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Mixtape Monday Midseason Report: 50 Cent, Cam'ron Take To YouTube; Lil Wayne Breaks Out

— by Shaheem Reid and Jayson Rodriguez

Major League Baseball just celebrated its Midsummer Classic — now it's our turn to sit back, reflect and do a quick analysis of what's been going on in the streets and the mixtape game. 2007 has been kinda weird so far because a few of the usual mixtape mainstays like D-Block, G-Unit and even DJ Drama haven't been as audible as they've been in the past few years, leaving the doors open for a new cast to step up.

The year started off with the entire industry crashing when the government decided to get involved in the circuit and put the hammer down. With so much going on, we decided to give you guys our take on the 10 most significant new stories for mixtapes this year.

1. DJs Drama And Cannon Arrested, Their Peers Fall Back

January 16, 2007: the day the mixtape game went into a tailspin. The Atlanta studio of the Aphilliate Music Group was raided by federal officers at the behest of the Recording Industry Association of America. With accusations — which Drama fully denies — that he was bootlegging CDs and breaking a plethora of other laws, Dram took a long hiatus from putting out a new installment in his highly successful Gangsta Grillz series of mixtapes and focused on his radio show, completing his official Gangsta Grillz album and getting his label off the ground. With the Feds keeping surveillance on the streets, we saw a severe drop-off in output from many of the top-dog, iconic mixtape figures such as Kay Slay, Clue and the Haitian Barry White himself, Whoo Kid. The game has been hurting.

» Second-Half Outlook: A few weeks ago, Drama released his first mixtape since his arrest, but with a debut album filled with guest appearances from Outkast and Beanie Sigel, and his job as T.I.'s tour DJ to occupy a bulk of his time, it's unclear if we can get as many helpings of those treats Mr. Thanksgiving's been spoiling us with over the past few years. As for his peers, a bunch of new, lesser-known names have been stepping up in the absence of the heavyweights, but the resolution of Drama and Cannon's case will probably have an influence one way or another on how the game goes. When the case will be resolved is anyone's guess — the Aphilliates still have yet to see a day in court.

2. Lil Wayne Eats Rappers And Floods The Circuit

  Lil Wayne: The greatest rapper alive?
His face has been on the most mixtape covers — fitting, as he's put out more music than anyone. While some DJs may have been gun-shy about feeding the streets, Wayne was our own personal chef this year. His double-CD, spring's Da Drought 3, was our pick for best mixtape this year (so far), while myriad random gems of his own like "I Feel Like Dying" or scene-stealing guest spots seem to pop up out of nowhere every week. The respect he has from the industry is massive, the love from the fans immense.

» Second-Half Outlook: NBA star Latrell Sprewell has a better chance of coming out of retirement, getting signed to the Seattle SuperSonics and playing for the coach he once choked a decade ago, P.J. Carlesimo, than there is of seeing Weezy slow down. He loves to rap, and with his skill level the best it's ever been, he's going to keep showing off and trying to prove he's the best.

3. Hip-Hop Goes Under The Gun ... Again

  Rev. Al Sharpton pays Don Imus a visit
Although it wasn't planned, and they probably would hate to be associated with each other, Oprah and Don Imus were like the '07 Bonnie and Clyde when it came to muddying hip-hop's name this year. The infamous Imus blamed rap for his use of the words "nappy-headed hos" on his radio program. While Imus was bashed in the media and fired a week later, some said that hip-hop actually might have a hand in those searing comments and called for some of the harsher images and words to be monitored more closely or even banned altogether. America's top-paid entertainer unloaded the bandwagon right at the doors of her Harpo Productions studio when Winfrey had two days' worth of programming dedicated to the topic. While dialogue is always healthy, many — including the Mixtape Monday family — felt the shows were one-sided. While Winfrey and students from Spelman College called out rappers like Nelly and Snoop Dogg, none of the people they talked about on the show were there to defend themselves or their art.

» Second-Half Outlook: We've seen this all before with Death Row and Ice-T in the '90s, 2 Live Crew in the '80s, heck, some said Vincent Price's rap on "Thriller" was too hard-core when it came out. Some people are going to find some rap offensive. That will never change. But there is some hip-hop that makes you want to get out of your chair and dance, and some might even make you want to pick up a book and learn something. Hip-hop is all-encompassing.

