When listening to a mixtape the illustrious DJ Jimmi Riggz recently (and graciously) passed by my ears for a pre-release listen, I was reminded of another pending 2010 mixtape release: Skyzoo’s Live from the Tape Deck.
Since it was a mixtape that lead me to a mixtape, I’ve been thinking a bit on the referential nature of the mixtape and its many places in hip-hop. As an art form in themselves, mixtapes come in so many shapes and forms, but the best part about a good DJ mixtape, at least for me, is trying to identify the origins of the (re)recorded sounds I hear.
The experience is like sonic Jeapordy, except you can re-play the sounds at your leisure while you re-digg the crates–in effect attempting to re-trace the DJ’s steps– to see if you were right. Like, I can guess… oh yea… that drum sound is from Mobb Deep’s “Give Up the Goods;” or upon hearing a looped trumpet lick with a flat fourth, I can shoot an educated guess that the snip might be taken from Gillespie’s ’57 record, Sittin’ in or maybe from sometime around the Earl Hines era. It’s like shooting samples in a fishbowl of records.
If the DJ is creative (and knows their history) there will be several clues along the way of where the listener can look, or direct their attention, given that their sample collage is put together in a way that depicts a particular cliques, place, crew, era, controversy, theme, or idea. Other times, it’s intended to be a complete free-for all; a beautiful eclectic mess with no aim other than to sound breezy. They can also be extremely lucrative pieces, packed with the aim of self promotion, or even smarter–and more annoying–yet, product placement.
One of the more interesting types of mixtapes are those intended as a go-between; a medium where an artist can throw some ideas out between albums to grab some feedback from listeners; and, on the flip side, for serious listeners to gain valuable insight as to exactly how an artist’s sound develops over time.
This idea of mixtape as “unfinished business” is exactly what Skyzoo intends: “[Live From The Tape Deck is] leading up to the second album… it’s not the second album; I know a lot of people are waiting on that. It’s not the second album because I didn’t want to just rush out with another album right away. I really wanted the first album to resonate with people. I want the second album to be filled with different experiences and things and be able to talk about things that are going on.”
So to run with an analogy for a second sure to resonate with all the writers out there: for Skyzoo the album is like a final essay, whereas a mixtape is like all those notes you’ve made along the way. I don’t know about you, but I always feel a little bit hesitant about throwing all those scribbles away since they carry are so many ideas that didn’t make it into the final paper. Good ideas. Plus, it can be interesting, and instructive, to look back on a chronicle of your thought evolution.
Live From the Tape Deck is a team effort with New Jersey producer Illmind. While Zoo and ‘mind both admit Tape Deck is a mixtape and not an album, they have still put the tape together like an album in terms of its cohesiveness. As its title suggests, Illmind has constructed the sound concept around the tape era:
“I wanted to keep the soundscape warm and ‘analog’ sounding, just like how 2 inch tapes used to sound. Most of the keyboard and synth sounds I used were from analog synths made in the late 80’s. Combined this with using my ASR-10, I was able to capture that feeling, but with a slightly updated feel. I think our debut record, “Frisbees” was a cool way, sonically, to introduce the sound I was going for.”
As you can see from the tracklisting, Skyzoo’s rhymes will be thematically complimentary to Illmind’s production, centering around topics of tape nostalgia and audio technology. But the theme is more than just a sonic one, it also refers to the lyrical content that accompanied those fuzzy analog sounds: “the reason it’s called Live from the Tape Deck is because when labels made cassette tapes, it just so happens that was when records were dope. Once the option of buying a cassette in a store was gone, that’s when things changed and music got whack.”
With an aim to put the whack back on track, Live from the Tape Deck Hits stores October 25th. We’ll have to wait and see, but it may just be the best mixtape of the year.
1. “Digital Analog”
3. “The Burn Notice” (feat. Heltah Skeltah)
4. “Speakers On Blast”
6. “Barrel Brothers” (feat. Torae)
7. “The Winner’s Circle”
9. “Kitchen Table”
10. “The Now Or Never” (feat. Styles P & Buckshot)
11. “Understanding Riley” (feat. Rhymefest)
12. “Langston’s Pen”