This Boston Globe article on the rise of hip-hop/R&B MP3 and gossip blogs feels like a blown opportunity, almost redundant (if not a little bit condescending) in the way it’s trying to make news out of “hip-hop blogs: they’re just like other MP3 blogs!”; it’s a shame, because while the increasing popularity of urban music blogs does represent a distinct and important development for reasons from shifting web demographics to label marketing strategies, this could almost be any story from a few years ago on the rise of MP3 blogs with a find and replace done on “rock” for “rap.” But even as it paints a typical scenario of bloggers and labels working in a tenuous, unspoken agreement, with record companies giving until bloggers take an inch too many, at least it points out that, unique from rock blogs, hip-hop MP3 blogs have the mixtape as conflicted kin:
Unlike those sites, the hip-hop and gossip blogs have a forebear in mixtapes: the R&B and hip-hop music compilations that the record industry has used for decades to create early excitement for music. But mixtapes have faced perennial legal hardships because of crackdowns by the Recording Industry Association of America. As mixtapes’ popularity wanes, fans have turned to black gossip and hip-hop blogs to find songs by artists such as Kanye West, Beyoncé, Common, and Ne-Yo. The music often arrives on the Web weeks before the official CD is released.
But are mixtapes really losing that much of their popularity to MP3 blogs as the article suggests? Somehow it’s hard to believe: Mixtapes offer a completely different experience (often as close to an album as many hip-hop artists get these days) than a single MP3, and you only have to look at the rise of blogs leaking entire mixtapes (or artists leaking and/or posting the tapes themselves) to realize that listeners still want that experience, that blogs and mixtapes have become a tandem experience. The mode of delivery may change, and the physical object may be increasingly a memory, but the format persists.