With a cascade of releases spewing from the likes of DatPiff, LiveMixtapes, Bandcamp, and SoundCloud, it can be difficult to keep up with the overbearing yet increasingly vital mixtape game. In this column, we aim to immerse ourselves in this hyper-prolific world and share our favorite releases each month. The focus will primarily be on rap mixtapes — loosely defined here as free (or sometimes free-to-stream) digital releases — but we’ll keep things loose enough to branch out if/when we feel it necessary. (Check out last month’s installment here.)
You could argue that the prolific nature of modern mixtape milieus makes for a mess of inaccessibility. You could, but we at TMT would be much too busy listening to mixtapes to participate in that academic exercise. Onto our informal survey of July 2018 then: nine writers, 14 tapes, mad points of reference and impressions, scenes and feels. Yes, it’s just a sampling, dreamy and incomplete, but selective, like picking curios from a cabinet or fishing life in the notochords, curated by your favorite jet-setting rap connoisseurs, this one writing from the suburbs of Nashville, where the flea market dollar bins are like the barbecues, i.e., smoking.
03 Greedo – God Level
Don’t doubt that God Level is the most compelling of 03 Greedo’s offerings to date, almost entirely by design. Of course, context is everything: this, his self-proclaimed debut album, came amidst the commencement of his 20-year prison sentence, a fact plainly reflected in the sheer breadth and depth of this project. Greedo utilizes the hour-and-a-half-plus to cover plenty of stylistic ground, with a knowing and foreboding, yet never overly rueful, presence behind the mic. As Jeff Weiss puts it in his heartfelt profile, “a Greedo song exists for every emotion and every occasion,” and no less so than across God Level’s expanse: there’s more conventional going in alongside post-Thugger gurgle; West Coast bounce here, blown-out trap there. And, of course, it’s all wrapped in cover art that slyly references Greedo’s iconoclastic streak, the last laugh in a sordid state of affairs. Clearly, to attain this Level, you have to kill a few idols first.
Future – Beast Mode 2
The mixtape is Future’s format. Beast Mode 2 is his 19th and the follow-up to his 14th, Beast Mode. The latter was a cold turn for the Atlanta trailblazer; a darker, colder reflection that helped flesh out his character from a 2D trap star to who we hear today. Beast Mode II follows that trend. The weight of success is a tired trope, but when Future sings “Pouring up in public, damn I hate the real me” on the tape’s final track, it doesn’t sound like the millionaire’s cry to the masses about how money doesn’t make you happy. He’s not singing for you or as a part of the emo-rap trend. This is his format, only one of two direct sequels. Unlike the elaborate sculptures of Evol or DS2, Beast Mode 2 is for Future, an etching in a diary. A passing moment.
Pink Siifu – Ensley
Ensley is a girl’s name meaning one’s own meadow. But who is she to Pink Siifu? Track five, “Proud/Pray,” might offer a hint, as Pink raps, “This is for my sister.” Maybe he’s just talking about that song, but having relocated from Birmingham to Cincinnati to Los Angeles to his current artistic sojourn in New York, not to mention having also released music under the names iiye, VCR@aol.jazz, and Liv Martez, Siifu too could be an Ensley, at least in spirit, as he seeks to continuously terraform new ground for this rap shit. The meadow sprawls, and with 26 songs clocking in at over an hour, this tape is also scaled up from the field. But don’t let that fence you off — there’s a whole ecosystem here, and Bandcamp has put together a convenient guide for the journey.
RetcH – After the Verdict
It’s far too easy to let the details of RetcH’s run-ins with the law overcloud what After the Verdict properly announces: that the man is back on his bullshit. Sure, titles like “Made it Out” are reminders that the New Jersey rapper just shook off decades of jail time, but even the most explicit engagement with the court case refrains from ham-handed reckoning in favor of unapologetic flexes, like the kickoff, “I clutch the slimmy that was stocky and some beef and broccoli/ And smoke a choppy with a mami on my way to papi.” Far from a calculated return to form, After the Verdict is a refinement of the gnarled, snappish flows we heard on Finesse the World unspooled over a trim batch of ghoulish instrumentals from GRiMM Doza. Despite RetcH’s affinity for every trap upstart’s favorite purple concoction, it’s unclear whether he belongs in the same conversation with his glitzier contemporaries or with those gunning for “something made for grown folk.” What’s clearer is who this music isn’t for: the polite society do-gooders who’d smugly donate to cash-starved schools yet would flee a high-end restaurant as soon as RetcH walks in. Thankfully, RetcH will keep on snarling and sneering, erasing demarcations you thought were fixed and bum-rushing every yuppie function from Millburn to Moorestown along the way.
