Welcome to FACT’s Rap Round-up.
What a couple of weeks. Not only did Future release another solid tape with Purple Reign, but Atlanta three-piece Migos dropped their eagerly-awaited sequel to breakout mixtape Young Rich Niggas. As usual, we’ve collected a handful of the last two weeks’ best rap full-lengths, including offerings from RetcH, Shanell, Travis Porter and more.
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 feature the albums (free and otherwise) that need to be a part of the rap conversation but might not be covered otherwise.
Continuing his near-annual tradition, Future sets the tone for 2016 with a new project. But while it was a great surprise, Purple Reign isn’t quite at the level of his world-beating year-and-a-half run (even Future admitted it, describing the effort as a “pre warm up” for the year).
Purple Reign comes with a Prince-referencing title, a readymade emoji and a few different looks at Future. There’s a bit of wheel-spinning on songs that sound like 2015 offcuts (‘Hater Shit’, ‘Salute’, ‘Bye Bye’), but even a sleepwalking Future offers moments of clarity, like on ‘No Charge’: “I look inside your eyes, I see the same things I’m going through,” he drawls. “I know you still check your DMs from time to time.”
There are also nods to Future 1.0 (the Gucci-ish ‘Never Forget’) and Future 2.0 (‘Inside The Mattress’, produced by old friends Nard & B), and some inventive touches by producers Metro Boomin (‘All Right’, ‘Wicked’) and DJ Spinz (the surprisingly bouncy ‘Run Up’). But aside from the throaty hook of ‘Drippin’, Future’s best moments come at the end of the tape. The sparse and emotional ‘Perkys Calling’ is followed by the title track, on which lean takes the place of a girlfriend. It’s 2016, but Future is still choosing the dirty over you.
Young Rich Niggas 2
If you’ve not come across Migos yet, you’ve had your head in the sand. The ATL trio dominated the last couple of years with a run of singles and mixtapes culminating in last year’s underrated album proper Young Rich Nation. Now Quavo, Takeoff and a recently-released Offset are back with a follow-up to 2013’s popular Yung Rich Niggas – the tape responsible for launching international hit ‘Versace’ on the world.
Thankfully, Young Rich Niggas 2 is a worthy follow-up, exhibiting the same hook-laden club froth as its predecessor while acknowledging the trio’s current profile. While Yung Rich Nation was slick and primed for maximum crossover appeal (wuddup Chris Brown), this tape recaptures the personality that sold Migos to us in the first place without losing any of the slick fidelity.
Dun Deal-produced ‘WOA’ and ‘You Wanna See’ offer up early fire, with Offset on particular form. “I shock the block like I’m Pikachu,” he croaks on ‘WOA’, before dropping a series of punchlines that remind us why ATL rap is still completely dominant. At this stage in their ascent, it’s good to hear Migos resisting the temptation to rest on their laurels.
After a resurgent 2015, underrated trio Travis Porter are back with 285, a tribute to the Atlanta perimeter. The mixtape splits the difference between 3 Live Krew and the Mr. 217-produced S.A.Q., mixing strip club balladry with new school snap. 285 is punctuated by a handful of old-made-new tracks: ‘Lay It Down’ is drowned in syrup and will have you ‘Whisper’-ing, while ‘Shake Some’ sounds like vintage Cash Money.
But Travis Porter is best when proving three voices are better than one, whether harmonizing on midtempo cuts from London On Da Track (‘Trap’, ‘Lame’) or getting real for a minute on ‘Pray For The Boy’. The latter enlists Skooly of Rich Kidz for additional quiver: “Still going through shit now, still holding shit down, still taking them meds, still having cold sweats,” he sings. “I got a family now, I gotta figure shit out.” When Travis Porter figure shit out, they deliver some of the best tracks in rap.
Lean & Neck
RetcH’s gruesome, Mobb Deep-influenced Finesse the World was one of last year’s low-key rap highlights. The Jersey rapper’s flow is something like Prodigy gargling concrete, and it’s interesting to hear him experimenting with – on the surface, at least – lighter sounds on Lean & Neck. Sure, his voice still sounds as burnt as it ever did, but listen to those smooth electric piano licks on ‘All Night’ – he’s not turned sanga yet, but it doesn’t seem far off.
On single ‘Couple Straps’, RetcH even interpolates fellow Jersey rapper Fetty Wap’s ‘Couple Bands’, offering a gloomier take on Fetty’s chart-ready album banger. Heads shouldn’t worry though, there are still a few grittier moments among the neon – ‘Shoot Outs’ reminds fondly of Finesse the World while ‘Fresh Off Tour’ finds a winning middle ground, offsetting club-ready synths and 808 drops with a mood that’s not a million miles away from a John Carpenter score.
Shanell has spent the last half decade as a YMCMB backbencher, impressing with a few mixtapes but mostly left on the sidelines. 88 Keyz teams her with Zaytoven (not 88-Keys, thankfully), and Zay’s woozy synthwork is a perfect pairing with Shanell’s clear-eyed intensity.
88 Keyz softens the misandry that made the Nobody’s Bitch mixtapes with songs like ‘Hugs & Kisses’ and a remix of her 2015 single ‘I Can Be Your Stripper’ with — who else? — T-Pain, but Shanell takes on fuckboys on ‘Open Heart Surgery’ and ‘Fraud’ (“Pull his credit report, his credit card came back as fraud”).
Lil Wayne hosts the tape and provides a few interludes (and rhymes Zaytoven with Young Beethoven, natch), but his presence mostly serves as a reminder of how his “mentorship” has mostly hurt Shanell’s career. (How can someone who can’t even release his own album be expected to shepherd someone else?) If Ciara refuses to make these types of jams, why not Shanell?
Future wasn’t the only Freebandz rapper to drop a tape this month. Not to be outdone by his GOAT-status brother, Casino put out the lean, 10-track Boss Man, but despite a suite of great beats from Cassius Jay and Mike Will (among others), it’s still somewhat lacking. Even at his best, Casino doesn’t have the effortless appeal of his brother, and while ‘I Ain’t Got Nothing To Prove’, ‘Pose’ and ‘On A Bad Day’ are all worth spinning, there’s a sense that in the hands of a more arresting personality, they’d be essential.