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.
This post’s title won’t be a surprise to anyone who follows this feature (or rap, for that matter), but it bears repeating. Not to take anything away from California or Texas, but Atlanta and Chicago consistently punch above their weight — here are six examples that prove it.
Stackin N Mackin Vol. 3
We missed the first two volumes, but better late than never when it comes to Chicago duo / Treated Crew affiliates White Gzus. Blanco Caine and Gzus Piece trade verses in a way that has drawn comparisons to Chicago forebears Do or Die and legendary duos like UGK; Southern rap via Chicago works for us.
On Stackin N Mackin Vol. 3, soulful wood grain-grippers are the order of the day, especially on the tracks helmed by the duo’s silent partner/producer Mr. E. But White Gzus can mix it up, too: ‘PM In Chicago’ is dosed with a full cup of lean; the pair team with Saint Millie and Bobby Johnson for ‘Hallelujah’, a clapper that nods to the tape’s street prophet artwork; and they continue their trend of flipping rap classics, turning Andre 3000’s ‘Prototype’ into ‘PhotoType’.
While their attempts at ATL-inspired trap bangers — the industrial, 808 Mafia-produced ‘Bish Where’ and Metro Boomin’s Beetlejuice-nodding ‘SDR’ — might be the most-likely club breakouts, the laidback funk of the last four tracks are a perfect soundtrack for the last days of summer — in Chicago, Atlanta or beyond.
On the heels of the excellent Who’s Gonna Get Fucked First?, Father feeds the streets with the five-track Papicodone. As its title suggests, its a short-but-sweet, narcotic-dosed bit of Awful fuckshit: ‘Crush It Up & Snort It’ has a beat that you’ll be banging out on your desk, ‘All Black Hummers’ is a nu metal-meets-Three 6 Mafia posse cut with iLoveMakonnen on the hook, and highlight ‘Please Stop Making Fake Versace’ takes down fakes, phonies and appropriators of all kinds over sirens and sub-bass.
Rounding out the EP is a revamped version of Young Hot Ebony cut ‘Fake AF’ with Awful youngin Playboi Carti on a verse, and as much as we would have liked proper versions of the ‘Young Hot Ebony’ remix or #AwfulHoliday cut ‘Gums’, this will tide us over until Dionysus, his forthcoming project with Archibald Slim.
When we spoke to Chicago’s Mick Jenkins at this year’s SXSW, he was eager to stress that he neither listens to just hip-hop nor wants to be tied to working within the genre forever. It’s hardly surprising then that Wave[s], the follow-up to last year’s acclaimed The Water[s] attempts far more, musically, than its predecessor. Trace elements of jazz and soul were already present and accounted for, certainly, but here they’ve been amplified and built upon as Jenkins has become more confident with his sound.
While the album opens with the tough-edged Lee Bannon-produced ‘Alchemy’, we’re quickly launched into the jazzy ‘Slumber’, a track balanced around a splattershot flurry of chopped up live drums that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Squarepusher record. By the time we reach the disco-funk of the Kaytranada-produced ‘Your Love’ it’s clear that Jenkins is doing more than just fucking with our expectations – his touchstones are Erykah Badu, Bilal and Common, and he sounds as comfortable rapping over the hard-edged ‘Piano’ as he does crooning over slithering P-funk synths on ‘The Giver’.
Sadly for all its ambition, Wave[s] feels like it’s lacking clear standouts: tracks like its predecessor’s ‘THC’, ‘Comfortable’ and ‘The Waters’. When Jenkins manages to balance his wealth of ideas with his ear for hooks, he’ll be unstoppable, for now it’s simply a pleasure to watch a young artist push himself against the grain.
Does anyone still care about 2 Chainz in 2015? He’s been an Atlanta placeholder in chart hits for a while at this point, but in the last year his star has faded, his verses replaced by younger, thirstier and, dare we say it, more relevant voices. Sadly, the lack of interest in the artist formerly known as Tity Boi is unfounded: last year’s short-but-sweet Freebase EP was an under-appreciated gem (the Young Chop-produced closer ‘They Know’ a particular highlight) and Trap-A-Velli Tre is similarly strong.
Unshackled by expectation, 2 Chainz sounds refreshed, and Trap-A-Velli Tre is thankfully far from the Atlanta landfill material you might expect. Firstly, the production is top notch throughout, with a set of ominous, bass-heavy rhythms from ATL’s finest: Zaytoven, FKi, Honorable C Note and more. Chainz has also been smart with his feature spots too, pulling in favors from The-Dream (!) and Kevin Gates to help engineer the one-two punch of ‘I Feel Like’ and ‘GOAT’, massive moments that act as the album’s centerpiece.
Ultimately, Trap-A-Velli Tre probably won’t be enough to catapult 2 Chainz back into the spotlight; even at its best we’re still not hearing anything that isn’t cloyingly familiar. But if you’re looking for a tape that’s enjoyable from beginning to end, you won’t be disappointed. 2 Chainz is still grinding, and some of us are still listening.
Money, Pounds, Ammunition 2
MPA figurehead Peewee Longway returns with the sequel to his debut solo tape, 2013’s scene-setting Money, Pounds, Ammunition. Since then, Longway has impressed with last year’s excellent Blue M&M and his MPA associates – most notably MPA Shitro (now Bricc Baby Shitro), MPA Duke and MPA Wicced – have maintained a wave of quality that has made the MPA tag a reliable indicator of quality. Money Pounds Ammunition 2 is therefore acting like a milestone, showing not only where Longway himself is at in 2015 but also his crew; satellite rappers MPA Yikes, MPA Head, Krazy Blacc, Gambina and LoLife Blacc get not just features but tracks of their own, and the remaining cuts are pocked with appearances from the rest of the crew.
It’s very much a team effort, and while it doesn’t have the streamlined voice of this week’s MPA Duke tape, it’s a solid collection of bangers highlighting the resounding strength of Atlanta street rap. With Gucci still behind bars and 1017 a distant memory, Longway and MPA might just be picking up the slack.
50 Shades of Green
Craving relentless, loud-mouthed street rap from MMG but not feeling Meek Mill after Dreams Worth More Than Money (to say nothing of that whole Drake thing)? Tracy T might be the answer. MMG’s least-known member is in the same lane as his Philly contemporary with a voice and style reminiscent of fellow ATL rapper Que.
50 Shades of Green features a dozen-plus trap bangers, Tracy T’s voice cutting through metallic symphonies produced by the likes of Beat Billionaire, Jahlil Beats, TM88, Sonny Digital. Shy Glizzy, Boosie Badazz, Meek and a handful of MMG backbenchers round out the tracklist, occasionally stealing the spotlight from Tracy, which is fine. While it won’t change the world, it’s a perfectly enjoyable soundtrack for a night of knuckle-headed behavior. With one exception (‘Be Wit Me’, his take on the YG-Mustard formula) Tracy stays in his lane and executes — and that’s all we ask from MMG these days.