March 10, 2005



Hip-hop mixtapes—a term that represents the product’s physical origin as a cassette tape, though mixtapes are now pressed and sold as CDs—circulate in a national circuit of DJs, m.c.s, online outlets and street vendors. The material on mixtapes tends to be new songs donated to DJs by artists months before their official release, or the work of m.c.s. rhyming over the well-known beats from other songs. This music is all glued together by “drops,” the moments when the mixtape DJ yells his name and acknowledges his friends. None of this robust activity acknowledges the traditional legal obstacles of licensing or legal clearance: Mixtapes simply appear, over and over, making the major label hip-hop CD feel somewhat anticlimactic, like a brief Monday morning summary of cheerfully miasmic weekend (or awards ceremony).


By the relaxed standards of hip-hop events, the Annual Mixtape Awards went smoothly. Mishaps were few and impermanent, none of them life-threatening. Nominees carrying actual tickets for the event were sequestered behind a barricade in the cold for an hour, while an amoebic crush of "guests" claiming to be "on the list" tried to squeeze into the club. A well-known mixtape d.j. named Kay Slay arrived wearing a leather cap and matching jacket both emblazoned with variously colored Louis Vuitton logos. As he walked into the club, unimpeded, someone cried out, “Kay Slay don’t need no ticket!” which was apparently true.

A curious theatergoer headed for “The Lion King” asked what everyone was waiting for.

“The mixtape awards, son!” someone replied, though he was addressing a woman.

“What’s a mixtape?” she asked.

“It’s the truth, mommy, street truth,” his friend added, helpfully.

“Sounds great,” she said cheerfully, stepping over a blanket of flyers and posters for 50 Cent and Brooke Valentine.


Justin Faison, thirty-six, the bearish, friendly man who started The Mixtape Awards in 1995, stood at the bottom of the stairs inside the club, greeting people, some quite vexed, a state that did not worry Justo.

“Here’s the two reasons why you can’t make mixtapes corporate,” Justo explained, as people filed into the main room of the club, some plainly flouting Mayor Bloomberg's no smoking rule. “You can make mixtapes till you’re blue in the face, but selling them is illegal. The other thing is that hip hop is meant to be like it is on mixtapes. How can I hear Jay-Z and Nas together on a song? Only on a mixtape, because if you got an instrumental and an acapella, you can make anybody be on anybody’s record. You get to hear some of the things you would never get to hear in real life, the things that should be possible.”

Ron G, a DJ who began releasing tapes in the 1980s, is widely credited with creating the “blend,” a combination of the acapella vocal track from an R&B record with the instrumental beat of a hip-hop song, or vice versa. Years later, Sean “Puffy/P. Diddy/Sean John/Cardinal Richlieu” Combs used the “blend” method for releases on his Bad Boy label and secured his commercial reputation.

“Puff took what Ron was doing and made records out of it.” said DJ Green Lantern, winner of the evening’s 2005 Mixtape DJ of the Year award. “That’s a known fact. It’s all good.”

Along a wall of BB King's hung a series of basketball jerseys, imitating a tradition visible in Madison Square Garden, a gesture made to honor various disk jockeys: Kay Slay (99), Doo Wop (10), Screw (13), Starchild (20), S&S (31), DJ Juice (7). An enormous man sat next to woman with a huge pink afro wig in the VIP section located right beneath the wall of jerseys. I asked the man if he was a DJ.

"No," he replied, adding, "I don't mind DJs."


Green Lantern, currently working as Eminem's tour DJ, tried to explain mixtapes, though he mentioned that he wasn't interested in going on record about his own mixtape work. “It’s just the realest form of promotion, because it deals with the streets and the people directly, with no marketing team involved, no label clearances and no lawyers. It’s a great look.”

The presentation began an hour and a half late. DJ Jassy Jase played popular hip-hop songs of the moment like Amerie’s “1 Thing.” Frank Jigga, a local host of club nights, and Mad Linx, the host of the BET cable show Rap City, served as hosts.

Mad Linx announced: “Seats are at a premium right now, so if you don’t wanna stand up all night, you might want to plop your ass in a chair. Big up to all my people at the bar, what’s good? Lovebug Starski in the house!” Linx maintained a sort of verbal CNN crawl as he espied people he recognized: "Craig G and S&S in the house! Cuban Link, what up my nigga!"

Awards were presented in twenty-six categories, including best Midwest Mixtape DJ, Rookie of the Year, and Best DVD Magazine. One award, for Mixtape of the Year, was presented by a seminal 80s mixtape DJ named Silva Sir-fa (introduced as "the LES' finest") and a female m.c. from Newark, New Jersey, named Rah Digga.

“Let’s present this joint right here,” Silva Sir-fa said. “But it may be a little confusing, because it’s confusing to me. This is the best mixtape of the year.” The two presenters struggled through a list of names, which seemed to be both the only nominees and the only winners. “Big Mike, Green Lantern, and Jadakiss for ‘The Champ Is Here’!” Rah Digga finally concluded.

Sway got up and mentioned "the first black Jew, Pooky Goldstein." DJ OG Ron C won for Best Dirty South Mixtape and gave credit to Houston's DJ Screw: "If it's slowed down, it's breaking records like it's supposed to be."

The awards themselves became increasingly surplus to the activity in the room. The main purpose of the evening appeared to be drinking Patron margaritas, shaking hands and exchanging business cards. Several awards were greeted with total silence, overwhelmed by the vigorous socializing in the room. Several brief performances by m.c.s received attenuated response; when the very same person left the stage, he was greeted by embraces and hand clasps. It was a very huggy evening.

The action eventually moved into an impromptu green room, off to the side of the main stage. A man named Booz from a website I had not heard of showed me a belt from "the Pum Pum Federation" of Brazil. He made a woman show me her breast. When pressed, Booz revealed that he had not been nominated for anything.


Several verifiably big entertainers swept through, including rapper The Game, who had publicly ended the feud with 50 Cent earlier in the day (a performance as convincing as Randy Johnson saying "I heart New York.") Mr. Game entered with a tightly packed escort of bright lights and was greeted by many raised microcassette recorders. A reporter tried to ask about the deal Game had made with 50 Cent.

“I don’t make deals,” The Game responded. “The devil makes deals. I’m just trying to feed my son.”

Sean “P. Diddy” Combs walked through, brandishing a champagne bottle, enveloped by three industrious bodyguards who swept people and tables out of the way. He posed with his award for The Mixtape Top Executive and Lifetime Achievement for one of the eighteen people walking around with personal DV camera/floodlight combo packs. Looking haggard, DJ Green Lantern escaped up a small staircase nearby, and looked down on the crowd from a small balcony.

“I won four awards tonight—the Best Mixtape DJ of the year, the Best Mixtape Producer of the Year—for DJs who actually produce beats as well—the best Mixtape Duo award, for me and Big Mike, and one more, whcih I really forgot. I think maybe I won the first one twice. I’m gonna have to look at the plaques.”

Posted by Sasha at March 10, 2005 12:09 PM | TrackBack