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With each passing week, listening to the deluge of mixtapes, radio shows, and live sets from electronic producers and hip-hop artists alike becomes an even more insurmountable task. Quality offerings can fly under the radar, either added to our ever-growing “to listen” list or — more often than not – disregarded all together.

While last week’s round-up was fixated on Atlanta, this week focuses on the city that seems to be the other pole of contemporary hip-hop: Chicago. Along with an astonishing effort by Chance the Rapper, Rockie Fresh, DJ Nate (yes, that DJ Nate), Lil Herb and Lil Bibby represent the Windy City. There’s also a podcast by a FACT favorite, a mixtape by a rap mainstay, and a beat collection by a hotly-tipped Louisiana newcomer.

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The second mixtape from the Chicago rapper was so eagerly anticipated that it actually “leaked” before its official release – the type of mania usually reserved for Lil Wayne during his prime. One listen of the 13-song effort from the rapper, who just turned 20, and it’s clear why: artists are rarely this fully-formed and straight-up talented this quickly. Chance’s voice is as elastic as Compton compatriot Kendrick Lamar, with wordplay and flow like an early Eminem but without the menace. The major key production owes much to Kanye circa ‘Let The Beat Build’ and ‘Faithful’ (both of which receive nods here), and the whole tape draws inspiration from Roy Ayers’ acid jazz and Chance’s own LSD experimentation.

Put simply, Acid Rap is the most fun rap release of the year, with a summer BBQ vibe and a nonchalance that is more College Dropout than Twisted Fantasy (“Tripped, racing yaself, trynna chase the paper / I just faced a Vega / And you love being Kobe when you make the lay up / Till you realize everybody in the world fuckin hates the Lakers” he laughs on ‘Juice’). When not cooing a reggae-laced hook or playing with laugh-out-loud punchlines, Chance dabbles with the type of Real Shit rap that Kendrick did so effectively on Good Kid. On the sweet-and-sour two-part suite ‘Pusha Man’, Chance talks Chicago’s crime wave without an ounce of condescension: “They be shooting whether it’s dark or not / I mean the days is pretty dark a lot / Down here it’s easier to find a gun than it is to find a fucking parking spot.”

Most rappers would trade their Jesus pieces for a song as good as the tape’s intro, outro, or interlude (the spine-tingling, soul rap ‘That’s Love’), and ‘Chain Smoker’ has a groove that would be the envy of Jacques Greene or Jamie XX. Guest spots are tastefully placed and never overshadow or distract from the main attraction, whether a rapidfire Twista verse or appearances by Internet faves like Action Bronson. Two of the tape’s finest moments are duets with stylistic cousin Childish Gambino (on the ‘Clean Up Woman’-sampling ‘Favorite Song’) and Black Hippy’s Ab-Soul (on the sing-song trunk-rattler ‘Smoke Again’). Forgive the pun, but Acid Rap is a helluva trip.

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As one third of Hessle Audio, David Kennedy’s musical evolution — whether as Ramadanman or Maurice Donovan or Pearson Sound — has been just that: gradual and punctual adaptations in the development of a fully-realized, personal sound. Over the better part of the decade, Kennedy has only improved as a DJ, in a way that dropping both the queasy techno of FDF’s ‘Hydra’ and the Baltimore breaks of DJ Technics ‘Everything In Its Right Place’ in the same mix feels entirely organic. “I didn’t really go chasing exclusives or trying to be too concerned about unreleased tracks, so there’s a few older bits in there too,” he told RA about his podcast. “I’d say it’s representative of the kind of set I would play in a club.” Listen for some of the tracks of his forthcoming REM EP, along with unreleased material by Untold, Special Request, and himself.

Download directly or on iTunes.

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Chicago’s Rockie Fresh is a strange one indeed; signed to Rick Ross’s Maybach Music, you’d think you’d have him figured out if you heard the neon-laced r&b-rap of ‘Nothin’ Wrong With That’ or Gunplay-featuring ‘Rollin’, but look a little closer and you’ll see that Fresh has far more going on than you initially might assume.

