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BeatKing, Chicago upstarts and melancholy street rap: the week’s best mixtapes

Each week, FACT’s Mixtape Round-Up trawls through the untamed world of free mixes, radio specials and live blends so you don’t have to.

We’ve now decided to break this into two features: the week’s Best Free Mixes (think Soundcloud, Mixcloud) and the week’s Best Mixtapes (think DatPiff, LiveMixtapes). Naturally, there’ll always be some level of crossover between the two, but for now we’ve split the columns up, with Mixes running every Thursday, and Mixtapes every Friday.

This week’s haul is anchored by tapes from two rappers — BeatKing and Bloody Jay — that keep pushing the hip-hop envelope in their respective cities. Rounding-out the list is an R&B-laced bop tape, Chicago street rap, and Brainfeeder-approved throwbacks.

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Mixtape of the week:
BEAT KING
POLE SEX

Who would have believed that BeatKing – Houston’s self-styled “club god”, with a neat line in “gangsta stripper music” – would be as adept at making smooth R&B as he is at making trunk rattlers. It’s a conundrum he even recognizes himself, stating in the tape’s long, spoken word outro that he “hates slow songs” (he’s “too turnt up for that”). But this fact bizarrely doesn’t stop the Pole Sex EP from being just as good as, if not better than, its brash, brilliant predecessor Gansta Stripper Music 2.

‘Pole Sex’, which kicks off the EP in remixed form, was of course one of Gangsta Stripper Music 2’s highlights – and when BeatKing realized it was introducing his sound to a whole new audience (females, basically) he decided it might be a good option to flesh it out a little, so to speak. This means we get to hear his R-rated accompaniments to a suite of slow jammers, from the slippery Lil Wayne-sampling ‘Certain Somebody’ to the West Coast-style slow jammer ‘Up Be Playin’. Quite how BeatKing manages to slip so effortlessly into the tempo is mystifying, but his low tones work wonders with the wobbling basses and wormy melodies.

He’s still very much a Houston phenomenon, but there’s a sense that with this EP and with Gangster Stripper Music 2, he’s just on the cusp of breaking through. There can be no doubt that the DJ, rapper and producer has hit on a seam that’s putting his lazier peers to shame. Let’s hope the winning streak continues.

BLOODY JAY
#NAWFR

Earlier this year, Bloody Jay broke out of the Atlanta pack alongside Young Thug on mixtape-of-the-year contender Black Portland. On #NAWFR, his first proper tape since then, he proves to be just as exciting and inventive as his helium-voiced collaborator over cinematic trap fare; Trip The Hit Major produces more than half the tracks and is on point throughout.

#NAWFR (short for “naw for real”) is a mostly melancholy reflection on the kind of street life with which Jay is all too familiar. His elastic voice was the yin to Thug’s yang on Black Portland, and he’s just as versatile here, whether dripping with mournful introspection (‘I Got Niggas Doing Time’, ‘I Can’t Believe It’) or showing off a punchy, double-time flow (the title track, ‘It Don’t Matter Tho’). Elsewhere, he contorts it into an alarm (‘Corleone Freestyle’) and uses pain to sharpen it into a stiletto (‘Flossin’, ‘Killed My Brother’).

While heavy on street life reality rap, Jay shows a softer side on the horn-laced ‘So Many People Need Love’, gets lovey-dovey on the soulful ‘Walk With Me’ and preaches positivity (without an ounce of condescension) on ‘Never Bend or Fold’ and ‘Life Is What U Make It’. Sometimes, he does both: on his too-short freestyle of Cam’ron’s Kanye-helmed classic ‘Down and Out’, he laughs, “go to the spot, like it’s an inside job / nah, we just know how to rob.” Hopefully the only thing he steals these days is the show.

BREAD & KEMO
FAME HURT

DJ Moondawg follows the two volumes of We Invented The Bop compilations with Fame Hurt, a collaboration between scene originator Lil/King Kemo and Bread (aka Corn Bread, aka Alex Sanders, street famous for Chicago teen soap opera Reawakening). Apart from a couple drill-ish outliers, the tape feature the percolating trance synths, frenetic drumline percussion, Auto-Tuned crooning and sing-along hooks that have come to define the nascent bop scene.

Bread and Kemo address the tape’s title with technicolor, Leek E Leek-produced standout ‘Stalker’, a light-hearted sing-along in the vein of ‘Gucci Goggles’ and ‘Remember Me’ (that’s paired with a regrettable intro by Moondawg). The best development, however, is the addition of slowed down, R&B-laced jams like ‘All Da Time’, ‘Do My Thang’ and the steel-drummed ‘She Just Wanna Ride’; the pair get even moodier on closers ‘Oh No’ and ‘What Could U Say’. If this is where bop is headed, sign us up.

FREDO SANTANA
WALKING LEGEND

As Chief Keef’s older cousin and co-founder of the Glory Boyz imprint Fredo Santana’s had plenty of opportunities to rise the top of the Chicago pile. Grittier and more aggressive than King Louie and more reliable than Keef, the only thing that’s holding him back is that his rapping is so incredibly unimpressive. It’s not that we can criticize a lack of lyricism – his peers aren’t exactly burning through the Oxford English Dictionary here – but there’s something about Fredo’s flow that almost immediately makes you forget who you’re listening to, or why you even bothered in the first place.

Walking Legend does a lot of things right – production from Metro Boomin, Young Chop, Zaytoven and Childish Major and collaborations with Lil Reese, Childish Major and Tory Lanez just for starters – but without a massive personality like Durk or Louie to guide proceedings it quickly becomes a tedious chore to trawl through the record. Despite the inclusion of big tunes like ‘That’s a No No’ and ‘My Wrist’, Walking Legend is, for the most part, avoidable.

BANDMAN KEVO
FAST LIFE

Chicago rapper Bandman Kevo has seen his profile rise over the past year thanks to team-ups with some of the city’s rising stars and a co-sign from OG Chicago speedster Twista. He’s been dropping tracks from Fast Life for months, and now we have the whole thing: 17 tracks that find the young rapper exploring rap from Chicago and beyond.

Depending on your perspective, Kevo is a chameleon or an imitator: he oscillates between sounding like Old Keef on battle-ready tracks like ‘Use 2 Be’ and ‘Cost A Lot’, New Keef on druggy, Auto-Tuned fare ‘I Don’t Need’ and ‘Rich Nigga’, and even Gucci with his lethargic, raspy tunes ‘Always Flex’ and ‘Wanted To’. Occasionally, he brings the disparate threads together, like on standout ‘Who Is Dat’, but often it feels like he’s still searching for a voice. For this, stick with the tracks with guests, especially the synth-splattered, Soulja Boy-featuring ‘All Foreign’ (even if it is a year old).

ISSA GOLD
CONVERSATIONS WITH A BUTTERFLY

Issa Gold, of worthy Brainfeeder-signed NY duo The Underachievers, drops down here for a rare solo outing, and if you’re familiar with his band there won’t be many surprises. It’s stubbornly throwback shit, as usual, guided by the kind of jangly, soulful samples that were the staple of the rap genre throughout the late 80s and early 90s. Sadly, while Issa’s a talented enough lyricist, it’s just hard to get excited about music which apes the past without bettering it. Why listen to Conversations With A Butterfly when you can dig up old classics from Showbiz & AG, Gang Starr, Common or, more recently Kanye West (who is undoubtedly an influence on young Gold). It’s inoffensive stuff, and that’s precisely the problem.

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