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Mixtape Round-up: Lil B, DJ Kenn, Pariah, Silent Servant, and more

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.

This week’s round-up has an eye on the West Coast, with offerings from The Based God himself, Brainfeeder affiliate Azizi Gibson, underground vets Mibbs & Scoop Deville, and LA deep house pros Young Adults. Elsewhere, there are mixtapes from drill pioneer DJ Kenn and sullen Southern rappers Deniro Farrar and Trouble, sets from UK favorites Pariah and Silent Servant, and some summer-ready bootlegs of newcomers Misun.

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DJ Kenn’s got a better story than most producers – growing up in Japan he moved to America at 20 years old, and after some time in New York the young rap-obsessed producer decided to head out to Chicago. Chief Keef’s uncle came across the kid wandering in the streets of Chicago’s South Side (not the best place for outsiders) and ended up fixing him up with a place to stay. Soon after, Kenn was making beats for a thirteen-year-old Keef, and proved absolutely crucial in the development of the hyper-localized drill sound. Indeed, Kenn produced Keef’s breakout tune ‘Bang’ that saw the rapper make the transition from local hero from to global sensation.

Now it’s Kenn’s turn for the spotlight, and American Dream is the producer’s debut tape, unsurprisingly featuring a host of Chicago’s brightest young talent. There’s a couple of expected appearances from Keef, but we’ve also got the soon-to-be-massive Lil Herb, Gino Marley, Sasha Go Hard and plenty more dropping in for verses. From the sounds of it, Kenn has little interest in making instrumentals, and over sixteen cuts he makes it very clear that he’s at his best crafting beats specifically for rappers.

Even at this stage, with the aggressive drill sound almost nudging into the mainstream, Kenn’s productions still sound slightly off-center somehow. While he’s undeniably innovative, it feels as if the innovation is made accidentally, while in the process of trying to ape other sounds. His attempts to straddle the club-filling trap of Lex Luger and the strip-club sleaze of Zaytoven have resulted in an eerie, plasticky blend that is neither one nor the other. Whoever might be spitting over his beats, there’s never any doubt that you’re listening to DJ Kenn, and in an era where identikit Fruityloops producers are often considered more valuable than those willing to shake things up, that’s a breath of fresh air.

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100% GUTTA

We realize that the fact that Lil B has a new mixtape out is hardly a cause to stop the press, but 100% Gutta is the mind-bogglingly prolific Bay Area rapper’s finest for ages. Blasted to all hell and mercilessly overdriven there’s something about the record that feels even more irreverent than usual, and The Based God drops his usual free associative rhymes over Lil Jon (‘RIP My Dreadhead’) and Rihanna (‘4 Me’) before we’ve even hit the mid point. That’s not to say it’s all hatstand though — 100% Gutta contains some of B’s most convincing performances for some time. He rediscovers his Bay Area roots on the Too $hort-indebted ‘100 Percent Bitch’, rocks back to the summer of ’92 with ‘Celebrate for Lil B’ and dives headfirst into Drexcyian electro (really) with the truly awesome ‘Based Hero’.

100% Gutta sounds like crap, it doesn’t flow well and B’s rhymes flit between being slightly misjudged and plain moronic, but as usual there’s still that inexplicable magic that just keeps you hitting the repeat button. Lil B has more ideas than an entire crew of rappers, and he still hasn’t released a proper debut album (apparently it’s “less than 50% completed” whatever that means) – we can just hope that this long delay is actually him saving his very best tracks for something truly remarkable. Until then though we can just enjoy the weird, kind of wonderful mind of a very bizarre rap rarity.

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Pariah’s taut blend of dubstep, techno and slippery ambience has seen him go from strength to strength in a relatively short timeframe. This latest mix was made in anticipation of his forthcoming Fabric set and finds the producer in dancefloor friendly mode, clawing together stark, bassy slow-burners from Omar S (the massive and incredibly underrated ‘Plesetsk Cosmodrone’), Aaron Carl, Kyle Hall, Portable and plenty more.

Coherent but not overly strict, Pariah’s leaning towards the more soulful end of the house and techno sound sets him far apart from plenty of his similarly skilled but yawn-inducingly rigid peers. He doesn’t need to re-invent the wheel, instead with some very careful selection and a keen ear Pariah has gifted us an unfussy mix of tunes that should help restore your faith in the humble 4/4. Who needs dubstep anyway?

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Deniro Farrar has released a sequel to March’s impressive The Patriarch mixtape. Once again, Farrar uses his gravel-and-smoke voice in service of reality-rooted storytelling over woozy, cloud-meets-Memphis beats. Beyond the boards, frequent collaborator Ryan Hemsworth returns and is joined by Australia production team KIRA, genre agnostic OWSLA-signee David Heartbreak, Felix Snow, Ryan Alexy, and more. Good Kid, M.a.a.D. City vocalist JMSN also makes an appearance on the Hemsworth-produced ‘Separate’. Farrar’s tales of sex and drugs are heavy with resignation: this is far from celebratory.

“Written in some of darkest and most bleak times in my life, this is my therapy,” Farrar writes. “Facing indescribable personal trials and tribulations, coupled with my family crumbling as I watch my lil bro and biggest supporter face a serious trial and jail sentence, I did the thing I was born to do. Write and express my life.” As you can imagine, Farrar is far from upbeat, but his personal struggles have inspired some moving material.

