Collector’s Spotlight: Eric Johnson | Chico, California
In this series, MXM features avid mixtape collectors and their analog collections. Originally from the east coast, Eric Johnson lives in Chico, California. You can take the mixtape collector out of the tri-state area but you can’t . . . You know the rest.
MXM: Where are you from?
EJ: I was born and raised in Ansonia, Connecticut. It’s in the New Haven Area.
MXM: What’s in your collection?
EJ: I have 7,500 mixtapes on compact cassette, 10,000 mixtapes on CD, and 50 mixtape DVDs. I have 6000 pieces of vinyl ranging from 90’s Reggae, 80’s and 90’s Hip Hop, 90’s NYC House, and 90’s Freestyle. And, 1000 studio tapes, mostly 90’s Reggae and 90’s Hip Hop.
MXM: Do you have a favorite mixtape?
EJ: I have many, many favorites and for many different reasons.
MXM: Just name a few.
EJ: Old to the New, DJ Precise – This is just a classic reggae joint that moves the crowd from start to finish.
Diaz Brothers Live in Japan, Doo Wop and Tony Touch – The energy in this mix was amazing!
#19 No Gimmicks, G Bo The Pro & DJ Rei Double R – This was just pure grimy 90’s NYC Hip Hop.
Summer Time Shootout Part 1, DJ Clue – This was back when Clue was grinding hard and blending.
95 Live Doo Wop. – A classic!
50 MC’s, Tony Touch. – A classic!
5 Deadly Venoms, Dexterity, Billy Bill, 1st Class, Dirty Harry, Bigg Premiere, and First Class and The Original
Uplifting Selections Series, Nick Bondz
Theory of Old School, Biz Markie – Biz’s personality on any mixtape makes it an instant classic!
Hang ‘Em High, Dirty Harry. Shit, how can you list just one Dirty Harry? They are all classic!
Going Way Back, E Kim – An old school R&B banger.
100 R&B Blends Part 4, DJ Unknown and DJ Blaze. – Fire!
Look What I Found series, Unexpected. – Pure DJ talent.
Original, Neil Armstrong – This should be on everyone’s top 10 list.
There are so many more!
MXM: Do you have a favorite mixtape genre?
EJ: My favorite mixtapes are blends and concept mixtapes. I enjoy blend tapes by DJs who don’t simply take vocals off of one track and blend them with instrumentals from another. I am looking for multiple verses over the same beat, beat transitions during the chorus, seamless transitions, etc.
DJ’s strong in this area legends like, Ron G, Silva Sir-Fa, Doggtime, Kool Kirk, Dirty Harry, Ty Boogie, Danny Dee, Danny S, Beyond Rest, DJ Gera, DJ Jelly, DJ Juice, etc.
Have you ever heard a blend so flawless that you stopped liking the original of the song? Blends like “Breathe” by Fabolous over “Whoa” on DJ Spinbad’s “No More Bullshit Blends,”
“Black Girl Lost” by Nas on “Dirty Harry’s “Living Legends,” featuring Ft. Papoose & Tre Williams, and “Flamboyant” by Big L mixed with “Not Another Word” by Bounty Killer on Unexpected’s “All Nighter Part 2” did that.
When it comes to concept mixtapes, Neil Armstrong took it to another level with “Orginal.” Concept mixtapes come in all varieties. “Original” took the listener through a journey, identifying where the samples came from in some of the most classic hip-hop tracks.Unexpected dove in even deeper with his “Look What I Found” series.
But there are other forms like Doo Wop’s 95 Live or Tony Touch’s “Five Deadly Venoms of Brooklyn,” DJ Rondevu’s “Knights of the Roundtable.” I just picked up a mixtape online called “In The Rain” by DJ Steve1der and it is all tracks about rain. Who would think of that? And it was a tight mix! Dirty Harry’s mixtapes are popular; he has an amazing talent to build a story through a mixtape. Music has the power to take people to another place, no matter what that mood, even if it’s only for a short period of time. A well built mixtape takes you on a journey. Smooth Denali’s mixtape series “Bump N Grind” has a mixtape for whatever your relationship status is. It’s not random joints slapped onto a tape haphazardly, they are all well thought out.
