How labels use the term “mixtape” to stiff hip-hop producers

Once upon a time, mixtapes were compilations shared by DJs. Now, they’re just an excuse to pay artists less.

Jan 15, 2018
Chance The Rapper

AUSTIN, TX – OCTOBER 07: Chance the Rapper performs onstage during weekend one, day two of Austin City Limits Music Festival at Zilker Park on October 7, 2017 in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Rick Kern/WireImage)

Once upon a time, mixtapes were compilations shared by DJs to their crowds or DIY projects by artists without the resources for a full-fledged production team. Some artists, like Chance the Rapper, used them to propel themselves into the limelight. But these days, listeners can hardly tell the difference between mixtapes and albums. They are both often professional produced and released on streaming services like Spotify. Drake’s 2015 overnight release of his commercial mixtape ‘If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late’ got just as much hype and singles as ‘Views’ a year later.

According to producers, these terms, which once were used to distinguish between different kinds of music production, now are just used interchangeably to stiff them. Over the last few weeks producers across the hip-hop scene have said that for many record labels, mixtapes are an excuse to pay people less money for the same amount of work.

Mixtape Can you eat raw weed?
Photo by Simon via Flickr

The conversation was sparked by E. Dan, who worked on a Wiz Khalifa mixtape for Atlantic. “(Atlantic) didn’t treat it like an album, which was just their way of not paying me a lot,” Dan told Beatstars. “They came up with some really clever name that essentially meant everyone involved, you’re going to get paid half what you normally do.”

It wasn’t long before other producers began chiming in about their similar experiences. “Been said this, but all labels do it (with) black music,” tweeted J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League, a production group that’s worked with the likes of Drake, Rick Ross, Curren$y and DJ Khaled. “It’s all about the bottom line. What angers me is the black executives that let it happen.”


“RCA did this to me and @snugsworth on Trap Lord,” tweeted Marvel Alexander about the ASAP Ferg release. “Fought it for almost a year. I gave up cause I was nearly homeless so eventually we had to split $1000 for “Shabba.” I was deflated as a producer after this. Yams told me it was “paying dues” R.I.P. wise words I guess.”

Outside of Korean pop music, album sales across all other genres are half of what they were a decade ago, a harsh fact about the digital age for music. While celebrities can still bring in cash through touring and branding, that’s not always the case for all the other people behind the scenes.

Jan 15, 2018