In this new series, MXM features avid mixtape collectors and their analog collections. The first hails from Paris, France. We call him The Mixtape Journalist. Over the last decade, Epée Hervé Dingong has gathered an insurmountable amount of data on mixtape DJ culture to prepare for the release of his book about the history, business, and evolution of the hip-hop mixtape.
MXM: What’s in your collection?
Epee: Approximately, 100 mixtapes on compact cassette, 300 mixtapes on CD, and 5000 pieces of vinyl. I’ve always collected vinyl but started crate digging harder because of mixtapes. After beginning to collect tapes, especially blend tapes, I started looking for the vinyl of the songs that DJs used to blend, from there my vinyl collection grew.
MXM: What was your first piece of vinyl?
Epee: I was 5. It was Goldorak, a Japanese cartoon for kids. Lol. I still have it.
MXM: What were one of the songs you heard on a mixtape for the first time that you had to find on vinyl?
Epee: “Shook Ones,” by Mobb Deep. I heard it on a Funk Master Flex, Hot 97 tape.
MXM: Do you remember your first mixtape?
Epee: The first mixtape I recorded was in 1988 off of the radio. It was of a French DJ named Dee Nasty of Zulu Nation France, who had a show called “Deenastyle” on Radio Nova. You could hear all the hip-hop releases from the US and in between he played freestyles by French rappers.
MXM: What was your first mixtape from a US DJ?
Epee: It was Ron G, mixshow on WBLS. I don’t recall the date.
A friend of a friend was playing a tape in his car, he had bought in Brooklyn while on vacation. I told them, “This is my friend, Ron G, he’s the youngest in charge!” They looked at me like I was crazy. Little did they know, I had already secured a copy of Ron G on WBLS. I was already up on him. My friend copied the tape from the guy, and I got a copy of that copy and that’s how I got “Live at The Cotton Club.”
MXM: How did you get this tape all the way in France?
Epee: I used to get mixtapes from a guy who had family in the Bronx. He would bring tapes back to Paris from New York. Sometimes he gave me copies or sold them to me for $6 or $7. I got familiar with many US DJS in 94-95. SNS, Clue, Chubby Chubb, Mister Cee. DJ Enuff came to Paris for a party in 1994.
Funkmaster Flex came when he released his first album. In 1996, I found two records stores in Paris that sold mixtapes. Then I took note that most touring artists traveled with their DJs, who sold mixtapes after the show. Like DJ Rectangle, he was Warren G’s tour DJ.
MXM: Were there any tapes that were harder to get than others?
Epee: A DJ Premier mixtape was magical in Paris. People were fascinated with him. The French loved Gangstarr’s albums, especially, “Step in the Arena” and “Hard to Earn.” Everything about Premier was good for the French!
I looked high and low for one of the Crooklyn Cuts tapes. For the first time, I considered contacting Tape Kingz directly, but eventually, I found it in a store. After all of that, the tape popped while listening to it at a friends house. Then I got a copy.
When I interviewed Premier, he confirmed that he is crazy about mixtapes. He is a huge Brucie B fan.
MXM: Were there any French DJs making noise in the mixtape scene around this time?
Epee: Yes, of course. The most famous was DJ Cut Killer. He was in the French movie, “La Haine.” He was influenced by NY mixtape DJs, especially DJ Juice. When he visited NY, he sometimes stayed with DJ Enuff. What he saw in the NY mixtape scene was incredible, so he decided to do the same thing in France.
Later, DJ Poska, who is in NY now. He had a hip-hop and r&b mixtape series titled, “Whats the Flavor.” DJ Kost, DJ Goldfingers, DJ Abdel, they did mixtapes and compilation albums then.
MXM: Where did French DJs distribute their tapes?
Epee: In music and clothing stores.
MXM: Any female mixtape DJs?
Epee: In France there weren’t really any female mixtape DJs. I don t know why.
MXM: What was your first encounter with a mixtape by a female mixtape DJ?
Epee: DJ Jazzy Joyce and DJ Lazy K. I knew of Jazzy Joyce from Sweet Tee. Unfortunately in 93/94, I missed Jazzy Joyce in Paris with Digable Planets. I think I heard DJ Lazy K’s voice for the first time while in a record store. Her voice stopped me in my tracks. They weren’t selling the tape, so I only left the store with vinyl that day, but I later got a copy of a copy of what I think was Butter Pecan or something like that. Two years later, she was featured in The Source. When I was active in the military, I found her tapes in a fashion boutique in Paris. I was so intrigued by female mixtape DJs and started doing research, in magazines, not the internet! And I found Coco Channel, but I couldn’t find her mixtapes in Paris.
MXM: What’s some of your favorite mixtapes?
Epee: 50 Live MCs by Tony Touch, Free James Brown by Kid Capri, 95 Live by Doowop, Cluemanatti by DJ Clue, Tape III by Cut Killer, Halloween Madness by Lazy K, Best of Biggie by Mister Cee, The Abstract and Best of Q-Tip by J. Period.
MXM: Who are some of your favorite mixtape DJs?
Epee: I was impressed by DJ Clue mixtapes because of the exclusives. Tony Touch was one of my favorites because of his mixes and because he was an MC too. Others are Mixmaster Mike, Jazzy Joyce, SnS Evil Dee, Mister Cee, DJ Juice, DJ Clark Kent, DJ LS One and DJ Dummy. My favorite DJ of all time is DJ Scratch but he didn’t release many mixtapes. I met him in 97 when EPMD was in Paris. In 2008, I interviewed him for my book.
DJs are the cornerstone of hip-hop and the mixtape is their Excalibur.
MXM: Talk more about the book.
Epee: When I began working as a journalist, it gave me access to more DJs. This access, my obsession with djing and crate digging inspired the book. I wanted to do something about the DJ, a book, a doc, something. After re-reading a report I did about mixtapes in 2003 for Radikal Magazine, I decided to write e a book about DJs, with a chapter about mixtapes. I was calling publicists in Paris, NY, LA, and Houston to get their client’s tour schedules and found out Max Glazer was going to be djing in Paris with Rihanna. While Rihanna went shopping, I interviewed him. He had also wrote an article about mixtapes in 1996 for Rap Pages magazine. It was after this interview I realized that mixtape culture deserved a book of its own. DJs are the cornerstone of hip-hop and the mixtape is their Excalibur. This book is for them.
Epée Hervé Dingong is an international freelance writer from Paris, France. After earning his BA in journalism from CFPJ he went on to become Editor of French hip-hop publication Radikal Magazine from 1998-2005. As a staff and freelance writer he’s interviewed artists from all over the world. His work has been published in-print and online, in both US and European publications such as Juice Magazine, Radikal Magazine, Tracklist, The Source Magazine, The Source France, Musique Info Hebdo, Lady Caprice Magazine, The Ave Magazine, Mugshot Magazine, www.daveyd.com, www.euromight.com and www.thestarklife.com.
Currently Epee sits on the Advisory Committee for The Mixtape Museum, has a role in upcoming film Migration by Nelson George’s and is putting the finishing touches on his book. The book is a culmination of 1o years of intense research and interviews with DJs, artists, managers, publicists, and others that contributed to the mixtape industry.