The Original VersionWith arrests at retail in many U.S. cities underway against purveyors of mixtapes by the Recording Industry Association of America and local law enforcement, SOHH.com investigates the legality of the mixtape game and digs deep into recent raids against DJ Jelly, DJ Chuck T, and Alan Berry. Mixtape DJs and pioneers DJ Drama, Kid Capri, DJ EFN, Kay Slay, DJ Muggs, Afrika Bambaataa; and artist/entrepreneurs Bun B, Jim Jones and Tragedy Khadafi sound off about the mixtape hustle, the RIAA, and the hipocracy of major labels that leak music to DJs, then turn their collective backs.
In the early 1980s in Los Angeles, a young hustler named "Freeway" Rick Ross took some powder cocaine and cooked it up, creating a product known as "ready rock". Chances are the powder he used came from a connect based in Mexico, or Central or South America. But Ross didn't have an airplane or a helicopter, and he wasn't the one bringing the coke into America, or assisting the locals in Peru or Nicaragua to get the supplies they needed to turn raw coca leaves into the narcotic product, illegal in America, known as cocaine. Many speculate that the manufacturer and distributor was in fact the U.S. government, or one of it's "shadow" subsidiaries. As Ross rose to wealth, fame and 'hood power, he acquired the acoutrements of the rich - cars, mansions, furs, jewelry, and beautiful women. High off his fame, he went into the studio, recorded some rhymes, and released them on the underground in L.A. as "Freeway Rick". Rick was at the end of the line on the drug-money food chain, the head of the crew who'd be the last ones to touch a rock before it went into the hands, and pipe, of a consumer. So who was to blame, in the eyes of the media, in the "war on drugs"? Who took a loss, and was hit with a long stretch of time in the penitentiary, a casualty of this war? "Freeway" Rick Ross, the "retail distributor" of the crack game.
Flash forward to 2005, and there's a new dope game being played out in the streets, and in the corporate boardrooms at major record labels and distributors. While some are just pawns in a chess game, others are making decisions from inside the Recording Industry Association of America, the Internal Revenue Service, the office of the U.S. Postal Inspector, the Federal Bureau of Investigations, and at local and state police departments. On the flipside, mixtape DJs with decades in the game are dedicated to creating raw product - mixtapes - the CDs that function as Hip Hop's primary source of promotion. This is Mixtape Incorporated, where Hip Hop culture and corporate America are in bed together behind the scenes, and putting on a game face for the media and the public. Music is the uncut raw. Subject to copyright law, with the artist owning some rights and often "leasing" other rights to their record label and/or distributor, the fact remains that label representatives are giving unreleased tracks away to mixtape DJs like candy. The DJ is the businessman. He, or she, is using the original product - music - and cooking it up with a formula that includes blending, cutting, juggling, remixing; adding freestyles, drops, and exclusives from hot rappers and MCs. The final product is the mixtape, a smooth new blend of Hip Hop, Rap, Breakbeats, Reggaeton, and R&B. Different regions have varying criteria of what's dope in their neck of the woods. In New York, home of the mixtapes, DJs, and record labels; the bar is set high. Most of NY's top DJs have moved on from hustling mixtapes and their masters; securing major-label recording contracts, distribution for their own labels, producing DVDs, working in television, and moving their mixtape hustle to the world wide web on satellite radio networks such as XM Radio and Sirius, or to online radio providers like AOL. Down south, depending on the region, there's some chopping and screwing going on, or else there had better be some crunk shit happening. Without a radio station like HOT 97 or L.A.'s KDAY to sustain them, southern Hip Hop and Rap fans use mixtapes as their radio stations. On the west coast, mixtapes are a means to an end, a tool used for street promotions on an upcoming album, a hot new movie, or a specific brand of clothing or footwear - rather than as a product for sale on the streets.
Mixtapes are considered illegal by many, but how illegal are they really? Diplomats capo Jim Jones, who plays dual roles as an artist and businessman within the Dipset camp, sums it up with this analogy "Mixtapes are like cigarettes to marijuana - cigarettes are the albums people put in stores, and mixtapes are the marijuana that you can't get in stores." The majority of actual mixtape DJs who are true to the art form and stuck to their grind would never release a CD compiliaton disguised as a mix, nor do they bootleg copyrighted material. They spend countless hours and dollars perfecting each release, ensuring their CDs are chock-full of exclusives, unreleased material, drops and freestyles from artists, remixed tracks, original beats, and unprecedented collaborations. Their CDs include original cover art, something else that requires time and expense to produce, and some DJs even shrinkwrap their product before it hits the stores, the streets, or the consumer's hands. So what exactly is the problem, legally? According to Bradley Buckles, Executive Vice President of Anti-Piracy for the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), "State law requires that the true name and address of the person responsible for producing the CD appears on the label and the product. In all of the cases where you see local police involved, they simply did not comply with state law. With some of these products you almost have to listen to the entire CD to tell if it is remixed to the point of being original. You can't tell that by looking at the label. But the police look at the label and see no one is identified, or in some cases a false name and address is given, they might have the name and address of a legitimate label and we can take a look." In addition to lacking a legal name and address on the CDs in their stores, retailers are most likely receiving the attention of the RIAA because someone's called in a complaint against them, explains Buckles.
There have been numerous raids conducted recently on retailers, and while none of them have been specifically targeted for selling mixtapes per se, tens of thousands of mixtapes have been confiscated of late in these raids. One of the largest raids took place in Indianapolis, Indiana, at a store owned by Alan Berry. Contrary to the newspaper headlines that followed the raid, Alan Berry was a reputable businessman with strong ties to the music industry. According to Alan Berry "that's the thing that we are totally dumbfounded by, we were a Soundscan store. The record labels loved us. We'd get in-stores with artists like 8 Ball and MJG or David Banner. We'd get a box of Def Jam CDs to give away or scan through to get a higher place on Billboard. We bought so much and we'd been around for so long, we felt that what we were doing was what the Hip Hop game wanted. We wouldn't fuck with counterfeits, bootlegs, none of that stuff. If I got wind of another store selling a counterfeit or a bootleg, I'd go talk to them about it. So we had no indication that what we were doing was wrong. We werent' trying to hide anything, we had mixtapes on the floor. We had police officers who would come in and buy mixtapes all the time, and I had one local police officer who offered to go to court for us if we went to trial." Mr. Buckles explained a possible explanation for the Berry raid, "we also get complaints filed by competing retailers, and we get complaints from consumers sometimes who buy a product and decide that it's a ripped CDr, and they feel cheated. Quite frankly, sometimes we will get complaints from record companies or from artists on piracy that they'd observed. In none of those cases does it make it automatically a priority. We have to assess those complaints and the context of all of the problems we've got going on and make decisions from there. Sometimes we engage in a lot of training for police departments as to what piracy is about, and what state laws are about. Sometimes we'll get a call from the police department and they'll ask for our technical advice. The implication of your question and what you've heard is perhaps there's some undue influence of some lablels, targeting specific retailers, but that's not a major driving force on what we do on a regular basis." Alan Berry bounced back after his shop was busted, opening a new location called Naptown Music. He isn't bitter about losing his livelihood, which he's already begun to rebuild, in fact he's issuing a challenge to law enforcement and the RIAA. "We opened up almost a year ago, and we're selling mixCDs out in the open. I'm in defiance, like let's go to federal court. Now we have addresses on the back of our CDs, come on RIAA, come knock on my door, let's get Eminem on the stand, let's get 50 cent on the stand, let's get Interscope Records on the stand and see how it should be done. My point is that we've got this store open, tomorrow we could be raided and have federal charges put up against us, but in a way i'd be happy to do that. The state couldn't really do anything other than say we didn't have the addresses on the back of our CDs. It's really tough because I lost every penny, had to sell my house, this new store is on the back of my credit cards. That was the thing that burned me up, trust me I have mad respect for the artists and DJs, it just seems like stand up for people that are in the game with you. Why didn't anyone stand up and say this is wrong, drop these charges. we agree that the mixtape game works? The question is why does the agency that represents the labels go after people who are helping distribute mixtapes? I applaud them if they go out and bust the bootleggers. I'm not standing up for counterfeiting, I'm saying the mixtape game, is this okay or not okay? I shouldn't have to lay up at night and worry are they going to bust me for selling mixtapes. We did 2.3 million in gross sales the last year we were in business, at the peak we had 23 employees, and I went from living in a home on a lake with a pool to a 600 square foot apartment," Berry explained.
