WBAI’s Jay Smooth on the DJ Drama Drama


Ever since the story broke that a detachment of SWAT cops decended on an Atlanta recording studio to arrest mixtape legends DJ Drama and Don Cannon on piracy charges, I’ve been looking for an angle appropriate for NewTeeVee — besides the obvious implications for anyone who’s ever assembled clips of audio or video into something new and entertaining.

If you’re not familiar with mixtapes, they’re compilations of new material, freestyle rhymes from guest MCs, remixes of popular tracks and promotional releases included with the permission of the artists. Thankfully, another legendary hip hop DJ, Jay Smooth of New York’s WBAI, has just started up his own vlog and has posted a response to the Atlanta Fox affiliate’s coverage of the crackdown.

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Drama and Cannon are now out of the hoosegow, but a chill has settled on the mixtape industry — one which eagerly promoted the very artists the RIAA claims to be defending, when they aren’t associating content piracy with the drug trade and terrorism.


Jackson West

First, thanks for such a lively debate! Many interesting points on both sides. Let’s just try to keep it friendly, kay?

What’s wrong here, I think, is that the market and technology for consuming music is moving faster than the copyright law. Mixtape DJ’s don’t just string a bunch of unauthorized tracks together and sell them for profit — a lot of work goes into these, work that I think the DJ has just as much of a right to be renumerated for as the original artist.

The problem is that the record labels are more than happy to let it all go on under the radar if it means increased sales of records. And frankly, they’ve provided absolutely no evidence that the mixtape scene has done anything to hurt the sales of the artists whose tracks can be found on them.

Add to that the costs of legally licensing a track, not to mention rights to modify them, would make it prohibitively expensive for the DJs to produce and sell them at a reasonable price for any kind of profit. And why should these DJs spend all their time promoting these artists for free?

Liz Gannes

Hi Justine, apologize for the order of the comments. You caught us in the middle of a server switch so the clocks were not aligned. Sorry.


Because I made these comments ‘after’ the last one by Jay, yet they all appear ‘before’ his comment. How about a fix?


But I noticed you still can’t name a list of major rappers speaking out on behalf of this mixtape DJ’s defense. And it won’t happen.

You said,
“And that’s why my video focused specifically on DJ Drama, as opposed to all the small-time DJs who scrounge around for album leaks.”

First, that statement assumes that DJ Drama ‘never’ puts unauthorized music on his tapes, when in fact that is almost the ‘definition’ of a hip hop mixtape (I’m not assuming, as you said, I know as a member of the hip hop community in new york).

Second, those “small-time DJs” 1)comprise most of the ones selling copyrighting music and 2) So it’s okay if the mixtape DJ is “big time famous” as opposed to “small time”? As you said, there are a lot of grey areas and I think you are letting them unduly influence your position. Plain and simple, 99.9 percent of mixtape DJs sell copyrighted music–that’s illegal. The fact that a mixtape DJ does legitimate CDs “in addition to” underground copyright violating mixtapes doesn’t absolve the crime. They are profiting from other people’s work, and no amount of promotion, buzz, street cred, etc. is worth it. Further, it’s not enough that an “artist” looks the other way, because it’s not just the artist who has a stake, it’s the label too. They have to protect their product and their investment. This goes not just for major labels, but for independent african-american label owners.

As an indie lable owner, if you’ve sunk several hundred thousand dollars into an artist, you simply cannot afford some mixtape DJ selling thousands of copies of your hit single/full-CD on the streets–you NEED that money.

You pose all this like it’s “Big Labels vs. The Small Guy”. And that’s false. It’s the little labels that are effected as well by “anyone” who sells their sound recordings for money.

Again I ask you: Do you think you or I could take all of Sway’s recorded performances/hosting events/etc. and sell them on DVD without him being upset? Please, we all know the answer to that. No amount of promotion would trump him knowing someone else is making money on his name with no profits going to him.

What you fail to mention in your video is how many mixtapes have killed whole albums and forced an artist to either rush a release, record new material, or in some extreme cases scrap the whole project. THAT’S why no major artists are defending these mixtape DJs.

In the end, your argument won’t hold up because you yourself admit that most mixtape DJs sell copyrighted works. The only way you can keep up your position is if you can prove that DJ Drama has ‘never’ sold a copyrighted work without permission. Well, actually, we’re about to find all that out in court. Prepare the towel to get the egg off your face.

Jay Smooth

Justine: I am certainly puzzled as to your definition of “arrogance and condescension,” when I compare the tone of your posts to my own. But that’s fine, I can take it. :)

“Your argument is weak and doesn’t stand up to the facts. Case closed.”

Your assessment of how rappers view mixtapes wasn’t based in fact, merely mind-reading and conjecture. And arguably the same goes for my own assessment.

But if you want empirical evidence to support my conjecture that many rappers see value in mixtapes, there’s an endless list of major-label rappers who have personally teamed up with mixtape DJs to produce CDs featuring their own work: 50 Cent, Eminem, Kanye West, Snoop Dogg, Ludacris, Game, Ghostface Killah, Puff Daddy/Puffy/Diddy, Busta Rhymes.. I could go on and on.

