It's simple, really. Or maybe it's kind of not.
Car culture is big in the South, particularly with regard to hip-hop; has been for some time. At this point, they're basically inseparable. Examples: Here's a song by Too Short called "Fuck My Car" that came out in 1996. And here's a song by UGK also called "Fuck My Car" that also came out in 1996. And here's a song by Slim Thug called "My Car" that came out 15 years after 1996. There are, like, 400 or so more between the three.
I suppose you could argue that it's a creative decision, what with fancied up cars (paint jobs, large wheels, TV screens, etc.) looking so awesome and whatnot. Or I guess you could argue it's a prurient decision since the premise of all three of the aforementioned songs is that women are more likely to let you have sex with them if you have an aesthetically pleasing automobile (this, I've learned, is rarely the only variable at play). Or I guess you could also argue that it has to do with how cities here grow outward rather than upward, dictating that a considerable amount of time must be spent driving to and from places.
No matter, though. Just know that the relationship is there. And that it creates a niche market for something called mixtape DVDs.
A mixtape DVD is exactly what it sounds like: a collection of songs, usually grouped together by theme or artists, except rather than it being just music tracks, it's videos, too. The idea is that you play them in your car on your DVD player while you drive around (while women fellate you, I'm guessing).
Generally, you can buy mixtape DVDs at smoke shops or lifestyle stores. But you can also buy them at convenience stores. More specifically, you can buy them at the store down the street from my house.
In my neighborhood, there are three convenience stores within a block of each other, but only one, a family-owned place, is of any importance. It's a neighborhood beacon, and it operates as the nexus of a thicket of shitty apartments and duplexes (I think one of the complexes is actually called something like "Rape Oaks," but I'm not certain). Come midnight, they shut that shit down tight like Will Smith did to his house in I Am Legend, but all the time before then features a coral reef's worth of activity.
Nine days ago, I bought two of the mixtape DVDs ($10 each). I had intended to buy more, but a very nice man outside stopped me as I was walking in and delivered an undeniably effective sales pitch. ("I have all the same stuff they have in there and mine's only $5. You don't get a case, but what do you need a fuckin' case for?") That he was preempting my purchase of bootleg DVDs with the solicitation of alternative bootleg DVDs that he was burning in his car as needed was too rich an experience to ignore. I purchased two from him as well on behalf of irony.
In total, I left with (1) D.J. Fantastic & Balistic Ent. – Mix Source Videos: Diplomats; (2) Spiff TV –Reggaeton Invasion*; (3) Survivor: Glaciers of Ice Edition*; and (4) Tosin and The Screwshop present Don't Mess Wit' Texas Vol. 6.
*The ones purchased from the man outside.
Then I spent a week driving/watching/listening.
My reviews, in ascending order of quality:
4. Spiff TV – Reggaeton Invasion
Whiff. This one refused to play at all. Weird that the bootleg of a bootleg that was purchased in the parking lot of a gas station turned out to be invalid. The guy seemed so upstanding, too, what with his tattered muscle shirt and squirrely demeanor. Still, it was the first time I'd been ripped off and felt good about it. Reggaeton is the worst.
I only bought it because the guy had a poor understanding of Latin American geography. His slant: "Are you Mexican? I got something you'll like. Check out this Daddy Yankee one." What I thought was, "Fuck you, man. Daddy Yankee's from Puerto Rico, not Mexico. They're different countries." What I said was, "Cool. Yeah, I'll take it. Thanks."
He peer-pressured me right into that shit, and I felt bad about myself the whole time for it, like when you wash your hands for way longer than normal in the restroom of a restaurant because someone else stepped up right beside you as you were about to walk out. The wordless hand-washing contest is so debilitating.
3. Survivor: Glaciers of Ice Edition
Number of Songs/Videos: 49
Most Unexpected Gem: Plies, "Me Ho"
If you listen to him at a moderate volume, Plies rates as abysmal. Played loudly in a car though, he's a poet. Everything he says sounds right and insightful. He's like Morgan Freeman in Shawshank Redemption. Freeman kept calling Andy a ho in the movie, right? I forget.
Song That Makes You Want To Drive Right Into a Wall: Soulja Boy, "Mean Mug," featuring 50 Cent
I mean, dude.
Synopsis: It seemed like this was supposed to be songs grouped by their associations with shiny, shiny jewelry, but that premise turned to ash quickly. I guess that makes sense, though; if nothing else, it further confirmed the belief that any music project that has a Photoshopped picture of Gucci Mane on a glacier as the cover will be for shit.
