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The Week’s Best Mixtapes and Free Mixes - King Louie, Clams Casino, and more

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.

Here we are: the final round-up of mixtapes and free mixes for the year, which coincidentally, is a microcosm of 2013 in tapes: dispatches from the New Atlanta, Chiraq, Memphis and Miami; a team-up by two twentysomething up-and-comers; divergent efforts from left-field rap producers; and a powerhouse club set. See you in 2014.

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2013 has been King Louie’s year, and while he didn’t manage to churn out anything quite as unique as ‘Too Cool’ or as definitive as the first installment of Drilluminati, he did manage to notch up the best verse on Kanye West’s Yeezus. You know, the album that’s topping most of the critics “best of” lists this month. It seems as if he’s finally getting the props he’s long deserved, and Drilluminati 2 is a celebration of a damn good year.

Darker and more aggressive than its predecessor Jeep Music, the tape sounds as if Louie returned to Chicago from the Yeezus sessions powered up and with a sound and a direction in mind. If Kanye took the city’s drill obsession and blended it with European electronics and 80s industrial music, Louie is simply bringing it back, and the Bobby Johnson-produced ‘Again’ proves it. Distorted kicks and brittle synthesizers sit at the front and center of the mix – it’s drill, but thrust even further into the roil. It works too, and while Louie manages to stop shy of lavishing the tracks with HudMo-baiting micro-edits or obvious nods, it’s a significant move into a decidedly new direction.

Sadly the rest of the album doesn’t retain ‘Again’s momentum, but it’s not without its highs – the sickly, Paris Bueller-produced ‘Made Drill’ is an ominous two-part addition to Louie’s canon, ‘Eastside Shit’ finds the rapper joined by fellow Windy City golden boy Lil Herb, and the title track, while not exactly offering anything particularly new is a bass-drenched reminder of Louie’s strengths. Let’s hope 2014 will finally bring us Dope & Shrimp – we’ve been waiting long enough.

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Mike “Clams Casino” Volpe caps off 2013 with his third and final volume of instrumentals, collecting his work from the last year or so. Kicking off with ‘Crystals’, his opulent cut from the GTA 5 soundtrack, the mixtape is a good reminder of why fans of have flocked to his ambient hip-hop beatcraft.

The year began with his contributes to A$AP Rocky and crew, and the blown-out ‘Hell’ , CD-skipping ‘LVL’, and mellow ‘Freeze’ are included here, as are his collaborations with underground fave DOOM and singer-songwriter Mikky Ekko. If Mac Miller’s suburban rap isn’t to your liking, don’t worry — Clams’ jaunty ‘Bird Call’ and Neptunesque ‘Cold Feet’ crop up, MC-free.

Rounding out the tape are a handful of unreleased tracks, including the propulsive ‘Cry For Me’, the Tri Anglish ‘Haunt’, and incomplete ‘Melthru’. While he didn’t have the type of mainstream breakthrough we expected this year, his woozy style has never been more influential in the rap world and beyond — here’s to Clams Casino in 2014.

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The self-described “coolest DJ in the world” returns with another collection of New Atlanta rap tracks, a 23-track set that heavily features his patron / mixtape host Future. Everyone’s favorite ATLien proclaims that “the day I stop using Auto-Tune / that’s when it gon’ die,” and judging by No Sleep, that day is no time soon. The Honest rapper sticks to his real-and-true formula over synth-laced beats by frequent collaborators Mike Will Made It, Zaytoven, and Metro Boomin, who contributes the lionshare of beats. Mike Will adds some Three 6 Mafia to his remix of ‘Shit’; Drake’s sorta-diss verse is less interesting.

As for non-Future material, there’s plenty to choose from: Casino is unhinged in the best way on ‘Can’t Resist (Killin Shit)’, PeeWee Longway brings a Migos-inspired flow to ‘Sneakin N Geekin’, and rising star Young Thug and Bloody Jay team-up for jubilant schoolyard rap ‘Let’s Go Play’. One of the tape’s few non-Atlanta residents, DC youngin Shy Glizzy crashes the party with the slow-and-low ‘So Awesome’.

