Mixtape review

Back in the day when I was a teenager, I was what was called a “Bedroom DJ”. I was not as skilled as those doing the clubs or the high school dances. I would practice for 8 hours on Saturdays and then go out with my friends and usually play the tape I made in my car. Those were the days, practicing my mixing and making mixtapes to listen to with my friends. While I knew about mixtapes from the stores and people I hung out with, I really did not know the history behind them until now.

Mixtape, the latest documentary on Paramount +, gives us a fascinating look into the history of the mixtape. We get some great information as to how the phenomenon of mixtapes started and their eventual downfall. From recordings of local parties to DJs starting to record songs together to DJs getting unreleased songs on their tape Mixtape really gives you all the information on this part of the Hip-Hop culture.

DJ Drama in Mixtape, streaming on Paramount+, 2023. Photo credit: Paramount+ ©2023 Viacom International Inc. All Rights Reserved.

What is crazy to see is how the mixtape blew up and started spreading to all parts of the world. People in Puerto Rico, Tokyo, Paris, and London learned about this art form through the people that bought the tapes from the United States and took them back home. DJ Clark Kent talks about how he would take boxes of his mixtapes to colleges and the tapes would just travel to different cities from all of the various college kids. Kids from the suburbs would travel into the city to buy clothes, drugs, and mixtapes and take them back to the suburbs.

While everyone was out making mixtapes, a few of the DJs would start doing things to stick out from the rest of the DJs. DooWap was the first DJ to have MCs on his mixtape. He would have them rhyme over the instrumentals and after that other DJs started getting MCs to rhyme on their tapes. This led to DJs starting to think of ways to stand out. Some DJs would start paying interns at record labels to get songs before they were officially released and put those songs on their mixtapes.

Between stories from Tony Touch, Kid Capri, Stretch Armstrong, Lil Wayne, DJ Khaled, and DJ Drama, amongst others, we see rappers like Che Lingo, Jadakiss, and Jeezy performing over instrumentals for an upcoming mixtape. One of the great things about this documentary is seeing the evolution of the mixtapes. From tapes it evolved to compact discs and the first DJ to put his mixes on CDs was DJ Clue. DJ Clue was also the first DJ to have exclusive songs that were only available on his mixes. Mixtapes were used to another level by 50 Cent and Lil Wayne. They would use the beats that were hot at the moment, write their own lyrics over them, package them, and sell them. If it was not for this method 50 Cent would not be as big as a name as he is. I will say the interviews with Lil Wayne are fantastic and make sure you watch all of the credits for an extra bit.

Mixtape also gets into how the rise of mixtapes started getting under the skin of record labels. It was a double-edged sword. Some labels enjoyed the free promotion of their artists while others did not like the loss in profits due to low sales of the artist’s albums. While some took advantage of mixtapes (Tommy Hillfiger) others were made an example of why mixtapes were evil for record labels (DJ Drama).

Jadakiss in Mixtape, streaming on Paramount+, 2023. Photo credit: Paramount+ ©2023 Viacom International Inc. All Rights Reserved.

I will say that watching this documentary made me miss my turntables and my records. Sadly, it is all in storage and one day I will be able to bring them home and maybe start teaching my kids how to mix and maybe they can make their own mixtapes.

My DJ set up back in the day!

Shoutout to the Chicago DJs whose mixtapes were the soundtracks to my summers: NonStop, DJ Boogie Boy, Spryte One, Intel, The Molemen, PNS, Panik, Cash Money Brothers, Presyce, Stizo, J-Bird, and 3rd Rail.

MIXTAPE is the story of hip-hop refusing to take no for an answer. Before radio play, the internet, and social media, there were mixtapes. DJs were tastemakers, trendsetters, and creators of the sound that became the biggest musical genre on the planet. The importance of mixtapes goes well beyond the tapes themselves. Mixtapes were a form of currency and a signifier that someone was “in the know” and had their ear to the streets. The culture was too strong to be stopped, and the artists were too talented to be ignored – so they turned the sub-culture into the mainstream and made hip hop what it is today.

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