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Divergent DC rap, chop-and-screw heirs, and UKG classics: the week’s best mixtapes and mixes

Listening to the deluge of mixtapes and free mixes from hip-hop artists and electronic producers alike is often an insurmountable task. That’s why we scour Datpiff, LiveMixtapes and beyond, separating the wheat from the chaff each week.

A well-balanced haul this week: mixtapes from rappers in DC, Toronto, Chicago and Houston interspersed with DJ mixes both exuberant (Ryan Hemsworth, Wookie and Motions) and experimental (Golden Retriever, Expressway Yo-Yo Dieting).

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FAT TREL
GLEESH

When Fat Trel signed with M-M-M-Maybach Music last year, it seemed like a long-overdo match made in heaven. DC’s foremost trap star/knucklehead/slutty boy has only improved as both a storyteller and pure rapper over the past few years, and joining Rick Ross’ crew promised to take his craft to the next level. Gleesh delivers on that promise, letting Trel do his thing over a clutch of pro-grade beats.

The deceptively-skilled rapper lays out tales of street life with the same mix of melancholy and menace that he flashed on last year’s ‘Niggaz Dying’ on tracks like ‘Walkin Thru My Hood’ (“walking through the hood I saw your momma / sucking dick and begging for money / two years ago your momma was a worker / but at this present time your momma’s a junkie,” wordy as it may be, is rough as hell). Trel gets as jubilant as he can on ‘Rich as Fuck’; the track sounds like a single and pairs nicely with the bouncey ‘She Fell In Love’.

From the first synth swells of ‘Datz Kool’ to the Harry Fraud-produced ‘How U Feel’ to the Final Fantasy trap of ‘Buku Chips’, the beats sound great and Trel is more than comfortable on them. As expected, MMG is well repped: Ross replaces Trouble DTE on the remix of the Young Chop-produced ‘Shoot’, onetime mentor Wale shows up on the simplistic ‘In My Bag’ and Rockie Fresh offers a counterpoint on the cinematic, soul-sampling ‘Fresh’. No Gunplay, though, which is a missed opportunity.

No comment on the cover.

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RYAN HEMSWORTH
COOL DJ MIX

A Ryan Hemsworth mix is always a treat, and his latest is no different. “This is what my brain feels like and it’s weird,” he writes about the mix (we’ll spare you the all-caps). “Listen to this on headphones when you’re zooted on a greyhound bus heading home thinking about her perfect face.” As expected, Hemsworth has put together another pitch-perfect sadboy video game soundtrack, and its probably his most adventurous mix yet.

He mashes up tracks only the most committed Soundcloud dweller would know (abhi//dijon’s ‘Twelve’ over a Baths remix of Son Lux, for an example from early in the mix), drops in rarities (“some dramatic piano song i made for a documentary that never came out,” an unreleased Tink verse), and sprinkles in tunes by contemporaries like Shlohmo, P. Morris, A. G. Cook and DJ Paypal. Oh, and we hope his dreamy ‘Move That Dope’ edit finds it way to the Internet.

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GOLDEN RETRIEVER
AD HOC MIX

A word of warning – make sure you’re well prepared for this one. Portland-based duo Golden Retriever don’t make music that’s supposed to wrench you out of your seat kicking and screaming, rather they coax out the beauty from long-form drones, avant-garde improvisational passages and barely audible field recordings. It’s listening that demands close attention, so put down whatever it is you’re fiddling with (that includes a mouse, c’mon) and actually listen for a change.

Here, Matt Carlson and Jonathan Sielaff have put together over an hour of material that influenced their very particular musical direction – heard most vividly on their epic new full-length Seer. That means transcendent cuts from Terry Riley, Alice Coltrane, Eliane Radigue, Alvin Curran, Jon Hassell, Laurie Spiegel and plenty more. To be honest it feels like less of a mix, and more of a curated tour through the duo’s record collection – you know, that moment when you’ve had a couple of lugs of bourbon and your mates are going through the dustiest (and no doubt finest) records on their shelves. It’s a privilege to take a peek into their world.

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GOLDLINK
THE GOD COMPLEX

DC-area newcomer GoldLink debuts with a decidedly danceable mixtape, The God Complex, organically joining rap and R&B vocals with underground dance styles without veering into gimmick or mash-up territory. The mysterious 20-year-old flashes some versatility as both a rapper and singer, with an irreverent streak (the way he sweetly sings “spread your fucking cheeks” on the lead track belies the lyric’s raunchiness) and a touch of gravity (he contemplates suicide on the otherwise cheery ‘Bedtime Story’ and his death on closer ‘When I Die’).

Describing his style as “future bounce,” GoldLink’s songs are all club-ready, from the breakbeat-heavy ‘How It’s Done’ to the AutoTune-kissed footworker ‘CNTRL’, and he keeps up with a rapidfire-yet-lucid flow. And while there are nods to the past (with samples of ‘Passin’ Me By’, ‘Men in Black’, and Timbaland and Magoo’s ‘Drop’, among others), this is music for right now. Due to its accelerated clip, The God Complex seems shorter than its 25 minutes, and we’re excited to hear more. Clearly in his own lane, GoldLink could be for DMV rap what Chance the Rapper was for Chicago rap last year.

