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 demonstrates exactly why we started the mixtape round-up: while we were busy chewing over Old and Bangerz, hip-hop heavyweights like Cam’ron, Waka Flocka, and Meek Mill dropped new releases alongside promising newcomers like Tink, Migos, Robb Bank$, and Vic Mensa. It’s such an embarrassment of riches that the week’s best mixtape/free album got its own review.
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Tink is a boss. The 18-year-old Chicago “rapper-slash-singer” continues her meteoric rise with her fourth tape in just over a year, Boss Up, a 13-tracker that finds her flexing both of her skill sets. Whether she’s dropping battle-ready and raunchy bars (“came with my crew / but I left with a dude / then I came in his mouth / like the dentist approve”) on the some of the same name, or teaming up with fellow Chicagoan upstarts Lil Bibby & Lil Herb on ‘Kilo’, her voice equal parts saccharine and switchblades (with a bit of Nicki’s vocal play, like on ‘Fanz on the Low’).
The majority of Boss Up is sparse, bullet-riddled drill tracks that are buoyed by Tink’s charisma. A standout is ‘Take Me There’, produced by teenaged-talent Plu2o Nash, which has a Balam Acab / Clams Casino airiness to it. The strongest songs add dollops of R&B sultriness to the mix: ‘Reasons’ is a tear-soaked broken relationship ode reminiscent of Tink’s Blunts & Ballads tape, and she absolutely nails the hook on the Young Chop-produced slow burner ‘More’.
Despite being plagued by some of the most obnoxious DJs in the mixtape game (no, please, add another drop or rewind!), Boss Up is another entertaining effort from a young artist on the come up.
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South Florida’s Robb Bank$ is an associate of the Raider Klan, and he shares the crew’s doom-and-gloom aesthetic and — at times — their Three 6 Mafia fetishism. Setting him apart from the crew is a gravelly, Gunplayesque voice that belies his nineteen years, and a wordy, stream-of-consciousness style that flows in the strictest meaning of the word: gritty imagery and growled boasts tumble out of Bank$ like water through a burst dam, often with disregard to rhyme and rhythm.
Lyrically, he’s closer to Earl Sweatshirt and the Odd Future crew: references (particularly to anime) that betray his youth, violent fantasies, and deep father issues. On opener ‘Flex (City)’, he comments on the “elephant that’s in the room”: his relationship with estranged father Shaggy (yes, that Shaggy): “Me and my daddy been talking about shit / Actual conversations about my sisters and my kids / Sometimes I just think we keep the peace just for them.” Elsewhere, his tales of growing up in South Florida have the type of details that keep his storytelling rooted in reality (if obviously hyperbolic and fantastical).
Tha City is a concept-driven mixtape, with each grim track inspired by or dedicated to a different city. Mostly produced by Bank$’s right-hand man Nuri and frequent collaborator Spaceghostpurrp, the tape is heavy with paranoia and menace, all machine-gun percussion and weed smoke ambience. Appropriately, trap hitmaker Zaytoven mans ‘That Sound (Atlanta)’, a stylistic change that still fits in nicely. At 15 tracks (plus two bonus cuts) and just over an hour, Tha City is dense but not bloated: Bank$ certainly has plenty to say, and over productions with this much gun-metal gleam, we’re listening.
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FROM ROACHES TO ROLEXES
Since Waka’s last tape (May’s patchy DuFlocka Rant: The Halftime Show) his messy beef with ex-mentor Gucci Mane has bubbled over into a fully-fledged war. We all know the story at this point, but while Gucci has kept his outburst mostly to Twitter, Waka has simply made From Roaches to Rolex, kicking off the tape with a flurry of very visible right hooks. ‘Ice Cream Cone’ is the most obvious shot – not least because it’s actually labeled ‘Gucci Diss’ – but is far from the only mention. The ear-pummeling ‘Obituary’ is unsurprisingly detailing the exact same thing (chorus “Obituary, read you out a history” is very telling), and ‘Took Off’, with its cry of “I think he mad because a young nigga took off” is transparent.
Thankfully, this urgency to re-assert his power in the situation has pushed Waka into producing his best record in years. Suddenly he has something tangible to rap about in a year he’s admittedly spent mostly pulling in stacks from European EDM shows, and his frustration is our gain. This is a side of Waka we simply haven’t heard since the Flockaveli days, and although he’s been churning out occasionally heavy hitters since, nothing’s come close to the raw, barked power of From Roaches To Rolex’s angry first half.
