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Hip-Hop Outlaw (Industry Version)

Late in the afternoon of Jan. 16, a SWAT team from the Fulton County
Sheriff’s Office, backed up by officers from the Clayton County
Sheriff’s Office and the local police department, along with a few
drug-sniffing dogs, burst into a unmarked recording studio on a short,
quiet street in an industrial neighborhood near the Georgia Dome in
Atlanta. The officers entered with their guns drawn; the local police
chief said later that they were “prepared for the worst.” They had come
to serve a warrant for the arrest of the studio’s owners on the grounds
that they had violated the state’s Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt
Organizations law, or RICO, a charge often used to lock up people who
make a business of selling drugs or breaking people’s arms to extort
money. The officers confiscated recording equipment, cars, computers
and bank statements along with more than 25,000 music CDs. Two of the
three owners of the studio, Tyree Simmons, who is 28, and Donald
Cannon, who is 27, were arrested and held overnight in the Fulton
County jail. Eight employees, mostly interns from local colleges, were
briefly detained as well.

Later that night, a reporter for the local Fox TV station, Stacey
Elgin, delivered a report on the raid from the darkened street in front
of the studio. She announced that the owners of the studio, known
professionally as DJ Drama and DJ Don Cannon, were arrested for making
“illegal CDs.” The report cut to an interview with Matthew Kilgo, an
official with the Recording Industry Association of America, who was
involved in the raid. The R.I.A.A., a trade and lobbying group that
represents the major American record labels, works closely with the
Department of Justice and local police departments to crack down on
illegal downloading and music piracy, which most record-company
executives see as a dire threat to their business.

Kilgo works in the R.I.A.A.’s Atlanta office, and in the weeks before
the raid, the local police chief said, R.I.A.A. investigators helped
the police collect evidence and conduct surveillance at the studio.
Kilgo consulted with the R.I.A.A.’s national headquarters in advance of
the raid, and after the raid, a team of men wearing R.I.A.A. jackets
was responsible for boxing the CDs and carting them to a warehouse for

If anyone involved with the raid knew that the men they had arrested
were two of the most famous D.J.’s in the country, they didn’t let on
while the cameras were rolling. For local law enforcement, the raid on
Drama and Cannon’s studio was no different from a raid they executed in
October on an Atlanta factory where a team of illegal immigrants was
found making thousands of copies of popular DVDs and CDs to sell on the
street. Along with the bootlegged CDs, the police found weapons and a
stash of drugs in the factory. (The Fox report on the DJ Drama raid
included a shot of a grave-looking police officer saying, “In this case
we didn’t find drugs or weapons, but it’s not uncommon for us to find
other contraband.”)

But Drama and Cannon’s studio was not a bootlegging plant; it was a
place where successful new hip-hop CDs were regularly produced and
distributed. Drama and Cannon are part of a well-regarded D.J.
collective called the Aphilliates. Although their business almost
certainly violated federal copyright law, as well as a Georgia state
law that requires CDs to be labeled with the name and address of the
producers, they were not simply stealing from the major labels; they
were part of an alternative distribution system that the mainstream
record industry uses to promote and market hip-hop artists. Drama and
Cannon have in recent years been paid by the same companies that paid
Kilgo to help arrest them.

The CDs made in the Aphilliates’ studio are called mixtapes –
album-length compilations of 20 or so songs, often connected by a
theme; they are produced and mixed by a D.J. and usually “hosted” by a
rapper, well known or up-and-coming, who peppers the disc with short
boasts, shout-outs or promotions for an upcoming album. Some mixtapes
are part of an ongoing series – in the last few years, the Aphilliates
have produced 16 numbered installments of “Gangsta Grillz,” an
award-winning series that focuses on Southern hip-hop; others represent
a one-time deal, a quick way for a rapper to respond to an insult or to
remind fans he exists between album releases. The CDs are packaged in
thin plastic jewel cases with low-quality covers and are sold at flea
markets and independent record stores and through online clearinghouses
like mixtapekingz.com. A mixtape can consist of remixes of hit songs –
for instance, the Aphilliates offered a CD of classic Michael Jackson
songs doctored by a Detroit D.J. Or it can feature a rapper
“freestyling,” or improvising raps, over the beat from another artist’s
song; so, on one mixtape, LL Cool J’s “Love You Better” became 50
Cent’s “After My Cheddar.” In most cases, the D.J. modifies the
original song without acquiring the rights to it, and if he wants to
throw in a sample of Ray Charles singing or a line from a Bugs Bunny
cartoon, he doesn’t worry about copyright. The language on mixtapes is
raw and uncensored; rappers sometimes devote a whole CD to insulting
another rapper by name. Mixtapes also feature unreleased songs, often
“leaked” to the D.J. by a record label that wants to test an artist’s
popularity or build hype for a coming album release. Record labels
regularly hire mixtape D.J.’s to produce CDs featuring a specific
artist. In many cases, these arrangements are conducted with a wink and
a nod rather than with a contract; the label doesn’t officially grant
the D.J. the right to distribute the artist’s songs or formally allow
the artist to record work outside of his contract.

