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.
Like the most rewarding mixtape round-ups, this week’s edition unearths gems from unexpected places and eschews the usual suspects. Apart from the irrepressible Soulja Boy, most of the names within will be foreign to all but the most dedicated rap fans. DC upstarts Shy Glizzy and Phil Adé, Chicago newcomer KIT, Raider Klan backbencher Nell, Waka devotee Chaz Gotti, and King Louie producer SnapBackOnDaTrack might be a few degrees removed from more familiar names, but don’t hold that against them — there are some surprisingly solid efforts here. If those aren’t your bag, the list is rounded out by powerhouse DJ sets from Mumdance, Helix, and Southern Hospitality.
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Before he hit twenty, DC rapper Shy Glizzy already had a handful of mixtapes — and beefs with Chiraq lightning-rod Chief Keef and fellow DC knucklehead Fat Trel — to his name. A little older and wiser, he sees himself as a representative of “the real DC,” and the city’s next-up talent; on Law 2, he makes an emphatic case for both.
With a voice reminiscent of pre-fall-off Weezy — nasal and forceful, but soulful when required — and the trap-focus of his Atlanta and Chicago compatriots, Glizzy has both competence and charisma in the right amounts. Don’t believe his protestations (“I just started this rap shit / so please don’t get it twisted…”): he takes “this rap shit” seriously.
Over synth-soaked, Zaytovenesque beats (several provided by ‘Karate Chop’ scribe Metro Boomin), Glizzy has the requisite swagger and bluster, but with just enough self-deprecation (“I know I ain’t got that Pusha T money / but I could push a key, nigga, I got street money”) and self-loathing (“I can’t do what I want and I feel fucking awful”) to be compelling. It’s a similar formula to fellow rising star Kevin Gates, who shows up on a song (‘Gudda’) where Glizzy insists he’s “been going hard / since Pokemon cards” — like Gates, Glizzy knows when to take a break from the gangsta posture.
The DC youngster is also growing as a storyteller. ‘Some Ones’ rings true: a downtrodden young women (probably no older than the rapper himself) turns to stripping, and while it’s no ‘Brenda’s Got A Baby’ or even Kendrick Lamar’s ‘Sing About Me, I’m Dying of Thirst,’ the existence of a narrative is a pleasant surprise. Similarly, ‘Free The Gang’ is the contemplative, “lives lost to the street” tune; Glizzy pulls it off by singing — and nailing — the hook.
Still, no one would or should confuse Glizzy for a conscious rapper. The soulful, piano-driven rumbler ‘The N Word’ is exactly what you think it is, but don’t expect a semantics discussion, just a laundry-list of the differences between the rap and trap games. Even here, though, he walks the line between both: “still walking with a pistol / you don’t know what I done been through / I know I have potential.” Shy Glizzy certainly has the potential to put DC on the map; here’s hoping he succeeds where other local rappers (cough, Wale, cough) have failed.
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THE REVOLUTION ’94
The fate of Raider Klan since their unceremonious splintering a few weeks back has been hard to predict, so it’s refreshing to see the 90s-fixated crew belch out yet another unfuckwithable collection of tracks. This time it falls to Miami rapper Nell to take the spotlight, and following last year’s 90s Mentality he’s managed to piece together one of most unexpectedly coherent tapes of the year so far.
Surprisingly lacking the usual Spaceghostpurrp productions that tend to be a permanent fixture on Raider missives, it falls to Ronny J to handle the majority of the beats, and he rises to the challenge, emerging with a set of tracks that sound familiar yet surprisingly current. Of course, they’re still steeped in the Klan’s unshakable Three Six Mafia fetishism, but each one is laced with a grimy, melancholy sway that becomes more and more evident on each listen.
Nell’s proficient, confident raps certainly help, and he’s a lot more dexterous on the mic than many of his Raider cohorts, opting for clear, annunciated delivery in lieu of the barely-audible mumble of Purrp. It’s a refreshing choice, and doesn’t sacrifice any of his crew’s inherent eccentricity by a long shot. The Revolution ’94 is up there with Raider Klan’s very best records – do not sleep on this under any circumstances.
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KIT has more in common with the goth-nodding, fashion-forward A$AP crew than with his Chicago compatriots, but his sound is certainly his own. His debut NewWavey mixtape is more cohesive than most first efforts, due in large part to executive production by The-Drum’s Jeremiah Meece, who is credited (in some form) on each of the tape’s eleven tracks. The hazy beatcraft of Meece’s main gig is pushed in a more rap-favoring direction for a haunted-trap-house sound; sinister synths, 808 wallop, and machinegun percussion abound.
