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<nettime> Hip-Hop's Mixtape Culture vs the Internet
Paul D. Miller on Mon, 5 May 2003 01:28:31 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> Hip-Hop's Mixtape Culture vs the Internet

The mix tape has always been a kind of audio "samizdat" straddling the
currents of pop culture like some kind of proto-internet way before the
whole blog scenario. There's websites like


and www.journeysbydj.com

and there's even the anti-war dj mixes folks like Coldcut and yours truly
have been making for Ad Busters:


that focus on the artform, but the sheer variety of styles and underground
phenomenon are pretty much universes until the selves.  Constellations of
sound, memory, and expression are pretty much the core structures of this
multi-verse... a good read is the equivalent of a good mix. Think of 'em
as a kind of "amicus curiae brief" for the sonically perplexed - render
judgement not on the singular track but on the mix as a whole. It's
philosophy for the audio-splice generation - Burroughs VS Gran Master
Flash etc etc - anything goes.


Hip-Hop's One-Man Ministry of Insults

May 4, 2003

EVERY great bout needs a grand arena, a venue worthy of
tales that will age into legends, a place where reputations
are made and ruined. The Lakers and the Celtics had the
Boston Garden. Ali and Foreman had a dusty soccer stadium
in Zaire.

And rappers intent on duking it out have DJ Kay Slay's mix
tapes, underground recordings on which some of rap's most
memorable lyrical battles have been fought. Name any
high-profile hip-hop beef in the last three years - Nas vs.
Jay-Z, Eminem vs. Benzino, Ja Rule vs. 50 Cent - and
chances are it began or ended on a Kay Slay tape. Sometimes
the verbal altercations, or beefs, appear in succession on
a single tape; other times, a rapper's rejoinder is not
offered until a later tape.

"He's like the Jerry Springer of rap," said DJ Goldfinger,
the host of a popular Friday night hip-hop party in
Manhattan. "All the fights happen on his show."

And like Mr. Springer, daytime talk's leading ringmaster,
Kay Slay, a k a "The Drama King," is big on spectacle and
not so big on people playing nice. "Cats know it's no holds
barred with me," Kay Slay, 37, said one recent afternoon.
Tucked away in a midtown recording studio, he was putting
the finishing touches on his mainstream debut album, "The
Streetsweepers Vol. 1," due on May 20 from Columbia
Records. "They know that I'm not going to edit anything.
It's going out the way you gave it to me. No watering

Kay Slay's tapes - he has released well over 500 since
starting in 1994 - would most certainly earn parental
advisory stickers if they were subject to recording
industry regulations. But they are not. Sold on street
corners alongside bootleg DVD's and "fauxlexes" (fake
Rolexes), in specialty shops like the West Village's Fat
Beats and on Web sites like www.hotmixx.com, mix tapes -
pastiches of current hits, "freestyles" (improvisational
lyrics) and "exclusives" (music that has yet to be released
commercially) - remain decidedly below the radar. "Because
mix tapes are intended to speak to a core audience and not
a mass audience, rappers don't have to dumb down lyrics or
be politically correct or worry about sales," said Eric
Parker, the music editor of Vibe magazine. "On an album
rappers are talking to the world. On a mix tape they are
talking to each other and the streets."

Not beholden to record company executives, radio play lists
or Soundscan numbers, rappers are not only free to be their
most experimental but also to be their most venomous. On
one of Kay Slay's recent tapes, "They Shootin'," Ja Rule
questions why Eminem sports a do-rag. It's a loaded
question, of course, meant to belittle Eminem for
appropriating African-American culture. "You'll never have
braids," Ja Rule goes on to rhyme. "You'll never know black
pain. But you could become the first white rapper to get
slain." By the end of his three-minute diatribe, Ja Rule
has renamed Eminem "Feminem" and Ja Rule's arch-nemesis 50
Cent "loose change" and accused Eminem's mentor Dr. Dre of
fraternizing with transvestites.

Not to be outdone, in a rebuttal titled "Hail Mary," which
also appears on the same tape, 50 Cent, Eminem and Busta
Rhymes take turns attacking Ja Rule as nothing more than a

In addition to chronicling beefs, these compilations, which
sell for $5 to $10, provide the inside scoop on the
happenings in the industry. "Who is collaborating with who,
who's the new hot artist, you can get all that
information," said Sam Crespo, the director of rap
promotions for the label Def Jam. "It's like hip-hop CNN."

Not quite daily updates, but because of the rapidity with
which mix tapes are churned out - it is not uncommon for a
deejay to release one or two a month - they often have an
immediacy that monthly hip-hop magazines and artists'
albums cannot duplicate.

While "Streetsweepers" is light on battles and tamer than
his previous efforts, Kay Slay scoffs at suggestions that
he tempered his style in an effort to make it more
palatable to the mainstream. "If I came to Sony and did an
all-pop album, I'd deserve to get my head severed in the
streets, but that's not the case," he said.

While not exactly "TRL"-friendly, Kay Slay's album plays
like a veritable who's who of hip-hop, with contributions
from crossover successes like 50 Cent, Nas, Eminem and
Cam'ron and underground favorites like the Lox as well as
the hot newcomer Joe Budden.

