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.
It’s a big one this week with Memphis legends Juicy J and Gangsta Boo, Young Thug’s delayed Slime Season, Rick Ross’s return-to-form Black Dollar and more.
There are few rappers as headline-grabbing and as polarizing right now as Atlanta’s Young Thug. The rubber-voiced emcee has proven his versatility and endurance over the last 12 months, showing he’s not only able to confidently carry a major-label debut (something that still eludes plenty of great rappers) but he’s just as confident crooning love songs, as evidenced on last year’s phenomenal Tha Tour: Pt. 1. Still, it hasn’t abated the deafening chatter of butthurt backpackers, lamenting the loss of their beloved golden age and failing to recognize Thug’s deceptively smart genre-bending charm.
The long-delayed Slime Season emerges at a pivotal time for the rapper as he approaches the mainstream riding a tidal wave of hype, controversy and acclaim. The fact that it kicks off with last October’s Lil Wayne collaboration ‘Take Kare’ is a cheeky reminder of this – Thug’s sound has long owed a debt to Wayne (which he’s acknowledged on numerous occasions), but the two were divided as Birdman’s Cash Money empire showed signs of imploding in Spring. Positioned as the opener, it’s almost as if Thug’s urging us to get over it, while reminding that he’s unfazed. He certainly shows no signs of letting up throughout the rest of the tape, which is remarkably light on feature spots; Quavo, Offset and PeeWee Longway appear on ‘Quarterback’ and Young Ralph on ‘Rarri’ but after that it’s Thug’s stage, and he makes the most of it.
He handles the time well, recapturing the lightning-in-a-bottle unpredictability of 1017 Thug while retaining the slickness of Barter 6. This isn’t a sloppy collection of loosies a la the 1017 Thug sequels, it’s a weighty 18-track street album with very little filler. Supposedly moments before the release of his next album proper Hy!£UN35, he has to be applauded for being able to hand out such a belter of a record for free.
Candy, Diamonds & Pills
To deny Three 6 Mafia’s influence on contemporary rap is to deny history. The oft-maligned Memphis group helped popularize Southern rap at a time when eyes were focused on the two warring coasts, and their legacy is the backbone of popular rap in 2015. Juicy J, however, is the only member who’s managed to convincingly define his solo career away from the group. While he nurtured a mainstream pop career and an affiliation with Wiz Khalifa, DJ Paul stitched together another iteration of the group (Da Mafia 6ix), Lord Infamous sadly passed away, and Gangsta Boo developed a fruitful relationship with Houston club god Beat King.
Candy, Diamonds & Pills follows up 2013’s patchy It’s Game Involved and betters it in every way. Snatching its title from alt rock band Dramarama’s ‘Anything [Anything]’, it sounds like an attempt to make a defined solo statement, solidifying a personality that’s far more than an affiliation. The Triple 6 core sound is still present throughout, from ‘1999’s “yeah ho” to ‘Meet the Devil’s acknowledgement of her pioneer status, but at the same time Boo manages to sound remarkably contemporary. A suite of productions from Beat King helps matters; he’s moved on from the excitable reverence of Underground Cassette Tape Music and has settled into his well-worn strip club sound on the excellent ‘War’ and ‘Can I Get Paid’, positioning Gangsta Boo as a strong female counterpart to his cartoonish, bellowing caricature.
A strong, economic (it’s a tight 10 tracks) reminder of one of rap’s most important female figures, Candy, Diamonds & Pills isn’t just fan service for Triple 6 junkies looking for a fix. It’s a solid statement from an artist who deserves far more attention.
