On Tuesday acclaimed Chicago hip-hop group BBU dropped their highly anticipated second mixtape, bell hooks. BBU diverged from the usual route for releasing a mixtape–which is basically uploading a tape to HulkShare or another file sharing site–and instead teamed up with a couple high-profile labels to present their latest effort. Mad Decent, an eclectic label run by internationally renowned DJ and producer Diplo, is one of the names that put its seal-of-approval on the new mixtape. The other brand is Mishka, a trendy New York City clothing company that is anything but a traditional music label.
Music is woven into the fabric of Mishka’s history: Co-owner and creative director Mikhail Bortnik had been interested in graphic t-shirts since he found an interest in skate graphics and band shirts as a kid. “There’s something about a t-shirt as this blank canvas that kind of conforms to the individual wearer,” Bortnik says. “Something about the aesthetic that appeals to me.” In 2003, Bortnik took around $20,000 of his own money to start a clothing company focused on making t-shirts. Mishka has since grown into a powerhouse brand known for a variety of streetwear–t-shirts, jackets and outerwear, hats, bags–with a website that clocks in 7,000 visits a day, and music has played a key role in the company’s rising profile.
Bortnik and company have been integrating music into the promotional wing of Mishka since the mid-aughts. Back then the company would team up with DJs to make mixes, and the folks at Mishka would post those collections online and press up a few hundred physical copies to pass out at parties and trade shows. On Sept. 1, 2007, Mishka launched its blog, “The Bloglin,” a home for posts about fashion and music that tastemakers check up on regularly. Nearly two years later Mishka released its first proper mixtape, a collection of songs by scrappy rap act Ninjasonik called Darth Baño, and in 2010 the clothing company began hosting its slew of mixtapes on Bandcamp.
“It’s great publicity for us and the artists,” Bortnik says. “The way things are right now, if they try to sell this material most people won’t listen to it.” But Mishka’s mixtapes clue many people into artists that might not have been able to get by on their own, essentially getting them to the next step in their careers while giving the company a little boost. Bortnik says there’s always been an interest in the brand and its music wing, but real tipping point came in March 2010: That’s when Mishka (along with Greedhead Entertainment) released Das Racist’s first mixtape, Shut Up, Dude, an effort that helped transform the NYC hip-hop trio from humorous meme into an underground sensation. It certainly helped Mishka, and Bortnik says the company began receiving a flood of e-mails from dance to hip-hop to indie-rock acts hoping to release their music through the brand.
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