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EXPRESSWAY YO-YO DIETING
IN THE TRAUMA CENTER

Of all the experimental musicians to latch onto DJ Screw’s sludgy “screwed and chopped” tropes, few have managed to appropriate them as successfully as Oregonian Pat Maher. He might have cut his teeth on the local DIY/noise circuit, but his explorations into deranged rap over the last few years have highlighted a link between the sounds that isn’t initially obvious, and they’ve never been anything less than crucial.

In the Trauma Center is his first long-form Yo-Yo Dieting drop in years, and instantly drops us back into a world of mangled, discarded Southern rap bangers and painfully distorted (and often heavily filtered) a capellas. The vocals become soupy bass tones or hoarse moans, and beats are shoved in and out of any sensible rhythmic template with ease, resulting in a tape that’s as challenging as it is rewarding. Noise and rap have never been the most comfortable bedfellows, but when it’s done right it’s hard to ignore.

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JIMMY JOHNSON
IN GOD WE TRUST

Toronto vocalist Jimmy Johnson and Houston producer Eric Dingus team-up for In God We Trust. The young artists (Johnson is 21, Dingus is 19) have been rumored to be affiliated with Drake’s OVO imprint, and it’s clear why: the nine-track effort has a heavy dose of the wooziness that Drake main-man 40 has made his name with.

Throughtout the EP, Johnson tries a variety of approaches, from gasped battle rap to Auto-Tuned sensitive thug grumbles, but his voice is more compelling than his lyrics; he comes across a bit anonymous. The same can’t be said about Dingus’ production, which builds upon Raider Klan-ish Three 6 Mafia tribute with other elements; the dramatic ‘My Imagination’ has a touch of synth-laced cloud rap and descends into the fog with a chopped-and-screwed outro. It’s a familiar palette done well, and the kid has skills: those dive-bombing bass tones on ‘Pray’ are brutal in the best way.

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MOTIONS
BODY HIGH MIX

After Grown Folk disbanded last year, Brendan Neal relocated from Montreal to London and reemerged as Motions. Fans of Grown Folk’s take on house will probably find something to like with Motions, who is now plying his wares for LA club imprint Body High. His mix for the label includes all the tracks off his forthcoming EP along with personal favorites by Redshape, Ed Davenport and more. The hour-long set starts off gentle and subdued before dancing its way across the house continuum. Vibes for days and a great first impression for Neal’s new project.

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MATTI BAYBEE
YOUNG LEGEND 2

Chicago’s Matti Baybee is best known for one reason – he’s the 16-year-old second cousin of drill superstar Chief Keef. Young Legend 2 is his second full-length tape, and surprisingly the pint sized prodigy is still holding off on the aggressive chanting and gun-flashing that helped net his older cousin a seven-figure deal. Instead we’re treated to a mixtape that’s thematically more in line with King Louie’s underappreciated (yet quite brilliant) Jeep Music, so it’s hardly surprising that Louie himself turns up not one but three times over the course of the record’s economic 14 tracks.

Keef, on the other hand, is nowhere to be seen, which seems to suit Matti fine as he pounces through sickly autotuned hooks and anthemic bangers that sound as if they’d be should be blaring from iPhone speakers at the back of class. The kid’s got charisma for sure, but whether a brace of tunes about hanging out with your friends and checking out females is enough to push Matti Baybee out of relative obscurity, it’s hard to tell.

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WOOKIE
THUMP MIX

If you’re old enough to remember going to clubs and hearing ‘Scrappy’ and ‘Battle’ do work, then you’re probably old enough to remain fairly unconvinced by Wookie’s sidestep into house. Don’t despair though, this brand spanking new mix for Thump finds the producer on cracking form sliding together a bunch of tracks that might just make you totally forget that your hair’s beginning to fall out and that there’s a generation of hairless youngins who think Disclosure invented UK garage.

It’s a trip down memory lane for sure – Zed Bias’s ‘Neigborhood’, Youngstar’s ‘Pulse X’, DJ Luck and MC Neat’s ‘With A Little Bit of Luck’ all make their obligatory appearances, as of course do some of Wookie’s own garage classics. Hell, even Disclosure pop up, and somehow in the company of such massive tunes, they actually sound acceptable, just.

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KIRKO BANGZ
PROGRESSION IV

Houston AutoTune addict Kirko Bangz returns with his latest entry in the Progression series for what is probably his last warm-up before his debut album Bigger Than Me drops. Apart from lead single ‘Hoe’ — a slapper helmed by HBK Gang production crew The Invasion — Kirko freestyles over contemporary rap tracks that bridge the gap from smooth Southern R&B-rap (Rich Homie Quan’s ‘Walk Thru’, K Camp’s ‘Money Baby’, Rico Love’s ‘They Don’t Know’) to trunk-rattling West Coast fare (Nipsey Hussle’s ‘Checc Me Out’, Jhene Aiko’s ‘The Worst’).

The highlight will allow you to enjoy DJ Mustard’s Robin S-interpolating ‘Show Me’ without having to listen to Kid Ink and Chris Brown. For those that can’t stomach Canadians, he reworks Justin Bieber’s ‘All That Matters’ and rewrites Drake’s ‘Girls Love Beyonce’ into a love letter to Rihanna, but his lazy lyricism is not often an improvement on the originals — Canadian or otherwise.

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