In December, not long before the bust, I spent a week with DJ Drama and
the Aphilliates in Atlanta. The D.J.’s are true celebrities in the
city’s vibrant hip-hop community. They were seated at the V.I.P. tables
at nightclubs and parties and surrounded by fans at strip clubs, which
in Atlanta are considered crucial venues for new hip-hop; tracks are
often given their first spins while strippers frantically shake their

Although the music that the Aphilliates promote glorifies violence and
drug dealing – one of their trademark Gangsta Grillz sound effects is a
few shots fired by a gun with a silencer, followed by the thud of a
body dropping – they did not live a gangster lifestyle. (Drama often
rose at 8 a.m. to take his oldest daughter to kindergarten at a private
school.) Instead, they seemed to be aspiring young music executives
with a long-term business plan who had figured out a faster and more
lucrative way to make it big than an internship at a record label.

The success of “Gangsta Grillz” had secured for the Aphilliates their
own radio shows and record contracts, as well as endorsement deals with
Pepsi and clothing companies. When I visited, the Aphilliates were
working on an “official” Gangsta Grillz release, to be distributed by
Grand Hustle, part of Atlantic Records; Drama said it would use only
licensed songs and cleared samples. In September, the Aphilliates
signed a partnership deal with Asylum Records, part of Warner Music
Group, to distribute albums that Drama and Cannon would produce.

DJ Drama knew that aspects of his business were in what he described to
me as “a legal gray area,” and he was secretive about even the most
basic facts of how the Aphilliates ran their business. He allowed that
he had “got rich” because of his reputation as a mixtape D.J., though
he would not even admit to me that he actually sold mixtapes. The line
between self-promotion and secrecy was sometimes an awkward one for him
to walk, especially as his underground CDs moved further into the
mainstream. Several small distributors had begun selling Drama’s CDs,
repackaged with scannable barcodes, to major retailers like Best Buy.

One of the CDs confiscated by R.I.A.A. investigators during the Atlanta
raid was “Dedication 2,” a mixtape that DJ Drama made with Lil Wayne, a
New Orleans rapper; it appeared on the Billboard hip-hop and R&B
charts and was widely reviewed in the mainstream press. (Kelefa Sanneh
of The New York Times chose “Dedication 2” as one of the 10 best
recordings of 2006.) As the R.I.A.A. agents boxed up Drama’s stash of
“Dedication 2,” the CD continued to sell well at major retailers like
Best Buy and FYE (a national chain of record stores) and also at the
iTunes Store online.

The local Fox report of the bust was posted on the Internet and widely
viewed. The spectacle of men who were known to every hip-hop fan as
players in the mainstream music industry being arrested with the aid of
the enforcement arm of that same industry was so bizarre and unexpected
that a handful of conspiracy theories quickly arose to explain what had
happened. Some fans speculated on message boards that the D.J.’s must
have been running other illegal businesses on the side. There were
others who thought that the bust was payback from a small distributor
who had recently sued DJ Drama for violating a contract. But most fans
simply thought the men were victims of a music industry that didn’t
understand hip-hop. The day after Drama’s arrest, fans circulated on
the Internet a stylized image of Drama’s face over a caption that said
“Free Drama and Cannon.” Mixunit.com, the biggest Web distributor of
mixtapes, removed its entire stock from the site and posted pictures of
Drama and Cannon on its main page with the message, “Free the D.J.’s.”
A member of the Diplomats, a Harlem hip-hop group, told MTV News that
Jan. 16 was “D-day in hip-hop.” Some fans said that in protest they’d
never buy another label release; a New York City radio D.J. called
record labels the ultimate “snitches.”

