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The Week’s Best Mixtapes and Free Mixes, September 6 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.

Last week’s round-up was anchored by DJ mixes, and this week’s has none — such is the nature of the mixtape beast. Thankfully, it was an impressive week for hip-hop mixtapes, with plenty of Atlanta rap, Chicago drill, Raider Klan and more on deck. And no, Lil Wayne didn’t make the cut.

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DJ Spinz’ first two HPG tapes have so far served as pretty indisputable portholes into the flourishing Atlanta scene, and the third installment is no different. It kicks off confidently with Future’s latest single ‘Honest’, which was produced by Spinz along with ‘Karate Chop’-producer Metro Boomin. Future is arguably responsible for the Atlanta rap crowd’s current fixation with singsong delivery (just check Young Thug and Rich Homie Quan, who fittingly helm the next two tracks on the record) and it makes sense that he should open proceedings. It’s Thug who takes the gold in this sing-off though, offering another solid reason to pay attention to his confounding style with ‘Stoner’. Trust us if you haven’t grabbed his 1017 Thug tape yet, you need to remedy that immediately.

Spinz cherry picks another handful of tracks we’ve heard before – PeeWee Longway’s ‘Trenches’ (which is now thankfully free of the oppressive compression heard on Running Round The Lobby), Kevin Gates’ exemplary ‘Strokin’, Migos’ timely ‘Hannah Montana’ and ‘Long Time’ and Young Jeezy’s Childish Major-produced ‘Talk That’ to name just a handful. Typically, they often sound better here than they did on their respective tapes, and Spinz has sequenced them with a DJ’s sleight of hand giving them a new lease of life. Add this to the fact that we get a brand new track from FACT favourite Rome Fortune with the skeletal and brilliant ‘Turn Left’ and you’ve got yourself a pretty essential tape.

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Little Rock’s SL Jones is like B.o.B. without the rock star aspirations, and his melodic style is well suited for the era of Drake, Future, et al. Way of Life No Hobby is produced entirely by Atlanta transplant Metro Boomin (Future, Gucci, Ludacris) who crafts 13 tracks of widescreen, synth-and-bass Atlanta rumblers (with a few chopped-and-screwed touches for good measure) that owe plenty to Mike Will and Zaytoven.

Jones is generally a light-hearted presence on the mic, spitting verses and singing hooks (with the help of Autotune) with aplomb. His lyrics ring true and mostly avoid rap game hyperbole, bounding between the street-wise (“I’ve been trapping out the tour / I’ve been acting immature / Being broke is so contagious / I’ve been asked to find a cure”) and the confessional (“I used a lot of problems on my problems / on my old man / now I gotta figure out how to solve them / I’m a grown man”). His flow is versatile, too; he affects triplet-heavy, rat-a-tat flow a la Migos on trunk-ratting ‘Deuces N Treys’. The tape’s few guest spots are well-placed: Trouble and Starlito mix it up on trap anthem ‘Don’t Want Nan’, and Kevin Gates and Killer Mike bring an edge to radio-friendly highlight ‘America’s Nightmare’.

SL Jones and Metro Boomin prove a potent duo. Along with ‘America’s Nightmare’, ‘Hard to Behave’, ‘Down 4 You’ and ‘Big Bank (No Ones)’ would work on the radio or in the club thanks to Jones’ ear for a hook. The resurgent South has had no trouble churning out street rappers, so it’s a pleasant surprise to see someone pushing the sound in a poppier direction.

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1017 in-houser C4 has been putting in the work over the last couple of years, and along with DJ Spinz (who also has a tape out this week), Dun Deal and Childish Major has helped redefine the Atlanta sound. His presence has been unavoidable if you follow the genre, and Decoded feels like his victory lap. Here we have breakout tracks like Gucci Mane and Wiz Khalifa’s ‘Nothin On Ya’ and Juicy J’s ‘Ain’t No Coming Down’ alongside lesser known gems such as Rome Fortune’s ‘Don’t Wanna Be A Star’ and DJ Iceberg’s ‘BLB’, painting a pretty clear picture of C4’s sound.

