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.)
Trippie Redd – A Love Letter To You 2
All those Lil Uzi Vert comparisons notwithstanding, Ohio’s Trippie Redd is doing a fine job carving out his own lane as hip-hop’s closest thing to an opera singer. I mean, sure, there’s crooning, but then there’s Trippie Redd’s emotive bellow that erupts like a bat out of hell on the pre-hook for In Too Deep (I see the future in my plans / I’m gonna be good, it’s in God’s hands). Redd’s consistently ariose flow is the major draw for me: he’s got an amazing ear for melody, particularly those that instill sadness. While not entirely morose, the tape does embody themes of loneliness, nostalgia, and heartbreak (Baby wish me well / You know that I live in hell / I’m hellboy, I live in hell). Using autotune and endlessly-alluring, eerie, and ambient instrumentals as his brush, Trippie paints a world of vivid, lush euphony. And he does it effortlessly, with genuine affect.
Antwon – Sunnyvale Gardens
There’s a lot of talk about potential in the rap game these days. With infinite, uh, clout at stake for those early champions of the next to claim their fifteen minutes, rap nerdery can feel more than a little obsessed with the obscure. But what exactly are we hoping that these teenagers might turn into? With Sunnyvale Gardens, underground veteran Antwon provides one possible answer, summarizing the year in Soundcloud while retaining the form of an actual, polished album. It’s a reassuring step forward, a promise that the genre’s core tenets – unabashed emo influence, guitar front and center, gargled autotune melody – can carry weight even in the absence of minute-and-a-half runtimes and blown out mastering. In spanning seemingly the entire history of rap since 2010, Sunnyvale Gardens can certainly feel a bit uneven; more often than not, however, it’s worth your while – Antwon is the ideal auteur for the goofy sincerity of rap’s current moment.
Grandmilly & Shozae – Motel Six
The desk clerk hardly takes her eyes off the TV, absolutely never shoots you a straight glance, but make no mistake, she’ll scan her peripherals enough times to piece together a mental image. So it pays for you to look around too, giving her as little as possible without making it obvious. The game plays out perpetually. That’s what passes for hospitality here — that and musty carpets and buckled wallboards and busted heat pumps and penitentiary-level shower pressure and springy mattresses and HBO — because they know you’re only here on business. Bring your own amenities.
Evil Haze x CowboyKiller – Western Haze EP
Cowpokin’ ain’t a far cry from trappin’. Texan/Pennsylvanian tag-team Evil Haze and CowboyKiller ride foreign horses and tote big irons, shooting hissed bars from the hip atop oppressively crusty bass lines. Their first three-track collab, Western Haze is a desert heat wave, warping its cracking samples on the scorched horizon: it stifles in the biblical sense, drying my throat like baked clay as my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth. Lay me in the dust of death and ride off, pistols blazing. I hear the whine of slide guitar against the lens flare in the pale blue sky. “I’m causing damage while you on the internet spamming,” CowboyKiller whispers from a distance so great that I’m unnerved to hear him at all. It cuts deep.
YoungBoy Never Broke Again – Ain’t Too Long
Ain’t Too Long, the latest chapter in Baton Rouge rapper YoungBoy Never Broke Again’s rapid ascent to hip-hop’s front page, arrived early October in peculiar form: a playlist of 8 YouTube videos on YoungBoy’s official page, not accessible via the usual mixtape sites nor the main-channel streaming services. This very unceremoniousness is exactly what makes the 18 year-old rapper so refreshing: his melodic, repetitive storytelling bears equal imprints of gen Z stylistic cues and Kevin Gates-esque confessionalism, and this latest tape finds him pensive and morose even in the face of great success. “Pour One” and “Better Man” start at the origin of his struggle and tell a story elliptically, looking back on betrayal and past selves with equal parts disbelief and gratitude. The circular melancholy in YoungBoy’s grates on the listener, at times unrelentingly sad even as the beat continues to bounce and fade out. What else are you looking for?
Gunplay – Haram
There’s not good reason that Gunplay isn’t one of the biggest rappers in the world. He has more than enough intensity, talent, grind, uniqueness and hit-making ability to get over. Crossover appeal? C Monster and I saw him rock a noise showcase during Red Bull music week a couple years ago! Plus, Gucci Mane and DMX sustained careers through worse recidivism. Regardless, a couple years removed from a debut album that was understandably underwhelming (in that it was so needlessly belated and highly anticipated), Gunplay has sounded reinvigorated throughout 2017, powdery explosiveness complemented by a sensibility that was at the heart of his finest early works and now feels more attuned. Gunplay with precision and consistency.
Injury Reserve – Drive It Like It’s Stolen
God, these three will never get the credit they deserve. Drive It Like It’s Stolen is everything Injury Reserve fans have come to expect: beat-heavy, lyrically conscious songs drizzled with some of the silkiest flow in the game. The 23-minute mixtape showcases the dichotomy of the trio in a short amount of time. “See You Sweet” and “Boom (X3)” are tough enough to “have the landlord knocking like a burglary,” while “North Pole” and “Colors” sway slow enough to swing a room into a smoke-sesh. Jokes aside, Drive it Like It’s Stolen has moved Injury Reserve to a more permanent position in rap and lets the world know that the trio has finished flossing and is ready to eat again.
araabMUZIK – One of One
In 2010, Dipset Trance Party was, as far as I was concerned, one of the coolest and most confounding things in music. Hosted by someone calling themselves “Your Boy SK,” the series of beat tapes, somehow inspired simultaneously by vocal trance and by the rhythm-focused, high-fidelity Dipset production aesthetic, introduced the world to araabMUZIK. Since the release of his debut album Electronic Dream one year later, in what was surely the biggest Dipset Trance Party success story, we haven’t heard very much from the producer, known for feverishly punching out drum sequences on his MPC as if it were a live percussion instrument. At six tracks, One of One feels like the perfect serving of his simple yet intoxicating blend of beats and emotional dance music. Nevelle Viracocha’s vocals on “Lock and Load” and “Wanted,” seated in the middle of the mix and shrouded in delay, take me back to the bygone Trance Party even more effectively than araabMUZIK’s studio efforts, while the drums hit with the swinging, hand-plucked weight I’ve come to expect from him. One of One is a nifty, powerful little collection of beats, as ready for SoundCloud freestyling as for home listening.
Future & Young Thug – Super Slimey
According to the October 2017 edition of Physics Today:
Allison Sweeney and her colleagues at the University of Pennsylvania now report that they may have a solution to the long-standing puzzle of how the squid lens establishes its protein-density gradient in a way that maintains uniform transparency. They found that cells at different radial positions within the lens produce different ratios of some 40 subtly different variants of S-crystallin. All the mixtures form gels — or at least a volume-spanning protein network — but at varying densities. The gelation prevents the proteins from aggregating into opaque clumps and damps local density fluctuations that could distort vision.
Lil Durk – Signed to the Streets 2.5
I guess Lil Durk and Dej Loaf aren’t together anymore. I hope they’re ok! Really. Though never short on flexes, Lil Durk’s music has always had a believable earnestness far beyond that of his peers, neither cartoonishly immersed in his feelings nor insistent that they don’t exist. Despite never quite breaking out beyond Chicago, Durk has enjoyed massive sustained popularity there since well before drill entered (and subsequently exited) the national stage. There was a brief period this summer when it seemed like Distance was going to break through, and practically every track on Signed to the Streets 2.5 is similarly easy to imagine as a hit. Then again, that’s been the case for most of his career.