(there was once a time when the Slow Mix was paramount, we hearken back to them times)
It was an art.
You have limited space — usually ninety minutes.
The opening was important. And you didn’t want to have too much space between songs…but you didn’t want them to be too close either. Then you had to factor in the fact that you wanted the last song on the first side (the forty five minute mark) set the tone for the second side. Again, space was important — you didn’t want too much space at the end and you didn’t want a song to cut off either.
It was an art.
And making a Slow Mix was an essential part of coming of age for many of us Gen X’ers.
Since we make playlists now, it’s a lil’ different. But this writing rightchea is an ode — an ode to the Slow Mix Tape — a memory for some and a historical lesson for others. So let’s take a dive into the science of making a good tape.
Being young in the 70s and 80s, you knew what the slow songs meant.
If your parents had parties and banished you to the room but you happened to sneak out to “get a snack” or “use the bathroom,” you might have looked in on the grown ups when them slow songs were playing. You may have spied slow grinding, ass grabbing, sloppy kisses — a strange thing in those days because ya never saw it on tv.
Teddy Bear (Pendegrass), The Stylistics, The Chi-Lites — grown folk music — that “Hey Love” commercial that used to play non-stop on BET is like a who’s who list of artists and songs that meant someone was getting fucked back in them days.
You see, if you were born in the late 60s and early 70s, you grew up alongside the rise of the Quiet Storm format. When I was four years old and a couple of months, Melvin Lindsey, seventeen years my senior, was being thrown in the deep end of college radio at the last moment. For whatever reason, the thought had never came to anyone before to do what Lindsey did — play slow songs, talk soft, title it.
But he and that music was my parent’s.
As my teens creeped up on me, that would change.
My Brother Sayyed hit me up recently telling me, “he was back at it.”
He text me a Apple Playlist.
Oh shit. That sent my mind back. Back to when Sayyed and I would have Slow Mix Marathons. If we really got into it, we could make two or three a night. As I wrote here, part of our bond was our similar taste and connection to music.
Let’s be clear — we made Slow Mixes with a purpose.
Yes, we enjoyed slow music. When we were younger, if we went to a dance (and as we got older, the club) there was a fifteen or twenty minute slot set aside strictly for slow music.
Hopefully you were already dancing with your crush. Hopefully she didn’t treat you like Pepé Le Pew and dash away from you. Hopefully she liked you enough to let your hands wander. Hopefully you got a kiss. Hopefully you got her phone number.
That’s what the slow jam could do. It could make or break your chances for puppy love.
I don’t know exactly when I made my first Slow Mix tape — had to be around the sixth grade. DeBarge’s “Time Will Reveal” had to be on there. S.O.S Band’s “Tell Me if You Still Care” surely was on there. MJ’s “Human Nature” was sho nuff on there.
My early Slow Mixes were dedicated to girls that I was crushing on or girls who broke my little heart. When El DeBarge sang:
What can I do?
To make you feel secure
Remove all your doubts
So that you’ll know for sure that
You’re the apple of my eye girl
Fulfillment of my dreams
Them were words that I couldn’t articulate but boy did they resonate with me. When S.O.S sang:
Let me know
Have you started to lose
Your love for me
And if so
Will you still continue
To be on my side
Them were words that I would never say to a soon to be ex, but I sang them at the top of my lungs whenever I could steal an alone moment and was in my feelings.
That’s what my Slow Mixes were for back then. This is back before I had a walkman; back when I had to plug an ear piece into my one speaker radio (that’s the best way, otherwise, my older brother Ade would tease me to no end). Every girl that I was with back then I swore I loved them. And the crushes? Lawd, those were unbearable. I played my Slow Mixes, hoped for a dance, and prayed for courage.
There was advantages to having an older brother.
He laid a blueprint for me. Not a spoken one, per se. I watched him. I watched him and my God Brother get their first real girlfriends. I watched them put together tapes packed with Freddie Jackson, Whitney Houston, & Ready For the World. I watched them make one for themselves…and one for their girlfriends. What technique. What style.
They were in the tenth grade seducing those girls with cassettes. The eighth grade girls didn’t stand a chance with mine.
A Slow Mix could be used to convey a message. You hit a girl with a cassette that starts with “Computer Love” she knows exactly what you dealing with.
