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The Week’s Best Mixtapes and Free Mixes, September 13 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.

A pretty diverse selection this week: hip-hop from veteran Project Pat, (relative) newcomers Curren$y and Flatbush Zombies, and DJ sets from across the dance music spectrum, including FACT faves Hieroglyphic Being, Total Freedom, and Visionist. Oh, and apparently Gucci Mane had a new mixtape, too.

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It would be fair to say Gucci Mane’s had a very peculiar 2013. That’s in no way saying that previous years have been more straightforward, but after umpteen mixtapes, a handful of criminal charges and a well publicized Twitter meltdown (which may or may not have led to this album being released) it’s certainly been colorful. Somehow, through the fog of his own larger-than-life persona, he’s been able to keep the quality level surprisingly consistent. Last month’s triple-drop of Lean, Molly and Gas were hardly wall to wall brilliance, but when you consider the sheer number of tracks that have bubbled up from the Gucci vaults this year it’s surprising that they’re even listenable, let alone pretty damn good.

More surprising still is the quality of Diary of a Trap God, which might just be his best release this year. Rumor has it that the album was initially poised to be a ‘proper’ full-length for Atlantic Records, but after being unceremoniously dropped following this weekend’s Twitter tirade (let’s be honest with ourselves here, dude wasn’t hacked), Gucci decided to simply put it out for free, posting a zip of high quality MP3s before deleting his Twitter account entirely. This story would certainly go some way to explaining the quality of the album and its litany of high profile guests, from Bay Area legend E-40 to God bothering industrial pop superstar Marilyn Manson. Oh yes, this is the record featuring Marilyn Manson and Gucci Mane’s well publicized studio love-in, and the crazy thing is it’s actually pretty damn good. Sure Manson sounds like, err, himself, but his rap delivery is way more convincing than, I dunno, let’s say Miley Cyrus’ on Mike Will’s ‘23’. What we wouldn’t give for a studio video of that priceless session.

Elsewhere, Gucci ropes in the usual gaggle of 1017 collaborators, most of whom, it’s worth remembering, don’t want anything to do with him any more. There’s OJ Da Juiceman (“And niggaz wonder y I been stop saying bricksquad…”), Waka Flocka Flame (“Don’t make me expose you myG”), and most hilariously Tyga, whose current lady friend Chyna Gucci loudly claimed to have had unsavory relations with. Inexplicably, none of this manages to sink the record’s slick coherence, killer production (Mike Will, DJ Mustard, Zaytoven, C-Note, Purps and Drumma Boy – job done) and Gucci’s own masterful turns. It feels like in the face of every obstacle, Gucci’s verses get more confident and more natural.

It’s not all fresh material: ‘I Heard’ was on the excellent Trap House 3, and Trap God 2’s ‘Nothin On Ya’ makes yet another appearance, but it’s hard to fault the record for including a couple of good tunes, and the outstanding new cuts easily fill in the gaps. ‘High Power Cowards’ finds Gucci musing on his favorite subject over a bizarre and brittle trance-inspired beat, while the emo Akon-featuring standout ‘Recognize’ sounds like it could (or at least could have) genuinely place the rapper in the Billboard top 10 once again. Even more restrained, doomier cuts like the slithering, neon-lit Southside-produced crawler ‘Nights Like This’ manage to highlight not only Gucci’s creativity but his ability to get the best out of his collaborators. Waka, believe it or not actually sounds more urgent than he has for some time, ditching his relatively recent Euro-trap party-friendly persona to take a moment or two to reflect.

A blistering selection of tracks, Diary of a Trap God is a timely reminder that Gucci Mane is far more than just a controversial headline or a series of inflammatory Tweets. He’s a rapper capable of greatness when you least expect it, and that’s all too rare in 2013.