In Berry's case, his store never sold bootlegs or burned copies of anyone's music or movies. "One of the biggest things that really killed us was in the local paper the headline was "brothers accused of bootlegs" that's the thing, the fact that the public, the RIAA, and the local police; they don't differentiate between a bootleg and a mixtape. There is a difference. So here, that's the major paper, the Indianapolis Star. It says we have 13 felonies against us, 6 of them were the not having the address of the manufacturer conspicously stated on the back of the CDs, and the 13th one is a RICO, racketeering charge and that was corrupt business influence. So of course our business goes way down, and if I was a consumer it does look bad. It was because of the RIAA that gave them the information. I dont blame the indianapolis star, I think they were putting information back out that they were being fed. Who were they fed that by? The RIAA." He has an opinion editorial running soon in the New York times, and he's founded a new online venture to share mixtape-style music from peer to peer called LegitMix.com. When asked about the Berry case in specific, Bradley Buckles of the RIAA said "Well let me stand back and say I don't want to get into the facts of any particular case because it may be law enforcement information that I may not have access or may not be at liberty to share. What we do at the retail level is basically we have programs where we constantly survey the retail music market looking for people who are seliing product that violates state or federal law in terms of copyright. This is something that goes on around the country, all the time, and we do it by generally surveying thousands of stores." So why doesn't the RIAA go directly to the DJs, instead of confiscating their mixes at retail? "Well I don't think you should assume we don't ever go after the source, sometimes you've got to start at the retail level. Everyone involved has to understand that certain activity is illegal. In cases like you've seen in NY and the Berry case, these are generally cases that don't have anything to do with federal copyright law - whether or not someone was authorized to use copyrighted material - it has to do with whether or not product was labelled in accordance with state law," he explains.
DJ Jelly, one of the foremost mixtape kings of the south, also happens to be a major retailer as well. Looking at the situation from all angles, Jelly's not feeling the recent wave of sweeps in his area, and has no plans to stop making mixtapes - or to stop selling them at his stores. DJ Jelly describes how an anonymous call about bootleg clothing in the local flea market recently affected his busines as well "They just shut down one of my stores about two weeks ago. We have six retail spots, and one is in the flea market where I sell my DJ Jelly mix CDs. They arrested one of my partners. I've been talking to Justo's girlfriend, and it's a lot of crazy shit. I mean, it's really a bigger problem for everybody involved in Hip Hop - that we don't have control over what we do. Still, the culture has been turned into this commodity where it's out of our hands. It's just like the drug game, it's the same concept, due to the powers that be. Our culture is being deteriorated at the moment. It could eventually die. I'm supporting my family off of two turntables and a microphone. I just came from Germany and the Middle East, and the respect that they have for our culture is so intense, much more than how it is here in America. That goes for niggas in New York, down South, and on the west coast. It's bigger than the music in terms of mentality. We have to start educating everbody, and bridging all of this information together 'cause we fucking up. Now I have my own situation with my partner Big Oomp, we got the largest independent label in Georgia, Big Oomp Records. I mean we still operating, they just came in and fucked with us, they scooped up all the fake clothes, they busted the whole swap meet, and fucked with us too! We had strictly mix CDs, no remakes of nobody's shit, and no bootlegs - but they weren't trying to hear that. Somebody really had tipped them off, somebody told them. What's goin on is the laws are trying to encompass everybody. The bootleggers are making more money than the majors, but they want DJs to play their music and break it for them. It's like the drug game all over again, leaving them in these neighborhoods doing their thing, then the cops come and do their sweep...that's how they're doing the mixtape situation. We really not paying attention, if we are, we're being quiet and that's some pussy shit. Most people working at labels in hip hop is 45, 50, and they got familes to raise too, but we gotta realize this - our forefathers before us walked these streets so we can make a living. Now it's time to make sacrifices. If we're comfortable, we're going to deteriorate this whole situation. It's no difference now on my mix CDs, I'm always remixing stuff. I learned from them cats out of the 80s, like how the old cats do it, and I'm not gonna stop making tapes like Rude Boy 3, Dat Kush, Mixtape Kings, or my mix DVDs Atlanta's Crunkest DJ or Video Remixes. My packages are gonna stay the same and everything. We've been in that location over 15 years. I'm gonna be on the down low, but niggas know."
Another of Atlanta's top mixtape DJs, DJ Drama, has also been affected by the recent raids; however he stresses that his products are original creations and should in no way be confused with compilations, bootlegs, or any form of "pirated" material. "I know some raids happened down here, I don't know which stores. I try to keep below the radar. I know most of the time they go more after the retailer than the actual DJ. One hand scrubs the other, the retailers are some of my best friends. The problem is that the RIAA don't really see the difference in bootlegs and mixtapes, and because they have that confusion the lines get crossed. If they go to the retailers that have bootlegs, that's one thing - mixtapes are another. It's ironic 'cause most of the mixtapes that I do, if it's not with the artists themselves, the labels are paying me to do it. For the riaa to tell me I have to stop is bullshit. I mean, 75% of what I do is original material, and it can take anywhere from six months to one month to work on a tape. It's a business, and it's a process, I may plan to do something with an artist in November, then they work on the music, we put it together, design the cover, and do the distrubion process. It's not something that we just take a whole bunch of songs and put in on there. I did a tape with David Banner, one with Webbie, one with Stat Quo, one with T.I., and also with Lil Wayne and with Young Jeezy. Mixtapes are everything, that's the way aritsts are getting signed and getting on." Drama's not letting the threat of raids, busts, or the RIAA change how he plays the game, though. "I'd say that being a true statement about not coming after us, I was even told with one of the stores that got raided down here, that they looked at all the mixtpaes and saw my name and knew my name and said 'he's running it in the south and this has to stop'. I never heard stories of them going after Clue or Kay Slay, I just can't see them coming after me like that. Everything is for promotional use only, as long as I put that statment on my tapes, I'm straight. To be honest the RIAA coming after me...I don't worry about that, that's like worrying about being robbed."
