The Economy of Mixtapes: How Drake, Wiz Khalifa, Big K.R.I.T. Figured It Out:
On Feb. 13, 2009, the mixtape paradigm shifted.
Aligned with Lil Wayne, the then-unsigned Drake, who’d spent the few years before releasing buzzy mixtapes (rapping over hits), unleashed his almost entirely original mixtape “So Far Gone.” He did so on his website, October’s Very Own, which quickly went into bandwidth overdrive. Reportedly, to date, there have been millions of downloads.
Drake — whose platinum debut, “Thank Me Later” (Young Money/Cash Money/Universal Republic), bowed atop the Billboard 200 the following year (July 3, 2010) — had redefined the mixtape model for the digital era. (He released three free songs through October’s Very Own as recently as last week, with second album “Take Care” due Oct. 24.) Far from its adolescent iteration, the mixtape-a compilation of music generally distributed outside of label purview-had evolved from a mere display of DJ skills to a promotional tool packed with exclusive freestyles to an actual album-before-the-album, one that could spawn chart-topping singles like “Best I Ever Had,” without labels at the helm.
In hip-hop today, free, original mixtapes have become standard. They’re offered on websites like DatPiff.com and LiveMixtapes.com, which have erased CD-peddling bootleggers from city street corners. DJs — like Doo Wop and DJ Clue — who once shouted over tracks on popular tapes like ‘95 Live and Springtime Stickup, have been almost entirely weeded from the equation. And where MCs once hijacked beats from others to serve as the sonic quilt for their release, mixtapes have become a creative survival of the fittest. Rappers who dropped freestyle mixtapes can no longer show-and-prove through lyrics alone-original beat selection, artwork and overall artistry determine worthiness.