Published on February 21st, 2019 | by Guest Editor0
For The Love of the Game, Bring Back Mixtapes, Please
Since it’s beginning, mixtapes have always been a key component to hip-hop. Back toward the origins of hip-hop’s birth, mixtapes were being handed out on the corner like traffic tickets on illegally parked cars. As an artist, your mixtape was your first shot into the industry, as well as your first introduction to the masses of people. If it was trash, listeners would simply toss it out of the window and keep it pushing. But if your tape was crafted with quality and skill, it could become a classic, and essentially take you from your block to the hills of Hollywood.
You clearly can’t give us anything, because it’s never been a problem to crack the cheat codes of things that came about such as the internet. The early 2000s bred an era where illegally downloading music from your living room, saved you hundreds of dollars and gained you thousands of songs. As both artists and respected record labels began losing money due to illegal downloads and their biggest enemy, Limewire, we saw an influx of streaming sites, and artists continuing to voluntarily release music for free on sites like Datpiff, created in 2005. Now, this is where the mixtape game changed. It was no longer a matter of attempting to get yourself known into the music industry, rather mixtapes began the tale of letting people know that you were one of the best. Artists were dropping straight classics such as Lil Wayne and the infamous No Ceilings, or J. Cole and Friday Night Lights.
Mixtapes and sites like Datpiff displayed the idea of building street credibility on the internet. As listeners, when you heard that a project had just dropped, you rushed to Datpiff for the stream, especially if it was anticipated or leading up to an already announced album. Mixtapes became the sample of what an artist could really bring to the game, and out of that, we got some of the best projects to date. On Datpiff, mixtapes were cataloged into a system that rated them either bronze if they managed to garner 25,000 streams, gold if they garnered 50,000 streams, platinum if they garnered 100,000 streams, and diamond if they garnered 1,000,000 streams. What this did for listeners was create a list of priority when one visited the site. If a project had gold or platinum certification, you were most likely going to click off of the strength of that detail alone. For artists, it became a game and if you were willing to play, you had to come with all you had because artists like Lil Wayne was hitting that platinum certification the day he dropped.
Mixtapes have always been the key to true hip-hop, but once the money started rolling in, mixtapes began to mean even more. Now let’s fast forward another 5-6 years since the birth of Datpiff. Just days ago marked the 10 year anniversary of Drake’s first mixtape, So Far Gone. A couple years later, on his debut album, he rapped, “rich off a mixtape, got rich off a mixtape”: that’s exactly what was beginning to happen for these artists. It wasn’t the touring, the albums, or the record labels that was propelling them into wealth, in fact, it was some of the mixtapes that these very artists could have deemed were filled with “throwaway” songs. The single from Drake’s So Far Gone tape, “Best I Ever Had” earned him two Grammy nominations, and propelled his status not only as Lil Wayne’s protege but one of the best upcoming rappers in the game.
Now, let’s speed it up a little more and talk about Chance the Rapper & Acid Rap. Serving as the follow up to his first project released in high school, 10 Day, Acid Rap like many others went down as one of the best mixtapes of all time. After listening to Chance the Rapper thoroughly, there wasn’t anything new or expansive he did on Acid Rap. Acid Rap was successful because it capitalized off the idea that mixtapes opened a door that albums could not. Mixtapes allowed for an artist to create and maintain a certain persona that could be utilized when their project dropped, or for the rest of their career. Mixtapes didn’t come with record label restrictions that may have prompted artists to make a certain kind of song or project that may be fit for the radio. Mixtapes, meant freedom, and artistically, that means quality. Some mixtapes still serve as some artists’ best projects, as seen with Vic Mensa and his debut tape INNANETAPE.
After we saw it done with some of our favorites, you would have thought that for each artist out right now, there is a tape filled with gold somewhere on one of these streaming sites, but more often than not, there isn’t. Why? Because you can’t make money off of a mixtape. And in an era where the internet has bred more artists than ever before, you cannot afford to fumble your bag by releasing free heat, unless you’re already an artist of high caliber. Even if an artist is signed, the record label can stop them from releasing tapes, or make them use that tape and release it as an album so that they can get paid off of its revenue. We just saw an example of this happen at the 61 annual Grammy Awards, as H.E.R. took home the award for R&B Album of the Year, which she admitted during her acceptance speech. Artists are less inclined to drop these free tapes and EP’s, leaving their own persona’s conflicted with the standards of a brand, and leaving us as listeners disappointed when we are losing out on hearing quality that the artist is capable of. Now if you’re an independent artist, this strategy may be a little different for you, but even that can take a turn under the table.
Additionally, tapes can be one of the best projects to date, but the problem is that people no longer look forward to them. There is no project that can put you onto an artist or song better than a mixtape. And more so, some tapes are stronger than any album certain artists have ever put out. As a listener, I miss the days where Datpiff had so much traffic that the site would slow down, or logging in to see random projects that were certified platinum, and the artists who were undiscovered at the time who created them like The Weeknd. Mixtapes show love for the art, and not for the money. That’s what we need back, and until that’s understood, the industry might remain filled with recycled sounds of playing it safe. When’s the last time you logged into Datpiff to stream a mixtape? I’ll wait… Wake me up when those days are back.
By Kemet HighTweet