Welcome to FACT’s Rap Round-up.
It’s been another strong couple of weeks in rap – to the point that although Young Thug dropped the third installment of his excellent Slime Season series, we don’t even need to cover it. It’s good, you know that already. Instead, we’ve got a slew of albums and tapes from some familiar Awful faces, rising Baltimore rapper Tate Kobang, Adamn Killa, Dej Loaf and the ever-controversial Azealia Banks.
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 feature the albums (free and otherwise) that need to be a part of the rap conversation but might not be covered otherwise.
Click on the album or mixtape title for a preview or stream.
Since We’re Here
Young Baltimore rapper Tate Kobang has been on our radar since last year’s club-destroying ‘Bank Rolls (Remix)’ and his eagerly-awaited debut mixtape does not disappoint. It would have been easy for Kobang to take things down a notch to fit into the ATL landscape more snugly, but there’s no disguising his roots here – the jagged club focus of his city is the tape’s unmistakable backbone.
While Since We’re Here starts slowly, echoing a familiar sound with wheezing synths, quick raps, memorable ad libs and booming 808s, something unusual happens when we hit the Blaqstarr-produced ‘Nasty Girls’. Like ‘Bank Rolls (Remix)’ and February’s ‘Oh My’ before it, the track gives a stark, rugged edge which accents Kobang’s confident flow.
Elsewhere, Kobang excels effortlessly rapping over the familiar Neptunes-like ‘Number 5’, breaking things up wisely with the old school ‘Same Shit’ and the strangely Timbaland-ish pop croon of ‘Love Again’. Unlike so many tapes that make their way to this column every couple of weeks, Since We’re Here feels like Kobang’s attempt to experiment on his own terms. When you’re not trying to blindly imitate, there’s still room to innovate.
All Jokes Aside
Since ‘Try Me’ overtook every car stereo in the summer of 2014, Detroit’s Dej Loaf has been one of rap’s most exciting up-and-comers. And while her output has since been relatively sparse considering how (sometimes-unnecessarily) prolific musicians can be with access to Bandcamp and SoundCloud, she constantly stuns. On last year’s ‘Post to Be’ remix, she stood out alongside Trey Songz, Ty Dolla $ign and Rick Ross, reminiscent of Nicki’s ‘Monster’ feat, if only because she was showing up a well-established lot.
Her features have been a huge part of how she stands out, so it’s great to see her taking on All Jokes Aside, her most robust collection to-date, as an almost entirely solo effort. As for the one collab, it’s a power move. No Limit solider Silkk the Shocker, a perennially crush for any girl who came of age between ‘Make Em Say Uh’ and ‘It Ain’t My Fault’, is her only featured guest.
Of the release she says, “There’s a time in a girl’s life where she becomes a young woman… That’s what I represent” and the tape is indicative of that. We’ve seen heard her slick-tongued, we’ve watched her fall in love and now we can bear witness to a young woman begin to take on even more dimensions — and that kind of emotional work without the padding can sometimes be rare. That’s why it’s great to see her do it on her own.
I’m A Piece of Shit
If Father’s Who’s Gonna Get Fucked First? was a drug-fueled look at suffering from success, then I’m a Piece of Shit is the hangover in the morning. It reminds me of an old Louis CK joke about how guys don’t get joy from masturbation: “Sometimes you find ecstasy but it’s followed by the deepest self-hate and depression you’ve ever felt.”
Released almost exactly one year after Who’s Gonna Get Fucked First?, I’m a Piece of Shit is more internal and inward-looking than its brash predecessor. Father’s beats are even more hypnotically minimalist, his lyrics more misanthropic (“I hate everyone but I don’t wanna be alone” serves as a motto of sorts), his hooks diffused and oblique. He’s even more comfortable nodding to and flipping rap tropes and gender stereotypes: on the sick and sinister ‘Big Emblem Benz’, he jokes about licking up piss, interpolates Kelis and boasts about carrying a “man purse with a fuckin’ snub in it.” Haters gonna hate, Father’s gonna be Father.
