Are Mixtapes Better Than Albums Now?

A long time ago in a record store far, far away, there was a simple formula:

An artist (or group) creates an album, completes it, perfects it and gives it to the record company. In turn, the benevolent (ha!) record company chooses an album release date a few months in the future and immediately begins to promote the album through a variety of methods – magazine covers, promotional appearances, etc – but the two most effective were airplay on FM radio and video rotation on MTV.-C. Pierznik

As we all know, that all changed when two things happened: first, MTV decided that they would rather show the lives of spoiled rich kids and put their videos on channels like MTV Hits, MTV2, MTV Jams and MTV Tr3s; and second, the Internet literally created a universe that was previously unheard of and, shortly thereafter, sites like Napster appeared. While Napster may have been shut down, the list of Peer-to-Peer sharing sites is seemingly endless, led by RapidShare, Kazaa and BitTorrent, just to name a few.

While the music that once cost $19.99 at The Wall (complete with that lifetime guarantee!) became cheaper (and ‘freer’), something else was happening. Mixtapes, long thought of as a street compilation of the hottest tracks of the moment mixed with a few freestyles while somebody yelled “Clue!” over them, became a way for artists without a deal to get their product out there.

50 Cent has often been credited with popularizing this type of mixtape – no longer signed to a label to put out music? Who cares? Make a bunch of songs, talk a ton of shit, and put it out there to be consumed by underground heads and promoted by word of mouth. Best of all, you can rhyme over the hottest beats and not have to pay for them! It’s ideal for the artist. Of course, from there the story is famous – Eminem heard the tapes, saw something other execs didn’t, met with 50, introduced him to Dre, and made a ton of money over the next few years. It’s not just Curtis anymore. The LOX haven’t dropped a group album in 10 years, but I have a catalogue of songs that they’ve dropped on various mixtapes that could fill a box set.

But another market has popped up for artists that already have a deal. Now, they can release the album they really wanted to, but weren’t able to, because of the labels and/or as a promotional tool for their upcoming album. This list of artists is even longer and brings me to my ultimate question: Are mixtapes now better than the actual albums?

I can remember when I heard Jada’s “The Champ Is Here,” I couldn’t wait for “Kiss Of Death.” However, when the actual album dropped, I was so disappointed. Yeah, there were a couple of hot songs (“Why” of course and “Shoot Outs” with SP), but the mixtape was a collection of straight fire and Kiss isn’t alone.

I’ll take a Lloyd Banks mixtape over a “Rotten Apple” any day. I loved Luda’s “Pre-Release Therapy” with Green Lantern and was almost appalled by the full-length “Release Therapy.” Termanology’s “Politics As Usual” is a hot disc, but it can’t compare to any number of his street tapes. Could Walé have made an album anywhere close to “The Mixtape About Nothing?” Even though “Hell Hath No Fury” was lauded by many as a neo-classic, they really made heat with their “Got It 4 Cheap” series of mixtapes.

Rob The Music Ed touched on this last week about the lack of classics these days. With the way the industry is going and mainstream radio being dominated by ringtone rap and rhymes about dumb dances, are the days of the great album over? There are a ton of mixtapes I’ll listen to front-to-back before I do the same for an actual LP. I know that the album has to be more well-rounded than a mixtape, but does that ultimately make it better? I’m not so sure…

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  • zood

    You make a good point, although i do disagree about Release therapy, I thought that was really good.
    I suppose often with albums, labels may look for the one or two big hits needed to get airplay and sometimes the rest of the album isn’t much of an issue.
    Da Drought 3 by Lil Wayne is preferred by many to his actual albums.
    But there are still some great albums out there. Lupe Fiasco for example.
    But with regards to things in general, the truly hot stuff seems to be saved for those mixtapes. Quite odd, but I’m not complaining.

    • EmCDL

      And the truly hot stuff is saved for the mixtapes because 9 times out of 10 the actual record labels don’t know what to do with it. They basically force the artist to come out with certain songs to appeal to the public (i.e. these gay ass dance songs). I’ll listen to a mixtape before an album any day nowadays…well, unless its stuff form the ’90s era anyway.

