Exclusive: DJ Drama On The Future Of Mixtapes
Baseball cap tilted to the front, DJ Drama slouches in a leather seat at Billboard's New York office. Considering today's conversation, his first regarding his Jan. 16 arrest for racketeering, could gBaseball cap tilted to the front, DJ Drama slouches in a leather seat at Billboard's New York office. Considering today's conversation, his first regarding his Jan. 16 arrest for racketeering, could get him into more trouble than the Recording Industry Association of America already has, he's fidgeting constantly.
On that fateful winter day, DJ Drama and Don Cannon, born Tyree Simmons and Donald Cannon, respectively, were arrested on felony charges stemming from a magistrate's warrant under the Racketeering Influenced Corrupt Organizations Act by the Morrow County Sheriff's Joint Vice Task Force and the Clayton County Police (both in Georgia). The officers reportedly confiscated more than 81,000 mixtape CDs, along with computers, recording equipment and four cars. The assets of DJ Drama's DJ crew, the Aphilliates, were also frozen.
At issue, ultimately, is the legality of the "mixtape," a promotional, album-length CD that has long been favored by the promotional arms of hip-hop labels, but is also sometimes targeted by record labels' legal departments. DJ Drama's "Gangsta Grillz" series of mixtapes is the Cadillac of this decade's demo tape. The Atlanta-based DJ has made landmark mini-albums with artists like T.I., Young Jeezy and Lil Wayne, and Atlantic plans to release his first major-label "Gangsta Grillz" album this summer.
"A lot of the impact is still up in the air because people are waiting to see what comes of our situation," Drama says of his arrest. "But, I try to look at everything in a positive manner. The mixtape game needs to change for the better. People need to learn from this."
As for rumors that the RIAA arrested Drama for withholding his company's address his CDs, he says, "It was just never something I did. I don't have bar codes on my mixtapes, because that's not what the tapes are for. None of the products that were in Best Buy, FYE or Target came from DJ Drama."
"There's going to have to be some agreement between labels and artists that makes everyone comfortable," Drama says of the copyright gray area mixtapes currently inhabit. "Even if the labels figure out a way of working directly with the DJs to get the mixtapes done by offering an upfront fee that makes sense on their end and on ours. It could create a system that makes mixtapes comfortably buyable."
Still, Drama insist he doesn't feel like a martyr for the mixtape world. "We haven't been indicted or officially charged so it's hard to say," he says. "I've heard the 'mixtape martyr' term, but I don't go backward, I go forward. Not just where does DJ Drama go, but where does the mixtape game go from here? People need to realize how important mixtapes are to hip-hop and the music business. Just look at the careers of people like 50 Cent, Young Jeezy, DJ Clue, and Jay-Z. There are people in very powerful industry positions that owe a lot to mixtapes."
For more of Billboard's exclusive interview with DJ Drama, see the April 7 issue of the magazine, on newsstands and online at Billboard.biz today (March 30).