Cassette tapes have gone the way of the laser disc and the eight-track, but the concept of a “mixtape” is here to stay. Mick Boogie deftly cultivates that particular musical experience with each of the 35-plus free unique downloads on his website. We caught up with the mixtape maestro to chat about hip-hop, reworking Adele and collaborating with his idol, Jazzy Jeff, before he translates his musical stylings live during his Sept. 22 gig at Hyde in Bellagio.
What was it like to finally work with someone of such magnitude as your idol and inspiration, DJ Jazzy Jeff?
It’s really the greatest feeling in the world—like a kid growing up idolizing Michael Jordan and then playing on the same team as him. It doesn’t happen to most people in the world. For me, it’s surreal in a way. But it also makes me appreciate all the hard work I put in, and shows that you can make stuff happen if you really, really apply yourself.
When you collaborate on a mixtape such as Summertime 3 with Jeff, how much is planned versus on the fly?
When I put together any mixtape, I don’t really set up with plans for the music, except that it needs to be thematically correct. I set more of an overall plan for the actual project. I treat mixtapes like albums: There has to be a great concept, there has to be cover art that makes sense, there has to be a brand presenting the project. Everything about it has to be A&R’d [artist & repertoire approved] and marketed correctly for it to be successful. People just slap some shit together and put it out and nobody cares. If you’re going to take the time to go do something, you might as well go that extra mile and make sure that your i’s are dotted and that your t’s are crossed and that you give yourself every opportunity to learn.
You did an Adele remix EP before she dominated the airwaves. Do you ever have an “I told you so” moment along the lines of “I busted that out before everybody jumped on board”?
Everywhere I go, a lot of people have come up to me and said, “The first time we heard Adele was your mixtape.” When her album came out, it did well, but it reached a very niche group of fans. It was more of a darker album, it wasn’t as soulful; it was more British-folky. We wanted to show that if you strip away the sadness of the music—you give her some soul, funk and breakbeats—you can completely change her music and make it fun, enjoyable and something you can really groove to. A lot of people really, really loved it, and it ended up when her new album came out, it had more of a soulful feeling, a different vibe. I don’t know to the point where we should get credit for that, but I like to think there was half of a percent of inspiration from us.
You put a lot of effort into the mixtapes. Have you ever toyed with the idea of a completely original full-length artist album?
I have thought about it. It is not something I want to do at this point. The closest I have ever come to that, I did a project that for all intensive purposes served as an album for me, but it wasn’t just for me. There’s a really awesome indie rock group called Peter, Bjorn, and John, and I created a remix project for them called Re-living Thing. If I were to make an album for that point and time, that is how my album would have sounded. We sample all their songs on their album to create the music, I had 20 or 30 people on that album, all who recorded as a favor to me, from hip-hop legends to new guys who weren’t popular then but are popular now. I put that together like it was me doing an album, so in the process of doing that, I don’t know if I would even want to attempt to do that again to that magnitude. For me, that is what it was like putting together an album. It was definitely fun.
Obviously you have to give away most of your mixtapes for free because of music and sampling rights. Does it suck to put the time and the effort into something that’s your passion, but it doesn’t help pay the bills? Or is it more of a calling card to help you get gigs like back in the day?
Option number two. I do a lot of mixtapes projects where I work with brands, so it does pay the bills. I have an established name and people will come to me with big corporate budgets to do these things. But at the same time, I still do a lot of things just for the love of music because I want to do them or because it’s good for my personal brand. … It’s not just a catalog of me DJing in a club. A lot of DJs, their mix is just “This is my live set from wherever.” Mine are something where if you dump it in your iTunes, it’ll play like an album next to the artist albums that you have in there already. Because of that, it never gets old, it doesn’t seem dated and there’s a lot more familiarity being built with my name. I come to Vegas and play at a club like Hyde, people are going to say, “I have this stuff on my iTunes, I’m gonna go check him out.”
