Welcome to FACT’s Rap Round-up.

We’re almost in open season – where labels save their “best” releases for a lucrative fall release date – but there are still enough hidden gems out there to keep us on our toes.

This week French producer EDM Brodinski flexes his rap muscle again on The Sour Patch Kid, where he teams up with 21 Savage, Johnny Cinco and others; Atlanta’s Lil Silk returns with Xanny Pacquiao 2, his most confident record to date; Juicy J collaborates with Gucci, Jeremih and others on #MUSTBENICE and we look at new releases from Kid Ink, OG Maco and T.I.’s Hustle Gang.

Click on the album or mixtape title for a preview or stream.


Brodinski
The Sour Patch Kid

When rappers and producers from outside the rap world collaborate, it often fails to gel: it seems as if neither party understands the other’s needs, and the results can feel forced and inorganic. Thankfully, that hasn’t been the case when French producer Brodinski has worked with rappers, on his 2015 album Brava or his handful of contributions elsewhere, including tracks with Gangsta Boo, BeatKing, Shy Glizzy, and – most notably – Kanye circa-Yeezus.

The Sour Patch Kid picks up where Brava left off, as Brodinski lays down Yeezus-meets-trap beats for a cast of Atlanta rappers on the come-up. Brodinski’s beats fuse spooky synths with in-the-red bass, and they come from a producer who truly understands the framework of contemporary rap. Even when he’s adding touches from his electronic influences – like the occasional blasts of bass on upbeats that give the tracks a club-ready propulsion – he doesn’t stray too far from what rappers can actually rap on.

The resulting mixtape highlights a handful of rappers that often don’t have beats this inventive or well-produced. Johnny Cinco’s dazed and breathless delivery works well on the shifty, Eastern-tinged ‘Get Me Some More’; the buoyant ‘Weekend’ finds Hoodrich Pablo Juan and Jose Guapo trading sing-song lines about pink Percocets that look like bubblegum; female newcomer ReddColdHearted shines on the skeletal ‘Wow’. And 21 Savage – perhaps the best known rapper on the tape – unspools his trademarked brand of low-lidded menace with a simpatico producer. Hopefully, this isn’t the last time all these parties come together. CK


Lil Silk
Xanny Pacquiao 2

While Atlanta’s Lil Silk originally emerged as a Young Thug protégé, his recent run has seen him take significant steps into his own lane. He’s always had a disarming personality on the mic – from his early breakout hit ‘Rapper’ (“Lil Silk’s a rapper!”) to last year’s ‘Surfer’ (“Pussy like a fountain / Now I’m a surfer”), but his releases have failed to keep the focus on his best skills, until now.

Xanny Pacquiao 2 takes Silk to the next level and he’s wisely picked a producer who knows how to play to his strengths. The entire tape is produced by Mayhem, who handled Son Of A Hustler 2’s best tracks and brings with him coherence and polish. It’s rare to find single-producer tapes at the moment and most of the time this is due to an abundance of free beats. Many young producers are more than willing to part with the odd track for low (or no) cost, but to find one interested in putting together a full record is a much bigger ask. Thankfully, Silk’s choice to stick with Mayhem pays off in volumes, with the young Atlanta rapper locking onto the producer’s groove with new-found precision.

The duo hit an early stride with the double whammy of ‘Fo Sho’ and ‘Swag Cold Steve Austin’ exhibiting two facets of Silk’s persona. ‘Fo Sho’ is huge, boasting a crashing chorus and calm inverted hook, while ‘Stone Cold Steve Austin’ finds Silk at his most cloudy, wading through a Xanax blur to fashion an ode to the WWE legend. His straddling of the line between hedonism and haze that might be Silk’s true strength, and it still feels as if he’s only just getting started. JT


Juicy J
#MUSTBENICE

Juicy J needs no introduction on these pages – the Memphis rapper is a bona fide legend, and even if the quality of his output has waned recently, it’s still hard to ignore a tape with his name emblazoned on the front. #MUSTBENICE follows June’s forgettable Lit in Ceylon and is markedly more impressive, working as a serviceable stop-gap before Rubba Band Business: The Album.

In a nod to his early run of solo tapes, the majority of the production is handled by 808 Mafia – specifically TM88. This echoes Lit in Ceylon, but where that tape buckled under a sense of indifference from Juicy and didn’t boast a single feature, #MUSTBENICE is loaded with guest appearances. Atlanta’s Gucci Mane, PeeWee Longway, 21 Savage and Que all pop up for a verse, Jeremih offers his unmistakable voice to stand-out track ‘Panties’ and Memphis’ very own Young Dolph appears on the album’s finale ‘LIT’. Elsewhere, Juicy ushers in some familiar figures – his brother and Triple 6 cohort Project Pat and his label boss Wiz Khalifa.

