Mixed Up About Mixtapes

Written by Adario Strange on . Posted in Arts & Film, Posts.

The drama over the DJ Drama story is pretty interesting, but I’ve seen this coming for years. How mixtape DJs managed to get away with openly selling entire mixtape albums full of material that wasn’t theirs for so long has always fascinated me. The RIAA doesn’t always get it right, but if they’ve set their sights on mixtapes, this could be a good thing. The NY Times offers a couple of good points:

"Public performance of certain mixtape material ‘is probably good
promotion,’ Mr. Buckles said. ‘When you start selling them by the tens
and hundreds of thousands, I don’t know that anyone is saying that’s of
great promotional value.’ Even in the case of DJ Drama, whose
mixtapes have been credited with stoking the careers of artists like
Young Jeezy, Lil Wayne and last year’s best selling rap artist, T.I.,
it appears not everyone applauded inclusion on his recordings. The
police said lawyers representing an array of artists sent
cease-and-desist demands protesting the unauthorized use of their
music, though they declined to identify the artists."

On the other hand, NY Times critic Kalefa Sanneh just made a good point on WNYC radio this morning essentially saying that record labels chasing mixtape DJs would be tantamount to newspapers prosecuting blogs. Not a completely sound argument, but there’s enough there to make you think. For example, mashups are great, but if you notice, they aren’t usually for sale. Mashup artists offer them up for free, as they should, given that they have no legal right to profit from the work. In that case, sure, the promotion might be worth it to a label to leave the mashup artist alone. But if anyone is saying that DJ Danger Mouse should have been allowed to sell The Grey Album without making a deal with the associated artists–well that’s just crazy talk. Nevertheless, this sounds like what we’re being asked to accept (from some outraged fans/pundits in the hip-hop community) with many mixtape DJs. Hopefully, this episode will inspire more legitimately talented mixtape artists to go legit and stop selling unlicensed music.

*Full Disclosure: Back in 1991 I teamed up with the RIAA to release a record called "Counterfeit" which helped promote their 1-800-BADBeat anti-piracy efforts.