Back in January, the RIAA and a SWAT team raided the Atlanta studio of DJ Drama and arrested the DJ on piracy charges; the “piracy” accusation stemmed from Drama’s involvement in the mixtape scene, because he used samples that hadn’t been officially cleared by labels and music-publishing outfits on his mixes for artists like T.I. and Lil’ Wayne. In the months since, the mixtape scene has been quieter, but you could almost hear a pin drop last month, when Universal Music Group has tried to move in with a “legal mixtape” of its own:
The company has created a series titled “Lethal Squad Mixtapes,” expected to retail for $5 to $6. But it’s unclear whether a corporate take on the grass-roots idea of mixtapes — compilations, usually of copyrighted songs from other sources — will wash.
“I’m excited to see them do something different,” said Thuy Ngo, vice president at Irvine, Calif., music wholesaler Super D. “But it’s like they’re a day late and a dollar short: After the RIAA cracked down, all of us stopped carrying mixtapes.” …
“How ironic,” DJ Drama said of Universal’s plans. “I guess they’ve realized just how important mixtapes are.”
The initial “Lethal Squad Mixtapes: Dose #1,” mixed by Washington, D.C., newcomer DJ Bear, was released quietly July 13 and includes tracks by established stars such as Fabolous and Kanye West and lesser-knowns such as Young Chris and Jae Ellis. It has sold only 5,800 units, according to Nielsen SoundScan. “Lethal Squad Mixtapes: Dose #2″ is slated for September and will be mixed by Bear and Washington, D.C., radio DJ Quiksilva.
Eskay at Nah Right called this half-hearted attempt “nothing more than a label sanctioned attempt at a street version of those NOW CD’s that drop every couple of months,” and a look at the tracklist tells us that his assessment is on the money, out-of-date tracklist and all. Take the 50 Cent track on the comp, “Amusement Park,” which originally leaked in May–if people had wanted to hear it, they could have punched the track’s name into Google (or found it on their local hip-hop station). Maybe a few years ago, when Internet access wasn’t so widespread and leaked songs weren’t as strong of an influence on the pop-music discussion as a whole, this tactic would have worked. But now? It smells like another desperate move by an industry that’s trying to get people return to a mind-set where it was the gatekeeper of content, and not just an increasingly annoying way to get that content out to as many people as possible.
Universal Music tests the mixtape waters [Reuters]