The mixtape has come a long way from being sold on street corners and out of the trunk of the family car to the Internet warehouses of Datpiff and LiveMixtapes. But now, with the help of another platform that has gone through its own set of changes—one of the formerly derided scourges of the record industry, BitTorrent—mixtapes as we know them may soon become obsolete; or, at the very least, completely different.
Last year, BitTorrent, a peer-to-peer community that allows for the transfer of large files without the need for a central server, announced that they were partnering with Curren$y’s Jet Life label to put out their next series of mixtapes as individual bundles, or packages that have the ability to deliver more than just music. Jet Life’s first release, the label compilation Red Eye, last August, included 13 tracks as well as a tour poster, a music video, a coupon for free merchandise at the crew’s next show and the entrance to a competition that would grant one fan the “Ultimate Jet Life Experience,” delivering more than just the music to the more than four million fans who downloaded the bundle in its first two months.
Since then, hip-hop has slowly started to gravitate towards the medium, with vets like Public Enemy, Cam’ron and De La Soul, younger artists such as G-Eazy, Ace Hood and Pell and other labels such as Fool’s Gold all testing out BitTorrent’s capabilities. “We wanted to come up with something different for publishers and creators to go to get directly to fans,” says Matt Mason, Chief Content Officer at BitTorrent. “And when you’re talking to the average artist or manager about the information they get back from anyone—whether it’s Netflix or iTunes or streaming services like Deezer or Spotify—people don’t feel like they’re getting enough. They don’t understand their fans and they’re being intentionally blocked from connecting with them. And without their fans, artists don’t have anything.”
The music business has shifted into an era where artists don’t always need a traditional record label structure to be successful, and as the barriers between fans and artists continue to be chipped away, BitTorrent is attempting to come in and build an effective bridge between artists who need to make a living and fans who are willing to support them, while largely staying out of the way. It’s almost an artist-sanctioned return to the Napster era, when BitTorrent first started to gain notoriety, except instead of promoting a Wild West-type Internet where everything is free and available to anyone who knew where to look, this time BitTorrent is partnering with artists directly to corral fans and build an artist’s influence, rather than take away from their ends.
So, what the hell actually are these bundles, and how do they work? XXL spoke to a series of people—both BitTorrent execs and artists themselves—to break down how and why these bundles are becoming so successful, and why they might change the landscape of hip-hop forever. Things done changed. —Dan Rys