There isn’t a hip hop fan in the world that doesn’t own some sort of a hip hop mixtape. Whether it’s homemade or professional, whether it’s got underground hip hop, gangsta rap, abstract hip hop or old school, there’s got to be at least one somewhere in there (if not dozens) and its presence alone confirms the existence of a tendency that has spanned over four decades and that doesn’t seem to decrease in popularity at all. On the contrary: as the number of tech feats increase, the means of perpetuating this activity also grow.
In any case, ever since the eighties, it became a common practice for an emerging underground hip hop artist or group to use a hip hop mixtape in order to gain appreciation from record companies or simply popularity among potential fans. In this case, the hip hop mixtape in itself would vary slightly from the original mixtape concept, as it could contain tracks from the same artists (even if they’re a mix of some sort), so it became difficult to draw the line between this and an actual album. A way of drawing that line would probably be generated by the necessary production costs, as the tracks on an underground hip hop mixtape would probably be demo versions, without the usual mixing and mastering that come with the normal production of an album. However, just like albums, they would have a large number of collaborations (something common for hip hop in general, for that matter) as well as freestyles and interludes.
Such a mixtape would wither be send to a record company or given away for free at a concert, although they can also be sold, in a less expensive case than the one albums usually come in. Recently, however, the practice of releasing them in mp3 format over the Internet has also become extremely widespread. If they must be sold, this usually goes on in the street or through mail order. Artists often rely on friends and fans to spread the word about the mixtape, as advertising costs are generally as low as production costs, also as compared to a normal retail album. Sometimes, an underground hip hop group may release a mixtape in order to become more widely known, while an artist with an existing deal may do the same thing with a different purpose, namely that of promoting fresh material.
The importance of this practice is so high that it’s been the subject of a documentary, as well as included in several others with a subject somehow related to underground hip hop. Although it’s essential for the industry on the overall, large record companies regard it as bootleg or pirated material.
Author: Ken Wilson