Lil Wayne, who made “Dedication 2” with Drama, said in an interview
that Drama would have to “play the game fair,” adding that he thought
it was unfortunate that sometimes mixtapes outsell an artist’s official
label releases, cutting into the artist’s royalties. Soon after,
Rapmullet.com, one of the most prominent mixtape Web sites, posted an
image of Wayne on its home page over the words: “Is Wayne a traitor?
Did he side with the suits? We didn’t abandon Drama – will you? Who’s
next to jump ship?”

Drama is the public face of the Aphilliates, but he, Cannon and their
third partner, DJ Sense (a k a Brandon Douglas, 26) function as a team;
all three are the hosts of a weekly radio show broadcast on WHTA, an
Atlanta hip-hop and R&B station, and another Gangsta Grillz show on
Sirius satellite radio, and they jointly own the Aphilliates Music
Group. The men have been friends since they met at college a decade
ago, and they have an easy rhythm with one another, like teammates who
play pickup basketball every week and can pass or negotiate a pick
without making eye contact. All three wear the collective’s signature
neck chain with a diamond-encrusted pendant in the shape of the letter

Drama, whose mother is a white education professor and whose father is
a black civil rights activist, has expressive brown eyes and a closely
trimmed beard. He usually wears a baseball cap backward or propped
loosely atop his light brown hair, cocked to the side. Although his
workday rarely starts before noon, he comes across as a savvy
businessman. Most of the time he doesn’t say much, but it’s clear he is
always paying close attention to what is going on around him. When he
is in the studio, about to lay down a Gangsta Grillz “drop” (a phrase
that is repeated throughout a mixtape), or when he has to tell a
bouncer that no, he won’t stand behind that velvet rope, he rocks back
and forth, building his energy, then barks out a torrent of speech,
after which he seems to retreat back into himself again. He has a
quiet, focused energy that can seem gruff; around Sense and Cannon,
though, he gets goofy.

Cannon is a huge guy – 6-foot-6 and 250 pounds – with a lumbering gait
and a sweet, unguarded smile. He sometimes spends 24 hours at a stretch
in the studio, hunched over a mixing board and a computer running Pro
Tools, taking breaks to play video games. He loves to shop, and he
especially likes to visit high-end Atlanta malls to buy Prada cologne
and examine the jewelry. His enormous sneaker collection takes up the
bulk of his apartment’s walk-in closet, as well as the trunk of his
Chevy Tahoe S.U.V. and most of a storage space he rents by the month.

Sense is known as the visionary with the business ideas, the one who
operates mostly behind the scenes. He is short and just a little bit
nerdy. Once when we were in the studio at WHTA, a D.J. named Mami Chula
wandered in while a song was playing. She gave Sense a look, shook her
head and mused aloud, “I just never saw someone with such a small
head.” Sense didn’t say anything, just gave her an indignant look. It
seemed as if he was accustomed to being teased.

The day after the raid, when Drama and Cannon were each released from
jail on $100,000 bonds, they drove straight to the WHTA studios, went
on the air and promoted their coming label releases. There’s a video on
YouTube that shows the scene: Drama swaggers into the studio in a white
T-shirt and a gray zip-up track-suit jacket, his diamond “A” chain
swinging across his chest.

The D.J.’s on air were known as the Durrty Boyz, and one of them
announced that they had an “exclusive interview to find out what the
hell is going on with Gangsta Grillz.” He asked the accused felons to
get close to the microphone.

Cannon murmured: “It’s Don Cannon. Holla at me.”

DJ Sense, who also goes by the name Trendsetter, said: “Yeah, yeah, you
know what it is. The boy T-t-t-t-t-t-trendsetta! Holla at your boy!”

Drama, who sometimes calls himself “Mr. Thanksgiving” because, he says,
he “feeds the whole industry,” said: “Thanksgiving is every year, man.
It doesn’t go nowhere. Do you understand what that means? It’s a
holiday, it’s every year. . . . It’s not going nowhere. DJ Drama! I am
in full effect.”

After the Durrty Boyz spun a Ying Yang Twins song, Drama took calls at
a rapid clip, and he responded to nearly every question or message of
support with a reminder of the Aphilliates’ coming Gangsta Grillz
release on Atlantic.

One female caller, particularly incensed, demanded, “Can I speak to Drama?”

“What’s up?” Drama asked. “What’s good?”

“Drama, what happened? . . . I mean, come on now, you went to jail?”

“I mean, for a quick minute,” Drama replied. “I am home, though.”