Some people argue that since cassette tapes don’t really exist anymore, it shouldn’t be called a mixtape, but that’s kind of part of the culture. What are you thoughts and should it be called something else?
That’s a good question. I think the word “mixtape” is an iconic word, it’s never gonna go anywhere. I’m sure if you go through the history of mankind there’s a bunch of things that are still called things that don’t really make sense but we still use them. For me, sometimes I’ll explain that they’re more so mini-albums than mixtapes per se, but mixtapes are a great catch-all term. Even on my website, I don’t list it as “mixtapes” though, I list it as “music.”
What are a few tips for someone who wants to make a sweet mixtape for their friends?
It’s very similar to what you need to do if you’re DJing at a club: You have to make sure you’re entertaining the audience that you’re playing for, so know what your friends want to hear, make sure you’ give it to them. Then you need to take your personal taste and ideas and stamp what they like with your ideas as well. For example, if there’s 10 songs that you’re playing for them, maybe eight of them are songs that they love, two are songs that you love and find a way to play that so they’ll like it as well. Another thing you can do if there’s a song that they love—I play a lot of songs I hate, but I’ll dig and dig until I find a remix of it that makes it something I like, then I’ll play that version. What happens is ironically a lot of these songs, these huge top 40 songs on the radio, I’ve probably never even heard the original more than once. I’ll find a version online from a DJ that’s made an awesome remix or edit that’s 20 times better than the original version, so that version I’ll play. Then I’ll be walking around or in a restaurant and I hear a song and be like, “What remix is this?” And somebody’s like, “Oh, that’s the original.”
Do you miss digging in crates for records at all?
No. I do not. I totally thankful that I am one of the generation of DJs that kind of split my career both ways where I have plenty of times digging for vinyl and going through all that. When the digital area came around, it makes you appreciate it that much more because not only can you push your creativity, but you have access to every song ever all the time.
What’s a mixtape that inspired you?
There was a Funkmaster Flex mixtape called [The Mix Tape, Vol. 1:] 60 Minutes of Funk which was amazing. It came out in the ’90s and that to me was another style of DJing that I’d never heard, how quick he was playing records and what he was doing with them and to me it was very inspirational.
What’s next to be added to the extensive music collection on MickBoogie.com?
I have a really cool mixtape series I do for a website called StyleCaster.com. We do a series that every time New York Fashion Week comes around, it’s called Sounds from the Front Row and there are six volumes and just came out. It’s more indie rock, indie punk kinda stuff, a completely different sound than you get from me at most clubs. It’s a pretty fun listen.
Do you think you’ll eventually do a Las Vegas and/or Hyde-inspired mixtape?
I’m actually going to do something like that. I’m still figuring out the concept, but that’s something I definitely want to do. With the branding that I have for my career with mixtape stuff, and combine that with the name of Hyde, we could do something really cool.
With electronic dance music currently dominating the Strip, do you find you’re playing more EDM than hip-hop at Hyde, or are people stopping by looking for something different?
At Hyde, I’m actually doing a little bit more hip-hop than I usually do in my commercial/open-format sets because Vegas is so EDM-driven. I’m obviously still playing that stuff as well, but in a normal night wherever else I go in the country, I’m playing 50/50 hip-hop versus EDM. In Las Vegas, I’m probably doing maybe 50 percent hip-hop, 30 percent EDM and 20 percent other stuff. We want to give the night a sonic identity that’s slightly different than everywhere else, give people a little something special for coming in.
No offense to them, but many DJs have never (or even needed to) set foot in a college classroom, yet you have a master’s degree?
Yeah, I’m kind of a nerd. DJing was a hobby for me while I was in college. I didn’t like the job market, so I went back to grad school and finished that up in 2005. Then I realized maybe I could find a way to combine all of this: I have a business and marketing background, so I decided to roll the dice and put everything together from a creative and music standpoint, and it worked. For my career, I’m self-managed, pretty much rely just on my brain and my instincts to get things done, and it’s worked out pretty amazing.