If You Like the Mix Tape, Wait Till You Hear the LP
Tuesday, July 1, 2008
On his 2006 mix tape "Dedication 2," Lil Wayne declared himself the "best rapper alive." Fast forward two summers and he's flirting with a new title: savior of the music biz.
Last month, his new album "The Carter III" sold more than a million copies in its first week -- a feat the deflated record industry hasn't seen in three years. But instead of uncorking the Veuve Clicquot, record execs might want to ponder the fact that Lil Wayne preceded this platinum sales coup by giving away hundreds of his songs via unauthorized mix tapes -- those pesky, pirated compilations that keep rappers connected with their fans while their labels pick themselves apart like Jenga blocks. Now, with the success of "The Carter III," the industry has a new riddle to solve: Can piracy actually boost record sales?
In hip-hop, mix tapes provide a credibility that's more critical to success than in other genres, including rock or pop, where there is no equivalent. Originally distributed via bootleg cassettes and CDRs, mix tapes are multiplying online, often in the form of MP3 giveaways on rap blogs and artist Web sites. But the purpose remains the same -- to provide rappers with a forum to freestyle over uncleared samples and create street-level hype without getting snared in industry red tape. Here are some of the buzziest releases to surface in recent weeks -- from Lil Wayne proteges to marquee rappers dreaming of "Carter"-size sales figures.
Young Jeezy : "The Prime Minister"
With a new album dropping this month, Young Jeezy's latest mix tape looks like an appetizer but feels like a feast. Comprised of a mere 12 tracks (most mix tapes are twice as long), "The Prime Minister" satisfies on the perennial strength of Jeezy's thousand-pound growl. "Translator" is a righteous pile-on of horns and church bells that make the rapper's bloated verses sound heroic, even when his lyrics come up short. Almost as great: "Out Here Grindin," a DJ Khaled-curated posse cut with Taser-sharp rhymes from Lil' Boosie and an uplifting, Akon-crooned hook that's positively Akonspirational.
Curren$y: "Fear and Loathing in New Orleans"
"It's another month. You know what that means. Another tape." So begins the latest offering from Curren$y, a former Lil Wayne acolyte following in Weezy's flood-the-market footsteps. This month he's applying his lucid drawl to lighthearted come-ons ("Skate to the lakefront condo, do it properly/Watch Demi Moore and Patrick Swayze make pottery"), and hardhearted caveats ("Record labels calling, promising the moon/But that ain't happenin' captain"). Wanna hear more? Check back in 30 days.
David Banner: "The Greatest Mixtape Ever Sold"
Forgive the overblown title, but "Another Quality Mix Tape From David Banner That You Can Download for Free" just didn't have the same ring to it. This Mississippi rap vet has always struck a commanding balance between menace and melancholy, but the tough stuff prevails on his latest mix tape, much of which he spends previewing tracks from his upcoming album. Still, Banner sounds best resurrecting DG Yola's "Ain't Gon Let Up," a 2006 sleeper jam about a virtue he's plenty familiar with: tenacity.
Nicki Minaj: "Sucka Free"
The emerging Queens MC released this mix tape back in March, but her filthy rhymes still sound fresh. Cameos from mentor Lil Wayne abound, but the 23-year-old holds her own, vaunting like Foxy Brown's chatty kid sister. With a voice just big enough to keep her boasts from sounding ridiculous, Minaj serves up an unflinching, unprintable confluence of trash talk, gun talk and pillow talk.
DJ Green Lantern & Charles Hamilton: "Outside Looking"
No doubt about it -- Kanye West has made hip-hop a better place for nerds. Enter Charles Hamilton, a somewhat geeky, completely giddy Harlem-based rapper obsessed with Sonic the Hedgehog. With the help of mix-tape maestro DJ Green Lantern, Hamilton cuts loose, puffing out his chest over Madonna's "Human Nature" and recounting a botched romance while the Offspring's "Self Esteem" grouses in the background. Looks like hip-hop still has nerdier frontiers to conquer.