In Miami, FL, mixtapes have been a sore spot for many years, especially when you mention the RIAA. Mr. Marc, owner of mixtape.com and mixtapes.com, was one of the first casualties in the war on mixtapes. "I started in 1993, I was pushing NY mixtapes to a lot of local stores in Florida. In 1998, I took it online and was the first mixtape site out there. I was able to buy mixtape.com and mixtapes.com because no one else owned them at the time. None of that brought any attention on me. I was carrying nothing but mixtapes, but there was a well-known rapper out there who put out his album himself through his manager, basically he'd left his label and started selling the album on the street. The manager approached me and asked me if I'd sell it on the site. Ii put it on the site, and got a cease and desist order from the record label saying that the label owned the masters. I sent the label the remainer of my CDs and I told them who I got it from, 'cause I thought they were selling legally. After that there was no other trouble, until a guy who claimed to own a store in a flea market started coming to my office once a week to buy wholesale. It turns out this guy was an undercover cop. The reason I bring up the rapper is when I was in court, they had a copy of the cease and desist letter. They probably saw the CD, went to my site, and then saw all the mixtapes; that's my assumption. I'm still shocked that all these big mixtape sites are up online. I can't fathom it. I hope they stay up. They didn't touch my site, but they froze my assets. The same day I told my webmaster to take the site down. I couldn't touch my bank accounts, and I owed the government $40,000 in taxes, and the money was frozen in the account. They kept the money too, I had to forfeit it. I spent six months in court, and spent any money I had on lawyers. They stated that they were trying to use me to set an example to scare everyone else."
The raids on Mr. Marc's business created a wave of fear that still permeates the Hip Hop and music business in Miami, driving him to legalize his companies, mixtape.com and mixtapes.com. "What happened to me drove a big shock through Miami, there were just a lot of people scared. I do still listen to mixtapes, but only underground stuff. I never listened to the stuff I sold. Mixtape dot com now is a clothing store, and I sell a lot of independent clothing lines, I like to support them the same way I liked to support mixtapes. At least I know with fashion there's no way for me to get in trouble. I only knew the music industry, I used to do street team work, and I just lost the taste for it after this happened to me, so I started my own clothing line called GraffGear. We give away a lot of free with purchase things, no mixtapes, unless it's a label mixtape, like So So Def's mix CD or the Motown Remixes CD. We started our first one of our own mixtape, featuring independent artists, where each artist pays to be on the CD and we give it away for free. We have Ol' Dirty Bastard, Ras Kass, Sean Price, Trek Life, Chip Fu, and others who paid to be on the CD, and we offer them links to the website as well as a 15-second stream of each song on the mixtape.com site. To start, we're pressing up 3,000 copies of each CD to give out for promos. And now with mixtapes.com, honestly it's just one big portal and links to advertisements. I really do nothing with it but put other people's ads on there. They busted me in 2001. The RIAA, federal postal inspectors, and local police all came in to my office and took me. I went to jail for 8 hours, and I was strip-searched. What where they expecting to find, a mixtape in my ass? I can tell you why they dont go after the DJs, it's a very simple reason. If they went after a DJ they wouldn't find enough to bust him. If they go to a store they're always going to find a lot of mixtapes. There are tens of thousands of mixtape DJs, it's impossible to bust them, and it's not economically feasible for the RIAA to do so. They can't justify going after a guy for his CDs. I have satellite radio, Sirius, they have a 24-hour mixtape channel; mixtapekingz.com has a radio show, every big mixtape DJ from Envy, Green Lantern, Whoo Kid, Cipha Sounds, Evil Dee, DJ Premier, all of them have their own shows on Sirius, and they got them because of mixtapes."
Still, the mixtape game in Miami rocks on, and it's hotter than South Beach. DJ EFN has been able to establish himself and his Crazy Hood DJs quite nicely in this Hip Hop mecca, "I probably started the hosting in like '99 with N.O.R.E. It did increase the sales, and put someone in the forefront of the mixtape. You had someone who already had a fanbase, and 'cause it was a mixtape that artist could talk all kinds of crazy shit, and people really wanted to hear that. I'm proud to say I'm one of the first ones to make the hosting a style and a series, especially in Miami. First of all, I was just real hungry and on the grind. What really helped me was a lot of these conferences that came close to my area like Jack the Rapper and How Can I Be Down? I would go to these people and run up on them. Back then it was different, artists were happy to be known, they were hype! Artists were a lot more humble and easy to approach." EFN is quick to provide a breakdown of the time and money he spends compiling his mixes, "on my mixtapes it's about 60% original and 40% straight from a 12" or album cut. I don't even think leaks exist anymore, 'cause everyone gets the same shit from the internet. You don't even need the internet really, the music comes directly from the A&Rs, and people assisting them. Maybe 5 years ago, if you had a relationship, they'd send you a DAT straight out of the studio. Now it's mass email lists blasting out MP3s. Just the business aspect alone of getting at these artists, and dealing with the managment, and making sure they get you stuff on a timely basis; can be very time-consuming. If they're not in your area, you're doing the politics almost as if you're an A&R on an album. In my case I have my own studio and facilities where I pay my own rent, buy my own equipment - all that costs a good amount of money. Every time you go to the manufacturers, sometimes you have a sponsor, but you're coming out of pocket. Even though I try to stay on cassettes as long as I could, when I went to CD I wanted to stay with the full jewel case; I wanted to look legit, like if someone bought my shit they'd know I put my time and effort in, and really wanted it to be presentable. My tapes were shrinkwrapped, same thing with the CDs, with full credits, inserts on both sides, and shrinkwrapped. Another thing I do is I master my mixtapes, and that costs me an arm and a leg. I'm spending $300 to master a CD, plus $0.60 a pop for pressing them up. Sales figures fluctuate, and they're always changing. I don't know if it's the actual mixtape im putting out, or something going on like someone getting raided. When Marc Furman (Mr. Marc) got raided, everyone across the board was not trying to fuck with you. They were ordering less, and if they didn't know you they might have thought you were going to snitch, it was scary! So now the price of the units has gone down, and the money value of what we can possibly do for ourselves. And you know what's the sad part? It's the new era of computers that has made it to where a lot of people are just slapping it together. They fucked it up for the ones of us who have been doing this for a decade, and the truth is that the game is different now. I wouldn't blame the owner of the store if he got raided and couldn't pay me. We're all dealing with the game where we know that shit can happen. Now I'm hearing that artists are banding together, the big pop artists, they're gettting lawyers and pressing the RIAA to get on people who are doing mixtapes and doing bootlegging situations. I've heard from credible sources that big rap aritsts are doing a class action suit, and pressing somebody to press somebody to press the RIAA. So imagine if they already don't like the mixtape cats, and someone in the rap game is like 'go get them', of course they're going to go after the DJs, like 'fuck yeah, we're going after you, your own people dont want you.". EFN's whole style is based on artist participation, with hosts ranging from N.O.R.E. in the beginning and new artists like Stat Quo today. So it's more than obvious that EFN has the blessing of the labels and the artists when producing his tapes. Still, at retail, it's buyer beware after what happened to Mr. Marc all those years ago. Then again, Miami is home to the largest department of "Hip Hop Cops" and has had more than it's fair share of drama, busts, and investigations over the years. Remind you of anything?
