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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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So how do mixtapes actually get to the street? Once the DJs or rhymers have assembled their underground offering, it's not shipped to Wal-Mart, Virgin or FYE. This part of the mixtape game even the most vocal of record spinners don't like to talk about. And if you do get them to speak on it, without batting an eye they'll tell you they have nothing to do with how their product gets out to consumers.

"I don't know, distributing mixtapes is illegal, man." - DJ Clue
"I don't know, distributing mixtapes is illegal, man," Clue, who pioneered the trend of having exclusive tracks from A-list MCs, said with a sly grin. "I don't distribute mixtapes. I just do them and they get out there. I do complimentary mail-outs to athletes — NBA cats and football cats are big hip-hop fans — and to little stores here and there, record stores and clothing stores." (Click here to find out how DJ Clue first became cool with some of hip-hop's most acclaimed line rippers).

Other DJs, like Kay Slay and Whoo Kid, admit to taking a more active role in making sure their work is heard on the streets, but swear that they don't make any profits.

"It's not me on that note," Slay, who many hail as the current mixtape king, said about acting as a conduit to the streets with his tapes. "It's the people I know. [The mixtapes are] for promotional use only."

"One thing I learned as time progressed in the game is that these bootleggers are beasts," said DJ Big Mike. "I've gotten calls from everywhere — Antigua, Ireland, Canada, L.A., Mexico — it's crazy how far a CD can go. It just really spreads like crack. The music is so universal. It's not just New York. They fiend for it more out of state, because they can't go to a Harlem Music Hut or something like that [to get the mixtapes easily.]"

"I got 400 and something stores myself," explained Whoo Kid, who says he mails free copies of his CDs all over the world. "But I take it to the main [wholesale] bootlegger and he does his thing and kills the streets. The main bootlegger has about 300 bootleggers [that he works with]. They all know each other. They all got their own portable pressing machines. It's not only them, it's regular people. My main thing is to get it bootlegged. I make more money from advertisers [who see] my tapes all over. It sounds crazy, but companies are starting to realize that people will buy these more than a regular album.

"Nobody can get rich off of a mixtape because it's an illegal business," continued Whoo Kid, who will often name his CDs after video games like "Grand Theft Auto" and "Max Payne" to rake in advertising dollars. "It's just a promotional tool. It's about making money on other things surrounding hip-hop. The mixtape game opened so many doors for me. I own my own marketing company, promotional hip-hop Web site, DVD-production company, and I get a million shows from the bootlegging. I can't even stop working right now."

Word on the street says that some DJs sell mixtapes to the stores either on consignment or straight-up for between $3 and $6 apiece, then the store will sell them for upwards of $10. Some DJs will sell their mixtapes to a "wholesaler" who presses up mass quantities of CDs. A wholesaler might also buy a CD at a store and then copy it himself. The wholesaler will sell it to the vendors on the streets for anywhere from $1.50 to $3 — it all depends on how hot the mixtape is.

While mixtape makers don't have to be as adroit on the 1s and 2s as they did when Grandmaster Flash reigned supreme, they do have to have some sort of vision. DJs like Cutmaster C and Whoo Kid are already putting out mixtape DVDs that combine original music, concert performances, underground videos, behind-the-scenes footage and candid interviews. Another spin-off are mixtape magazines, something DJ Boom is developing. Boom's mixtapes will soon come with little booklets that include credits, much like the inserts packaged with regular albums.

Regardless of how mixtapes change, as long as they meet hip-hop fans' demand for something new and flavorful, their influence over the music business will continue to be felt — that is, unless the outstretched hands of the record companies reach too far from the boardroom into the streets.

Many in the game are beginning to express concern that DJs need to be careful and not get too caught up in corporate politics or the purity of the mixtape game will be compromised.

"I think once we start letting all these companies get involved in it it's going to get blown out of proportion, and it's going to get taken away from where it needs to be," Jermaine Dupri warned. "They need to stay away and continue to let the DJs do what they do — break artists."

Given how much is at stake and how much money stands to be made — one need look no further than 50 Cent — it's questionable whether every DJ will be able to resist the temptation to do business with the labels.

For more on mixtapes, check out ...

Mixtape History: Grandmaster Flash and Afrika Bambaataa get the party started.

and ...

Classic Mixtapes: Five mixtapes that changed the game.

and ...

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

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