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Looking recently at the various tributes and commemorations for Justo Faison as of late (R.I.P.) via magazine articles and websites, a thought occurred to me. As the originator of the famed Mixtape Awards show, he celebrated an entity that is very essential to one's hip-hop awareness.
Within the social commentary, hood representation and regional touting of rap music, the infinite realms of freestyle domination-based euthanasia, feats of wax wizardry, there exists a fundamental source, a root, a provider of inspiration, in some ways tragic, others majestic. That source is the streets. Oftentimes, one's credibility is related to the sensibility gained in these many an urban landscape. Be it a 20-year old traipsing through memory lane nostalgia sitting atop a park bench in Queensbridge, or various ghetto bards parched upon street corners like mom and pop liquor stores, recalling play fights in East Point, the streets of Farmers Blvd to those of Lennox Ave. all the way to College Park, Compton and even Kingston have laid out the definitive yet intangible soundtracks over which the lyrical and sonic theatrics of hip-hop's finest are birthed. Elusive as they are infinite from corner to corner, the streets have a certain power in this thing called hip-hop. Within said thing, the beast that is rap taps into the streets, its raw essence best in embodied in the CD or cassette laced dimensions of your friendly neighborhood mixtape.
In an industry where label politics can dampen the output and sales numbers of numerous talents, the mixtape scene can be a haven free of promotional fees, shoddy advertising and the greed of choice executives. For instance, Brooklyn rapper AZ made a notable fortune hitting the streets, and sidestepping Motown Records to release his fabled "S.O.S.A."(Save Our Streets AZ) mixtape in 2000. While the forthcoming "9 Livez," his first Motown release, would come out about a year later with a good number of the tracks from "S.O.S.A" included on it, Mr. Cruz would see more financially come his way from the pure street sales of the mixtape. A general consensus about the work is that it was a serious comeback from the "Problems" he endured in his mainstream efforts from the get-go, and it was a very satisfying listen to many heads. Preceding the much talked about final opus that would be "The Black Album," Jay-Z would generate a heavy buzz through his "S. Carter Collection," a street release set out in conjunction with his forthcoming Reebok shoe line of the same name. The "Collection," as per the standard mixtape nowadays, featured exclusive freestyles(over the instrumentals to Craig Mack's "Flava in Ya Ear: and B2K's "Bump Bump Bump" to name a few), old gems(notably, the "In My Lifetime" remix) and guest appearances from throughout the years(i.e. P. Diddy's "Young G's" and Shai's "I Don't Want to Be Alone" remix). As with AZ's prior mention, the "S. Carter Collection" served to keep Jigga's name fresh in the ghettos and summer parks, and went on to do so with immense notoriety and success. On the other end of a career in closing retrospective, lies the proof that mixtapes can jumpstart an artist's peaking popularity. Look no further than Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson's string of G-Unit mixtapes throughout early 2000.