Friday, January 19, 2007

Mixtape Martyrs

War on music

Pitchfork media had a news item on their site yesterday about DJ Drama and DJ Cannon’s Gangsta Grillz mixtape operation getting busted by the po-po.
Here’s an excerpt from Pitchfork’s article, as reported by Dave Maher:

"A SWAT team raided the popular mixtape DJs' Walker Street studio and confiscated at least 50,000 CDs, computers, recording equipment, money, bank statements,and cars. 17 people were detained, but Drama and Cannon were both arrested.Saying the RIAA had investigated the business for a while before the raid,RIAA representative Matthew Kilgo expressed eyebrow-raised amazement at the two's Gangsta Grillz franchise: "These guys are actively advertising online.They've got a website that they're advertising from. That's where you place your order, and that's how the orders are shipped out."
Adding insult to injury, Fulton County police officer Major E. A. Platt said, "In this case, we didn't find drugs or weapons, but it's not uncommon for us to find other contraband when we execute a search warrant."
The TV reporter concluded her segment saying, "Authorities tells us this is a big problem in Atlanta,because Atlanta is known as the hub for the Southeast. They say anytime anybody wants a CD, they know they can find it in Atlanta."

Let me start by saying that I’m not sure who originally raised the beef with the GangstaGrillz, or if they were doing some shady, bootlegging bullshit on the side. What I do know is that there is a difference between a mixtape and a bootleg. A big difference.

A bootleg is when someone buys a copy of an album,makes a million illegal copies, and then sells those copies, thus making money off of a knock off and depriving the artist of any royalties .

A mixtape is sort of a combination between a dj mix, a demo, a radio show,and a compilation. They are either scene-focused, DJ focused, or Artist focused. Mixtapes serve three major purposes: They help promote a local scene, they help promote a Dj, or they help promote an artist. Mixtapes are successful and popular not only with fans but with artists. They are an inexpensive way for artists to promote themselves and get their music out there, and they are often released a little bit before an album is released to build up excitement. Most mixtapes feature exclusive, remixed album tracks,and "freestyles", which are basically new rhymes over other artists' beats.


A few months ago I bought Lupe Fiascos ChiTown Guevera,a mixtape by DJ envy to build excitement for Lupes oft-delayed Food and Liquor album. It featured stuff lupe had done with other artists, remixes of his"Kick, Push" hit, new album tracks, and lupe rhyming over beats from the gorillaz. Most of the tracks were abbreviated, as they typically are for mixes. The mixtape worked – it showed me what lupe was capable, and made me hungry for more.

Here’s another example: Fifty Cent made his career on his mixtapes. He made several before he was picked up by interscope/aftermath.

The game has released a billion mixtapes in between albums. Chamillionaire isknown as the mixtape messaiah. Lil' Wayne has made major waves with his recent series of "Dedication" mixtapes with Gangsta Grillz.

These aren’t bootlegs – these are works to promote underground music, to promote artists, and to give fans the chance to hear the artists in between official releases. True, there is a ton of money in mixtapes, and a lot of the songs and samples on them haven’t been cleared by the original artists. It maybe that there are shady people releasing shady mixtapes that basically generate a ton of money off of other artists' hard work. However, the majority of mixtapes have at least tacit approval from the artists on them, and a lot of them are endorsed by rappers.

Gangsta Grillz are even affiliated with TI's Grand Hustle records, and beyond doing work with Grand Hustle Artists,they've been in TI's Front Back video and had a cameo on his movie "ATL". These are not pirates cranking out bootlegs for sale at your local swap meet.

The crack down on Gangsta Grillz is a sign of both how totally out of reality the record industry is, and how completely out of touch with hip-hop fans they are. I understand the concern about people bootlegging and downloading music without the artist seeing a penny of it. If a label spends millions of dollars producing and promoting an album, they deserve to see some return on their investment. If an musician spends time and effort creating a piece of work, they deserve to be compensated for it. I don't buy the idea that kids with 2000 dollar computers , 400 dollar x-box 360s, ipods, cell phones,exclusive nikes, etc don't have the cash to spend on music. That's bullshit. So fine, as we move forward in the digital age, we should find a way to make sure that labels and artists are able to support themselves with the music they make and release.

What the industry is doing, however,is trying to pretend that it is 1990, and grasping on to a business model that doesn't work anymore. Guess what guys? Your margins just got tighter,you can no longer expect to get whatever overhyped, overproduced crap you put out to go multiplatinum, and there is just too much music out there to expect consumers to buy all of it. Deal with it.

The other thing about the Gangsta Grillz arrest that bothers me is it is yet another example of the recording industry putting a stranglehold on creativity. Ever sincethe courts decided that biz markie had to pay big bucks for a seconds long sample, the ability of producers and djs to use samples in their work has been drastically restricted. While this may keep people like vanilla ice from making beacoup bucks off of a queen bassline, it also means that the sonic collages created by the bomb squad, prince paul, dr. dre, and a lot of other early producers are now illegal. As much as I'm behind people getting paid for their work, I also think that people ought to have some right to use the images and sounds we are constantly bombarded with and reinterpret them in their own way. The RIAA (and motion picture industry, and adversting industry, etc) want us to absorb every bit of media they put out, but they also want it to be in its own bubble, unchangable,forever a proper representation of whatever brand it is supposed to be.

The cops in Atlanta also didn't seem to be able to draw the distinction between DJs and drug dealers. True, there is well-publicized intersection between the hip-hop world and drug world, but that doesn't mean that everyone with two decks and some recording equipment also has a direct line to columbia.

I'm curious to see how DJ Drama and Canon fare, and see just what the law thinks they have on them. I'm hoping this doesn't mark the beginning of the end of mixtapes. If so, the record industry just hacked off its own foot with a rusty saw. Dumbasses.

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