Along with production (and some vocal) duty, Meece calls upon the talents from the rest of Chicago’s underground cottage industry. R&B collective JODY handle the melancholic hook on ‘My Bad Bitch’, polymath The GTW produces the trunk-rattling ‘Cloud On My Mind’, and Meece teams with The-Drum partner Brandon Boom for subwoofer stress tests ‘Fuck You’ and ‘Jump’.
For his part, KIT’s sing-song flow is applied in service of the songs, if not the lyrics. ‘Lights On’ is more hypnotic hook than anything, and ‘Profit Prophet’ owes more to R. Kelly than King L. Continuing the Chicago-based analogies, ‘Iodine Poisoning’ sees KIT reaching for a bit of Kanye’s God complex: “nail me to the cross / and kill me / shrooms got my vision blurry / I can still see.” While KIT’s verses and hooks mostly stick to well-worn tropes (the drugs, women, and fashion trifecta), his commitment to making the chopped-and-screwed, all-black-everything aesthetic his own is admirable. The A$AP and Raider Klan crews could learn a thing or two.
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DIFFERENT CIRCLES – LEVEL SIX
The reinvigorated UK DJ/producer builds on his FACT-favorite Twists & Turns with the sixth edition of his long-running Different Circles podcast. Like Twists & Turns, the hour-long set is a journey through the vibrant intersections between grime, techno, and club music.
The mix includes tracks by Paul Woolford’s Special Request alias, Mickey Pearce, Distal, Bloom, Scratch DVA, and more. Pay attention at around the 20:00 minute mark, where you’ll hear a new track from Mumdance and Logos; at about 27:00 listen for new material from Nguzunguzu and Keysound’s Wen. While the tape never really lets up, the last third is particularly relentless, bounding from vocal grime to ghetto house to throwback hardcore. “This level is very rare,” Mumdance writes, “Please be careful.” Heed his warning.
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LIFE AFTER FAME
Life After Fame was first teased with the surprisingly decent advance single ‘Ridin Round’, so it’s a little odd that the track is missing from the final tape. We’re not really sure what happened exactly, but since the album itself was touted as a ‘proper release’ (read: not a mixtape) we’re guessing that its absence has something to do with the tape’s unceremonious change of status. Certainly it’s an odd freebie for Soulja Boy as it manages to rock through its hour-long duration without resorting to a single guest spot (seriously, a rap mixtape with no features) and possesses a level of quality on the production side that’s not exactly expected when you mention the rapper’s name.
It’s a pleasant about-turn, and feels far more focused than the lazy and only sporadically enjoyable Foreign 2 and King Soulja. Of course DeAndre’s still trampling over more marketable rappers’ front lawns with each track, but at this point listeners should be well aware of his USP. Throughout the tape DeAndre evokes the spirit of Gucci Mane, Chief Keef, Drake, Waka Flocka Flame and whoever else is getting mainstream play right now, and yet somehow (and here’s where the lack of guest spots comes into it) he retains his own inimitable je ne sais quoi. It’s an inexplicable feat really, but Life After Fame is one of the best outings we’ve head from Soulja Boy in some time – even the artwork’s pretty great.
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Brick Squad production unit 808 Mafia are as reliable as a can of Coca Cola – you know exactly what you’re going to get, and there are very few who can really replicate what they do. They hold the reigns on the production for the entirety of 808 Gotti, and with Waka-affiliated spitter Chaz Gotti handling mic duties, you should probably already have some idea what you’re in for. It’s no-holds-barred heavyweights from beginning to end, and each tune is blessed with the kind of production we all fell for back when Lex Luger, Southside and Purps put a trademark on the sound with their genre-shifting productions for Flockaveli.
Gotti’s not attempting to make fine art here – it’s balls to the wall club music, and it’s far more successful than the majority of tapes that fire out like hailstones from the DatPiff dumping ground each week. Sure, each track might use the same basic drumset, and have the same flickering synthesizer parts, but Gotti’s got enough grizzled charm to keep your neck snapping from start to finish. Turn up!