“Uh-uh! We ain’t having that. Don Cannon, Trendsetter, do I need to fight somebody?”

“We’re gonna need you,” Drama said. “We’re gonna start a whole
campaign. . . . You know the Gangsta Grillz album is coming out, right?”

“Oh, for real?”

In 1996, Sense and Drama, then both freshmen majoring in mass
communications, met in Brawley Hall, their dorm at Clark Atlanta
University. C.A.U. is part of the country’s largest consortium of
historically black colleges, directly abutting Morehouse and Spelman.
Drama and Sense were both aspiring D.J.’s, and they were both from
Philadelphia. After they met, they competed in a local D.J. battle and
became friends. The following year they met Cannon, also a D.J. from
Philadelphia (“Aphilliates” combines the Phil of Philadelphia with an A
for Atlanta), and the three became inseparable. Each D.J. found his own
niche: Sense interned at WHTA, Cannon spun records at college parties
and Drama started selling his own mixtapes. Every night in his
apartment, Drama made 10 copies of his latest cassette, and the next
day he brought them to campus. Between classes, he would set up a cheap
yellow boom box on a major promenade at C.A.U. known as the Strip and
offer tapes for sale. He also sold tapes at Georgia State, where he
would tell customers that the identity of DJ Drama was a mystery. “I’d
tell them I never met Drama, I don’t know the guy, I just work for
him,” he told me.

In his junior year, in 1998, Drama put together a compilation of
Southern hip-hop, which was beginning to emerge nationally as a
distinct sound and style. Often called dirty South, it was more
dance-oriented and melodic and raunchier than hip-hop from either
coast. That mixtape, “Jim Crow Laws,” sold well, and Drama decided to
start a Southern series, which he named Gangsta Grillz. Amateur
mistakes were made early on – “we actually spelled ‘Grillz’ with an S,”
Drama recalled – but the series quickly took off. Through Sense, Drama
met a young local rapper named Lil Jon, who had helped invent a
frenetic new style of hip-hop known as crunk. Drama asked Lil Jon to be
the host of a mixtape, and Jon did a manic series of drops throughout
Gangsta Grillz No. 4. It was the first CD that Drama was able to get
into stores.

Around the time Drama was hitting his stride, a young entrepreneur
named Jason Geter was working as a manager for T.I., then a
little-known artist from Atlanta’s Bankhead housing projects signed to
an imprint of Arista. Geter wasn’t happy with the label’s marketing of
T.I.’s first album, so he undertook his own promotions, independently
shooting a video and printing up T-shirts. Geter said that he started
seeing Drama’s mixtapes everywhere – in barbershops and record stores.
(“Drama was the most consistent guy doing mixtapes in Atlanta,” he told
me. “Some of the other people didn’t even have covers for the CDs, but
Drama stood out.”) One night Geter called Drama and asked if he could
bring T.I. by Drama’s home studio to do some drops and freestyles on a

Drama was ecstatic. “At that point, no one was really checking for me,”
he told me. “I hadn’t had a call in three months.” After the impromptu
recording session, Geter started giving Drama unreleased T.I. songs and
eventually asked him to produce and release a whole CD of T.I.’s work.
When T.I.’s mixtape “Down With the King” sold well, other managers
started taking their artists to Drama’s studio. The first mixtape Drama
was paid by a label to produce was “Tha Streetz Iz Watchin,” which Def
Jam’s CTE label hired him to make with Young Jeezy in 2004, in order to
build up hype for a coming CD. When Jeezy’s official release, “Let’s
Get It: Thug Motivation 101,” came out in 2005, bearing a bonus track
from the Drama mixtape, it sold two million copies.

At least once a week last fall, Jason Brown, the 30-year-old promotions
director for the Aphilliates, could be found making a circuit of
Atlanta with boxes of Drama’s new releases stacked in the back of his
Chevy Tahoe. The trip often took as long as nine hours. The Thursday I
rode with Brown, he was carrying copies of two mixtapes Drama had
recently recorded in the studio with Lil Keke and Lil Boosie, who are
popular in their home regions – Louisiana and South Texas, respectively
– but have not yet broken out nationally. Brown drove down the parkways
and roads of Atlanta’s low-income black suburbs, past a landscape of
Waffle Houses, custom rim shops and halal meat stores, stopping in with
his wares at flea markets and little mom-and-pop record shops.