The producer said of Rome (in an interview with Mike Boyd) “he challenges my creativity,” and that’s certainly the case with the two tracks presented here, which are easily the weirdest of the bunch. The ideas – buried samples, glassy synthesizers and back-breaking electronic beats – carry throughout the record, but it’s at these rare moments where it feels like the producer gets the chance to take a step back from the Atlanta strip club production line a little. Saying that, he’s one of that sound’s most gifted beatmakers, as Rocko’s soundsystem crumbling ‘One Two’ and the cellphone bleat of Rich The Kid’s ‘Exotic’ both show commendably.

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Despite an unceremonious split from Spaceghostpurrp’s Raider Klan, young South Florida rapper Denzel Curry has stayed resolute the face of the fallout, and sticks to his guns here on debut album Nostalgic 64. While far less subterranean than his ex-crew’s regular output, the Three Six tropes, the chiming bells and the murky atmospheres are proof that he’s still willing to carry on their legacy. Still, the production values are at least a tiny bit higher. Nostalgic 64 is billed as a ‘proper’ album even though it’s readily available to stream online, and although the definitions between album and mixtape are becoming more and more blurry, it certainly sounds like some care’s been put into the production.

Metro Zu-affiliated beatmaker POSHstronaut handles the album’s strongest tracks – the eerie ‘Dark & Violent’ and Company Flow-soundalike and advance single ‘N64’ – and while they might serve as a reminder of Curry’s prior affiliations they’re just different enough to stand out against more upbeat cuts like ‘Rem’ and ‘Like Me’. Live favourite ‘Threatz’ is also included and with assistance from Robb Bank$ and Yung Simmie gives possibly the best reason why Curry is maybe the one Raider affiliate who actually might break out at some point.

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Not to be confused with Hell Rell or fellow Raider Klan member Nell (whose The Revolution ‘94 was one of the year’s most coherent efforts), Miami rapper Rell makes an impression with his latest mixtape, Temptations & Trouble. Rell is Raider Klan through and through, so the tape is heavy with the Three 6 Mafia references that have defined the crew’s material. Still, it’s more reminiscent of Key Nyata’s pristine Shadowed Diamond,in that it’s cleanly-produced and without Spaceghostpurrp’s hazy and grime.

Trouble & Temptations is a tight twelves track. ‘GankBangin’ pops with the menace of late period Three 6, while the tape-looping ‘NightTerrors’ alludes to the group’s earlier work. Rell knows soulful, as well, going in over lush and funky beats on ‘Smxkx’ and ‘HerbalFinesse’. Rell turns in a solid freestyle over Bone Thugs-n-Harmony’s gangsta classic ‘Thuggish Ruggish Bone’, and he’s at his sharpest on the double-time ‘WhatIKnow x WordOfMouth’. Raider Klan has had its share of turbulence, but they’ve quietly put together a string of impressive releases thanks to newcomers like Rell.

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Chicago newcomer Johnny May Cash is a part of Young Chop’s 8TMG crew, and his half-rapped/half-sung Autotune gurgle fits in with the prevailing trend of the CHI-ATL axis, and while his lyrics aren’t anything to write home about, he certainly has a sense for a seductive melody. Young Chop contributes woozy, melodramatic beats throughout the tape, and while a natural fit with Cash’s sensitive thug pleadings, his tracks tend to become anonymous. ‘Fuck Da Bitch Up Norf’ benefits from a change-of-pace beat by Leek-e-Leek which coaxes a more intense performance from Cash and guest Lil Dave. The tape saves the best for last: ‘A Lota Mo Hoes’ is a solid, ‘Area Codes’-ish effort. Johnny May Cash has mastered that type of tune; here’s hoping his next effort shows what else he can do.

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Named after the rapper’s Cleveland, Ohio zip code, 44108 is King Chip’s self-confessed “dark” album and sports a selection of high profile guests. Kanye-collaborator Travi$ Scott shows up early on ‘Old English’, contributing a gloomy ecclesiastic backdrop and a set of typically off-kilter vocals. This sets the stage for what manages to be an uncompromisingly odd record, and while its wide-reaching sound can be occasionally jarring Chip reigns it in surprisingly confidently. Southern legends Scarface and MJG add their unmistakable drawl to the reggae-influenced ‘If I Die Today’ and Pusha T and Kid Cudi lay down raps on the WZRD-produced ‘Vortex’ and you get the feeling it would be easy for Chip’s voice to be lost over the course of the album, but it’s actually the tracks without flashy features that end up shining brightest.

