Throughout August we've been celebrating the 50th anniversary of hip-hop, but if you want a real look into the history of the art form, Mixtape on Paramount+ is a worthy primer.
The documentary, featuring stars like 50 Cent, 2 Chainz, A$AP Rocky, The Game, Lil Wayne, Mark Ronson, Mike Tyson, Tommy Hilfiger and DJ Khaled, explores the impact mixtapes have had on the hip-hop we know and love today. It's all led by director Omar Acosta who chronicles the journey of mixtapes, from the DJs to being a form of cultural currency and trendsetting.
"I knew how I wanted it to look," Acosta told Yahoo Canada. "I wanted it to be sort of like a visual mixtape."
"For me, personally, one of my favourite mixtape DJs who I grew up with and I actually met when I was like 14 was Tony Touch, [a producer on Mixtape]," Acosta said. "I connected with him and I sort of told him I had this idea."
"So we kind of went down this journey a few days later. ... The script was being written as we were shooting. ... I had the bones of it, but as we were shooting it was like, alright we need to fill this blank. We fill that blank. We just kind of freestyled this thing."
Overall, Acosta identified that people were very open to talking about the cultural impact of mixtapes, but the work came in trying to get the right people in the documentary.
"That's always a mission," Acosta stressed. "That's kind of the hardest part, but if we interviewed a particular subject and that subject mentioned a name that we felt was important, it was like 'OK now we have to go get that person.'"
"At that point, it's like making a million phone calls."
'You need the audience who is consuming these mixtapes'
One aspect of Mixtape that really emphasizes the breadth of the impact of mixtapes is that Acosta doesn't only include interviews with DJs, rappers and other musicians. There are athletes like Shaquille O'Neal and actors like Michael Rapaport included in the film as well, who are incredibly passionate about the impact mixtapes had on their lives.
"You need the audience who is consuming these mixtapes," Acosta explained. "The fact that we had Mike Tyson going, 'yeah I was listening to the mixtapes before my fights,' that to me, it was crazy. You have Shaq saying the same thing, 'I would get my mixtapes and I would give it to the team.'"
"That alone just shows you the importance of the mixtape fan."
The filmmaker himself also has a personal connection to mixtapes.
"I personally had a need to get the mixtapes because I spent a lot of time in Puerto Rico, which is an isolated tiny island," Acosta explained. "At the time, ... you had to go to New York to get your music and bring it back to Puerto Rico and I had a little crew of friends, .... we shared our mixtapes."
"But I think what was crazy to me is travelling to all these other places and finding that there were all these other people, just like me, that were doing the exact same thing. Because at the time you feel like, 'this is my thing.' ... So I think that was pretty impressive to me, that all around the world there were people doing the exact same thing."
For anyone who watches Mixtape, Acosta hopes that they really understand that this wasn't an overnight phenomenon.
"This culture is a culture that went through a lot and it's persevered, and it deserves all the merit and all the credit that it has today," Acosta stressed. "I'm surprised how many people have called me and been like, 'I had no idea.'"
"To me, it's a beautiful thing that they're going, 'wow OK I have a bigger appreciation for this culture now that I understand at least a part of what it went through.'"