With each passing week, listening to the deluge of mixtapes, radio shows, and live sets from electronic producers and hip-hop artists alike becomes an even more insurmountable task. Quality offerings can fly under the radar, either added to our ever-growing “to listen” list or — more often than not – disregarded all together.
While previous round-ups have focused on the contemporary hotspots of hip-hop mixtape activity — Chicago and Atlanta — this week has a particular focus on the longtime poles of the rap game: California (via DJ Mustard, Hodgy Beats, IamSu!) and New York (Mr. Muthafuckin’ eXquire, Chris Rivers). As for DJ offerings, we have the past, present, and future represented: Floating Points’ classic 45s mix, Maria Minerva’s lo-fi disco, DJ Slow’s club hit parade, and Mumdance’s shoegaze-meets-grime collection.
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MR. MUTHAFUCKIN’ EXQUIRE
Kismet kicks off with a sample from 1988 videogame Altered Beast. It’s at this point, only seconds into the tape that you realize that Mr. Muthafuckin’ eXquire isn’t your average rapper. He’s called Mr. Muthafuckin’ eXquire for starters, and while that isn’t a name you’re likely to see sitting at the top of the Summer Jam line-up any soon, it’s not for lack of talent. Far from it in fact, his dexterous wordplay caused fellow spitter Danny Brown (who incidentally features on Kismet) to compare eX to another of Brooklyn’s more lyrical sons – The Notorious B.I.G.
Whether that comparison is warranted is a debate for another time, but Kismet is certainly the rapper’s most compelling argument to date. eX sounds dynamic and thirsty on single ‘Noble Drew Ali’, and the track’s blunted, chipmunked horns suddenly make sense in context with the album’s smartly coherent style. It’s not that eX seems to be desperate to prove himself either, he made waves with Merry eX-Mas & Suck My Dick and its predecessor Lost in Translation. Rather Kismet is the statement of a rapper who knows exactly who he is; he’s not trying to re-invent the wheel, or even jump on a shiny new set of 22”s – he’s perfecting his craft, and doing so with boundless creativity.
Kismet’s production is almost as invigorating as eX’s carefully-penned rhymes, and comes across like a deeply psychedelic take on Kanye West’s Golden Age-friendly canon. Hardly a collection of DJ Premier pastiches, Kismet instead takes the sample-heavy style and flips the script, injecting each track with a weird, druggy haze of 70s rock and who knows what else. The Georgia Anne Muldrow-produced ‘Chains’ is probably the album’s most outwardly throwback moment, but even here eXquire pulls the beat apart expertly and never allows it to sound too familiar, always making sure you’re well aware of what (or who?) you’re listening to.
Mr. Muthafuckin’ eXquire is New York, but a New York that isn’t simply happy to sit easy on the successes of the 1990s. His is the New York that enjoyed a flourishing art scene and the birth of a fresh, diverse genre, and there’s a sense that with this in mind, eXquire can accomplish whatever he desires.
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DIPLO & FRIENDS ON RADIO 1 MIX
Diplo continues to defy his detractors by curating one of the strongest shows on BBC Radio 1 Xtra. After presenintg mixes by Ryan Hemsworth, Brenmar, Oneman, and others, the Mad Decent don has tapped Pelican Fly boss DJ Slow.
Slow drops a smooth mix of silky club hits new (Rihanna’s ‘Pour It Up’ remix) and old (Jodeci’s ‘Freek’n You’), along with plenty of contributions from the Pelican Fly crew (the majority of the label’s superb Feathers compilation is represented) and associates (tracks from French club kings Surkin, Canblaster, and Sam Tiba feature).
Keep an ear out for FACT favorites Katie Got Bandz and King Louie on street anthem ‘Pop Out’, and Barcelona-via-Montreal maximalist Sinjin Hawke, who edits DJ Funk’s ‘3 Fine Hoes’ and teams up with resurgent Memphis rapper Gangsta Boo on the powerhouse ‘Yea Hoe’ (we see a trend developing).
