The Internet Archive has been growing an interesting sub-collection of music for the past few months: Hip-Hop Mixtapes. The resulting collection still has a way to go before it’s anywhere near what is out there (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.
Note: Hip-Hop tends to be for a mature audience, both in subject matter and language.
I’m sure this is entirely old knowledge for some people, but it was new to me, so I’ll describe the situation and the thinking.
There’s some excellent introductions and writeups about mixtapes in Hip-Hop culture at these external 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 any of a dozen reasons related to getting music to the masses.
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 established, culturally critical, and born-digital.
It only made sense for a library like the Internet Archive to provide it as well.
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, power, and oppression. There’s commentary on government, on social issues, and on the meaning of entertainment and celebrity. 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. It’s not about this song or that grandiose portrait, though – 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 listeners, and one of them broke a thousand views. Since then, a good amount have had tens of thousands of listens. Somebody wants this stuff, that’s for sure. And that’s fundamentally what the Archive is about – bringing access to the world.
The end goal here 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.