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Mixtape Round-up: Shlohmo, Partynextdoor, Spoek Mathambo, Dre Hussle, and more

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.

The weeks between the releases of Yeezus and Magna Carta Holy Grail haven’t been particularly fertile for mixtapes; not many musicians had the audacity to fight for oxygen as two titans leveled a one-two punch on the world of hip-hop. But while this week’s round-up doesn’t have the star power of those before it, there are still some gems: the OVO-R&B of Partynextdoor and the Afro-futurism of Spoek Mathambo, and efforts from Chicago newcomer Dre Hussle and LA veteran Shlohmo.

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Drake clearly has a type. After co-signing and collaborating with moody sadsack The Weeknd, he has now found another obsession in 19-year-old Ontarian Partynextdoor, and the similarities are pretty plain from the outset. A mysterious Canadian crooner with a taste for dark, electronic beats who raps and sings with a tear in one eye? Sound familiar? Thankfully, Partynextdoor’s self-titled debut doesn’t suffer too massively from its resemblances to Abel Tesfaye’s weepy emo-R&B, and while it might not win on the originality front, there’s just enough in the song department to hold our interest.

Admittedly, we’re suckers over here for obscured, fuzzy R&B, and Partynextdoor has already proved he can handle that with the sizzling advance single ‘Make A Mill’. Included here, it’s not even the record’s most obvious standout, rather that would be the Miguel-esque ‘Break From Toronto’, with its low-key vocal loops and addictive, lolloping kicks. OVO Godfather Drake shows up on the mixtape’s penultimate cut ‘Over Here’, but by this time he’s hardly needed. His verse is self serving, and feels like it’s there almost as a formality – Partynextdoor might be onto something worthwhile, but with Drake’s voice in the background so vividly he might need to distance himself from the OVO ‘house sound’ before he can really find his own path.

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The South African polymath celebrates his 27th birthday with a mixtape that looks back on the year of his birth. The twelve songs re-visit and re-imagine songs from the era with a fusion of African and American sounds: Queen’s ‘Radio Gaga’ as effervessent kwaito, Graham Parker’s ‘Wake Up’ as Baltimore club, and so on. As always, Mathambo is all over the place sonically, from the the highlife of ‘You Should Have Called (My Heart)’ to the booty bass of ‘Future’, but no matter the palette, he contorts his half-rapped, half-sung vocals to fit the song.

The 80s were so crucial to the development of contemporary music (as our recent best-of feature proved), a fact not lost on Mathambo. “In general it was a great time for the beginnings of house and techno, innovations in hip-hop, pop,” he tells Dazed. “Prince was just OWNING…he’s always been my “spirit animal” a constant well of inspiration, just to know that such an amazing creature exists to make the earth’s collective booty shake!” And in a fantastic nod to the culture of the decade, the mixtape can also be experienced as a 2D video game.

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Finding a young rapper in Chicago right now is a little like finding a tourist in Times Square, and each week a new mixtape rolls out shining a light on yet another fresh voice. So what makes one worthy of a listen and one not even worth the bandwidth? Sometimes it’s the production, but while Dre Hussle’s fuzzy synth-heavy set is top-drawer, it’s not why Digital Dope is worth checking out. It’s Hussle himself that sets this particular tape apart from the competition, and it’s refreshing to hear that he doesn’t feel obligated to rely on the clenched teeth and tightened palms of drill’s 16th note assaults. Rather the tunes have enough aggressive, latent power that it renders overproduction, or an overreliance on tired Atlanta tropes pretty pointless, and that’s surprisingly refreshing.

Smokey and self-aware, there’s more than a nod to King Louie’s distinctive rhymes as Hussle paints a picture of his city. He might lack Louie’s omnipresent wink to the camera, but there’s a similar self-deprecating streak to Hussle’s shtick. Just flip over to ‘Kno Dat’ – the formula is familiar, but there’s no escaping the fact that Digital Dope’s young protagonist is onto something special.

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The Wedidit boss descended on New York as part of this year’s Red Bull Music Academy takeover of the city, headlining a Big Apple-version of long-running LA party The Do-Over. His 70-minute set is just the type of slow-and-low hip-hop and dance music mutations that we’ve come to expect from the veteran producer. He wastes no time, kicking things off with a chopped-and-screwed remix of 2Pac’s ‘Hail Mary’, Kingdom’s ‘Corpse’, and Cyril Hahn’s syrupy take on Destiny’s Child’s ‘Say My Name’, foreshadowing what is to come.

The proceedings take a frenetic, footwork-heavy turn about halfway through (exemplified by DJ Rashad’s ‘Let It Go’) but are slowed down by Outkast’s equally-transcendent if diametrically-opposed ‘SpottieOttieDopalicious’. Shlohmo is one of the finest proponents of the genre-agnostic underground where anything goes, as long as it moves the crowd.

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One of the members of SpaceGhostPurrp’s reconfigured Raider Klan, the Carol City, FL rapper teamed with Orlando production duo Legion Beatz for this mini-mixtape. The tape’s six tracks split the difference between the Raider Klan’s Memphis-meets-Houston homage and the ubiquitous sounds of Atlanta trap, often on the same song; ‘Steeze x Finesse’ revels in 2 Chainz-esque simplicity before closing with a chopped-and-screwed breakdown.

Thankfully, it’s a style that Fway excels at: ‘Normal’ is heavy with ad-libs, and he slithers over the creepy, trunk-rattling ‘Carlo Rossi’. The highlight here is ‘Pop that Pussy for the Klvn Part 3’, a bouncy twerk anthem that features fellow Klan member Yung Simmie over a scintillating beat that recreates Southern party rap through the lens of DJ Mustard. Overall, a short-but-sweet effort that keeps the Raider Klan in the conversation.