The rapper’s most visible eccentricity is getting TNGHT’s Canadian half Lunice to produce standout cut ‘Panera Bread’. Sparse and menacing this follows on perfectly from ‘Superman OG’ on Rockie’s previous tape Electric Highway, and plonking Rick Ross’s brash, throaty verse right smack in the middle is nothing short of genius. It doesn’t stop here though, Fresh’s oddest move is his choice to rap over James Blake’s ‘Life Round Here’, basically in full, with Blake’s emotive chorus retained just so you can’t forget what you’re listening to. It works surprisingly well, and after listening there can be no doubt left in your mind that Fresh is on a markedly different tip than the rest of his label mates (Wale included) – we almost don’t need to mention the weepy Stateless-sampling ‘Outro’.

It’s refreshing to hear a Chicago rapper who avoids the temptation to get caught up in the tumbling snowball of drill at the moment; sure we’ve got a leftfield masterwork this week in the form of Chance the Rapper’s Acid Rap, but Rockie’s tape is almost as unexpectedly bizarre, and a whole lot less hyped. A collision of styles that shows a rapper who’s actually a listener rather than simply a kid grabbing at chances, The Birthday Tape is a bite-sized hint at hopefully much bigger things to come.

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Baton Rouge, Louisiana producer suicideyear (aka James Proudhomme) has been hard at work chiseling out a unique sound under the radar for some time, and while Japan isn’t his first album, it’s the most developed body of work he’s dropped to date. Stripping away the bombast and from the trap blueprint, the young beatmaker rebuilds the sound from the ground up, adding an alluring layer of fog and mystery to his productions that’s hard to ignore. It’s not perfect a perfect record, but it’s not supposed to be; Proudhomme’s tracks are almost a celebration of low bitrate Youtube samples and sparse, reverberating emptiness. A good comparison might be Zomby, especially the provocative producer’s most recent tracks, but where Zomby seems unable to follow through, Proudhomme’s sense of composition and development is undeniable.

Japan is an ambitious and invigorating record, and somehow Proudhomme manages to nail a seemingly impossible task in combining the synthetic grandeur of Vangelis and fusing it with the grinding beat-box rhythms of the US rap mainstream. Just flip over to ‘Do’ a track that sounds something like Kuedo’s Severent if he’d been exposed to a diet of Young Chop rather than DJ Nate. It’s hardly surprising that Proudhomme is already rumoured to be working with Mack Maine and Lil Wayne – watch this space.

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With Lil Herb namechecked by Drake and Bibby getting shoutouts from Danny Brown and Interscope man Joie Manda, it’s timely and fitting that Chicago rap blog Fake Shore Drive should put together this comprehensive selection of the two Windy City rappers’ work. An exhaustive collection of all the two rappers’ released tracks, Heir Apparents serves as a great starting point before their respective tapes; Bibby’s Free Crack and Herb’s Welcome To Fazoland; finally emerge this summer.

Both rappers have an incorruptible Chicago flow, straddling the aggressive drill of fellow son Chief Keef and the genre jumping anthemic hood rattling of FACT favourite King Louie (who pops up for a guest verse on ‘That’s How We Move’). It’s the duo’s lyricism that sets them apart from the competition though; both set themselves apart from the regular hitters by discovering there’s far more to say about their troubled city than “bitches love Sosa”. To put it plainly if you’re looking for a set of hard-as-nails Chicago rap from just beneath the surface, you can’t do much better than this right now.

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New York newcomer BOY/FRIEND (aka Shan Poo) and producer MNTN have clearly been listening to plenty of R&B’s new class — The Weeknd, Frank Ocean, Miguel, and a healthy serving of The-Dream and Mike WiLL beats — and as the cliché goes, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. The eight-track Leather Weather, as the title suggests, is music for staying warm while looking cool: hazy R&B that goes down easy, like the slow-burning ‘Good 2 U’ and the Prince-via-The-Dream jam ‘Telephone’. In the album’s most self-aware moment, Morri$-associate Sweater Beats samples HBO’s Girls on the syrupy ‘No Habla’; meanwhile, the hyperactive Kuh Rye-oo gives a footwork rinse to ‘Good 2 U’. It remains to be seen if BOY/FRIEND can rise above pastiche, but Leather Weather is a promising debut.