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Total Freedom is a repeat offender in the mixtape round-up, and by now, you should know what to expect: grimy, ballroom-in-a-dungeon club heat that is constantly shifting and always surprising. Originals are unmoored and find new contexts: 88’s ‘Diamonds & Pearls’ and Rihanna’s ‘Diamonds’ are fused to new school grime from Fatima Al-Qadiri, Visionist, and Rabit; Ciara’s ‘Keep On Lookin’ collides with Hysterics’ ‘Code Switch (Club Mix)’. Rap hits are given a feminine edge: Beema freestyles over 2 Chainz’s ‘I’m Different’ and House of Ladosha takes on ‘U.O.E.N.O’. There’s also Future Brown’s Tink-featuring slammer ‘Wanna Party’, Total Freedom’s version of Dat Oven’s ‘Icy Lake’, and tracks by the likes of Kingdom, Nguzunguzu, and Bloom, plus the usual horror-flick screams and screeches that punctuate his work.

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Brooklyn trio Flatbush Zombies occupy a unique space in the New New York rap scene: not as revivalist as Pro Era but more gloomy than A$AP and company. On Better Off Dead, the crew’s horror-flick shtick has been joined by vaguely political rhymes, and their wordy flows punctuate live-wire beats unlike the usual mixtape fare.

In-house producer Erick Arc Elliott oversees the majority of the tape, loading it with rock-nodding beats that are heavy on live drums and twisted, G-funk melody. Elsewhere, Harry Fraud goes metal-rap on ‘LiveFromHell’ and LuckyMe’s Obey City provides some synth-syrup on ‘TP4’. Action Bronson features, as does Danny Brown, who is a natural fit on the ‘Feel Good Hit of the Summer’-esque ‘Drug Parade’.

Across 19 tracks, Flatbush Zombies unleash the type of lyricism that recalls 90s classics, but with a sound and subject matter that is all their own. On ‘MRAZ’, Meech lays out a lofty lift of influences (“Get M-E-T-H-O-D, Drought 3 Dwayne Carter / With a splash of Busta’s craft and a hint of Big Papa / Little dash of Nasty Nas, top it off with Bob Marley / Throw em’ all in a blender and I’m what the fuck you get), and you’ve got to give him — and the rest of Flatbush Zombies — credit for the ambition.

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Chicago underground house don Hieroglyphic Being (aka Jamal Moss) never fails to amaze with his extravagant combinations of fringe dance music, jazz and psychedelia, and this two-hour monster of a session is no different. The sheer breadth of Moss’s taste and influence has to be heard to be believed; who else is happy to jump from trunk-rattling bass-heavy 4/4 into peaky sun-bleached funk taking a brief stop in the Middle East?

There are way too many DJs who claim to be taking the listener on a ‘journey’, and that concept has over time become one of the scene’s most yawnsome clichés. With Moss however, there are few better ways to describe his method. This is essentially a radio stream, so Moss doesn’t have to focus his attention on the dancefloor for once. It has freed him up to entirely put his attention into the tracks themselves, and few DJs have a better collection of mind-melting tunes than Jamal Moss.

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Curren$y continues his Bit Torrent experiment with this full-length tape from himself and fellow Jet Lifer Young Roddy. The pair’s ‘Grizzly’ was a highlight of last month’s Red Eye mixtape, and thankfully the majority of Bales finds Curren$y and Roddy capitalizing on that effortless chemistry. The Mike Will-produced Juvenile starrer ‘Mo Money’ is an obvious skip-to track, but there’s plenty more to the tape than a couple of well-timed guest spots.

Producer King Theolonius was responsible for a number of Red Eye’s highlights, and he drops two phenomenal beats here; the jazzy Madlib-influenced ‘Weather Channel’ and the low key ‘Walkie Talkies’. These are exactly the kind of beats that allow the two rappers to flourish – just druggy enough to reflect the horizontal Jet Life flow, but with enough attention to harmony to keep you going back for more. It makes more traditional cuts like the Harry Fraud-produced ‘The War on Drugs’ simply sound surplus to requirement.

