On March 7, U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle (D-Penn.) used the congressional floor to defend mixtapes and remixed music as “transformative new art.” In his advocacy of more lenient copyright laws, Doyle referenced mixtape king DJ Drama and mash-up impresario Girl Talk. Drama’s recent arrest on charges of bootlegging has pushed the debate over the proper uses of copyrighted music into the national spotlight.
The media’s coverage of the mixtape phenomenon generally focuses on the legality of the format and leaves little room for actual discussion of the tapes themselves. From classic ’90s releases by Tony Touch, Doo Wop and Ron G to the current tapes by Kay Slay, Clinton Sparks and J Period, mixtapes have continually pushed the creative envelope and worked to establish a direct line of communication between an artist and his fans. In recent years, mixtapes by DJ Drama, Lil Wayne and Clipse have been thoroughly praised and chronicled by the music press. But with new tapes released every week, many notable releases remain relatively obscure.
DJ Green Lantern – New York State of Mind
In 2004 Green Lantern was tapped by Capitol Records to help promote the upcoming release of the Beastie Boys’ To The Five Boroughs. The end result is New York State of Mind – a blend of the Beastie Boys’ biggest hits with some of the most epic hip-hop instrumentals. The concept alone is enticing, but it’s Green Lantern’s flawless execution that turns the Beastie’s classics into 21st century bangers. “Pass the Mic” is reimagined over “What Up Gangsta” and “Dipset Anthem” while “Hey Ladies” is updated with the bounce of Biggie’s “Hypnotize.” On the tape’s opener, “Hold It Now Hit It” (originally produced by Rick Rubin in 1986) is blended with “99 Problems” – a Rubin beat from 2003. It’s the seemingly effortless blends and timely guest appearances by Busta Rhymes and Clipse that make New York State of Mind a must-have for any Beastie Boys fan or mixtape enthusiast.
Lupe Fiasco – Fahrenheit 1/15 Part III: A Rhyming Ape
When 50 Cent’s strategic use of mixtapes propelled him to stardom in 2003, aspiring rappers took notice. To build buzz for his major-label debut, Chi-town wunderkind Lupe Fiasco distributed three mixtapes for free on the Internet. The third installment of Fahrenheit 1/15 features Fiasco rapping over loops from the Gorillaz’s Demon Days album. His intricate wordplay and astute social commentary brings greater specificity to the politics of tracks like “Kids With Guns” and “Every Planet We Reach is Dead.” On his remix of the foreboding “Last Living Souls,” Fiasco is critical of the artistic direction of his peers: “Expand your horizons from . rappin’ and rhyming about cocaine supplyin’ / And clappin’ is anyone out there or are y’all all absent?” When his verse segues into the original song’s refrain of “Are we the last living souls?” it sounds as if Fiasco is recording right alongside the cartoon band.
Joe Budden – Mood Muzik 2
Similar to Clipse’s We Got it 4 Cheap series, Joe Budden’s Mood Muzik mixtapes show just how critical mixtapes are to today’s hip hop climate. Because of a shaky relationship with Def Jam, Budden has yet to release a follow-up to his self-titled 2003 debut. In an effort to keep his name afloat, Joey has taken the mixtape route and released two critically acclaimed volumes of Mood Muzik with DJ On Point. Budden uses the tapes as a form of catharsis – it’s not uncommon for him to rap for six minutes about his shortcomings in the industry and past battles with drug abuse. Mood Muzik 2 finds Budden embracing this introspective style and shying away from the club songs and punch-line-centered raps on which he built his name. “Forty Licks” is a lucid rumination on his emotional well being: “I’m like an old man with no friends or family / Tryin’ to cleanse what he’s got left of his sanity.” DJ On Point simply adds sound effects and personalized drops – Budden’s invigorating rhymes are all he needs to catch anyone’s attention.
DJ Dirty Harry – The Warriors
This 2005 Dirty Harry tape was released in promotion for the video-game treatment of the cult ’70s gang flick “The Warriors.” DH peppers his blends with battle cries from the film and dialogue from “Casino” and “Gladiator” to establish a gritty cinematic feel. The tape’s highlight is an ingenious reworking of G-Unit’s “I Don’t Know Officer” from the Get Rich or Die Tryin’ soundtrack. Using snippets from a collection of Jay-Z a cappellas, DH splices together various Jigga lyrics to recreate the G-Unit chorus word for word. His addition of a verse from Nas’s unreleased “Sometimes I Wonder” made it (at the time) the closest thing to a real collaboration between the two rap giants.