Hip-Hop Mixtape Mania

As the record industry continues to be reeling from both legal and illegal downloads, it seems they have a new facet to worry about; especially in the hip-hop genre. Many artists are starting to prefer the mixtape game as opposed to the studio one. Benefits include garnering street cred, not having to deal with executives who want to change you, and not having to worry about getting lost in all the red tape, which is the fate of many a hip-hop album.

At almost half the price of regular CD’s, mixtapes are not only better in content but they’re much cheaper. And while they may not be found at most stores, mixtapes are easy to order on the internet. A couple of the top websites are mixflavas.com and mixunit.com, where you’ll find a variety of mixtapes at $5.99.

Talib Kweli serves as the perfect example of an artist who excels in the mixtape medium but seems to falter with his studio releases. His last studio album, “The Beautiful Struggle,” was considered by most critics to be a disappointment. There was no doubting that he was a talented emcee, but his album didn’t always reflect that. Kweli followed that album with the release of two mixtapes, “The Beautiful Mixtape’s vol. 1 & 2,” both of which are far superior to Kweli’s studio records.

There’s a certain mystique surrounding artists who either die or retire at the height of their success. We just want to keep hearing them. Perhaps there is a lack of quality lyricists out there today, or perhaps these guys were just that good. Either way, it’s nice to hear The Notorious B.I.G. and Jay-Z on a mixtape together, even if the verses are ones we’ve heard before. DJ Cinema and DJ Mello’s mixtape “The Commission” is the album that never was; a smooth collaboration between the clever storytelling of Biggie and the witty wordplay of Jay-Z, and it’s undeniably enjoyable.

Kanye West has added to his big year by appearing as host on two mixtapes, Mick Boogie’s “Second Semester,” and Clinton Sparks’ “Touch the Sky.” “Second Semester” is mostly songs featuring Kanye; including live versions of “Diamonds from Sierra Leone,” and “Heard ’em Say,” as well as collaborations with Common and Little Brother. The mixtape also boasts a couple great tracks without West, most notably Aura & Clipse’s “Crazy, and current Lupe Fiasco hit, “Kick Push.”

Much to the dismay of big record companies, the mixtape market is here to stay. Mixtapes simply serve too many functions to go away. For the artists, the mixtape is a way to generate a buzz, create a grassroots fan-base and thus an anticipation that builds and builds until the studio album is released, resulting optimally in huge first week sales. For the consumer, the mixtape is a way to get a variety of hot songs at a good price.

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