Whut It Dew
Mixtape mechanic DJ Rapid Ric
For more than two decades, rap music has bent over backward in adapting itself to the pop album format, often losing its spontaneous nature in the process. In response, the genre is witnessing the reemergence of "mix tapes" aka mix CDs as the preferred medium of delivery for state of the art sampling, vinyl theatrics, and freestyle rhymes as they come together on street corners, car stereos, and nightclubs.
Dubbed the Mixtape Mechanic, Austin's DJ Rapid Ric is building a lengthy lead out in front of the premiere purveyors of impeccably blended mix discs. His latest effort, Whut It Dew 2, is hosted by Texas hip-hop legend Bun B of UGK and features a litany of exclusives from a Texas rap scene so absolutely scorching that reporters from MTV and The New York Times have been leaning far, far back in a southwestern direction to absorb the heat. Drawing from a pool of artists that includes Slim Thug, Paul Wall, Mike Jones, Chamillionaire, Z-Ro, and Austin favorite Bavu Blakes, Ric's forte is mixing seemingly divergent individuals into a cohesive team working toward a common goal. As resident mixer on KDHT Hot 93.3, Ric recognizes his position as an influential opinion leader.
"I feel obligated to help aspiring rappers from my region," nods Ric. "That's something I learned from DJ Screw. Having skills on the tables is one thing, but providing opportunities for the people around you, that should always be the top priority."
Growing up in Del Rio, Ric Almeda cut his teeth spinning at a club his best friend's father owned just across the border in Ciudad Acuña. He played Jay-Z and OutKast for local high school kids and West Texas college students, which led the young DJ into the sound design of mix tapes.
"In clubs, people are more interested in getting drunk and hooking up than they are in music," he explains. "But with a mix tape, people are taking a piece of you home with them. That leaves no room for mistakes. Since there were no radio stations in the area playing rap music and we spent so much time in our cars, mix tapes became an important vehicle for what was hot.
"Where I'm from, the whole society is based on drugs. It's like the ghetto in South Houston in that there's no hope. Either you sell drugs or you're out of the loop. As a result, way too many people I grew up with wound up missing or dead. My own father has been in a Mexican jail since I was in fifth grade. The irony of it all is that many of the Norteño artists that are hugely popular in Del Rio are telling the same sort of stories that gangsta rappers like N.W.A tell. Los Tigres del Norte have so much in common with hip-hop. They just happen to be fat, 40-year-old Mexican guys."
Relocating to Austin in 1999, Ric augmented his studies at UT with a free-fall into the local DJ fraternity. Along with an internship at KQBT The Beat 104.3 and scattered gigs on Sixth Street, the enterprising strategist worked on refining his mix tape repertoire.
"A lot of mix tapes don't have any real mixing on them, just a bunch of shouting by the DJ host. It really stood out to me at the time that [Austin's] NickNack was doing his Bside Blends series, which made me want to do the same sort of thing except with strictly Southern music."
Zeroing in on local artists including Bavu Blakes, Dok Holiday, Basswood Lane, Mirage, and Smackola, Ric's Austin Powers mix CD eventually landed in the hands of Paul Wall of Houston's seminal hip-hop imprint, Swishahouse. Eager to help Ric with access to the H-town scene, Wall recognized the Mixtape Mechanic as just that.
"He's a phenomenal DJ, one of my personal favorites," enthuses Wall. "His song selection, remixes, cuts, and scratches are off the hook."
Chamillionaire, with ink still on his fingers from a lucrative signing to Universal Records, reiterates the accolades.
"Rapid Ric is one of the fastest rising DJs in the South right now, and it's mostly because of the skill he brings to his art form."
The ability to land unreleased tracks and one-of-a-kind freestyles from the depths of the uncharted seas of the Houston rap scene certainly helps. Then there's that extra disc you'll often find in a Rapid Ric jewel case, which sports the "Chopped Up Not Slopped Up" duplicate of the cover mix courtesy of yet another Swishahouse stalwart OG Ron C. The ideal promotional tool, Ric likens mix tapes to movie trailers. Whut It Dew 2, for instance, transports hits like the Game's "Dreams" and T.I.'s "Motivation" into Texas territory by stacking drawled verses from Killa Kyleon, Bun B, and Gritboys over their tweaked instrumentals.
The legalities of mix tapes aren't so much in a gray area there are no copyright clearances as they are in a wait-and-see holding pen. According to Austin's DJ Baby G (see the "Blazing Saddles" sidebar) most record companies currently let underground mixes slide since A) they see it as a promotion, and B) most mixes don't sell enough to warrant a lawsuit. The hammer does come down every now and then, but again, the phenomenon is new enough that labels continue watching the format's evolution with interest. It's only a matter of time, say insiders, before majors co-opt the idea for their own commercial means.
Because of this, local MC Bavu Blakes compares a Ric mix to a sum as big as its parts. "An appearance on one of his CDs is the equivalent of doing a show with Snoop Dogg or Lil' Flip in that you never know who'll come across it," says Blakes. "It literally expands your fan base."
Not to be pigeonholed as merely a studio DJ, Ric loves the live set. "There's just something about Southern rap parties that give them so much energy. They're almost like raves. I can set up certain call-and-response scenarios and everyone knows exactly what to do on cue. Everyone is participating. Now who's not going to like that?"
Meanwhile, it's the mix tape game that keeps Rapid Ric's name on the tips of tongues of every hard rock and hipster this side of 50 Cent's most recent bullet wound. In fact, 2004's original Whut It Dew unveiled Ric's Mountain Dew-inspired logo as symbolic of a sound marketing plan. Ultimately his goal is to pull together a proper compilation of original tracks from the Lone Star state, produced by Salih Williams (see sidebar). Nestled up closer to the roots of hip-hop adventure than its counterpart the LP, mix tape CDs might just be the avant-garde faction of contemporary rap.
"Look how Jimi Hendrix made what was at first considered weird music only to have it widely appreciated later," quips Ric. "Well for those who are now sleeping on all of this incredible Texas music just because it's being presented by way of an alternative format, here's to some day having them all come around."
Where to find a good Mixtape Mechanic: Music Mania, 3909 N. I-35; Backstage Records, 2501 Cesar Chavez; Turntable Records, 3708 Woodbury Dr.; Piranha Records, 1208 N. I-35 Ste. E.