DJ Chuck T, known as The Carolina King, had a run-in with local police and the RIAA through a mysterious online transaction after blowing up the spot on a real-life bootlegger, www.mixsquad.com, "DJs feel the pain of bootlegging too. I know exactly why they're doing what they do, for the simple fact that a lot of things were relayed to my lawyer, and the reason why they're coming so hard is 'cause a lot of the bootleggers are going underground and posing as DJs. The reason why they gotta go so low now is that the consumers aren't willing to pay a higher price for a CD that only has 3 or 4 good cuts on it. It's to the point now that the consumer is only willing to pay 3 or 4 dollars for those albums, so the bootleggers are putting together a "mixtape" which is really a compilation. But now they wanna call themselves a DJ, so now you have a bootlegger who's posing as a DJ! He has no label connects, he's not registered to any of the internet servers for DJs, like musicserver.com or industrysoundbank.com, so basically you've got a dude who's just bootlegging bootlegs, and those are the people who they're trying to bust. Now you have so many DJs coming out every day so you have no idea who's a bootlegger and who's really a DJ. Nobody goes through the proper chanels so the only way they can fight that is by doing what they do best, following a lead, so all of a sudden they get a complaint. The real reason why nothing happened to me is that they did the full background and history on me, and I actually got calls from label reps who said 'my boss asked about you, and have I heard of you? Do I send you music? Are you on my list?' and I told them yes', and that was it," explains DJ Chuck T. "There was a mixtape website that was bootlegging DJs mixtapes, mainly it was a lot of down south DJs, and I exposed the bootleggers. It was usmixtapes.com. I went online and did my own investigation, set up an order, and they were bootlegging; so when I started informing other DJs about what was going on, word went back to them. We had it out over the phone, and on message boards, and the owner was trying to defend himself. It's a little sketchy, I can't point the finger at him and say he tried to get me raided, because the people from the RIAA said there were no charges brought against me. If we'd gone to court, we could have found out through discovery. That's what I figured was happening because out of the blue, out of nowehere, I started getting orders overnight of people asking for crazy amounts of CDs, and naturally red flags went up. So the more and more I started corresponding with the people, the more they started lacking information. Where are you from, what's the name of the store, and other typical questions you'd ask people about mixtapes, or getting on the phone with me - they were avoiding all the questions. In one email in particular, I explained that I sell my mixtape covers for X amount of dollars. They responded with 'how much is it for the DJ Chuck T music CD? We're confused about what your'e selling...' So that right there let me know okay, there's gotta be somebody playing. another thing that alerted me was that these orders were all from free email accounts like Yahoo or Hotmail. All of the stores I've had dealings with have emails through their Comcast account, Road Runner, or their personal account such as mixunit.com. There was a fella I was dealing with who had a site called mixsquad.com, and I had heard through the grapevine that he got busted. He let me know that a company called Grayzone helped bust him and they did the investigagion with the RIAA. So I got hit up with an instant message on AOL from grayzonepl, so I was like hold up, Mixsquad was just telling me about these people, but I didn't want to act like I was nervous or scared. I was like I don't wholesale CDs, I wholesale covers, and he was said, Oh you stay in South Carolina, right?' then he quoted me my address, so I told him nah I don't stay there anymore, that's not where I'm at. The next day I was flying out for the power summit out in New York, when I was there I got the call that all these police were in front of my house. So finally my moms informed me that two detectives in some uniforms stopped by the house. She said they came for something about some CDs, but they didn't seem like they were too sure about what was going on. My web designer said that Homestead, the internet hosting company, hit us up about a call they received from the RIAA saying that we were under investigation for selling bootleg CDs on the website. Homestead shut us down because they didn't want to be liable, so I got on the horn with the lawyer to check the legalities because I didn't see how they could shut down the site without any types of warrants. The lawyer got on everythign, no charges were ever brought against me, and as far as mixtapes I got disclaimers on my site, so there was nothing else they could do." When questioned about the RIAA's involvement with GrayZone, Bradley Buckles had this to say, "I'll tell you the only reason that i know who they are is that I seem to get some kind of newsletter they put out. I've been in this job for a year and half now, and every now and then I get a paper from them, it is summaries of actions that have taken place - it almost looks like a newsclip. I'm not familiar with them doing investigative work, i just am aware that i get their newsletter." When contacted for their response to DJ Chuck T's investigation and the RIAA's claim, Dorothy Sherman, President of Grayzone, would only say "Unfortunately we don't give interviews. We work primarily in an undercover capacity and it isn't appropriate for our clients if we grant interviews."
If you don't consider Minnesota an epicenter of Hip Hop music and the music business, perhaps you should. In actuality, with the success of Rhymesayers Entertainment, Minneapolis is getting more and more love from fans. From the business side of things, Navarre Distribution is based just outside of the Twin Cities and the two largest retailers for music in the country, if not the world, are headquartered there - Best Buy and Target. And for those fans looking for compilations instead of mixtapes, and who don't want to end up in handcuffs getting them, a 100% legal alternative has sprung up at a St. Paul-based company called Mix and Burn. A subsidiary of IBM, Mix and Burn is described by CEO Steve Russell as a service that "offers retailers who sell CDs and DVDs solutions that permit retailers to migrate from a physical goods distribution model to a more profitable media on demand model. The first stream of revenue for retailers is a new product, the ability for customers to create and burn a personal compilation CD of music tracks from all of the major labels (and soon content from leading independent labels). Also coming is the ability to download music directly to a digital music player." In layman's terms, Mix & Burn will effectively burn out the current influx of compilations disguised as mixtapes. And there are no red flags when it comes to artists' or labels' publishing rights. "Mix & Burn is contractually obligated to remit all fees due artists and publishers to each label who in turn distributes to the appropriate parties. The payment of artist fees and mechanical royalties was built into the original agreements," Steve Russell explains. And for Hip Hop lovers who want full songs or even full albums from a huge selection, Mix & Burn currently has a burnable database with 315,000 tracks - which will increase to 1,000,000 tracks once independent labels are connected with Mix & Burn - 25% of which fall under Rap, Hip Hop, R&B, and Reggae/Dancehall genres. And it's all 100% legal.
