And The Drop Beat Sounds Like This

I’ve been thinking about mixtapes, recently. Not in the sense that the term is currently used — I’m not about to drop my debut and reveal previously unknown skill on the mic, I’m sad to say — nor, really, in the same nostalgic sense that many have about choosing the perfect tracks and putting them in the right order, so as to convince your target audience of your desired message; instead, I’ve been thinking about the actual, physical act of making those tapes in the first place. The sitting down and building the mix, song by song, hitting record on each and every track.

(Not every mixtape had some deep message behind it, of course; I can remember making tapes for myself and others that had no meaning deeper than these songs are cool, maybe you’ll like them too and that was more than enough. Of course, plenty of that tapes I made did have ulterior motives, because that was the language we all shared and spoke, even if it was an entirely unstated agreement between us all at the time.)

I’ve been thinking a lot about the actual act of making the tapes. The fact that I’d choose the songs — taking great care to sequence them right, listening to the start of each potential new track to convince myself that it fit — with great care, and then hit the pause button to start recording in time for the song to start. I’ve been thinking about how all of this was live, which meant that any mistake — a skip in the record, the CD jumping, whatever — was part of the tape itself, and how that didn’t feel as scary then as it somehow does now, in an age of making playlists digitally with everything clean and controlled. 

There was an element of… chaos, perhaps…? An element of surrender to the process, acceptance that messiness and imperfection was part of the plan, that was central to making a mixtape back in the day. A lack of control but a comfort with that, too. I need to get my head back to that space again, I think. Sometimes a record skips; it can still sound like music.

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