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.
For now, the Rap Round-up drops 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.
This week, it feels like — with enough time — we could have made this 10 pages long. Apologies to Chedda da Connect, Jeezy and even Kevin Gates, but Boosie’s first album in years and masterful efforts from Starlito, Ka and others earned the spotlight.
Touch Down 2 Cause Hell
After nearly five years in prison, two mixtapes and one aborted live show, Boosie is back. Touch Down 2 Cause Hell, his first album since 2010’s true-to-its-title Incarcerated, sounds very much like a first album after a long stretch away, as Boosie adjusts his eyes to sunlight and tries to shake off the stench of prison.
He wastes no time in catching us up: on ‘Window Of My Eyes’, Boosie is bitter and damaged, his heart heavy with pain and hatred. His details about jail hit like a finger to the chest: images of kissing your kids through the glass, or the rifle-toting Angola guards that loom as “letters get shorter, face[s] get greyer.” Even the production is world-weary, mimicking the sounds of lyrics about co-defendants flipping, sped-up heartbeats and slow motion thoughts.
Boosie is at his best when he’s telling those stories, like when he begs for forgiveness on the soulful ‘Mercy On My Soul’, and he’s at ease with his old running mates and producers. ‘On That Level’ is Freedia-nodding Louisiana bounce, and Webbie’s “I’m drinking, I’m driving, I’m celebrating living” is one of the album’s few moments of joy. Mouse on da Trak still has it on songs like ‘No Juice’ and ‘Like A Man’, the latter blessed with scintillating synths, melancholy melodies and a spot-on Rich Homie Quan feature.
Aside from the Quan feature, though, Boosie’s attempts at catching up to new tastes don’t quite work. On ‘Retaliation’ and ‘On Deck’, he sounds uncomfortable over beats by London on da Trak and HBK’s P-Lo, and his tales of rap beef and revenge seem dated. Even more dated is the lazy misogyny of ‘How She Got Her Name’, where he uses his storytelling gifts to tear down thin stereotypes of gold diggers and loose cannons and “quick fucks.”
His discomfort with Hip-Hop Today is apparent throughout the album, his grumbling more authentic than that of other rap veterans. “Old weird ass rappers, weird ass teens, skinny ass pants, pussy ass jeans,” is not a new complaint, but Boosie’s prison time gives it gravity. (I guess no one has clued him in about Rick Ross, the type of rap faker he bemoans on ‘Hip Hop Hooray’, who also features on ‘Drop Top Music’). Even his tribute to black legends (‘Black Heaven’) is punctuated by the question “what happened to this hip hop?”
One contemporary topic that Boosie does seem well-suited to address is the current American moment, as he takes on cops and the justice system on ‘Hands Up’. But otherwise, Boosie is like Cutty on The Wire: a skilled street soldier who finds the game very much changed when he returns home, and must find a new way forward. Perhaps that will be as the rap-game ‘Mr. Miyagi’, “[explaining] in detail why you boys don’t know my struggle” and hoping the next generation learns from his mistakes.
While everyone else is Googling synonyms for “boring” while listening to At. Long. Last. A$AP do yourself a favor and grab yet another stone-cold winner from Nashville vet Starlito. Prolific, but always essential, Starlito fuses the slithering trap of his recent slew of tapes with the polished sheen of last year’s Black Sheep Don’t Grin LP and emerges with his best release in some time.
We already know the All $tar Cashville Prince can rap, and here he sounds calm and confident, throwing his cynical, deeply personal rhymes over an incredibly carefully procured set of tracks. The South’s usual suspects are nowhere to be seen, instead ‘Lito opts for unusual (yet still crushingly powerful) beats from slew of different producers. This means that Greedy Money’s cheeky Route 94-sampling ‘My Love’ sits assuredly next to Colleagues’ post-Drake ‘TLC’ and Bandplay’s 80s funk inspired ‘Used to Be’.
Such variety is a gamble for most rappers and all too often leads to a haphazard collection of disjointed loosies, and it’s to Starlito’s credit that he’s able to tie everything together with such finesse. The clue is in the title: Introversion is a swirling personal journey through the mind of one of the US’s most perpetually underrated rappers, and shouldn’t be ignored.