Perhaps you believe all these artists did this against their will, fearing retribution from “the streets” or the mixtape mafia or something? But I think it’s more likely these artists appreciate how mixtapes can play a vital role as a promotional tool on a grassroots level.

Mixtapes are a complicated issue, with lots of gray areas and blurred lines. Every DJ doesn’t play the same role, and every artist isn’t in the same position to benefit or suffer from them. But even Lil Wayne’s jumbled statement acknowledged that when done right, mixtapes can be a positive thing.

And that’s why my video focused specifically on DJ Drama, as opposed to all the small-time DJs who scrounge around for album leaks. The CDs he produces (working directly with artists like T.I., Young Jeezy, Little Brother and Lil Wayne himself) are among the best examples of a mixtape DJ “doing it right,” with work that is beneficial for everyone involved.

That, along with the fact that major labels are most likely paying Drama for his work, is what makes the RIAA’s actions so ridiculous.


The proof of my claims is this:

Name the long list of major rappers who have come forward to protest the arrest of that mixtape DJ you mentioned.

You can’t.

The rappers see mixtape DJs as parasites, so one less mixtap DJ is no big deal at all. Naming journalists and DJs who speak up is meaningless because it’s not their music that’s being pirated. They have no horse in that race. They just are fans and pundits, just like you.

Major rappers could care less about mixtape DJs being shut down. It actually helps them to not have another parasite stealing their music profits.

The days when a hip hop music act benefitted from mixtape street promotion is long gone. The Internet is the new mixtape, only most people trading tracks online aren’t packaging them for commercial re-sale like the mixtape DJs do, so the promotion/exposure is more pure, driven by love of music, rather than love PLUS profit motive (as in the case of mixtape DJs).

Your argument is weak and doesn’t stand up to the facts. Case closed.


I guess I should have expected no less than arrogance and condescension, as it was also apparent in your video. For some reason you assume that because this isn’t AllHipHop or SOHH, that maybe a commenter doesn’t know what they are talking about–in this case you are wrong. I am from NYC also, and I know all about mixtapes. I’ve “always” thought of them as stealing work, and so have many artists who have had their tracks show up unauthorized and early on many mixtapes, thus sucking off potential sales. This has happened over and over again, and any artist that doesn’t complain about it is said to “agree” or “tacitly” agree, when the truth is they are being bullied by the streets because if they speak up the streets won’t like it (i.e. “the rapper’s making money, why is he giving DJ Local Guy a hard time about a mixtape snippet?”).

As for my example, it “is” apt. There’s no way on earth you’d be okay with for profit business using your name and image without permission. Citing your inclusion on mixtapes isn’t a good example because mixtapes don’t thrive off of the voices of little known late night radio announcers, they thrive off of rap stars. Unless you’ve started making rap records and didn’t tell anyone, then any exposure you got on a mixtape was most likely more to “your” benefit than the mixtape DJ’s. When you start generating something other than interstitial comments over other people’s records, then maybe you’ll have a better since of what it means to create original works and have a desire to be paid for that original work.

But I’m sure you already know this (since you obviously know it all).

Honestly though, if MTV’s Sway (original cornball) made a 60 minute film, and some kid took 30 minutes of his film, chopped it up, put it on a DVD and sold it for cash on the streets, I have trouble believing he’d be okay with it. No, I KNOW he would not be okay with it. And he would be right. This is what happens to hip hop artists all the time, and contrary to what you would have people believe, they are not okay with people making money off their work without getting any profit. They just can’t be vocal about it (look at the flack Lil Wayne got).

Personally, I like to be paid for my work. Maybe you don’t. I guess that’s what being a Socialist is about about, right Mr. Smooth?

Jay Smooth

Justine: Your assessment of the mixtape scene is both misinformed and irrelevant to my post, which did not address the mixtape scene in a general sense.

My post specifically addressed DJ Drama and his particular method of doing business, which is quite different from most of his peers, in ways that make him an especially unjust target for this persecution.

Regarding how I would feel if I were in that position, there is no need to speak in theoretical terms because my work (excerpts from my radio show) has been used numerous times on mixtapes, including one of the more successful mixtapes of recent years, DJ Sickamore’s “Marcy to Madison Square” CD. Like the vast majority of artists whose work appear on mixtapes, I had no problem with it whatsoever.

Your Coke comparison is inapt because the mixtape culture plays a wholly different role in hip-hop than Coke or any other corporate entity plays in vlogging. There’s a reason why you see industry execs decrying the evils of mixtapes, but rarely see artists doing so (Lil Wayne being the notable exception).

Watch Sway’s recent report on MTV News, which basically echoes everything I said in the original post. Or read these perspectives from some of my peers who have far more than a “passing knowledge” of hip-hop:

Kelefa Sanneh in the NY Times
Noz in XXL magazine
Hip-Hop radio pioneer Davey D

I could go on but I don’t want to get too David Crossy in here. :) You’re way off-base though.

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