Each week, FACT’s Mixtape Round-Up trawls through the untamed world of free mixes, radio specials and live blends so you don’t have to.
We’ve now decided to break this into two features: the week’s Best Free Mixes (think Soundcloud, Mixcloud) and the week’s Best Mixtapes (think DatPiff, LiveMixtapes). Naturally, there’ll always be some level of crossover between the two, but for now we’ve split the columns up, with Mixes running every Thursday, and Mixtapes every Friday.
This is one of those weeks that reminds you that — no matter how fun the day’s West Coast banger or how convinced you are that Bobby Shmurda marks the beginning of a new era in New York — the South (specifically Atlanta) and Chicago run rap right now. Here are six examples why.
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Mixtape of the week:
FREE CRACK 2
One of the most arresting components of Chicago’s new wave, Lil Bibby coolly lived up to the Drake-fuelled hype with last year’s excellent Free Crack. It might not have arrived screaming and shouting (it dropped, bizarrely, in November), but the record spoke to the discerning head with credibility and measured restraint. Since then Bibby has kept a relatively low profile, grinding through the usual shows and appearances and apparently dubbing a selection of hot-as-hell new cuts.
The divisive Kevin Gates-featuring, Pat Benatar-sampling single ‘We Are Strong’ is included, and it’s clear that Free Crack 2 is Bibby’s attempt at covering the bases ignored by its backpack-friendly predecessor. Chicago’s bubbling, brawling drill movement is a hazy memory, replaced by epic club-ready tracks and guest verses from the likes of T.I., Juicy J, Wiz Khalifa and Jadakiss. Thankfully Bibby’s got the stones and the personality to emerge victorious from almost any matchup. His voice booms with worthy confidence and while a less competent MC might be forgotten on ‘For the Low’ or ‘Montana’, Bibby’s low, urgent tones and sobering lyrics take the tracks into welcome and unexpected dark corners.
Bibby doesn’t jettison his well-documented lyricism either, and although Free Crack 2 might be outwardly more ‘commercial’, the tone – “I swear to God I liked it better when I was broke” (from ‘Dead or in Prison’), “Riding in a Range, look in my eyes, you see the pain” (from ‘What You Live For’) – is defiant and singular. Where he goes from here is anyone’s guess – ratchet (‘Boy’), pop (‘Can I Get’), trap (‘Montana’) or drill (‘Game Over’) – but we can rest assured Lil Bibby’s voice is safe.
Atlanta’s Two-9 recently inked a deal with Mike Will Made It’s Interscope imprint Eardrummers, and crew leader Curtis Williams is the main attraction on the collective’s highest-profile mixtape yet. Williams sets the scene early, rapping on ‘Drugs’ that “I’m talking doin’, not sellin’ ’em, nigga.” True to his word, Danco James is all smoked-out ambience and weed-obsessed anthems, his lyrics heavy with boasts about the quality and quantity of his weed (‘NothinLikeUs’, ‘Cheech&Chong’, ‘Little Bit’).
While the tape’s single-mindedness is an issue, it sounds great thanks to fully-realized productions by Childish Major, Sonny Digital and newcomer Ducko Mcfli. Elsewhere, tracks like ‘Box Logos & Box Chevys’ and the title track add a touch of slowed-down Southern haze to the mix; while OVO-affiliate Eric Dingus goes old school on standout ‘What It Is’. And while the lyrical approach is a bit one-note, doesn’t the world deserve a better weed rapper than Wiz Khalifa?
SATURDAY NIGHT CAR TUNES
It’s hard to get excited about Curren$y. The Louisiana rapper has been consistently exhaling quality product for years now, but while it’s always good, it rarely stops you in its tracks. Fresh EP Saturday Night Car Tunes is no different, even going so far as to tell you what it’s designed for on the sleeve. It’s a selection of impeccably-produced (FACT fave Thelonius Martin appears again on the excellent ‘House Shoes’), competently rapped Jet Life bangers – seven tracks, no filler – and it’s a cracking listen (indeed, it’s perfect for a late night in the whip), but when it’s over, how often are you gonna go reaching to hear it again?
LIFE OF A HOT BOY
Bankroll Fresh is the latest rapper to carry the trap rap banner in the rough-voiced, street-ready tradition of Gucci and Jeezy at their mid-aught peaks. The Que collaborator picks up where last month’s Money To Die 4 EP left off, teaming up with reliable producers like Zaytoven, Metro Boomin and TM88 for a collection of straight-ahead Atlanta rap.
The rapper does keep things interesting by mixing up his flow a bit; he’s almost freestyling on ‘ESPN’, goes rapid-fire on ‘Haters’ and tries a languid, toasting approach on ‘Hunger’. Yet at 20-something tracks, it’s tough to stick with it for the entire two-hour runtime. We’d suggest sticking with the ones produced by Atlanta veteran D Rich, who lays out the scintillating beats and mile-high synths of Southern hits past — ‘All Out’ and ‘Project Bitch’ are befitting the mixtape’s Pen and Pixel art.
Maryland up-and-comer Malcs is off to a good start with debut tape The Project. A cursory flick through might not reveal too many differences from the cavalcade of similar tapes each week, but listen a little closer and you’ll hear that it’s the subtle touches that separate Malcs from the crowd. His rhymes are the expected set of well-worn street tales, but are painted in darker, sadder hues thanks to his taste for beats. Take stand-out ‘To The Top’ for example, which sports an eerie ambient backdrop from ColdBlood. As Malcs recounts the tried-and-true struggle his confident but reassuringly wet-around-the-ears rhymes are accented perfectly by spine Resident Evil-style drones, crackles and gut-churning bass.
It’s hardly surprising to hear New York cloud rap survivor GrandeMarshall pop up on ‘Know Wassup’. Malcs is only really a few degrees of separation away from that now-defunct scene, certainly, and his ear for the melancholy certainly sounds familiar – bonus points also have to be awarded for the Ocarina of Time sample on ‘That’s Life’.
I.L. WILL & MIKEY DOLLAZ
Chicago regulars I.L. Will and Mikey Dollaz return with their latest collaboration, Ovatyme. Loaded with de rigueur Chicago street rap, the title takes on an unfortunate double-meaning: it certainly sounds like drill and its descendants are past their prime. While we were hoping they’d explore bop as they did on We Invented The Bop 2, the pair churn out some more of the angsty material they’ve done previously.
But thankfully, Will and Mikey are happy to push the formula in different directions. There are mournful, half-sung confessionals reminiscent of Lil Durk (‘Quiet Shots’, ‘All I See’), throwback soul-trap a la Tree (‘Good For’) and even a flirtation with pop (‘To Late To Turn Back’). The mixtape’s best moment? ‘Fuck Boys’, an AutoTuned anthem with a great hook (“we young niggas, we drug dealers, we rock designer like dope boys / I pop a flat and I thank god I ain’t one of these fuck boys”). The mixtape’s weirdest moment? ‘Outbreak’, which samples not the instrumental of Que’s ‘OG Bobby Johnson’ but the acapella. Points for creativity, at least.