4. G's Up, Sales Down

It's hard out here for a pimp, trapper, hustler, even a rapper who parties like a rock star. As the SoundScan charts are indicating, you have to be in the very upper artistic echelons to sell a significant number of albums. Huge songs like the Shop Boyz's "Party Like a Rockstar," MIMS' "This Is Why I'm Hot" and even Fabolous' "Make Me Better" haven't made the fans go to the store and buy CDs by the artists who made these hits. The year started with most rappers — heck, most artists in any genre, for that matter — having to be satisfied with a unit count of 350,000 to 500,000.

» Second-Half Outlook: Help is coming. T.I.'s T.I. vs. T.I.P. debuted with close to 500,000 in sales in its first week of release, and that should be the first MC release this year to sell a million albums. And with LPs from other big boys like 50 Cent, Kanye West and Nelly due before the end of 2007, a few more rappers should have platinum plaques by Christmas.

5. Gimmicks Get 'Em Going

  Jason Fox in "Aunt Jackie"
While MCs like Weezy and T.I. still have lyrics to go, these days the dance floor is where big things are really poppin'. From moves like Harlem fave the Aunt Jackie and Huey's "Pop, Lock and Drop It," the same-old two-step just ain't getting it anymore. Google any of the dances and you'll catch thousands of online videos of kids stepping — Diddy's son Justin is in on the act too. Even a spitter like Lil Mama injected dances like the "toe wop" in her "Lip Gloss" video. And while the big Southern chants and hooks are still winning (crunk ain't dead!), catchphrase choruses have been creeping on a come-up. Hurricane Chris' "A Bay Bay," "Party Like a Rockstar" and Lil Boosie's "Wipe Me Down" are the three big ones, and all summer long you've heard them yelled inside the clubs and outside on the corners. You know what it is.

» Second-Half Outlook: Aunt Jackie engineer Jason Fox recently inked a deal with Jermaine Dupri, but we still have to see if most of these acts will be anything more than one-hit wonders. Just look at how the acts behind last year's smashes "Chicken Noodle Soup" and "Walk It Out" have been overshadowed by their own dances.

6. Mixtapes Go More Digital Than Ever

  Mixtapes go digital
What's this? Seeing a little less of our friendly neighborhood, um, street vendor with your favorite rapper's mixtape lying out on his blanket in the street? Yup. Technology has caught up with the mixtape game. It's becoming easier than ever to download your favorite mixtape online. There are even whole Web sites where you either stream or download your tape for free.

» Second-Half Outlook: The 'hood's street vendors are not going anywhere. There are still plenty of DVDs to sell (four for 20 bucks). Plus, you still have a lot of cats who aren't tech-savvy and/or don't have time to download and burn.

7. We Takin' Over: DJs And Producers Come Up Big!

  DJ Khaled's "We Takin' Over" featuring Akon
While beat legends like Timbaland and Swizz Beatz continue to craft platinum blockbusters for the likes of Beyoncé and Justin Timberlake, they came back around as actual artists themselves. Swizz had four smoldering joints out this year already with "Money in the Bank," "It's Me Bitches" and its remix and "Top Down," and he hasn't even put an album out yet. One Man Band Man is on the way. Swizzy has been hot. He's been called to do guest appearances on records like Fabolous' "Return of the Hustle." Timbo's latest LP featured everyone from Dr. Dre to Nicole Scherzinger from the Pussycat Dolls, and the first single, "Give It to Me," with Justin Timberlake and Nelly Furtado, was a #1 song. Meanwhile, the current single, "The Way I Are," is killing the clubs and was heard on a recent McDonald's commercial. On the DJ side, Khaled shows us he has just as much pull as anyone in the game. He brought a gaggle of stars out for his independent album, We the Best, including the star-studded single "We Takin' Over." DJ Drama also had an impressive lineup for his single "Takin' Pictures," including Young Jeezy and T.I.

» Second-Half Outlook: More to come. Swizz should finally drop his LP, while Kanye West — who's even more revered as an MC than as a producer these days — has an album coming out, as well as albums from veteran Dame Grease (yeah, Grease is rappin') and DJ Felli Fel.