Gucci might have been more than happy to bundle up old material (often even including Waka) on his recent run of mixtapes, but here we have the definitive reaction. It’s both a cry of “I’m successful” and a chilling warning to anyone (Gucci or otherwise) who might try and hinder that success, and in such is everything that a good tape should be. We can only hope Gucci will have an equally hard-hitting response, but since he’s currently incarcerated; it might be a long time coming.
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KEEP YA COOL
If Lil Ghetto Boy was a call to let people know he was still around, Fiend’s latest tape Keep Ya Cool is the tape that cements his status at Jet Life’s most crucial son. The tape follows a sick run of one-offs, some of which are featured here, and quickly lives up to the promise. The Thelonious Martin-produced slow-burner ‘California Mornings’ was a stand out on Jet Life’s Red Eye mixtape, and it’s just as effective here, not least when it’s paired with the Houston-indebted crawler ‘Candy Paint’.
Fiend’s instantly recognizable low tones are his biggest asset, and he manages to skate through the album’s varied themes easily using his voice to join the dots. The mood is set (it’s Jet Life related, so you better believe it’s hazy), but it’s been liberally injected with funk, jazz, pop, trap and whatever else his producers seem to have had at hand. Hell, there’s even a beat from ex-chillwave posterboy Washed Out on standout ‘Habanero’, and it all seems like part of the plan. Fiend’s come a long way since his days as a No Limit soulja, and we’re dying to see where he’ll go from here.
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A few months ago Vic Mensa was the frontman of almost-successful Chicago funk/soul outfit Kids These Days, but things began to change after the young rapper appeared on ‘Cocoa Butter Kisses’, one of the standouts from Chance The Rapper’s acclaimed Acid Rap mixtape. A month later the band had unceremoniously split leaving Mensa to go it alone, and with the hype garnered from his long-standing friendship with Chance it wasn’t an unrealistic prospect.
Mensa’s debut then has plenty riding on it, not only will it be judged by fans of Kids These Days, but it will obviously be held up to Acid Rap, a comparison that’s not unjustified. In many ways INNANETAPE is Acid Rap’s mostly sober companion piece, and where Chance freely hiccups from idea to idea, Mensa’s vision is clearer and surprisingly more upbeat. His funky, Roots-flecked history is reflected quickly in the production choices, but Mensa doesn’t allow the tape to become a Kids These Days tribute, rather he peppers each track with knowing references (the nod to James Blake on ‘Lovely Day’; the inclusion of Thundercat on ‘RUN!’) and Eminem-influenced vocal acrobatics.
INNANETAPE is a smart record, but borders on being too smart for its own good. It’s tasteful and incredibly well engineered, with high profile productions from J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League, Hit-Boy, DJ Dahi, Boi-1da and more, but all too often gets trapped in its own lofty aspirations. While it does everything well, and manages to do so with uncompromising focus, there’s just something holding it back from being entirely gripping. At times it sounds like the equivalent of a really well put together indie movie – it’s much easier to respect than it is to actually enjoy. Maybe a few more years will teach Mensa that sometimes it’s the tripping and falling that makes ambition actually an invigorating proposal.
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MIGOS & RICH THE KID
STREETS ON LOCK 2
Atlanta ‘Versace’ kings Migos re-team with Rich the Kid for a sequel to August’s Streets On Lock, and the results are just what you’d expect: looping, hypnotic trap tracks with the brash, triplet-heavy flows that the crew has mastered.
There are no surprises here, just club-ready bangers (produced mostly by Zaytoven and Murda Beatz) that hit like sledgehammers. ‘Rocky Balboa’ returns to the well of ‘Hannah Montana’ for a surprisingly deft underdog tale, but it will leave you wondering how many four-syllable celebrity names the group can turn into anthems. Elsewhere, ‘TrapAHolics’ (with PeeWee Longway and Rich the Kid) and ‘Sean Kemp’ (with Chill Will) separate themselves from the pack; Rich’s best solo offering is the nightstalking ‘Talkin Bout Nun’.
Thematically, Migos stick with bands and trapping, but ‘My Momma’ and ‘Momma We Rich’ find the duo at their most sentimental, without ever having to leave the pocket of their sonic blueprint; Zaytoven adds some piano flourishes to the latter. Neither will be confused with ‘Dear Mama’ or ‘Hey Mama’, but the lyrical change-up is a welcome reprieve.
