Updated: Apr 18, 2021
The culture of mixtapes started back in the 80s with DJs like Ron G and Kid Capri, who took exclusive tracks, remixes, or new records and sold them for consumption. Before mixtapes, music consumers either bought the album of their favorite artist or a top hits that were more like a compilation of that artist's discography or the year as a whole: examples "Best Of Prince" or "Top Hits of 1991". Mixtapes allowed DJs to take a blank audio disc, whether it be an actual Tape or CD, and burn records to it without the restrictions of sticking to one artist, year, or even genre. The king of the mixtape era and the man who stood at the forefront of the movement was New York's very own DJ Clue.
DJ Clue transitioned the tradition of mixtapes being seen as just o playlist of good songs from various artists and started taking up-and-coming rappers and having them spit on beats that were already popular. The rest of the song would be the same but a verse or two would be different. Obviously, these weren't made for public consumption due to legal issues, but if you went down to Canal Street in the 90s you'd find DJ Clue mixtapes everywhere. From DJ Clue on, this became a formula for rappers to get signed in the music industry.