      • Pierzy

        I agree with both of you and, as Curtis wrote below me, clearing samples is a huge problem with albums and not a concern on mixtapes.

        10-15 years ago, one dude would have a hot beat and he would be the only one to rhyme over it. Now? Look at “A Milli.” While TOO MANY rappers hopped on that, it’s still nice to hear your favorite MC over your new favorite beat.

        • chillin mayne

          WAT THE HELL??…pierzy how u do dat?? u know wat curtis was gone type before he typed it??…das sum daivd blaine likeness…… dumbfounded

        • http://myspace DIZZY DEE


  • Curtis75Black

    When it comes to Mixtapes, I consider that sparring before the BIG fight. You’re warming up for something more definite plus honing your skills as rapper and song writer. The reason why Mixtapes might sound better is because there isn’t any blockage. You don’t have clear samples, You don’t have A&R’S in your ear telling you to tone it down, and as you said, You can spit over the Hottest Shit out there or rock a classic beat, which we was always doing since elementary school. This is your vision without paying Top dollar for DRE, Timbo or Premier. It’s alot more politics when it comes to a cd. A mix is basically how Method Man explained Himself “Roll that shit, Light that Shit, Smoke it.”

  • K.I. the Great

    Really i wish the mixtape circuit never got so heavy at first it was great like you said artists could be as different or hardcore without the label backlash. Now they have flooded the market there will be 6 new mixtapes out at any given time with the majority of the the same content and i mean like 15 out of 20 of the songs are on every other mixtape. plus artists dont hold on to their great tracks for albums they are dispersed in mixtapes and albums taking away from the overall impact of the album. . . When a artist i check for is coming out now i dont even check out their mixtapes until after ive heard the album. And with such a easy way to distribut music artists just throw ish out there thats takes away their credibility. Nas may do a mixtape but he doesnt just throw ish out there. I remember on his album God Son one cut called book of rhymes thats one of the dopest tracks. That showed how he took time to perfect his craft which is what our artists lack now. Even Wayne (great rapper by the way) he has a lot of tracks that are straight fire but he also has a lot of boo boo tracks that the world would be better without i for one hope this mixtape craze dies down so we can get a finished polished product.

    • Pierzy

      I feel you that every new DJ mixtape has the same “exclusives” as 10 other mixtapes that came out the same week, but I was more focusing on the mixtapes that feature only one artist.

      Like Drama’s Gangsta Grillz series has been a big movement in the game and artists as varied as Tha Dogg Pound even made a mixtape with him.

  • El Tico Loco

    Mixtapes aren’t mixtapes anymore. One they’re not tapes anymore, and two there’s no more mixing. Like C75 said is sparring before the big fight, and that just leads to dissapointment (remember the “ghost in the shell” series before “Time is Money”? exactly) I really just wish DJs will start Djing on mixtapes instead of screaming with the mic on echo. I mean is cool and all but can you blend? Can you do a remix you can truly get credit for, instead of pasting acapellas that were found in your inbox? Just saying

    • Michelle S.

      I’m pretty sure a lot of actual DJs (who mix and scratch, etc.) are pissed at these dudes (i.e. DJ Khaled) who call themselves DJs and can’t mix shit. A lot of them are just producers or hype men (weed carriers, per say).

      • Pierzy

        I think you’re dead on. Any real DJ probably hates dudes like that…

        • OG Matt Herbz

          If you’re a GangStarr fan, DJ Premier usually comes on once or twice for an interlude and shits on fake DJs and other types of Industry flunks. It’s entertaining, no doubt.

          But, technically they ARE “Disc Jockeys.” Now, where I draw the line between a real DJ and one of these fake cats is if they can actually do their thing on the turntables–blending for one. I mean, I can grab a 10 second bit from a JDilla Instrumental, loop it for 30 seconds and make my own ringtone for my BlackBerry, but I’m by no stretch a DJ, nahmean?!

          –OG Matt Herbz–

  • tony grand$

    Good post, P! (Ha!)

    The mixtape was/is usually a better compilation of songs in general simply because of the design of it’s vehicle. Song the label won’t/can’t put out can still be heard. Artists are freed up from the business responsibility & have the wiggle room to do as they please, which in most cases is a good thing.

