MNR Special Edition:
Saturday School: Mixtape 101
“It’s about to get uglier than the Master P sneaker.”
Lloyd Banks freestyle over “Victory” from a live Hot 97 freestyle session
I was in my baby’s SUV kicking it like Liu Kang when her Pandora immediately kicked my mind into ultra nostalgia when I heard that bar for the first time in so long. When Banks dropped that freestyle that Friday night back when over the airwaves in NYC and NY/NJ metro (mid ‘00s), he was one of rap’s newest phenoms. His boss was top dog in the game and his crew was unstoppable. True indeed, 50 had the OD wave going at the time; the Unit really didn’t need much else. But keeping the rap wolves nourished with exclusive crew mixtapes solidified G-Unit as a force not only in the industry but the streets first and foremost. Us rap junkies couldn’t get enough of 50, the wonder boy Lloyd Banks, and Q-Boro’s capo, Mr. Tony Yayo (still a top 10 rap name ever). And waiting for general releases is like waiting on babies. Station freestyles like this, though legendary, were sporadic and didn’t come quite often enough. So, just as it’s been since day uno, the mixtape temporarily cured our perpetual hip hop junkie fix. Ahh...the mixtape. Hip hop’s enduring ambassador. For this special MNR edition, I will bring you its glorious history, starting from day one.
Herc and the beat break
The origin of the mixtape dates back to rap’s rudimentary and grassroots days in the South Boogie Down Bronx, mid to late 1970s. DJ Kool Herc is the founder of this culture of ours. He was the first to bring the speakers and turntables downstairs, first to the Rec center of his projects (Sedgwick Houses) and then to the area parks. He, Grandmaster Flash, and other pioneering hip hop DJ’s would record their live jams/battles via the cassette tape (damn I’m old) and sell them to fans hungry for this thing. Do know that at the beginning the records they played weren’t rap tracks. Rap wasn’t even truly formed yet. Rather, songs with funk, Afro-Latino, and even disco influences were the recipe, as they were the songs that made the youngsters hit the dance floor and do their groove thing, two-step, or break routines. Herc found a way to extend the beat break with the twin wheels of steel, making the dance time much longer. Songs like “Bongo Rock” by The Incredible Bongo Band and practically any song from Mr. James Brown’s funk era in collaboration with his trusted drummer Clyde Stubblefield provided the DJ with just the right beat break to make the party fucking explode. And so did the music. When Sugar Hill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight” hit airwaves in 1979, the music had a definite reference point to begin with (even though it’s the second rap song, not the first). But it took some time for radio to be as accepting as those uptown Black, Hispanic and even Jewish kids brave enough to travel to the 100/200 Blocks were. But little did the industry know hip hop had its own magic man.
KDAY 1580 AM (later 93.5 FM) of Los Angeles is credited with being the first radio station to feature an all rap format circa 1983, and deservedly so. It deserves its just due. But a couple years prior, a NYC DJ named Mr. Magic (John Rivas) became the first radio DJ to regularly play rap music during his radio show “Mr. Magic’s Rap Attack”, originally on WHBI 96.3 FM in NYC and then WBLS 107.5 FM NYC a year later. From 9 pm-midnight on Saturday nights, rap’s original town got three hours of exclusive rap material, heard nowhere else on the planet at the time. Mr. Magic, his apprentice the legendary Marley Marl of future Juice Crew game, and Fly Ty brought the vibes directly to your car, apartment stereo system, or boom box. Mr. Magic and his influence is a whole other blog (RIP, KING), so I’ll leave that on the table for another meal. But the “magic” listeners provided for millions of others was in the recording of Mr. Magic and his on-air rival Kool DJ Red Alert (yeahhhhhhhhhh!!!) on 98.7 KISS FM NYC. These recordings ushered in the second era of the mixtape, as fans faithfully recorded these shows, and made dubs (duplicate recordings) that via mail spread to relatives down south and eventually the country and eventually around the globe. This, along with the touring of rap pioneer Afrika
Bambaataa, his rap crew Soulsonic Force,
And the Universal Zulu Nation helped introduce rap and the hip hop culture to the world. Literally. Two decades before internet. Three decades before social media. Shit, years before BET or MTV (shouts to another innovator Uncle Ralph and Video Music Box) dared to even play a rap video. This faithful listening to rap shows and cassette dubbing would extend into the ‘90s until the third generation of the mix tape emerged: the mixtape (one word).
