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        Subject:        Mixtape Crackdown Sends A Mixed Message: NYT
CRITIC'S NOTEBOOK


While record labels donate money to honor a man who helped promote
mixtapes, a trade group representing the labels cracks down on those who
sell them.

KELEFA SANNEH - NY Times  June 16, 2005

Late on the night of May 13, a hip-hop promoter named Justo Faison died in
a car crash in Virginia. And last week, on June 8, the East Village record
and video shop Mondo Kim's was raided by the New York Police Department.
What do these two stories have in common? Here's a hint: it's cheap,
popular and illegal.

Faison was the industry's most energetic promoter of hip-hop mixtapes, the
unlicensed compilations (almost always on CD, despite the name) of
unreleased new songs, current hits, never-to-be-released freestyles and
unofficial remixes. To keep (or get) hard-core listeners excited, rappers
are expected to maintain a mixtape presence by supplying DJ's with tracks
and also by collaborating with them to release "hosted by" mixtapes.
Thanks to Faison, the mixtape world even had its own annual ceremony: he
created and produced the yearly Mixtape Awards, a fittingly raucous
celebration; this year's attendees included Sean Combs, who won a lifetime
achievement award, and the Game.

In the days after Faison's death, rappers and DJ's paid their respects,
tribute rhymes started circulating online and a fund was started to help
pay for his burial and to aid his family. Contributions have come in from
many leading hip-hop record labels including Atlantic, TVT, Tommy Boy and
Interscope.

While artists and record labels were celebrating Faison's life and work,
the Recording Industry Association of America was finding another way to
pay tribute to the popularity of mixtapes. On May 12, the day before
Faison died, it announced a crackdown on stores that sold "pirated CD's,"
a term that refers to "mixed tapes and compilation CD's featuring one or
more artists," among other products. (The association's taxonomy of piracy
defines "counterfeit recordings" as illegal knockoffs of existing
commercial CD's, and "bootleg recordings" as illegal recordings of live
performances or broadcasts.)

In last week's raid officers confiscated hundreds of CD's, seemingly
concentrating on the shop's well-stocked section of hip-hop mixtapes. Five
employees were arrested and spent the night in jail. All five were charged
with failure to disclose origin of a recording in the second degree and
trademark counterfeiting in the third degree.

After the raid, Brad Buckles, the recording association's executive vice
president for anti-piracy, released a statement saying that the Police
Department's "steadfast commitment to the fight against piracy has stamped
out yet another significant illegal operation." It continued, "Retailers
who are making money on the backs of musicians and record companies by
selling pirated CD's should know that this is absolutely no way to conduct
a business." Reached by telephone yesterday, Mr. Buckles confirmed that an
association representative was present during the raid.

Note that phrase "musicians and record companies." In its war against
illegal music distribution, the association has often treated these two
groups as one and the same, arguing that piracy-happy fans are hurting the
artists they love. But when it comes to hip-hop mixtapes, it is in a
trickier position: the artists themselves often help produce the same
mixtapes that the association is trying to squelch, and shrewd record
labels long ago figured out that mixtapes can help drive sales of
conventional CD's.

So while record labels donate money to honor a man who helped promote
mixtapes, the trade group representing the labels cracks down on those who
sell them. And who goes to jail? Well, suffice it to say that the police
haven't arrested any of the major-label record executives who profit from
the hype generated by mixtapes.

The raid on Mondo Kim's (the East Village location of the Kim's Video
chain) was by no means the first of its kind. The recording association
has been campaigning against mixtapes for a decade; the organization's
1995 year-end report warned of "the growing popularity of illicit DJ mixes
in CD format." The Kim's 5 (has someone printed T-shirts yet?) are
probably lucky that they work in a record store frequented by
music-industry types (and, yes, the occasional newspaper reporter). When
some shop in the Bronx is raided, those hapless clerks can expect far less
press coverage.

Oddly enough, two people charged in the Kim's case are fairly well-known
musicians. One employee arrested was Chuck Bettis, a familiar figure in
the experimental-music scene and a veteran of the cult postpunk bands the
Meta-Matics and All Scars. Another was Craig Willingham, known as I-Sound,
whose discography includes "Music Is a Hungry Ghost" (City Slang), a
collaboration with the German electronic group To Rococo Rot.

The Kim's case highlights the strange position of hip-hop mixtapes, which
have been making a bumpy journey toward the mainstream. There was a time
when mixtape fans had little choice but to hit the streets in search of
fly-by-night salesmen and out-of-the-way stalls. But when an artist as
popular as 50 Cent is releasing new material directly (and sometimes
exclusively) to mixtapes, and when hip-hop crews like the Diplomats are
supplementing their underground mixtapes with official (that is, licensed
and legal) mixtapes, then the boundary between street and store gets
harder to maintain.

Nowadays, hip-hop fans across the country can buy mixtapes online,
although perhaps it is only a matter of time before those Web sites, too,
are raided. Meanwhile, some record shops are trying to find creative ways
to keep the police and the recording association at bay. After the Kim's
raid, perhaps more retailers will follow the lead of one hip-hop shop
(which shall remain nameless), where mixtapes are on display but not,
strictly speaking, on sale. To get one, you have to buy a CD holder,
priced at $7.99 but worth a small fraction of that; with every purchase,
you get a "free" mixtape.

Mixtape Crackdown Sends A Mixed Message: New York Times