Are mixtapes dead? Yes – well, actually…no. Kind of? I mean, as a format, yes. Handing a copy of your burned cd to someone is essentially the same as a grocery store or bank handing out promotional frisbees at a BBQ. It’s a digital game now, yet we hold on to the term for dear life. Why not call them a digital compilation of songs that infringe copyrights, hence this isn’t official? That’s a generalization, but you get the point!
[preface: I’m referring to mixtapes created by artists, not the coined phrase for consumer bootlegs]
Mixtapes have a long history and tradition. It may be hard for younger heads to remember, but they used to be actual tapes – and to top it off they were actually mixed. I’ll pause while you compose yourself. You either had an actual DJ mixing actual records together, or there was a pause/play element used for those who didn’t have their music on wax or own decks. That eventually evolved into unreleased songs simply being “arranged”. This evolution gave rise to a breed of DJ that simply arranged and played songs, rather than actual mixing – leading to some confusion about the vital role a skilled DJ can play in the culture. As someone who is obsessed with actual mixing, I kind of think you’re missing out by not having your music actually mixed by a real DJ. The barrier to entry, which was pressing vinyl, is now equalized due to the likes of Serato. No excuses.
Anyways, I digress. Are mixtapes dead? Well, plenty of artists have either created or lived careers in the circuit, like 50 Cent, Lupe Fiasco, Dipset, and Mac Miller; however, the format is flooded. Sites like DatPiff post like “a million” mixtapes a day, many of questionable quality (all around). The only barrier to entry that current exists is that you can record songs – original beats not necessary – and make a cover of some sort. Mixtapes, as far as I can tell, have almost digressed into a collection of songs that artists aren’t willing to label as an official EP or album. Of course that’s assuming it’s even an official tape.
Essentially my point is that the term has become polluted…kind of like the concept that rap and hip-hop aren’t the same thing. One of the main elements of hip-hop has been watered down to an extreme, which I find troubling. Maybe it’s time to either re-name, re-format or create a barrier to entry into the mixtape game? Maybe force an artist to create a respectable demo/album first? Maybe a stricter curation process?
Just food for though. Let’s take a moment and salute actual DJ’s who create actual mixtapes – and the next generation of turntable warriors.