Rabit – CRY ALONE DIE ALONE
The thing about invoking DJ Screw’s influence in nearly any beat-based form is that it’s already implied. Nevertheless, in an era of wanton creative theft, it never hurts to be explicit. Like any Houston native, Rabit’s always been outspoken about his love for Screw, but CRY ALONE DIE ALONE is his first full-on embrace of the deceased originator’s iconic mixtape form. It’s a far cry from an original Gray Tape, but so is just about everything; merging Houston classics, witch house, and the cutting edge of bass music — three distinct branches of the larger Screw family tree — the mix is less a faithful re-creation than a survey of the breadth of the legend’s influence in the nearly 20 years since his death. There’s a lot of baggage that comes along with making a self-anointed “screw tape,” as there are thin lines between tribute and imitation, or appreciation and exploitation. And the Houston originals here, including”Diamonds and Wood” and “Pourin’ Up,” provide such a zoomed-out view of the city’s vibrant scene that they can initially scan as something closer to gesture than considered selection. Repeated listens put that out of mind, however; the tape owns its origins to such an extent, from the cover art to its June 27 release date, that it can only be a labor of love.
Chief Keef – Mansion Musick
Things were simpler in 2012. Finally Rich, and especially “Citgo” (the 13th track on the deluxe version), projected effortless style and grit, taking rap to a place it hadn’t been before and one that we didn’t recognize. It’s difficult to say whether Chief Keef has been less or more vital to music in the years since. On one hand, the 17 (or so) mixtapes he’s released since Finally Rich have attracted little mainstream recognition, and none of them has produced a single with the magnitude of “I Don’t Like.” As Corrigan B put it in his review of the very underrated Thot Breaker, “fuckers in school don’t say much about Chief Keef these days.” On the other hand, Keith Cozart’s signature is scribbled thoroughly and, it seems, permanently across the landscape of rap music. I still find his music exciting in its own right, and it shows that he knows and embraces who he is, down to those idiosyncrasies of his style that haven’t been as widely emulated as others. In a couple important ways, Mansion Musick sounds similar to the last 17 (or so) post-Finally Rich mixtapes; the vocals are clear and high in the mix, the variety of drum sounds is small, and the approach to composition and songwriting is unmistakably closer to the sputtering idyll of “Citgo” than the furious staccato of “I Don’t Like.” The piano-driven opening and closing tracks and well-executed collaborations with Playboi Carti and Tadoe particularly stand out.
DJ Surrup – Kids See Ghosts of Screw
It’s not at all a knock on Kanye West and Kid Cudi when I write that DJ Surrup’s slowed and throwed version of their Kids See Ghosts project is better than the original. (It’s actually my favorite of the recent G.O.O.D. projects, other than the masterful Daytona of course, plus…) Surrup has been quietly improving upon hit records for years now, and Ye seems to bring out some of the best in him (and vice versa), as The Life of Purple Pablo is also a prime example of Surrup’s sleepy-eyed, sharp-eared genius. By not only slowing and scratching his source material, but reordering and reimagining it in ways extra conducive to replay, Surrup proves himself not yet another “ghost” of Screw, but rather a diamond in the rough of remix culture. And no offense or anything, but Cudi kind of sounds in transition here, which is all kinds of bonus awesome.
Fat Trel – Finally Free
When Fat Trel was locked up on weapons charges in spring 2016, it seemed like another setback in the D.C. street rap king’s belabored transition to wider success. 2013’s SDMG mixtape was blisteringly good, with daring, diverse production that showcased how Trel could hop on anything, be himself, and make it work, leading him to sign with the (perhaps ill-fitting) MMG label. His career has been in idle since then, save for a steady output of video singles since his September 2017 release date. And while the long-awaited Finally Free doesn’t electrify like early-career Trel, that may be a good thing; adjusting gracefully to the vicissitudes of 2018’s rap landscape, the rapper has eased off the drill-and-molly anthems and found a new sweet spot over the mourning, low-slung style of beat pioneered by 808 Mafia. But rather than swag rapping, Trel spits the same unshakable flow that made him famous — so effortless you sometimes forget he’s even rapping.
King Carter – Prisoner of Mind
Slums don’t let up. Forget simply taking over this column; the crew is about to fuck around and go the 2018 equivalent of All City, whatever that may be. King Carter’s Prisoner of Mind is one of the latest in a superstring of quantum-entangled collabos from SlumsNYC and frequent comrades such as Standing on the Corner, Slauson Malone, Medhane, Caleb Giles, et al., but it isn’t just one of the latest or just anything for that matter. Streaming this, I laughed, I cried, I came, I died, I came back to life, and I made sure to download the split-track version so I could do it all (or some, but mostly all) over again. Major props due Ade Hakim (a.k.a. Sixpress) who handles the bulk of production on here and has been on an absolute killing spree of late.
