I woke up today, to the US and UK trending topic #BestMixtapesEver and I thought… Easy. Frank Ocean – Nostalgia Ultra and Kid Cudi – A Kid Named Cudi. But before I could finish the tweet, another 2 mixtapes came to mind – Hodgy’s Untitled EP and J. Cole Friday Night Lights. But then I felt I couldn’t leave out J. Cole’s other mixtapes and then even more artists came to mind. Before I knew it, I had run out of space.
Click for my full list #BestMixtapesEver
It all got me thinking about just how strong a mixtape can be and how important they are to music in a day where just about anything can be downloaded for free.
Over the last few years, we have seen a number of artists become a huge success without selling a single record. Frank Ocean’s “Nostalgia Ultra” was so well recieved that within a year of its release, he had writing credits for Beyonce, and 2 features on “Watch the Throne”. 2 features! On an album that’s only other features were HOV’s wife and Kanye’s GOOD signee, Mr. Hudson.
But the success a mixtape can bring really doesn’t surprise me; often, the mixtapes are an artists best work and the reason for that is the mixtape is them. Artists don’t have to worry about getting a commercial hit single on a mixtape. They do what they want and that’s what the fans want.
Take Drake for example. “So Far Gone” was excellent and I don’t think Drake could ever top it; all 3 of Big Sean’s “Finally Famous” mixtape series eclipse the album; and Kid Cudi’s, “A Kid Named Cudi” is still his best work (a classic in my opinion).
A lot of the Hip-Hop artists that came up in the last 6 years that I like, won me over with their mixtapes. And since then, I’ve bought their albums, racked up hundreds of plays in my iTunes library and paid money to see them live.
The mixtape is a powerful tool other genres really need to start exploiting as it works outside of Hip-Hop too. Mixtapes have been big in rap (including grime) for years but they are only recently spilling into R&B and elsewhere. One of my favorite mixtapes so far this year was by the British singer-songwriter Delilah and I’ll definitely be getting her debut album “From the Roots Up” when it drops later this year.
Now that music is worth less than it used to be, record companies can’t afford to promote all their signees how Roc Nation are promoting Rita Ora. Artists need to start taking their future into their own hands and promoting themselves via mixtapes because the label isn’t going to do it all.