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The Week's Best Mixtapes and Free Mixes, August 16 2013

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.

It’s been a high profile week with drops from Chicago drill superstar Chief Keef, Houston’s Kirko Bangz, and Atlanta one-hit-wonder Trinidad James, and that’s hardly even mentioning Gucci Mane‘s ambitious three (!) full-length tapes. Even the week’s lower key rap releases, including a new full-length from Lil B’s old bandmate Young L and and EP from Raider Klan associate Lil Champ Fway have been startlingly good, and there’s also a couple of sizzling mixes from Oneman and house revivalist Disclosure just for good measure. Get stuck in.

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Love him or hate him, it’s hard to argue that Chief Keef’s presence in rap hasn’t had a profound influence on the genre. For better or for worse, his mumbles and chants have had a commanding presence – try playing ‘I Don’t Like’ in a rap club anywhere in the U.S. and you’ll see the reaction, it’s hard to ignore. Bang was the young rapper’s debut tape, and was the point where a very regional Chicago sound began to gain traction outside of the Midwest. Since then he’s been signed to a major, released a ‘proper’ album, locked up (thanks to Pitchfork), arrested countless times, and been featured on a Kanye West album, all before his eighteenth birthday.

Bang Pt.2 is Keef’s attempt at documenting his next phase, and just as its predecessor introduced listeners to a sound they weren’t familiar with, this new tape seems designed to show off Keef’s new set of tinny beats and drunken autotuned rants. That might sound like an about turn in the face of ‘I Don’t Like’ and ‘300’, but it makes sense to anyone who’s followed the rapper’s steady stream of Youtube drops since his release from jail. ‘Round Da Rosey’ and ‘Macaroni Time’ aren’t featured here but they might as well be – lackadaisical rhymes and paper-thin productions are the order of the day, and yet inexplicably Keef pulls through relatively unscathed.

The album is hardly brimming with dexterous lyricism, and lines like “I fucked this bitch/she liked to smoke/you dumb bitch/you’ve got to go” aren’t going to give Kendrick Lamar nightmares any time soon, but that’s hardly the point. On first listen, the record threatens to float away on its own lack of ambition, but listen a bit closer and you’ll find a surprisingly odd and often engaging selection. Keef doesn’t have the skills of King Louie or the personality of Katie Got Bandz, but like his new business associate Gucci Mane, there’s just a mystifying element to his sound that simply works. Bang Pt.2 is surreal, gross, poorly put together and tough to even listen to at a paltry 128kbps, yet it’s also refreshing and oddly brilliant. Isn’t that exactly what drew us all to Keef in the first place?

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California rapper/producer Young L emerged from The Pack, the same Bay Area rap crew that birthed ‘based’ legend Lil B, and while he hasn’t captured the blogs in quite the same way, he’s spent the last few years releasing a steady stream of immensely enjoyable low-key tapes. YFGOD is the latest of these, and for the most part finds the rapper on reliable form, waxing lyrical over a series of hazy and occasionally disarmingly emotional beats. This shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone who heard L’s excellent As I Float, which featured tracks all made from Imogen Heap samples, and he still sounds most comfortable when he’s backed by twinkling keys, airy vocals and saturated, clattering beats.

While Clams Casino leads proceedings with the predictably dusty ‘Introduction’, it’s when L opts to spit over Adele’s ‘Turning Tables’ on the album’s similarly titled second track that his mission statement becomes clear. You see L’s skill is that he can harness something that in the wrong hands would be massive misstep, and that can really make you rethink your pop prejudices. The rest of the record isn’t always so epic, but L has the same magical touch as he tangles with autotuned strip-club pop (‘Foil Wheels’, ‘Named Molly’), and disassembles Drake’s ‘Crew Love’ on ‘My 4’. We really only lose traction on awkward advance single ‘Earthquake’ which sticks out like a sore thumb with its lolloping beat and played out chant, but that’s a minor misstep on an otherwise very successful tape.

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23-year-old Houston rapper Kirko Bangz drops his first mixtape in nearly a year with Progression 3, and from the first lines of orchestral opener ‘Awwready’, it’s clear that his gently-Autotuned, melodic flow has become an even smoother Drake impression in the intervening months. Kirko shares both tone and topics with Toronto’s finest, as he raps about youthful romance and dealing with success; there’s even a crew love cut in ‘For My Niggas’. His most frequent mode, however, is rap crooner. ‘Tonight’ is a throwback slow jam full of soaring guitar soloing; ‘Rain Down’ and ‘Old Ways’ are similarly constructed quiet stormers. Blink and you’ll miss the transitions between the three.

