As mentioned by a few of you mouth breathers in the comments of my post last week about the fake hype surrounding mixtapes, this current state of mixtape uber alles has been quite the coup for a few select individuals – namely, mixtape rappers, mixtape DJs, and the corporations that run them. But I wonder what good they’ve done, really, for the rest of us.
I don’t think the argument can be made that mixtapes have contributed anything of value to hip-hop on an aesthetic level. And note that by mixtape, I’m not referring to DJ Shadow’s Endtroducing, or anything like that. I’m talking about the bullshit with the “freestyles” and the “exclusives” and gruff voice jigs shouting over everything.
Has there been an example of a rapper that came up through the mixtape scene and put together a great album? I don’t think so, and I can’t imagine that this is a coincidence. The best rappers from the mixtapes get to put out albums on major labels, but then the term “best rapper from a mixtape” seems to me an oxymoron if there ever was one.
Mixtape rappers seem to suck almost by definition, which is ironic since major labels have come to rely on them as a pool for “talent.” Even the ones who have been able to experience a modicum of success aren’t considered on a par with the best rappers from the pre-mixtape era, and the ones who are bad are just fucking awful.
The official story, as put forth in last week’s USA Today article, is that record labels rely on the mixtape scene to determine what’s hot in the streets. Because youth culture today is determined by black kids in the ghetto, and not – this is key – by a small handful of corporations. As if major labels had no idea where to find rappers before 2002.
Even if this was really the case, I wonder if the course of hip-hop should be determined by people who buy their music from Africans on street corners. The thought alone that any old black kid in the ghetto is endowed, by nature, with some unimpeachable sense of taste always reeked to me of racism anyway.
The truth of the matter is that major labels have seized on the mixtape scene as an opportunity to spend less money developing artists. It’s becoming the equivalent of the sweatshops Major League Baseball operates in Latin American countries, except it’s not producing nearly as much talent.