Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Reign of Independence Pt. 2: Mixtape Madness

Waka Flocka Flame was making some sense when people lambasted him a year or so ago.
Some may remember the comments. Others may have forgotten faster than Usain Bolt’s metabolism. Waka made a note of “lyrical rappers not making money” and “he didn’t care about putting an album out”. While there are plenty of examples of lyrical rappers being well off, he did make a point with having an album. “Oh, Let’s Do It” was a radio/club hit at the time. Plus, he was generating plenty of show revenue. Therfore, there was no real need for him to have an album.

Why? Well, Waka Flocka was pretty much a mixtape artist.
Oddly enough, mixtapes did not start off this way. Mixtapes were always a mixture of songs from different artists, hence the mix in mixtape. Also, they were perfect mediums to promote a DJs mixing and blending skills. If you weren’t a DJ, then a “pause mixtape” was made. Luminaries such as Kid Capri, Red Alert, Doo Wop, Tony Touch, DJ Spinbad, and DJ Screw were considered formidable in their own craft of blends, mixes, and flipping freestyles over instrumentals. Therefore, the mixtape was a promotional tool for both the DJ and any artists blessed to be included.
Oh, did I mention that mixtapes were sold for profit? Nowadays, that is a rarity (more on that later).
The mixtape medium has been very beneficial for artists and DJs alike. DJs are tastemakers in hip hop. So, people tend to gravitate to their artistic cosigns. Artists, however, benefit from the push and promotion of their music. It gives them an outlet to test their music amongst the masses. Thus, the mixtape is the beneficial factor of DJs and artists career wise.
Yet, mixtapes usually consisted of a mixture of artists. Still, two different factions helped propel the artist based mixtape: Dipset and 50 Cent (G-Unit).

Dipset, the Harlem crew led by Cam’Ron, hit the hip hop scene hard with their Diplomats Vol. 1 mixtape series in 2001. With seminal hits such as “Oh Boy”, “Ambitionz of a Killa” featuring Daz, and countless freestyles, Dipset celebrated plenty. They celebrated Cam’Ron’s revitalized career. Also, there was the Dipset signing to Roca Fella Records. This eventually led to much hulabaloo in hip hop (fashion trends, executive positions, off shoot crews, unnecessary beefs, etc.). In the end, the Dipset reign all started from a mixtape.

Meanwhile, 50 Cent took the mixtape world by storm. Starting off with the DJ Whoo Kid assisted 50 Cent is the Future, the ironically entitled mixtape blazed unseen trails for him and G-Unit. 50 Cent went from blackballed undesirable with bullet wounds to commandeering hip hop manipulator. After that, it was all uphill. Subsequently, he signed to Shady/Aftermath, destroys Ja Rule’s career, sells insane amounts of Get Rich and Die Trying, runs G-Unit Records, starts a clothing line, gets his own Reebok gym shoe, invests in Vitamin Water, buys Mike Tyson’s mansion, and does other business related things.
Plus, he was involved with Vivica Fox, the cougar supreme.
Many other artists followed suit with their own mixtape madness. The caustic thing about this change in music is that a number of the more successful artists come from the south with an association to DJ Drama.

T.I., right after his fruitless stint with La Face Records, restarted his career with In Da Streets series with his crew (P$C). DJ Drama eventually became a signee to T.I.’s Grand Hustle label. Young Jeezy, fresh off his underground album Come Shop With Me, stepped up to the plate. He hit a homerun with the release of the DJ Drama assisted Trap or Die, bringing in rave reviews and hood love. Lil Wayne, working hard to progress from his “wobbly, wobbly” days, released his Dedication series with DJ Drama. With a combination of street sense, focus, and crafty lyrics, these emcees pushed the mixtape game towards a new plateau.
That new plateau is something that was not expected: the free mixtape used to rival the bar coded album.
Once again, DJ Drama is partially responsible for the free mixtape movement. In 2007, in a brash attempt to cut down on piracy, the FBI cracked down on the mixtape trade. DJ Drama was considered a main culprit. He got arrested on charges of a felony violation of the Georgia RICO laws [1]. It put him in a peculiar situation. Yet, he still recovered with his same drive and sensibilities.
With all pun intended, he even put out a song called “Feds Taking Pictures”.  
This new mixtape format has only helped the artist. If an artist REALLY wants to test the market, they can release a mixtape. Sometimes, they are pushed by a DJ. Other times, they are not. Regardless, an artist can easily make a living through shows and merchandising off of a free composition of music.
Many may not like the route that mixtapes are going. However, artists and fans alike have to recognize the significance of this musical movement. Drake and Wiz Khalifa serve as perfect examples of the proliferation of artistic power through mixtapes.

Drake’s rise was meteoric in measure to other artists. The Canadian DeGrassi alum flexed both rhyming muscle and singing/song writing ability on So Far Gone. It had him flipping between hood observer, to pop artist, to even late night crooner to loose and drunken strippers. From that point, he had a smash single “Best I Ever Had”, more songs, more mixtapes, shows, features, and a seminal platinum album Thank Me Later.
By the way, So Far Gone was slimmed down and re-released as an EP. It went gold, selling in excess of 500,000 or more copies. If that isn’t the proof of artistic power, I don’t know what is.

Wiz Khalifa’s story has a different approach. Signed to Warner, he only released “Say Yeah”. It was a more pop friendly single. Working his way out of the deal, he went dolo with his Rostrum team. After releasing Deal or No Deal, he pressed hard to create a buzz for Kush & OJ. A creative juxtaposition of cannabis flavored rhymes over imaginatively sampled production, Kush & OJ propelled Wiz to the stratosphere. From there, his rep only grew into a successful Waken Baken Tour, a new Atlantic contract, a multiplatinum single “Black and Yellow”, a million and two cosigns, and the release of Rolling Papers.
R&B artists are recognizing the mixtape movement and following suit. Trey Songz has released numerous mixtapes to promote his brand of R&B. He has even used the moniker of “Prince of Virginia”. Raheem DeVaughn has also hit the mixtape scene with furor. He has released many mixtapes, such as Heemy Taught Me, Jackin’ For Beats, and Mr. February a.k.a. March Madness. Chris Brown’s present album Fame would not be where it is if it wasn’t for the hits “No Bullsh*t” and “Deuces”, which came from his In My Zone mixtape. Influentially, even R&B artists are using the mixtape to give their careers a boost.
The mixtape game is here to stay. Whether it remains to be a free piece of music or a composition readily built for monetary consumption. However, hip hop uses the mixtape format far too much to promote artists to generate a buzz and appease the fans. There may be some naysayers to the fact that artists put out free music. Yet, the artists are consistently reaping the benefits. Also, the fans aren’t complaining. It looks to me that the mixtape game is a win/win for all involved.
‘Nuff said and ‘Nuff respect!

[1] http://www.nytimes.com/2007/01/18/arts/music/18dram.html

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