“In hip-hop today, free, original mixtapes have become standard. They’re offered on websites like DatPiff.com and LiveMixtapes.com, which have erased CD-peddling bootleggers from city street corners. DJs — like Doo Wop and DJ Clue — who once shouted over tracks on popular tapes like ’95 Live and Springtime Stickup, have been almost entirely weeded from the equation. And where MCs once hijacked beats from others to serve as the sonic quilt for their release, mixtapes have become a creative survival of the fittest. Rappers who dropped freestyle mixtapes can no longer show-and-prove through lyrics alone-original beat selection, artwork and overall artistry determine worthiness.
“The original mixtape approach has also crossed genre lines. Artists in the R&B realm have likewise adopted the format, most recently The Weeknd and The-Dream with “Thursday” and “1977,” presented as a “free album.” Pop singers have even dabbled in mixtape releases. JoJo, whose label disputes have been made public over the past few years, dropped her debut mixtape “Can’t Take That Away From Me” in September 2010, while dance diva La Roux teamed with Major Lazer for May 2010′s “Lazerproof,” a collection of artist-approved original remixes.
“The game favors people that can produce quality music and then turn right around and produce more quality music-which is not a given,” Atlantic Records VP of A&R Zvi Edelman says. His signee, Wiz Khalifa, leveraged free, original mixtapes like 2010′s “Kush & OJ” and 2011′s “Cabin Fever” into the building of a dedicated fan base that helped, along with an intensive touring strategy, make his Atlantic/Rostrum Records debut, “Rolling Papers,” one of the few hip-hop debuts to sell more than 500,000 copies (it’s now at 570,000, according to Nielsen SoundScan) in 2011.”
Read the full story at Billboard.