R&B artist K’Jon took the world by storm with a soulful song called “On the Ocean.” After signing with Universal Republic Records, his debut album I Get Around landed at the number one spot on Billboard's Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Albums in 2009. Success has just begun to shine its light on K’Jon. But his latest project is not a new album, or another hit song, it’s a mixtape: K’Jon Presents Nick Speed and The Detroit Connect, Volume I .
“Doing mixtapes is like exercise, it keeps you sharp and creative,” K’Jon says. “All it is doing is making you a better artist and writer and that is going to make you more marketable.”
Mixtapes have always been a promotional tool for up and coming artists. They were originally the work of deejay’s who would mix songs together during live shows or parties and sell them to the local community. But now, mainstream artists are embracing the art of the mixtape, as well. Lil Wayne, Young Jeezy, Fabulous, and T.I. are just a few artists who have used mixtapes to generate hype and keep their fans anticipatingtheir upcoming albums. Lil Wayne, in particular, has become more popular off the strength of mixtapes like, Dedication 2and Da Drought 3 (which generated huge media exposure and critical reviews) than his albums. Dedication 3, the sequel to Lil Wayne’s “Gangsta Grillz" trilogy, released in 2008, sold over 70,000 copies in the United States even though it was available for free download.
“Mixtapes are popular because it is closer to the music that they [artists] want to make,” says hip-hop artist Magestik Legend. “It is the core of the artists.”
Many of the artists who have gained success in the music industry started out by releasing mixtapes to the local public.
Before he was signed to Universal, K’Jon released two mixtapes, “Yes Sir” Street R&B mixtape volume 1, and The Making of a Hoodlum Street R&B Mixtape Volume II. K’Jon built a local and national fan base from his single “Yes Sir” off his first mixtape, which generated attention overseas and was played in clubs and on the radio in various states.
“Mixtapes are good for conducting with the people and I was fortunate enough to have DJ’s circulating my music in the clubs and on the radio,” K’Jon says.
For the past year, Drake has been the poster child for hip-hop success — and it’s all thanks to mixtapes. His third, So Far Gone, broke records. Downloaded by more than 8,000 people in less than two hours, So Far Gone was later released as an EP in the wake of its viral success. It sold over 500,000 copies.
Where people find mixtapes now is changing — not just out of the trunk of some guys’s car. Magestik Legend recently released his first mixtape, To be Continued, (mega mix) Chapter 1, online. “I’ve learned that you have to flood the market,” Magestik says. “Your power is in your music, but it’s up to you to get it to the people.”
Not only do artists promote their music through social networking sites, but there are various mixtape websites available for people to both purchase and download the latest mixtapes from local and national artists. Ronier Golightly, also known as DJ Babe, runs mixtapedjs.net, and also founded mixtapemakers.com. “I started my own site as a way to get my music out there and mixtapeDJs.net did really well when it first started out,” Golightly says.
Although it is easier for artists to get their music to the public by releasing it online, some artists say there are pros and cons to releasing music on the internet.
“Pretty much anybody can make a mixtape,” says Michael Buchanan, aka DJ House Shoes, who’s ambivalent about the trend. The internet is a double edged sword; on one end it gives access to way too many people thinking they are DJs, but for artists that have quality content, it’s easier to get their music to the masses,”
Marcel Friday, founder of the hip hop website Whutupdoe.com says that he looks for authenticity when deciding what kind of mixtapes to promote on his site.
“I have to like it. I like for my website to speak for me personally and the people working for the site, so I’m not going to put something up that’s going to compromise my integrity and compromise things that we wouldn’t support otherwise,” says Friday.
In addition to the marketing strategies that go into promoting mixtapes, the material that goes into the making of a mixtape can also affect its value. Mixtapes can either be composed of original beats or artists can rap or sing behind beats that have been covered by popular artists. “There is a certain level of creativity that has to go into rapping over someone else’s beat. If all you are going to do is rap over a Jay-Z beat, then you are promoting Jay-Z,” Magestik says. “Artists need to spend more time trying to get other artists on their beats or try to use a less popular beat.”
Along with rapping, DJing, break dancing, graffiti, and beat boxing, mixtapes are another element of hip hop that originated in the local community, made its way to the mainstream, but continues to be nurtured as an underground art form. | RDW