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Listen to Mixtapes

 By Ari Allon    

Mixtapes have been a vital part of hip-hop culture since the 1970s, back when they were known as party tapes. The old mixtapes of the 70s allowed music fans to collect and share the great music they experienced while out at the club or that hot new joint from an up and coming artist that hadn't gotten their big break yet and wasn't available on the radio.

Old mixtapes typically featured a variety of tracks and artists including unreleased exclusive tracks, freestyle sessions, special DJ mixes of popular songs, artists speaking out on current events or topics that affect the hip-hop community, and chopped and screwed tracks, which consist of popular songs played at slower speeds and layered with scratches and cuts. Sometimes a mixtape would essentially be a single artists entire unofficial album.

Things haven't changed much in the last three decades. Young hip-hop artists are still relying on mixtapes to get their names and music out to the streets. After all, when 50 Cent's album, Get Rich or Die Tryin was released on the Shady/Aftermath label in 2003, he already had a strong street following from his success as a mixtape artist.

50 Cent himself called mixtapes the entry level of hip-hop and credited much of his mainstream success to his ability to saturate the street market through his earlier mixtape releases. The fans that listen to mixtapes and were already familiar with 50 Cent's signature style eagerly rushed out to pick up his first big time album when it dropped.

Almost every hip-hop artist, producer, and label exec acknowledges the importance of mixtapes to the hip-hop community. LL Cool J, P. Diddy, Jay-Z, and Roc-A-Fella CEO Damon Dash have all praised mixtapes as conduits to getting new talent and important messages out to consumers.

I personally love mixtapes and believe that anyone that considered himself a true hip-hop affectionados should go out of their way to collect and listen to mixtapes. Much of the history of hip-hop is contained in those mixes and many new, up and coming artists can be found on mixtapes long before they appear on mainstream hip-hops radar. While producers of mixtapes listen to feedback from the streets, they don't have to cater to industry standards, so the fans get the variety and innovation they crave. Mixtapes are a joy to experience and, for those that have never taken the time to pick one up, I highly recommend you give mixtapes listen.  

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