More propulsive tracks like ‘What It Do’ and ‘I Got a Friend’ do a better job of balancing Kirko’s #sadboy leanings and Houston rap sensibilities. However, ‘Essay’ is the only track that pays tribute to Houston’s chopped-and-screwed lineage, while ‘Cup Up Top Down’ goes back to the well of his breakthrough single ‘Drank In My Cup’ and features Houston veterans Z Ro, Paul Wall, and Slim Thug. Speaking of sequels, the gospel-laced ‘Vent 2’ (a follow-up to Procrastination Kills 4’s ‘The Vent’) finds the rapper in an introspective mood.

Kirko is Houston’s answer to the R&B-heavy rap favored by Drake and Future, and he can certainly craft a single, if not a wholly original one. Rather than a freestyle over the ubiquitous Migos track of the same name, ‘Versace’ is a DJ Mustard-produced snap-jam that features Mustard compatriot YG (and French Montana, unfortunately).

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Only Gucci Mane would have the balls to release three mixtapes on a single day and still feel sound he had more to say. That’s not to say that World War 3’s tryptich of Lean, Molly and Gas are coherently good – far from it in fact – but if Gucci announced another three tapes next week, they’d probably be equally as confounding, brilliant and messy. He’s just that kind of rapper, and if you’ve been following him for any amount of time, you’ve probably become accustomed to it.

Even though it looks as if each tape is separated by Gucci’s particular drug of choice, this time around Gucci has smartly divided his tapes by producer, or production unit at least. Gas is handled by the Waka-affiliated 808 Mafia (and despite the much publicized beef, Waka even pops up on a number of tracks), Lean is tackled by a trio of Gucci veterans – Zaytoven, C-Note and Mike Will, and Molly looks to Atlanta’s new wave of beatmakers – Dun Deal, C4, Metro Boomin’ and Sonny Digital. Unsurprisingly, each producer tends to stick to his corner fairly rigidly. You want trap? Head over to 808 Mafia’s Gas, and you’ll find a set of neck snapping strip club bangers that wouldn’t have sounded out of place on Flockaveli. More interested in the high-er production values exhibited on Gucci’s (excellent) last album Trap House III? Well Lean should do the job, highlighting sing-songy guest spots from Future and Young Thug (who oddly appears to now simply be called Thug) with sizzling synths and Mike Will’s patented filter sweeps. Fancy something a bit more contemporary? Not to worry, Molly throws a spotlight on HPG’s Dun Deal and C4, and producer Metro Boomin’. Quite why Future/2 Chainz producer Sonny Digital pops up here is unclear, but he doesn’t sound out of place in amongst the landscape of low-key rhythms and lurching electronic flourishes.

There aren’t many surprises over the three tapes, but those of you looking for a Gucci fix should be well served, there’s probably one really good album in amongst the fifty-odd tracks, so get selecting.

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This week, the chart-topping duo laid down their first of what could be many Essential Mixes. The set kicks off with a slew of Golden Era hip-hop from the likes of Slum Village (off a record the duo spoke to FACT about previously), Gang Starr, and Q-Tip before building steam and unleashing the type of house and garage jams with which they’ve found so much success. Expect tracks by Moodymann, T. Williams, and George Fitzgerald, along with Paul Woolford’s massive ‘Untitled’ and a couple by the brotherly duo themselves.

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Raider Klan’s Lil Champ Fway returns with his second mini-mixtape in as many months, but unlike Finesse Muzik, Ayee Ladie$ has a singular focus: the bedroom. After an intro that borrows from Travis Porter hit ‘Ayy Ladies’, Fway launches into languid, female-fixated songs set to suitably woozy beats from Raider Klan associates (Mike Creeps 1000, TRVWL, Pyrvmids, and Ronny J, among others).

Subtle touches throughout keep Ayee Ladie$ interesting: the jazzy outro of ‘Red Diamonds’, the evocative details on ‘Fall Into You’ (“this girl stacked like some Pringles / naturally curly hair, her shit tangled”), Fway’s lucid flow on ‘Rare’, etc. And while the lyrics tend work the same themes, there are some sonic diversions: the detuned, orchestral strings of ‘She Want It’ are a melodic improvement on the tape’s 808 kick-and-roll template.

The mixtape is rounded out “bonus tracks” by Prez P and Twelve’len; the former revolves around misogynistic samples from both 2pac and The Weeknd, and both tracks are skippable. It wouldn’t have fit thematically, but Fway’s ‘Graveyard Shift’ (featuring Yung Simmie and Denzel Curry and produced by SpaceGhostPurp) would have been a much more compelling inclusion.