But in the 'hoods of the Twin Cities, the hustle continues. Mixtape and club DJ Stage One stays on his grind - when he's not spinning at one of the local Hip Hop clubs or shopping for records, he's at home planning, recording, mastering, manufacturing, and duplicating his mixtapes. "I've been making tapes since about '88, the first tape I sold was for $10. I started on cassette, it's more mainstream now with the CDs, the difference is that as far as the era goes, mixtapes around here weren't as widespread as they are now. It was kind of like a force-feeding process, you had to go out of your way, the mixtapes wasn't the thing out there at the time. I used to make blend tapes, or use all the latest stuff, and I used to do best of's. I was doing this instead of graffiti, so I didn't know anything about what everybody else was doing except fables about how this tape made it to Germany, or whatever. It was to listen to while I was piecing and going out doing graffiti, everything else was a means to an end." Stage is in the unique position of being the one to put local artists who've reached out to national artists music in the streets - something that the local Radio One station would never do. "On Street Cinema Vol 1, the Mr. Cheeks track is with this group called Dead End based out of North Minneapolis. They gave me a rough copy on CD and we just went from there. They're tracks that deserve motivation, but ain't getting any. I'm gonna help you get heard. I basically just otok all those tracks and put em out 'cause they were just in the vault. I wanted to wake up dudes, 'cause I wanted to wake up the community. We definitely need more creativity around here, and even rivalry. I don't see a mixtape culture out here just yet, as far as artists tyring to develop mixtapes and covers, but that's what I'm trying to do. " Locals won't find his mixtapes on sale at the retail outlets like Urban Lights or Fifth Element, says Stage, " They're a little worried about that, they'll buy a couple, there's been a series of raidsn so everybody's afraid right now, all the mom and pops. It's not a good look right now 'cause the RIAA don't really understand what's going on. Yeah, my CD might be illegal or whatever by copyright law, but in reality i'm not bootlegging - I'm taking pieces of songs and flipping it into my own composition. You have other guys who are faking it, making track after track, but we came to suffer the most 'cause we dont' have the UPC codes or the money, so when they come through on the sweeps they look at it like a bootleg, not knowing we created it to put it out for the love of the game. They got these Hip Hop cops and they're going off the first directive. The government really has a long way to go, but mixtapes will never stop because it's an underground outlet."
Many purists and the DJs themselves are quick to downplay DJs who are making compilation-style CDs disguised as true mixtapes. DJ Risky Business was one of the first DJs to make a nationally-distributed artist mixtape - in 1991 he and Chicago freestyle king JUICE recorded 100% JUICE which was distributed through NuGruv Alliance. Because of his background and history recording original mixtape content, Risky clearly recognizes the need to eradicate bootlegs. "Labels supply us with records, that's the double-edged sword. I am anti-bootlegging, because it hurts our industry for the DJs that present mixtapes in the orignal format. It's detrimental for our livelihood because the people who are involved in trying to bust this don't know anything about the culture and can't differentiate between a mixtape and a compilation, then the good die with the bad. I would suggest that the RIAA make an attempt to start being able to differentiate from the bootlegs versus the street mixtapes. The labels hand us the material to put it out, and then they turn their back. There's no law or physical boundary that'll come out of this. The RIAA is still the record industry. At the same time, they both need to understand each other. With the way bootlegging is going, the streets are backing the record industry into a corner and they're gettitn defensive, and they have money or power. The industry has to protect itself and I do understand, but it's like the drug industry, the government is feeding the material to us to do it, then they turn their backs." DJ Drama is disgusted with the "mixfakes" that are flooding the marketplace today, "They're fucking it up for everybody. Mixtapes are like rap, it's as American as apple pie, you can go on the internet and get a bunch of songs, and it's nothing to get fly cover nowadays and slap it together. It's like a supermarket full of mixtapes, but it's only so many Kelloggs and Quaker Oats, and it's a lotta Kroger brands. They're not the true art form, it's been lost, there's even an art form for making exclusive tapes. The rules are being messed up, nothing's sacred, and they're makin it easy for the law to come after mixtape DJs. If you wanna stand the test of time, you gotta know your history, study the craft, and respect the art. With the surge of the internet, the outlets are so different. it used to be the nigga was in a small little town making a mixtape and now he's on the internet, but when your shit sucks people take notice. I mean, I guess you gotta pay attention to the game, it's a whole culture, you can't just jump in and know who's hot and who's not. There was a time when Whoo Kid was the new nigga on the block, and it looked like who he trying to be, Clue? They used to front on me, and now I can pretty much sell to whoever I want."
One mixtape DJ declined to be interviewed for this article after learning that the RIAA had been contacted for comment stating simply, "It's not a good look." Other artists, like Littles, aren't afraid to air it out and have some things to say to the RIAA, " There's not a lot of money in mixtapes. A DJ makes a dollar off it at the most, all the work he gotta go through to get exclusives and shit, so the RIAA has to figure out does it want the game to flourish and blossom and bloom, or does it want it to just diminish. Or is it over for Hip Hop? If the mixtape game is gone, a lot of new rappers and a lot of heavyweights are gonna go right along with the mixtapes, and then you'll have to wait for their albums to hit the shelf. When I see my stuff bootlegged, i'm happy it's bootlegged cause I know i'm hot. I only know a few stores who got hit. I'm gonna be honest with you, it's the RIAA doing it, they ones putting pressure on it. The way music is going now, the only record company that's standing firm is Interscope, and how long is that gonna last? How many more Young Buck, 50 Cent, Banks, and Yayo albums is gonna keep going? The only reason why they so strong is 50 cent and the rest of them blew up off the mixtape circuit. I've been around the world 'cause of mixtapes, 'cause of mobb deep albums, 'cause of Nas albums, but the mixtape circuit has helped me the most, a person would rather go in the store and buy a mixtape than have 50, Littles, Jadakiss, Mike Jones, and a whole variety on one tape. Right now you can't go to the store and buy a Littles album 'cause i'm not in the major chains, so if you're a Littles fan you have to get my music from one of the mixtapes. Bottom line is, if you take away the mixtape circuit, you're gonna take away the next big thing. There's no such thing as artist development, artists are coming in the game ready to hit the shelf. There are no more artists being found and worked from the ground up, the labels aren't investing that kind of money anymore. The mixtapes cuts slack for the label, you end up on a big mix CD, and that ends up on Canal Street? People from all over the world are going to Canal Street, and the product is ending up in Portland, Milwaukee, Mexico...who knows? There will be a point where DJs are gonna stop putting the mixtpaes out, 'cause they're not gonna take losses."
Underground king Bun B thinks that the labels are making a big mistake fucking with the mixtape DJs and retailers, " Well you have to understand as far as UGK was concerned we were kind of ahead of being broken by the mixtapes. As far as solidifying the reputation and the stuff we did with DJ Screw it got to a point that no matter how strong your studio album was, if you didn't associate yourself with one of the chopped and screwed DJs, people didn't even want to hear your shit. I can credit DJ Drama, DJ Smallz, DJ Jelly, DJ Funky for allowing me to be able to do my new stuff like MDDL FNGZ, my new artists out of Houston. I think the problem is that the labels are getting mixtapes and booglegging of albums misunderstood. There's a difference, artists ourselves are giving the mixtape DJs our music to keep our focus out in the street, so that when we put out an album on the shelves that people will go out and buy them. If the labels try to shut down the mixtape game then people won't have a sense of what's hot in the streets. The labels, they're going to lose a lot of money in the end, I think."
