Are Mixtapes Making Hip-Hop Music Too Disposable?



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In the calendar year 2013 Gucci Mane has released six mixtapes. Well let me be more accurate… “six mixtapes that I personally know of”  and there might be more. In the last few years artists like Tyga, Wiz Khalifa,  The Weeknd, Smoke Dza, Mac Miller, and The Game have released multiple album length projects of original music (that’s songs with original production not just jacking an existing instrumental) and called these creations “mixtapes”.

These are basically free albums but their ubiquity in the genre and the frequency with which they’re released lead one to question the amount of effort the artist puts into the tracks. Way back in the pre 50 Cent era artists driven mixtapes were rare and usually comprised by DJ’s based on b-sides, remixes, and material that was never intended to see the light of day.  But now the frustrating process of relying on a label’s marketing department/ street team to keep your name relevant between proper budgeted releases can be avoided by savvy emcees looking to keep their fanbases interested. So the mixtape model flourishes. And we continue to listen because sometimes these mixtapes are genius. But the risks associated with a mediocre or wack effort are little. In 2013 after all it’s not like anyone actually pays for mixtapes.

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So emcees check into the studio daily and turn making music into something akin to a 9-5. The result can vary depending on an emcee’s creative process. Some have a cadre of frequent collaborators at the ready to offer support. Some prefer to work in solitude brooding over even the most insignificant ad lib and some can walk into the study at 3am on a Monday morning and have the mixtape on datpiff by 3PM Monday afternoon.  What this leads to inevitably though is disposable raps. Some rappers can reach their creative peak before the first album even drops. Some can have very inspired moments on these mixtapes where they are basically workshopping ideas for their main releases like a comedian building up their set  before an HBO special. Rick Ross for instance had a mixtape called “The Albert Anastasia EP” that was basically a rough draft of what the album “Teflon Don” became. (It also was the first place to hear massive hit single “BMF”).

But when an artist drops a mixtape every quarter, or sometimes even more than that, it can be hard to distinguish what makes their proper releases special. Two artists in the past that have fallen victim to this in recent memory have been Big K.R.I.T. and Currensy. Both of whom dropped major label debuts that failed to distinguish themselves quality wise from any of their “Street Albums”. While consistency can be great it begs the question is the money I’m paying for this actual CD or am I just rewarding the artist because of their entire body of work?

In the greater scheme of things great emcees or even halfway decent ones know that creating a great body of work and making timeless music is important. Other emcees rush the market to stay relevant and can sometimes inundate us with throwaway raps. When this bleeds over from their mixtapes into their proper releases (I’m looking at you Lil Wayne) it can severely damage an emcee’s creative reputation. Maybe in 2013 those artists with the proper work ethic are the ones who use these mixtapes to promote their touring efforts. After all albums were originally meant to promote performances not the other way around.


E. Knight lives in Philadelphia. Check out his blog Read more of his AHH Blogs HERE.

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