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suicideyear’s Japan was one of the year’s low-key highlights, and showed with a great deal of flair that you didn’t have to rely on bombast to show your dedication to rap. On HAVEFUN 001, the Baton Rouge producer’s message is unchanged, only this time his elegiac compositions are mostly accompanied by a selection of well-known acapellas, snatched from Future, Drake, Lil Wayne and more.

Like January’s under-the-table collection REMIXESS, HAVEFUN 001 offers a genuinely alternative vision of tracks you might think you know – Future’s ‘Honest’ is transformed into a minimal, wooly weed dream, Lil Wayne’s ‘A Milli’ becomes the drip from some sort of unheard AFX cdr and John Hart & Iamsu!’s ratchet anthem ‘Who Booty’ is reimagined as the pause screen theme from a PS1 Squaresoft import. Inexplicably, the power of each track isn’t lost in the absence of their high budget productions, and seriously, who knew Drake’s ‘Come Through’ could sound even sadder and even more hopelessly gorgeous?

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The pairing of ex-Odd Future member Casey Veggies and Maybach Music Group upstart Rockie Fresh wasn’t exactly on anyone’s wishlist, but it makes more sense than it would seem at first glance. Both are 90s-born rappers who have spent the last few years steadily releasing projects, gaining buzz and developing their voices while avoiding Next Big Thing kisses-of-death.

“Let’s roll one up and make a toast to youngins living like kings,” Rockie raps on the Lunice-produced title track, setting the tape’s tone; ‘Celebrating Life’ spells it out even more explicitly. Throughout Fresh Veggies, the pair bounce between Ima Boss and Bitches Ain’t Shit over a varied set of productions that might be the tape’s highlight. Rockie Fresh is more laidback than the elastic Casey Veggies, who offers punchlines like “I’m signed to Shirt Off Records / She get that distribution” throughout.

The tape’s finest track is the electric ‘I Been Workin’, which finds producers Hit-Boy and Haze Banga trying their hands at ratchet beats. And while the tape features spots by Juicy J, Ty Dolla $ign, and Kirko Bangz, rising Cali outfit Overdoz make the best impression, going as far as referencing ‘All Apologies’ on ‘You Would Too’. Overall, Rockie Fresh and Casey Veggies are an unlikely pairing but not an unpleasant one.

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Let’s get the obvious out of the way first – Starlito’s released way too much in 2013. We’re still getting to grips with last month’s excellent Fried Turkey, and only mere moments before that we were treated to Step Brothers 2, the Nashville rapper’s second (excellent) collaboration with Don Trip. It’s lucky then that each release has been so good, but you can’t help but think that ‘Lito’s tapes might benefit from a bit more breathing room. Insomnia Addict is another winner, and shouldn’t be avoided simply because it’s yet another Starlito drop in a week with too many mixtapes and too much Christmas shopping left to do.

It’s one of the year’s most paranoid tapes thus far, and finds ‘Lito on a conceptual tip, using a series of carefully procured samples to guide the listener through his sleepless night. Regular collaborator (and ‘Lito superfan) Kevin Gates’ ‘4:30 AM’, Jay Z’s immortal ‘Can I Live’, Nonchalant’s ‘5 O’clock’ and Kanye West’s ‘Coldest Winter’ pop up immediately and add a peculiarly referential quality to a tape that isn’t afraid to wear its influences on its sleeve. ‘Lito’s raps sound similarly spooked – and throatily he pulls us through the record with a rapidly beating heart and one eye to the side. There aren’t any big standouts here, rather we’ve been gifted a quirky, fathoms-deep trip for the end of the year, and Insomnia Addict acts a timely reminder why we should all still hold a torch for Starlito.

