Before there were curated playlists and instrumental tapes, the tastemakers were mixtape DJs. Boardroom ranks the 10 best to ever do it.
Mixtape DJs, in particular, began to rise to prominence in this golden age, beginning with the pioneers like DJ Kool Herc, who grandfathered Grandmaster Flash, Kool DJ Red Alert and Grand Wizzard Theodore’s style in the ’80s, which then carried strong into the ’90s New York scene with the likes of Kid Capri, Premier, Tony Touch, Doo Woop, Clue, Kay Slay, Ron G, S&S, Smallz, Mister Cee all the way to more contemporary guys like Sickamore and Big Mike.
DJ Doo Wop, also known as Da Bouncemasta, whose “95 Live” mixtape was regarded as a street classic due to it debuting Mobb Deep’s classic “Shook Ones.” This paved the way for the existence of guys like Tyree Simmons, better known as DJ Drama, who helped cement mixtape culture while molding artists like Wayne and Jeezy into huge rap superstars.
The mixtape game evolved greatly from the early aughts, specifically 2004-08, with Wayne and Gucci Mane. And then it evolved further in the blog era, when artists such as Drake, J. Cole, Meek Mill and Kendrick Lamar, cut through. Up-and-comers began using platforms like MySpace, Youtube, Limewire, and DatPiff to garner mainstream buzz.
But in 2007, those same mixtapes landed Drama in jail with a huge case over his head as the federal government began its criminal conspiracy into the phenomenon.
These early mixtapes, much like sampling, was tied to piracy, illegal downloading, and accusations of using copyrighted material without permission, even though that was directly the point. Still, they came for Drama and his business partner, Don Cannon.
“I felt some guilt because I’m like, yo … I can’t let the mixtape game die on my shoulders,” said Drama in this 2020 NPR interview. “Like, here’s this culture I grew up loving and then I go to jail for it. If they can lock up Drama, nobody’s safe. This s–t’s done. It’s over. It’s a wrap.”
Fast forward 15 years, and Drama won a Grammy alongside Tyler, The Creator for their work together on the Gangsta Grillz-hosted album Call Me If You Get Lost. It’s a testament to how far mixtape culture has evolved and its undeniable impact on the music industry.
These are Boardroom’s most prominent mixtape DJs of all time.
1. DJ Drama
Notable projects (all Gangsta Grillz tapes):
- Jeezy, Trap Or Die (2005)
- Lil Wayne, Dedication 2 (2006)
- Pharrell, In My Mind: The Prequel (2006)
- T.I., Down With The King (2006)
- Little Brother, Separate But Equal (2006)
- Gucci Mane, The Movie (2008)
- Meek Mill, Dreamchasers 2 (2012)
- Jeremih, Late Nights With Jeremih (2012)
2. DJ Clue
- DJ Clue, Back To School Pt. 1 (1994)
- DJ Clue, Desert Storm Mixtape Vol. 3: Grand Theft Audio 2 (2002)
- DJ Clue, The Professional 2 (2001)
3. DJ Screw
- DJ Screw, The Grey Tapes [ScrewTapes] (1994–1999)
- DJ Screw, Southside Holding (1997)
- DJ Screw, It’s All Good (1998)
- DJ Screw, Southside Still Holdin’ (1999)
4. Kid Capri
5. DJ Kay Slay
- DJ Kay Slay & Dazon, StreetSweepers Pt. 10: Original Gangsters Hosted By Alpo (2000)
- DJ Kay Slay & Funkmaster Flex: The Takeover (2001)
- DJ Kay Slay & The Diplomats: Diplomats Vol. 1 (2002)
- DJ Kay Slay, Streetsweepers Presents: The Regulator Pt. 1 (2002)
(“Rest in Peace to Drama King, we was straight stuntin’!” Drake rapped in his new Honestly, Nevermind track “Jimmy Cooks” featuring 21 Savage to honor DJ Kay Slay, who died in April from COVID-19 complications.)
6. DJ Whoo Kid
- DJ Whoo Kid, The Wire: The First Complete Mixtape (2004)
- DJ Whoo Kid and The Alchemist, The New Mobb Deep (2004)
- DJ Whoo Kid, G-Unit: G-Unit Radio Series (2003–2007)
7. DJ Green Lantern
- DJ Green Lantern, Best Of 2Way-Thousand (2001)
- DJ Green Lantern & DJ Kay Slay, On My New York Shit (2006)
- DJ Green Lantern, AND1 Streetball – The Official Video Game Mixtape (2006)
- DJ Green Lantern, Invasion Series (2007)
- DJ Green Lantern & DJ Snoopadelic, Live From The Mothership (2018)
8. Ron G
- Ron G, Blends #1 [Mixes #1] (1991)
- Ron G, Summer Jam: Harlem NYC sides A&B (1992)
- Ron G, Youngest in Charge Mixtape King (1993)
- Ron G, RADIO 10: CLASSICS & BLENDS (2009)
9. Funkmaster Flex
- Funkmaster Flex, 60 Minutes of Funk (1995)
- Funkmaster Flex & Big Kap, The Tunnel (1999)
- Funkmaster Flex, The Mix Tape, Volume III: 60 Minutes of Funk – The Final Chapter (1999)