Selling Mix Tapes in New York


“I think in the 90’s it made sense to sell CD’s but now Target even barely sells CD’s,” said rapper P-Rob, better known for being part of the duo Analog Rascals, describing how he feels about rappers selling mix tapes in New York City.


In Harlem and on 42nd Street, street corner mix tape sales are still going strong. The informal general consensus in New York City is that it is annoying, especially if you’re in a hurry when people selling mix tapes stop you. Many New Yorkers never respond to these artists because the seller often use con man tactics to get one to buy their mix tapes. Many tourists, on the other hand, don’t know any better and get suckered into buying a CD. Often, they end up with a blank disc or, worse, one with mediocre music.


Mix tapes are an integral part of Hip-Hop culture spanning back decades. According to James Bell in the Daily Californian it started in the 70’s when New Yorkers recorded popular DJs’ shows on cassette tapes. Then in the 80’s, due to Hip Hop’s hustle mentality, DJs began recording their own live shows and selling the tapes. In the 90’s mix tapes changed again. due to DJs like Ron G creating blend tapes.


Bell said in the 2000’s mix tapes began to resemble what they are today — rappers trying gain attention from labels, air beefs, and connect with fans on a personal level. Mix tapes became a medium for the rapper’s persona and brand, more than the DJ’s music. In the mid 2000’s artists began to use the Internet to distribute mix tapes. This made it easier to promote one’s music because you could do it in from the comfort of your own home. This caused a surge of mix tapes and made the tapes a viable way to gain attention and create a fan base.


Meeco Suave, who was born and raised in New York, offered insight on mix tapes in the modern age. “I don’t knock anybody’s hustle but with new technology it’s easier on the artist and consumer for the artist to sell music through the Internet. If you’re trying to work smarter not harder, the Internet is a better solution especially with sites like Sound Cloud, YouTube and Band Camp” he said. When asked how he feels about people trying to sell him mix tapes, he said that he is a struggling artist, trying to spread his own music, so he can’t really help anybody else.


Rapper Patrick Robinson said,  “It’s annoying and without a online presence it’s useless.  The best way to get big is networking and creating a fan base online.” Robinson went on to discuss “the romanticized idea of hustling by selling mix tapes in the back of your trunk and starting from nothing to making it big in the end,” a notion from the 90’s and 80’s. We spoke about the cost of making music and how many artists are just trying to make their production cost back.  “Pure music is the best way to make money,” he said. “I spent two years making my last album, Summer Sucks My Soul. I sold it for $8 each. I went to a nice club to celebrate finishing it and the cocktail I ordered cost $8. I’m selling my two years of work for the same cost of some alcohol that took a minute to make. But the money didn’t matter it, was about spreading my music not short term money.”


Rapper AJ Reynolds, is known as Optimus Rhymes to some. When asked about selling mix tapes in New York he said, “Some do it for creation; others do it for profit. A lot of people are trying to make a quick buck, but that’s the culture of hustling in New York City. It’s a culture of trying to make quick money rather than make money in the long run. If you’re really trying to spread your music Sound Cloud, Spotify and YouTube are better alternatives.”

When asked him how it is it to sell mix tapes, he said, “Early in college I made a really —–y mix tape. I got some speakers and played my best song so people got a sample of my music. I sold 250 copies for a dollar each. I no longer had to sell them, they were sold when they heard my music.” He added, “If you’re not willing to play some of your music before people buy your mix tape, it’s probably trash”


Many people in the modern day do not even have a CD player. The idea of selling mix tapes without an online presence and becoming big is nothing more than a fantasy perpetuated by teens and young adults with romanticized ideas about hustling and starting from the bottom.



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