My favorite thing about Hip Hop mixtapes is listening to blends. Blends are the main reason I learned how to DJ because I wanted to make my own with the ideas I had in my head.
For those not familiar, a blend is when you take the acapella (or the vocals) of a song, and mix it together in sync with the instrumental of a different song. People nowadays might call that a mashup, but I’ve always refused to call it that.
Blend tapes were popular since the 90’s, so why would you give a name to something that already has one?
Before the internet, mixtapes were the best way to hear new music before it hit the radio. I used to frequent all the local flea markets and collect all of the blend tapes I could find. Names like Mista Rello & Jadel come to mind. Even DJ Clue made blend tapes but in my opinion, nobody did it better than DJ Dirty Harry.
Dirty Harry is hands down the most influential mixtape DJ. I definitely learned a lot and got a lot of my style from him, so I always have to give him his props. Nobody inspired me more in the mixtape game.
I love blends because it’s a unique form of expression. Your song selection when making blends can tell a lot about your personal style and taste. It can also show how knowledgeable you are in music.
It definitely takes skill to make a good sounding blend. You can’t just mix any two songs together and expect it to sound good.
DJ’s that actually dig and have some well-rounded knowledge of music history, usually make the best blends. It’s also no coincidence that most of the best Hip Hop producers started out as DJ’s.
Some things you just can’t learn from Google searching. You have to put in the work and perfect your craft.
Dr. Dre, Pete Rock, J Dilla, DJ Premier, Just Blaze, and so on and so on are all great DJ’s. The knowledge goes hand in hand. When you know the history of the music, you’ll know what works and what doesn’t.
These days, it seems blend tape DJ’s like myself are a dying breed. The main reason for that I believe is because of technology.
With music production equipment becoming much more affordable, more people are becoming producers and making their own remixes instead of making blends. For that same reason, it seems more and more people are interested in becoming producers instead of being DJ’s. Which is fine.
Blends to me just give a different and unique listening experience that you won’t hear on the radio or TV. It’s one way DJ’s like myself can fight against the technology take over.
There’s no algorithm or program that can tell you what two songs cohesively sound good together. That’s one human element that can’t be matched. Programs can only match by BPM.
Blends can also breathe new life into a song and make it timeless. I’ve literally made a few hundred mixes over the years and the ones people always tell me they go back to are all of the blend mixes. There’s definitely people out there who still crave them as much as I do.
Whenever I make a blend, I like to take two songs that are completely opposite. Take this Janet/Biggie blend for example. “Let’s Wait Awhile,” is a classic R&B song and very clean cut. But when you take those vocals and mix it with Notorious BIG’s “Big Poppa,” it becomes something entirely different.
When you listen to that blend, it almost feels like Janet and Biggie are conversing with each other. That’s why I try to do with music. I try to paint pictures, tell stories, and give you an experience. Something you don’t often get with club music.
The rise of digital DJing also plays a factor to the blend’s demise. Back when most DJ’s used to play with vinyl, you can often find the acapella version of the track on the record along with the track’s instrumental. Since people mostly use MP3 files nowadays, record companies are producing less vinyl singles, and acapellas are much harder to come by.
Don’t get me wrong, I also make beats and create my own remixes but I just like to do a little bit of everything to show some versatility.
I remember in the early 2000’s, I was watching the “Scratch” documentary and one thing that stuck with me is what DJ Premier said. Premier mentioned that a real DJ should be able to mix, as well as create beats. Since a DJ has that musical background, he or she should be able to know how a good beat should sound like and be able to create it. That definitely has stuck with me over the years.
I’m not sure what’s in store for the future but I can definitely tell you this. As long as I’m still creating, I’m always going to continue to make blends and showcase them in my mixes or live.
Blends are a just a big part of the school I come from and I’m very big on carrying tradition. So everybody else can keep doing their remixes and I’ll continue to just do a little of everything.
If I got you curious about blends, I suggest you take a listen to this mix of I made a while back called “Nothing But Blends.” You’ll definitely get a clearer picture of what I’m talking about by listening to this mix.