With "Streetsweepers," Kay Slay joins the growing number of
mix tape deejays who have parlayed their underground status
into lucrative careers. DJ Funkmaster Flex has a radio show
on Hot 97 (WQHT, 97.1-FM) and a Lugz sneaker endorsement.
DJ Clue is head of the record label Desert Storm and is the
co-host of "DFX," an MTV hip-hop show. Other's like DJ Whoo
Kid, who has a close relationship with 50 Cent, and DJ
Green Lantern, who has strong ties with the crew at
Eminem's Shady Records, have also landed their own deals.

DEEJAYS are not the only ones using mix tapes to make it
big. Fledgling rappers, in search of exposure and street
credibility, try to align themselves with established
deejays, who serve as the talent scouts of the hip-hop
world. Labels intent on finding the next 50 Cent, the
rapper whose mix tape led to a million-dollar deal with
Shady Records and his multiplatinum debut album "Get Rich
or Die Trying," mine these tapes for tomorrow's superstars.
Because deejays have little to lose by giving a young
artist a shot, they are more inclined to take the risks
major labels will not. "No label is signing an artist in
the tri-state area just because he's talented," said the
rapper Red Caf». "You've either got to be on a hot mix tape
or you've got to be someone's prot»g»."

On the strength of his mix tape appearances, Red Caf» was
able to garner interest from major labels like Universal,
Jive and Virgin, ultimately signing with Arista earlier
this year. "None of the offers were under half a million,"
he said.

Before he became the Jerry Springer of hip-hop, Kay Slay
was Kenneth Gleason. He grew up in East Harlem as a
precocious, streetwise kid, and it was graffiti, not
deejaying, that first caught his attention. Using the
moniker DEZ, Kay Slay left his mark on many a public
building and subway car. His work was captured in the cult
films "Wild Style" and "Style Wars." He traded his spray
cans for turntables when the city cracked down on grafitti
in the mid-80's, and adopted the name Kay Slay.

His parents were not too keen on his preoccupation with
turntables. "They were always like, `Boy, you better
turntable those books,' " he said with a rare chuckle.

By the late 80's Kay Slay, who saw little hope for
financial stability in spinning vinyl, said he "was caught
up in the negative side of life," peddling drugs and
committing petty robberies.

"Guys were getting killed right in front of me and it was
like nothing," he said.

In 1989, he was arrested on charges of drug possession with
intent to sell and spent a year in jail. Looking "to get
right with God," as he put it, upon his release from
prison, Kay Slay worked at the Jose Gonzales house, a Bronx
facility that assists people suffering from HIV and AIDS.
"I can't count the number of people I saw die," Kay Slay
said. "Working there really made me begin to appreciate

By the mid-90's deejays began to gain notoriety. Kid Capri
could be seen spinning tracks on Russell Simmons's "Def
Comedy Jam" on HBO and DJ Clue had cornered the mix tape
market, which led to a label deal with Def Jam. Kay Slay
wanted back in. Record labels were not receptive, though.

"I'd tell them I was trying to get my hustle back on and
they'd front on me, they didn't care," said Kay Slay.

Each slammed door only emboldened him. "In 1994, I told
myself I would be so big that one day the same people I was
begging for records would be begging me to play their
records," said Kay Slay.

His luck changed in 2001 when Jay-Z and Nas slugged it out
on several of Kay Slay's tapes, reigniting an interest in
battling, which waned after the East Coast-West Coast beefs
in the late 90's culminated in the murders of Tupac Shakur
and the Notorious B.I.G. The Drama King was born and soon
every rapper with a beef was turning to Kay Slay. Now
deejays like Kay Slay, once scorned by record labels
because their tapes flouted copyright laws, possess the
power to make or break an artist. Kay Slay says he gave up
selling his tapes three years ago and now distributes them
for free, which means he is seen as an impartial
adjudicator, one with little vested interest in the
outcomes of the battles he highlights or the artists he
promotes. His stamp of approval has come to be highly

"Kay Slay doesn't endorse anything he doesn't believe in,"
said Kevin Liles, the president of Def Jam Records. "If he
says `this is something you've got to pump in your jeep,'
that type of promotion can't be bought. He's the E.F.
Hutton of the ghetto. When he talks, people listen."

Kay Slay contends that the Drama King title is sometimes a
burden. ("There is more to me than just beef," he said.)
But it is clear that Kay Slay, an imposing man with a
formidable belly, also revels in this position. His
Thursday night show on Hot 97 is called the "Drama Hour."
He is seldom without a gigantic diamond and gold medallion
in the shape of a crown. And the day of this interview he
was wearing baggy jeans, a Yankees baseball cap and a
T-shirt with the words "drama king" emblazoned across the

When asked if he felt responsible for perpetuating beefs
that could lead to bloodshed, as they have in the past, Kay
Slay was adamant.

"I am in no way perpetuating violence," he said. He
attributed the violence in hip-hop to "egos and the false
gangster" images that artists feel they must live up to.

He said his dis-heavy tapes did not hurt, but rather helped
enrich hip-hop culture. "The game was boring until I came
around," he said with the bravado that one would expect
from the man dubbed the Drama King. "Everybody was too busy
being fake, acting like they got along and talking about
each other behind their backs. I brought the controversy
back. I brought the game back to life."››


"None are more hopelessly enslaved than those who falsely believe 
they are free...."
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

wildstyle access: www.djspooky.com

Paul D. Miller a.k.a. Dj Spooky that Subliminal Kid

Office Mailing Address:

Subliminal Kid Inc.
101 W. 23rd St. #2463
New York, NY 10011

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