Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Mixtape Industry Under Attack

Mixtapes are an essential part of hip hop marketing and promotion, but more than that they are a self-contained art project. Notable mixtape producer DJ Drama was taken into custody last night for a practice the RIAA is deeming illegal.

The practice of hip hop mixtapes has been popular among east coast DJ's since the late seventies, but has had it profile raised in recent years. A mixtape is compilation CD put together by a DJ in collaboration with either one artist or several. The product is produced quickly, packaged cheaply, and spread through underground distribution. Containing remixes, freestyles, mash-ups, record labels and copyright law play no part in the process. I would assume 50 Cent, Nas, Clipse, Lil Wayne, and anyone else who produces a high number of mixtapes find the value of promotion outweighing the value of copyrights. A 2004 MTV report entitled Mixtapes: The Other Music Industry noted that labels have not yet pressed the copyright issues, while questioning if they would.

In the same story, Jermaine Dupri commented, "I think once we start letting all these companies get involved in it it's going to get blown out of proportion, and it's going to get taken away from where it needs to be. They need to stay away and continue to let the DJs do what they do — break artists."

The profile of mixtapes raised in 2005 when - after multiple delays of their album's release - the Clipse released a pair of critically-acclaimed mixtapes. This landed them of best of the year lists, while giving the group a product to promote while record company politics was being sorted out. In 2006, Lil Wayne gained a claim for a pair of mixtapes - the first of which, Dedication 2 was featured on Pitchfork's top 50 albums of the year. Dedication 2's DJ - DJ Drama - is the first mixtape DJ to come under fire from the RIAA, having been taken into custody last night. MTV reports, "Drama (real name Tyree Simmons) and Aphilliate partner Donald "Don" Cannon were taken into custody along with 17 other individuals Tuesday. Police seized over 50,000 mixtapes in the raid, according to reports from Atlanta's Fox affiliate, WAGA."

This is a surprising and somewhat disturbing development.

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