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.
After a few weeks of non-stop hip-hop releases (anchored, of course, by Yeezus and Magna Carta Holy Grail) deprived the mixtape scene of much-needed oxygen, the “deluge” seems to be returning to its normal, unabated state. Ratchet king DJ Mustard and mixtape crooner TeeFLii team up for a “monster of a tape” and Main Attrakionz drop a surprise effort, while Miami weirdos Metro Zu and Swedish based-sprite Yung Lean take rap to decidedly strange places. Throw in a few Caribbean-tinged mixes from pros The Heatwave and Dave Nada, and you’ve got yourself a round-up.
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DJ MUSTARD & TEEFLII
Neither LA-based ratchet pioneer DJ Mustard nor his often-collaborator TeeFLii are strangers to this column. Mustard’s stark and effective Ketchup has proven to be a highlight of the year so far, and TeeFLii’s own AnnieRUO’TAY 2 was an unexpected treat, making it onto FACT’s list of 2013’s most slept on mixtapes. Given the duo’s history of collaborating then, it’s hardly surprising to see them together for an entire record, and thankfully Fireworks more than exceeds any early expectations.
TeeFLii has moved in leaps and bounds since his underwhelming debut AnnieRUO’TAY, and his arm-long list of similarities with other rap crooners (think The-Dream or Trey Songz) is now beginning to dissolve as he quickly becomes confident in his own skin. Lyrically, we’re pretty mercilessly treated to Sex Rhymes 101 time and time again like a rubber hammer to the head, but TeeFLii’s well-mannered charm is undeniable, and is only highlighted by DJ Mustard’s cold, minimal beats. The singer is no slouch as a producer himself (as was evidenced by his last solo outing), but backed by Mustard’s queasy ratchet his moans are given the leg up they need from being good to being great.
‘Ready’ is maybe the most obvious standout, and finds Mustard offsetting the kind of woozy harmonics you’d expect to find on a 40 or Boi-1da production with an incessant distorted synthesizer sample and cavernous kick. It’s refreshing to hear another side to the producer, but he doesn’t lose his obsession with spacious Bay Area bounce entirely – ‘Never Turnt Down’ is the kind of sparse trunk rattler the producer cut his teeth crafting, and even features a cameo from scene pioneer E-40 himself.
Fireworks is an expertly focused monster of a tape, anchored by DJ Mustard’s unmistakable production tics and elevated by TeeFLii’s alarmingly polite sex talk. It stands as both a shimmering example of Mustard’s right now very relevant sound, and proof that everything he makes doesn’t actually have to sound exactly like ‘Rack City’, and that’s a very good thing indeed.
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BEST DUO EVER: THE BRICKTAPE
The Bay Area’s preeminent cloud rap ambassadors drop a 24-track mixtape, proclaiming themselves “the best duo ever.” While Outkast, Mobb Deep, and fellow West Coasters Tha Dogg Pound might take exception to that, the pair of MondreM.A.N. and Squadda B certainly operate with that world-beating mindset.
As proven on last year’s Bossalinis and Fooliyones, Main Attrakionz are equally adept at serving spaced-out G-funk and hazy, paranoid cloud rap. Songs like ‘Rappin & Tappin’ and ‘Still Care 4 Ya’ are reminiscent of West Coast hip-hop of days past; the former is a languid statement of purpose and the latter is a crew-love rollcall that sounds like an update of ‘I Ain’t Mad At Cha’. Contrarily, the Duicideyear-produced ‘Kushed Up Brothers’ is a weed anthem over a beat that fuses hi-hat rolls with a synthetic harp melody; ‘Brick Tape’ is all hushed-tones and trap menace.
While Main Attrakionz seem to operate in their own world, mainstream hip-hop manages to encroach on the Green Ova sphere. ‘Started Da Bottom’ takes on the dubious rags-to-riches of ‘Started From The Bottom’ with an authenticity Drake can’t muster, as Squadda raps about times “when the cops spin the block two times.” The duo is not immune from rap’s current obsessions: ‘They Don’t Believe’ finds MAz getting in on the Autotune-drenched melancholy of Future with the metallic squeals of ‘I can die any day / I can die any way’.
Releasing 75 minutes of new music with 808s & Dark Grapes III around the corner is a head-scratcher, but Main Attrakionz have always done things their own way. On Best Duo Ever, they do it with ease.
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The ever-prolific Miami art-rap clique shares a relatively lean 14-track effort in advance of the sequel to last year’s breakthrough Zuology mixtape.
