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Welcome to FACT’s new-and-improved Rap Round-up.

Originally conceived to shine a light on the wealth of free music that crops up daily on SoundCloud, Datpiff, Livemixtapes and beyond, FACT’s Mixtape Round-up has seen its share of tweaks and changes over the last two years.

In 2015, we’ll be presenting a Rap Round-up every other Thursday (the week’s best free mixes will be posted every Friday). Along with mixtapes, we’ll be featuring the albums (free and otherwise) that need to be a part of the rap conversation but might not be covered otherwise.

We’ve hit the motherlode this week, with solid efforts from buzzed-out youngins, grizzled veterans and everyone in between.

OG Maco
15

If you haven’t head OG Maco’s ‘U Guessed It’ at this point you probably don’t listen to a great deal of contemporary rap. Love it or hate it, the track was ubiquitous by the end of 2014, and Maco has emerged as one of Atlanta’s most intriguing figures. 15 is a surprise drop from the self-identified “meninist” (look it up, seriously) and follows his genre-flipping collaboration with fellow ATL boundary-pusher Rome Fortune. It’s fucking good too — Maco manages to inhabit a space somewhere in-between the hook-laden, slithering trap of his similarly-located peers and the wordy street-smart lyricism of Windy City spitters King Louie, Lil Herb and Lil Bibby.

15 is a surprisingly shadowy set, and moody low-key numbers like ‘Homies’ and ‘Championship’ highlight Maco’s ability to handle off-kilter flavors better than most. These aren’t tracks that balance on over-compressed beats and screeching acidic synthesizers, they’re woozy Xan-addled internalized cuts that accent the self-reflection that’s happening in rap right now. We’re not complaining one bit, even if at ten tracks and 36 minutes long, it’s a bit odd calling 15 an EP. Let’s just call it a well-edited full-length, you know, how they should be.

Chief Keef
Sorry 4 The Weight

Late on Sorry 4 The Weight, Chief Keef evokes Jay-Z circa ‘On To The Next One’: “Everybody want that old Sosa, it’s not gonna happen… You talkin’ about shit when I was 16-years-old,” he says. He catches himself before saying that he’s 20-years-old (he’s still just 19) and then makes a bolder claim: “I’m 6,000.” It’s an odd boast, but not an unreasonable one from an artist who has spent the last couple years quietly blowing up the sound for which he was known, maneuvering past his peers with his eyes fixed on the (apparently, very distant) future.

Sorry 4 The Weight is the latest — and possibly most complete — look at Chief Keef 2.0. Armed with beats by Glo Gang Productions (a crew that includes DP Beats, 12 Million, Hurtboy and possibly Keef himself) and Young Chop’s Chopsquadd, Keef continues to explore new sonics, fusing his hypnotic flows with instrumentals that are sparse one moment and claustrophobic the next. On ‘Send It Up’, he overdubs his voice like a one man Rich Gang; elsewhere, there are trance synths (‘Vet Lungs’), a melody that wouldn’t be out of place at Boxed (‘5AM’) and speaker-melting bass (‘Guess What Boy’).

The mixtape is also dotted with Keef interview clips that provide primary source information from an artist who is often viewed through a prism of tweets, Instagrams and police reports. At one point, he admits, “I ain’t go to school / I ain’t know the rules”; watching Keef’s unruly, on-the-spot education is half the fun.

Bloody Jay
Blatlanta 3

We often lament the tendency for mixtapes to be overlong, and Bloody Jay’s Blatlanta 3 is no different. A quick sampling of the first few tracks would probably leave this one at the bottom of the stack, and it’s a real shame: there’s an excellent EP hidden in this 18-track offering, a proper follow-up to last year’s solo #NAWFR and co-headlining smash Black Portland.

Blatlanta 3 picks up speed halfway though, when Jay links up with Alley Boy and 1017 backbencher OG Boo Dirty for ‘Riding Round’, a song about mourning fallen friends while plotting revenge. “A year later, niggas still cry theyselves to sleep / lost two niggas in two weeks, nigga, fuck me!” howls Boo Dirty; Jay’s pain is just as real: “Teardrop after teardrop, and I ain’t talking tattoos / but this shit hurt, just like tattoos.”

