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.)
Rap tightened its waist this month, brought in the belt a few notches, squeezed back into its G.O.O.D. jeans, and burst onto the scene with more surprise releases than a zoo covertly infiltrated by eco-terrorists. While Yeezy and co. continued their string of seven-track Fridays, a gifted young lady came blazing out The City that Bombed Itself, with 15 minutes of audiovisual rap that stand to reclaim the word “lean” from woozier realms. Meanwhile, Bey and Jay dropped the album. Rothbarth shrugged. I bugged. XXXTentacion died. Then Gibbs got one. Southern cooking more your flavor? Both Zaytoven and DJ Michael Watts threw new summer sizzlers on the grill. Plus, now we’ve all these mixtapes to run down! What’s a rap columnist to do? Perhaps Beyoncé hubby S. Carter said it best when he mouthed the Migos ad lib, “skrrt, skrrt, skrrt.”
Queen Key – Eat My Pussy
To think of Queen Key as a persona is to do her art and her existence a great disservice; even cursory investigation will confirm that the image put forth on Eat My Pussy is the genuine article. It’s a new sort of rap authenticity, skipping “realness” and proceeding straight to fantasy; Key’s primary concern is not what others think of her but rather, to quote “Tell,” how best to tell this bitch she wants to fuck her husband. She’s an endearing figure, a sort of incarnate id, and it’s no surprise that her ascension has come about organically rather than through any reinvention. It was last September that the “My Way” video started to get attention, and a mere nine months later, Key finds herself not only recording, but also holding her own with Chicago mainstays like Tink and King Louie. Despite showing significant improvement over the run of YouTube loosies with which she closed 2017, Eat My Pussy is still just the beginning for Queen Key; nine more tracks are set to be added to the tape on Thursday, and it’s a safe assumption that work on the next is already underway.
EvillDewer – 13
In response to the sea change in how music is consumed, distributed, and (mercifully, reluctantly) purchased, independent Boston-area rappers and producers have secured the bag by refashioning the mixtape into a luxury item. These tapes can feel like stately public affairs, brimming with artistic self-assurance, collaborative joy, and emerging regalia. Netherrealms, the second most recent, cassette-only offering from Boston-based producer and “waveform scientician” EvillDewer, featured architects of this local insurgence like Estee Nack and Paranom. On his latest, 13, EvillDewer scraps guest verses to foreground his chopped, flipped, and time-stretched MPC juggling. Though a solo effort, the result is hardly insular: it’s a glimpse into the librarian-like mind of someone who pulls from actual library records, jingles, karate flicks, krautrock, and public access clips. Don’t let the erudition fool you; 13 is as fit for the subwoofer as it is for the gala.
Tierra Whack – Whack World
Tierra Whack is here with that quick fix. Compact, efficient, just how we like it. Fifteen tracks in 15 minutes. Stop it. Don’t waste a moment thinking it’s a gimmick. You don’t have any time to lose. There’s no fat on this record; all of that’s been sliced up and disposed of. Whack World arguably packs in as much as any of 2018’s G.O.O.D. releases. The North Philly rapper pulls u-turns, changes vehicles, jumps a bridge, and still has time to swing through a fast-food drive-through on her way to the award show.
ShoZae – Coffy
So firstly, if you haven’t seen the 1973 film Coffy starring Pam Grier, written and directed by Jack Hill, please do so before it inevitably gets remade. Second, if you haven’t listened to the Roy Ayers soundtrack, take care of that too. You good? OK, now you can function in a society and begin to appreciate what Midnite Society producer/recent Stones Throw signee ShoZae is doing with this, his latest tape. I don’t mean to pose barriers to entry — you can enjoy the 2018 Coffy without knowing its precedents — but at least in hip-hop, there’s something to be said for plotting courses of inspiration. They don’t have to be chronological or linear and often aren’t, but the dig is key. To that point, Coffy is entry-level blaxploitation, but maybe from there you check out The Final Comedown. Likewise, maybe this tape leads you to the Patron Series, Beneath the Mantle Vol. 1, the catalogs of the artists featured therein, and ShoZae & Grandmilly’s forthcoming Stones Throw LP, Adventureland. That’s how this record we call Earth spins.
Lukah – Chickenwire
Humor and braggadocio are two methods of dealing with trauma in the places America chooses to ignore. On Chickenwire, South Memphis rapper Lukah claims he saw his first murder at age 12. This experience hardens him for a life in an unforgiving landscape. Simultaneously, he emerged from the womb clutching two backwoods and a pound of gas, with “handsome features” and a sensuous voice that’ll make you tingle. “Why you praying to God when you about to pay him a visit?” he asks. Lukah’s delivery is well-enunciated and confident, with quip after quip sliding off of his silver tongue over a half-hour of hook-less verses, as fluid and loose as backseat freestyles. “Bounce,” according to DJ Squeeky, is a necessary component of the Memphis rap sound, which by now has come to be acknowledged as the precursor to many of hip-hop’s hottest trends. Chickenwire contains no bounce. Some tracks betray their R&B samples in clipped slivers, but most are wordless, tangled loops, with production shared by the MC himself, Suni Katz, and Memphis avant-rapper Cities Aviv. Lukah is both menacing and hilarious; he remarks on many things that are “fucked up” about the world, but singles out a series of mental images that are absurd and shocking, like “Precious wearing a thong,” “a Blood Crip-walkin’,” “having thugs at your door dressed as Jehovahs,” etc. This tape is the sort of thing you can play all the way through while puffing a backwoods on a porch in the sweltering, humid heat, but the MC never fails to remind you: don’t let your guard down.
Chief Keef – Ottopsy EP
Ottopsy listens like an EP for Keef fans, a sort of gift from Sosa before he drops his next project, Mansion Musick, due out in July. It contains the type of forward-thinking hip-hop we’ve come to expect from post-Interscope Chief Keef, and if you enjoy his more creative (dare I say avant-garde?) side, this is for you. The beats are inventive as ever (especially the instrumental for “Randomly” ft. Tadoe), the autotune hooks catchy as all hell (lookout for those high notes on “I Need More”). Keef has endured some tough losses in the last year (RIP Fredo), and I hope his creative outlets are helping him push through. Not suggesting that Keef is using loss as an impetus to make music — I’m just happy to see him putting out quality tracks during hard times, which is inspiring.
Navy Blue – From the Heart
Flipping through the playlists of collaborators like MIKE and Adé Hakim, you’ll likely find a fair share of aesthetically common ground between them, Navy Blue, and other members of their SLUMS NYC collective. But general nouns like aesthetics, mood, honesty, and intimacy are about as far as those comparisons can fairly go, because upon arriving at the latter two, shit gets personal. With bars like “My uncle had a junior and he named him the third/ Won’t show up at your communion ‘cause auntie has some nerve/ Mommy did it all by herself/ Mommy buried grandma by herself, ain’t none of y’all helped,” From the Heart is not just aptly titled, but also keeps faithfully close to that most vital organ.