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How do you follow one of the most popular mixtapes of all time? Well if you’re Philly rapper Meek Mill you simply carry on as usual, and on Dreamchasers 3 he offers up more of the same gravelly East Coast street rap that propelled him to fame in the first place. It’s hard to argue with the guy – this is a rapper who actually bothered to respond to Kendrick’s call (Drake’s weedy storm-in-a-teacup does not count), and not with a smart verse, with the death knell of ‘Ooh Kill ‘Em’.
Despite being at the beck and call of notorious dramatist Rick Ross, Mill is a rare rapper with his street credentials intact, and he’s not afraid of proving it. This gives his verses a swagger and authenticity that’s all too rare, and rolling out his danger chants over a collection of beats that sound as if they could rattle out holes in your bodywork, it’s hard to begrudge his resolve.
Sadly, for all the trying and all the well-poised guest spots (Nicki Minaj, Future, French Montana, Ma$e, Rick Ross) it’s just hard to get excited about a Meek Mill record. There’s no doubting the dexterity of his flow (just flick over to ‘Lil Nigga Snupe’), but Mill has been stalemated by his own resolve. His tireless East Coast championing (seriously, why is Fabolous on the record at all?) feels a little pointless at a time when rap’s region-reliance is beginning to dissipate (hi again Kendrick), and to be quite honest, by the time you get to the seventeenth track, fittingly titled ‘The End’, you’ll be lucky not to be totally worn out.
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JUST IN CASE
With Just In Case, Bronx upstart Doley Bernays catapults into the New York rap conversation. Executive produced by fellow ReeLife member MP Williams (who crafted the majority of the EP/mixtape), Bernays sticks to street-struggle tropes (“here them dreams don’t come true if you weakened / life could change in one shooting, one weekend”) on beats made of condensed cloud-rap haze and touches of Dark Twisted Fantasy-inspired grandiosity.
Bernays makes a few diversions into mid-tempo discussions of the Venn Diagram of broken relationships and substance-abuse on ‘Drown’, ‘Tommy & Keish’, and ‘I Know Pain’; singer James Ashli brings a feminine edge to the latter two. Not immune to contemporary crazes, AutoTuned touches bookend the tape, bringing a bit of sorrow to the title track and the grief-stricken closer ‘Funerals & Release Dates’.
Highlights include shifty lead single ‘Till We Fall’ and the half-sung ‘Darkside Glow’; stick around for the trio of bonus tracks, which are solid efforts and not just tacked-on offcuts. When faced with following either A$AP or Pro Era, Bernays splits the difference and forges his own path, and while his voice is still developing, this polished, fully-formed offering convinces us to keep an eye on him… just in case.
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New York “associative music” beatsmith Hot Sugar recruits friends from the underground rap world for his latest offering, the pay-what-you-want Made Man EP. With a left-field style reminiscent of Def Jux’s hey-day, the EP features ex-Das Racist members KOOL AD and Heems, along with allegedly-retired associate Big Baby Gandhi, and your results may vary depending on your taste for that specific strand of hip-hop.
When Made Man deviates from that script, it benefits: The GTW croons on piano-laced groover ‘Erica’, swaggering trunk-rattler ‘Mama, I’m a Man’ features a strong verse by Antwon, and ‘Dripping Dimes’ is a sort of post-ratchet party-starter that features Internet mascot Chippy Nonstop. The tape closes with an expanded version of AOL-era ode ‘56K’ that acts as a net rap posse cut: Big Baby Gandhi, Nasty Nigel, Lansky, Antwon, Chippy Nonstop, Lakutis, DVS, Kitty, and Weekend $ show up for the modem-sampling party.
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GHETTO HEAVEN VOL.1
We all know how good Cam’ron can be, but sadly that doesn’t mean he manages to bring his A-game to the table every single time. Ghetto Heaven Vol.1 is the Dipset rapper’s first mixtape since last year’s UNlost Files 2 and it’s not surprising how patchy it is. It’s not that Cam’s not particularly on form – his raps are solid, if not life changing, but for the most part it’s the production choices that manage to universally derail the tape.
Particularly embarrassing is ‘Me Killa’ – a weedy take on Young Scooter’s unfuckwithable club smash ‘Colombia’ that manages to neither retain the humid, tense mood of the original or surpass its memorable sing-song chorus. Worse still is ‘Go Outside’, which attempts to mimic the success of Dipset and misses the mark entirely, going from playful to awful within seconds. The feeling of “what’s the point” is pervasive while listening to the entire tape, and we’re left feeling that MONEYDVNCE’s rework of Cam’s Purple Haze classic ‘Get ‘Em Girls’ is probably more worthy of that all-important click.
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