Why Are Rappers Obsessed With Calling Albums “Mixtapes?”

Mixtapes have an iconic status in hip-hop. Their roots lie in the bootleg tapes of early rap groups’ rehearsals and performances, impromptu recordings that felt about as commercially viable as taking audio of your family barbecue and passing the resulting tape around the neighborhood. The medium took a big step forward when DJs Brucie B and Ron G began to elevate the form, releasing must-listen “blend tapes.” DJs were soon competing to be the first to get songs fresh out of the studio (often by less-than-honest means), or become the exclusive purveyor of the latest freestyle. From there it was off to the races.

By the early 2000s, this DJ-centric model was butting up against a more artist-centric take on the form, popularized by 50 Cent and G-Unit. In order to build a buzz, the crew (and countless other rappers in their wake) began taking instrumentals from pretty much everywhere—already-popular songs included and encouraged—and rapping over them. The result was a new kind of mixtape, that sat on the shelf at your local mixtape spot (R.I.P. to Burkina) next to the earlier tapes.

Of course, not long after, the internet came for the retail mixtape game the way it came for the rest of the music industry. Suddenly the same legally dubious mixtapes were spread to a huge audience, often for free or for the cost of your email address, through sites like DatPiff and Live Mixtapes.

Liberating mixtapes from their physical form led to an expanding of the concept as well. Suddenly artists like Drake were making fully-fledged debut statements of purpose with barely a stolen beat. Then you had The Weeknd and Chance The Rapper demonstrating that, if you had a great album to your name, released it for free and called it a mixtape you, too, could have a meteoric rise.

Today, the majority of projects that artists call mixtapes are indistinguishable from albums in nearly every regard. Original production, as opposed to freestyles over existing songs? Check. High-profile features? Check. Released by a major label? Check. Put up for sale, rather than released for free? Thanks to subscription streaming services, check, check, and double-check.

The question that remains, is why does everyone from ASAP Ferg to Drake to Chance to Dave East seem so desperate to call their albums anything but “albums?” At first glance, it seems absurd. A few weeks ago, rapper Dave East released a project on Def Jam that he called an EP. It’s 13 tracks long and runs for over 40 minutes—even by the flexible standards of the EP, that looks a lot like an album. Just last month, ASAP Ferg put out Still Striving, ostensibly a mixtape, despite the fact that it was put out by RCA and contained top-billed features by, among others, Snoop, Rick Ross, and Migos.

The problem appears to be simple: “Album” is a word that comes with heavy expectations. They’ve been around since the late 1940s, and pioneered by people like Frank Sinatra, The Beatles, and Stevie Wonder. You have a favorite album by your favorite artist. We still have all-night debates about the greatest album—whether Illmatic is better than Only Built 4 Cuban Linx or Ready to Die, or which Jay Z album is the greatest (even Hov himself has jumped into that one). Albums are important. They’re supposed to capture something about our time, about the way we live our lives. They should be statements about the artist.

“I feel like, [a mixtape] is more artistic freedom,” Ferg said in a recent interview with The Breakfast Club. “An album is so serious. With Always Strive and Prosper, my last album, it was so serious about my trials and tribulations, how I became A$AP Ferg, jobs I had before, all of that shit, but this mixtape was basically like an open door policy where I had, like, all my friends come and we just made music and had fun. It was, like, not so serious. We just wanted an excuse to party on the song.”

Dave East had similar thoughts. He told Billboard that he was saving his important stories, the ones with “super-detailed and specific moments,” for his album. “I don’t think it’s album time yet,” he said.

Mixtapes, on the other hand, are meant to be of-the-moment. And by definition, they shy away from being cohesive statements. After all, “mix” is in the very name. And the classic examples of the form contain 50-plus songs all blended together, or four dozen or so rappers freestyling, or even three guys rapping over a bunch of random shit. So calling Still Striving or If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late a “mixtape” changes (or, some might argue, lowers) expectations, both artistically and, by extension, commercially.

If an artist’s album sells poorly, speculation begins almost immediately. What happened? Did they choose the wrong single? Are they past their prime? On the other hand, sales expectations for a mixtape are lessened, because it’s not a full-on artistic statement. It’s just messing around, having some fun—even if that “fun” is promoted by the same billion-dollar corporation that releases those erstwhile (hopefully) blockbuster albums next time around.

Calling a project a “mixtape,” “EP,” “playlist,” or, hell, a “project”—anything but an “album”—sends a signal to fans and the press to bring a different set of expectations, and to lower the pressure a little bit. No wonder it’s such a common move. With such an easy out available, it’s a wonder people release albums at all.

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21 Savage’s ‘Issa Album’ Is Finally Here

After what feels to his fans like an eternal wait, 21 Savage's debut Issa Album is finally here. The 14-track project features previously-teased songs like “Close My Eyes and the Metro Boomin-produced “Bank Account,” as well as plenty of new material.

The rapper announced the album's release date only a week ago. His recent single “All the Smoke” does not appear on the project. 

