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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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Obviously hip-hop fans cop mixtapes because they want to hear the hottest compilations of music around. Some are partial to the freestyles, some love previewing the newest, most exclusive material available, and others just love to hear their favorite MC or DJ rant in between songs.

Another aspect of these street CDs that can't be ignored is the "X" factor — when picking up a mixtape, you never know if it could end up going down in hip-hop history. In the late '80s, for example, who knew that Kid Capri's 82 Break Beats mixtape would serve as a sample goldmine for many of today's mic rockers, including Ghostface Killah? Years before that, who would have thought that people would go insane for a tape that featured a live battle between Kool Moe Dee and Chief Rocker Busy Bee from the club Harlem World? The fact is, you never really know how important a mixtape will be until the streets have had time to make their judgment.

Here's a look at a few classic mixtapes that have either set trends and precedents or marked a significant time in the annals of rap ...

DJ Tony Touch DJ: Tony Touch
Mixtape name: Power Cypha Series (1996, 1997, 1999)
Significance: These mixtapes were strictly for lovers of lethal lyrics. Each Power Cypha featured 50 freestyles from 50 different MCs. You can almost use this trifecta of music as a hip-hop history guide, because everybody who was anybody at the time these tapes were released got on the mic and vented their most volatile verbiage. Some of the wordsmiths who participated, like Jeru the Damaja, Onyx, Hurricane G, Das EFX and Shyheim the Rugged Child, haven't been heard from in a while. Others, like Fat Joe, Redman, Busta Rhymes and Eminem, have become rhyme icons.

DJ Clue DJ: Clue
Mixtape name: The Professional and The Professional 2 (1998, 2000)
Significance: Duh! If DJs can sell thousands of mixtapes each month through word-of-mouth, with greater accessibility and a promotional machine behind them, they're obviously going to sell even more units. Although Funkmaster Flex's major-label release The Mix Tape: Vol. 1 60 Minutes of Funk was the first mixtape to go gold, DJ Clue showed the world how it's really done. Queens' Question Mark Man went platinum twice with his Roc-A-Fella releases without having to drop any videos.

Sway DJ: Sway and Tech and DJ Revolution
Mixtape name: This or That (1999)
Significance: Before MTV News' very own Sway was reporting the latest news, he was introducing the world to the hottest MCs. Sway and his partner King Tech — who DJed together for years on California radio, building their names with the legendary "Wake Up Show" — compiled freestyles from rappers on both coasts, snippets of hip-hop classics and original music for this mixtape. One of the artists featured on This or That was a then-unsigned rapper named Eminem. Eventually Interscope signed a deal with Sway and Tech to release the mixtape in stores, and the company's president, Jimmy Iovine, decided to pursue Eminem as well. The rest is ... You know the rest.

DJ Kay Slay DJ: Kay Slay (2001)
Mixtape name: Streetsweepers series (2001)
Significance: Leave it up to hip-hop's Drama King to help get the ball rolling on one of the greatest battles in hip-hop history. Since 1999, Kay's been featuring different MCs' dis records on his Streetsweepers mixtapes. Slay took it to the next level in 2001, when he put out a recording of Jay-Z's live debut of "The Takeover" from his performance at Summer Jam. Although everyone in New York was talking about the concert, Slay quickly let the rest of the country hear what the Big Apple was buzzing about. And, on a later mixtape, it was Kay Slay who was the first to play "Ether," Nas' response to Jigga's dis track.

DJ Whoo Kid DJ: Whoo Kid
Mixtape name: Max Payne 2 (2002)
Significance: By the time Whoo Kid dropped this CD in 2002, the 50 Cent craze was already bubbling underground. This mixtape, however, really helped things get out of hand by introducing the song "The Realest." Not only did the cut contain unreleased vocals that the Notorious B.I.G recorded before he signed to Bad Boy, but 50 laid a verse and a chorus on top of a beat made by producer Red Spyda specifically for the song. The buzz in the streets was so huge, radio program directors were forced to add the track to their playlists.

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Photo: Walik Goshorn

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