Why 2017 Was Rap’s Year of the Tape

October 1, 1982, marked the beginning of the end for cassette tapes. That is the day the first popular music commercial CD hit music store shelves in Japan, and from that moment, its demise was only a matter of time. With the huge step up in quality, plus the ability to jump between songs with the push of a button, soon the CD player became ubiquitous. The demand for tapes dwindled to nearly nothing. However, many labels continued to drop their releases on cassette for a small, loyal contingent. This group included boombox enthusiasts and collectors, completists that needed their favorite releases on every format, and those that still have a cassette player in the ride.

In recent years, cassettes and tape players like Walkmans and ghetto blasters have become trendy due to the nostalgia factor and the retro cool they represent to a new generation. Marvel Studios’ Guardians of the Galaxy films in 2014 and 2017 re-popularized the Sony TPS-L2 Stereo Cassette Player and it became a must-have for cosplayers and audiophiles alike. At the same time, hip hop aficionados were quietly buying up rare underground tapes and industry promos from the ’80s and ‘90s on eBay and Discogs for exorbitant prices.

As is often the case, a major retailer looked to commodify this wistful affection for the past and in the fall of 2015, Urban Outfitters started selling not only major label’s latest releases, but also exclusive tapes made just for the chain. Run The Jewels 2 and Action Bronson’s Mr. Wonderful album were the program’s biggest draws for heads early on.

While it may not be as major a factor in driving the tape trend, Cassette Store Day (October 14) is an annual day dedicated to the love of cassettes which predates Star-Lord’s tape player and Urban Outfitter’s power move. CSD started in 2013 in the UK and has grown to include six countries and annually affords collectors a plethora of exclusive offerings. This year saw drops from Your Old Droog, Ohbliv, Ras G, and even a four-tape companion series to Stretch Armstrong’s latest book, No Sleep: NYC Nightlife Flyers 1988-1999.

While all of that gives an idea of how we got to this point where tapes have gone from dollar bin trash to eBay gold, it is the preamble to the point: cassettes became the most collectible format of 2017.

MASS APPEAL picked seven buzzing boutique labels that released coveted cassettes in 2017, and asked their owners/operators two simple questions. Why cassettes? And since tape players are not easy to come by in 2017, how do you even play cassettes?

Robert Kupiaj, FXCK RXP

Straight outta:

Dortmund, Germany

Latest tape releases:

Fly Anakin & Koncept Jack$on, Chapel Drive
Daniel Son & Giallo Point, Remo Gaggi/The Gunners
SmooVth & Giallo Point, Medellin

Why cassettes?

The thing is, I’ve loved vinyl since the ’80s because my father had plenty and I always wanted to have as much as he did. So, as I started the label, I already knew I would release vinyl because that’s my No. 1 format, but it’s expensive and it takes longer to produce. I grew up on cassettes as well, so it was a logical step to put out these tiny little things. I like the way they look, the size, the J-card, the reel is real.

How do you play cassettes?

Haha, I’ve got no car. I’m only on my bike. I always played tapes in my Akai stereo system but it’s not working anymore. I will buy a blaster soon.

Scvtterbrvin, RED LOTUS KLAN

Straight outta:

New York City, New York

Latest tape releases:

Camoflauge Monk, ラストリアルニッガ
Milky Wayne, Homesick 2.0: Still Ill
Obnoxious & SCVTTERBRVIN, Chem Trails

Why cassettes?

Cassettes are what I grew up on ! I want to do what I can to keep that feel and energy alive in this digital age, working with artists and projects I believe in.

How do you play your cassettes?

My preferred way to listen to cassettes is in a 13-year-old car that has no insurance with at least two of my sketchiest friends riding along.


Straight outta:

Madison, Wisconsin

Latest tape releases:

EvillDewer, Bck On The Blk
EyeDee, The Story of Halloween BEAT Homicide
CRIMEAPPLE, Metralleta

Why cassettes?

