With this world moving into more high-tech spaces, artists are being noticed more than ever. In the world of Rap, it's the mixtape that reigns King.
We used to joke about the street peddlers, the "wanna see my sweet mixtape bruh," and the gas station CDs. But now, you may pick up on an artist that you would never have heard otherwise.
What's great is a mixtape gives an artist a unique experience to explore their quality, design, structure, and understanding of their own self, lyrical and musical. And once they have a solid foundation, they can release that mixtape without the outward cost of having to mix/master an album, take it to a distributor, and pay tens of thousands to get it sold. It also gives independent artists the opportunity to be "discovered," or in cases like Chance The Rapper, to turn down being signed and staying an independent entity.
When you look at "The Mixtape," it is not even a tape these days, but a digital copy of what you'd consider a record or LP. The first main indicator of the change in the world of Hip-Hop and Rap when it came to mainstream was Drake's "So Far Gone." Not only did he play with tracks from other artists like Lykke Li and Peter Bjorn and John, but he also was able to come out with the hard hitting track "Best I Ever Had," which still maintains it's radio plays today.
Drake obviously isn't the person that revolutionized the mixtape, considering the rappers you hear of both in active Hip-Hop and throwback, respectively are also included in the list of people who started off throwing down mixtapes, sometimes in between massive albums. Big Sean, Future, Royce Da 5'9", T.I., Gucci Mane, Lil' Wayne, Nicki Minaj, and Rick Ross are all listed in Complex's "50 Best Rapper Mixtapes" list, along with many more worthy artists.
Most recently, we cite Chance The Rapper using mixtapes to gain fame, because after "10 Day" was released and he began to gain traction, by 2014, Chance had been picked up on the Verge Campus Tour, running on his second mixtape, "Acid Rap," which is where he gained the most clout in the industry. By the time he got to Coloring Book, major features were on - YES, STILL A MIXTAPE, including Kanye West, Lil' Wayne, 2 Chainz, and Future. This past GRAMMYs, Chance was awarded 3 of the trophies, which was unheard of for an unsigned artist. He still wasn't the first unsigned artist to win a GRAMMY, the predecessor being Macklemore in 2014. The difference with this is that Macklemore and Ryan Lewis are their own entity, and essentially are their own corporation, while Chance was just one person who started a mixtape during a 10-day suspension from High School.
Most mixtapes are, of course, given free these days online, but it does grant artists to also work with people as a passion project, and to create, which sometimes makes the work all the more interesting.