Originally published February, 2010
The mixtape, combined with the internet, is an exciting phenomenon to me: partially because it enables artists like myself to get music out directly to people who may have the opportunity to listen, but also because I see it as the continuation of tradition. This might sound a little odd to some – to put the mixtape in the storytelling tradition – but bear with me for a moment.
Storytelling, like other oral traditions, is often based on the reinterpretation of thoughts and ideas. The stories our mothers told us are often the stories their mothers told them. Stories are re-adapted and reinterpreted to suit the teller and the audience. The idea of oral tradition is simple: conveying messages, ideas, news and expression by way of words and the expression of those words. Hip Hop obviously is not stranger to this idea. Hip Hop inspired an entire industry to begin sampling and in fact created an industry around sampling, beat making and DJing–all creative ways using technology to recreate and reinterpret something that already existed by manipulating it. Of course there is a constant debate about this process and whether it is “art” but that’s a topic for another day.
The mixtape (which these days is rarely if ever an actual cassette tape) is a fairly recent version of this idea of reinterpretation. When i was a teenager I used to make mixtapes. Back then a “mixtape” was more of a personal compilation of songs or songs from different artists on a particular theme. I used to make mixtapes on a regular basis. I would go to Sam the Record Man and by a new high quality blank cassette come home and organize my tapes, CDs and vinyl according to what my theme was. I had Hip Hop mixtapes, soul, jazz and tapes that were for a particular mood or occasion. When my boys came over there was a tape for that, when I was feeling down there was a tape for that and if a young lady was coming over, there was a tape for that, too.
The mixtape has evolved though; it is something different now. It has become a tool for hip hop artists to reinterpret songs from their perspective, taking instrumentals from other artists (who now readily put them up on youtube and other places on the internet) and changing their meanings. In the last few years mixtapes have blown up not only as a creative outlet but also a means for promotion and. with the freedom of communication afforded by the internet, artists have been able to become well-known in the mixtape world without being signed and without having an actual album out.
Artists these days have more freedom to create an audience for themselves than before, taking back power from the record companies that in large part have been exploiting artists from the birth of the recording industry. This and the other major change in the music industry – downloading – has been upsetting to an industry that isn’t quick to adapt to new things. Either way, artists now have much more ability to build a direct relationship with their audience and be more independent (for better or worse) than ever before.
Love and Other Struggles (my latest) is the third and final installment of the September Nine mixtape series. Vol. 3 was created as an exploration idea and reality of love. Not simply romantic love (although that is a big part of the topic explored) but love of community, love in friendship, love of family and love of self. This mixtape is an attempt to express many sides of love and the ways in which we deal it. It is the last mixtape that I will be making before my album which I hope to release this summer (finally).