For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been uploading thousands of Hip-hop Mixtapes into the archive. The resulting collection still has a way to go before it’s everything I have acquired at arm’s reach (limited by bandwidth and a few other technical factors), but now that it’s past 150 solid days of music on there, it’s quite enough to browse and “get the idea”, should you be so inclined.
A quick note: If women in scant bikinis, lionization of drug use and violence, and endless intense profanity is not your bag, this is a whole lot of that. Probably don’t visit.
I’m sure this is entirely old knowledge for some people, but it’s new to me, so I’ll describe the situation and the thinking.
Instead of The Part Where Jason Tries to Describe a Basic Thing, there’s some excellent introductions and writeups about mixtapes in Hip-Hop culture at these articles:
- A (Not at all Definitive) History of Hip Hop Mixtapes
- The History of Mixtapes
- The Real Difference Between a Mixtape and an Album
So, in quick summary, there have been mixtapes of many varieties for many years, going back to the 1970s to the dawn of what we call Hip-Hop, and throughout the time since the “tapes” have become CDs and ZIP files and are now still being released out into “the internet” to be spread around. The goal is to gain traction and attention for your musical act, or for your skills as a DJ, or who knows what else.
There is an entire ecosystem of mixtape distribution and access. There are easily tens of thousands of known mixtapes that have existed. This is a huge, already-extant environment out there, that was doing pretty well.
So naturally, I stuck my big fat face into it.
The code I had to write to pull in these tapes (which are often distributed via torrents, because the albums generally range between 80-200mb), then to clean up the resulting downloads, and make sure the right cover is the “official” cover in the collection, took me a while. It’s “human/machine augmented” stuff, because there’s massive variation in how the files come in. Let’s not pretend it’s real work – the real work is even keeping track of all this stuff.
I have a list of 17,000 tapes to access at the exact moment, and so something close to that number might end up at the Archive across the next couple months. Keeping track of new releases will have to be automated, I suppose. I’ll probably need help.
There’s a lot coded into the covers of these mixtapes (not to even mention the stuff coded into the lyrics themselves) – there’s stressing of riches, drug use, sexual drive, and oppression. I’m personally fascinated at the amount of reference to codeine and the purple color of “Purple Drank”, which, if you’ve missed that subject matter up to now… good for you.
There’s parody, there’s aggrandizement, and there’s every attempt to draw in the listeners in what is a pretty large pile of material floating around. I can listen to some of it, but not really much before I “get it”.
But it’s not about my personal preferences in music – it’s about the fact this whole set of material has meaning, reality and relevance to many, many people.
How do I know this has relevance? Within 24 hours of the first set of mixtapes going onto the Archive, many of the albums already had hundreds of viewers, and one of them broke a thousand views. As of this moment, one has passed 14,000 viewers, and has only been up for 5 days. Somebody wants this stuff, that’s for sure.
And that’s fundamentally what the Archive is about – bringing access to things. I’m sure when Brewster set the place up 20 years ago, his big dream wasn’t that a guy like me was going to show up and go “Video Games and Hip-Hop!!!” but here we are.
The end goal here, like all the things I do in this realm, is simple: Providing free access to huge amounts of culture, so people can reference, contextualize, enjoy and delight over material in an easy-to-reach, linkable, usable manner. Apparently it’s already taken off, but here you go too.
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