While platforms like Spotify and Apple Music facilitate access to music, they’re also erasing a big part of modern hip hop’s history
From the late 2000s to the early 2010s, hip hop music was undergoing one of the most pivotal and defining moments in its recent history: the blog era. As someone who was going through their teenage years at that point in time, it was a defining moment of my life as well.
In 2007, I was just starting high school and there were no better artists to me than Kanye West and Lil Wayne. If you would’ve asked me then I would’ve labelled myself their biggest fan and said they were definitively the greatest rappers of all-time. I spent hours upon hours listening to their music, among others, while I played video games or did homework, and YouTube kept feeding me songs of theirs I’d never heard.
Wayne in particular had so much music on YouTube that I’d never heard, and a lot of it was seemingly on one CD I desperately wanted. The thing is, I couldn’t find it anywhere. It wasn’t on iTunes, at Best Buy or at HMV, no matter how hard I searched, it was nowhere to be found. So, I got home one day, and typed the title into Google, hit search, and there it was, in all of its double-disc glory, Da Drought 3.
Da Drought 3 was my introduction to music blogs and mixtape-hosting websites, and it started a long, long love affair between me and sites like DatPiff, Nah Right, 2DopeBoyz, illRoots, Rap Radar, OnSmash and so many more. It became an almost daily habit to get home from school and check if anything new had been released.
I was able to witness Wayne’s prolific mixtape run in real-time and get early exposure to blog era staples like Mac Miller, Nipsey Hussle, Wale, Big K.R.I.T., The Cool Kids, Kendrick Lamar, and a multitude of other great artists, all for free. It was an amazingly eclectic era, where I could find music around every corner and it brought me some of my favourite artists and projects of all-time.
From J. Cole’s The Warm Up to Frank Ocean’s nostalgia, ULTRA., this era saw the beginnings of some of the biggest and most critically acclaimed artists of the last decade. No labels, no pressure, just their raw skill and talent on display and free of charge, and they captured the ears and hearts of millions in the process.
The tragic thing is, as years have passed and we’ve developed these wonderful new technologies for music consumption known as digital streaming platforms (DSPs), these mixtapes are becoming lost to time. There is an army of J. Cole fans out there who’ve never heard of his classics like The Warm Up or Friday Night Lights, and it’s not their fault.
These mixtapes existed in a weird area where, because they were free, the artists never needed to clear samples, as they weren’t making money directly from the music. The mixtape was a free promotional tool used to gain exposure and the real money was in touring and merch. They were able to sample whatever they wanted and because it wasn’t something they were profiting from, there was rarely any push back from the original artists.
This is where the problem lies for these mixtapes — once a project makes it to one of these DSPs, it starts making money. Even though artists only make a fraction of a penny off of each play on Spotify or Apple Music, the fact that they’ll be profiting at all without clearing these samples is grounds for a lawsuit. Because of this, these projects don’t get put on DSPs and because of that, they’re starting to be overlooked and forgotten by younger listeners.
For those listeners, these DSPs have made music consumption so simple that all they have to do is open an app and whatever they want to listen to is right there. With such a streamlined process for acquiring music, who has the time to boot up their computer, download music and add it to their Apple Music library, or even download a separate app just for these mixtapes?
It’s a process that’s become overly complicated over time, not by way of ever actually complicating the process, but because DSPs make everything else so much simpler. A lot of these projects not being available on these platforms has essentially forced them to cease to exist to those who weren’t around for their release, which is tragic as they are some of the best projects of the last decade or so.
Even more tragic is the state in which some of these projects are released to streaming services, either heavily altered or just missing some of their best tracks.
For example, Lil Wayne’s No Ceilings mixtape is arguably the greatest mixtape of all-time. Earlier this year, it was added to DSPs, missing all the skits and a third of its songs. While the tracks on here still showcase Wayne at his peak, the amount of songs that are missing makes relistening feel like rewatching your favourite film and some integral scenes are randomly missing.
If the non-inclusion of blog era classics on these platforms erases some of the most important moments in hip hop’s history, instances like this greatly alter that history and lessen the potential impact that these projects could have on new listeners.
It’s a shame that the unadulterated original versions of these classic mixtapes are going to fall victim to time, copyright issues and technological advancements in music distribution. This is especially disappointing considering that this era occurred so recently and essentially launched the careers of some of the biggest artists in the world today.
Still, for those who lived through the blog era and lived with the classic mixtapes that came out of it, it’s a period in time that will forever remain special. The careers it birthed and legacy it carries will live on with those who cherished the era, even if the original music itself doesn’t get the chance to.
Graphic by Taylor Reddam