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Philadelphia’s Babylon Cartel joins the list of streetwear brands with a mix series, and who better to inaugurate the series than Philly veteran and Brick Bandits don Dirty South Joe? A two-hour tour de force of club music from Jersey, Baltimore and beyond, DSJ reps both local practitioners (DJ Sliink, Tim Dolla, Uniique, K Millz, Nadus, etc.), international newcomers (Cashmere Cat, Tina Turnup) and — in a hatchet-burying move — some of the “masked men of Jersey club.”

No matter the province, these are some ass-shaking, bed-squeaking club killers, with remixes of Aaliyah, OutKast, Drake, Future, A$AP Rocky and more included. Thankfully, DSJ shares the tracklist, which you should make the requisite Soundcloud expedition that much easier.

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GBE soldier Gino Marley’s latest tape isn’t likely to surprise anyone who keeps a close eye on the Chicago drill scene, but it’s to his credit that he’s managed to rope in such a solid list of collaborators. Detroit’s Danny Brown, Slutty Boy (and recent MMG signee) Fat Trel, fellow Glory Boy Fredo Santana, Rich the Kid and West Coaster Ty Dolla $ign all show up to pay their respects, and it’s astonishingly coherent. While the beats are as brittle (the whole thing’s in need of a spit and polish) as you’d probably expect from a GBE tape, Marley’s gravelly personality and his collaborators’ complementary styles manage to elevate a tape that could have easily been washed away with the tide.

Marley’s tried and tested drug tales range from the melancholy (‘A Lot’) to the triumphant (‘Diego Pt. 1’ – a Chicago-centric take on ‘Colombia’), and the additional MCs add color where it’s needed. Danny Brown especially seems to relish his verse on the eerie ‘If I Could’, shifting the track into double-time and tiptoeing wisely away from the dense lyricism of Old for a moment. It’s DJ Kenn’s trio of productions that offer the tape’s finest moments though, adding an unusual color and depth to an otherwise fairly one-note collection. Kenn is probably best known for producing drill touchstone ‘Bang’, but his contributions here are a million miles away from Keef’s early hitters, pulling together a suite of unusual samples and providing a much needed breather from the minor key doom of the rest of the record.

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Fredo had something to prove in 2013. Last year’s It’s A Scary Site established the GBE co-founder as a major Chicago player, but he still had some way to go before encroaching on cousin Chief Keef’s territory. Since then we’ve had another mixtape (the so-so Fredo Kruger) and a ‘proper’ album (Trappin’ Ain’t Dead), and now Santana rounds off the year with a follow-up to the tape that started it all. It’s very clear what his intentions are – there’s little of the hastily produced, rough-hewn drill that most Chicago tapes are comprised of – It’s a Scary Site 2 is instead a selection of assertive, anthemic bangers.

It’s not a million miles from anything you’d expect to emerge from the Brick Squad camp in fact, so it’s hardly surprising to see productions from Lex Luger and Zaytoven rubbing up against more expected contributions from youngins Dirty Vans and Marvin Cruz and drill mainstay DJ Kenn. It certainly helps his reach, but while Santana’s long been the most verbally gifted member of GBE, It’s A Scary Site 2 sounds like it’s missing something that would make it essential. ‘Damn Shame’, ‘I Might Just’ and ‘Bird Talk’ are huge, but in a year where you can barely move for heavy-hitting tapes, it’s not exactly doing anything unique.

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In a year that saw most of Three 6 Mafia reuniting as Da Mafia 6ix, the Raider Klan seems to be a tenuous position: how do you lay claim to a crown that hasn’t been relinquished? Miami rapper/producer Yung Simmie doesn’t seem to be concerned with such existential questions on his third mixtape of the year. Instead, he continues to churn out Triple 6-inspired tales of doom-and-gloom, dank in the air and lean in the cup.

While he’s settled into a Juicy J-like flow, Simmie’s production work has never been better. ‘Strap In My Lap’ is a stark nightstalker, while ‘Neva Settle for Less’ and ‘I Thought You Knew’ benefit from orchestral melodies and memorable hooks. If 6ix Commandments didn’t satisfy your cravings for vintage Three 6 Mafia, Basement Musik 2 just might scratch that itch.

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