Remember back in the 90s (yes, I'm in the 80s and 90s for that matter, lol) when there were only a select few DJs who made quality mixtapes? Whether you got popular songs at the time, "exclusive" tracks you wouldn't hear anywhere else (that used to be an event in itself), or top notch freestyles over instrumentals, you can guarantee that you would get your money's worth when you purchased a mixtape (usually $10.00 then). I recall DJs such as DJ Juice (my personal favorite since 1997), Doo Wop, Ron G, Craig G, S&S, Kid Capri, DJ Clue, DJ Envy, Dirty Harry, Tony Touch, just to name a few, and they had the streets locked on the mixtape scene and it wasn't so oversaturated like it is today (more on the oversaturation later). Funkmaster Flex was the first DJ to bring mixtapes to a commercial level, as two of his best mixtapes "Volume 1" and "Volume 2" achieved solid success, reaching Gold status. Those two mixtapes have a strong nostalgic vibe with me, and I still bump them to this day.
Fast forward to the post 2000 era, and the mixtape scene is TOTALLY different. I've never seen it SO oversaturated in my life, as there are literally thousands of DJs and countless mixtapes out there. The scene has changed so much that the "traditional mixtapes" made in the 90s are now no longer the norm. Mixtapes now feature largely new material (some of which end up appearing on the studio album released by an artist), and they're sometimes referred to as "street albums". Whatever the case may be, it's definitely different when you compare mixtapes now to their original form. Here are some pros and cons, in my opinion that is!
*They keep the artist(s) name out there/Promotion for an upcoming album/Satisfaction for the fans
All three of these are related in some form when it comes to today's era of mixtapes, and it's a good thing. There's nothing wrong with keeping your name out there, especially if you don't have a string of albums already released. Releasing a mixtape to hype/promote an upcoming album is a good strategy, as in some cases it makes you anticipate the release of an album a little more. I'm a fan, first and foremost, so additional material from an artist I've been supporting for years is another good thing, and as fans, some of the time we can never have too much music, lol!
*Better than your actual studio album
This is a fairly dangerous practice right here. Simply put, if your mixtape is better than your studio album, something's not right, especially with a FREE project being better than something that a fan has paid money for. A prime recent example is J. Cole. Two of his mixtapes ("The Warm Up" and "Friday Night Lights") were so good they could've been actual albums, especially "Friday Night Lights", however, when he released his debut "Cole World: The Sideline Story", it's like he immediately switched his style for commercial success, as you hear none of what made his mixtapes so great on his album. It's a good album, but could've been better.
*A direct or indirect push back of an announced album
I'm a long time Fabolous fan, but he's guilty of this. The last time he released an album was 2009's "Loso's Way". He later mentioned that he was planning to release his next album, titled "Loso's Way 2: Rise To Power", as well as a collaboration album with Red Cafe (I can't recall the planned title of that album), but since then, he has released at least 3-5 mixtapes, with literally no mention of a release date or any details of the Loso's Way 2 album. And it's not just Fabolous, other artists have announced albums to be released, but instead we get a mixtapes, sometimes more than one. Jadakiss is another artist that comes to mind. I'm a fan, but how long have we heard that "Top 5 Dead or Alive" is on the way, only to get two mixtapes in the form of "I Love You (Dedidation to the fans)" and "Cosignment" in its place? It should not be a normal thing, where a planned studio album has to take a back seat to the release of a mixtape.
*Sold in stores
I've all but made it clear that I don't buy mixtapes, at all, especially when there are legit sites like www.livemixtapes.com and www.datpiff.com that offer free (as advertised) downloads. Even if Nas & Jay-Z, my known #1 and #2 favorites of all time, released a mixtape and put it in the store, I wouldn't buy it. There's a reason why it's called "retail", and the term "retail mixtape" simply doesn't sound right. Physical albums sales are already down (and have been since the integration of iTunes and the like), so the last thing fans need is confusion in the marketplace and paying money for mixtapes on top of albums. I'm against the idea of the selling of mixtapes personally, especially when the MAJORITY of them are available for free download.
*Too many mixtapes
This one goes without saying. It's simply TOO many mixtapes, so many that it's impossible to keep track of them all.
Overall, I don't have a problem with a mixtape, especially if it fit with the pros I listed above. With the way things are currently in hip hop, I feel we're going to continue to see more and more mixtapes being created with no change or end in sight.