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Mix monsters
Does the RIAA want to put Skippy White away?

This past June, when RIAA investigators accompanied police on a raid of the NYC record shop Mondo Kim’s, the hip-hop mix-CD bust made national news. What’s been overlooked is that a similar bust went down two months earlier in Boston. At one small but legendary independent chain, it’s become known as Black Thursday: on April 14 at 2 pm, all three locations of Skippy White’s (538 Mass Ave in Central Square, 1971 Columbus Ave in Egelston Square, and a branch in Pawtucket) were raided. Local treasure and shop namesake SKIPPY WHITE, who opened his first store in 1961 and has been an important figure in Boston soul, gospel, R&B, and hip-hop for four decades, was arrested at home. Police confiscated rap mix CDs and at the Cambridge location also removed the lone checkout computer because it contained a standard-issue CD burner.

On September 7, after the Phoenix went to press, White and his lawyers were due back in front of the Massachusetts assistant district attorney. White is being charged under a state law that requires all CDs sold in the Commonwealth to display the recording label and a contact address on the back — a rule that was quietly shepherded through a number of state legislatures by the RIAA. If enforced uniformly, that law could have unintended consequences — like the arrest of any unsigned band in Boston who fail to put their address on their demo CD. It could even impact rockists who don’t know mixtapes from Mix 98.5.

As almost everyone else realizes by now, mix CDs were for a long time promotional vehicles for DJs. But they also became a way for artists to generate street cred and build a buzz. Even as the RIAA helps police stamp out mixtape sales, its clients — the labels — sanction mixtapes as a crucial component of the marketing plan for their artists. "The major labels love it," says STATIK SELEKTAH, a syndicated mix-show DJ originally from Boston. "They want their songs on the mixtapes, so it’s wack when they target people like Skippy." In a way, he adds, the RIAA’s interference is self-defeating: it just adds to the outlaw glamor of street mixes. "It’s like drugs. The more you bust it, the more it gets known."

The RIAA may have got its point across, but it’s also scared the shit out of the very people charged with selling its clients’ products. Jessie Massive is the manager of MASSIVE RECORDS, a year-old hip-hop and DJ-oriented shop at 1105 Mass Ave in Cambridge. "Major labels have never been about making music, it’s about making money," he says. He’s angry but not stupid: he’s gone so far as to put masking tape over the word "mixtapes" in the store’s outdoor signage, and he says he’s given up on selling mix CDs altogether.

"Mix CDs will never go away," says Adam Walder, founder of the on-line store UNDERGROUNDHIPHOP.COM and proprietor of the newly opened UGHH retail shop at 234 Huntington Ave in Boston. "They are functional. It does some work for the consumer: the DJ filters new music for them." Mix CDs are also more immediate. "There’s stuff on the radio that people want to hear and they can’t buy it," Marc Siegel, who manages Skippy’s Pawtucket store, told the Village Voice back in June.

With a trial pending, White wouldn’t speak for the record. But Massive sums up retailers’ sentiments: "They [the RIAA] never go after the people who are making the mix CDs, they go after the stores that are selling them. So we’re getting screwed for trying to support [artists and] DJs."

COMING UP | THEO PARRISH makes his Boston debut Sunday at An Tua Nua (see "SoundBites," on page 3) . . . Satellite Records’ RECYCLE WEDNESDAYS gets a boost this week from the brilliant techno of STEVE BARNES, who comes courtesy of Cologne’s Traum/Trapez/MBF labels and will rock chunky, minimal disco beats produced live for your pleasure. That’s a recommendation . . . And drum ’n’ bass may be in need of a revival, but LTJ BUKEM’s flowering, deliberate dance sound never gets old. He makes a rare local appearance Tuesday at Bill’s Bar.

You can find David Day behind the decks Thursdays at Middlesex Lounge and Fridays at Enormous Room | circuits@squar3.com.

Issue Date: September 9 - 15, 2005
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