An occasional series focused on cassette tapes I have found impactful.
I used to go to the True Vine Record Shop every Sunday, looking for new underground music on cassette and CD-R.
Sometimes, in the cassette racks, there would be several tapes from a label. If I had the coin, I would buy as much from that label that I could, especially if I recognized one of the artists or liked the j-card design.
As soon as the audio sample of Charles Manson got going over samples of a Jane’s Addiction song, I knew this was not some lo-fi band’s basement recorded first release.
I didn’t know that this was the last time I would find new music this way, a veteran underground operator I was familiar with using an old distribution method to get the word out about a new project. The (now defunct) label Ormolyca’s output is… something else. I didn’t know that the “edition” of the mixtape I was buying that day would be on offer today on Discogs for one hundred and twenty dollars (and up).
In the 2010’s, We were firmly in the era of hip hop mixtapes being released on CD, readily available to me at the CDepot’s second store on Loch Raven Boulevard, known fondly as the “Bootleg Store”, or on websites like Datpiff.
Every hip hop head of the era knew the mixtapes were better because they contained “uncleared” samples. The proper albums were usually tamer affairs. The wild west of sampling whatever you wanted was long gone. The gate of free music online was closing. DJ Drama had long ago been raided by the FBI at that point. To this day, what is happening on the streets is always more interesting to me than what is happening in a boardroom, and the streets were in flux, the future unclear.
It was when the sample of Link Wray’s “Rumble” kicked in that I knew that these fellows were full-on engaged in the taking of recorded music from other sources and making it theirs in a way you weren’t supposed to be doing anymore. They were using stabs from Beastie Boys “Licensed to Ill” and flips of Black Flag’s “Rise Above” like it was no big thing, like it was 1989, heaven to my ears. What would come next for Death Grips?
In 2012, I used a gifted iTunes gift card to download their first major label album, The Money Store. The name was apt. It was sample-free, as far as I could hear; a much “cleaner” release from a financial standpoint, no samples to pay for. Death Grips have since had a multiple album career with notable stunts and shenanigans to bite back at major record labels, which I respect.
In any case, you can still hear the entire mixtape on Youtube, as linked above, until the next copyright strike. The thing still slaps! For me, however, it will always be a little bittersweet, the last great hip hop mixtape release I stumbled upon on cassette, organically, picking through the bins. Tapes are still a huge part of my sound world, but I recognize that the game has changed. Thank you, Death Grips, for giving me one last wild free ride on the streets. I don’t know when I will catch one again.