I listened to this one while I drove around killing time before picking up my sons, twin four-year-olds, from Tae Kwon Do. I like to pretend that TKD is this rugged, glass-on-the-fists, learn-to-fight-while-you're-drunk-in-a-Thai-bar training they receive. There IS this one bigger kid from Czechoslovakia in there who's naturally tough – I imagine he'd mess up just about any of the eleven kids in the class in a real fight. And there IS this high strung 5-year-old who occasionally shouts "I'm punchin' in the weiner today!" before sparring matches. (BTW, when he does it, that shit is a wrap. Nobody wants to fight him on a Weiner Punch day. He is the greatest karate movie villain of all time.)
But mostly, TKD is just a place they go a few times a week where they kick an X-ray sheet and then eat popsicles. Such is life.
2. D.J. Fantastic & Balistic Ent. – Mix Source Videos: Diplomats
Number of Songs: 26
Most Unexpected Gem: "Push It"
Terrible and good at the same time.
Song That Makes You Go, "Oh, Right, THAT'S Why No One Is Afraid Of Me": Cam'ron, "Oh Boy," featuring Juelz Santana
You can't hear "Oh Boy" and not sing the chorus, and there is nothing tough-stuff about singing "boy… boy… oh boy" over and over again in a falsetto. Word to Rose Royce though.
Synopsis: Cosmetically, this is the worst of the group. It looks like it was filmed via camcorder while someone played the videos on a TV. This conversation likely took place when they decided to put it together:
Guy: Hey, let's make a Diplomats mixtape DVD.
Other Guy: Cool. Good idea. Do you know how?
Guy: No, not really.
Other Guy: Hmmm…
Other Guy: …Oh! Do you have a camcorder?
Other Guy: What about a TV?
Other Guy: Well let's just record a recording of the videos!
Other Guy: …
Guy: Fuck it.
Still, the Diplomats, Harlem's favorite sons, are high ground. Plus, there are just too many rap-nerdo solid picks included here to ignore: Santana's "Oh Yes" and "S.A.N.T.A.N.A."; Jim Jones's "Certified Gangsters," featuring The Game and Cam'ron; Cam'ron's anything; even that "Bout It" nonsense they did with Master P is on it. Strong stuff.
Some asides from the videos: Why didn't anybody ever talk about Juelz Santana's skin? It was impeccable. Beautiful, even. He must've been drinking a lot of water. Oh, conversely: Has anybody ever been worse at wearing a bandana than Santana? Because, Jesus. And why does Jim Jones always look like he's on the verge of becoming homeless? Was every person who does hair busy before every video shoot they ever had? Isn't he rich? Why do his braids always look like frayed rope? Geez, man.
One other thing: Nearly all mixtape DVDs include some type of contact information on the casing. This one was no different. I sent a text to the number saying I had purchased a copy. No response. I called a few hours later. A man picked up. He asked, "Hello?" I said, "Hi, I'm Shea. I sent a text earlier. Is this the guy that made that Diplomats mixtape DVD?" To which he replied, [gibberish in a clearly fake accent] and then [hang up]. #FML
1. Tosin and The Screwshop present Don't Mess Wit' Texas Vol. 6
Number of Songs: 50
Unexpected Gem: J-Dawg, "Back Trippin'"
Holy crap is this a brutal video. It's about a guy who's significant other pushes him towards felony to feed their child. It somehow humanizes robbery at gunpoint. It's genuine and honest and paradigm-shattering. And it makes you feel like a total asshole for complaining that they put too much protein powder in your strawberry/banana smoothie.
(Seriously, though: Who wants a chalky smoothie? Is there anything worse in the world?)
Song That Makes You Mad At Bradley Cooper: Dorrough, "Hell of a Night"
I don't know if The Hangover acted as any sort of inspiration for this song or video, but "Hell of a Night" is bad enough that you just start blaming shit for it. The song plays and you're like, "Is this song your fault, stapler? Fuck you, mechanical device that joins sheets of paper." There's a reason you're likely not familiar with "Hell of a Night," and it ain't because it's the best song in the world.
Synopsis: I picked up a guy named Julian and we rode around while this one cycled through. Julian is also Mexican. Neither of us talked much, but several of the songs were immediately familiar (Geto Boys, "Mind Playin' Tricks On Me"; Trae, "Inkredible," featuring Lil Wayne and Rick Ross) so there was a bit of rapping along going on. Later, we picked up a friend named Anthony. Anthony is black. The three of us have known each other for several years. Before we picked up Anthony, Julian included any and all usages of the colloquialism "n****a" during the rapping if it was part of the lyrics ("…but this wasn't no ordinary n***a," Geto Boys, "Mind Playin' Tricks On Me"). After we picked him up, Julian didn't rap it anymore, instead just offering an awkward silence ("…but this wasn't no ordinary _____,"). I don't know why. I don't know what the rule is on that, or even if there is a rule. It's complicated. Or it's kind of not.
Shea Serrano is a writer based in Houston. He is a columnist for the Houston Press and L.A. Weekly, and has written for XXL, SLAM, URB, the Village Voice, and more.