The Rap Round-up: Gangsta rap, based freestyles and strip club anthems

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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.

While Drake and Meek Mill were beefing, rap had its best two weeks in ages: Migos, Gunplay and Chief Keef dropped highly-anticipated projects, Ca$h Out continued his run of low-key brilliance, and Lil B and Chance and the Rapper actually dropped their collaborative mixtape.

Lil B & Chance the Rapper
Free (The Based Freestyle Mixtape)

After two weeks of hand-wringing about Drake and Meek comes a project that is in many ways the exact opposite of that conflict: a handful of based freestyles by Lil B and Chance the Rapper that went from Instagram teaser to internet reality in the same amount of time it took Meek to go from tweeting about ghostwriters to threatening wedgies.

As you’d expect from this pair, Free is a collaboration built upon positivity, improvisation and, simply, fun. It’s bright and summery, with the two rappers trading freestyles over soul samples and epic instrumentals. Chance may be at ease, but he’s not at his best: having him do based freestyles is like having a classically-trained pianist sit in at a jazz session. But the quality of the raps on the tape seems beside the point. Lil B and Chance are both free of pretension, making music for the here and now and for their fans (the next project Chance sells will be his first), simply because they can. These songs exist because they were both in Chicago for a few days and it seemed like a fun thing to do — not because of any “let’s work” brand building.

“We’re making an entire piece of content from scratch,” Chance says on the tape, “Which is where the best things in life come, the best things in life come from nothing, and become something different, so, you know… This is an allegory to life, and life is an allegory to this shit, I guess.” His use of “content” may irritate the people worried about what Drake and Meek Mean For Rap, but it says more about how younger digital natives (Chance is 22, Lil B is 25) are already on to the next one.

Yung Rich Nation

Surprisingly, Migos’ most apparent quality on Yung Rich Nation is self-awareness of their place in the pop culture zeitgeist. They know you know about their Miami shootout, their fights, their criminal charges — and they don’t care: “The blogs say I need to calm down, fuck a image,” growls the currently-incarcerated Offset. They know that people are expecting hits: on ‘Pipe It Up’, they try to make a “new anthem” (replacing “turn it up” with “pipe it up”) on their strength of personality alone. And they know about the memes: “They sayin’ Migos better than the Beatles,” Quavo raps slyly. “Paul McCartney, I would like to meet him.”

Migos need air for their percussive voices to breathe, and realizing that, Atlanta veterans like Zaytoven and Honorable C.N.O.T.E. lay down sparse beats comprised of piano trills, metallic synths and distorted bass. The most pleasant surprises are all the nods to G-funk and the gangsta rap era (there’s literally a track called ‘Gangsta Rap’), with funky worms and throwback flows dripped throughout. ‘Highway 85’ does this the best, mixing a high-speed chase narrative with social commentary (“Its fucked up, niggas in the hood they killing each other / And most of us got single parents, only a mother”) while nodding to Eazy-E and Slick Rick.

Those stylistic left-turns break up the album, and while there aren’t any standouts as memorable as ‘Versace’ or ‘Hannah Montana’, the trio still know how to write a single, dropping rat-a-tat verses and Futuristic melodies on ‘One Time’, the finger-snapping ‘Just For Tonight’ and the Young Thug-assisted ‘Cocaina’. Because of that, Yung Rich Nation is not just an entertaining album, but a significant one. In going from Y.R.N. to Yung Rich Nation in just over two years, Migos have done something that is increasingly rare in rap: they released a proper album that delivers on the promise of their breakthrough hits, moves the ball forward and survives the major label abattoir.

Living Legend

Living Legend opens with a woman cooing: “Daaaamn, Gunplay. You been out here doing your thing for a minute.” That’s an understatement, because at the hyper-accelerated speed of rap, Gunplay’s 2012 breakthrough, with 601 & Snort and ‘Cartoons & Cereal’, seems like a lifetime ago. For a while, it seemed like Living Legend might never happen.

Thankfully, the album formerly known as Medellin finds Gunplay’s street-honed intensity and gangsta rap lyricism intact. He opens the album with the Jaws-trap of ‘Tell ‘Em’, listing metaphors like “I’m the screw that just went loose.” Gunplay contains multitudes, but nothing you didn’t expect — for a loose cannon, he is pretty steady on Living Legend.

‘Be Like Me’ recalls a time when the “M-M-M-Maybach Music” drop actually meant something, with Rick Ross in vintage form: “All I’m sellin’ is dope, but they think it’s my soul”. Highlights are dotted throughout: ‘Blood on the Dope’ is reminiscent of old favorite ‘Bible on the Dash’, ‘Wuzhaniddoe’ is a Mustard-fied version of ‘Whoa’ alongside brother-in-arms YG, and even ‘White Bitch’ — with its trap-EDM flirtations and dumb-downed hook — suits him well. It’s not all great, though: songs like ‘Only 1’ and ‘From Da Jump’ establish some gangsta bona fides but aren’t particularly memorable, and the appearances by MMG backbenchers are perfunctory.