At around 3 p.m., we pulled into the parking lot of Backstage Records,
a small, tidy shop across the street from the Greenbriar Mall, a locale
frequently mentioned in hip-hop lyrics. (Ludacris: “Any charges set
against me, chunk it up and stand tall/Next year I’m lookin’ into
buyin’ Greenbriar Mall.”) Brown tucked a stack of CDs under each arm
and headed into the store. He greeted the owner, a short broad man in
his late 20s named Vic XL.

“How many you want?” Brown asked XL, holding out the Keke and Boosie CDs.

“Whoa!” XL said, excited. “Boosie is overdue for a mixtape.” XL told me
that Boosie’s major-label release, “Bad Azz,” on Asylum Records, was
not selling well, but, he explained, “he’s a hood artist,” so that
wasn’t a big surprise.

XL inspected both discs and placed his order: “I’m gonna take five.” As
Brown started to count CDs off his pile, XL looked again at the liner
notes and reconsidered: “No, 10 each.”

A small record store like Backstage rarely orders more than 10 copies
of any CD, and Drama’s distribution system meets XL’s needs better than
the mainstream distribution system does. If XL wants just 10 copies of
the new Lil Scrappy CD, he can’t buy them directly from the label’s
distributors as chains like Best Buy do. Instead, he has to go through
a middleman called a one-stop, which charges XL $10.75 for a CD that
retails at Best Buy for $9.99.

The economics of mixtapes appeal to XL, and so do their politics; as he
sees it, mixtapes undermine the power of major record labels and radio
stations. “Most artists can’t afford to get their music on the radio,
but an artist has the right to let his fan base hear what he’s done,”
XL said. “Who is the label to dictate how to feed the fan base?”

Mixtapes have long played an important role in hip-hop. In the late
1970s, before rap music was ever recorded onto vinyl or played on a
radio station, people found out about hip-hop acts through live
recordings of D.J. sets from block parties or clubs. Those cassette
recordings were duplicated by hand and sold on the street or in record
stores, and given free to gypsy-cab drivers in the Bronx as promotional
tools. Throughout the ’80s and ’90s, mixtapes remained an important
subculture. In the last five years, though, they have risen to a more
prominent place in the industry and made the most successful D.J.’s

Mixtapes fill a void left by the consolidation of record labels and
radio stations. In the mid-1990s, sales of independent hip-hop albums
exceeded those from major releases. But those smaller independent
labels were bought out by major labels, and in the late ’90s, the last
major independent distributor collapsed. This left few routes for
unknown hip-hop artists to enter the market; it also made the stakes
higher for major labels, which wanted a better return on their
investment. As Jeff Chang, author of “Can’t Stop Won’t Stop,” a history
of hip-hop, told me recently, “The whole industry shifted to massive
economies of scale, and mixtapes are a natural outgrowth and response
to that.”

Mixtape D.J.’s came to be seen as the first tier of promotions for
hip-hop artists, a stepping stone to radio play. Labels began aiding
and abetting mixtape D.J.’s, sending them separate digital tracks of
vocals and beats from songs so they could be easily remixed. They also
started sending copies of an artist’s mixtape out to journalists and
reviewers along with the official label release. DJ Chuck T, a mixtape
D.J. in South Carolina, told me that when label employees send him
tracks to include on his mixtapes, they request a copy of the mixtape
so that they can show their bosses the track is “getting spin from the
street.” He also said record-label promoters want sales figures for his
mixtapes so they can chart sales patterns, which they use in marketing
their own releases.

Mixtape D.J.’s have effectively absorbed many of the functions of an
A&R department, the branch of a record label that traditionally
discovers and develops new talent. Ron Stewart, a promotions
coordinator at Jive Records, a subsidiary of Sony BMG Music, told me he
prefers to test new artists out on mixtapes. “Budget permitting,” he
said, “we’d do a few mixtapes with a few D.J.’s, because they have
different audiences in different regions.” Labels prefer to use
established mixtape D.J.’s like Drama, rather than produce promotional
CDs themselves, Stewart said, because “the best D.J.’s have a better
brand than the average label does.”

Although the deals are informal and often secret, labels typically pay
a prominent D.J. like Drama $10,000 to $15,000 to produce a mixtape for
an artist. The label’s representatives, Stewart explained, adopt what
amounts to a don’t ask, don’t tell policy about the D.J.’s plans to
sell the work; what the D.J. does with his copy of the master, Stewart
said, “is his own business.” For successful D.J.’s, mixtape sales can
bring considerable revenue. Mixtapes sell for anywhere from $5 to $10
on the street or on a Web site like Mixunit, and overhead is low, since
the CDs cost only about 50 cents to manufacture and D.J.’s rarely pay
royalties or licensing fees.

