I spent last Sunday strolling down Canal Street to scope out the current mixtape scene. Relived both good and bad memories of when I used to drop CDs. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not retired, but I’m also not the most active participant these days either. It was all pounds, smiles and hugs because they look at me as one as the few who “made it out”. But when I looked around I noticed a very disturbing trend for me. Though there was an abundance of best selling “artist mixtapes”, from 50 to the Dips to the King Of New York, there was no hot “DJ” tapes per se. That’s when I realized the relevance of the “mixtape DJ” is numbered.
The mixtape game has been going through its own version of the great depression. Think of Canal Street as Hooverville and downloading as prohibition. You’re quicker to find a dope exclusive in the hip hop forums or XXLMAG.com’s bangers section than the new Big Mike tape. The days of just putting together a CD with new music, or Clueing, is dead. Plus the same fans that Phonte hates, aka the fans who buy mixtapes, couldn’t care less about blends anymore. That leaves legends like Dirty Harry and DJ Juice fading to black.
The saving grace for the game is the now mandatory (thanks 50) artist pre-album mixtape. It’s so standard these days that it’s in the label marketing plans.
- Sign artist. Check
- Do album. Check
- Drop Gangsta Grillz. Check
- Release single. Check
But if the DJ doesn’t have access to that artist feeding him the music, then the DJ is out of luck. Hence the rise of the ingenious (yet slightly boring IMO) producer remix tapes made popular by 9th Wonder and the soon to be platinum Danger Mouse. But those tapes are too few and far between to keep the mixtape game afloat. Add that to the fact NO ONE in the hood buys them; it’s strictly a hipster and internet phenomenon.
What the mixtape DJs should do is go back to the essence of what made them popular in the post-Doo Wop era: breaking artists. A general misconception is Clue became Clue by playing all the hot music first, but that’s only partly true. He became the most popular mixtape DJ ever by cultivating relationships with, and in turn breaking artists like DMX, a pre-Def Jam Jay-Z, Murda Ma$e, The LOX and every nigga who came out of queens from 1995 to 2002. Most of the DJs were too bust trying to get exclusives from Biggie and Wu-Tang rather then give the new guys a shot. Therefore when the new guys became big, they stuck with their ace in the hole.
Green Lantern and Kay Slay are keeping that tradition alive by putting out Uncle Murder and Papoose respectively. For every Lil’ Wayne Gangsta Grillz Dramatic does, there’s a Yo Gotti or Bohagen one to balance it out. Heck, I started an artist development company just to help up and coming artists get the support they need. Though these moves haven’t got the mixtape game out of the red yet, it’s definitely keeping it alive and progressive. If more DJs would follow that path, the scene would rise to prominence once again.