Sparse rattler ‘Police in the Trunk’ straddles the line between the South’s old and new while still retaining a distinct twang of originality, and ‘A Nigga Shot Me’ is a lyrical tour-de-force finding Chip recounting street tales that bring to mind a young Nas. Easily one of the most diverse mixtapes we’ve heard in a while, 44108 won’t satisfy those of you looking for your weekly trap fix (even though Lex Luger does indeed show up towards the end of the tape), but anyone looking for something a little deeper to sink their teeth into should check without delay.

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Chief Keef running partner Lil Reese (who turned a spot on ‘I Don’t Like’ into a Def Jam contract) shares his second solo mixtape, the ten-track Supa Savage. If you’re familiar with Reese, Keef, or the rest of Glory Boyz Entertainment, you know what to expect: typical Chicago drill fare, heavy on 808s, street tales, and reductive, sing-along hooks.

Supa Savage checks all the right boxes: ‘Irrelevant’ features a gently Autotuned hook and a trademarked beat by drill king Young Chop, while Natural Disaster brings Exorcist whistles and synth orchestras to ‘Wassup’ and ‘Relate’, respectively. The always-divisive Keef shows up on ‘What It Look Like’ and ‘We Won’t Stop’, while Lil Durk fares better on ‘Wassup’. The tape is rounded out by the warmed-over ‘No Lackin, Money Stackin’ (which first appeared on Funkmaster Flex’s Who You Mad At? Me Or Yourself?) features Waka Flocka and Wale.

With a simple flow that is closer to that of King Louie than Chief Keef, Lil Reese is more digestible than the GBE boss. However, he’s a bit short on personality, and it may be difficult for him to best Chicago’s other Lil rappers (Durk, Herb, Bibby) no matter how hard Def Jam works.

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Detroit rapper Boldy James’ March-released EP Grand Quarters was a grim blue-collar look at the beleaguered city and his husky rhymes a far cry from Danny Brown’s helium-voiced Adderall-fuelled squeal. Produced by ex-Cool Kid Chuck Inglish it hinted at great things for the long-promised debut full-length proper My 1st Chemistry Set. That album is only just over a month away now, but James clearly had enough extra material to put together the generous but clunkily titled Jammin’ 30: In The Morning.

Produced by a host of different names (the full length is touted to be all handled by Alchemist), this feels like James’ street record, from the Kevin Gates-isms of highlight ‘Turn It Down’ to the industrial strength, club destroying ‘I Took It’. It’s a shame that the weird subtlety of EP tracks ‘For the Birds and ‘One of One’ has been tossed out of the window in favour faster, urgent beats, but James rises to the challenge, replacing his smoky molasses-slow flow with the kind of barked rhymes that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Master P record. It doesn’t all work well, and the oversaturation of this particular sound makes it a tough market to crack, but Jammin’ 30: In the Morning is a solid enough appetizer before we’re treated to the main course.

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After listening to Queens rap collective World’s Fair’s Bastards of the Party, one thing is certain: these guys can definitely rap. The tape is filled to the gills with notebook lyricism, and it should be noted that the whole thing sounds superb (possibly due to Fool’s Gold’s quality control). In the age of 96kbps mixtapes, a tape that slams with this much precision is instantly notable.

Bruiser Brigade-associate Black Noi$e handles about half of the tape’s beats, offering a modern twist on classic boom-bap: lead single ‘96 Knicks’ is a 50 Cent-interpolating banger and ‘Sammy Sosa’ is a claustrophobic head-nodder. For their part, World’s Fair is best when they go easy on the nostalgia and get weird: ‘Get Out’ sounds like an A$AP posse cut; the title track is a wobbly fire-starter that finds the crew throwing bows (“we at the party / screaming fuck your party”); DJ THOTH goes spoken-word on the spaced-out ‘BLISSKISS’. Unfortunately, no matter how professionally assembled, Bastards of the Party has the same issues of a lot of the Golden Age revival movement: the density doesn’t leave much room for fun.

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