MXM: Do you have a favorite DJ?
EJ: Another hard question. I have many. But a few in no particular order are:
Dirty Harry, Juice, Green Lantern, Camilo, DJ Clue, Dexterity, G Bo The Pro, DJ Rei Double R, Diz One, Yooter, Danny Dee, Nick Bondz, Spinbad, Aristocat, Silva Sir-Fa, Doo Wop, Selecta Bam Bam, Unexpected, Smooth Denali, Rondevu, Evil Dee, Kid Capri, Neil Armstrong, DJ Lus, DJ Almeo, DJ Danny S, DJ Gera, Junior Tec, DJ Jamad, E Kim, Billy Bill, DJ Precise, DJ Kast One, DJ Soul, DJ Break, DJ Amo, DJ 007, Bigg Premiere, Beyond Rest, DJ Lee Majorz, DJ One Flight, Egg Nice, J. Period, Ty Boogie, Mister Cee, Road Warrior Int’l, Tony Touch, DJ Premier, Lazy K, DJ LS One, PF Cuttin, J Love, and DJ Crazy Chris.
MXM: What made you start collecting mixtapes?
EJ: To explain how I started getting into mixtapes, I should start with how I first got into hip-hop. Growing up through the 70’s, 80’s, 90’s, right in the heart of hip-hop’s birthplace was amazing!
I was 12 year’s old in 1982, when I was exposed to my first hip-hop artists, Kurtis Blow and The Treacherous Three. I lived in a very small blue collar town in Connecticut that was a 20 minute bus ride from New Haven and a 90 minute train ride from New York City, so my initial exposure was via radio. I was hooked immediately and fully embedded myself in the b-boy culture. My first 12” vinyl purchased was The Fat Boys by Disco 3. I picked it up at a local record store called Merle’s Record Rack in Derby Connecticut. I was too young to work on the books, so my funds were limited. Every dollar I made cutting grass was spent at Merle’s. Over time, I got to know the owner Mike Papa.
When he learned I could draw, he hired me to create signage and work in the shop, in exchange for vinyl. I was in heaven, drawing graffiti signs and opening new boxes of vinyl coming in each day. I was around music all the time, so I felt right at home.
Eventually, I was able to buy a Technisonic Conion TC-999 boombox, which gave me access to a clear broadcast of WBLS and Kiss FM.
At that time, Red Alert, Chuck Chillout, Mr. Magic & Marly Marl were doing it big on NYC radio on Friday and Saturday nights. I recorded every weekend; these were my first official mixtapes. I still have about 15 hours’ worth.
MXM: At what point did DJ-made mixtapes become a thing?
EJ: In the early 90’s I headed off to the Navy. Traveling abroad, my taste in music evolved and I got heavy into dance hall reggae, but my true love was still New York Hip-Hop. This is when I discovered Tapekingz, in an advertisement in Hip-Hop magazine. They offered mixtapes via mail order. I started placing orders and really enjoyed mixtapes by Nick Bondz, Evil Dee, and Doo Wop, while being out to sea for long periods of time.
MXM: When and how did you begin working with Tapekingz?
EJ: Not long after I got out of the service I landed a job back in Connecticut working for a company that gave me access to UV screen printing. I started building a relationship with Steve at Tapekingz and offered to provide screen printing in exchange for mixtapes. I started printing 1,000’s of Tapekingz logo stickers, which were placed in orders and also in a couple of projects for Ron G.
I left my old company around 2000 and landed a new job in Baltimore working for a company that digitally printed on the face of CD’s and DVD’s. This gave me access to a bunch of different applications and connections in the recording industry. A few years later Steve and I worked together converting some of the classic mixtapes on compact cassette to CD format for re-release via Tapekingz.
