Mixtape Crackdown Sends a Mixed Message
Late on the night of May 13, a hip-hop promoter named Justo Faison died in a car crash in Virginia. And last week, on June 8, the East Village record and video shop Mondo Kim’s was raided by the New York Police Department. What do these two stories have in common? Here’s a hint: it’s cheap, popular and illegal.
Faison was the industry’s most energetic promoter of hip-hop mixtapes, the unlicensed compilations (almost always on CD, despite the name) of unreleased new songs, current hits, never-to-be-released freestyles and unofficial remixes. To keep (or get) hard-core listeners excited, rappers are expected to maintain a mixtape presence by supplying DJ’s with tracks and also by collaborating with them to release “hosted by” mixtapes. [...]
[...] While artists and record labels were celebrating Faison’s life and work, the Recording Industry Association of America was finding another way to pay tribute to the popularity of mixtapes. On May 12, the day before Faison died, it announced a crackdown on stores that sold “pirated CD’s,” a term that refers to “mixed tapes and compilation CD’s featuring one or more artists,” among other products. (The association’s taxonomy of piracy defines “counterfeit recordings” as illegal knockoffs of existing commercial CD’s, and “bootleg recordings” as illegal recordings of live performances or broadcasts.)
[...] “Retailers who are making money on the backs of musicians and record companies by selling pirated CD’s should know that this is absolutely no way to conduct a business.” Reached by telephone yesterday, Mr. Buckles confirmed that an association representative was present during the raid.
Note that phrase “musicians and record companies.” In its war against illegal music distribution, the association has often treated these two groups as one and the same, arguing that piracy-happy fans are hurting the artists they love. But when it comes to hip-hop mixtapes, it is in a trickier position: the artists themselves often help produce the same mixtapes that the association is trying to squelch, and shrewd record labels long ago figured out that mixtapes can help drive sales of conventional CD’s.