Remember when mixtapes used to be a DJ’s mixture of creativity and music? Wait, remember when mixtapes used to be the source to hear music first and introduce you to new artists? Hold up, remember when DJ's used to actually mix or, God forbid, blend an instrumental with an a capella?

Now, before we get into the subject of mixtapes, let me give you my background specifically in the mixtape world for those wondering or just don’t know:

*Last year nominated for 8 Justo's (Mixtape Awards).
*Won Mixtape DJ of the Year at Hip-Hop Regional Awards.
*Released over 40 mixtapes with everyone from Travis Barker to Akon to Chris Cornell to Snoop Dogg and more.
*Responsible for producing some classic "mixtape" songs (i.e. Game's "300 Bars" & Crooked I's "Hip-Hop Weekly").
*Participated in the label’s "mixtape" hearings; after DJ Drama got arrested, the heads of labels secretly met to discuss how to handle mixtapes in the future. True story!
*Did the first mixtape DVD ever (it never saw the light of day, but was a dope video mix for Loud Records long before DVJ's were made).
*Have been shut down by the RIAA in the past for mixtapes (when I was 16 they tried to sue me but I wasn't old enough, ha).
*Nominated at the age of 16 at the TapeKingz.com (top mixtape website at time) Draft Pick contest (anyone remember that? Mega points to anyone who still has that tape!).
*Started off under DJ Stretch Armstrong, who showed me the ropes of the game (anyone remember the mixtapes he was dropping in the late ’90s?)
*Etc.

Now, my goal in approaching this article is figuring out a way to properly classify projects in the future. Everyone knows what an album is, yet the "mixtape" name has been abused, mangled, neglected, sodomized, bastardized, and is on life support.

I already know what some of the responses are going to be: “You’re guilty for some of the stuff you say; where is the art; why don't you change stuff; blah, blah, blah.” True, in some instances, I have released projects where I have (or the artists have) just wanted to feature the music—no mixing, tricks, blending—plus, some music just doesn't need it overdone.

Check the resume, and you’ll see some other creative mixtures (i.e., the concepts and flow of the Jay-Z American Godfather mixtape, some of my early blend tapes, or the mash-up Chris Cornell/Timbaland project, as well as the jacking-for-beats type productions I’ve done).

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The key question today is, what is a mixtape versus a street album versus an EP? I will attempt to now classify these projects separately to give each the proper platform and inform the listener/reader what they’re about to hear when they see the various titles on a project.

MIXTAPES

Before and outside of hip-hop, mixtapes were a combination of various songs put together by listeners, often for friends to get different songs. When hip-hop caught on in the ’80s, DJs, who were then often bigger than the artists, showcased their skills and taste by cutting up music, blending songs, and featuring new music.

In the ’90s, mixtapes primarily shifted into two categories. Blend tapes, which would take a capellas and verses and put them against different instrumentals (DJs like Dirty Harry killed it). Or standard mixtapes, which were the definitive way to introduce new music and artists, and most lacked any technical DJ skills. Stars were made like DJ Clue, who Def Jam signed and went platinum just playing new unreleased music. Well, when he wasn't hiding from Biggie after stalking his records early—I’m kidding, Clue. Kinda.

The Internet killed the ’90s definition of mixtapes. Blogs became the new DJs by becoming the sources for premiering new music, and many mixtape DJs at the time were forced into early retirement. A few stood at the end of the day, and became stars in their own rights, releasing projects formed entirely of original music with one specific artist/crew (and often original production). Now, these were always called mixtapes, yet often didn't have any mixing or outside artists, and sometimes were better than artist’s official album releases.

My personal opinion on what should be considered a mixtape is a project that a DJ actually masterminds and controls in an obvious way for a listener. For example, mashing up records, taking various songs and mixing them together, or doing something else creative the same way. This will help clarify what "mixtapes" really are, and help the outside world better understand what DJs do creatively. Basically, I feel a mixtape should be a creative project derived from a DJ. (i.e. "mixed").

SIDE NOTE: Should we still call it a tape? That’s a whole other debate... ha!

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STREET ALBUMS

Many street albums are incorrectly called mixtapes. Thus, when certain consumers listen to them, they’re often surprised at the quality of original studio music and lack of DJ skills shown (other than DJs smashing the drop buttons). Although they’re distributed virally and organically, they aren't really a mix of anything other than that artist’s original music (i.e. an album).

I propose everyone to call these projects a street album, to clarify that it’s an original body of work unofficially released without sample clearances, record label interference, or anything else. DJs can still host these (as can ANYONE on projects that aren't mixed together) as it’s often just talking/drops over the records, but not a true "mix" of music together or even of various artists/songs.

EP's

With artists needing music released in the marketplace, but not wanting to "officially" drop an album, EP's have become the current "it" thing to do in hip-hop. Many artists are planning to release EP's this year as a way to officially get out and monetize original music while building their buzz, without having the pressures of putting out a true album.

In addition, artists are also releasing street albums/EP's at the same time, so they can provide physical distribution in stores (and when people search for that artist in the world’s biggest music store, iTunes), while still giving away the music to the true hip-hop heads, blogs, and growing their buzz organically.

Now, you may wonder why a category matters. It may not to many. But to purists and fans, I think it can help clarify and differentiate the rolls of each, and help all categories excel by not confusing consumers. Just my two cents after being in this game for a minute.

On another side note (ha!), thanks to everyone for the amazing reaction to all my blogs this week, and to XXL for giving me the outlet. I tried to provide a relatively unbiased opinion on all the subjects that I discussed. Agree or not, I hope it at least raised some ideas or thoughts in your head. I’ll be back soon...

Fin?