8. YouTube Kills The Mixtape Dis Track

  Cam'ron's "Curtis" diss video
When 50 Cent and Cam'ron got into it over the phone during 50's interview on Hot 97 in February, it was a moment we'd long been anticipating. A few days later, though, 50 struck when Kay Slay premiered "Funeral Music," a YouTube video Fif shot for a track going at Cam that made its debut on the DJ's MySpace page of all places. Soon, Cam responded with "Cuurtis," a YouTube clip of his own that mocked 50's street cred with its heckling hook ("Currrrtisssss!!") that had kids on the street, and even po-po, calling 50 out by name in it. The beef game went 2.0. Fif and Cam went another round with each other, then Scott Storch shot a clip of his own for "Built Like That" after hearing Timbaland call him out in interviews one too many times for his taste. Now, with Papoose and Uncle Murda's camps making what seems like daily diaries on video-sharing sites to address a supposed run-in between each other's entourages, it looks like dis tracks are as played-out as CDs. Why book studio time when you can just pull out the video cam and press "record"?

» Second-Half Outlook: Well, we're still waiting on Cam to come home from vacation. The deadline for his June 1 response has come and gone with no sign of Killa.

9. Is Brooklyn (Queens, Manhattan, Staten Island, Long Island Or The Bronx) In the House?

  Saigon and Papoose
We're not talking about you, Jay-Z, Nas, 50 and all you other established cats. But the top half of 2007 hasn't seen that one hot dude or chick from New York break through. Yes, MIMS had a big record with "This Is Why I'm Hot," and he probably made plenty of that ringtone money, but with the song fading out, so is his presence. Not too many people heard his debut album, Music Is My Savior. Albums that were supposed to drop last year by Maino, Jae Millz and Red Cafe were pushed back to this year but never came out. In fact, all three were signed to Universal Records and have since severed ties in search of new deals. Roc-A-Fella artist Tru-Life made a brief spark for himself when he clashed with the Dipset, but he became known more for beefing than hit records. Elsewhere, Papoose continues to drop mixtapes, but he still doesn't have a concrete release date for Nacirema Dream. Furthermore, fellow Brooklyn native Uncle Murda has been trying to discredit him publicly. Saigon has had his core audience waiting even longer for his Just Blaze/ Atlantic Records debut, and the delays for the project have been so frustrating to Sai Giddy, he and Blaze even aired out some family business on their blogs.

» Second-Half Outlook: Well, Pap seems to be the furthest along. He just released a single called "Bang It Out" with Snoop Dogg and the record looks like it could pick up. Saigon says the sample clearances that hampered the release of his first single have been resolved and his jump-off record should be released within the next couple of weeks. Newest Roc-A-Fella artist Uncle Murda has picked up some steam with his own underground joint, "Bullet Bullet," and the posse cut "Brooklyn" with Fabolous and Jay-Z.

10. Akon, T-Pain and R. Kelly Become The Main R&B Go-To Guys

  T-Pain and Akon
Akon sang about taking over the world one city at a time, and this year he's been conquering the music industry seemingly one artist at a time with his guest appearances. He's worked with almost all of them, from 50 Cent (the yet-to-be-released "I Still Will Kill") to DJ Khaled and Eminem to Gwen Stefani. Some negative YouTube footage featuring an underage fan may have scared away tour sponsors, but it didn't stop the fans from giving him his second triple-platinum LP. Akon wasn't the only one in the Konvict Muzik camp to take it all the way over the top though. T-Pain might just be the sleeper breakthrough artist of the year with his "Buy U a Drank" being one of the biggest records of the year and his technologically advanced melodies helping the likes of Bow Wow and R. Kelly have hits as well. Not that the R. doesn't know how to make a radio smash himself. 2006's Snoop Dogg smash, "That's That," was so big it carried into this year, while his features on records like Young Jeezy's "Go Getta" and Ciara's "Promise" remix kept him highly visible while he worked on his own Double Up LP.

» Second-Half Outlook: To state the obvious, a lot more guest spots from all three as well as them all putting out their own hit singles.

For other artists featured in Mixtape Mondays, check out Mixtape Mondays Headlines.

For a full-length feature on the role of mixtapes in the music industry, check out "Mixtapes: The Other Music Industry."

For other artists featured in Mixtape Mondays, check out Mixtape Mondays Headlines

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Photo: MTV News

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