The Awful mastermind has never been afraid to cede the spotlight in service of the song, and that instinct hasn’t changed here: half of the crew features in one way or another. Abra’s seductive hook highlights ‘Why Don’t U’; ‘2 Girl Fantasy 2′ is dominated by Tommy Genesis’ spoken word fetish rap; Micah Freeman brings the funk on the salacious ‘Spit or Swallow’; and honorary member Makonnen pops up a few times, sounding much more comfortable here than with OVO. It’s as if Father has learned that if the “rap game” is going to fuck you, you might as well be with your friends.
Back 2 Ballin
The first sound you hear on Adamn Killa’s debut mixtape is eerily familiar. It’s the plasticky, arpeggiated synth bleat that characterized ‘90s trance and before you shrug it off as an EDM hangover, a sputtering drill rhythm re-contextualizes it completely. It’s not the only bizarre blast from the past either – H!tkidd-produced single ‘My Stance’ is built around a sample of t.A.T.u.’s 2001 smash ‘All The Things She Said’. Seriously.
This eclectic naivety is what separates Adamn Killa from many of his peers. Sure, using elements of dance and pop is nothing new in Chicago – the bop micro-genre did exactly that, to varying degrees of success – but the way Killa blends these sounds with the machine-gun patter of drill is unusual and addictive. Take the shrill ‘Adamn Superstar’, a track that builds slowly with bright, staccato synth shrieks before settling into a familiar tempo – Killa sounds not a million miles away from drill originator King Louie, but injects a mischievous energy that feels crucial and current.
Keef, Durk, Louie and others positioned the world’s eyes on the South Side, and now it feels as if another generation is picking up the slack, folding in the sounds that characterized the city over the last few years into an unpredictable neon haze. It’s exciting to wonder how the sound might evolve further, until then Back 2 Ballin should keep us more than busy.
Can you imagine where Azealia Banks would be if she could avoid bullshit for even, say, half the time? After years of bridge burning, Twitter beefing (Sarah Palin? Really?) and controversy-courting, it’s tough to root for her, despite her undeniable talent.
After finally releasing the long-delayed Broke With Expensive Taste at the end of 2014, Banks proved that she still had it. Slay-Z is further proof that she can mix rap and dance music without either seeming forced: her flow is sharp on ‘The Big Big Beat’, a track that grooves like ‘90s dance pop but samples Biggie.
Still, there’s a dated, leftover feel to the tape. Rapping over Benga and Coki’s ‘Night’ on ‘Can’t Do It Like Me’ is interesting but would have seemed more novel a few years ago; same for the EDM diva role she plays on ‘Used To Being Alone’ and ‘Queen of Clubs’. But when you’re more focused on the “Controversy” section of your Wikipedia page, your “Discography” section will suffer.
Look At Me
The cover of Look At Me is a photograph of Ethereal in the forest, face to face with his wheelchair, the self-described “bizarro Jimmy Brooks” pondering self-identity, and – judging by his lyrics – it appears that he likes what he sees.
The title phrase reappears throughout the EP, as a plea, a boast and a demand for attention – which he’s earned. As ever, the effort is full of screwed-down beauty, far-away samples (listen to what he does to the Gap Band on ‘Treat You Right’) and experimental touches; ‘Look At You’ is like an Aphex Twin-produced rap-R&B track.
Like Father on I’m a Piece of Shit, Awful is in full effect, with Coodie Breeze playing Nate Dogg on ‘Treat You Right’ and Abra adding a feminine touch on two tracks. As always, Ethereal’s muse is Alexandria, whether pitch-shifted (‘Mind’) or au naturel (tantalizing highlight ‘Got It’). But Ethereal remains at the core of the record, and even though it’s only 26 minutes long, you could be lost in this forest for hours.