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Page 1

 "If you're a real rapper, you don't have to make a record for the radio or something for MTV." ...

Page 2

 While the "real" music business is crumbling, the mixtape industry is thriving ...

Page 3

 P. Diddy says labels don't have the heart to put out new artists anymore ...

Page 4

 50 Cent's mixtape success leads to record-breaking chart debut ...

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 "Distributing mixtapes is illegal, man!" ...

Mixtape History

 Grandmaster Flash and Afrika Bambaataa get the party started.

Classic Mixtapes

 Five mixtapes that changed the game.

Before We Had A Clue

 DJ Clue tells how he first became cool with some of hip-hop's most acclaimed line rippers.

 DJ Clue's Photo Album

Mixtape Mondays Archive

 For complete coverage of mixtape culture.

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-- by Shaheem Reid, with additional reporting by Sway Calloway, Rahman Dukes, Darin Byrne, Heather Parry and Curtis Waller

When 50 Cent's LP, Get Rich or Die Tryin', dropped on February 6, it was something like the 20th release of his career, though the first official album you could find from the rapper on the shelves at your favorite record store.

50, the latest star to come out of Eminem and Dr. Dre's Shady/Aftermath camp, had already found great success in the music industry. But not that music industry. The other music industry, the one where labels don't exist and there are no highly paid Lizzie Grubmans to publicize your new release, where the CDs are sold by vendors hawking them off dirty blankets on city streets, and bootlegging is encouraged. Welcome to the world of mixtapes — artists as big as P. Diddy use mixtapes as radio for the streets, and new rappers will do anything they can to get on them if they want to make a name for themselves.

  "I saturate the street market." - 50 Cent
"I saturate the street market," 50 Cent explained, "because mixtapes are the entry level of hip-hop."

Those words have never been more true. And every hip-hop artist, producer and label exec knows it.

"Mixtapes are incredible because they're straight from a brother's heart," LL Cool J said. "Music that they really feel, not music that just researches well. That's special, and that's my favorite way to listen to music: mixtapes."

"That's the way we got our fame and the way we got our word-of-mouth on the streets," Roc-A-Fella CEO Damon Dash said about the mixtape phenomenon. "Jay-Z would rap on every mixtape that meant something. That's the best way to talk to that real hip-hop consumer. That's how you get your respect. If you're a real rapper, you don't have to make a record for the radio or something for MTV. You get to really showcase your skills on mixtapes. We're always gonna use that as a tool."

  "We had mixtapes then and we got some coming out. [You got to] get your mixtape hustle on." - P. Diddy
"We were trying to get heard," P. Diddy said of the old Bad Boy mixtapes that came out in the mid-'90s. "We had mixtapes then and we got some coming out. [You got to] get your mixtape hustle on."

What exactly are mixtapes? In the days of old (the '70s) they were exactly what they were called: Cassette tapes with a mix of music from different artists put together by a DJ. Before rap records were even made, such DJs as Grandmaster Flash, Kool Herc and Afrika Bambaataa would record their party-spinning and performances at clubs and sell the tapes in the streets for $20 a pop. (Click here for a history of the mixtape.) These days, mixtapes come primarily as CDs, cost $5 to $10, and can feature any or all of the following:

Follow The Music: Anatomy Of A Mixtape
-Sought-after, unreleased "exclusive" tracks and previously released songs from A-list or up-and-coming rappers.

-Freestyles — an artist rhyming for one or two verses over one of their peers' beats.

-An entire "unofficial" album from one artist.

-DJs' special mixes of songs or the blending of two different tracks together.

-Turntablists and artists speaking out on current topics affecting themselves or the hip-hop community.

-DJs playing popular collections of songs at considerably slower speeds than normal. This process is called "Screwed Up" and is most popular in the South. It was originated by deceased Houston legend DJ Screw. Nowadays DJs are starting to add scratches and cuts to these mixes; this is called "Screwed Up and Chopped."

All of this happens with little to no involvement from record labels.

NEXT: While the 'real' music business is crumbling, the mixtape industry is thriving; and why mixtapes are outselling artists as big as Jay-Z ...
Photo: MTV.com

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