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LA strip-club rap producer DJ Mustard is no stranger to these pages. Within the last few years, his distinctive skeletal sound has gone from being a West Coast phenomenon to being heard pretty much anywhere around the world. Between Tyga’s 2011 breakout ‘Rack City’ and last year’s ‘I’m Different’ from 2Chainz, the producer’s decidedly minimal self-styled ‘ratchet’ productions have become mainstream, so it’s hard to believe that Ketchup is DJ Mustard’s debut tape.
Mustard cut his teeth producing LA jerk, a regional scene that hardly broke free of the state lines, and on Ketchup, the producer’s origins are worn on his sleeve. The tempo might have been knocked down a little, but those wheezing, cheap-sounding synthesizers, chiming bells and g-funk-influenced basses are as unmistakable as the omnipresent clap. It’s mercilessly bare music, but engineered expertly Mustard’s restraint is also his biggest asset.
This gives the producer’s choice of rappers plenty of space to work with, and work they do, laying down verses that are far from the usual lazy phone-ins you tend to find on these producer-led tapes. E-40’s turn on the album standout ‘4G’s’ is typically fiery, and TeeFlii’s Terius-isms on ‘Fuck That Nigga’ are as good as anything on his own exemplary AnnieRuo’Tay 2 tape. Similarly, Ty Dolla $ign makes mincemeat of a deceptively simple synth line on ‘Put This Thang On’, emerging with a surprisingly efficient club track almost by accident.
DJ Mustard has clearly had Ketchup in the oven for a while now, and thanks to his attention to detail, we’ve got probably the best LA ratchet statement to date.
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TWISTS AND TURNS
As he recently told FACT, Mumdance created his Twists and Turns mixtape after a period of creative burnout. Starting from scratch and consciously doing the opposite of what he had done before, this new mixtape was made entirely on hardware (“synthesizers, samplers, drum machines and effects, all sequenced from an old MPC60”) and, instead of the exotic palette of sounds that defined earlier work, Mumdance looked within, drawing on the music of his youth: hardcore, proto-jungle, and “that era of garage as it was taking its first steps into grime.”
The result, comprised of solo productions and collaborations with newcomers Logos and Mao, is nearly 50 minutes of shoegaze-inflected grime, equal parts ice and metal. The title is instructive: the tape is always moving and contorting as the UK producer takes a nightime voyage through his recent studio creations, whether throbbing, detuned proto-techno, back-masked, body-jacking nightcrawlers, or triumphant, cinematic shoegaze. Here’s to a new era of Mumdance.
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If DJ Mustard is the old hand of ratchet music, then Iamsu! is the young upstart, and the California rapper/producer knowingly seems push his latest tape Kilt 2 into very different places, creatively. While he still sounds urgent on the fairly straightforward ratchet bangers like ‘Hold It Down’ and ‘Millions’, Iamsu! sounds just at home on the clouded weirdness of ‘Key Of Life’ or the aptly-titled ‘Float. He’s never been the most arresting lyrical presence, and that hasn’t changed here, but his command of the sound is admirable, and along with the other members of production crew The Invasion Iamsu! makes a better run than he did with last year’s $uzy 6 $peed.
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The lo-fi disco star lives up to her impressive body of work with this 40-minute mix for clothier SSENSE. The Not Not Fun / 100% Silk artist digs deep for tracks that touch on both influences and contemporaries: Theo Parrish & Moodymann’s ‘Lake Shore Drive’ anchors the beginning of the mix, while ‘Call Me’, by Slackk’s frenetic Patrice & Friends side gig, is a welcome change of pace later on. Like her FACT mix from way back in 2011, the mix is a spacey jaunt around the oft-kilter edges of the dancefloor.
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UNTITLED EP 2
The underrated Odd Future rapper follows-up last year’s surprisingly mature Untitled EP, and once again, the hype-less release belies the EP’s quality. While last year’s effort paired Hodgy with producers like Flying Lotus and The Alchemist, this EP re-teams him with MellowHype partner-in-crime Left Brain, who tries a few new tricks with his beats.
