K-PoP: The Mix Tape Commandments (Retro 90’s/Valentine’s Day edition)

January 28, 2013

Valentine’s Day is just around the corner so if you have a boo, want a boo, or just want to do something nice for your BFF, then Step Your Game Up by stepping to the old school.


Make that special someone a mix tape. Not a CD, not a Playlist, and not some Cloud Server Flash BS-crap thingy. 


A down-and-dirty, grainy, analog cassette tape!


So without further ado, K-PoP presents the Mix Tape Commandments.


   1. It has to be a cassette tape

Why?  Because a mix tape must not only be lovingly curated, it requires TIME to make. It requires sacrifice. And commitment. Those three elements show you care.  Any clown can download some Mp3's and burn a CD or send a link to some click-click-click-done playlist. Which leads to…



2. No speed dubbing

The kiddies here will have no clue what this means, what with their fancy warp-drive CD burners, but speed dubbing (a recording feature that allowed you to fast play one tape and fast record with another) is NOT allowed. It’s like stealing pitcher signals in baseball; it’s flat out cheating. A major allure of the mix tape is the implied promise that the mixer lovingly chose and then sat through each song as it recorded before he or she gave it to you. Speed dubbing breaks that pact. Plus, the true mix tape connoisseur can always hear the Alvin and the Chipmunks’ squeak just below a speed dub. 


3. A killer cassette design like this never hurt



4. Two fast sides is a no-no

A classic mix tape for that special someone should stick to this formula.


Extra special person = Both sides full of slow jams


Possible special person = One slow side/One fast side. So you don’t totally look like a stalker.


Two fast sides = A workout tape (Don’t do it!)


     5. Slow Jams I

If you kicked it with the black kids or the Filipino kids then your mix tape should be filled with R&B groups that go by one ambiguous/cryptic/confounding word: Surface, Shai, Portrait. A special exemption goes to the seminal R&B group Mint Condition. 


6. Slow Jams II

If you ran with the white kids a pre-Emo emo classic band like The Cure or The Smiths will accomplish the same effect. 


7. The Mix Tape is the soundtrack of YOUR life

Be bold and unpredictable in your mix. Try to remember songs from that first date or that one road trip.  Don’t be afraid to add an Oasis track next to a R. Kelly one.


 8. Timing and sequence...

...are everything. Choose great tracks to open and close each side of the tape.  Sneak in a sleeper like Color Me Badd or All-4-One right in the middle. And do not leave half or incomplete songs on the tape. It makes you look terribly lazy. 




9. Give the mix a title

Preferably a corny one like “Let’s take it slow” or “All the things we are together.” Or a quote from Holden Caufield or Jack Kerouac. 


   10. Give the tape and then walk away

No matter how bad you want to listen to the tape with that person. No matter if they beg you to listen to it with them. No matter that you might get some play from said mix tape. 




The mix tape is a seduction. A seed for nostalgia. A primer for reminiscing and then missing someone. None of that is possible if you’re in the damn room!


Follow these commandments and he or she will be yours. 


Holler at K-PoP at kyphong [at] hyphenmagazine.com and let me know your mix tape’s playlist and more importantly your boo’s reaction to it. 


I’m off to make my own mix tape now. Only problem?  Where am I gonna find a cassette recorder to dub this?  And where is my Kenwood pull-out so I can play this in my car?



K-PoP is short for Ky-Phong on Pop Culture. Ky-Phong Tran is an award-winning writer and teacher based in southern California and he’ll be writing about music, art, literature, Los Angeles, fatherhood, and other musings.



Ky-Phong Tran


Ky-Phong Tran is a public school, latch-key kid from North Long Beach, CA. He's written for the Nguoi Viet Daily News, New America Media, the Orange County Register, the San Francisco Chronicle, and of course, Hyphen, which published his short story "A Thing Called Exodus." In 2010, he was a Work-Study Fiction Scholar at the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference. He holds an MA in Asian American Studies from UCLA and MFA in Creative Writing from UC Riverside. He's into pop culture, street art, music festivals, literature, clever people, and keen ideas.



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