Even within the insular Hip Hop community, there are some mixed feelings about bootlegs and piracy. Independent artist Tragedy Khadafi, who's been on both sides of the game as an artist signed to major labels (A&M, Gee Street Records) and as an independent, grassroots artist with his own label, 25 to Life Records, sees a way to make bootlegging to his advantage, "First of all, if you really look at it, all sides have a valid angle. From the RIAA's side of things, if it is that organization's true goal to stop bootleggers, and to stop them from mass producing mixtapes - which the bootlegger may not have even paid the DJ for - that's commendable. I deal with these same bootleggers directly, 'cause I'm not just looking to make a monetary gain, but to gain in the promotional aspect. Any store or quote-unquote mixtape distributor who says 'give me 10 copies and we'll see how it does'? That's bullshit, you have machines in the basement and you're making copies. I'm just gonna hit you with something that's cool for the streets to get right away, 'cause not only do I pick up a little cash, but now the bootlegger is inadvertently working for my promotional street team. In essence, they've become my employee, but they're paying me to work for me."
So what do the pioneers have to say about this sad state of affairs? Afrika Bambaataa - who talked exclusively with SOHH.com while preparing a new compilation called Everyday People: the Breakbeat Party Album - explains that while mixtapes themselves are not an element of the culture, they are a derivitive "I wouldn't call the mixtape an element of the culture 'cause it still falls under the category of the DJ. It's mixing records that are already done. Mixtapes are good, some people might want what's happening now, but some people might want the oldies but goodies, the true school, the funk mix, the salsa mix, the reggae mix, or the Temptations mix, so sometimes it's better when they get a mix CD or a mixtape." Afrika Bambaataa, the Godfather of Hip Hop, was one of the first DJs to create "pause" tapes on cassette back in the day. "You have all the technology to do CDs now. back then it was just the pause cassette tape and you get that certain right cassette deck to pause and use certain types of 8 tracks where you could add things ontop of each other and change it and pause it. if you look at the old breakbeat records Flashin' to the beat was one of the Afrika Bambaataa with we did along time with Afrika Islam." That legacy reached all the way to the west coast in the 1980s, with DJ Muggs from Cypress Hill " We used to do them back in the day just for the neighborhood in 85 or 86. back then they were on cassette. we wouold use 4 tracks sometimes, and mix 3 or 4 differnt songs on top of each other and other times go back to back on turntable, the 4 track ones were more intricate, and that's how we learned to produce records. back then we would put songs we'd done and whatever the hits were, whatever you liked, it was hard to get tapes 'cause most of the industry was 12"s." Muggs stopped making mixtapes at the height of Cypress Hill's popularity, but he started back on CDs in 2002, " It was more for promotion, to keep my name fresh out there and to promote things. I look at mixtapes just like flyer, but on a CD. For the Soul Assassins they gave me a record deal for me to do whatever I wanted to do, and now in 2005 we have our own label, Angeles Records. It's all in line to follow those years of promotion, with both a Self Scientific album and my album with The GZA "Grand Champions" dropping on the same day, October 25th." After more than a decade of experience dealing with major label politics, DJ Muggs is a prime example of using the mixtape grind to his advantage to further the reach of his music.
Kid Capri, often called the Prime Minister of Mixtapes, got out of the game early because of the illegality of mixtapes. Still, respect is due to Kid for pioneering this art form as well as the business practices of being a mixtape DJ. "I was doing it with Starchild, DJing in the S&S club, then we were making battle tapes right there live. Then I started playing at Studio 54 for the summer of '86 or '87 . After I finished there I was still doing parties and shit but I didn't know how I was gonna do it, and I went back in the streets and started doing the mixtapes again in 1990. I would sit up all night and take 5 or 6 different tapes I had made to make the master, then go buy 100 tapes and copy them, and go out the next day to sell. See, I made $20 a tape, not negotiable, and I'd sell out in an hour. My tapes was always 20 dollars, and the bootleggers would come to buy one of mines then copy it. The way I did it was I had a couple of stores I went to and I gave them a clear copy of a copy of a master, and that's how I would charge them a price and then whatever they sold it for. The reason for me stopping was when I got my first album deal, I saw a magazine that said Kid Capri was the only DJ to ever make a million dollars from mixtape sales. I had a real problem when they was bootlegging my official album around the city, but back when we were doing the regular mixtapes it was a fact of life. Mixing, most of the time I wouldn't even lay the hit record, I would play an album cut, but DJs started coming and making mixtapes using 5 songs out of one album, taking money out of the artists mouth, that's when it became a problem. There was only me and before me there weren't any mixtape DJs, then after me Triple C, and Ron G. and Doo Wop came along. How Doo Wop even managed to get on at that time was when he made the battle tape, and I heard it and I made a joint back, and that was the last mixtape I made - he made like 50 tapes against me. December 3, 1991 was the last time I made a mixtape and put it out."
The new-millenium mixtape surge on the west coast is largely based out of Los Angeles, with one of the major players being a crew called Strong Arm Steadyk, made up of Xzibit, Krondon, Phil the Agony, Mitchy Slick and DJ Will Blast. Mixtapes comprise their major source of name recognition, which has blown out of proportion in the past three years - they've manufactured over 150,000 copies of their mixtapes for distribution and promotion. Will Blast is the first to admit that on the left coast, the mixtape game differs heavily from its east coast counterpart. Will Blast explains, "We don't utilize it the same way as New York, we use it as a promoitnoal vehicle. In three years of doing mixtapes, that's our major vehicle of getting people to know about Strong Arm Steady. We've increased 100 fold, and the impact is unprecedented for the west coast situation. No groups have ever been made on the west coast from mixtapes, except The Game, Snoop Dogg, and Strong Arm Steady. We've released 34 mixtapes, exclusives with Xzibit, Krondon, Phil the Agony, Mitchy Slick, Planet Asia, Self Scientific, Bad Azz from the Dogg Pound, myself Will Blast, Ras Kass, Sly Boogie, Snoop Dogg, and The Game - the whole west. As the DJ, I organize the music, do the edits, fly the drops, and engineer protools sessions to put all the tapes together. Strong Arm Steady has been a mixtape group to this point, and now our album will be coming out by 2006, as we've now acquired distribution. You can't really sell a mixtape, you have to sell stickers. That's what Fat Beats and the stores on melrose and the valley do, they give it away as a promotional item. It's a promotional item, the way we get people in tune with us, if we give it away at a concert or at Earl's Hot Dogs, we're just making sure people get that shit." With promotional mixtapes fueling the fire for a distribution deal, Strong Arm Steady has branched out to the south, and come up with a unique way to combine their mixtape releases with product placement, explains Will Blast. "Our new stuff is with Juvenile, and a tape with BMF & Young Jeezy. In terms of product placement, we have a tape for Dada for Xzibit's shoe the Dada X (10), and we just concluded a mixtape for X's movie, State of the Steady XXX 2." And although Cornerstone Promotions pioneered the use of mixtapes for branding and product placement, their mix CDs and DVDs are distributed only among an elite list of industry insiders. So for mixtapes being given to the fans, branching out past artist-hosted mixes, and hooking up with major corporations to promote products, could prove to be a growing trend in 2006 which will change the economics of the game.
