Beaver and his studio manager Kevin Carr make an odd pair. Where Beaver is garrulous and impulsive, Carr chooses his words sparingly. But a day after the raid, it’s Carr who sounds livid. “We’re just this little mom-and-pop shop,” he fumes. “How could they do this?” Carr recalls that the “siege” lasted three hours. “They held us for awhile. They questioned us for awhile,” he says. The studio later sought out a lawyer to look into filing a civil suit, but opted against it, he says. It’s a pity: A court case might have fleshed out some of the complexities of mixtape economics.
These days, those complexities can land you in jail. In 2007, Atlanta music promoters DJ Drama and DJ Don Cannon were arrested after police seized 81,000 mixtape CDs from their business.
But even if Listen Vision was innocent, Beaver’s hands weren’t completely clean. He and mixtapes have a past.
Attending the posh Connecticut boarding school Loomis Chaffee, Beaver was a jock; his sports career ended after he blew out his shoulder at a football game. His reinvention began not long afterwards, while he was getting his hair cut at Manhattan’s Astor Place Hairstylist. Hip-hop blared over the radio. Beaver noticed how the music got the entire shop bobbing their heads. He convinced his parents to buy him two turntables for his 16th birthday. From then on, he had an alter ego called DJ Boom.
It wasn’t long before DJ Boom was on the club circuit. Beaver became popular enough to start putting out his work in the form of mixtapes that reorganized other people’s material.
When he came to the District as a George Washington University freshman in 1994, Beaver brought his tapes with him. As a way of making some money and getting to know the city, he says he rode Metro to distant neighborhoods with a backpack full of them, selling his product to local stores. “I was selling a hundred mixtapes a week at five dollars a pop,” he says.
Beaver began doing what DJs call “break records.” He says he amassed a small fortune, over a million dollars spread out over nearly a decade. The money was apparently enough to subsidize some nice real estate. After graduation, Beaver found himself living in a Dupont Circle penthouse with his then-girlfriend, who rapped. He got some equipment and staged a recording session in one of the apartment’s bedrooms. He began offering the service to friends. Soon, he claims, performers were lined up to hire him. In 2001, he landed a job at XM Radio, working as a production director on hip-hop programming.
After his relationship fell apart, Beaver went through his heavy drug-use period. But he also put Listen Vision on the map, renting a space and scoring better equipment. Beaver says the studio began making real strides when KRS-One recorded there in 2004. He claims that helped Listen Vision attract big-name clients like the Beastie Boys—though the group’s flak says otherwise.
By the time MPD left his studio in November, Beaver had watched the cops cart away 2,300 of his CDs. He says he received varying explanations as to why MPD was so interested. One cop told him that the sale of mixtapes had been connected to the funding of terrorists. Another suggested the police were still hyped up on the bust of one of Listen Vision’s former neighbors, Target Squad.
That store and recording studio, also on Georgia Avenue, was taken down in July 2007, according to court papers. Busting in to look for counterfeit goods like mixtapes, cops also found marijuana and two handguns (just as the RIAA video would later suggest they could). One of the owners of the studio copped to the guns, and did a year in prison.
There were no guns or drugs found at Listen Vision. But months later, MPD has neither charged anyone from Listen Vision nor given back the cache of CDs they seized. Beaver says most of the music belonged to independent artists.
Local hip-hop artist Rasi Caprice, who appears on one of the Listen Vision compilations, says things aren’t formalized between him and Listen Vision. “This is sort of the deal that me and Boom have,” he says. “We have an agreement, but it’s kind of an unofficial agreement. Ever since Listen Vision started, I sort of have played a role there.”