Welcome to FACT’s Rap Round-up.
Originally conceived to shine a light on the wealth of free music that crops up daily on SoundCloud, Datpiff, Livemixtapes and beyond, FACT’s Mixtape Round-up has seen its share of tweaks and changes over the last few years.
The Rap Round-up drops every other Thursday (the week’s best free mixes will be posted every Friday). Along with mixtapes, we’ll be featuring the albums (free and otherwise) that need to be a part of the rap conversation but might not be covered otherwise.
DJ Mustard swooped in just in time for the round-up, where’s he’s joined by old favorites (Ghostface Killah, Project Pat) and newcomers-to-watch (GAHM, Babeo Baggins and DonMonique).
10 Summers: The Mixtape Vol. 1
Arguably the most influential producer in contemporary rap and R&B, DJ Mustard sadly dropped the ball with his debut album – 2014’s 10 Summers. His track record until then was sound, and his 2013 mixtape Ketchup was one of that year’s best full-lengths, a bass-heavy collection of minimal trunk rattlers that confirmed his industry status without pandering to the pop charts he’d made his own. In contrast, 10 Summers was patchy and forgettable – not a bad record by any means, but not up to the standards he’d set for himself. This is a producer who helped craft one of the best rap albums of the last few years, YG’s phenomenal My Krazy Life, after all.
Thankfully, the confusingly titled 10 Summers: The Mixtape finds Mustard back at the top of his game. Like Ketchup, it drags its cast from the California general area rather than the Billboard chart. Big names like Rick Ross, Wiz Khalifa, Tinashe and Big Sean are replaced by local allies TeeFlii, RJ, Choice, Skeme, DrakeO and Iamsu!, and it’s for the best. While Mustard’s beats undoubtedly have their place in the mainstream, he seems as if he’s at his most crucial when he’s just left to do his thing, and we’re treated early on to fond memories of My Krazy Life with ‘Shooters’ with its post-G funk sleaze, and there are echoes of Ketchup’s empty menace with ‘Tool’.
Mustard’s one of the best out there right now, and 10 Summers: The Mixtape feels like the well-deserved victory lap its predecessor simply wasn’t.
Awful Records’ resident master of “rhythm-and-creep” returns with his latest full-length, with a spot-on NIN-referencing title and no-fucks-given artwork.The album is a guest-heavy affair, with various vocalists (both in an out of Awful) providing punchy counterpoints to GAHM’s screwed-down, screwed-up pop-R&B hybrids. ‘Gone Is Love’ is the perfect triple point between GAHM, Stalin Majesty and Archibald Slim, while ’50’ (featuring Slug Christ and LuiDiamonds) is reminiscent of N.E.R.D.’s more anxious moments.
The album forgoes much of the syrupy haze usually found in his work, letting GAHM’s songwriting shine through. As always, his songs interpolate familiar melodies in new and unexpected ways: that sounds like a bit of Dido’s ‘Thank You’ on ‘Sun In Your Eyes’, and the sample of ‘(Don’t Fear) The Repaer’ on ‘Unacceptable’ comes out of nowhere. Stay weird, GAHM.
Newcomer DonMonique does well by her New York hometown with her debut Thirst Trap EP, a title that doubles as her self-described genre: trap-meets-TMZ, cute but dangerous — best typified by early single ‘Pilates’, which turned Kendall, Kylie and Miley into drug slang. (Plus, that Diddy-referencing cover is perfect).
Thirst Trap is mostly concerned with street-level exploits. That’s the case on low-key neo-boom bap tracks like ‘UNTLD’, ‘Fifty Kay’ and ‘Tha Low’, which features a vintage Danny Brown verse. Beats are provied by A$AP Ferg producer Stelios Phili (‘Doe-Active’) and are most interesting on the moddy ‘Drown’ and the Auto-Tuned ‘ION’. New York rap might have an identity crisis, but DonMonique gives us hope.
