If I really had to pick a favourite mixtape of mine, and it’s a random one because a lot of the blogs that promoted it don’t exist anymore, but it would have to be Alien NYC’s Mixtape Madness, which was released on 20th August 2007.
Alien NYC was this group of artists from New York, predominantly black, and they just looked fucking cool. It was a lot of cross-genre stuff before it started popping off – it has a lot of M.I.A., MeLo-X, Theophilus London on it – and the leader of the group was Quan-Luv, who brought everyone together.
I don’t know if they get the credit they deserve, because they kind of faded before the internet became what it is now, but they really opened up a palette for what black music was. Listening to the mixtape you hear Fela Kuti and M.I.A. and then you have real street rap.
It was almost in the realm of being alternative; they wore skinny jeans and African beads and ninja outfits. At the time they were probably considered weirdos, because they didn’t fit the criteria of stereotypical black people, and they were redefining what their culture meant for them.
When you’re growing up, what you consider to be cool might not be co-signed by what it means to be black and macho. But for me, hearing these artists alongside each other, like Dennis Brown, Barrington Levy, Dizzee Rascal, Robyn, 50 Cent etc., hearing this to me opened up the idea of being weird.
I remember buying this pair of white skinny jeans and being on the train in New York, and this group of black kids staring at me like I was a freak! I started wearing those with big beads and Adidas trainers; but this tape made me comfortable with the idea of being alternative in the grand scheme of things, and black culture being more dynamic than what was being presented at the time.
The way I discovered Mixtape Madness was just me going to New York quite a lot, and I used to hang out with my cousin who would sneak me into parties when I was underage. I started a blog with a friend of mine, called Gurn Gurn Gurn, and I would always blog about music and I would scour the internet for mixtapes, but I gravitated more towards the New York mixtape scene.
Through the internet I discovered the artists on the tape and who they like and followed their respective blogs. I bought their clothes and hats and everything, I basically just wanted to be part of the crew!
I discovered so many artists from the tape as well, particularly the unknown rappers who were experimenting with sounds. MeLo-X for example, who I’ve always been a huge fan of, and people like Santigold who I was first introduced too. This was ideal for me at a time when I was making the transition from teenager to early adulthood.
Also, as a transatlantic black man trying to exist in all these different circles, like the Nigerian circle in Nigeria or in London or in America, or even the Black British circle in London, Alien NYC helped me adjust, and the idea of black people being dynamic, not just what we’re told we are. It gave me a sense of identity outside of that stereotypical image.
Looking at the names of the members and it’s clear that they were a community that drove themselves and their communities, and making you want to keep up with them. They put a flag down for their friends and, as local heroes, they don’t get the credit they deserve.
I get a feeling of nostalgia looking at the mixtape cover, I see a lot of references and it harkens back for me, an era where people could just find each other on the internet, when before they lived in isolation with their quirkiness.
Out of all the songs, M.I.A.’s ‘Bamboo Banger’ is definitely one of my favourites, because the fact that she was a British artist was the shit! For a period, she was untouchable, and her singles were fire, and she made South Asian culture way more appealing.
If I had to describe Mixtape Madness in three words, I would say its dynamic, unapologetic, and grounded. In that it has substance, because it has so many textures and layers to it. If you’re a real rap heavy guy then there’s something on it for you. If you like grime, Dizzee Rascal’s on there. M.I.A., a strong female of colour is on there. Tigga Galore, a gay black rapper, and reggae like Dennis Brown as well. It’s very varied.
I don’t know, because that mixtape comes from an era where they were all free, and there was this kind of democracy about it, I feel as though putting a price on it wouldn’t be fair. It was from a time where you could just have it, and think what you want about it, and prices just put a lot of exclusivity on things.
I would give the mixtape away for free, because people don’t really understand the value until much later on. You can’t put a price on its substance.
Words by Crack Stevens.
Catch Crack DJing at the Just Jam stage and boat party at Outlook Festival, starting today.