‘Dark Dayz’ ends with a phone call from Gunplay’s mother who dramatically tells him to “never leave the game,” no matter what. In kind, he flips the in vogue ‘Dear Mama’ trope, saying he never will on ‘Leave Da Game’: “The shit is all I know, this all I ever knew,” he admits. His shit – elbow-throwing gangsta rap — might not be legendary, but at least we know he’s not going to stop.

Chief Keef
Bang 3

After originally being slated for a Christmas 2013 release, Chief Keef’s Bang 3 finally dropped, after a leak prompted an early release. Those types of delays and haphazard releases — and the recent fiasco over a hologram tribute concert — are the status quo in KeefLand, as headlines have often distracted from his music. And that’s a shame, because Bang 3 is perhaps Keef at his most coherent and clear-voiced (both as a rapper and a producer), armed with beats that continue to push past drill with cascading trance piano and frenetic strings.

Still just 19-years-old, Keef’s voice is starting to settle; his ad-libs and overdubs provide texture to his sing-along melodies, while his pendulum has swung back from non-verbal tics to straightforward lyrics. At times, he still seems very much a teenager, treating twenty dollar bills like change, trading comic book references with A$AP Rocky and smoking weed so good that he can’t remember his birth year.

But he’s also confident and self-reflective. “Remember having pistol fights, now I’m having food fights,” he raps on ‘New School. “Now we having rack fights, now we having jewel fights / Now we having pool fights, you know mine better than yours right?” He’s been Finally Rich for a couple of years now, and it seems like that’s finally sinking in.

Kool John & P-Lo

The Bay’s Heartbreak Gang rarely disappoint. Moovie finds HBK co-founder P-Lo teaming up with Kool John, and together they’ve managed to craft one of the crew’s tightest full-length efforts. We’ve been well aware of their white-hot potential – even discounting their prior collaborations, ‘Blue Hunnids’, which dropped earlier this year, was already an anthem. It follows admirably in the HBK tradition, building on Iamsu! and co’s legacy and rewiring their patented brand of West Coast ratchet into something even more strip club friendly (if that’s even possible).

‘Blue Hunnids’ is nestled in the middle of the album, and sets the pace – P-Lo’s gritty, bass-heavy take on the unmistakable sound is markedly slower, darker and more overtly sexy than, say, DJ Mustard’s, and without relying on a boost from featured artists, Moovie is tight, polished and coherent. Highlight ‘On One’ sounds like a midnight drive through the East Bay, conjuring memories of the region’s rogues gallery – E-40, Mac Dre, Too $hort – without ever sounding overly reverent or throwback. Moovie is a solid, enjoyable left coast effort, and while it might lack the narrative appeal of YG’s My Krazy Life, it more than makes up for it in humor and heart.

Ca$h Out
Kitchens & Choppas 2

After the success of ‘Cashin’ Out’ back in 2012, it would have been easy to write off Atlanta’s Ca$h Out as yet another one-hit-wonder. We certainly did, and were happily proved wrong. The fact is, Ca$h Out was one of 2014’s most underrated rappers, and the one-two punch of August’s album proper Let’s Get It and November’s Kitchens & Choppas almost made us forget ‘Cashin’ Out’ altogether.

Ca$h Out continues his winning streak with Kitchens & Choppas 2, again teaming up with his secret weapon, producer InomekInDaKitchen, whose stark, original beats elevated last year’s releases far beyond the landfill trap of so many of his ATL peers. Inomek handles the majority of the tape, with DJ Spinz (who incidentally produced ‘Cashin’ Out’) filling in the gaps, and this again helps Ca$h Out gain the crucial advantage.

Combining his wiry, half-cocked flow with Inomek’s ominous, bass-heavy beats is a tight formula – even the record’s most upbeat moments – ‘Jump’, ‘Penitentiary Chances’ – sound menacing, dark and forboding. If you’re looking for party bangers, you’re in the wrong place, but if you want to observe the darker side of Atlanta, Ca$h Out’s hoarse trap house tales could hardly be more perfectly realized.

Young Dolph
16 Zips

Memphis Kingpin Young Dolph has hardly been the most reliable presence. His tapes have contained their fair share of gems, no doubt, but after February’s patchy High Class Street Music 5 it’s hard to get excited about yet another slog, one finger hovering over the delete key. Thankfully, 16 Zips is not simply another Dolph tape, it’s actually his most essential outing in far too long, jam-packed with the kind of menace and Southern charm that Memphis has had on lock since the Three 6 era.

Production throughout is tight and spacious, and Dolph sounds energized, rapping enthusiastically with Southern legends Slim Thug and Paul Wall on ‘Down South Hustlaz’ and with TI on ‘No Matter What’. You might think you’ve heard all Dolph has to offer, but 16 Zips re-affirms everything we always liked, and does so with a flurry of belters that’ll keep the trunk jumping for the rest of the summer.

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