Sean Fennessey

Sean Fennessey is the editor of GQ.com and has written about music for The Village Voice, SPIN, Rolling Stone, Pitchfork, The Washington Post, and others.


""For Promotional Use Only" Mixtapes and the Making and Unmaking of Musical Consensus"

The 2007 arrest of DJ Drama and affiliate Don Cannon for copyright infringement was, for the hip hop world, a watershed moment. The seizure of 81,000 discs, recording gear, and various vehicles signaled to the rest of the producers, purveyors, and consumers of rap mixtapes in their physical form that this business model – illegal, but heretofore indispensible as a vibrant and even viably commercial form of distribution – was unalterably changed. For both critics and fans alike, this was also a transitional moment: What this era of roughly 2003-2007 represented was a time when the consumption and critical consensus about mixtapes—burned by the hundred thousand on discs and bought in similar numbers in storefront-alcoves on busy thoroughfares, the back-corners of record shops, or out of proverbial car-trunks—was taking place both in the street and online, in darkened bar booths and on music blogs.

In the wake of Drama’s arrest and the subsequent proliferation of free internet mixtapes given away by artists “for promotional use only” (in a kind of sad obedience to a phrase that once adorned the covers of what were part of a for-profit enterprise), this conversation and consensus-building now takes place almost entirely online. We propose to examine what has been lost—or gained—from the disappearance of physical mixtape culture, both from its attendant spaces in the city and from the popular conversation. Where does “authority” now lie in “making” and “breaking” such artists and how has this changed how they themselves make music and how it’s consumed?