happened to the mixtape scene is a “tragedy” for this very reason, adding “at least cut, at least do something that is gonna raise the bar and is gonna have some sort of competitive edge. If you’re such a businessman and you’re so concerned about your product and saying it’s dope, make that shit the best that it can be.”

DJ Halo of the Mindspray crew feels there’s a simple solution to a major part of the mixtape problem, and that’s using the proper semantics. “People need to start using the word mixtape in a better sense,” he explains, “these compilations need to be seen as what they are, as compilations, not a mix because there’s no mixing involved. And just because it’s low priced doesn’t mean it’s a mixtape, it just means it’s a compilation that nobody else wanted to put out so they put it out themselves.” Halo continued, adding “just call things what they are. there’s no shame in putting together compilation discs.”

The commercial explosion of mixtapes and subsequent deterioration in skills started around the time that CD became the medium of choice. Status points out “it brought a better sound quality and made it easier for duplication, but now we have internet DJs creating mixtapes when they have never touched a Technics 1200 in their life. That’s sad!” Philly’s mixtape king, DJ Meddafore agrees, but notes the ease of using a CD has one huge benefit for everyone involved. “With CDs people can easily skip past tracks or artists they don’t feel,” he explains, “but at least they still have the chance to hear something. With mixtapes people would be more likely to just stop the tape instead of fastforwarding it.” He adds, however, that the future looks bleak for the mixtape with the internet age taking over. “With MP3’s people are not going to be eager to download tracks or mixes from artists or DJs they’ve never heard of. People will sleep more than they are now.”

In the end, long gone are the days of the 90 minute mix that jumps the party of right. Now the vast majority of mixtapes are CDs with a smattering of popular hits mixed in with whatever else the “DJ” can get. The real DJs out there know the ship needs to be righted and Meddafore is calling on a group that not many feel is a friend to the mixtape world to do it, the record labels. “The record labels need the mixtape scene to break their new artists, to build street cred and to help start a buzz,” he explains, “without mixtapes and CDs record sales are going to go down and people are going to be less likely to find and develop new talent.” With album sales at record lows Meddafore’s thoughts are backed up by the numbers, so maybe labels should listen to him when he says “DJs are better A&Rs than most of the people labels hire.”

It would be an odd turn of events to see the best mixtape DJs, the same people who used to drive the labels nuts by grabbing the songs they weren’t supposed to have, all end up being A&Rs. A poetic 180, if you ask me. In the meantime, however, I’ll continue to wonder, dude, where’s my mixtape?


posted by Adam Bernard @ 7:54 AM  
  • At 3:12 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I remember back around 1995 when a trip to the record shop required getting a copy of the new Kid Capri (which seems like high art by today's standards), Ron G and another lesser known cat by the name of Smooth Dominick (trust me, this cat should have been one of the illest ever!).

    Mixtapes was a portal into this world of serious hip-hop listeners (and opportunist playmakers as well), but there was a bar of entry to get to that standpoint.

    I'm not one to be nostalgic about days of old (I can quote the amount of garbage I purchased from 1987 to 1997 as quickly as I can spit out the classics).

    I just think with the lowered levels of entry, it allows (and discourages) those who are able and capable of doing better work from doing so or being motivated to do so.

  • At 8:50 AM, Blogger DJ LISA LOVE said…

    The article is so true. Forget what I remember. . . I have been a REAL DJ since 1984 (go figure) and I kinda got confused when I started to listen to "mixtapes" and there was no blending or cutting or any kind of creative stinch to it. I go to record pool meetings and I wonder what the heck those guy are doing on the tables because of what I hear from other so-called DJ's. Serato has helped some, but the mixtapes are still garbage. Meddafore, DJ Jazzy Jeff, DJ S&S, Ron G (Oh my goodness - the list goes on) and of course myself, we are still here. Where's your mixtape. . .I got ya. Please DJ's keep it creative and continuous, no pauses in between, no crappy talking to get you to the next song. Blend it, cut it, scratch it and make it the hypest and make the people want to play it at their party for their friends and have them ask, "who made this mix? It is Hott!!"

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