As always, Metro Zu are best described as scattershot. The majority of the tape aims for the the type of angsty Memphis-meets-Atlanta rap favored by Metro Zu’s Raider Klan contemporaries, but with a self-awareness often missing from their work; there’s definitely something tongue-in-cheek about ‘Dickieset’ and the singsong ‘Bakwood’. At times, the vocals are almost an afterthought, like on the 20,000-leagues-under-footwork of ‘Du-Hikee (Koolwitit)’ and ‘Crashbandicoot2’, while the creepy ‘Dealin Wit A Thug’ gurgles with Autotune.
The highlights couldn’t be more different from each other. ‘8 Bit Rap Shawty’ lives up to its name, pairing video game percussion and some over-the-top vileness that puts Odd Future to shame (‘pussy n*ggas hating like a fucking homosexual / all I do is nut, nut, joog on schedule’ ); like Odd Future, the lyrics are intended to outrage. Meanwhile, the live-wire ‘Futuristikmakattak’ updates booty bass for 2013, with a thumper of a beat by Miami moombahton-head JWLS.
The tape closes with a fun-house outro that rides synths like chutes and ladders — it will have listeners questioning what they just experienced. Metro Zu wants to be the weirdest group in an increasingly weird rap underground, and they’re succeeding.
Download Z UNIT.
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UNKNOWN DEATH 2002
Yung Lean is a bit like Marmite in the FACT office, and while some of us were quickly charmed by the Swedish teen’s awkward, mopey bullshitting when he appeared a few months back, there are still just as many who find it about as listenable as Jandek, and that’s probably what makes it so perfect. You see, Yung Lean, despite all the rap posturing, is really making outsider music – this is his deeply Scandinavian take on a sound he has about as much in common with as he does the Delta blues, and it doesn’t seem to matter. Like Riff Raff before him, Lean appears oblivious to these concerns, and has quickly and quietly cut-and-pasted himself a rap career replete with a crew (The Sad Boys), a sound (cloud rap via Japan), and a look (very young, very white).
Unknown Death 2002 is Lean’s debut mixtape, and as anyone who caught his stream of YouTube hits might have guessed, is confounding from the very start. The rapper hinges his rhymes on Lil B’s sometimes brilliant, sometimes vapid free-associating ‘based’ flow, and it’s hard to fault him for trying. Just as The Based God drifts from character to character, sometimes dipping into utter nonsense, Lean’s persona follows, as he spouts about elements of US street life he assuredly has absolutely no idea about first hand. “Louis duffle bag filled with heroin” he utters quietly and cautiously on ‘Hurt’, and you have to wonder that if a Swedish teenager really did have an expensive designer duffle bag filled with Class A drugs, would he really be trying to make it as a blog rapper? Probably not, and the combination of this bizarre anti-real imagery and Lean’s confusing sad-sack flow is undoubtedly a large part of the appeal.
The other main draw is the rapper’s impressive racket of producers, from his Sad Boy compatriots Yung Gud, Gregar and Yung Sherman to better-known cloud rap mainstays suicideyear and Friendzone. It’s these beats that set Lean apart from other cloud-skating wannabes, and his Sad Boys especially have cooked up a logical continuation of Clams Casino and Beautiful Lou’s innovative techniques, emerging with thick, melancholy numbers that drip with a rare (or should that be #rare?) and earnest allure. So if they’re all so excited by this music, you have to wonder what it is exactly that makes them all so sad? “Squadda Bambino isn’t here, and neither is Lil B. If Squadda and Lil B were here, we’d be happy.” claimed Young Lean to Noisey recently. Glad that’s settled, then.
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London dancehall crew The Heatwave toast “the amazing skill, power and creativity of women at the centre of dancehall culture” with this ladies-only mix of reggae, soca, and bashment. While the dancehall scene is often noted for its hyper-masculinity (via lyrics that are often misogynistic and homophobic), the Heatwave note that “loads of the biggest hits in the Caribbean are made by women for women.”
The 68-track mix bursts with Carribbean heat and features Queen of Dancehall Lady Saw, pioneer Sister Nancy, and contemporary star Natalie Storm. There’s also loads of UK talent, including London star Lady Chann, The Bug-collaborator Warrior Queen, and Mercury Prize-winner Ms. Dynamite. There are also familiar songs for dancehall-novices, including Rihanna’s ‘Man Down’ and Kyla’s superhit ‘Do You Mind’.
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Hustle Gang signee Doe B might not be on Kanye’s level, but that doesn’t seem to have stopped him from comparing himself to Jesus. Of course, he’s humbly only portraying himself as Baby Jesus, so we’re guessing Yeezy might not have to worry just yet. In fact, it’s not Yeezy who Doe B appears to imitate across the course of the tape, it’s actually Southern staple Young Jeezy. Thankfully, Doe manages to separate himself with a wisely procured cache of producers, and despite almost being toppled by the usual Hustle Gang obligatory B.o.B appearance, holds it down respectfully over a mammoth twenty-one tracks.