Although many hip-hop artists view mixtapes as an essential way to
build their careers, some are critical of aspects of the system. One
editor of a hip-hop magazine, who would comment only anonymously, told
me: “In the aftermath of the raid, talking to artists, the stuff they
say when Drama’s not around – there is a little bit of animosity,
because he is clearly making money off these artists. They all saw his
car being towed off on TV. What was it? A Maserati?”

Killer Mike, an Atlanta rapper who is signed to Sony and who has been
featured on a number of DJ Drama’s mixtapes, told me he is not really a
“supporter” of mixtapes. “That doesn’t mean I don’t play mixtapes in my
car and listen to other peoples’ mixtapes, but as an artist, I feel the
amount of rhymes you have to write to put out a mixtape is the same
amount you have to for an album,” he said. “I’d rather put out albums
over my own beats than use other people’s beats and have a problem

Pimp C, a Texas rapper who is half of the popular underground hip-hop
duo UGK, has repeatedly refused to participate in a UGK mixtape despite
requests by his record label and, he said, from countless mixtape
D.J.’s. Pimp C told me that because there is no paper trail, mixtape
D.J.’s are able to invent sales figures, and they routinely claim that,
after their overhead, they just break even. But based on his experience
producing two of his own mixtapes, Pimp C suspects D.J.’s make plenty;
they just don’t want to give artist a cut. “Every time I was approached
by a mixtape D.J., they tried to sell me the dream there was no money
in it, and it was something artists need to do to help their album
sales,” he said. “But I know how much bread can be made. . . . If
you’re making money, chop it up with me.”

Before DJ Drama went to jail, no mixtape D.J. had been the target of a
major raid; busts had been directed at small retailers, like Mondo
Kim’s in New York’s East Village. Jonathan Lamy, a spokesperson for the
R.I.A.A., said the raid on Drama’s studio represented no official
change in policy and had been undertaken only at the behest of Atlanta
law enforcement. But for many in the industry, the focus on a single
prominent figure seemed like no accident. “Arresting them criminally
under RICO was firing a warning shot at anyone who has mixtapes,” said
Walter McDonough, a copyright lawyer who has negotiated with the
R.I.A.A. on behalf of Jay-Z.

Others pointed to the selective nature of the crackdown as evidence
that the raid was a deliberate effort – major retailers like Best Buy
were not raided, even though they carry many of the same CDs Drama was
arrested for selling. The R.I.A.A. “would have to know nothing about
the industry they are monitoring not to realize this stuff is all over
Best Buy and FYE,” says Eric Steuer, the creative director of Creative
Commons, a nonprofit that works to develop more flexible copyright
arrangements for artists and producers. “Maybe they leave them alone
because the major chains have promotion deals with record labels.”

Ted Cohen, a former executive at EMI Records who now runs a
music-consulting business, told me that the raid was typical of the
music industry’s “schizophrenic” approach to promotions; a label’s
marketing department wants to get its artists’ songs in front of as
many people as possible, even if it means allowing or ignoring free
downloads or unlicensed videos on YouTube. But the business department
wants to collect royalties. “It is a case of the right hand not knowing
what the left hand is doing,” Cohen said.

Drama’s arrest shook up mixtape D.J.’s and promoters across the
country. But even in the days immediately following the raid, D.J.’s
continued to release tapes – some with hastily added tracks on which
rappers cursed the R.I.A.A. – and major labels continued to e-mail them
new tracks. Some in the industry speculated that things would have to
change, that mixtapes would either move further underground or become
legitimate licensed products. But no one I spoke with thought the
arrest would permanently damage Drama’s career. In fact, Julia Beverly,
the editor of Ozone, a Southern hip-hop magazine, suggested that it was
more likely to improve his image and album sales. “Really, this takes
him to a gangsta level,” she said. “It gives him a little something
extra. It’s messed up, but if someone goes to jail or dies, it elevates
his status and just makes him more of a star than he was before. That’s
the way the entertainment industry works in general. So, having cops at
your door with M-16’s at your head, and MTV News reporting on the raid,
calling you the biggest D.J. in the world? You can’t pay for that type
of look.”

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