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Pac Div’s Mibbs was wise to team up with LA beatmaker Scoop Deville. The production vet has put his name to a startling number of tracks in the last decade, not least a couple on Kendrick Lamar’s world-beating Good Kid, M.A.A.D City last year, and Freebass feels like DeVille’s opportunity to take some risks. His low-key shuffles are an appropriate backbone for Mibbs’ confident raps, augmenting them with a winning hand of gut churning bass and peculiarly gloomy samples.

Freebass is so sparse it almost feels like an overdriven, experimental answer to DJ Mustard’s stark ratchet beats, or a murky, contemporary take on The Neptunes’ pioneering productions. Just flip over to ‘Crack’ – it almost sounds as if it could have been left over from Clipse’s era-defining Hell Hath No Fury, albeit with a little more crunch. It might be only an EP, but there are enough good ideas on Freebass to leave us begging for a full length.

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This 80-minute set, recorded at Brooklyn’s Output last month, is the type of unrelenting set for which Juan “Silent Servant” Mendez is known. As always, Mendez digs deep for his self-described brand of “mutant music” — a crossbreed style of dancefloor sonics that features elements of EBM, industrial, techno, and house in its DNA. Along with a few originals, the mix includes plenty of Essex legends Nitzer Ebb, Factory Floor’s DFA single ‘Two Different Ways’, DJ Hell’s ‘Motherfunk’, and ‘Cavalier Attitude’, by Sandwell District compatriots Reality or Nothing (aka Regis and Female). Bring on the mutants.

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Since releasing their “impossibly-catchy” The Sea last summer, DC pop-rock trio Misun have released a handful of Hype Machine favorites, including throwback jams (‘Darkroom’, ‘Harlot’) and scintillating, future-leaning electro-pop (‘Promise Me’, ‘Sun Made’).

Mixed by NYC veteran Cousin Cole and Misun member/producer Nacey, the Summer Bootlegs collection reworks ten of the band’s tunes. With an eye on inclusion in summer BBQ/beach party DJ sets, the songs are blended with familiar favorites, from soul (Alice Russell’s ‘Hurry On Now’, Donny Hathaway’s ‘Jealous Guy’) to hip-hop (The LOX’s ‘Ryde or Die, Bitch’, The Firm’s ‘Phonetap’).

The highlight, however, reaches for something more contemporary: the formerly disco-laced ‘July’ finds new life when mashed-up with Jamie xx’s modern classic ‘Far Nearer’. The constant is Misun Wojcik’s sultry vocals: equal parts fire and ice that are well-suited for whatever musical background they’re laid over.

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For the second time, the title for Atlanta firebreather Trouble’s latest mixtape commemorates his release from prison on December 17, 2010 — that should give you a sense of what to expect here. In the words of his Duct Tape Entertainment compatriot Alley Boy, this is “the definition of fuck shit:” Atlanta street rap fueled by adrenaline and angst. Production is handled ably by a handful of relative unknowns; meanwhile, Alley Boy appears on ‘Help Me’, while Pusha T guests on the melodic ‘Thank U Lord’ and CyHi The Prynce turns up on martial banger ‘Materialistic Power’.

At 22 tracks, the tape has a tendency towards anonymity: ‘For The Hustlaz’ bounces over a post-Luger trap beat, ‘Live By Die By’ apes Future’s Autotune addiction, ‘Extendo’ repeats its hook like a Migos track, and so on. However, Trouble flashes some signs of individuality: songs like ‘Hold On’ and ‘In The Ghetto’ aim for tales of ghetto perseverance — a touch of hope amid a few handfuls of knucklehead anthems — and that’s when The Return of December 17th is at its best.

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Young Adults is the Los Angeles label/DJ team comprised of Lazy Brown (aka Friend of Friend boss Leeor Brown) and Deep Body (aka David Fisher). The dancefloor-minded imprint is focused on sultry house and disco sounds, and the DJ duo is no different. Like their eponymous release and House Slippers compilation, the nearly-hourlong Summer Near mix focuses on deep grooves intended “to wet your summer whistles.” For similarly minded cratediggers, the eclectic tracklist is included below.

Sir Own – Hooked (Kon’s Nite Time Remix)
Chapter Three – Smurf Talk (The Revenge Edit)
Marvin & Guy – Keep On
Ben La Desh – Bohicon Bossa
Eddie C – Surprise Pass
Bubble Club – In Consequence Of A Wish
Soft Rocks – Obo (Tiago’s ESP Disk Mix)
Ptaki – Krystyna

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Raised in Thailand before moving out to Maryland and then LA, Azizi Gibson can pretty safely say he’s had a different upbringing from most rappers. Still, he doesn’t appear to be too interested in straying far from the norm on debut tape Ghost in the Shell. For someone who can count Jeremiah Jae and Flying Lotus among his friends and collaborators, his rhymes are markedly forgettable, but he’s technically sound, and the production (handled by MiLLz and Jonathan Lowell) will likely be drawing you back for second or third listens.

Ghost in the Shell is far from a failure – it’s a free album (there are no DJ drops here) that sounds like a million bucks so it feels almost rude to ask for more, but we’ve been spoiled this year already. Azizi doesn’t seem to know whether he wants to be as psychedelic and wormy as Mr. Muthafuckin’ eXquire, as jazzy and soulful as Tree or attempt Joey Badass-style Golden Age revivalism, and we as the listeners end up at his impasse. He’s most successful when he’s at his most bizarre – the Beach House-sampling overdriven bliss of ‘Party Woman’, or ‘Boom Rewind’s Japanese videogame arcade charm, but these moments are few and far between.

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