Sunday’s New York Times magazine has a great article by Samantha M. Shapiro, chronicling the controversial arrest of two hip-hop studio owners in Atlanta. The two men, DJ Drama and DJ Don Cannon, were arrested for “making illegal CDs,” which means they are two of the most successful producers of hip-hop “mixtapes.” A phenomenon unlike many in the music business, hip-hop mixtapes come with a massive double-edge sword. While the Recording Industry Association of America was part of this arrest and raid on the studio, that same organization’s major record companies, are some the DJs’ biggest clients. Here’s an excerpt from the extensive report:
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.