Pistol & A Scale
Project Pat is a survivor. Brother of the unfeasibly-popular Juicy J, Pat’s still best known for contributing the hook to Three 6 Mafia’s ’Sippin’ on Some Syrup, but he’s had a reliable run of tapes and albums since the early 00s. Pistol & A Scale comes only shortly after the Memphis vet’s workmanlike Taylor Gang debut Mista Don’t Play 2: Everythangs Money, the sequel to his platinum-selling second album. Fourteen years later he’s still plying a similar trade, throwing down street truths (the album is broken up by O.G. knowledge from our protagonist) and rapping with a deeply Southern intensity that’s refreshing to revisit.
Pat’s managed to assemble himself an enviable gallery of producers too, with Spinz, Dun Deal, Metro Boomin, KE on the Track and more showing that the rapper’s still got his ear to the ground. That’s not to say he’s attempting to carbon-copy popular Atlanta rap either, far from it, the tape isn’t a million miles from Pat’s Hypnotize Minds-era recordings, there’s just some contemporary spit and polish around the edges. When man-of-the-moment Fetty Wap pops up on ‘Rolling Dank’ it’s a reminder that Pat knows how to reach out to a new generation, and he doesn’t have to compromise to do it.
Babeo Baggins is the founder of Barf Troop, a DIY rap collective based in and around DC that features both nonbinary and cisgender artists. They’ve been releasing music online for a few years, and after seeing her profile rise after hanging out with Drake, Baggins has released her debut mixtape, which sounds like PC Music meets Tumblr rap in the best way possible.
As you’d imagine from her and her crew’s names, Baggins is weird and nerdy, mixing in samples of Adventure Time and wrestling references. She’s impressive as both a rapper and a singer, and each facet is given a “side” of the mixtape. “Side A” is anchored by bouncy Barf Troop posse cut ‘Team’ and ‘Hoes’, which gender-flips ‘Area Codes’ over a Gobby beat (“these fellas eat my pussy then they paint my toes”), while “side B” cross-pollinates various strands of pop, R&B and soul for a chilled-out comedown.
Ghostface Killah & Adrian Younge
Twelve Reasons to Die II
Wu-Tang is no longer a brand you can rely on. In their glory days they were practically unimpeachable, with a run that, looking back, is hard to comprehend. Solo albums were as good, if not better, than team efforts, and when the gang did form like Voltron, they felt like an unstoppable force, changing the rap landscape forever. In 2015, those times are little more than a distant memory – the collective’s grandiose return, 2014’s A Better Tomorrow was a damp, uninspiring reminder that the unified voice that crafted Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) is long gone. Solo records haven’t fared much better – GZA’s Pro Tools was entirely avoidable, Inspectah Deck’s recent Czarface LP Every Hero Needs a Villain was painfully average, and while Raekwon can undoubtedly still hold his own, Fly International Luxurious Art was more Immobilarity than it was Only Built 4 Cuban Linx…. Ghostface, however, is the exception to the rule. He never lost the fire of his debut album Ironman, and he might be the last remaining reminder of the Wu-Tang’s unrivaled dominance in the mid-to-late 90s.
Here’s a rapper so reliable that even his tubby, white Mini-Me, Action Bronson, is half-decent. Even when Ghost’s not at his best (on the forgettable Sour Soul earlier this year, for example), he still knocks a couple shades of shit outta your favorite rapper, and Twelve Reasons to Die II is yet another example of how he’s single-handedly holding it down for the Wu in 2015. Don’t expect anything particularly new here though – as the title suggests, it’s a direct sequel to 2013’s excellent collaboration with Adrian Younge, and as such the general idea is still the same. Younge pillages vintage vinyl and crafts a solid narrative over 13 tracks, giving Ghost the rich bed of dusty beats and ominous stabs he needs to excel. Ghost simply does hsi thing, spitting as if the last two decades never happened, assisted by fellow Wu disciples Raekwon and RZA and bringing in relative newcomer Vince Staples for album highlight ‘Get the Money’. It’s not gonna surprise fans, but Twelve Reasons to Die II is like a Snickers or a bottle of Coke: you know exactly what it’s gonna be like, and you already know you like it.