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.
Travis Scott will release his highly-anticipated Rodeo tomorrow and — while we’ve been intrigued in the past — we’re not impressed. But fear not: there’s a stellar tape from a similarly-named act (Travis Porter), along with new ones from SD, Two-9 and more.
Kanye West. Future. Young Thug. Chief Keef. The Weeknd. These aren’t just featured guests on Rodeo — they’re some of the artists that Travis Scott rips off on his debut album. While his biting has been a defining feature of his suspiciously meteoric rise, there was hope that Scott would finally turn his influences into more than pastiche on the album. Unfortunately, that isn’t the case.
Like his previous work, Rodeo often resembles a Kanye sound-alike record, from its 808s and Heartbreak and My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy melodies to its Yeezus production tricks; there are countless imitations of Kanye’s style and flow throughout. But his thievery is not limited to his mentor: there are so many shameless (if pitch-perfect) rip-offs here — Future’s Auto-tuned croaks, Kid Cudi’s narration, A$AP Rocky’s Pimp C and blues-rap fascinations, Swae Lee’s weightless melodies — that you have to check the song credits and Rap Genius transcriptions to see if it’s Scott or his source on the record.
Thanks to Kanye’s watchful eye, and a cadre of his go-to producers, Rodeo often succeeds despite itself. The bloated, self-indulgent ‘3500’ has a good hook (even if rapping about North’s fur coat is just weird) and the self-parodic ‘Maria I’m Drunk’ works thanks to Young Thug and Justin Bieber’s heavy lifting. Paradoxically, the album’s worst song, ‘Piss On Your Grave’, actually features Kanye. Long-rumored to be a song on his next album featuring Sir Paul, it’s a sigh of relief that it is included here: at least it won’t be on Swish. Kudos to Kanye for figuring out how to profit off his scraps.
Hip-hop is a genre driven by sampling, borrowing, referencing, interpreting, and, yes, sometimes copying the work of others. But the goal is to build on your influences and make them your own. Scott may see himself as a rebel leading a revolution of lost souls, refusing to conform to authority, but he’s not: he’s a savvy kid who has benefitted from the right connections, someone who realized “pornography” rhymes with “monogamy” and thinks he’s a genius. If the Drake ghostwriting “scandal” proved anything, it’s that creating an image and personality — one understood by an audience and easily replicated by ghostwriters — is the hard part. After Rodeo, we still have no idea who Travis Scott is, other than a skilled plagiarist: Young La Fraud.
Atlanta trio Travis Porter continue their perfectly-timed resurgence, following April’s excellent 3 Live Krew with S.A.Q. (named after members Strap, Ali and Quez). The mixtape is a lean-and-mean 11 tracks, and best of all, it’s produced by Atlanta multi-hyphenate Mr. 2-17, a favorite of our friends at Southern Hospitality.
Rather than the Miami bass-meets-strip club balladry of 3 Live Krew, S.A.Q. sets its sights on a revival of snap music, the millennial sound derided by Real Hip-Hop Heads but influential to a generation of Atlanta rappers. Mr. 2-17 lays down ringtone melodies, truck-rattling bass blasts and no-frills drum beats and the members of Travis Porter swag out, stay “strapped like huarache” and shout-out Uncle Luke.
There’s not a dull moment, but start with posse cut ‘Holy Moley’, Bankroll Fresh’s ‘Walked In’ and the bedroom boogie of ‘Things You Do’ and go from there. Make no mistake: this is the best release by a “Travis” this month.
Just the Beginning
2014’s Truly Blessed was one of that year’s best rap albums, and while its mixtape followup Life of a Savage 4 was disappointing and overlong, Just the Beginning does more than enough to ignite our interest once more. Like Truly Blessed, Just the Beginning pits SD as far more than your run-of-the-mill Chicago driller. He might have come up with a GBE association, but working with Atlanta’s Tarentino and Sonny Digital as well as Chicago’s Young Chop and Cashmoney AP, the tape casts a wide net, enhancing SD’s grizzled flow without tying him to a particular sound.
He’s a rapper who sounds equally at home crooning on the guitar-led ‘Burn One’ as he does spitting “I’m on the edge tripping” on the grim ‘Think On It’, and this variety is what positions him far away from his peers. Just the Beginning might prove to be exactly what it purports to be, a further introductory step for a rapper that’s got far, far more to offer.
Atlanta’s Two-9 collective continue to prove their mettle with this latest short offering, simply titled August (it was released in, you guessed it, August). Don’t let the fact that it’s a mere five tracks put you off either: Two-9 are low-key one of Atlanta’s most interesting crews, and while they sport a co-sign from Mike Will, they don’t share much in common with party kids Rae Sremmurd.
Rather, August is damaged and knowledgable, carving out a sound that’s both reverent and innovative. ‘Rolling’ owes as much to Outkast as it does Gucci, ’Out West’ (as the title suggests) takes Two-9 to the Bay and wouldn’t sound out of place on a HBK Gang tape, while ‘Guarantee’ would give Drake a run for his money. This cocktail of influences would be detrimental for some, but Two-9 retain a surprising coherence throughout, tying up the tracks with an Atlanta cynicism and a few crumpled dollar bills.
Atlanta rapper-producer Kosherbeets has been a fixture in the city’s underground hip-hop scene for over a decade, mostly as one half of Supreme Ink with Lazy Mane. His decidedly throwback style has made the ATLien a favorite of Awful Records, which released ¡kb!.
¡kb! finds Kosherbeets rapping his ass off over sample-laced beats, evoking memories of the Dungeon Family and the Soulquarians, with touches of everything from reggae (‘Round Em Up’) to G-funk (‘Westcoastin’). Completing the circle, there are a few Awful appearances (Lui Diamonds, Pyramid Quince and frequent collaborator Ethereal), and while Kosherbeets might not sound like them, they must appreciate his iconoclasm. As he raps on ‘Mobbin Widdit’: “They don’t even have a Starter Kit on what the kid do.”
There are two Kanye proteges on a solo shakedown this week, both attempting to mirror different points in Yeezy’s career. Where Travis Scott seems eager to ape the 808s & Heartbreak era, Hit-Boy is setting his sights on an early iteration, lavishing Zoomin’ with the kind of widescreen sounds you might have heard on Late Registration.
Hit-Boy’s rapping has always had more than a little Kanye to it, but it’s obvious more than ever here as he rhymes over beats that sound like they belong on Broadway. Lavish strings and musical tropes haunt opener ‘Zoom Zoom’ and aren’t unwanted – Hit-Boy seems more comfortable here than he did on the markedly more hard-edged All I’ve Ever Dreamed Of. These elements similarly buoy ‘Open Road’, the short EP’s best track and the only one lacking a feature spot. Whether Hit-Boy can build on Zoomin’ and emerge with a solo record that actually erases all memory of Kanye is unclear, but it’s an enjoyable distraction for now.