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DJ Nate’s 2010 album Da Trak Genious was one of the first releases from Chicago’s footwork scene to see wide release, and the then-20-year old was one of the brightest lights on the footwork horizon. Then, as quickly as he went from Myspace sensation to Planet Mu signee, DJ Nate quick the footwork game. “When I was in high school I was around the people who made footwork,” he explains to the Chicago Reader, and as soon as he left school, “there wasn’t really any point” in making footwork. The scene’s loss is drill rap’s gain. While not as revelatory as Da Trak Genious, his 13 mixtape (under his Bakaman moniker) finds Nate somewhere between Chief Keef and Future, with an ear for melody and an (over)reliance on Autotune. Breakthrough single ‘Gucci Goggles’ is the highlight, but ‘So Attached’ earns its ‘(R x B)’ subtitle with a brittle beat and flashes of the weird brilliance that made Nate’s footwork so vital.

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This year’s edition of XXL’s always-contentious Freshman Class had fewer head-scratchers than ever, thanks to XXL’s reliance on the Internet’s curatorial powers: for freshmen, we’ve certainly heard plenty from most of these rappers already. That said, we won’t argue with most of XXL’s list, and this DJ Drama tape has intriguing moments: Action Bronson re-teams with Blue Chips-beatsmith Party Supplies for the GnR-sampling ‘November Rain’; Ab-Soul goes in over a bouncy beat from FACT fave Harry Fraud; Angel Haze is as fierce as ever over a rap-refix of Purity Ring’s ‘Lofticries’; Houston-meets-Mississippi as Houston Autotuner Kirko Bangz pairs with Big K.R.I.T. on the syrup-sipping ‘So Trill’. There are some clunkers, naturally: unsurprisingly, newbie Trinidad Jame$ has been unable to recapture the magic of ‘All Gold Everything’, and Schoolboy Q’s ‘Yay Yay’ is as polarizing as it was for FACT’s Singles Club.

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It doesn’t sound like a great prospect really; clothing line dudes Slow and Bucks form a rap collective? It actually sounds like the sort of thing we’d normally avoid like the plague, so imagine our surprise when on listening we discovered that All We Got Is Us is really quite good. This is most likely in part thanks to the involvement of Dipset man Juelz Santana, who pops up on five of the album’s fifteen tracks and lingers in the shadows as the crew’s musical spirit guide. The resounding influence of Dipset is all over the record, not least on opener ‘Ceremony’ that sounds as if it could have been a lost Araabmusik beat with its dusty snares and epic strings. This is no bad thing, and we can’t help but feel it’s been too long since this kind of tough-edged Queens rap was spotlighted – All We Got Is Us is a bullshit-free collection of NYC bangers, and who can argue with that?

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Ex-Death Row VP Kurupt is a long way from his 90s heyday, and the long-delayed Money, Bitches, Power is his latest attempt to claw back a modicum of credibility on a massively different rap stage. Despite some decent showings from a selection of well-picked guests (E-40, Too $hort, Snoop) it’s sometimes a tough listen, neither bringing back the essence of Tha Dogg Pound at their best or the highs of the spotty but really quite good DJ Quik collaboration BlaQKout. While there’s some pretty contemporary-sounding tunes; the DJ Mustard-aping ‘Give It Here (The Camel Toe Song)’ and ‘Definition of a Ratchet’, and the Diplo-soundalike ‘Other Shit (Weird Party)’, it’s the more traditional West Coast bangers that suit him best. E-40 and Too $hort-featuring slice of G-Funk ‘Do You Remember’ is a clear highlight, but featured on the duo’s 2012 LP History: Mob Music so doesn’t exactly feel like a revelation. Sadly for the most part Money, Bitches, Power just sounds dated and a little out of touch, and the fact that the whole thing sounds like it’s been run through an overdrive pedal doesn’t help much either.

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