Bootleg "mixtape" CDs back from underground

Fri Apr 25, 2008 8:58pm EDT
 
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By Hillary Crosley

NEW YORK (Billboard) - Fifteen months after mixtape pioneer DJ Drama was arrested for racketeering, bootleg hip-hop CDs are as popular as ever.

On a recent Billboard Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart, no fewer than seven mixtapes made the tally, five of which contained uncleared music from Lil Wayne, T-Pain, Young Jeezy, Rick Ross and Rocko.

What's more, according to the labels and managers that represent these artists, none of these CDs were sanctioned, including titles "We the Best," "Lil Wayne and Birdman Present: Happy Father's Day" and "The Hitmen Presents T-Pain: The Midas Touch Man."

"I don't think it went away -- it has gone underground," says Rob Scarcello, senior VP of sales at Koch Entertainment Distribution, which released "We the Best" and "The Hitmen Present" on behalf of another label. "Is it making its second or third pass at the mainstream? There's still huge demand for it."

DJ Drama and his partner, DJ Don Cannon, were arrested in January 2007 on felony charges under the Racketeering Influenced Corrupt Organizations Act but never formally charged. (Drama told Billboard he believes his name is cleared.) The raid, led by the major music labels, resulted in the reported seizure of mixtape CDs, office computers, recording equipment and four cars. The company's assets were also frozen.

As a result, the business of mixtapes, which were routinely used in the marketing campaigns for hip-hop albums, faced new scrutiny while retailers, DJs, artists and labels contemplated how to promote new music without breaking the law.

Universal Music Group tried to satisfy the market with a legal series called "Lethal Squad Mixtapes," the best-selling title of which has sold 14,000 units in the United States, according to Nielsen SoundScan. But according to a Universal source, the company's laborious clearance process slowed the releases, negating the mixtape's purpose as a rapid new-music source.

Instead, many DJs either released product quietly or via free online downloads like 2007's Mick Boogie and Little Brother's "And Justus for All."   Continued...