On the tip of artist-endorsed mixtapes, New York's J.Period made his name in the mixtape game with his "best of" series, which started with The Best of Nas. Parlaying his label relationships and making the most of label-sponsored listening sessions, J.Period explains, led him to create a new form of mixtape that listens like a movie, or an audio book. "The first was the Best of Nas, where the interview material came from a listening sesssion for God's Son at the label, then I asked him for his endorsement. The second one was Big Daddy Kane. I got to really sit with him and interview him. The Lauryn Hill I did out of love for her music, and I was prepared to do it with or without her, so it was a matter of scavenging to find resources for interview material and then getting her to endorse it with drops, and involving her in every step of the process. More involved was rohan marley, he was my connection to that project. Now I'm working on the best of Q-Tip, and down the road there's a best of Buju Banton, which I got by way of his manger, Tracii McGregor, who looked out for me and got me a dub plate from Buju for the Lauryn Hill project. I think that, particularly in Ms. Hill's case, is there's a fair amount of alienation between the label and herself, and a lack of communication. The labels are producing only one kind of content, and that's the kind that will sell, and with the ease of downloading music from the internet, file-sharing, burning CDs, and IPods, the only thing that can survive now is major artists with major sales. One of the only reasons Interscope is still in business is they have major artists with major sales. In the case of Lauryn Hill, the label expects and demands huge sales of her records, and what she wants to do is create music from her heart. The creative process is not one that was designed to be dicated by money. I am trying to walk a very delicate line, as a mixtape DJ all of the labels support me, and they send me records because I do what I do, and in a real way I am on the ground promoting with the resources they can't touch. Now there's this issue of the RIAA and tracking people down for piracy, but what's most fascinating for me is that I'm dealing one on one with the artists and they support me more than anybody. The point is that because I'm in a postion where I have access to the artists, I can also then gain attention of the labels and make them consider the possiblity of putting out the mixtape as a legitimate form, where I do a promotional mixtape that is actually released directly by the label. I think i'm starting to see attitudes slowly change about this, but of course the media's always going to gravitate toward the most sensational story. It makes for good entertainment, this is what they make TV shows about - crime syndicates. I think it's an easy target for the same reason why the form is so supported by the labels. It's because there's a lot of light on it, but no one really understands the way the network works. Music, especially Hip Hop, is rebellious, so kids are always going to go for mixtapes, in order to get what no one else has." J.Period also recognizes the role the media plays in the sensationalization of mixtapes as crime, "The way media works now is that both good and bad can blast out to the whole world in a half a second. For the media who don't understand the mixtape business, and in the midst of all this talk about piracy, it's an easy target. They don't care to look close enough to examine the dynamics of how it really works, and how the labels fully support it, or how it's one of the last remaining authentic means of promotion in an industry where the focus is on putting out a ocuple of singles, the albums suck, and so no one buys them. The industry eats itself alive, 'cause they don't want to pay an artist to create a real concept album. Now people only want the singles, which they can download. No rules that apply for what you can and can't do, so it goes back to the origins of Hip Hop, it's the last remaining true Hip Hop creation becasue everything else is dictated by money and what sparked Hip Hop was shine, and doing the dopest shit, and that's what every mixtape DJ is trying to do."
As you can see, the hustlers and dealers in the mixtape struggle have 99 problems, but what about some problem-solving? "Everybody knows what it is, it's against the law, it ain't like it's a secret. You're not paying artists, you're not paying taxes, and everybody knows that. So it ain't like i'm saying anything big, it's just that I got out in time, before I ever got caught. I remember (Governor) Pataki was doing sweeps and they named S&S, Wop, and everybody; and then they said Kid Capri was known for selling mixtapes in the early 90s and made a phenomenon out of it that everyone else followed. They didn't say that I was still doing it, or making money from it, when they was putting the task force out. I said somebody's going to go get in trouble, and then a cat in florida, Mr. Marc, he got rocked. It's good for dudes that's out there who don't have no album deal, it's a way for them to get heard. The only thing is it will come to a point where you're gonna have to put your own original music on there. They're doing sweeps, they're going to stores, it's on. Even though there's a lot of money being made in the mixtapes, I had to get out of it and hopefully they'll find a way they can become legal, " hopes Kid Capri. Even Bradley Buckles, who was at one time the Director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF), offers some suggestions with regard to the future of mixtapes, "They simply have to start complying with state law which apparently they aren't doing, and that's entirely in their hands. If they started doing that right away, there wouldn't be much basis for law enforcement getting involved, unless they rose to the level of what would involve a copyright infringment suit. Do I see it in the future that labels could someday formally auhtorize this in terms of copyright? I'm familiar with some cases where the more famous DJs have signed with the major labels. DJ Clue is one, and DJ Danjamouse who's on the new Ying Yang Twins CDs, those are the two most prevalent cases. That would be one way to do it, or some system for authorization directly to the DJs. Those are issues that every member company of the RIAA would have to think about and decide on." The Recording Industry Association of America, to which most labels and distributors belong, in a sense has to answer to it's members, the major labels. But DJ Kay Slay, known fondly as The Drama King, isn't feeling the labels on this one, "I think it's a double jeopardy situation, as far as the record labels are concerned they're being two-faced, because they'll call a major DJ to say 'I need you to put this on your mixtape', or they got this new hot wack cat, like 'I'll give you this jadakiss, but I need you to throw MC Wacko on there'. But then when the RIAA comes around raiding the stores and taking the music, then they're working with them. It's cool when it's to their advantage, but when the big boys come around it's all Scooby Doo."
Kay Slay himself built his current empire and reputation as "Smack Your Favorite DJ" in the streets, with his mixtape releases. And there's something to be said for DJs and artists who jump in the mixtape fray with a plan to get in, heat up the streets, and segue into the legal hustle. The Diplomats are a testament to this, explains Jim Jones, "Our mixtapes are just promo items for the most part, those are our free giveaways for the poeple for all the dedication that they've put into our movement. All our mixtapes are put together like full albums, but 'cause they get into the streets we call them mixtapes. Im not gonna lie, in the beginning we were selling 30,000, 40,000 copies of each mixtape, that's how we got our Diplomats deal with Roc-A-Fella in the first place. A lot of people capitalized off the mixtapes to get deals. G-Unit's success had to do with the whole mixtape game, and The Diplomats had the same blueprint. Dipset, More Than Music Volume 1 is the first official compilation of all Dipset, all new material from me, Cam, Juelz, J.R. Writer, and Hell Rell...we kept it real nice, but it puts you right in mind of the mixtapes you get from the streets. It's the closest thing to marijuana that you gonna get in the stores." Coming out of Queensbridge, Tragedy echoes some of the same sentiments "It's like drugs almost, how do you keep track of crack? How do you keep track of weed, nickel bags, pounds, or ounces? If there were some type of forum called where people came together - label representatives and mixtape DJs - and if the record labels and the RIAA also came together so there was some type of organizaiton and structure to how the mixtapes are being distributed, what numbers are going out, and to keep track of what's being sold versus what's being bootlegged; it would be realy hard to monitor. I don't know if mixtape DJs would work with the RIAA and the the labels, for the simple fact that the president of the label is gonna say 'I don't approve of that,' and the promotions guy is going to say 'we had to make it work and we need the mixtape DJs'. Whatever it may be, the solution has to be a joint effort."
