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Big K.R.I.T., Awful Records and hyphy throwbacks: the mixtape round-up

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.

Change is afoot – the weekly mixes column will now be coming to you every Friday, with the mixtapes column being compiled into a biweekly list dropping every other Thursday.

In our first look at rap tapes since going biweekly, we’ve got a wide-range of Southern rap from Big K.R.I.T., Yung Gleesh and the Awful Records crew, along with a very-hyphy trip down memory lane.

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Mixtape of the week:
ETHEREAL
CACTUS JACK

The crew at Atlanta’s Awful Records have catapulted themselves into the rap conversation thanks to a seemingly endless stream of new music (they’ve put out enough mixtapes and EPs in the last two weeks to fill the round-up by themselves), catchy singles like Father’s ‘Look At Wrist’ and their association with OVO-signed man-of-the-moment Makonnen.

Rapper/producer Ethereal has been at it for a few years now, but his Mick Foley-inspired Cactus Jack is as good a place to start with his or the Awful catalog as any. It’s just as weird and vital as anything his peers have put out, all queasy loops and hypnotic lyrics, with a drugged-out slant that sidesteps hypnagogia.

The brilliantly-titled ‘Drop (That Ass On The Ground Like Some Change)’ enlists Rome Fortune and Relly Jade for an after-hours stripper anthem that nods to rap classics like ‘Drop It Like It’s Hot’ and ‘Shake It Fast’. The sinister beat on ‘Cactus Jack’ will stop you in your tracks, and closer ‘Cash’ reminds us of everything we loved about neo-soul with none of the cheese.

BIG K.R.I.T.
SEE ME ON TOP 4

Mississippi rapper Big K.R.I.T. has long been expected to break free of his Southern rap confines and hit the mainstream. Sadly we’re not there yet, and while he’s still signed to Def Jam, each year that passes seems to take him further from relevance. This isn’t to say he’s not still got the touch – his self-styled country flow is as addictive and confident as it ever was – but here we also get treated to a brace of pointless remixes and freestyles, such as an iffy rework of Alt-J’s ‘Every Other Freckle’ and a take on Rick Ross’s ‘Supreme’.

K.R.I.T. is far more urgent when he’s doing things his own way, rapping over wobbly Rhodes piano on ‘Smoke and Mirrors’ or a vintage funk bassline on ‘Shook Up’. Overall See Me On Top 4 is a patchy proposal, and at 22 tracks it’s about 12 too long, but use the delete function liberally and you’ve got yourself yet another decent mixtape from Mississippi’s finest.

YUNG GLEESH
CLEANSIDES FINEST 3

After doing his best to snatch other rappers’ fan-bases with his style-hopping Your Favorite Rapper’s Favorite Rapper mixtape, Yung Gleesh returns with the latest instalment in his Cleansides Finest series and does what he does best: ATL-via-DC street rap, heavy on menace and light on nuance.

Armed with 18 woozy trap beats by the likes of Atlanta risers Dolan Beats and TrapMoneyBenny, Gleesh lays out tales of drugs, crews, the rap game and street life with a nearly-based spaciness that evaporates when it’s time for the chorus. Gleesh doesn’t have hooks — he has titles that bludgeon listeners into submission.

It’s not all thrown-bows, though: the AutoTune blasted ‘Turned Out’, the melancholy, apologetic ‘Sorry’ and the Eastern-tinged ‘Wasabi’ keep things from getting stale. In DC’s rap renaissance, Gleesh is doing his part to keep it in line with Atlanta’s weirder impulses.

KEY!
#808KEYS

A founding member of Atlanta’s influential Two-9 collective (made up of Retro Su$h!, Curtis Williams and more), Key! has been slowly rising to prominence in the last couple of years, showcasing Atlanta’s experimental arm with unprecedented confidence. You might have noticed him stealing bars on recent drops by Father (‘Look at Wrist’) and iLoveMakonnen (‘Doubted’) and these names should certainly put you on the right track.

#808Keys is the brief follow-up to the similarly fast-paced No One Is Ready 2 from spring, and capitalizes on his recent successes with five tracks of relatively sober experimentation. All produced by Chris Fresh and bizarrely lacking in guest spots from any of the usual Atlanta set, it seems as if Key! is using this opportunity to simply show that he can go it alone, and while #808Keys isn’t the most varied record he’s capable of, it’s another great reason to pay attention.

PERCY KEITH
CRAZY ON THA OUTSIDE

Baton Rouge rapper Percy Keith is a frequent collaborator of Kevin Gates (he’s also a member of Gates’ Bread Winners Association), and that should give you some idea of what to expect on Crazy On Tha Outside: heart-on-sleeve street memoirs with a widescreen scope and plenty of blood, sweat and tears.

Keith’s delivery, drawl and intensity (“kill ’em all and watch ’em bleed until the blood gone”) are occasionally reminiscent of his patron and will probably cause a few double-takes, but when Gates shows up on the excellent ‘Lose Control’ and ‘Highway’, we’re reminded that he remains a singular talent in rap. Still, imitation and flattery and all that… we’ll take meticulously-produced Louisiana street rap in the style of one of our favorite rappers any day.

VARIOUS ARTISTS
NOW THAT’S WHAT I CALL HYPHY

Before ratchet or jerkin, the West Coast was dominated by hyphy, the Bay Area-born, drug-addled (they were doing molly before it was cool) strand of party rap popularized by Keak da Sneak, E-40 and the late-great Mac Dre. While it never had a true mainstream breakthrough, but it has a remained influential on everyone from DJ Mustard to Lil B to the HBK Gang.

On Now That’s What I Call Hyphy, DJ Dirtee Dave has collected more than 30 hyphy throwbacks from the aforementioned scene leaders and under-appreciated veterans Mistah F.A.B., Turf Talk, The Federation and Dubee. Whether you’re coming to these tracks for the first or fiftieth time, the trunk-rattling beats, blown out basslines and hyperactive lyricism will prove to be a treat.

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