I stayed in touch with Steve for many years after and truly value the relationship we built over the years. He and Ian are pioneers in the mixtape industry and took the game to the next level. They built a brand which grew and grew. They played a huge part in US DJ’s mixtapes making it all over the world. I always admired how they marketed and branded themselves, nobody else was doing that so early in the game. Tapekingz tapes are held in high regard, you don’t find many people wanting to part with them.
MXM: Where else were you getting your mixtapes?
EJ: I would jump in the whip and slide to New York City to Harlem Music Hut, which was right off the Henry Hudson Parkway. I would pull in to the Mickey D’s parking lot right across the street. There was nothing better than hitting the Hut just hours after a DJ like Clue, Dexterity, Billy Bill, Yooter, or Camilo dropped off a new tape. They would be pumping them out of the Telex.
Word got out quick about new tape arrivals, they would be selling as fast as fast as they could make them. The ride home with a passenger seat full of new tapes was the best! I also took day trips into the city and hit up stores like House of Nubian and Fat Beats, both down in the Village. Rock and Soul in Midtown and VP Records in Jamaica, Queens for my reggae fix.
MXM: Were there stores closer to your house in Connecticut?
EJ: In the 90’s, I discovered The Village run by Andy when I moved to Middletown, Connecticut. Andy had the mixtape game on lock in Connecticut. He was the best salesman I ever met, a hustle man for life! He was doing big things and had artists like 50 Cent, who were on the rise coming to his shop on the regular. The Village was also a major hub for mixtape DJs and distributors. You couldn’t listen to more than a couple of tapes without hearing Andy’s name or The Village in a shout out on a mixtape.
MXM: How were stores like The Village getting their name out there?
EJ: Most of Andy’s marketing was done on shout outs on mixtapes, word of mouth, club advertising. then Andy took the same route as Tapekingz and others with ads in the back of most Hip Hop magazines. He even started to do radio commercials on the local Connecticut stations.
Andy started off utilizing the web in very limited amounts, he had plenty of traffic in his store and wholesale packages he was sending out. But he saw the growth potential that some of the other stores were gaining on the net. I ended up working with Andy on a project to increase his online orders and expand his clothing sales in the store.
I re-designed The Village logo, which we then screen-printed on magnets. 10,000 magnets were shipped out in orders and handed out at the store. He wanted the shop address and website on as many refrigerators as possible. The Village became a household name. and the spot everyone stopped at for the newest mix and gear before the weekend. Andy and I got to be great friends and he helped build my collection to what it is today. I wouldn’t have such an amazing collection without his contribution.
Now during this time the mixtape game was starting to see a transition from tape to CD. I was very slow and reluctant to change over at first. I did not want to lose the 18 minutes of mixtape.
At the time many DJ’s were dropping both tape and CD. I always got the tape at first then picked up the CD later. I kick myself now because I wish I started picking up both much sooner. As this transition was happening I started to work for a new company in Baltimore Maryland that digitally printed in full color on the face of CD’s and DVD’s. (As I mentioned above.) The quality was amazing and wanted to see if I could reach out to some mixtape DJ’s who would be interested. At the time nobody was putting in more work with concepts, production, artwork, and full package like Dexterity. I reached out to Dex and we connected instantly.
Dexterity and I worked together for at least the last 10 mixtapes he put out. So if you have one Dexterity’s mixed CD and the CD is not in full 600 DPI color with a cardboard full color sleeve with shrink wrap then your shit is bootleg!
My relationship with Dexterity and Steve opened up relationships with all kinds of amazing people in the mixtape game. Sommer, Dimez and Chew of Rapmullet, the one and only Tapemasta, Unexpected, Smooth Denali and even Dirty Harry. Steve got me in contact with Dirty Harry and we almost knock out a deal to burn, print, and pack Dirty Luv Part 2 & 3 but it fell through.
MXM: Are you still actively collecting?
EJ: I currently reside on the West Coast so my collecting days have slowed down a bit. Being married and looking after three 10 year old girls has me quite busy but my love for mixtapes will always be there. Now I am more about preserving the art and history of the mixtape.
Listen to more from Eric’s Collection