by Luke Baumgarten & r & & r & Grass Roots

& lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & S & lt;/span & o with all this talk of the Recording Industry Association of America's insidious dealings with mixtape artists -- soliciting sample-heavy recordings of major label artists for promotional purposes, then arresting them -- I think I may have missed the most important point. Lately mixtapes are better than albums.

While geeking out last week with Inlander rap czar Andrew Matson about the new mixtape of Prodigy (of Mobb Deep), Matson observed that mixtapes -- insofar as they're the product of a single producer or DJ -- are usually more coherent and better than the artist's actual albums. It's certainly true of Prodigy. Return of the Mac, the mixtape, is incomparably better than Mobb Deep's last G-Unit-backed album, Blood Money. Lil Wayne's recent Da Drought 3, too, is his best work since Dedication 2, mixes both. Matson's point was on-target, but it missed an underlying element: chart performance.

The reason rap albums from powerhouse labels get chopped up and fed to so many radio-friendly and club-motivated producers is to sell entire albums on the strength of individual singles. It's fantastic for selling records, but it destroys continuity and hamstrings artists like Prodigy into song forms that don't suit their talents.

Mixtapes are different. They're deliberately underground. They don't chart. They aren't made for money. They have little regard for production that'll resonate with club kids.

They're still marketing tools, though, designed for no other reason than to create hype. As such, the desire for jaw-dropping lyrical performances, shadow boxing and freestyling is actually more, important. Insofar as they're sold to the streets, in corner stores and bodegas, and passed around by hand, they're benefited by an urban naturalism (real or imagined) and a connection to the people.

A small point perhaps, but it's no wonder the most essential product coming from a billion-dollar game is art designed specifically to connect with individuals and communities.


In our May 24 Local Music Issue, the Hockey story neglected to mention that band member Joel Smith is also an Inlander staff writer. Full disclosure is important to us, and we regret the omission.

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About The Author

Luke Baumgarten

Luke Baumgarten is commentary contributor and former culture editor of the Inlander. He is a creative strategist at Seven2 and co-founder of Terrain.