The Art in Mixtapes.

The positives that come with the Internet and social media is something that receives consistent recognition. It’s ability to connect people and the way it provides platforms to share moments and ideas are two commonly cited points, but its influence on music, Rap to be specific is something we feel is overlooked.

Before the Internet became the main avenue through which music was distributed, aspiring rappers would often focus their efforts on attracting the attention of major labels in the hope of being signed. Labels were the power holders; they had the ability to invest in rappers, pairing them with top producers, placing them in the high-end studios, and giving them the platform where their music could be heard globally. Sounds great, however, rappers would often find themselves in debt, depending on how many records were sold. The behind the scene costs would be billable to the rappers and as they were always the last to get paid it could leave them in a position where they owed the label.

The Internet and popularity of online mixtapes changed the ability of rappers to promote themselves, distribute their music, and in turn placed greater power and control in their own hands. You’d often hear labels controlling rappers/artists, pushing them to create music that would ‘sell’ and achieve mainstream success, in turn compromising the vision and the type of music they wanted to create. The Internet allowed for rappers to distribute their music directly to a worldwide audience without the ‘permission’ of labels and in mastering this, rappers have created the art in mixtapes to empower themselves as a business. The access to millions of ears, the ability to make undiluted music, and take control of their overall image, meant that they could develop their own fan base. The option to tour independently off the back of mixtapes gave unsigned rappers the opportunity to monetise their art, even in its earliest stages.

The greater focus on maintaining independence and not signing unless the deals were right, signified a change in the relationship between rappers and labels. Three of the biggest names in Hip-Hop today all eventually signed to labels off the back of popular mixtapes, Drake with Comeback Season (2007), Kendrick with Overly Dedicated (2010) and, J.Cole with The Come Up (2007) and The Warm Up (2009). Having a solid fanbase from distributing mixtapes prior to signing meant that the rappers didn't have to compromise, subsequently having deals that provided them with significant control.

The UK Grime and Hip-Hop scene, although not as well funded as its American counterpart, shows rappers/MCs using the internet as a constant platform for distributing their music. Collectives such as BBK (Boy Better Know) notably Skepta and JME, and other prominent MC’s within the Grime scene began their rise to prominence from Youtube freestyles and online mixtapes, which continues to be an avenue followed today in the genre. We now see BBK and Skepta drawing the recognition deserved, performing across the UK and U.S., receiving cosigns from artists such as Drake and Kanye West, whilst staying authentic to Grime. 

Boy Better Know - Skepta, JME, Frisco On Westwood BBC 1Xtra Part 1

For us at 94Five, the internet is where you can find out about a lot of the up-and-coming/underground artists that we love to share and put you on to. Keeping you up-to-date with whats happening in the world of music. However, we wouldn’t be able to do so if it weren't for rappers taking the initiative and not settling, so we can hear their message unfiltered and un-compromised.