Tapes are the most cost effective way for us to deliver a dope product while still having that warm analog sound. Vinyl is still God, but it’s not feasible for the types of small runs we do.

How do you play cassettes?

While I do have a Walkman and a nice rack unit, I usually pop them into my cheap little boom box. If it sounds good coming out of there, it will sound good on anything.

Matt Bloom, 77 RISE

Straight outta:

San Francisco, California

Latest tape releases:

Matt Bloom|Visitor, Reflections
Asonic Garcia, Old Daze
No Nose x Gaz Korbier, X L’inconnu

Why cassettes?

Holding music is important, reading the liner notes makes it personal, and appreciating the artwork adds to the experience. When you purchase digital music you lose that aspect. There’s something about listening to music from a cassette, it adds warmth to the project.

How do you play cassettes?

I have a player in my car, but I also own a Tascam 302 and a few Walkmans.

Nick Sotirelis, NEKUBI

Straight outta:

Kavala, Greece

Latest tape releases:

Astro Mega, Planet Nebula
Kay_lf, Indigo
Igor Amokian, Lost Radar Beats

Why cassettes?

Magnetism has soul and cassette tape has its own character. It performs different when there is heat on the environment or when its cold. Different each and every time, like nature and humans. [This is quite] contrary to digital files.

Also, you don’t have the choice of skipping tracks. You are forced to listen to the whole project. In this way the listener and the artist treats the project as a whole, as a continuous piece of art and experimentation. That’s an important reason why cassette as a format attracts so many experimental music movements. Another big advantage of not skipping tracks is that you just press play and you chill with your friends, when with the digital files you always have the option of changing tracks, and most of the times you are stuck in front of a screen, loosing the real mystagogy.

Lastly, cassettes are like business cards. They are small, you can trade them, give them to friends with nice artwork attached and all your contact info on them.

How do you play cassettes?

Mainly through Walkman and car deck. I also got a kid’s Walkman for my son. The decks are mainly used for recording. But there are many different cool devices out there that turn cassette playing into an enjoyable listening or productive experience, like this Library of Congress tape player that I have, which has pitch, tone, level controls, plus side A and B real-time change option. Pure fun and play!


Straight outta:

Orange County, California

Latest tape releases:

Rozewood, Binary Ghxst
Destruct x SmooVth, The Blend
Heem Stogied x EyeDee, The Theory of Mankind

Why cassettes?

I grew up on tapes. I been making dubs and slangin’ tapes for a long time. Since high school. I was broke growing up, didn’t have money for new releases, so my homies would cop and make dubs for me. First time I heard Liquid Swords was a dub my homie’s brother gave me. From there I started making dubs and mixes and just slangin’ hand-to-hand. I got Comurshal from Murs outside Workman’s in L.A. He was slangin’ outside the store. I gave him a mix and he traded me. I love tapes and I wanted cats of this era to know that same feeling of having a tape and listening to music on cassette. It’s that raw analog warmth. That tape hiss. It’s the feel of poppin’ that tape in the deck. Reading the liner notes on the j-card. Shit is special, man.

How do you play cassettes?

At home I play tapes on my take-along player I link to the monitors or my Sharp boombox. On the go it’s a Sony Walkman. My GE just died. In the car I got a tape deck still.

Bozack Morris, GGBR

Straight outta:

Toronto, Canada

Latest tape releases:

Big Jacks, OG Recipe
Heem Stogied, Loss Prevention EP

Why cassettes?

I actually started doing the tapes before the tape wave started popping. When I used to cop Rob Swift, Tony Touch, Doo Wop, etc. mixes in the ’90s, they always dropped on tape, so I wanted to bring it back to that. I didn’t know how well the tapes were going to do, so I actually released the same mixtape on a cassette shaped USB drive. Funny thing is, most people would rather have the tape anyways.

How do you play cassettes?

With a tape deck.

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