Welcome to FACT’s 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 few years.
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.
The rap world has been quiet for a couple weeks, but as always, we found some diamonds in the rough, thanks in large part to Boogie, who adds to the West Coast’s run of conceptual records.
Boogie’s Thirst 48 was one of the most impressive rap debuts we’ve heard in some time, immediately establishing him as a self-assured rapper that could sidestep the pitfalls of lyrical/conscious rap in style. He hasn’t changed his approach on The Reach, a water-tight tape that continues his exploration of the day-to-day struggle of young black men in America.
On The Reach, Boogie is still suspect of social media, still frustrated with the street-life struggle, still doing it all for his son, but his vision is clearer, his voice stronger. His wordplay will please some (“Marshawn Lynch me”) but his real strength is storytelling: “No disrespect to the mother who had my son / if I diss her I be phony / she a great mom / but how it feel to know she fucking on that n*gga that used to say he your homie? Fuck,” he raps on ‘Intervention’, avoiding cliché and admitting his vulnerability. On the same song, he raps: “Waking up my kid, he see a puddle by the bed / and he asked me was it rain / I have to tell him it was tears.” Damn.
The devil is definitely in the details, whether he’s telling tales of getting evicted and sneaking back in because he had nowhere else to sleep or contemplating dying in a gang shooting; news reports about the murder of a 6-year-old in a gang-related shooting bring gravity to the spacious ‘Further’. But what really takes The Reach to the next level is the production: newcomer Keyel gives the entire tape it’s soulful sheen, sampling everything from Route 94 to Jill Scott, and Jahlil Beats whips up an epic on ‘Oh My’, a song on which Boogie says “you heard about my pain before you heard about my glory.” Here’s hoping he can continue to turn the former into the latter.
Where would Southern rap be without Memphis? All too often marginalized in a world where Atlanta stands dominant, the BBQ capital offered us Three 6 Mafia, 8Ball & MJG and Project Pat, while neighboring Nashville’s Starlito, Young Buck and G-Side held up the notorious honky tonk hotspot. Don Trip is one of Memphis’ best kept secrets, and with his latest full-length Godspeed he manages to offer a diverse next chapter in his city and state’s rich musical history. A second-rate Triple Six rehash it ain’t; as anyone who’s spent time with Trip’s Step Brothers albums, which found him going head-to-head with FACT fave Starlito, he’s lyrically dextrous enough to hold his own, and isn’t afraid to head into emotional depths other rappers would shy away from.
Godspeed is brutally honest, an open wound of an album that doesn’t shy from the gory details. Trip paints a flawed portrait of himself – unable to hold down relationships, unreliable and doomed to repeat his mistakes. He’s a million miles from gold-draped avatars of rap’s ‘00s glory days, and his sincerity is his greatest weapon. The album reaches a low-key head with ‘Medicine’, in which Trip recounts a story of his own inadequacies over a smart, tear-jerking sample of Daughter’s emotional ‘Love’. It’s poignant and telling that the record’s centerpiece is near beatless for the first minute, allowing Trip’s deceptively smart lyricism to tower above the shuffling rhythm and gorgeous, echoing wails.
The album is not without its flaws – it’s overlong, for a start – but Godspeed is an excellent example of just how diverse – and even fragile – Southern rap can be in 2015.
DLow is best know for his eponymous shuffle, the dance that helped turn bop into a musical sensation in Chicago and beyond. But on Unexpected Statement, the Bop King wants to be known for more than just a dance craze. “I’m here to clear the air — I’m an artist,” he says on the tape’s intro. “Dancing is what made me, but now it’s time for y’all to see the other half of me.”
To that end, Unexpected Statement shows off Dlow’s rap abilities on songs that sound more like other Chicago rap tapes. Still, he knows to dance with the one that brought you (no pun intended), delivering bop bangers like ‘Turn My Music Up’ and the Gaga-nodding ‘Just Dance’, and putting a spin on the formula on tracks like ‘The Feeling’ and ‘No Letting Go’. He slows it down on the steel drum-punctuated ‘Friends’, and then all the way up on ‘Party Time’, a track that’s equal parts bop, dance-pop and Andrew WK. Dlow might feel limited by bop, but it’s a young sound that could use someone willing to push it forward — he should embrace it and leave the street shit to others (e.g. Lil Reese, later in this round-up).
Miami’s Cashy re-teams with producer-to-watch Purpdogg for Holographic Art, the follow-up to last year’s criminally slept-on collab EP Platinum Plus. The EP is only five tracks long, but it’s a welcome development when we’re usually inundated with 20-track bore-fests.
Cashy has a laidback approach but an insistent voice, especially when he’s dropping punchlines like “got a bad bitch look like Topanga.” His flow is versatile, too, sounding comfortable whether Purpdogg tosses him Cash Money (‘Soulja Rag P. 2’) or cloud rap (‘Virtual Void’). Closer ‘Dejavu’ will give you deja vu to the Purpdogg-produced ‘We Made It’: Purp does equal parts syrup and brassy shimmer as Cashy does his thing, nonchalantly as ever.
Cliff of Death II
North Carolina’s Deniro Farrar has been remarkably quiet recently. After 2013’s excellent The Patriarch and its hastily released sequel, Farrar inked a deal with Vice and Warner Bros; while this was quickly followed by an EP (Rebirth), we’ve heard almost nothing since. From the sound of Cliff of Death II, he’s been busy: the mini-album contains some of his best material, again teaming the rapper with Bay Area production team Blue Sky Black Death’s Young God.
Young God’s dense, ominous production is the perfect fit for Farrar’s diesel-scarred voice, cushioning the rasping raps in wobbly electronics and dusty slaps. Highlight ‘Wind Blow’ is anchored by a cinematic, woozy throb and minor-key piano, but it’s Farrar who shines, sounding thirsty, pointed and sincere as he utters battle-weary half-boasts and words of wisdom. The opening vocal snippet from The Wire’s Slim Charles couldn’t be more apt.
Cliff of Death II is a short tape, and the Gucci Mane-featuring ‘Keys’ has been around the block already, but it seems as if Farrar has learned how to trim the fat. These seven tracks are well paced and smartly sequenced – if you want more you can always hit play again.
Still best known for his career-making turn on Chief Keef’s iconic ‘I Don’t Like’, Lil Reese is back with Supa Savage 2, the followup to 2013’s lackluster, yet popular, Supa Savage. Considering Reese is signed to Def Jam (like fellow Chicago driller Lil Durk) you’d be forgiven for forgetting about him in the gap between tapes – either he’s been working hard on his major label debut, or Supa Savage 2 is the result of a couple years’ grind.
Hopefully it’s not the latter: While the tape’s enjoyable enough – ‘Myself’, ‘Baby’ and ‘Ride’ are particularly good – it’s almost-predictably overlong and, to be honest, doesn’t offer much that Reese’s peers haven’t already done far more compellingly. This is cookie-cutter drill, and even though Reese is undoubtedly one of the scene’s originators, the lack of ideas or even conviction makes Supa Savage 2 a tough sell.