You might be used to friends and the occasional overzealous co-worker dropping their mixtapes on you, cautioning you against burning your hands on something so unquestionably “fire,” but what happens when the flaming tracks being dropped in your lap are concocted by none other than your favorite artists? It’s the new craze, pre-established artists with award winning albums and storied recording careers flipping the script and releasing mixtapes instead—awesome, Frankenstein-like creations that patch together multiple players across a wide spectrum of genres and voices into one decidedly hot mess—in the very best sense, of course.
Grimes is the latest participant in the mixtape trend, releasing Know Phase, a thirty-minute monster of diverse, muddled, mixtape goodness on BBC Radio 3 just last week, which gives a tantalizing glimpse into frontwoman Claire Boucher’s musical tastes and potential influences: “I tried to include a mix of weird stuff that I like that’s old, and some newer stuff I love that inspires, and all-time favorite songs” (via Papermag). The mixtape features talents like Aphex Twin, Tei Shi, The Internet, Shonen Knife, and Animal Collective (track listing and SoundCloud link below).
01 Aphex Twin – Xtal
02 Kelsey Lu – Morning After Coffee
03 Delerium – Aria (ft Mediæval Bæbes)
04 Shonen Knife – Ah, Singapore
05 Yamantaka//Sonic Titan – Hoshi Neko
06 The Internet – Special Affair
07 Kali Uchis – Ridin Round
08 Dil Se (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) – Satarangi Re
09 Bajirao Mastani (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) – Deewani Mastani
10 Tei Shi- Basically
11 HANA – Chimera
12 Now Now – Thread
13 Animal Collective – We Tigers
The Neighbourhood is another prime example of the mixtape and its ability to surpass expectations. Their mixtape, charmingly (if nonsensically) entitled #000000 & #Ffffff, debuted in 2014. In this instance, the group goes beyond a mere compilation of songs put lovingly together for the masses, à la Grimes. The West coast group partnered with acts like French Montana, DJ Drama, Raury, DJ Cannon, Casey Veggies, and 100s in order to release one glorious, mixtape that can aptly be described as flaming. It’s what I and musical plebeians like myself would describe as new age hip-hop—whatever you call it, the main point is that it is, simply put, eighteen tracks of pure gold. If you’re looking to get hooked right out of the gate, try “Lurk,” “H8M4CH1N3,” and “Jealousy.”
The allure of a mixtape from the artist’s perspective is a no-brainer. A listing of your favorite tracks can be produced relatively quickly and still give fans a peek into the making of your individual sound. Even though it might not be as simple to produce, a compilation of collaborative efforts that follow a single thread has the potential to be an enjoyable process for the group in question. By making a mixtape with colleagues and friends in the industry, a group can produce a product with a unique sound while easing the restrictions that accompany a traditional album—namely the pressure to stick to a pre-existing and expected “sound.”
And why so popular? Really, the answer to that question lies more in how the idea of a “mixtape” is perceived than in the actual, physical form said mixtape takes on. In case that was slightly too jumbled for you, here’s the root of what I’m getting at: hearing a single or any track off an album of an artist whose work you love is an expected relationship, that of a consumer and a producer without much in the way of equivalent exchange going on. Sure there is always the potential for an emotional reaction on your part, we are talking about music after all, whose fundamental purpose is to influence you on some metaphysical level.
But at its heart, the typical set up of a music purchaser and music maker is a one-way street—you know and consciously acknowledge to some degree that what you are hearing was intended for the masses, not penned solely for you. Unless of course your name happens to be Delilah and you know Tom Higgenson. Even though the true nature of the relationship between artist and fan does not change in the slightest when you consider the mixtape instead of the album, it is the semantics of the thing that make the difference, as they so often do.
A mixtape is something you make for a small, select, often even an individualized audience. It’s an intimate product whose connotation is inherently personal. You make a mixtape for your friend, for your significant other—so it’s no surprise that the idea of a preferred group or artist making a mixtape feels slightly more special than the alternative.
Like I said, it may not make logical sense—in essence, the mixtape is just an album with the veneer removed and a few more voices in evidence. That doesn’t change the fact that the finished project feels intentionally designed and personally directed. The mixtape feels like a compilation of favorite sounds, songs, and styles an artist has made and presented to the lowly, singular you; a personalized product that somehow breaches the impenetrable wall between buyer and seller.