    But, like you pointed out, I try not to compare mixtapes to studio albums because I know there’s going to be some nominal difference between the two. Back in the days, those extra songs an artist did that couldn’t be found but you had was worthy of bragging rights (Hieroglyphics, anyone?).

    I own every 50 mixtape, but not because I like 50, but because they were quality, sometimes humorous songs.

    I won’t say mixtapes are better, but they add new dimension to the artist, be it good or bad.

    • Pierzy

      What up Tony! I’ve been on a plane all day so I didn’t know this was up until just now…

      Here’s my thing – I often listen to mixtapes more than albums because it’s more just spittin’ rather than crossover-type songs

  • Stevie B

    I guess no one wants to really answer the question they just want to beat around the bush like virgins scared of pussy.
    Mixtapes are better then albums period!
    I do not even need to explain why. And the reason I dont is because if mixtapes were not better then albums we would not even be having this discussion.
    Its common sense look at your favorite artist or just the hottest artist over the past few years underground or mainstream compare there best mixtape against there album the mixtape is better.
    50 Cent
    Joe Budden
    Lil Wayne
    Young Buck
    Bun B

  • What the ?

    Short answer, YES. No faggot radio garbage, no 12 year old promotion shit, better beats most times because of not having to clear samples, the artist can be themselves and not sell out as much, no club dildo bopping tracks, no stank leg nonsense, better in my opinion, more real.

  • DV8

    yes mixtapes are better. they are the only way a artist gets to be a artist without some A&R telling them make something for the radio or your album isnt coming out.

    and for those who dont know Stat Quo has dropped the 4 best mixtapes this year so far, even though he has never released a album thanks to those SHADY folks at AFTERMATH (pun intended)

  • $ykotic

    Mixtapes used to be promotion. Now it’s a throwaway album.

    • Pierzy

      $yk, you don’t think ANY mixtapes are better than the subsequent albums?

      I’ll argue all day over The Champ Is Here vs. Kiss of Death.

  • yoprince

    decent post but..

    Hell Hath No Fury >>>>>>>>> We Got It 4 Cheap Vol. Any #

  • Jerm

    for i usually prefer teh albums over mixtapes…cuz to me on the mixtapes its usually tracks where theyre just spittin fire while the albums have the substance…to me i prefer Release Therapy over the mixtape, mostly because Luda got serious on that album and practically every track on the album was pure lyrical…

    but then when u got a mixtape, its the artist doin wat they want, no album restrictions…like i noticed too on every Luda album theres like 2-3 women songs, and the mixtapes are just features and fire tracks start to finish…

  • GO-Getta’

    Mixtapes r way mo’ betta’ than the actual album these days

    The Lox,50/Gayunit/Weezy had really benefited from this & finally were able 2 acquire that mainstream audience especially fiddy.

    Souljaboy/50/’Ye had their thing with the internets.

    It’s easier 4 artist 2 distribute their s**t & find expouser these days.

    It just that rappers can’t make the classics no mo’.

    Luckly i still ‘ve my stillmatic,blueprint,marshall mathers & be bumping in my ipod.

  • Teddy

    i hardly even download albums anymore theres nothing out there its so dry and albums that come out are so commercial sprinkled and formulated the raw mixtapes these days are all i download who the fuck is bob is classic if that was an album 5 mics man same as dedication dedication 2 and drakes offerings the mixtape is the new album fo sure its all i got to listen to while i wait for ppl like jay-z eminem dr.dre t.i lil wayne young jeezy etc to drop albums there only about 6-7 artists who would drop actually good albums cos they have the record label back up creativity lisence to do so cos labels believe in them otherwise the rest r rubbish albums i listen to them and ill be lucky to get 2 songs that i can throw onto my ipod

  • Curtis75Black

    The definition of the Mixtape is gone. That’s the biggest problem. Back in the day, You had countless emcee’s spittin’ with one(credible) DJ who was rocking all the hot beats, mixing and scratching. Now they are used for just a promotion or like I said warm-up for the actual cd. Its sad because when it comes to Jazzy Jeff, Funk Flex, Kid Capri, and others who know how to do it right, they don’t get their just due.

