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 "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 ...

Page 5

 "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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Mixtapes have not been mere collections of obscure or unreleased tracks — over the years there have been major releases of important music desired by legions of fans, though most likely heard at first only by streetwise hip-hop aficionados who know where to score the tapes. Try topping the one-two punch of "The Realest": This track, on DJ Whoo Kid's mixtape Max Payne 2, combines never-before-heard vocals the Notorious B.I.G recorded before he signed to Bad Boy with a new verse and chorus laid down by 50 Cent. Remember a little ditty called "It's All About the Benjamins"? Years ago, DJ Clue debuted the original version of the song, which just featured Puff Daddy and the LOX. (Click for a rundown of some of the most important mixtapes of all time).

"I remember when I first started listening to [DJ] Clue tapes, and I'm from Atlanta, the mixtape game ain't that heavy out here," Jermaine Dupri said. "Mase, Cam'ron, the LOX and DMX were all on a tape before they was ever signed. They became rap superstars and that's what the mixtapes are right now — the next wave of music. The DJs definitely have a good sense of 'this could be hot.' "

  "When it's a hit record on the mixtapes, somehow it climbs into the clubs." - Snoop Dogg
"On the West Coast it doesn't even matter," Snoop Dogg said about the mixtape game. "We got a couple of people that's trying [to get a mixtape scene going], but we don't get the notoriety that they do on the East Coast. They are dedicated to it. When it's a hit record on the mixtapes, somehow it climbs into the clubs, then it climbs onto the radio station. Me, I did it with 'Pimp Slapp'd.' I dropped that on the [East Coast] mixtapes last year and it was everywhere. Then I dropped 'Lollipop' and it was everywhere. I'm like, 'OK, this is a good way right here. I gotta turn my West Coast rappers into knowing this is a process we need to do.' "

While West Coast artists seem to prefer direct selling of complete albums, and the Atlanta scene focuses on basic party mixtapes, other areas of the U.S. are catching on. DJ Mike Love is holding it down in Chicago, and his Midwest neighbors, the St. Lunatics, are planning to put out their own mixtapes and help the St. Louis scene thrive. Meanwhile, Lil' Wayne and his new group, the Sqad, have been generating a heavy buzz in New Orleans. Not to mention all the DJs who put out their mixtapes on the Internet. Given the story of 50 Cent, it seems likely that mixtape mania will only spread across the rest of the country.

But right now, mixtapes are still most popular where they started, in the streets of New York, where they're sold (illegally, as no taxes are collected and samples aren't cleared) in mom-and-pop stores and on blankets alongside black-market copies of popular current albums. And in the battle of legitimate albums versus mixtapes, mixtapes are increasingly the winners.

"Mixtapes are selling way more than regular CDs," said Ra-Lou, who peddles pirated CDs on Jamaica Avenue in Queens, New York, which is an historically favorite spot for street vendors. "That's what the kids want. If I have a hot 50 Cent [mixtape] or a Kay Slay, it'll sell out. I'm still selling some mixtapes that came out a year ago. But something like Jay-Z's Blueprint 2 will only be hot for a few weeks then die down."

At a time when the "real" music business is crumbling — sales figures last year were down 8.7 percent from 2001 — the mixtape industry is thriving. For one thing, the mixtapes are cheaper than regular albums on sale at retail outlets. And fans know when they get their hands on a mixtape, most of the tracks are probably going to be hot. A so-so deep cut on say, Busta Rhymes' It Ain't Safe No More would never make it onto a discerning DJs mixtape — only the choice tracks are supposed to reach the streets.

And not only is the music on mixtapes supposed to bang, it also has to be honest and uncompromised.

NEXT: Why mixtapes are more 'real' than real albums, and P. Diddy says labels don't have the heart to put out new artists anymore ...
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Photo: MTV.com

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