21 Savage released two successful mixtapes, The Slaughter Tape and Slaughter King, in 2015. He followed that up with a collaborative EP with Metro Boomin last summer. But Issa Album is the 24-year-old's first studio album. He has lately been in the headlines for his love life, since he was spotted out in public with Amber Rose

In addition to the album, 21 Savage is also introducing his ISSA lifestyle brand via an online shop at Issa.shop powered by Cap That. The launch will present three initial unisex capsules: Slaughter Gang “Flock together,” ISSA Album collection designed by SomeHoodlum, and SAVAGE Box. 

Slaughter Gang will consist of joggers, coach’s jackets, T-shirts, hats, and a Levi’s denim jacket embroidered with “Savage” on the chest and a “Savage Eagle” on the back. Prices for this capsule range from $25 to $250.

ISSA 1

ISSA 2

ISSA 3

ISSA 4

ISSA 5

ISSA 7

ISSA 8

The Issa Album Collection will deliver a batch of tees inspired by the project’s cover art. Each design was created by SomeHoodlum, a graphic designer who’s worked with everyone from Lil Uzi Vert to Schoolboy Q to Migos. Each piece in the Issa Album range is priced at $25.

Issa_Cover_Pink_Tee

Issa_Cover_White_Tee

Issa_Life_Style_T-Shirt

The Savage Box Collection offers an additional nine T-shirts with the word “Savage” featured on the front. The design is very similar to Supreme’s iconic box logo, which was inspired by artist Barbara Kruger’s work. Each of these tees will cost you $25.

Black_Blue_Box

Black_Yellow_Box

Teal_Yellow_Box

White_Blue_Box

All of the items come with a digital copy of Issa and a sticker of the album cover. Once you've gotten your fill of the merch, you can download Issa Album over at iTunes and stream it on Apple Music. You can also check it out below via Spotify.

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Joe Budden and DJ Akademiks Discuss Rob Kardashian and Blac Chyna Drama on ‘Everyday Struggle’

On today's Everyday Struggle, Joe Budden, DJ Akademiks, and Nadeska go through all of the Rob Kardashian and Blac Chyna drama, including T.I. getting involved and Snoop Dogg sharing his thoughts. Later, the crew talk Jay Z's new album going platinum in under a week and 50 Cent's hilarious review of the project. To wrap, Budden and Akademiks discuss Lil Wayne's new EP, French Montana's album tracklist, and whether or not Joe is bitter. 

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21 Savage Announces Release Date for Debut Album ‘Issa’

21 Savage has announced the release date for his long-awaited debut album, Issa. The album will come out July 7, per a post on 21 Savage's Instagram account.

 

Issa not a single 7-7-17

A post shared by Saint Laurent Don (@21savage) on Jun 29, 2017 at 3:08pm PDT

The 24-year-old Atlanta rapper has been on the come-up for the past couple years. He really broke through in 2016, the year he was named to XXL's Freshman Class. 

In July of last year, he released a joint EP, Savage Mode, with Atlanta producer Metro Boomin. His single “X” off that EP, featuring Future, went platinum. Last year, he also made the cover of Fader.

Savage has two mixtapes, The Slaughter Tape and Slaughter King, both released in 2015, but Issa (a play on “it's a”) will mark his first album.

Savage recently wrapped up the 29-date Issa Tour, which featured Young M.A., Tee Grizzley, and Young Nudy. 

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New Partynextdoor and Quavo Collaboration Surfaces

A new Partynextdoor and Quavo collaboration surfaced online. The track, possibly called “Team,” was spotted by HipHop-N-More Tuesday. The track is believed to feature production by Murda Beatz, i.e. the same dude who gave us Drake and Travis Scott's “Portland” and the underrated 2 Chainz single “It's a Vibe.”

The track was first teased by Quavo on Instagram back in March 2016:

 

🙌🏾Legends Qua x Party #YRN2 #OVO

A post shared by QuavoHuncho (@quavohuncho) on Mar 26, 2016 at 7:52am PDT

Another Partynextdoor track, possibly called “It's Simple,” also appeared online this week.

Partynextdoor and Quavo previously collaborated on “More” and “Cuffed Up” in 2016, both featuring production by Murda Beatz.

Partynextdoor just released his Colours 2 EP with producer G. Ry at the top of this month. In an interview with Complex shortly after the EP's release, G. Ry outlined the importance of the Colours project. “These EPs are important to us because it's the canvas for me and Party to showcase our talents differently than what the fans are used to hearing and to the style of music people are hearing from other artist's at the time,” he said. As a producer, G. Ry added, it's his job to ensure new songs “sound differently” while still being able to sonically coexist.

Quavo is also expected to release an untitled collaborative project of some sort with Travis Scott soon. Though details of the project remain scarce, Scott told a Birds Eye View crowd earlier this month that he and Quavo had been hard at work in the studio.

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Trending Topics: DJ Carnage on Donald Glover, Young Thug, and Game of Thrones

DJ Carnage is a name equally respected in dance and hip-hop circles. He's an established name on the live festival circuit, even starting his own, RARE, in Orlando. That's where he met Young Thug, and the two linked up for an EP that's coming soon. Carnage's other upcoming collaborations are no less impressive—Lil YachtyMigos, and Meek Mill are among those who have recently blessed a Carnage beat, and the results are massive. 

