“Rich off a mixtape, got rich off a mixtape,” Drake crowed on “Underground Kings,” a cut off of 2012’s Take Care, and he wasn’t exaggerating. So Far Gone (2009)—generally regarded as one of the most game-changing mixtape releases of the last decade—launched Drake from Wheelchair Jimmy to one of the most influential rappers of the 2010s; for a free release, it experienced unprecedented success on the Billboard Hot 100 (“Best I Ever Had,” the tape’s first single, peaked at No. 2 and charted for 24 weeks straight). It’s still available for free download on DatPiff, where it’s been certified diamond (signifying over a million downloads).
It’s impossible to imagine the last decade of rap music without considering the influence of DatPiff, the reigning site for free mixtapes, launched in 2005 by founder and CEO Marcus Frasier, who’s now 30. Then 21, Bronx-born Frasier was a professional programmer who would pick up mixtapes from vendors on Canal Street; to save himself the hassle of carting around physical CDs, he developed a site to upload and stream his own music. The idea caught on; in 2008, Frasier switched DatPiff to user-based uploading, along the lines of YouTube. He instituted a method of audio fingerprinting in order to prohibit uploading pirated material. Since then, the site has been crucial to the evolution of rap as an industry and as an art form. As record labels have floundered over the last decade, free mixtapes have become essential to kick-starting a rap career (think Nicki Minaj’s Beam Me Up Scotty, Chance the Rapper’s Acid Rap, Wale’s The Mixtape About Nothing, or Meek Mill’s Dreamchasers series, in addition to So Far Gone), or tiding over fan bases in between retail releases (like Rick Ross’ Rich Forever, or Lil Wayne’s aptly titled Sorry 4 the Wait). Those tapes—some of the most popular and influential rap releases of the last decade—are all still available on the site. And it’s unlikely that they would have had the same reach without DatPiff as a platform.
Though DatPiff’s been integral to the careers of some of rap’s biggest artists, it’s still an essential tool for the little guy, too. “It’s a motley crew here,” Frasier told Forbes in 2011. “We have the big artists like Lil Wayne and 50 Cent, but we also have smaller labels and even popular artists on our site that have no label. Everyone has a chance to build a following.”