Regan Sommer McCoy on Mixtapes in Hip Hop History

Editor's note:

This article was originally published by Tape Op in their July/August 2020 issue.

July 29, 2020

A'Lelia Bundles Community Scholar Regan Sommer McCoy spoke to Tape Op about The Mixtape Museum, her personal background with mixtapes, and the history of the medium.

A frequently overlooked part of hip-hop history and culture, the story of the mixtape deserves to be archived, preserved, and celebrated. Beginning with cassette-recorded board tapes of early hip-hop club performances – featuring innovative beat matching, scratching, and early rapping – and on to CD-Rs curated by tastemakers promoting new tracks to the world, the mixtape is an important document. Regan Sommer McCoy started The Mixtape Museum to promote this idea and get the process moving. There are still many tasks to accomplish, but with her passion, connections, and knowledge this amazing part of culture can be cataloged and understood for future generations.

What got you interested in the mixtape?

If you ask me what a mixtape is, the answer would be very different from some of my mixtape and hip-hop purist friends. My first entry point to mixtapes were the first ones that I made in my bedroom, recording off the radio. But in high school I started buying the mixtapes that I cover in The Mixtape Museum. Those were the mixtapes that were curated and dubbed by these DJs. The DJ culture, in general, intrigues me.

Where did you buy them at the time?

I grew up on 14th Street in New York City. At the end of 14th Street, on the West Side between 6th and 8th Avenues, there were these little shops. They were just a hole in the wall, like a closet. Many were operated by Chinese and African vendors. You would walk into this little room, and there would be walls of tapes; like DJ Ron G or DJ Juice. DJ Ron G was the first mixtape I ever bought with my own money. There was Canal Street – a huge venue for "bootleg" recordings, 125th Street in Harlem, and Third Avenue in the Bronx. There were also other music stores around the tri-state area. The tapes were small, so you could pass them around, copy them, mail them, and stick them in your back pocket. My interest with the cassette is – because of my story and the things I've been exposed to living in New York – I found that there are so many things on these cassette tapes that are probably being missed. We don't know where the tapes are now. They're in attics and in Nike shoeboxes in basements. Some of these tapes are more than 40 years old. Cassette tape seems to be a very stable medium, more stable than some recent technology, but they are in danger of deteriorating. It is terrifying for me. That's why I spent the time locating them, finding the collectors who have them, and trying to get them to dump as much info as they can into spreadsheets so I can filter the information. It's a search and rescue mission. I have accepted that it is my life's work. There are so many people – DJs, hip-hop artists, historians, ethnomusicologists, and technologists – who are interested in helping.

Read the full interview.