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With a supporting cast including Juicy J and Wiz Khalifa, it’s hardly surprising that Beach House 2 serves as LA rapper Ty$’s announcement that he’s now signed to Wiz’s Taylor Gang imprint. It feels as if he’s been on the cusp of something big for some time now, and after some stand-out appearances on DJ Mustard’s excellent Ketchup and Iamsu!’s Kilt 2, there’s a real sense that 2013 might be Ty$’s year. Beach House 2 is certainly bigger budget than his previous releases, and on top of the guests already mentioned, contains appearances from Kevin Gates, Trey Songz, Kirko Bangz, DJ Spinz, Young Jeezy, Chris Brown, B.o.B and more. Sadly, it’s one of those all to frequent cases when the credit list, along with a certain pandering to the mainstream leaves the music buckling unpleasantly.

Ty$ has always been most comfortable throwing down verses on productions that smacked of the LA jerkin’/ratchet axis, and on the DJ Mustard-produced ‘Paranoid’ this is certainly the case. It’s the album’s most successful track but serves simply to highlight the awkwardness of the damp, B.o.B-featuring ‘Creez’ and neon-blasted high budget pop of the Chris Brown starrer ‘Got My Heart’. It’s not that the tracks are even particularly bad, per se, they just feel disingenuous in light of his sparse, effective ratchet back catalogue. Where on 2011’s Hou$e on the Hill Ty$ managed to coax his collaborators into emerging with a coherent and almost unique sound (even toning down Will.i.Am’s usual gurgling nonsense), the same sadly cannot be said for Beach House 2. Instead we’re left with a fatty and forgettable missed opportunity.

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The Los Angeles talent is no stranger to the Mixtape Round-up, and for good reason: the man is a consummate DJ, in the traditional sense. His latest 90-minute set is an squelching work-out that lives up to its title.

Best of all, the set seamlessly mixes between acid house originals (Todd Terry, Ian Pooley, etc.) and contemporary artists infatuated with the sound (Gesaffelstein , Melé, and Body High bosses DJ Dodger Stadium), demonstrating why acid has maintained such a lofty position in the dance music hive mind.

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The problem with Problem has never been his rapping. A former ghostwriter for Snoop, his lyrics are smart and snappy, and his sometimes technical, often Em-indebted flow is confident and listenable. The trouble is simply that his personality is so very unmemorable. This wasn’t such an issue on February’s Million Dollar Afro, as the arguably more involving Iamsu! could absorb some of the focus, but on The Separation, Problem’s weak hand is stark and obvious.

Problem doesn’t however attempt to go it alone, and has raked in a costly selection of collaborators, from the aforementioned Snoop to the unexpected inclusion of Warren G. His successes however begin to appear once the high profile guest spots (Wale, Wiz Khalifa, and TI) have subsided; ‘Bang Bang’ finds The Game and Bad Lucc throwing down on a worryingly spare gunshot-laden beat, and ‘Already’ brings back fond memories of the Dre days of Compton’s checkered past with its slippery G-Funk synths and woozy scratches. Weirdly for a twenty-one track tape, the best is saved almost for last, and on the album’s false bottom ‘Team Up’, Problem raps assuredly over his own skeletal, ratchet beat and starts to crack the kind of wry smile you’d wish had been present throughout.

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A decade later, production duo The MIDI Mafia are probably still best known for producing 50 Cent’s ’21 Questions’. That’s not to say they haven’t had plenty to do since though, most obviously they had a hand in piecing together ex-collaborator Frank Ocean’s game-changing Nostalgia, Ultra, and put their unique spin on the album’s much-loved highlight ‘Swim Good’. The duo even managed to put out a solo mini-album last year – Get Connected – but the less said about that, the better.

Wisely on Brand X the duo have opted to move away from the brash EDM and brostep of its predecessor and call in a host of lesser-known vocalists to bless an expertly engineered selection of ratchet-influenced beats. Working in this mode suits the duo, and they prove quickly that they’re far more adept at producing strip-club savvy rap than they were at eardrum-rupturing dance. Whilst the tape occasionally veers into Top 40 territory (‘Promises’ – no thanks) there are more than enough glimmers of brilliance to make up for it. ‘100 Girls’ pits a crew of vocalists over the kind of cell-phone rhythm you’d expect to see gracing an E-40 tape, and ‘Back Down’ finds Rockie Fresh spitting over a stripped down Indian vocal sample and neck-snapping snare. It’s a mercifully wobble-free zone.

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Damn, son: mixtape purveyor Trap-A-Holics has teamed-up with Philadelphia Brick Bandit / Mad Decent affiliate Dirty South Joe for a 59-track (!) set that bounds between trap music, regardless of origin. The mixtape’s MO is established in the first couplet: Atlanta trio Migos’ ‘Bando’ gives way to Ryan Hemsworth’s remix of the same track.

Along with street rap hits by the aforementioned Migos, Young Scooter, Que, Lil Durk, Katie Got Bandz, and Gucci Mane (of course), there are plenty of strong efforts from the divisive trap-EDM scene that is inescapable Stateside: Thugli’s remix of Yeezus-cut ‘Send It Up’, Swizzymack’s remix of Migos’ ‘Hanna Montana’, and Jakwob’s ‘Detox’, among them. But even if snare-rolls-and-sirens aren’t your bag, there is enough “real trap shit” here to keep things jumping.

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