Mix Up the 'Nix

Start the madness

Consider this a call to arms. In the wake of the arrests of DJ Drama, Don Cannon, and their crew, the Aphilliates, in Atlanta in January — for distributing mix tapes with copyrighted songs (that the major labels were paying them to pimp) — I'm asking all local DJs to bust out mix tapes/CDs of their own and flood the town with them.

A couple of Sundays ago, I spent some time in the tiny recording space known as Turntable Malarkey with local spinster DJ Delikacy, who hosts the Foreign Affair DJ night at the Hidden House every Monday, while he worked on his newest mix tape (they're technically CDs, of course, but in the spirit of hip-hop's tradition, I'll refer to them as mix tapes). He was throwing together a blend that had MadLib, Daedelus, Four Tet, Prefuse 73, and Radiohead, among others — surely a crime, according to the Recording Industry Association of America, if and when he distributes the recordings.

A few days later, I got together with Delikacy and another local wax master, DJ Drunk Jeff, who produced one of my favorite mix tapes of the last few years, Instantaneous, with tracks by artists including Massive Attack, Her Space Holiday, Mos Def, Beck, and Gorillaz. We talked about mix tapes, Drama and his crew's arrest, and why the hell I don't see a lot more mix tape CDs being passed around within our DJ scene.

DJ Drunk Jeff and Delikacy whip up some mixes.
Tony Blei
DJ Drunk Jeff and Delikacy whip up some mixes.

First, here's the situation with DJ Drama and the Aphilliates: On January 16, a SWAT team raided the mix-tape-master crew (which produced all of the Gangsta Grillzseries, their most famous), confiscated more than 25,000 CDs, and served a warrant on them for RICO (Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organization) charges — the same shit they charge mobsters with.

Thing is, the Aphilliates were often paid for pimping out new tracks by mainstream artists, getting paid by the same labels that are the constituency of the RIAA. That's fucked in and of itself, but that's not what this column's about.

As I read about the bust (New York Times Magazine did a great piece on it in the February 18 issue) and talked to my DJ friends, I realized that not only has the longstanding tradition of mix tapes in hip-hop been perverted to the point that major labels are paying for their pieces to be on them, but it also seems to be on the verge of becoming a lost art here in the 'Nix.

That's why I'm asking DJs around our city to bust out: Spend some time with your tables, mixers, and computer (or your friend's), put your turntablistic love on a bunch of discs, and get them out there. For free. When I'm at events like Blunt Club at Hollywood Alley in Mesa, I want to leave with at least five or ten CDs by local DJs. Not just to hear their skills, but also to hear new songs, or old songs in different contexts, with different beats. The way shit used to be.

"Mix tapes were what introduced me to DJing," Drunk Jeff tells me. "Hearing new music I hadn't heard yet or hearing remixes or longer versions of songs — that's what got me into buying records, from hearing those on mix tapes, like, 'Wow, this is different than the actual album version. What is this? This is weird!' Or hearing somebody double up. I finally got my two turntables and my mixer and started figuring things out. I remember making my first mix tape on two turntables with no pitch, and a mixer with no fader. Just using the ups and downs — it was train wreck after train wreck, horrible."

Delikacy reminisces about the golden days of mix tapes as well, remembering the extensive mix tape section at Amoeba Records in San Francisco and talking about old school rarities by now-infamous DJs like Cut Chemist and Mixmaster Mike. But neither DJ keeps up with mix tapes like the Aphilliates' Gangsta Grillz series.

Drunk Jeff and Delikacy don't traffic in the mainstream, major-label-funded and major-label-busted mix tape game; neither has any interest in hearing club banger after club banger on a disc, nor do I. That's why I'm asking the DJ community around here to bust out — hit me off with them through the mail or at the clubs. I'll perpetuate the distribution of the best on my "Ear Infection" blog.

I'm not sayin' that no one besides Delikacy and Drunk Jeff are busting out already — many locals are, including Darrell D, Phat E, and even shit sponsored by local urban rag XPOZ magazine, like the recent (mainstream) one by DJ Gloss. I just want more. A lot of people spend more time listening to CDs than they do listening to DJs at clubs, and that's another reason the art form needs a serious revival around here.

It's not about making money off the motherfuckers, like Drama and his Aphilliates crew were. Less than a handful of DJs here in town don't have or need day jobs. It's about spreading your art, working on your craft, and loving music.

"I've always enjoyed mix tapes where I'm sitting there going, 'Who is that? What is that song?'" Delikacy says. "That's always been the best part for me. Anybody can make a mix tape that has hit after hit after classic jam, and there's a place for that, but I want to hear mix tapes where I'm like, 'Where the hell's that drum track from? Where's that fuckin' section from?' And that's what makes what we do so much fun."

And that rings true even for listeners like myself who don't DJ or dig for records. So please, bring it on, DJs!

 
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