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.
With a rash of EP-length efforts and offcut-driven mixtapes, it feels like everyone is biding their time until more substantial records are released. Still, there’s a lot to like this week, from Atlanta to Cali, Chicago to Detroit and beyond.
Ty Dolla $ign
Released with almost no warning, Airplane Mode is nothing if not a reminder of how easy this all comes to Ty Dolla $ign. His Free TC full-length is due to drop on November 13, but he somehow managed to pull together another complete mixtape just from the offcuts? And it’s actually great?
Airplane Mode is a little brief, that’s for sure – most of the tracks hover around the two-minute mark, and many are only just over a minute – but somehow it works. These aren’t just sketches, they’re short songs: a verse, a hook and then on to the next one. When you’re as good at hooks as Ty Dolla $ign, you probably don’t need much more.
Basically, Airplane Mode is a starter before a full-meal, punctuated by tasty highlights like ‘Sex on Drugs’, and the woozy Mike Will-produced ‘One Thing’ but leaving us hungry for more. Let’s hope Free TC proves that Ty Dolla $ign has saved the best for last.
Shitting on the Industry
Hot on the heels of August’s heavy 16 Zips, Shitting on the Industry is yet more heat from Memphis’s Young Dolph. It starts ridiculously well, too, with a pair of tracks produced by Mike Will Made It. ‘Racks’ and ‘Whatever’ highlight Dolph’s strengths perfectly, framing his hoarse street tales with a discordant backdrop that easily could have been snipped from a John Carpenter movie. This is pure dread-rap, and while the silhouette of Three 6 Mafia is visible in the rear view, it feels strangely vibrant and markedly current.
Sadly, the rest of the tape isn’t buoyed by this kind of urgency – while Dolph’s personality holds throughout, his producers struggle to capture the woozy, unsettling haze of Mike Will’s opening bangers. Give us a full album of Dolph and Mike Will and then we’ll be onto something.
There’s something warm and reassuring about a Doughboyz Cashout tape. They’re refreshingly bullshit free, ignoring the irksome “internet street team” mentality and reliably pumping out regular tapes that remind of simpler times. It’s hardly surprising that they’re so popular in their native Detroit – there are few crews with their laser-sharp focus; they know what they like and they do it, rest of the world be damned.
There’s no pandering on BYLUG World (Boss Your Life Up Gang World) and relatively little to give it a 2015 timestamp. While Doubghboyz Cashout absorb elements of DJ Mustard’s simple, effective ratchet sound (YG even appears on ‘Day Ones’) for the most part BYLUG World sounds more indebted to Master P’s No Limit heyday. Cheap Triton sounds and paper-thin basslines are peppered throughout, offering a pleasant U-turn from the usual barrage of “grimdark” canned strings and booming 808 kicks.
It might not be quite as hard-hitting and deliriously essential as last year’s We Run the City 4 (which made it into our list of 2014’s best mixtapes), but BYLUG World is nevertheless an enjoyable statement from Detroit’s finest. Just don’t expect to see them shouting about it any time soon.
Key! & ManMan Savage
Give Em Hell 2
Atlanta rapper-to-watch Key! returns with the second volume of Give Em Hell. While last summer’s edition featured OG Maco (and breakthrough single ‘U Guessed It’), the two have since fallen out and ATL riser ManMan Savage has been drafted as a replacement.
Give Em Hell 2 is an EP-length tape, so there’s no mixtape bloat: just seven cuts that balance full-throated menace with Auto-Tuned sorrow. The latter is the most exciting, like when Savage takes control on the moody ‘Have It’. But everyone is on the same page here, from the headliners to guest Keith Ape and Tuck and producers Big Emm and Big E (who we’re assuming is not the WWE wrestler of the same name).
Eearz To Da Streets
Eearz is the newest member of Mike Will Made It’s Ear Drummers stable (it should be noted that his moniker isn’t a Rae Sremmurd redux — it’s a childhood nickname). The seven-track Eearz To Da Streets is his debut, made under the watchful eye of Mike Will (who has credits on four tracks), which should give you some sense of what to expect, musically: expertly-crafted, bass-heavy rap tracks with an eye (ear?) on the radio.
For his part, Eearz might also be the crew’s most versatile talent, able to man his hooks and rap his ass off (we suspect the 2Pac discography is frequently in his rotation), going hard (‘Work Ya Muscle’) or easing back (‘If You Knew Better’) when needed. While there are no Rae Sremmurd-sized singles here, he’s a welcome addition to the crew.
Lil Mouse & Matti Baybee
What A Time To Be Young
What a time to be alive? Chicago teen titans counter that it’s also a great time to be young with this collaborative tape. There’s nothing new here, but it’s always great to see what one of rap’s creative wellsprings. The tape starts strong with ‘BloodGunna’, a triumphant statement of purpose, and ‘X Files’, which samples the iconic theme of a show both were probably too young to enjoy.
While ‘Impress Me’ is bouncy and boastful and ‘All Star’ hints at bop, there’s nothing as memorable as the best moments of Matti’s So Abnormal tape. Still, when you’re this young, there’s nowhere to go but up.