I love underground, independent hip-hop. I don’t think it gets its proper due. There’s just something about listening to talented, hungry emcees over unpolished beats that you don’t find in much mainstream music. There’s that certain aesthetic, the DIY hustle, that shines through the music. People keep telling me I’ll grow out of it, but it hasn’t happened yet.
In high school I spent a lot of time buying used tapes at one of Portland’s classic record stores, 2nd Avenue Records. Most of the store was vinyl, but they had this old wooden cabinet in the middle of the store and you could pull out these giant, heavy drawers full of cover-less, beat-up tapes for $2 each. I loved digging through those drawers, and sometimes I’d spend my lunch money on some new music. After grabbing a tape or two, I’d occasionally wander over to the hip-hop vinyl section and peak through. But it was a pointless mission since I didn’t have a record player.
However, I was a bit of a computer nerd, and I did have a 2400 baud modem attached to my dad’s PC. Around 1995, I found myself on a “BBS” (google it) message board emailing with a young emcee and producer in Florida who was accumulating heavy amounts of obscure, independent hip-hop vinyl. He volunteered to fill up any blank tape I sent him with the best hip-hop he had, and it was too good of a deal to pass up. I’d send him two tapes at a time, and get them back a month or two later, packed full of all kinds of independent hip-hop, b-sides and remixes. Stuff from all over the country. It was an education, and I can’t thank that dude enough for being so generous. He’s now a fairly well-known producer and emcee in New York, who has worked with many of the artists he dubbed onto those tapes. When I moved to New York in 96, I started hitting Fat Beats, Footwork, and other spots, not just for the latest wax, but also some of those classic joints from those mixes. Over the years I’ve tracked many of them down – but there’s still a few that elude me.
The first mixtape I made for internet distribution in 2007 was collection of 90s independent, underground hip-hop vinyl. Honestly, I don’t have a copy of that mix anymore – I’d looked on old hard drives, CDs, everywhere – I can’t find it. So I thought I’d take it back with a similar theme, and play an hour of independent hip-hop vinyl – it’s not strictly 90s releases, but most of these joints are at least 10 years old (I can’t believe it’s 2012…). A LOT of records got left off this tape – those that made the mix are some favorites and obscurities that hopefully not everyone has heard before. I tried not to play too many records that appear on my past tapes, and I also tried to span the country geographically.
So for the backpacker, underground heads like me that hear this, hopefully you enjoy.
— DJ Ian Head