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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 ...

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 played a crucial role in a number of major rappers' careers. Established acts like the LOX, Fabolous and Cam'ron reaped the platinum and gold benefits of having a loyal fanbase that chased down their rhymes on the mixtapes. Since 1995, the LOX's Jadakiss, Styles and Sheek have had a more consistent presence on mixtapes than any solo MC or rap group. When the airwaves balked at playing the Yonkers trio's blood-soaked gunplay anthems, corner-crack-sale narrations, and general tales of decadence, the mixtapes acted as the LOX's radio station, playing host to such classic underground songs as "N---as Done Started Something" and "You'll See." The marketing power of their constant mixtape grind has practically guaranteed at least a gold plaque anytime a LOX-related project hits stores. Obviously the mainstream is also listening — not only have the LOX laid down vocals with almost every viable mic mechanic on the planet, but also for mainstream divas like Alicia Keys, Mariah Carey, Mya and Jennifer Lopez.

Fabolous knows a few things about collaborating with the ladies as well. But his teamwork with DJ Clue is what put him on the road to fame. Signed to Elektra through Clue's Desert Storm imprint, Fab went the grassroots route, freestyling on Clue's mixtapes for a couple of years and gaining a buzz. Fab's labelmate, Lil' Mo, first heard him on a Clue tape and immediately scrambled to get him on her blockbuster single, "Superwoman Part 2." Fab's years of street hustling ultimately paid off with a platinum plaque for his 2001 debut, Ghetto Fabolous.

Fellow DJ Clue freestyle alumnus Cam'ron also had to make his own opportunities. He already had a solo recording contract with Roc-A-Fella when he started putting out Diplomats mix CDs last year with his partners Juelez Santana and Jimmy Jones, figuring the streets were the best venue to shop a group deal.

  "We put our mixtape out ... After we did that, people started calling us for the deal." - Cam'ron
"There was a time where nobody wanted to sign Juelez or my man Jim or the Diplomats," Cam said. "We put our mixtape out, Volume One. It created a crazy buzz. Everybody loved it. After we did that, people started calling us for the deal. You ain't got to wait for the label promotion, you ain't got to wait for the marketing, you put a tape out in the streets, the streets gonna judge it itself."

The Roc bit in a major way, giving Cam his own imprint, Diplomat Records.

But far and away 50 Cent is the ultimate example of an artist who climbed the mixtape ladder to mainstream success. During his ascension, the streets watched, listened, applauded and pledged allegiance to his G-Unit flag. Its first week out, 50's official major-label debut, Get Rich or Die Tryin', sold over 872,000 copies in less than a full week in stores, bulldozing its way to the top of the Billboard albums chart. Although 50 didn't know he would push that many units so fast, he had no doubt that the name he had made for himself on mixtapes would deliver the streets to him.

"A new artist on the system that's designed by the majors, all you'll know from them [before you buy their album] is that very first single that they decide to put out," 50 said. "There's been several artists before that have released CDs that had only one good song or two good songs and that's what causes people not to purchase CDs immediately. They wait until they find out if this guy gives up a quality performance all the time. By then, your sales go down. Rap changes so rapidly that they can decide what you did for that album isn't hot anymore. I felt like I had to take advantage of that opportunity and hit the streets with the music myself."

One man who heard 50 Cent's mixtape work was Eminem.

  " 'Where is hip-hop gonna go?' When I heard 50's stuff ..." - Eminem
"I heard about 50 three or four years ago," said Eminem, who, along with Dr Dre, spared no expense signing 50 Cent in the fall of last year. (The story goes that they forked over $500,000 dollars and a watch of equal value.) "50 went away for a minute, he was quiet. Then he came back, did all the G-Unit stuff, and hit the streets with all the mixtape DJs. I kept hearing things, then my manager hit me off with a CD. I had been in a slump, thinking, 'Where is hip-hop gonna go?' When I heard 50's stuff, it was like, 'OK, let's see who 50's talking to now. Let's see what the story is on him.' "

Enter the beatmaster. "The hook-up with me and 50 started with Eminem giving me a call and asking if I was interested in collaborating with [him] to put an album out on 50," Dr. Dre said of the deal. "I said, 'Yeah, let's give it a shot.' "

They hit the bull's-eye.

Meanwhile, platinum acts like Busta Rhymes and the St. Lunatics will be putting out their own mixtapes to keep the concrete heat wave going. Because they know — as do their labels — that while good press, radio and video airplay can do a lot for an artist, there's nothing like street buzz to help you break through. And for street buzz, you need to be on a mixtape.

NEXT: Mixtapes spread 'like crack,' and will the record companies step in and ruin the scene? ... ...
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Photo: MTV.com

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