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NO SODA 3
It shouldn’t come as a surprise how much we love Chicago rapper King Louie here at FACT HQ, so a new tape from regular Louie collaborator SnapbackOnDaTrack is a pretty easy sell. In fact Louie turns up on three of the album’s cuts, the hilarious Gotye-sampling ‘Old Bitch’ from the March Madness tape, and ‘Time’ and ‘Turn 2 Me’ from last week’s Jeep Music. If you’ve already got a complete Louie collection there are still plenty of reasons to check it out too, with appearances from YP, Filthy Rich, GLC (who was recently spotted working with Kanye West), Sonny Black and plenty more.
Snap’s varied, often sample-laced beats are a welcome diversion from the usual stereotypical 808 drops and chattering hats you might expect. Take GLC’s ‘More ISM’, which finds the young producer throwing a delicate female vocal through the kind of distortion you’d more readily expect to come across on a Wolf Eyes LP. It works surprisingly well, and his well-handled, jazzy flourishes bring to mind the patented ‘soul trap’ of fellow Windy City producer Tree. The sound quality is variable (that vocal on Lil Homicide’s ‘Shottas’ could do with some work, c’mon) but as a continuing portrait of one of Chicago’s most interesting producers, No Soda 3 works very well indeed.
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Helix is the relative newcomer behind 2012’s stellar ‘Stacks Riddim’ and an EP of similarly spartan percussion trax for Night Slugs’ Club Constructions series. The Atlanta producer had some bad luck recently: he was robbed of a ton of gear (and his passport, to add insult to injury). “first take of a mix i was supposed to put out,” he writes on Soundcloud. “not very well mixed but my serato and decks got stolen so here it is… not like i can do another take any time soon.”
Sure, the hour-long mix is a little rough around the edges, but anything that kicks off with Philly soul group First Choice and bounces between breakneck techno and Atlanta rap is good in our book. While there’s no tracklist, Helix promises tracks by Wiley, Neana, Migos, POL Style, Rich Homie Quan, DVA, Future, the Night Slugs clique and more. Take a listen and help him get back on his feet by Paypaling what you can to email@example.com.
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Maryland rapper Phil Adé first emerged in 2009 with the Starting on JV mixtape; while a few more tapes followed, Adé has been was mostly quiet since 2011. The long-gestating R.O.S.E. (short for Result Of Society’s Evil) is his attempt to wear the crown of DMV hip-hop; on opener ‘Nas Told Me’ Adé nods to J. Cole with the album’s statement of purpose: “Nas told me the world is yours / best believe I’m gonna get what’s mine.”
Adé is at his best when he sticks to confessional lyrics about the day-to-day, roughly-middle class concerns: on ‘Check My Tags’ he admits “[I] get my Jordan’s too early /[I] pay my bills too late.” ‘City Lights’ repurposes Skream’s ‘Under The City Lights’ and finds Adé aping the light-hearted flow of Chance the Rapper and telling cheeky tales about chasing tail. Certainly, Adé is a lover, not a fighter; ‘Simply Beautiful’ enlists Dee Boy and DC crooner Raheem DeVaughn with sensual results. Likewise, ‘2AM’ is a vivid portrayal of late-night indiscretions and features a surprising verse by reliable pinch-hitter Bun B.
However, when Adé strays from this tone — whether embracing Atlanta trap stylings on ‘Money’ or going for a reductive hook (“I wanna buy my bitch every bag”) on ‘Every Bag’ — R.O.S.E. suffers. Thankfully, no matter the detour, Chicago producer Sunny Norway (who mans most of the tracks) mostly sidesteps mixtape beat cliches for tracks that are sonically diverse, from the Metronomy-sampling ‘Big Mistake’ to the rumbling, 808s and Heartbreaks-reminiscent ‘Nas Told Me’. There are enough tracks where Adé and his producers are on the same page, and if the rapper stays focused on his strengths, he just might get what’s his.
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TEXAS CLUB MUSIC VOL.1
If you’re in London and you listen to rap music, there’s a good chance that you’re already very familiar with Southern Hospitality. Club nights, mixtapes, artist management, you name it, they do it, and they tend to do it better than most. This weighty collection of Texas rap rollers is just simply more evidence for the case, and rounds up a whole host of regional artists that certainly aren’t on everyone’s radar right now. This is industrial strength stuff, anchored by regional club hits like Brook Gang’s ‘Pop That’ and G Seven and Dorrough Music’s ‘Two In The Shirt’, and shines a spotlight on a scene that’s often forgotten in favour of Atlanta’s chart dominating strip club sound.
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