It would be appropriate to call Rick Ross a survivor. He’s massively popular, of course, but just as you think his star is flickering, he somehow always manages to remind us that he’s still got that special something that’s seen him chuckle in the face of criticism and shake off accusations of inauthenticity for years. After Deeper Than Rap, he was rapidly becoming an industry joke before silencing naysayers with the ubiquitous ‘B.M.F.’ and the excellent full-length Teflon Don; after the forgettable Mastermind and the even worse Hood Billionaire it seemed like he was falling into a role as an occasionally serviceable elder statesman, doomed to haunt studios spitting geriatric bars on major label remixes and MMG guest spots for the rest of his career while repping Wing Stop at every available moment.
It’s surprising then that Black Dollar is such a return to form. Why does a free album, released on Datpiff, manage to outshine his last couple of years of major label drops? It’s almost as if he’s taunting us, showing naysayers that he’s not to be trifled with by offering up such unimpeachable material almost by accident. And that’s the album’s biggest surprise: that by sticking to a tried-and-tested formula (the selection of beats here don’t offer anything new, by any means) he retains the ability to charm almost without trying. He makes it sound easy, like zipping through Super Mario World with an Action Replay, and wasn’t that always his appeal?
It’s been four years since Blue Dream and Lean, Juicy J’s last truly solid mixtape. In that time he’s gone from being a cult sensation to near-pop star; a member of Wiz Khalifa’s popular Taylor Gang, rubbing shoulders with everyone from Katy Perry to Usher. His tenure with Memphis originators Three 6 Mafia seems like a distant memory, especially given that he failed to form like Voltron for DJ Paul’s Da Mafia 6ix. Sadly, his mainstream acceptance has been to the detriment of his quality. Major label joint Stay Trippy took the screeching mania of Rubba Band Business and tamed it for the mass market, exorcising its ramshackle appeal in the process. Since then he’s been hobbled: still swaggering, but with the wind snatched from his sails.
Thankfully, 100% Juice reminds fondly of 2010 Juicy, before Trippy Stix and before ‘Dark Horse’. It sounds like crap, it’s packed with unnecessary skits, intros and outros and that’s exactly what you want from a Juicy J tape. His exaggerated persona flourishes here on tracks like ‘Beans and Lean’, ‘Tap Back’ and ‘Shut Da Fuc Up’. Even 808 Mafia founder (and Rubba Band Business producer) Lex Luger shows up for an assist. 100% Juice isn’t new and it isn’t clever: it does exactly what it says on the tin.
808s & Love Make 2
Bay Area rapper AkaFrank’s been on our radar for some time, and 808s & Love Make 2 might be his most successful statement to date, building on the early promise of weirdo hit ‘Racist (My Dick Ain’t)’ and standing a few steps away from the mainstream. A selection of Mustard-esque ratchet bangers this ain’t – rather Frank pulls us into the “chill zone”, following a Bay tradition but not feeling tied to a specific sound detrimentally.
We’re treated to a sequence of slithering, pained ballads and low-key bangers, from the Kanye-esque ‘Getaway’ to the chiming highlight ‘Stay High’ and ‘Situationship’, which in a perfect world would be a radio hit. Frank manages to join the dots between sounds without being too obvious about it, imbuing the record with an unmistakably Bay Area low-end, reaching out to the past with the Isley Brothers-sampling ‘Need Your Body’ and nodding to ratchet without retreading on ‘Myself’. Diverse and solid from beginning to end this one gets better with repeat plays.
Rich Homie Quan
DTSpacely Made This
Let’s be real for a second: Rich Homie Quan is nowhere near his best on DTSpacely Made This. The shock-released 10-tracker sounds like crap, but you almost expect that; where Quan fails here is that he’s up against Young Thug’s Slime Season which sounds slicker, weirder and endlessly more listenable. That’s not to say there aren’t highlights – ‘Chardonnay’ is an early winner, only slightly hobbled by the fact that DJ Fresh’s drop seems to be twice as loud as the track itself. Elsewhere ‘F’d Up Da Game’ reminds of Rich Gang’s excellent Da Tour: Pt.1, and Offset-featuring banger ‘Basement’ is worth the download alone. A mastered NoDJ version would help, though.