Lil Boii Kantu – 514
The fact that Lil Boii Kantu is able to hammer out non-cringeworthy covers of classic Blink-182 cuts and produce goth trap tunes that slap just as hard never fails to astound me. There’s no shortage of SoundCloud artists who claim versatility, but few can toss the word around and back it up as well as this L.A.-based emcee. Kantu’s sophomore tape picks up where Trippie Redd’s A Love Letter to You left off in 2017, pairing the former’s croaky, auto-tuned howls with murky plug beats. “Senior Ditch Day,” Kantu’s ode to pre-graduation blues, is 514’s choicest offering, laden with screechy pop-punk riffage and teenage romanticism.
Big Kahuna OG – SKY CHRYME
Richmond-based rap collective Mutant Academy offers a wayward vision of what it means to be a rap crew today. Though there isn’t a fail-safe path to ensure stardom, many of the most celebrated rap groups of the decade have made an art of capitalizing on the “outsider” image. If there’s a unifying “edge” to the four Mutant rappers — Big Kahuna OG, Fly Anakin, Henny L.O., and Koncept Jack$on — it’s that they’re apostles of a particular blunted, Virginia-grown everyman lifestyle wherein Ohbliv loops and Nickelus F epistles are daily sustenance. From without, this seems a plausible way of corralling local support. Yet the group found its early devotees largely by way of the internet, which in turn had Richmonders jetting to the nearest backyard boogie. The squad’s been sitting on so much material that the rollout of the recently excavated SKY CHRYME had the casual air of a SoundCloud loosie. However, disposable, SKY CHRYME is not; Kahuna feels personable without the media manicure, and the mostly homegrown, skyward beats will have even the most fusty of heads retract their diagnosis of the death of “real hip-hop” and start muttering, begrudgingly at first, conspicuously with time, “the internet is the fucking move.”
Theravada – State of the Art
The State of the Art is goonish, unemployed, unshaven, waking up at 2 PM, driving to the fye to sell back used Eastern Conference Records releases, hoping to get enough to pick up a 2-for-30, getting broken off with an extra $2 and using it to cop some even more obscure early 00s shit, most likely from another region, with a beer-stained pen-and-pixel cover. Theravada channels that come-up, not sonically, but emotionally, giving you that “Hold up, who’s this character?” feeling. My brother said we went to the same high school, but I don’t think that’s right. I did meet the dude after a show at a pool hall in my old neighborhood, though; having never heard the word “theravada” at that point, I thought he was telling me his name was Nirvana over and over: true story. That would’ve been about the time he was working on this, I assume. The moral: Y2K was real, the singularity already happened, is still happening, and right now as you read this, it’s 2000.
Hoodrich Pablo Juan and Danny Wolf – Hoodwolf 2
Hoodwolf’s overstuffed successor makes the cut, despite falling short of the airtight cohesion that Atlanta duo Hoodrich Pablo Juan and Danny Wolf sealed into their debut collaboration. Populated by a deep supporting cast of emcees and producers, Hoodwolf 2 exchanges the pair’s industrial minimalism for a diverse blend of timbres and experimentation. While HPJ’s delivery remains as oddly layered and tongue-in-cheek as ever, Wolf dabbles in slasher-flick dissonance on “Bitch Nigga,” Zaytoven-inspired decadence on “Everything Rare,” and even a trap-inflected appropriation of traditional Japanese music on “Just Vibe” — exclusive to Datpiff and SoundCloud. Despite muddy mixing and phoned-in features by Lil Skies and the ever-uninspired Rich the Kid, Hoodwolf 2 reaches some impressive heights, especially when its respective collaborators embrace their innate weirdness. When your missteps are this good, you’re doing something right.
03 Greedo & Nef the Pharoah – Porter 2 Grape EP
In early July, 03 Greedo began what will be a considerably long hiatus from hip-hop recording and performance. Luckily (and bittersweetly) for fans, he’s promised that there’s plenty of unreleased music stowed away on hard drives, which will appear on upcoming projects. This EP, in fact, is the first to be released while he’s behind bars. It’s a collaboration with fellow Californian Nef the Pharoah, and, despite being recorded with 03 Greedo’s sentence looming on the horizon, it’s fun and carefree in a DJ Mustard summer-vibe kinda way. It fits snugly into the lexicon of hot weather-friendly California hip-hop, and Nef and Greedo balance each other’s styles surprisingly well: Nef with a consistent G-funk flavor and delivery, Greedo more melody-savvy and radio-adaptable. It’s a fun, bite-sized, easily digestible listen for warmer weather, landing just at the right time. Despite its feel-good allure, this EP will land heavy on the ears of fans who’ve been following Greedo’s explosive trajectory over the past year. It’s the beginning of a long goodbye, but at least we have unreleased material (that hopefully will contain more Nef collabs) to look forward to.