ARTICLE: The mixtape

The mixtape (by DJ Money Shot)

The mix-tape, as an art form, has come a long way. Bambaatta and Jazzy Jay’s “Death Mix” is a primitive daubing on a caveman’s wall compared to Q-Bert’s “Pre-School Breaks”, which is more akin to a wildstyle graffiti burner on a Japanese bullet train.

Some DJ’s are God forbid, actually licensing tracks to go on their mix-tapes. Where’s the sense of institutionalised piracy in that? It seems that the scant regard for copyright laws, which were part of the cavalier attitude of the DJ, have had to change in this modern million-dollar climate. Every DJ wants to get paid, and who can blame them? It seems that your Funkmaster Flex’s and the like are selling more copies of their mix albums than the featured artist’s do of their own.

Record stores shelves are groaning under the weight of jiggy Flex and his big dawg copycat mix c.d.’s (I know CD’s). However, in the hip-hop tradition true quality thrives on its opposition to the mainstream. Now the pioneers are back. Evoking the ghost of Flash and honing the epoch defining skills he displayed on his ‘Adventures On The Wheels Of Steel’ mix, demanding the genre to be risky, and fresh because of it.

Of the new knights sat at the round (turn) table let us first describe Kid Koala. Now the Kid epitomises all that is magical about the mix-tape. For ’twas he who created “scratch-cratch-ratch-atch” and rejuvenated the underground buzz within the scene. On this masterpiece he barely uses hip-hop, instead plumping for plinking-plonky Chinese rhythms over rewinded beats and Charley Brown dialogue scratched into amusing new contexts. It was this contagiously fun approach to turntablism that had listeners flocking to him like some vinyl pied piper. Namely the boys at Ninja Tunes who promptly signed him to their label off the back of it. Damning proof that the best way to makes waves as a DJ is by circulating homemade tapes.

Like a stark contrast to the professionally tweaked studio mixes of the mainstream, Kid Koala proved that his such mix-tapes are an integral part of DJ culture. They allow an affordable, practical vehicle for anyone, regardless of notoriety to showcase their talents with complete artistic freedom. It’s the equivalent of a late night bombing session in a train yard or an open mic battle. Proper grass roots hip-hop.

Another DJ who has risen through the ranks to become a pioneer is DJ Yoda, a north London turntable wizard and all round mix-tape authority. On his Spine magazine promotional mix “Fisticuts” he entitles his opening track ‘HOW NOT TO DO AN INTRO’. Lampooning all the tired clichés that dog the genre. I caught up with him and asked who he was throwing the gauntlet down to and what got his goat (for me it’s all the shouty style guys who yell over the tracks in a blatant attempt to diverrt attention away from their pedestrian mixing).

“As far as mix-tapes go, a lot of D.J cats seem to be doing the same things. Either you’ve got your Yoda-biters (how many people are copying my shit at the moment?!), piss-poor mixes of current hip-hop that you could easily knock off yourself at home, silly boring abstract tapes or tapes of the same old classics. Plus most hip hop D.J’s “sense of humour appears to be limited to some kung-fu samples, an answer machine message or a silly shout-out from their friend pretending to have a hillbilly accent.”

It seems that Yoda, rightly so, is not one to suffer fools gladly. But when making a tape what creates the right balance? I asked DJ Z-trip to break his style down.

“Well I guess I just moved towards doing what everyone else wasn’t doing : I get bored with the same old stuff being played or done : You could say my style turned even more into a renegade style :at all costs don’t sound like anyone else!!! And the sad thing is there are only a few of us left who spin with those ideas in mind.”

One of those few is Radar, a fellow ‘Bombshelter’ DJ whom he made an appearance with on the now legendary “Live at the future primitive vol. 2” mix. The set is the two of them on five decks taking over twenty years of hip-hop history and blending it with funk and even rock to sublime effect. All done live as the title suggests in a club environment, with a crowd are so loud you can hear them through the needles!

I love that warts and all approach, unique joints not regulated by what are the current commercial club bangers are. Dee j a’la fu, of “Treats for the Kiddies Vol.’s 1-2” fame, agrees that the market can get a tad stagnant.

“I always remember in the space of a month in ’96. I heard tapes from D.J Enuff, Clue, Doo Wop etc, and everyone had the same songs, same arrangement, same shouts, same bad mixing. After that day I didn’t bother with any commercial tape. I don’t see the point of putting out a tape with the same old shit that gets played on radio, MTV, clubs etc. To me that’s not quite the point of a mix-tape.”

It almost seems like some higher calling that the mix-tape DJ has. That they have to spread the gospel to the masses, schooling them to the real hits and the ones they missed. D.J and mail order provider Dave the Ruf is one such missionary who offers alternatives to the heavily biased rotations on commercial radio.

