Sunday, 5 December 2004

Mixtape Mania

“Mixtapes are now the newspapers of the ghetto. Everything you want to find our is there.” DJ Whoo Kid

The birth of the mixtape goes way back when. For most of America’s hip hop history it has been one of the strongest forms of underground currency. In the 1970’s the mixtape documented a DJ’s Saturday night set, but now the stock has risen, a tool used by the streets and major record labels for testing new tracks and artists while also allowing signed artists a chance to retain their street appeal.

Yet it’s only now that we have a mixtape explosion in the UK, largely no doubt to new technology and it’s relatively low cost. But also we must thank Fifty Cent. Two years ago his mixtape blew him up overnight. Eminem heard it, a deal was done and the mixtape became lodged in the guerilla marketing psyche.

In the UK we’d been catching on, although a little slowly. For example rave packs have long served as a way of supplying the city sounds to the suburbs and beyond.

But in hip hop circles it was Estelle’s 2003 ‘Diamond In The Rough’ debut that woke people up. A then unsigned artist, her mixtape was mistaken by many as the work of a major label. Shortly TNT released the equally impressive ‘Heat In The Street’, a 30 plus track mixtape showcasing his new artist J2K. Other, now leading street brands, soon followed suit, all with unique formula’s.

Lord of the Decks boasted a CD and DVD of exclusive grime cuts, interviews and freestyles, My Boyz dealt with American and UK hip hop exclusives, Split Mics laid the finest UK MC’s on commercial hip hop instrumentals while Target used Aim High to promo his label’s plan for the future.

“The demands getting bigger (for mixtapes), especially with the DVD’s and outside of London too…” Target explained.
“I have no idea how many bootlegs there are out now. It’s helped my career, a lot of people didn’t know what I was doing before, I’ve definitely got remixes and work off the back of that…They even knew of us in Germany, Amsterdam and Miami. That was a shock.”

XL Recordings weren’t oblivious either. Dizzee Rascal, soon after scoping the Mercury Prize, was roping in the aid of Semtex to deliver the Piece Keepers series feauturing CD and DVD freestyles, performances and new tracks.

So it’s actually been our relative lateness to mixtapes that is working in our favour. Many of our mixtapes are actually still mixed, keeping an element of emphasis on the next generation of DJ (good recent examples include Bossman’s ‘Street Anthems’ and Rossi B & Luca’s ‘More2DaFloor’ where we are treated to some superior scratching, tight beat matching and slick mixes). The majority of UK mixtapes are also focusing on new, unsigned talent, further aiding the burgeoning UK music scene, rather than what the majors record labels are paying them to include or what we’ve all heard before.

But just like CD’s have led to the near extinction of tapes, it’s likely the DVD Magazine and DVD mixtape will continue to rise in popularity. Soon we may see DJ’s going from the streets to major label deals, endorsing licensed compilations, UK Mixtape Awards (America’s Annual Mixtape Awards is now in it’s 8th year), or how about some major bootlegging?

“I think it’s going to go the same way as in America. Everyone will know to get mixtapes to get the freshest music. It might even help push up vinyl sales” Target concludes.

But for every mixtape artist, DJ and record that crosses over to the mainstream, it’s safe to lay bets that they’ll always be countless street scientists ready to continue with the preservation the streets number one medium of expression, the mixtape.

Words: Chantelle Fiddy
A version of this article appears on You can also check DJ Target's mixtape rules or enter the competition to win Aim High 2 on the site.

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