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So far in 2013, the Rinse veteran and 502 boss has released the superb UK-meets-US Solitaire Vol. 1 mixtape, crafted a handful of club-ready bootlegs, and stepped up for a powerhouse set on Diplo’s BBC Radio 1xtra show.

The in-demand DJ continues to move from strength to strength, sitting in for an hour-long Resident Advisor podcast. “It’s just a journey of good dance music—something you would expect to hear me play out if you saw me this weekend,” he told RA. “It’s very club-led and is based on the experience of seeing me play, which I think you can hear in the mix.”

The set includes garage, house, and techno from the likes of Trevino, Boddika, Redinho, Todd Edwards, and Hysterics, along with SOPHIE’s bombastic ‘Elle’ B-side. Always good for some US club heat, Oneman drops a track by Chicago phenom Sasha Go Hard and an “Akito Claptrap x Ice Rink Blend” of Jeremih’s sublime ‘Fuck You All The Time’, before closing with the one-two of Lil Silva and MJ Cole. The best news about this mix? Solitaire Vol. 2 is due in the Fall.

Download via iTunes or directly.

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Iamsu!’s Hearbtreak Gang form like Voltron for this very first crew mixtape, and it’s not a bad effort. There’s always been something moderately unconvincing about Iamsu!’s take on the Bay Area sound (especially when veterans like E-40 are still churning out bangers), and while that awkwardness still remains, it’s refreshing to hear him backed up by a handful of his associates. Those associates are P-Lo, $kip, Kool John, Sage The Gemini, Jy Ant and Rossi, and while you’ve probably not come across many of them before they put in solid work backing up ‘Su’s familiar low-key raps. Production wise you should know what to expect and the sparse, Cali-bleached club sizzlers are workmanlike if nothing else.

Occasionally something wrenches loose from the path – ‘Right Here’ is laced with a particularly eerie set of synthesizer sounds, and ‘Bossed Up’ is just Brainfeeder-y enough to set itself apart from the rest of the tracks. All too often though the record gets lost in a sea of DJ Mustard-lite piano hits and forgettable rhymes. HBK Forever is enjoyable, summery and bright, sure, but once it comes to an end you might struggle to remember a single note.

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Readers of the mixtape round-up will be more than familiar with the embarrassment of riches that is Chicago’s rap renaissance. Beyond familiar names like Chief Keef and King Louie, there is a growing list of diverse and captivating female rappers: Katie Got Bandz, Sasha Go Hard, Chella H, and underground fave Tink, to name a few.

You can add Dreezy to the list. With DSM, a “pre-tape” to her forthcoming Schizo, the young rapper has entered the Chicago rap conversation with gusto. Dreezy has the intensity of Nicki Minaj on the Destiny’s Child-sampling ‘Say My Name’; she’s not pulling any punches with lines like “the way she copy me I’m like Hitler.” She holds her own with Louie on the melodramatic drill anthem ‘Ain’t For None’.

Meanwhile, the slow-and-low ‘Finessin’ and synth-littered ‘Nothing’ find Dreezy dabbling with the melodic, Autotuned side of du jour rap; the latter is pretty catchy. Stick around for the tape’s finest lyrical display, the downcast weed-ode ‘I Love That Bitch’… and what would an odds-and-ends collection be without a ‘Versace’ freestyle?

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Let’s get one thing straight first – Trinidad James isn’t a great rapper by any means. He’s a personality, that’s for sure and thanks to the absolutely huge breakout success of ‘All Gold Everything’, he’ll probably be around for at least a little while longer, but 10 PC Mild doesn’t do a great deal to help his case. The biggest problem is how stage managed it all feels – you get the sense that James (or somebody in his team) is trying to hedge his bets, making sure there’s something for everyone on the tape’s collection of ten tracks. That means a rough, messy hodgepodge of beats with a pair of Young Chop-produced bangers sandwiching the woozy post-Drake sad boy stylings of ‘Bino$ vs. Bree$’.

Worst of all is ‘Hip$ter $trip Club’, that sounds like a piss-poor rework of Lil B’s Clams Casino-produced ‘I’m God’, with Clams’ original neck-snapping snare replaced by a flaccid smash that sounds as if it’s been snatched from a Deadmou5e track. 10 PC Mild is the sound of a rapper desperately trying to find an identity, and one who doesn’t have a great deal to say while doing it.

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