The rest of the tape continues this heart-heavy storytelling: Jay says fuck the world with ‘Middle Finger Fuck It’, opens the throttle on the full-throated ‘Aint Right’ and ‘Fuck On Ya’. But it’s not all street-crime aggrandizement: ‘Make It Out’ is a half-sung ode to escaping the life and a hopeful note to end on.

Juicy J
Blue Dream & Lean 2

Juicy J is a rarity in that he’s managed two distinct moments in the spotlight – firstly as a founder member of Memphis rap originals Three 6 Mafia (a group whose mammoth influence can still be felt) and secondly as a solo artist. His slew of solo mixtapes -anchored by Lex Luger’s genre-defining beats – not only re-launched his career but also helped popularize a sound that ended up infecting the very top of the Billboard charts. It’s no accident that Juicy J’s been spotted throwing down verses on Katy Perry hits – he’s a genuine pop concern at this stage.

Or at least, he was. In 2015 his star is beginning to dim – if you want a Triple Six you’re probably better off with Gangsta Boo and Beatking’s phenomenal Underground Cassette Tape Music, and if you want bare trap bangers you can swing a fat chain and hit a dozen worthy records. The fact that Blue Dream & Lean 2 begins with a threequel to the immensely popular ‘Stoner’s Night’ only adds to the feeling that it’s an inessential addition to the Juicy cannon. It’s not that it isn’t good – in fact the Blade Runner influenced treatment is rather great – but it’s hardly breaking any new ground, or even providing a good alternative to anything we haven’t already got.

There are highlights – the Mike Will-produced ‘I’m Sicka’ is a grubby delight and Juicy sounds as thirsty and hilarious as ever and elsewhere ‘Deep Down South’ reminds fondly of early Three 6 without dipping into self parody. Overall Blue Dream & Lean 2 is a tape that’s not without its moments, but there’s a feeling that Juicy J has had his, at least for now.

ICYTWAT
Dior Junts

A 17-year-old Chicago producer with the best moniker we’ve seen in a while, ICYTWAT collects a dozen of his own productions on Dior Junts, with features from a handful of talents from across the US (and Tumblr) underground. ICYTWAT’s beats takes the best elements of nostalgic boom bap, 808-heavy Atlanta trap, cloud rap ambience and uber-current samples (like a key line from Nicki’s ‘Boss Ass Bitch’ remix).

There’s enough sonic variance that things don’t get stale: ‘A Beautiful Death’ is built around what sounds like a screwed-down sample of OutKast’s ‘Prototype’, while ‘Raceway’ is pure Raider Klan material. Standout ‘Samsung Shorty’ features Thraxxhouse’s Yung Bruh, and for a taste of the producer’s lethargic flow (as Lil Fendi), check out ‘Lil Shorty’ and ‘New Beginning’. While producer-focused collections are often track dumps, pitch-perfect instrumentals and interludes help keep the mood on Dior Junts.

Gucci Mane
Brick Factory 3

As most of you are probably aware, ATL rap legend Gucci Mane is currently incarcerated, so while Gucci mixtapes have been coming thick and fast, his team have simply got to be running out of vocal takes to snatch for “new” material at this point. Brick Factory 3 is the beleaguered rapper’s best release for ages, but that’s no thanks to Gucci himself. He’s barely present throughout – the tape is more of a platform for “guests” Young Thug, Peewee Longway, MPA Wicced and MPA Duke to show why they’re dominating the Atlanta scene right now. There’s even a couple of appearances from Lil B, but that collaboration is somewhat deceptive. The Lil B featured here is NOT our beloved Based God, it’s some Atlanta chancer who’s seemingly unable to use Google, Instagram, Twitter or life.

Sadly none of spots help the fact that Gucci’s contributions barely make up a whisper – stand-out cut ‘Heart Attack’ could have been cut from any one of Thug’s recent tapes, Longway banger ‘Lost My Plug’ wouldn’t have been out of place on last year’s exemplary The Blue M&M and Wicced’s suite of contributions remind fondly of last week’s excellent In the Mean Time. It’s everyone’s chance to shine except Gucci’s, but there’s not a lot we can do about that.

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