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The Night Slugs mix series has been predictably indispensable, and Egyptrixx’s “sketchbook” mixtape is no different. Often the most confounding artist on the label, Egyptrixx selection of songs by Moin, Barker + Baumecker, and Planetary Assault System suggests that the industrial-tinged techno of lead cut ‘Water’ will be well-represented on A/B til Infinity. The mix certainly fits in with Night Slugs’ recent material (chiefly Hysterics’ Club Constructions EP), but he’s one of the few producers anywhere who can mix French synth pioneer Eliane Radigue into Wolf Eyes and pull it off.

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If you were listening to Southern rap before the world decided to realize there was more to US hip hop than simply the East and West coasts, then you’ve indisputably come across Project Pat. Apart from being responsible for regional club destroyers like ‘Chickenheads’ and ‘Purple’, the rapper contributed to fellow Memphis crew Three Six Mafia’s breakout ‘Sippin’ on dat Syrup’. At forty years old he’s still going strong, and no doubt buoyed by the success of brother Juicy J’s recent crash into the (almost) mainstream, he’s pulled in a host of crossover guests to help out on the second installment of Cheez n Dope.

That means a couple of verses from usual suspects Wiz Khalifa (he is now signed to Wiz’s Taylor Gang imprint) and Mac Miller, who add the requisite number of words to ‘Chiefin’ and ‘Weed Smoke’ respectively. Thankfully there’s plenty more to the record than a few chart nods; Drumma Boy returns to add his Southern swing to liberal handful of the album’s better moments (‘Kick Door’, ‘Where The Fuck’), and Pat has wisely enlisted Memphis upstart Young Dolph to gift syllables to standout track ‘Mane Watt’. Fuck A$AP Rocky’s cheap imitations, this is the South we wanna hear more of.

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New Jersey eccentric Daniel “Physical Therapy” Fisher takes a break from contorting pop forms (as he did on last year’s Safety Net) to assemble this 70 minute tour through the fringes of house and techno. As is often the case these days, it’s impossible to distinguish the new from the old, as if the dance music space-time continuum is folding in on itself. Highlights include forthcoming tracks from Physical Therapy, kindred spirit Matrixxman’s ‘Case Closed’, and an unreleased Jam City gem. Make sure to stick around for the last twenty minutes, as the mix builds towards a frenzied, frazzled climax.

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Signed to both Jay Z’s Roc Nation and Meek Mill’s Dream Chasers labels, Jahlil Beats is best known for scoring the latter’s most recognizable tracks (‘Ima Boss’, ‘Young & Gettin’ It’). Unlike
his underwhelming Legend Era II, Genius is an instrumental beat tape.

After the synth-heavy trap title track, Genius reveals ‘Triangle Success’, an orchestral block-rocker of a beat reminiscent of Roc-a-fella classics by Just Blaze and Swizz Beatz. It’s these soul-sampling throwbacks where Jahlil does his best work: ‘Doing This’, ‘The Hustle’, and ‘Soul Savior’ have the same vibe that made Meek Mill’s ‘Amen’ so much fun. Elsewhere, there are small tweaks to the trap formula (‘The Ghost’ bristles with funhouse dissonance, ‘Voices’ pairs a meaty bassline with uneasy ambience), but of these, only ‘The Top’ has a future on a mixtape near you.

Unfortunately, Genius doesn’t live up to its lofty title (or oddball cover art). Jahlil Beats is more like his chief patron, Meek Mill: workmanlike and capable of a hit, but far from original.

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Okay, so we’ve had quite a bit of Visionist lately — Louis Carnell dropped a FACT mix only last week — but in our defense he’s on a roll right now, and this two-hour monster is another reason why we’re all so obsessed. You see it’s not music that’s particularly easy to categorize: Carnell blends a love of grime with a Night Slugs-influenced passion for cold, minimal synths and almost indecipherable vocals. The result is a disarming collision of styles, which he bolsters here with plenty of nods to the flourishing US rap scene. Lil Durk’s outstanding ‘Dis Ain’t What U Want’ and Future’s ‘Karate Chop’ are dropped lovingly in amongst a selection of icy London dancefloor worriers, and to be honest this exactly what we want to hear right now. By the time we reach Aaliyah’s game-changing ‘Try Again’ it’s simply game over.

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