  • ShowTime

    Mixtapes might seem hotter because its usualy the core of what that Mc is about. its like Liqour wit no Chaser.

    I been working on Time2getPaid since last year. Originaly I was calling it an Album Mixtape..Now I Just call it an Album.

    I had alot of joints that ppl was really feeling but they werent songs to me.. So I tookem off.

    And I have recorded so many trks. First it was sounding real Underground ish..Then I said let me go in the other direction and make Club records, Girl songs and shit like that because at the time that was the challange, to make a hit.

    Then once I had those type of songs I started going back to the straight Hip hop joints.

    Now, Im Just making sure have the right Dose of everything while making it sound like it fits. But Aiming for a Classic!

    A good classic album should do a lot of things.
    1. It has to have a central THEME. Not just a bunch of songs thrown together.COHESIVENESS is a must!
    2. It has to have the Right SEQUENCE. U can honestly have all the right Tracks, but, if its not in the RIGHT ORDER,4getaboutit!
    3.The PRODUCTION has to work well together.
    ex.Blueprint,Illmatic,Cuban Links.
    4.It has to be ENTERTAINING:Flows,Lyrics,Concepts.

    A classic Album >> Classic Mixtape Imo
    I would rather hear a Jay, Nas, Kanye, Cube, Scarface, Rakim Classic Album than a Classic mixtape from them!

    Thats the difference between Jada Lloyd Banks and the rest of those Guys. When those Guys broaden their Scope they become too Diluted.

    Thats how I see it.

  • Curtis75Black

    Alot of emcee’s can’t make a cohesive cd to save their life but can blaze a Mix cd with no problem basically because you’re just giving the basics of a freestyle rapper: Methaphors, Similies, crazy gangsta Stories and a assortment of featured artists – Maybe. With a cd a real emcee has to prove they can rock it alone, come up with stuff for other than the block and make it marketable. Every emcee I check for has blazed countless Mix cd’s with freestyles and songs. Every emcee I respect has put out more diverse cd’s though.

  • Young Evo

    haha mixtapes are way better than cds all of lil waynes Droughts and Dedications are way better than his carter 2 and 3

  • Da Dawn Devil

    cant be answered

    why? because everyone with a mic can rap now….people like solja boy make mixtapes and albums and i dont listen to eather…

    good artists make good music no matter what!

    chamillionare for example…his albums are just as good as his mixtapes..his albums are more polished and have all super good quality tracks…his mixtapes are just as good..just diff. he does more comidy tracks and shit…

    mixtapes are for disses..and promotion…they gotta come with fire if they want people to buy there album…..and there album better be good or no one will buy one again…

    but fuck the mainstreem mixtapes

    underground mixtapes are were you find real talent because its kids tryna get signed puttin there everything into each track…they are starving..and gotta get theres…

    next time u see anyone tryna sell a mixtape for 3 dollors on the it..give em a chance…dont buy these mixtapes that are compleatly bullshit…like waynes bitch ass…he is retarded and if u listen to his shit…you are just as dumb

    real talk

  • Mr. 1992

    I agree with the idea that mixtapes are better than the actual albums. Take Lil Wayne, 50 Cent, Young Buck or Drake. They all have far better songs on their mixtapes than their albums especially Lil Wayne. That’s how I found Drake through Weezys mixtapes. Drakes mixtape material is deffinitley better than thank me later. SO FAR GONE, Drake Drizzy Rodgers & Young Money All-Stars are my favorite mixtapes of all time.

  • hunkE

    Mixtapes are the new albums. See: Krit Wuz Here, Returnof4eva, Friday Night Lights, No Genre, So Far Gone, The Anchorman Mixtape, Mixtape About Nothing, More About Nothing, May 25th, The Audition, Here My Dear, Trunk Muzik, Mood Muzik 4, fuck the list goes on and on and on. There’s tapes are all album quality and many are better than the artist’s albums themselves.

  • mixtapes

    I do agree with all of the ideas you have presented to your post. They’re very convincing and can certainly work. Still, the posts are very brief for starters. Could you please prolong them a little from next time? Thanks for the post.