Mixtapes are at a crossroads in hip-hop where their success has been simultaneously derailed by both their mediocrity and their popularity. The latter has found well known mixtape DJ’s being targetted by federal investigators, accused of bootlegging and piracy, even though on the low record labels leak these same DJ’s material to break in the mainstream. The former is when you can find 20 new mixtapes every week even at large retail chains like Best Buy – a glut of releases means by simple process of elmination 90% of them aren’t worth buying. When you factor in online retailers and street vendors the #’s get worse. 1 out of 10 drops to 1 in 25 all the way down to 1 in 100 or less. Some mixtape DJ’s really aren’t deserving of the title “DJ” at all. If your whole mixtape features songs from your whack rap clique, you aren’t doing anybody any favors selling it. The best mixtapes, and the ones you far too rarely find these days, are from DJ’s with an ear to the street and a knack for juggling beats. Getting put on such a tape means either you’re that fire right now or at some point were and still deserve that shine. A good mixtape DJ can draw from old school, true school, new school or now school but above all they can’t indulge their friends who spit 100 lackluster bars worth of freestyles or endlessly talk about how great they are at the expense of putting on great music.
Up steps DJ Bear Herron into the fray. To be perfectly honest I had never heard of Herron before picking up “Lethal Squad Mixtapes Dose #1” off a store shelf for $7.99, but later research revealed him to be one half of a production team dubbed The Control Freaks. If their name doesn’t ring a bell, the names of rappers they’ve produced for will – Jim Jones and Young Chris among others. Herron hails from the sunny city of Philadelphia, well known for a history of great hip-hop DJ’s: Jazzy Jeff, Code Money and even DJ Drama (Philly born and raised) just to name a few. To break through and make a name for himself locally let alone nationally Herron would have need to hit the trifecta – selection, construction, and distribution. Selection means Herron needs the latest and greatest hip-hop tracks on his mixtape – the latest songs everyone wants to hear. Construcion means the mixtape must be well put together – the order of songs must make sense and the linking segments must be scratched or edited together smoothly. Last but not least is distribution – it makes no difference how hot your mixtape is if you can’t get anybody outside of your family, relatives and neighbors to buy copies.
“Lethal Squad Mixtapes Dose #1” is already off to a good start in terms of the selection. If you’ve heard a song in the last few months that’s made you think “damn I can’t wait for that album to come out” odds are it’s probably here. Chamillionaire’s stellar “Hip Hop Police” with Slick Rick is in the mix. Common can be found spitting “The Game” while Kanye West provides the beats and scratches. 50 Cent takes you on a ride through the “Amusement Park,” Young Jeezy speaks metaphorically about his favorite “White Girl” on an all-star remix, and even Swizz Beatz shows up to drop the “Top Down” on his ride. In fairness you can argue that Herron’s cuts heavily reflect a commercial hip-hop sensibility, but then again it’s not every hip-hop DJ who would throw on a update of Amy Winehouse’s “Rehab” featuring Pharoahe Monch or decide to “Party Like a Rockstar” on a new version of the Shop Boyz smash hit now partying with Weezy and Chamillionaire.
Herron also succeeds with the construction of “Lethal Squad Mixtapes Dose #1,” putting in the minimal necessary amount of shoutouts without overwhelming the mix with too much mic time. Herron may not be winning any DMC championships any time soon, but he also doesn’t embarass himself with his touch on the wheels – he’s probably better than the local yokel on your mixtape circuit whose release is littered with amateur scratching and poor beat matching. Best of all the song order is just right and that’s always key to a mixtape experience, because the best ones make you want to stay tuned from start to finish without skipping around. After all the name “mixtape” may be a misnomer in these CD days and times but originally they literally meant a cassette tape, and it was damned slow and inconvenient to rewind and fast forward them shits. If you had to spend all your time searching through a mixtape to get to the gems, then it wasn’t a good mixtape to begin with. In fact historically a really good mixtape was so damn good you’d be impatient waiting for the tape head to flip sides and give you the second half – even a five second delay seemed like an eternity. Herron ably captures that captivating feeling.
Obviously distribution wasn’t a problem for Herron since I found this in stores with ease, and best of all the bargain price of $7.99 (even lower from some online retailers) it’s hard to argue any good reason not to own this one. Nonetheless there are a few – if you want full versions of every song on this mixtape, well mixtapes aren’t for you anyway but in this case you’ll be mad when intros and outros are deemed unimportant and Herron moves on to the next song whenever he feels like it. There’s also some seemingly unnecessary emphasis on third tier Roc-A-Fella members, which is one of the cardinal sins I talked about earlier – using your mixtape to put on unnecessarily whack members of a clique who can’t otherwise get shine. No offense to Young Chris or Peedi Peedi but they’re not impressing me on this CD and I’d rather they have given up their spot to a song from T.I. or Redman. Last but not least by the time the Fabolous & Lil Wayne “Diamonds” duet hits Herron has already used up his quota of shoutouts and DJ drops and become borderline annoying in DJ Clue fashion, and I don’t need to hear his ass going “ha ha” and “YEAH” and “word up” while I’m trying to hear the rappers flow any more. Nonetheless for what appears to be his first ever national mixtape, DJ Bear Herron comes much better than expected with “Dose #1” and I’d definitely take a chance on a second hit.