From The Grio –I was listening to rapper J. Cole’s latest record, “Return of Simba,” ironically, in his hometown Fayetteville, N.C., admiring how the artist had skillfully added another chapter to the Simba narrative he created three mixtapes ago on The Come Up and thought to myself, ‘Wow, this would’ve taken three albums to do in the past.’

The hunger of “Simba” on The Come Up. The accomplished but not content “Grown Simba” on The Warm Up. The assured but subdued excitement of “Return of Simba”, like someone of the cusp of glory, he was eagerly waiting his chance to share with the world what he’s been brewing.

Before ever-releasing his major label debut, J. Cole had worked a storyline from start to finish without even addressing it directly on The Blow Up. What’s left to say on the album? Will listeners tire of his voice and look for something fresh elsewhere before it drops?

The explosion of mixtape culture has made every rising artist into a studio rat and given every listener ADHD because of the endless stream of free content. More importantly, mixtapes are changing the very arc of an artists’ career.

Think about it.

You used to have to have a hit single to drive the sales of your debut album. Now, artists can sell a debut based of the strength of their mixtape track records. People are touring internationally, selling out theaters and hole-in-the-wall venues alike off the strength of dope mixtapes. Some, like The Cool Kids, successfully put their initial offering on the back burner for half-decades in favor of just consistently dope music with no real purpose.

I’ve seen crowds for mixtape artists with huge viral presences sellout venues that widely considered legends draw lukewarm audiences to with everyone in the building knowing every line like it’d been released 10 years prior and played at every cookout.

The quality is so much better than the extended track list of cuts unworthy of an album and freestyles over other people’s beats we remember with obnoxious DJ screaming and cutting over them with weird echo effects. Now mixtapes are getting album love. Creative artwork, promotion and serious, thoughtful production instead of looped radio hits.

The best example is Drake. He was able to repackage So Far Gone, adding a few new tracks, re-mastering some older cuts and re-releasing it in stores to moderate success before dropping that debut that fell short of the buzz the initial mixtape offered.

Even the content is different.

Where in the past an artists’ first album told the story of the environment. Their day-to-day, the hometown anthem, the struggle as fresh as it can be. The rawness of that initial release used to me one of the things people looked back on with a smile. Thinking about how Reasonable Doubt had sewn seeds for Jay-Z or listening to I’m Serious makes you happy and ultimately blown away by T.I.’s rise from the trap to the box office. Now an artist like Big K.R.I.T. is far from a freshman in our minds after releasing K.R.I.T. Wuz Here and Return of 4eva and creating expounding on his original subject matter.

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  • JustSaying…

    I clearly don’t hear what some people hear with rap because for me 99.9% of it is trash–that includes most of the mixtapes and the artist listed in this article.

    Most rappers have no talent and many are over-hyped. I perfer the old school–Roxanne Shante, Sugarhill gang, or the stuff that had soul–to the B.S. out here today. So here is to hoping that modern rap/hip-hop continues to fall down the toilet.

    • Wow. It’s understandable that you have a preference to the old rap/hip-hop that we knew, but for you to actually hope that the modern version “continues to fall down the toilet” is just sad.

      Yeah, not every artist or song out here is the best, or raps the best message, or tells a good story. But instead of you trying to uplift or find some good in today’s music, you’re just tearing it down, and hoping that it stays down. It’s a shame really… Just saying.

    • JustSaying…

      Umm please go cry me a RIVER. Nobody can tear down anything that is ALREADY IN THE TOILET! I’m entitled to my opinion and neither you nor anyone else is going to force me to praise or “uplift” something I think is trash. Maybe if others started speaking out they–the so-called artist–wouldn’t get these million dollar records deals and the records companies would promote people who actually have TALENT.

    • YouCanCryMeARiver

      You obviously haven’t listened to a single J. Cole song. He’s one of the most honest and talented rappers we’ve had in a very long time. Please get over yourself.

    • JustSaying…


      And you obviously didn’t read my comments because they weren’t about a SINGLE rapper, but the genre period. Get off my back please. And READ next time.

  • omg

    there are some hip hop people who are not idiots.

    i enjoy mos def, lupe fiasco, common, and the roots. i really love the roots.

    i recently downloaded a single called, “born to be fly” by the fly girlz. it reminds me of the old school shante style girl rappers. they are young girls out of new york/brooklyn. i think a few fashion designers used their song for their runway shows this passed season.

    i also love me some rye rye. but not sure she belongs in the hip hop category.

    there are others but you won’t find them by listening to most radio. i visit different blogs/sites for my music. unfortunately, clutch mainly showcases already well-known people so it’s unlikely you’ll come across a lot of interesting new music here, sorry to say.

  • Good article. I think a lot of people perfer a mixtape to an album b/c it gives you a sense of having something exclusive and underground. I like mixtapes better b/c I think Im actually getting something from the artist that is raw and uncut…the true them, no factory bubble gum, pop tart garbage. I said this years ago, that mixtapes were gonna take over, b/c it artist wanna put they sh*t out straight out the booth, and not have to wait until the exes tell them they can, to be honest its loses its buzz and fire when you wait! ***Im only speaking of quality music tho!!!***

  • Nadell

    “Don’t Call It A Mixtape!”
    The whole concept of “mixtapes” have changed over time and is now a lost form of art. & yes, mixtapes happen to have become the claim to fame for newcomers in a short period of time. i’m not knocking it. careers happen quick now…times have changed.
    Here’s a partial article from Stephen the Levite @ Rapzill.com

    Back in my day, a mixtape was on TAPE (imagine that) and the songs were MIXed together. I know, it’s crazy right?! Rappers didn’t make mixtapes, deejays did. Rappers didn’t use turntables and were therefore incapable of creating a mixtape. It evolved from blended songs that were already out, to adding remixes with exclusive freestyles and verses over classic beats and world premiere tracks. One of the last notable mix CDs was all original songs, but they were blended together by a DJ and included a platform for his turntablism.

    Now-a-days, the DJ’s been completely removed from the equation, the songs aren’t blended together, and they are not on tape. It not being on tape doesn’t bother me as much as the missing DJ, but should be noted too. I feel like you should call it what it is (which is why I used the term “mix CD” earlier).

    I won’t get into what’s at fault and reveal all my thoughts about this tragedy that has become the norm for today’s culture unless the response warrants a part two to this. I intend to make more creative use of these thoughts (I’m writing an album). But for now, until then, this is all I have to say:

    If it is not on tape, if the songs aren’t mixed together, if the DJ’s name is not on the cover (mainly because there isn’t one), you can call it dope (a lot of them are), you can call it hot, you can call it a free download (most of them are), you can call it a lot of things. But DON’T CALL IT A MIXTAPE!

    • Nadell