DJ Graffiti—who also spins, emcees, and plays percussion—has been building his reputation through his series of underground mixtapes. With Bling Free Volume 3: “It’s Official!”, his first legitimate release, Graffiti continues his goal of presenting little-known acts that support his vision of a “Hip-hop community that is extremely self-sufficient”, that “shines on its own”. This world necessitates people who are freed from the allure of bling. Graffiti explains the idea of being Bling Free by saying that it means that “you control the bling in your life, it does not control you”. While Graffiti’s vision might be a little cloudy, you’ll forget it once you spin this disc.
Making a mixtape for a friend seldom involves anything more precise than following the basic High Fidelity guidelines and making sure you can fit on all the songs you’re digging at the moment. Making a professional mix, though, can be an art form, as Graffiti demonstrates. He perfectly sequences his selections (most of which are under three minutes), letting one track flow smoothly into the next, usually with the beats matched and the tone continuous. Smooth blending connects most songs, but occasional segues include an artist’s acknowledgement of the DJ, who has done a nearly flawless job in his perfection.
While Graffiti focuses primarily on the unknown, he does include some tracks from established artists. The ever-changing-always-enjoyable MF Doom shows up with Izreal on “Pop Quiz”, a track from Mic Planet Sessions. Doom’s already put out one of this year’s best albums, and he doesn’t disappoint here with this heavy-mouthed rhymes. His Madvillainy partner Madlib shows up as a producer on Diverse’s “Ain’t Right”. The initial portion of the mix closes with “Share This” from Soul Position, which is hot producer RJD2 and smooth emcee Blueprint. Two other acts that have a larger audience—Dilated Peoples and Boom Bap Project—provide tracks that have previously been almost unavailable (Dilated Peoples’ “Bullet Train” was on a Japanese release).
The joy of a mixtape doesn’t lie in listening to stars but in discovering new acts, and Graffiti provides plenty of opportunity to do so over these 38 tracks. The first group that stands out shows up on only the third track. The Procussions dropped their debut ... As Iron Sharpens Iron last fall, and Graffiti has pulled that disc’s best song, “Just Over Broke”, for Bling Free Vol. 3. The song’s themes of poverty and struggling to find honor fits with Graffiti’s ideas, and the old-school sound prepares listeners for the many jazzy tracks that are to follow.
One of the mix’s other highlights shows up near the mid-way point. Now On’s previously unreleased “Stop” features two MC’s switching off on lead and supporting roles and they come out fast with their challenge: “I’m sick of these MC’s coming some assembly required / With no flow / And no soul”. Now On offers, instead, “soundwaves transforming the game”, and explains the refusal to sign with an big label (“All about the marketing from the hair-dos to the shoes ... you said, ‘Fuck making good tunes’”) if it means modifying the message.
It would be too easy to get caught up in listing on the good tracks on the mix, though, and the disc has me feeling too good to convince myself that there are any duds on here. Instead, I’m going to just skip to the final eight tracks, which are actually a “Bonus Mix” based on Graffiti’s radio program “The Vibe”. These tracks are smoother and gentler than anything on the first three-quarters of the disc, and for the most part, they’re not as interesting, whether being an ode to sex or just a mellow groove. Not surprisingly, JayDee produced this section’s best track, Phat Kat’s “Destiny”. The song isn’t particularly exciting, but the sparse production, slow hook, and romantic narrative wrap things up solidly.
DJ Graffiti wraps up Bling Free Volume 3 with a request to support these artists. He’s not strict in his request: if you have to download, buy a ticket; if you get a free ticket buy a t-shirt. He doesn’t need to put up much argument, though, because the tracks are their own best advocate.