During the early to mid 1990s, the actual mixtape begin to push its way to the forefront of the music and the culture. Fans would faithfully hit the record shops and cop the latest shit, but without internet or social media, they had no idea when new music was on the way. They had to rely on old fashioned word of mouth. The Source would soon become to rap what the Wall Street Journal means to traders and investors in the stock market. But even then, The Source was a monthly periodical, and even with their upcoming releases section releases were subject to pushbacks and delays. But what the mixtape did was provide listeners with fresh new material from diverse artists, the hottest of the time, of course. DJ’s like S&S, Doo Wop, Tony Touch, Kay Slay, Ron G, and DJ Clue brought that fire to rap faithfuls, and their mixtapes were superfluous. Ron G and Clue were the innovators of the time, Ron G for his blend tapes (R&B vocals over rap beats), which basically birthed the most of the shit we hear today. Clue was the true innovator for the mixtape itself, as he was able to get the hottest artists of the time’s exclusive tracks on his mixtapes, sometimes months before the album dropped and weeks before the single hit the radio airwaves. His signature though was procuring the HOTTEST MC/crew at the time for an exclusive freestyle to start his tapes off. You knew who had shit on lock by who set the mixtape off. Clue was also the first to realize that promo meant everything. This made his wave spread from Frisco to Maine and back to Queens. By the late ‘90s there 1,000,001 mixtape DJ’s in the game. But Clue was and is the all-time king. The boy was 17 driving a big body Benz through the streets of Queens. No drug money. All legal paper. Even though he remains the undisputed king, his reign would only remain in symbolism. Time waits for no man. Moreover, time breeds innovation. By the early 2000s the mixtape had evolved yet again.
Crew mixtapes, street DVD’s & beyond
By the start of the millennium, rap and the entire way music is distributed and received was in the early stage of outright change. It began with a purr and concluded with an all out roar. The change from analog to digital music meant records, tapes, and CD’s were in their eleventh hour. The digital music format was soon to flip the music business on its ass. But just before the storm, rappers were able to eat. Damn good, too. The dot com movement, Billy Clint in office, and relative global peace meant money was being made like never before. And we Americans wrote the blueprint for just what to do with excess: spend it on the shit we love. Music is atop that list for myself and many others. So we bought music in record numbers. BOUGHT. At that time, going platinum was slight work. Record companies still invested in its artists. That meant the artists were in turn able to eat better than ever. But even with all the record store purchases, fans still needed their mixtape fix. But fans were more concise in what they wanted to hear. It came to pass that less fans were interested in the buffet style mixtape. They were cool with the single entree. With this the artist driven mixtape or “crew mixtape” was born. The Dip Set and the aforementioned G-Unit were the first to release their own mixtapes, shunning the old get a track or two on a DJ mixtape and be happy narrative. They were selfish. They needed all theirs. And they were right the fuck on point. Why have one song circulating when you can have twenty? This meant more exposure. So when it was time to release a commercial project, fans were foaming at the mouth to get it. Cha-Ching! More money, more money, more money!!! Simple formula: get your own personal DJ (Who Kid, DJ Lantern, Webstar, etc) put out all types of songs from beat jacks to freestyles to even the rare exclusive material from an upcoming commercial project then watch the wave kick up. And it did. This led to “hosting”, a method in which an artist or collective bring a DJ in to talk shit randomly throughout the project and slap his name on it along with the artist. Damn it, it worked. Just ask my nigga DJ Drama or Don Cannon. The street DVD simultaneously heightened the wave, as outlets like my nigga Smack and Sub Zero provided visuals to these mixtape songs. Not videos, but raw footage from rappers’ neighborhoods. Watching them get down live from their block added that extra bit of grit and allure to the game. Fans couldn’t get enough. This run extended until the digital platform eventually eradicated all hard copy music and visuals. So what happened? Shit, we just readjusted again.
Unless you were born last month, you can write this part of the blog. You saw it happen from jump, even if you were pissing on yourself when I had every Clue tape he had in the streets at that particular time. If you need a mixtape from your favorite artist, you hit Dat Piff, Live Mixtapes, or whatever platform works for you. And there’s SoundCloud, so now you can hear some exclusive material minutes after an artist puts it out. It’s all cool, I guess. We have unparalleled access the music. But damn it, it’s nothing like my hey day of past or even before my time. Nothing will match that feeling of being the one in your crew to cop the latest Clue or Ron G or S&S had to offer and make the one dub to be duplicated by each crew member. Or that feeling when the dub circuit finally made its way to you. Who knows what the future has in store for the mixtape? My bet is that it’ll see it’s way through to the next movement. It’s survived every single one thus far. It’s my time, y’all. Bendicion.