Sure I still had my break up and broken heart mixes. Sure I branched out into the likes of Mister Mister’s “Broken Wings.” That happened.
It was virtually impossible to be alone with a girl so you all shared virtual moments. She would play the same cassette as you at the same time while you two sat on the phone together — blocking the phone line, angering everyone in the house (I stretched the phone line in the kitchen into the laundry room and sat on the dryer for privacy).
When I got to high school, I upped my Slow Mix ante.
As I child, I listened to whatever my parents listened to: The Commodores, Lakeside, Earth Wind & Fire, Maze featuring Frankie Beverly. My taste was theirs. Most of my peers shared the same tastes. There was an occasional Parliament/Funkadelic head like Fontaine Swann, but for the most part, everyone in my immediate Park Hill circle listened to the same stuff.
Having a babysitter that listened to the Beatles had the Liverpoolians slip into my repertoire, movies had me listening to rock acts like Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin, music videos turned me on to new wave. I tried to keep that to myself though — being different could get your ass teased incessantly.
But in high school having different taste was a plus and I wore it like a badge of honor.
Most people only knew the hits. If you knew album cuts, it was as if you unearthed a rare gem. And this is how Sayyed and I bonded. He too was a fan of the deep album cut, he too had a propensity for making Slow Mixes, he too had a great collection of music, and he too had a great love of Prince.
We combined forces and our Slow Mixes began to include a blend of the old (from our parent’s era), modern songs, and abstract songs like Art of Noise’s “Moment in Love.”
Going on a date? Pop that Mix in and set the tone. This was perfect if you were trying to see your status — friend or lover. If you’re just a friend, that tape will get popped real quick. But if there was any hint of love, you might get a grin, some blushing, you might hold hands, you could kiss at a stop light.
Okay, let’s break down what made a good mix and the different varieties and get outta here.
You have a variety of options when throwing together a Slow Mix and it mostly depends on the setting and purpose. I’m going to list three types but I’m sure that you all have a litany of other types. For me, this has been my garden variety.
If you were making a Mix for someone that they were going to listen to away from you, you want to lean toward the Message Mix. If you’re making a Message Mix, you best stick to a theme. You can’t throw break-up songs in the middle of I-want-you songs. Putting songs about fucking amidst falling in love songs is also a risky move. You have to assume that the person is listening closely to the lyrics and looking for what you’re trying to SAY to them. So…yeah. Stay on MESSAGE.
You might be in the presence of that special someone where the two of yous are talking and sharing each other’s company. Maybe you’re having a meal. In this case, a Mood Setting Mix could be your cup of tea. With this mix you’re trying to get songs that sound similar with similar beats per minute, regardless of what the words are, and smacking them jawns together. The Mood Setting Mix is perfect for background atmosphere. If a song has heavy bass….might not be good for this.
Lastly, there’s the Workout Mix. Um still Muslim so I ain’t gonna go into all kinds of deep detail here. But let it be said that the Workout Mix is the type of Mix that starts out slow and builds into a crescendo and then eases off. Think of the Workout Mix like a story that has a Beginning, Middle, and End. The lyrics might not be important but still be cautious, because nothing messes up a good time like a distracting ass song.
I come from an era where everyone rocked slow music. Me and my brother Ishmael often reminisce on how the Crips would pull into City Park in their 6–4 Impalas dropped on Daytons, pop their trunks and blast slow songs. It was a part of our culture.
I know people still make mixes but I’m not sure if the same amount of care and consideration has to go into now. You have infinite amount of space, access to any song imaginable, and a level of detachment that exists because you’re not handling a physical item.
Hell, even I’ve gotten into the lazy habit of adding songs to a playlist and just hitting shuffle.
But nothing beats a well thought out Mix. A Mix where every song is placed deliberately in a specific sequence, with a specific purpose. Inspired by Sayyed, I threw one together. Trust me, it’s not like riding a bike. It’s a lot more difficult to be deliberate when you can move a song on a whim. That Mix was okay. The one I made before I wrote this piece though…that jawn is kinda flames.
Maybe I’ll share it. Well, I will share it. But maybe I’ll share it with you readers. Maybe. If not, hell, at least you have this writing.