It occurred to me that the sender of that bogus e-mail might not be an entirely malicious individual. Obviously, their methodology is vile, but they would not be the first person to have concerns about the mixtapes on BlockB.com. Indeed, in the past, when people have expressed these concerns in an honest and forthright manner, I’ve really appreciated it, because it’s an example of a fan being concerned about something that actually does matter to the artist, namely: Is the artist getting paid fairly?
So I thought I’d do a little primer for people explaining what mixtapes are, what they aren’t, what they’re intended to do, and why they’re on BlockB.com.
In hip-hop, a mixtape is music that is given away for free. This is quite distinct from a commercial release, where the music is sold.
It can be easy to confuse the two, because thanks to piracy, there are all kinds of free downloads of commercial releases. But commercial releases are intended to make money. Mixtapes are not–at least not directly.
Why give mixtapes away for free?
Common reasons are to thank fans and to get marketing exposure. But the original and probably still most-common reason is because the artist does not have the rights to sell the music.
Why’s that? Well, let’s backtrack a little and talk about hip-hop.
In hip-hop, there’s often kind of a division of labor between the guy who does the rapping (the MC) and the guy who does the music or beats (the DJ). Obviously some people do both, but not everyone.
Let’s say that you are an up-and-coming but extremely broke MC. You want to get your name out there, but 1. you don’t have any money, and 2. while you rap well, you don’t really write music much.
So you make a mixtape. You take the music from a song someone else did:
And you rap over it.
In the world of hip-hop, this is not usually considered some huge deal. In fact, DJs will post music files on-line with a note that they are free for MCs to use for mixtapes! But obviously, it’s dodgy legally–the MC doesn’t bother to secure licenses or anything; the DJ might not even know that the music was used. If P.O were ever to try to sell “Black Vans Authentic,” he’d be hearing from Zion T pretty quickly.
But in general, as long as the music is used only for a free mixtape, everything’s copacetic. Remember the “Control” feud? The one thing that wasn’t controversial about it was that the diss tracks all used music from the same Big Sean song. (Legal beefs around mixtapes sometimes do erupt, though, typically because the mixtape takes off in a big way and can be monetized. So, if Vans came a-knocking on P.O’s door, wanting to use his mixtape song in commercials, he’d need to sit down with Zion T and work something out.)
Why make a mixtape if you can’t sell it? Marketing. If you’re an extremely broke MC who makes a mixtape, you now have a whole bunch of songs to show people how well you rap.
Likewise if you’re a rapper in an idol group, a mixtape can show people that you’re not just a pretty boy who dances well.
As I’ve mentioned before, a lot of the credibility Zico has in the underground hip-hop scene is a result of his mixtapes; the same is true of Park Kyung and P.O.
The downside of mixtapes is, of course, that you don’t sell them. That not only means no money from the music itself; it means that retailers don’t carry it, which can make the music hard to find. This is why Zico started releasing his solo music commercially.
I can attest to the fact that tracking down the mixtape songs that are currently on BlockB.com was an enormous pain in the ass. It took forever, it involved going into some pretty sketchy corners of the Internet, and it was difficult enough that I didn’t bother to get everything because it wasn’t worth it to go through all that (plus building the fucking pages) just for some song fragment or sketch.
But even if some day I do finally wind up handing the domain name over to Block B’s fancy new U.S. marketing firm–as is my dream!–I intend to keep those pages up. (In spite of the fact that, yes, it will cost me money. Just as BlockB.com costs me money. It’s not a hardship, but be aware that I am among the many people who do not make money from mixtapes.)
Why keep them up? Because I’ve seen how the mixtape pages can change people’s perception of Block B and its members. Yes, that Talent-dol branding is well worth having, and it’s hard for people to argue that the group’s members aren’t “real” artists who don’t “really” write music when they see those dozens upon dozens of mixtape songs.
In other words: If you really and truly care about Park Kyung and P.O, you’ll quit trying to fucking scam me into taking their mixtapes down. I should also point out that I’ve met both men, they both know I do BlockB.com, and they didn’t have one single negative thing to say about it.