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Spin: DJ Drama, The Art of Yelling on a Mixtape

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My column’s back after a short break that happened for reasons that I’ll explain in a little while. So yeah, this one’s based on a pretty awesome conversation I had with DJ Drama about the aesthetics of mixtape hosting and his new album, Third Power.

DJ Drama, boisterous on record but relaxed, almost samurai-like over the phone, intones his rules for mixtape hosting: “I only talk at the beginning of the song…I never talk on top of the rapping…I give it a concept…” This shit should be obvious, his calm seems to connote.

But it isn’t. Just listen to others like DJ Holiday, who puts together great Gucci Mane tapes despite his total disinterest in mastering, OCD rewinding of totally whatever verses, and a whiny, grating “hooollliiddddaaayyyy ssssseeeeeeeasssonnnnnnnn” drop. Then there’s DJ Khaled, who can’t even scream like he actually cares all that much and endlessly mines a posse-cut formula that rotates a small clump of rappers to diminishing returns. Even “I’m on One,” as near to a perfect a rap song as we’re going to get this year, is almost derailed by a grunting appearance from Khaled’s omnipresent buddy Rick Ross.

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The Mixtape Crackdown and File-Sharing

Everyone has heard about this by now. My initial response was the same as everybody’s: outrage. It’s a pathetic choice by a pathetic, out-of-touch association and yeah, those news reports were messed-up, basically racist, and definitely rap-a-phobic. However, if this is to have a happy ending I think people are going to have to look at it more reasonably. This stuff was totally illegal and only accepted because before, it wasn’t so flagrant.

The argument for mixtapes harming record sales is tenuous but not non-existent. For example, before Mixunit removed all of their mixtapes on their site, I was looking at the latest volume of ‘Purple Codeine’ because it has a bunch of unreleased Jeezy tracks (presumably from the same sessions as ‘The Inspiration’) but also because it has ‘Throw Some D’s’ on it. Five years ago, if the average music listener wanted ‘Throw Some D’s or any hit song, they would just buy the whole album, now, between iTUNES, illegal file-sharing, and mixtapes, there’s no reason to buy Rich Boy’s CD. Everyone benefits except the actual music industry. I don’t care but I can see why the industry would. The RIAA hasn’t succeeded in going after file-sharing or increasing CD sales, so they’ve gone after something that has a lot less impact: mixtapes. What else is new? You can’t find Bin Laden, so you enter Iraq.

I would say that the file-sharing controversies and how both the RIAA acted and how music dorks responded, would be a good lesson on how this mixtape stuff should not be handled. Let’s go back for a moment and recall the glory days of Napster…

I was in 10th grade and spent hours on my 56k connection downloading random songs. Then, I got a cable modem and would spend a few minutes after school just downloading whole albums of anything that seemed interesting. Brian Eno’s 70s albums? Click. Tribe Called Quest’s entire discography? Click. Then, bands like Metallica complained and I thought they were a bunch of whiners but I couldn’t front and say they didn’t have a point. The file-sharing crackdown pissed me off because it really did make me buy more CDs: I suddenly had access to all of this stuff and would often go buy it! This was the argument that many (including myself) made and at the time, the numbers proved us right: file-sharing did not negatively affect CD sales. But the argument isn’t true anymore because now everyone knows about file-sharing. Stroll through any large parking lot, look into a few cars and you’ll see a couple of CD-Rs resting on the seat or look at the sun visor and one of those faggy-strappy CD holders will be full of CD-Rs.

I have no facts to base this on, but I’d argue that what made CD sales drop was the increasing normalcy of file-sharing coupled with the rising significance of iPODS. Although, iPOD has found a way to offer “legal” downloads, anyone under 30 years old with an iPOD has some illegally downloaded files. Before iPODS, file-sharing, although not that much of a hassle, was still a pain in the ass. Too much of a pain in the ass for the average music listener. Now, your friends’ albums as well as both legal and illegal mp3s can just be quickly loaded onto your iPOD and you can take your music in your car, to a party, for a jog, whatever. The combination of file-sharing and iPODSs has probably negatively affected CD sales, hence the delay between file-sharing’s popularity and declining music sales. Of course, because iPOD essentially plays the game and because they are so damn popular they’ll never be accused of harming music sales. Again, what else is new?

When Napster was shut-down, people should have just admitted file-sharing was downright illegal instead of coming up with a million bullshit reasons why it was okay. People tried legal jargon while others just made moronic assertions about anarchy. Notice how then, the target being primarily white, rock music nerds, the screams were of how file-sharing was an example of “anarchy” and government oppression of such ideas, while the victim of this mixtape stuff is primarily a black or a racially-aware audience, so the screams are of racism. In times of crisis, you can always depend on opportunism to overcome honesty.

I recall attending the New Jersey Wu-Tang show the night before ODB died and being next to a dude who puffed joint after joint. This was in the Meadowlands, so it was inside, and he was probably ten feet from an usher but nobody busted him because in a situation like that, it just sort of becomes okay to smoke-up if you keep it under control. He was only reprimanded when he took his joint with him to the bathroom. I’m assuming the same is true in places like Bonarroo or even Jimmy Buffett concerts. I imagine that if suddenly, someone spiked a vein and started shooting heroin, that usher who has been ignoring clouds of weedmoke, would suddenly walk over like, “Hey, not cool.” DJ Drama is shooting heroin in the Meadowlands while all the others are smoking weed.

The guy made his fame off of ‘Gangsta Grillz’ and there’s no way he isn’t making money. I know he is because I was in a Best Buy in Baltimore City and saw a CD version of ‘Dedication 2’, with a conventional jewel-case and all. If you go to any FYE type store, you’ll stumble upon a couple of ‘Gangsta Grillz’ selling for retail price. It was only a matter of time. It is disturbing that the RIAA may really not understand the difference between bootlegs and mixtapes, but what else is new? Rap music is ridiculously popular while also being incredibly subversive. That’s a huge reason why I enjoy it and why I’m only annoyed and not appalled by those few dinosaurs left who still refuse to consider it music. It’s really hard to understand. Furthermore, a lot of rap writers and musicians are megomaniacally protective of their “culture” be it through one of the many forms of rap elitism or arguments based on identity politics that don’t allow whites to comment insightfully upon it. So, no one can get angry when a bunch of square white guys that certain, self-appointed representatives of “the culture” have alienated, don’t understand mixtapes. You can’t expect the average person who isn’t aware of the hyper-complex, performative aspects of rap, to understand that just because a mixtape has gun sound-effects on it does not mean that the DJs are criminals. It’s obvious to me but maybe not so much to someone who doesn’t even understand how a mixtape is different than a bootleg. So, as Noz said, “Know Your Enemies” but maybe sympathize with them too.

Written by Brandon

January 18th, 2007 at 4:41 pm