The DJBooth writing squad knows there's a long list of shit that drives me insane. Overuse of the word “literally” for example, or larger sites that steal our headlines without credit. But chief among topics guaranteed to set me off is referring to a project as a “mixtape,” clinging to outdated notions of what makes music “free” and the GRAMMYs continued inability to actually honor the music that deserves honoring. And with the release of Chance The Rapper's Coloring Book we've got all three wrapped up into one. So yeah, my blood pressure's a lituation right now.
Setting aside the obvious fact that Coloring Book is neither a tape nor is it mixed – meaning it's not mixed by a DJ like an actual mixtape, although it is mixed like, you know, an album is mixed – despite what you read in the headlines, in what sense could this possibly be considered a “mixtape”? It's not just made up of
literally all original production, it's one of the most intricately and complexly produced projects of the year, bringing in more different artists and as much live instrumentation as a Roots album. I don't care if Chance himself refers to Coloring Book as a mixtape, for all his musical genius he can be wrong about that term too.
And then setting aside the actual music, which is really the only thing that should matter, referring to Coloring Book as a mixtape because it's “free” is as absurdly outdated as referring to a car as a “horseless carriage.” In the year of our Lord The Internet 2016, hundreds of millions of people listen to music legally on Spotify, Pandora, YouTube, SoundCloud, Audiomack and more for free; that's more than the number of people who still download. And even if you pay for an Apple Music, TIDAL or Spotify subscription, if you break down your subscription fee by the music you actually listen to, each album “costs” you fractions of a fraction of a penny to listen to. So yes, there's still a semantic distinction between “free” and “for purchase” that exists, although when you're streaming you're not actually “purchasing” anything. And yes, Coloring Book is on Apple Music for “free,” but who fucking cares? What value is there in categorizing music into “free” and “not free” any more?
“I don't make songs for free, I make them for freedom” – Chance the Rapper
As much as I'd like to say this is mere semantics, using terms like “mixtape” and “free” have real world consequences. Plenty of people, from average fans to the awards committees, are still wrongly handcuffed to equating those terms to quality and importance, and so we end up with absurd situations like the GRAMMYs coming out today and confirming that Coloring Book would not be eligible for any awards because “streaming-only” releases don't qualify. How dumb is that? So because Kanye also sold an insigificant amount of copies of TLOP through his website it suddenly deserves to be considered as an award-worthy musical work, while if he hadn't it wouldn't?
As I've written before, many times before, the solution here is easy. Just call everything an “album.” There would be shitty albums, there would be great albums. (I shouldn't have to point out that I paid for plenty of shitty albums long before streaming ever existed). There would be albums you could pay for if you chose to, there would be albums you couldn't pay for if you tried. There would be completely original albums, there would be albums that included previously released production. But referring to them all as albums is the only way we can stop being detoured into false conversations about “mixtapes” and “free music” and just focus on the only thing that matters – the music itself.
Now if you'll excuse me, there's a new album that's deserves my full attention.
By Nathan S, the managing editor of DJBooth and a hip-hop writer. His beard is awesome. This is his Twitter. Photo Credit to Taylor Castle via Instagram.