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.
We delayed this column for a week, and it was worth a wait: Young Thug and Ethereal returned with sequels, BeatKing and Amber London provided two types of Houston rap, and more.
Slime Season 2
Young Thug is too much. 2015 has seen the release of a semi-album, hard drives full of leaks, and — in the last six weeks alone — two volumes of Slime Season mixtapes. It’s almost too difficult to take in, make sense of and form a picture of Young Thug’s artistry. It’s sensory overload. But it’s starting to look like that’s the point.
At 19 tracks (plus three bonus tracks, because why not?), Slime Season 2 hits notes both familiar (‘Don’t Know’ is like a sawtoothed ‘Lifestyle’) and new (listen to him pronounce “flaws” on the track of the same name), with beats as weird as ever (‘Beast’, ‘Oh Lord’).
Frequent collaborators LondonOnDaTrack and Wheezy provide the type of moody melodies that suit Thugger so well, and newcomer GooseWithAnotherOne provides a few scene-stealers that find the rapper at his purest, contradictions and all. The tranced-out ‘Phoenix’ counters “come on her face, drink all her face” with “Hakuna Matata,” and the poppy ‘Go Crazy’ keeps its truths easily digestible: “I’ve been geeked out of my mind since I was like 14 years old.”
One of the tape’s finest moments is the previously-released (leaked?) ‘Never Made Love’, a ballad that reminds us how perfect his pairing with Rich Homie Quan is/was. And while the first volume might have the edge, this one has the most interesting track of recent vintage: Thug pours out his heart on ‘Raw (Might Be)’, a Treasure Fingers production that proves he can do anything — and everything.
I Think I’m On Fire 2
Awful Records’ resident producer-rapper-jungle fanatic returns with a sequel to June’s I Think I’m On Fire and, as last time, it’s a treat. I Think I’m On Fire 2 is wall-to-wall woozy rap tracks, built on screwed-down soul samples that turn the familiar into all new adventures (that Whatnauts sample on ‘Eraser’ is nostalgic, twice-over).
This time around, Awful is in even fuller effect. Alexandria adding a touch of Janet to a trio of standouts (‘Much More’, ‘Games2’, ‘Lifestyle’), while Stalin Majesty laces ‘Any Way’ with a lilting melody and Archibald Slim gets in his zone ‘Zone’. In a double dose, Lord Narf and Father feature on the laidback G-funk of ‘Crush2016’.
The label might have had a relatively quiet (for them, at least) few months, but like Ethereal, they are definitely still on fire.
On his first effort since ‘Cha Cha’ catapulted him into the spotlight, the singing-rapping Virginia native teams with the Social Experiment for an easy-to-love batch of neo-neo-soul. GahDamn! is what happens when kids grow up on The Love Below in the post-genre era: there are shades of Funkadelia, old school soul, dance-rap grooves, guitar and trumpet solos, and — most importantly — D.R.A.M. himself, a singer-first who brings touches of Bootsy and Al Green to rap.
Throughout, D.R.A.M. does things his own way, whether that means telling tales of drug-dazed women over finger-picked guitar (‘Wit The Shits’) or showing off his melisma on a duet with SZA (‘Caretaker’). And yes, he can out-rap you when he wants, recalling his path from Hampton Roads to Hollywood on closer ‘Okden’. Drake might have jacked ‘Cha Cha’ for ‘Hotline Bling’, but that doesn’t seem to bother D.R.A.M.
The Club God returns with his first record for Sony, and thankfully, the major label association hasn’t changed things at all. BeatKing’s self-described brand of gangster stripper music is intact: big punchlines and bigger bass designed to get trunks and asses moving.
BeatKing knows what he wants (“all I ever wanted was a slab and a bad bitch”) and what his fans want: Houston fare that bounces like ‘Show It’ (featuring living legend ‘Bun B’) and ‘Smuggled’ and hypnotizes like ‘Heavy on a Check’ and the chopped-and-screwed ‘Toy’.
He remains one of the funniest guys in the game, wondering “Where’s my silver glove? Where’s Lisa Marie Presley? Where’s bubbles?”, ad-libbing some “he-he-he” and dropping punchlines like “I can save the rainforest but I can’t save a ho” on his spooky reworking of ‘Bliie Jean’. But he knows when to be serious, too, getting introspective on ‘4am’ and laying out his story on the ‘3 Weeks Outro’. It may have only taken three weeks to complete, but we’ll be listening for a while.
Life II Death Vol. 1
These days, the shine may be off the diamond that is/was SpaceGhostPurrp’s Raider Klan, but that hasn’t stopped some of the crew’s members from soldiering on. Amber London has remained on our radar, and Life II Death Vol. 1 appears to be a fresh start for the 23-year-old Houston rapper.
While doom-and-gloom is still the order of the day, London and company have toned down the Three 6 Mafia homage. ‘Nebula’ is straight-up Cadillac music, and ‘What Chu Gon Do’ finds her doing some street-level storytelling over a menacing beat by similarly-minded producer PurpDogg. ‘Queen of the Underworld’ is a statement of purpose, and London makes it clear: this isn’t a gimmick.
Life II Death Vol. 1 is punctuated with smoke-break interludes and a few nods to fans of what Raider Klan did well: the SGP-produced ‘Addicts’ has been chopped by DJ Rodzilla, amping up the slo-mo paranoia, and ‘Ya Still Can’t Fuck Wit Me’ is a slab of G-phonk. “We just getting started,” London promises. “Vol. 2 coming up next.” We’ll be waiting.
Thrilla Vol. 1
Boosie returns with his third effort of 2015, backed by allies old (Webbie) and new (Rich Homie Quan, Snootie Wild). As with all his post-prison efforts, his lyrics are dripping with detail and feel even more lived-in — Boosie has a lot to say, and there’s no time for ‘Wipe Me Down’ these days.
Thrilla Vol. 1 is loaded with trap epics like ‘Lil Shooter’ and ‘Round My City’, and moodier fare like ‘I Come From A Place’. ‘Letter 2 Pac’ does what it says on the tin: Boosie catches up one of his idols on pop culture, politics and technology and ominously asks him to “save a spot for me.”
Thankfully, Thrilla isn’t all dour: there’s some of that Louisiana bounce on the title track, and ‘West Coast’ is exactly what it sounds like, slapping all the way from LA to the Bay. Random thought: can we get What A Time To Be Alive, but with Boosie and Kevin Gates?