Of the three major labels contacted in hopes to secure an interview with a label exec or A&R representative, none responded, so there's no way to provide information about possible solutions to the problems facing mixtape DJs, retailers, , or the labels themselves from their perspective. However, the truth is out there, and some answers may come from an unlikely place - your movie theater. Producers Walter Bell and Jerry Thompson have the information in their hands in the form of a feature-length documentary film entitled Mixtape Inc. The documentary, which now in the process of securing distribution, stars Kanye west, David Banner, DJ Clue, Tony Yayo, Young Buck, Lloyd Banks, DJ Red Alert, Muhammad Ali, Kay Slay, Ron G., Lil Jon, Sickamore, Ed Lover &amp;amp; Dr. dre, and DJ Jelly; and features the exclusive story of how Danjamouse created The Gray Album and was approached by EMI. According to co-producer Walter Bell, "We see hipocracy and we see it on both sides. I believe that the urban community has a lot of power; we determine what happens in music, fashion, and youth culture. If the DJs were to come out and say 'these A&Rs call us every day' - if they came out and organized - the copyright laws can be altered but they can't be shut down. DJs are making money off of mixtapes, and labels are making money off mixtapes, and the RIAA is being paid to look the other way by their salaries. It's easier to go after the retailers, but that's the end of the line, it doesn't change anything. One thing we're stressing is that this film is about mixtapes, and we do talk about the history. As well as the present, and that part is "the Inc." because this is about mixtapes and the business. One thing that surprised us was as soon as we started rolling our cameras and turning on our mics, they all talked. They were a little hesitant because they didn't know what was gonna happen. We're not afraid to say that with this movie, this guy's making a living, or this guy's paying for his childs private school education. We know people who are bulidng homes, not buying homes, off of this game. It's time that we take the power and use it. It's street in one sense of it, but it's a hell of a business endeavor that rivals Wall Street, and it has an incredible structure. We made sure people were looking at the camera, and talking directly to the audience, saying 'this is how we do it, and this is who we are'."
With the emphasis of Mixtape Inc. on the "Inc.", Walter describes the making of the film as an unprecedented learning process. "We learned so much about business just making this movie. These guys are great businessmen. It's like going to Harvard business school except these are businessmen who hustle creativity who survive and make a living, and why can't they? The labels are feeding these DJs - they are feeding them by giving them the new releases. We've been asked a few times do we feel like we're going to bust the game, we love Hip Hop, and we're not going to do that. When Mixtape Inc. hits Europe, these kids are going to go to school for this. We made Hip Hop, and there's no more music in the world right now. Is it a gang? There are employes on the payroll - they got people doing it for them - and the Africans are the employees . That person has to get it out to the streets somehow. So you have the CEO, the management, and you have the 9 to 5 employees. Big Mike ain't going to every store and dropping off mixtapes, he's leaving a master. With this structure they're making it work, they're getting it out to the people, and the labels are coming from this perspective - 'you run a good business, just let me be your client, and we're going to play along with it, but we have to bust a few stores and get a few headlines'. Why hide when we can thrive? Why do we continue to hide our shit from the people who are making money off of our talent and our hustle, and providing us with the product? It's like drugs! We don't fly the product into the country. You know what? They can count on us hiding, they can count on DJ Vlad saying 'whoa, I can't talk about this', They can keep him in his place. It's only gonna change when we stop hiding. We got the same response doing this movie, but in the end the DJs got comfortable and spoke on what was really going on. This is a documentary - we didn't write a script. That's why we named it Mixtapes Incorporated, it's both, it's mixtapes and incorporation. That's one of the things we get from just showing a part of the movie, most people had no idea there was this whole business structure - they think it's kids in the projects playing records. Tell me one job in the hood that's unpaid. No one wants to work for free, and the more time you have, the more the demand is there for you to do more. You have got to get paid because you're spending your time DJing. We approached this from a place that in our heart we're filmmakers making a movie, a film we shot for theatrical release, but we want to tell a story and we discovered the story by filming it to entertain and record . We spent 140 hours shooting footage, and we digitized 90 hours of it - it took six months before we even started editing."
Mixtape Inc. co-producer Jerry Thompson explains that the film shows the raw power of the mixtape DJs and their network, "If you take Hip Hop on the creative side, they have cliques. So if you have an artist you're tring to develop, you put him on the mixtapes in order to get him out there, so when he gets a deal you get a piece of that. DJs as a group have an extreme amount of power, but everyone is failing to look at the bigger picture - they're all just micromanaging their own thing and going for self. The mixtape game is a lot like any other type of business, in that you have the manufacturers, the distributors, the salesmen - an entire chain. But the best way to describe the mixtape game is like the drug game, where you have all your players and they do what they do, but there's only one person that sort of gets recognized for what the product is. There's always that one person who heads it all, but there's such a structred network beneath it all - strategically using the Chinese and the Africans to bootleg your own mixtapes - that takes a lot of business savvy. You need that network of bootleggers to do it, you could do it on your own, but why not capitlaze on the effort? It's much more than just the DJ making a mixtape and dropping it off here or there. The DJs are so focused on what they're doing that they're putting out these mixes, yet it's illegal, and people are getting busted. It's like this - you have a girl at home and even if she knows you're fucking around on her, she doens't want it in her face. I had a conversation with Justo (Rest in Peace) sometime last year and we touched on the whole issue with the RIAA. The one comment I remember him making is that DJs look at the game as if you are in a relationship, and the record label is your girl - they don't care what you do, but the minute you start bringing that shit home, they start having a problem with it."
Some of the major DJs in the game have words of caution for new-jack DJs "on the real to real, everybody more or less that's just getting into the mixtape game should find something else to do," believes Kay Slay. Others in the game see a light at the end of the tunnel in the form of a DJ coalition or an official alliance, on the record, between label reps and mixtape DJs. At the end of the day, the majors, distributors, and the RIAA should exercise caution before they decide to raise the level of attacks against retailers and DJs in the war on mixtapes. Now that Hip Hop is bonafide as the #1 music in sales and popularity, not just in America but the world over, the power of the mixtape and the DJ is irrefutable. And those outside the culture have to pay their respect to how this now-commodified Rap game got its start and made its way around the world. Afrika Bambaataa said it best "the tapes was the first albums that got out to the people so they could learn about the culture around the world. If it wasn't for us getting around from city to city, taking it from place to place, the music wouldnt have spread so far, so fast. From the cab drivers playing the cassettes in their cabs, and people sending it overseas to their cousins, it just started spreading from those first tapes that we did back then." Rap sells records, and mixtapes move on the block, but Hip Hop is a global movement that is not for sale.
- Miranda Jane (http://pyramids2projects.blogspot.com)