Doe kicks things off confidently with the phenomenal ‘God Flow’, one of the album’s most innovative cuts and it’s clear that there’s something at least a little different about the rapper’s motives. Here’s a track that manages to straddle the line between melancholy and boastful perfectly, highlighting the grimier side with ease.
Sadly the rest of the production choices aren’t all so innovative, but we do manage to hear appearances from Gucci’s right-hand-man Zaytoven, FKi, C-Note, Metro Boomin’ and FACT favourite and producer-du-jour Childish Major. While many of these guys are on autopilot (thanks Zay), it’s typically Childish Major who comes out trumps with the widescreen ‘Neva Had Shit’. It feels like Doe finds his footing well over these less obvious cuts, yet flounders a little on the Atlanta-by-numbers vibe that dominates the record.
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Moombahton has certainly changed since LA-via-DC talent Dave Nada spawned the genre not even four years ago (you can read about its origins in the FACT Dictionary), and while car-sirens and bro-step tendencies may have to come to dominate the scene, Nada keeps it simple: house music slowed to 108 BPM grooves. There’s no tracklist for the nearly 90-minute mix, but this one seems to be focused on its titular “vibes” — download, play, lay back, and relax.
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THE RISE OF TINKAVELLI
Western Tink and Beautiful Lou’s Mobbin’ No Sobbin’ mixtape has been one of 2013’s dark horses, so you can imagine our glee on seeing this new set of cuts from the innovative Austin rapper sidle out, typically without fanfare. Fittingly there’s not much info about the tape, other than to state that it is apparently “a project made up of pieces of his life.” Which tells us absolutely fuck all. It’s certainly a patchwork of an offering though, with ‘proper’ tracks stitched in-between movie samples, song snippets and whatever else Tink could find to create his narrative. And there is a narrative, even if it’s not instantly obvious.
The rapper skates precariously from the East Coast of the 1990s to the Bay and beyond, tracking his rap obsessions with more than a little bit of sleight of hand. The result is a record that sounds as if it could have been pushed together by Madlib – all jump cuts, personal references and distorted funk. By the time we get to ‘What You Mad Fo’, which finds Tink rapping drunkenly over the Velvet Underground’s heroin-laced ‘Venus In Furs’ it’s obvious that the rapper is absolutely out on his own, and we just feel glad that he invited us along for the ride.
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THE SWEIZY LIFE
The cover Topdolla Sweizy’s latest mixtape is heavy with well-worn rap icons — stacks of cash, bottles of Cristal, anonymous stripper booty, nods to high fashion — and while these cliches dominate The Sweizy Life, the 22-year-old Washington, DC rapper at least tries to balance that with some street life truth-telling. He kicks off the mixtape with the antagonistic ‘Dirty World’, rapping “I just lost another homie / due to the streets / crooked cops killed my man / fuck the police.” On the flipside, ‘She Said’ is a heartbroken ode to a relationship tarnished by infidelity.
Unfortunately, the majority of The Sweizy Life seems borrowed from someone else’s life. ‘Playing With Them Bands’ and ‘Fuck A Price Tag’ are Future/Mike Will pastiche, the onomatopoeic ‘Skrrrttt Sktrrrttt Sktrrrttt’ cribs the Migos formula, and ‘Shoe Box’ could appear on any Brick Squad backbencher’s tape. For the most part, Sweizy struggles to separate himself from the pack.
The highlight of The Sweizy Life might actually be the introduction of DC’s Suavey Nino, whose trebly hooks animate the mixtape’s best moments — light-hearted fare like ‘Show Off’ and ‘Instagram’. And while the last thing the world needs is another twerk anthem, the major-key, Caribbean-flavored ‘Work It Shawty’ is a welcome change of pace, due in large part to Suavey Nino’s bubblegum hook.
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THE DEE & RICKY MIXTAPE COLLAB
Atlanta’s Speakerfoxx has turned in a surprisingly good mix here, despite the fact that it’s basically a flyer for New York clothing designers Dee & Ricky. The majority of the tape finds her thumbing through the year in rap, picking up Ciara’s ‘Body Party’, Katie Got Bandz and King Louie’s ‘Pop Out’ and Pusha T’s ‘Numbers on the Board’ just for starters. Her ability to drop in unexpected tracks like Beirut’s ‘Nantes’ is where the mix deviates from her peers however, and while that sounds like a horrible collision, it actually works. Also, she drops Master P twice – respect.
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