The mixtape world is a peculiar one. Mixtapes historically have been used by up and coming artists to produce a body of work in a cost effective way. These mixtapes are then the conduits that announce the arrival of the artist to the world.
Imagine the recording process of a mixtape as an up and coming rapper with stars in their eyes and a rhyme book full of that fire. This rapper then connects with his cheeseboy friend from down the block who has a mic (which is in fact one of those telesales agent headsets) and a computer with recording software installed. Our rapper heads over to the internet cafe and downloads a sick beat from Youtube and spends the week putting down the lyrics that will marry perfectly with his new beat. When the weekend arrives, our rapper heads over to his cheesboy friend’s house and they bunker down in the cheesboy’s room to record the song. They repeat this process and package the songs as the official uprising of a star in the hip hop game. These are the people who I believe deserve adulation in The South African Hip Hop Awards category for Best Mixtape...but is this really the case?
Ok I’ll admit it, the above anecdote might be outdated but the principle still applies. This is the category that should be scourging the hip hop industry at grass root levels and applauding those diamonds in the soil. When I look at the 2015 nominations however I see a contradictory picture. When I look at that nominations list I don’t see some of the names that have been bubbling just under the radar. I don’t see those fairly unknown names that by virtue of the nominations, everyone would be scrambling to download their work to have a listen. I also don’t see the names that desperately need an established platform like SAHHA to launch their careers into the stratosphere.
Now let’s get one thing clear. I have no vendetta against ANY of the artists nominated in any of the categories. In fact, I jam some of the music from the Mixtape of the Year nominees pretty damn hard in my car on my way work. However I feel I need to exercise my position as a self-proclaimed objective voice of the game and call it as I see it. Unfortunately what I see is a flaw in the SAHHA nomination system of the Mixtape of the year and I believe it needs to be fixed.
The category needs to serve its purpose AND INTRODUCE US TO NEW NAMES WITH EXCITING WORK TO OFFER. We have known some of the current nominees for years now and if we’re being honest, some of the Mixtape of the Year artists have overgrown the status of a mixtape artist. So from any perspective, the current nomination system does not serve anybody any justice.
So perhaps the solution lies in how we define a mixtape. Is a mixtape a collection of scrap songs that didn’t make a full-fledged album? Is a mixtape a cheaply put together body of work that is distributed to the masses for free? Or is calling a body of work a mixtape, artist’s way of copping out of the pressure that follows an official album release? I think if we can all agree that there’s a certain stage in your career where you cannot be reverted to this category simply for the fact that we need to preserve its purpose of introducing us every single year to new artists, would be a great start. Whether SAHHA will pay attention to the flaws, that’s another story. Please share your comments but whatever you do please don’t tell me about how they treat mixtapes in The States because we are not in The States and we are busy trying to build a new legacy for SA hip hop. Let’s open the dialogue that will shape the future of our industry.