Those tracks are on the way, but when DJ Carnage stopped by the offices, we wanted to talk about the here and now. For the latest episode of Trending Topics, we asked the artist about that Thug EP, the many talents of Donald Glover, and what it takes to enjoy a festival the right way. Watch Carnage's Trending Topics above, and check out last week's cut with Ryan Hemsworth below. 

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5 Things We Learned About SZA on ‘Everyday Struggle’

Ever since the singer linked up with the TDE crew, SZA has produced a steady stream dope music. She proved herself as a capable feature artist alongside the likes of Kendrick Lamar and Jay Rock, but more importantly she shined as the lead artist on several projects, including 2014's eclectic, soulful EP, Z. Several solid years of momentum have us waiting impatiently on SZA's Ctrl, her debut studio album dropping on June 9.

The 26-year-old singer was kind enough to spend some time with the Everyday Struggle crew before Ctrl drops, and we learned a good deal about her during the free-flowing conversation. Here's what we took away from our interview with her, and you can watch the full episode above.

SZA is ready to come out of her shell

During the formative stage of her career, SZA self-admitted she was shy, which is not the most common trait in people who perform for a living. But after earning reps in the industry and coming into her own as an artist, it seems like the old, shy SZA is going to be a thing of the past.

“I was editing myself,” she said of her past reservations. “But now I've given up on that.”

SZA doesn't like to write for other artists

A lot of singers below the mega-star level make a ton of their money writing and producing for other artists. Get a songwriting credit on a hit song, and you're set to rake in the royalty checks for the foreseeable future.

But SZA admitted she's not totally comfortable writing music for anyone else, even if it's in her repertoire. “I don't like to,” she said. “I can't write someone else's truth. I've just started writing, I've only written for like Rihanna and Beyonce.”

SZA thinks the industry is too concerned with branding

Getting labeled a certain type of artist is increasingly useless in 2017, with hip-hop giants routinely crossing over into singing and R&B. SZA finds branding yourself in a particular way—as an artist or just in general—is way too big of a focus.

“We know a lot of Americans that are only brands. I only know what connects with people. I just have to be me,” she said. “Am I art? Am I branding myself? That's too much—I'd rather focus on the details.”

“Ctrl” is about the illusion of control

If you were wondering what the new album's focus would be, SZA elaborated on the title, telling Everyday Struggle what the meaning is behind the name.

“It's about analog and being at a time where we were brought information more slowly,” she said. “Control is a concept, you think about getting away from analog, control is an illusion, you try and force it.”

SZA believes artists have to focus on themselves

As she prepares to drop her debut album, SZA talked a lot about the creative process behind Ctrl. Though she claims you don't throw away all the musical inspiration that brought you here, she realized at a certain point an artist's work has to come predominantly from within.

“When you first make an album, you only have your favorite albums from your favorite artists,” she said. “And you don't come close to touching them. How do I satisfy myself sonically?”

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Joe Budden and DJ Akademiks Break Down DJ Khaled and Drake’s New Song “To the Max”

On today's Everyday Struggle, Joe Budden, DJ Akademiks, and Nadeska break down the new DJ Khaled and Drake single “To the Max” and decide whether the two connected for another hit. They also talk about the new Partynextdoor Colours 2 EP before going into the Bill Maher n-word controversy and if they were surprised Killer Mike defended the HBO host. Later, they discuss Kendrick Lamar buying a Toyota for his sister and rapper Wifisfuneral getting jumped after crowd surfing. They also get into the leaked Kanye West songs and try to figure out the direction his music is going in. In the quick hits, the gang talk Childish Gambino's potential retirement, Pusha T giving back, and Joyner Lucas dissing Logic. 

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Jessie Reyez on Music Industry Gatekeepers and the ‘Kiddo’ EP

Jessie Reyez is going to be a star. The singer and songwriter from Toronto killed it at our SXSW No Ceilings show, and in April she released her debut EP, Kiddo.

One of the most powerful songs on the EP is “Gatekeeper,” in which Jessie tells a true story about sexism and manipulation in the music industry. She released a music video, and an extended short film which shares what happened in painful detail. While Jessie was in New York, she broke down why it's so important to be vocal about problems like this and explained the message behind the Kiddo cover, too.

Watch the interview with Jessie above, and check out her brilliant “Shutter Island” live performance from Austin, TX, below.

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Young Thug Will Release a Singing Album Executive Produced by Drake

Did anyone see this coming? On Wednesday night, Young Thug returned to Twitter to announce he will drop a new album sometime this week. But it’s not just any project …

You read right. Thugger is blessing his fans with a singing album that appears to be titled E.B.B.T.G. (Easy Breezy Beautiful Thugger Girls).

There aren’t many details about the album; however, Thug did reveal Drake served as the executive producer. The two hit the road together earlier this year for the U.K. leg of Drizzy’s Boy Meets World tour. Thug also made an appearance on “Sacrifices” off of Drake’s More Life album.

 The news comes less than a week after Thug rolled out the visual for his new single “All the Time.” 

E.B.B.T.G. will mark Thug's first full-length release since 2016's Jeffery.

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