There’s plenty here for fans of MellowHype: Hodgy’s ever-dextrous flow punctuates the bongwater boom-bap of ‘Alone’, and the moody video game soundtrack that Left Brain lays down on ‘Karateman’ is spectacular. Over some Mad Decent-styled trap-EDM, Hodgy uses ‘SALE’ to comment on Odd Future’s place in the culture at large; it’s both a takedown of “selling out” and an OF mission statement (“Mass producing trash from pollution, refusing wackness and bullshit / For the ones in the back of that classroom being the nuisance”).
Taking a page from Odd Future superstar Frank Ocean, Hodgy also uses the EP to flex his singing muscles. He coos on ‘Alone’, mans the hook on ‘Karateman’, and drops a surprisingly poignant tale of 20-something ennui on ‘Years’. The mixtape is better when grooving than moshing: ‘Wicked’ and ‘Goodbye’ are co-produced by Garrett Stevenson of Odd Future-associates Trash Talk, and the rap-rock throwbacks should have been left at the skate park.
Still, five out of seven is an impressive batting average, and after these two Untitled tapes — and his numerous contributions throughout the Odd Future catalog — Hodgy Beats seriously needs the shine of a proper solo album. Stream it below (with the tracks out of order) or download it via Odd Future’s website.
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FLOATING POINTS MIX
The co-owner of Eglo Records celebrates the label’s 4th anniversary with a mix of vintage soul and jazz singles. Floating Points was DJing in between sets at the recent celebration, and the set includes 32 singles over 90 minutes. It kicks off with Sly, Slick and Wicked’s ‘Sho’ Nuff’ (the song sampled on Justin Timberlake’s ‘Suit & Tie’) and continues down the old-school rabbit hole. While he didn’t share a tracklist, he did share a photo of the records included, which is significantly harder to decipher than when Four Tet pulled the same trick last year. Best bet is to sit back and relax with this one. Stream it below and download over on Eglo’s website.
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Alley Boy might be as genuine Atlanta as they come, but his latest mixtape War Cry isn’t anywhere near as crucial as you might hope. The rapper has had some star turns recently, and beef with T.I. is nothing to sniff at (we see you Azealia Banks), but it isn’t enough to re-launch a career without a record to work as the backbone. As hard as it tries, War Cry simply isn’t that record: it does what it does adequately, but with so much competition in his home state alone, Alley Boy doesn’t quite manage to claw himself out of the mire of mediocrity.
We say this a lot, but at 22 tracks War Cry is far too long, and while there aren’t any truly bad moments, and Alley Boy’s intricate street stories are very engaging, the high points simply get lost in the mix. Kevin Gates and Starlito shine on album highlight ‘Long Haul’, and while the track sounds as if it could have been culled from Gates’ own The Luca Brasi Story, it makes a welcome appearance in the album’s final act. Elsewhere ‘Bad’ ushers in features from Master P and Fat Trel, and manages to accent Alley Boy’s more ominous quality without resorting to cliché. Sadly these are high points of a record that just fails to engage adequately – it’s worth a listen, but you might forget you’re listening.
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WONDERLAND OF MISERY
It’s been thirteen years since Bronx rapper Big Pun died from a heart attack. Pun was a crucial player in the architecture of late 90s NY rap, and along with Fat Joe pioneered a raucous sound that didn’t simply dry up with his passing. Over a decade later, Chris Rivers, Big Pun’s son (who used to be known as Baby Pun) is continuing his father’s legacy, and he does a surprisingly adept job of it.
This isn’t simply a case of riding on his father’s success, and while Rivers rarely wrenches himself out of the late 90s in terms of beat selection (third track ‘Lyrical Catastrophy’ finds him rhyming over a mashup of undisputed NY classics), his talent as a rapper is difficult to deny. Unfortunately a respectable flow doesn’t always lead to a great track, and Rivers’ reliance on the past, while his biggest gimmick is also his downfall.
His mission statement is pretty clear, and Rivers even mentioned on his Facebook page that he was “trying to bring New York back, and trying to bring Hip Hop back”. Your tolerance for the music probably depends on your agreement with that statement – hip hop didn’t go anywhere, but it’s changed a great deal in the last thirteen years. It feels like some of us, for better or for worse, don’t want to acknowledge that.
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