This scope is why the record feels more like a run-up to something a little bigger – Juicy still doesn’t sound quite as thirsty as he did on ‘A Zip and a Double Cup’ and ‘Bandz a Make her Dance’ but he sounds more focused as he retreads familiar ground on ‘Talk That Talk’ and ‘Feeling Like Obama’. Let’s hope he’s saving his best bars for the album proper, though. JT


Kid Ink
RSS2

Kid Ink is a curious case: you probably recognize one of his hits, but couldn’t name one of his albums. You don’t know anyone who would describe themselves as a “Kid Ink fan”, but they must be out there, somewhere. In 2012, Kid Ink shared the XXL cover with a Freshman class that included Future, Danny Brown and Don Trip, where he was made to look better than his classmates Macklemore, Machine Gun Kelly and Iggy Azalea.

He quickly became the perfect replacement-level rapper, turning in unmemorable-but-inoffensive performances on DJ Mustard-produced, Chris Brown-featuring hits like ‘Show Me’ and ‘Main Chick’ and staying out of the way of Usher and Tinashe on ‘Body Language’ or Dej Loaf on ‘Be Real’ (See? You *do* know some Kid Ink songs). Learning the lesson of his album title My Own Lane, Kid Ink stays in his lane: off to the side, quietly signing checks.

Kid Ink sticks to that mode on RSS2 (“Rocket Ship Shawty 2”), doing less and letting his collaborators do more. Jeremih steals the spotlight on the electro-funky ballad ‘Too Lit’. Punchy posse cut ‘In My Way’ relies on verses from West Coast upstarts Mozzy, Nef the Pharoah and Bricc Baby. Verse Simmons does his best Frank Ocean 1.0 on ‘Lamborghini Dreaming’. But when Ink tries to do it all – like on ‘2016 Bonnie & Clyde’ (which is exactly what it sounds like) – it doesn’t work at all. Rap needs a middle class, and Kid Ink would be better off if he recognized that. CK


Hustle Gang
Hustle Gang Over Errrrythang

After teaming with Young Thug and Shad da God as Bankroll Mafia earlier this year, T.I. has kept that collaborative spirit alive with the first Hustle Gang mixtape in two years. Hustle Gang Over Errrrythang bridges the gap until his Us or Else EP and forthcoming The Dime Trap LP as T.I. struggles to stay relevant in rap.

As with previous Hustle Gang efforts, everyone gets a chance to shine. Peanut Da Don and B.o.B. bounce their way through ‘Dat Way’; Young Dro stays wigged-out on ‘The Wig’; and newcomers you probably haven’t of – Translee and Zip K – ride the bassline on ‘Depends’ (a track hidden near the end of the tape). But also like previous Hustle Gang efforts, it’s a scattershot affair: Future harmonizes on the scintillating ’She Going’ but sounds about as excited to be here as you’d expect from 2016 Future.

As for T.I.’s tracks, there are a few standouts for a guy that very much needs a hit. The epic-by-numbers ‘Pullin Up (Ayo)’ works better than it should, but that’s probably due to a slick Trae the Truth verse. T.I. tries to recapture the magic of his last hit, ‘About The Money’, by re-teaming with Young Thug and London on da Track on the moody ‘Bobby Womack’, a solid if not groundbreaking single. In fact, he might have actually saved the best for last: ‘Hell Na’, which turns an orchestral sample into a trunk-rattling magic for him, Ra Ra and Young Dro, proves that maybe T.I. isn’t done quite yet. CK


OG Maco
BLVK PHIL COLLINS

As a companion piece to his forthcoming debut album proper Children Of The Rage, OG Maco has dropped this seven-track EP, BLVCK PHIL COLLINS, which teases the album’s direction. His sound now lies strictly in the post-Kanye clearing ground, with moody opener ‘No Love’ sounding something like a Yeezus B-side and follow-up ‘RAGE!!’ sounding suspiciously like West’s own ‘Fade’. Sadly, Maco doesn’t do much to wrench himself out of this mode – the early promise of 15 is now a memory as the influence of Atlanta slides away and the tense mood of tracks like ‘Homies’ and ‘Night Like’ is pushed into near-goth territory.

That’s not to say the EP is a disaster – the production is slick and effective throughout – but Maco is reaching for the stars using someone else’s stepladder. The only time he switches lanes is on DJ Snake-produced closer ‘Move’, which might be his most overt pop move to date. And while his hoarse hook sounds like Burzum singing a Justin Bieber track at karaoke, it shows he’s got enough up his sleeve to at least make some unexpected moves on the full album. JT

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