Dr. Yen Lo
Days With Dr. Yen Lo
Honestly, we were unsure whether to round up Ka’s latest full-length in the rap column or not. The Brownsville vet has long stood a few paces from the rap status quo, and that’s never been more pronounced than on Days with Dr. Yen Lo, a concept album (of sorts) based on cult ‘60s spy movie The Manchurian Candidate. Here Ka’s lyrical excellence is positioned center stage, surrounded by a crackling backdrop of hoarse analog synths bleats and croaking movie samples. The traditional crack of rap’s golden age is reduced to a faint thud as the expected kick-kick-snare is drowned in the mix, giving life to warbling textures, drones and rolling basses. Days with Dr. Yen Lo isn’t a beatless record, but it may as well be.
As seamless as Preservation’s masterful production is, Ka is undoubtedly the center of attention. His words reduce the surrounding soundscapes to dust, booming with the assured prowess that only a veteran can bring. He’s battle-scarred at this point, troubled by memories of a Brooklyn that’s disappearing quicker than the old-timers ever thought was possible. Thankfully he’s lost none of the thirst – Days with Dr Yen Lo pits Ka as hip-hop’s answer to Scott Walker: Singular, deeply original and difficult to fault. It’s a beautiful anomaly, hard to describe and even harder to properly digest; it’s also one of the year’s best full-lengths.
Last year’s Tony was a low-key highlight, boasting the kind of menacing fuzz King Louie gifted to Kanye West on Yeezus and punctuating it with humor and effortless charm. Now he’s back on a Drilluminati tip, offering up the series’ most varied episode yet. Here’s a tape that can flip from overdriven drill (‘Johnny Tapia’, ‘Throw Yo Sets Up’, ‘Oh Whateva’) to hook-laden pop (‘Live it Up’) and take a brief pit stop to indulge in a spot of acoustic folk (‘My World’). You read that right, by the way.
Drilluminati 3 is also the series’ most uneven offering, almost by design. Its scope is admirable, but for every huge, memorable moment there’s another that’s perfectly forgettable. We’re not sure when (if ever?) Louie’s long-overdue debut album proper is going to make its way into the world, but we’re hoping he’s saving his best moments for then. For now, Drilluminati 3 will have to do.
L.A. rapper RJ returns with another album that should please fans of his Pushaz Ink family (YG, DJ Mustard and Ty Dolla $ign), continuing the ride of Rich Off Mackin with On My Momma I’m On 2. Mustard has his hands all over the tape, giving you an idea of what to expect: burping basslines, earworming piano riffs, sing-along hooks and West Coast rap about the streets and the bedroom.
Songs like ‘Your Money’ (featuring Ty), ‘Hoes Come Easy’ and ‘Get Rich’ (originally a Snoop-sampling highlight from Rich Off Mackin) rise to the top, even if the DJ Mustard template gets tiring on a 20+ track mixtape. Thankfully, O.M.M.I.O 2 has its fair share of stylistic switch-ups: ‘If It Ain’t Ace’ is a G-funk BBQ anthem; ‘No Talking’ is moody yet still club-ready; ‘Do Yo Body’ is a heartfelt sex jam.
RJ capably handles his hooks, and on songs like ‘Really Out Here Too’ (“Everybody gotta eat, we don’t get too many choices / felonies we forced with / trapping out apartments / gotta pay the mortgage”) he proves he has something to say, too.
The Slaughter Tape
21 Savage is the latest rough-voiced Atlanta trap rapper you need to know, and his The Slaughter Tape makes up for originality with intensity. The order of the day is grim trap tracks straight from a place where “stray bullets [hit] kids while they’re playing hopscotch.”
In that mode, 21 is at his best accompanied by Key and Makonnen (‘Slaughter Ya Daughter’) and partner-in-crime ManMan Savage (‘Million Dollar Liq’). He also flashes a talent for AutoTune and Actavis-drenched tracks like ‘Drankin and Driving’ and ‘Seeing Double’, and even tries out synth-washed exuberance on ‘Heart So Cold’.
Production is mostly handled by ungooglable producer Fukk 12, with Zaytoven, Metro Boomin, TM88 and others contributing, but it could have used a mix-and-master: ‘Picky’ and the Boomin-TM88 produced ‘Drip’ deserve better.