“I sell loads of records that people have never heard because of my “Ruff Beats” mix-tapes and especially “Radio Zero” which basically operates as a new release radio show, but on 2 x c90 tapes bi-monthly. A lot of records I have put on mix’s have eventually been re-issued, or become established underground classics. This is what it’s all about to me. It seems all the shite hip-hop gets the big sales when the really amazing stuff exists and survives from this kind of underground hip-hop love.”

Love indeed. It seems that a DJ’s blessing can save a record. Si G from Baldbeats offers one example. “Sometimes people hear a 12” cut that never really got any airplay, J-Live’s ‘Them that’s Not’ for instance on Greenpeace’s (Yoda’s mix-tape partner) “Jew’s Paid” mix. That track blew up and then was bootlegged because J-Live was dropped by London.”

I just think of the times I pick up, desperately search for or play out again a record because I’ve heard it on a mix-tape: Heavy D’s ‘Don’t Curse’ thanks to Yoda. ‘Sardines’ by The JunkYard Band sounded nice on that Z-trip tape so I’ll drop it at the club tonight. The list goes on.

I think it’s time to check the underground again, and give support to the DJ’s who support. Because that man, or woman (big up Kuttin’ Kandy) and their penchant for following the true innovators helps create unique ways of giving props, both to them and those who deserve it. I’m sure Bambaatta would be proud : well maybe not as the last time I heard him he was dropping U.K. Garage in his set. Aww fuck it – pass that new Flex tape with the hot new joint from his man Enrique Inglesias. WHUT! WHUT!

Z-Trip’s top 5 tapes
1. Spinbad’s 80’s tapes : pure genius
2. Kid Koala : “I Gotta Rock” : more genius
3. Pretty much any mix-tape Mr. Dibbs does is usually a muthafucker : so I can’t name just one.
4. Romanowski – the “Rock Steady” mix-tapes : best shit to listen to and I never get tired.
5. D.J Shadow and Cut Chemist – “Brainfreeze/Product Placement” : these two are sort of the same thing so I’ll lump them in one : this is a favourite for so many reasons : first off it’s a concept (all 45’s) . And I was lucky to be involved in the live shows, so I know the work they put into it. Second, it’s mixed so well and put together with such thought and skill that the minute I heard it I thought : “this is timeless”. No better way to make a mix-tape than to have something you can listen to 20 years from now and still feel like it can hold its own.

Si G from Baldbeats top 4
1. Shadow and Cut Chemist – “Brainfreeze” (sets the standard from now on)
2. Krush – “Headz Tour U.K.”(fat old school mix)
3. Shortcut/Cut Chemist – “Live at Future Primitive Vol. 1.” (so on point)
4. Q-Bert – “Pre-School Breaks” (the ‘Rush’ break at the start kills me everytime)

Dave the Ruf’s top 5
1. Z-Trip and Radar – “Live at Future Primitive Vol. 2.” (non stop LIVE mix)
2. K Delight – “Waximillion” (K is underrated as fuck – check his mad blends and ruff as fuck hard scratching. Unbeatable.)
3. Prodigy – “Dirt Chamber” (how Liam mixes up this multi-track, exiting and varied set is awesome. With huge breaks and beats mixing into dope cuts from Ultra’s and paying respect to the original hip-hop DJ ethos that any music can be hip-hop. He dropped this bomb and showed that he was basically a frustrated hip-hop kid!)
4. Dave the Ruf – “The Ruffest DJ In The World” (I had to put this in because it stills wrecks my jams before I play out to get people in the mood. Also because every track is an underrated anthem whether it’s M.C Mello or Sly and the family Stone. And selling 500 copies of any mix-tape is a buzz!)

My top 5 mix tapes
1. Neil Armstrong – “Original” (a lovely concept tape, taking all the “original” samples from hip-hop classics and re-textualising them)
2. Coldcut – “Journeys by DJ” (all styles covered. Popularised the craze of using spoken word records.)
3. Kenny Dope – “Hip-Hop Forever” (not the best mixed, but shows that he didn’t forget his roots in this early 90’s selection)
4. Rob Swift – “Soulful Fruit” (a contemplative essay in rare groove with a nice battle against Rahzel too)
5. Spinbad – Any ‘normal’ tapes in the vein of “Clueless” by this veteran. From the intros to the doubling up you can feel the blood, sweat and tears that go into sounding so nice.

D.J Moneyshot has a new tape available called “Word to yer Nephew”. And can be peeped by contacting him at oneoffthewrist@hotmail.com.

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