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.)
It’s hot, not no-air-conditioning hot, but that Parker Solar Probe hot. Not that Nicki Minaj Queens talk hot, but that “Moooo!” meme behind-the-scenes spot hot. That Travis Scott chart-top hot? That man’s not-hot hot. It’s that Paraffin hot, that “Hades” hot, that PTP-curated fundraiser for BAJI hot, Ka pop-up shop hot, skrra pop pop ka-ka-ka hot. It’s gunmetal hot, shirtless everyday hot, that Atlanta, USA hot, the type of heat to make you right now drop hot.
Aminé – ONEPOINTFIVE
In a video tweeted in promotion of ONEPOINTFIVE, Aminé quips that “mixtapes are albums and albums are mixtapes.” Throughout the run of this column, TMT has had to reckon with that fact, as an aesthetic and economic divide that once seemed crucial to the evaluation of rap music has closed. But, particularly in responding to an album like ONEPOINTFIVE, we should maybe ask ourselves a new question: why hold on to the word “mixtape” anyway? Is it not just a way of being diminutive about rap made outside of the hegemonic framework of the industry, and which people can often hear for free? I don’t have an answer to that question, but Aminé is positioning himself front and center of a generation of artists that doesn’t give a shit. The intended audience of ONEPOINTFIVE isn’t a critic bent on classification, but granted, it is a lone individual open to analysis; on the first track, Aminé refers to that individual as his “Dr. Whoever,” a receptacle for his secrets, insecurities, boasts, musings, and flights of fancy. Still, despite his open framing of the album as a therapeutic exercise, ONEPOINTFIVE is far from tortured. It’s not going to teach you much about the creator’s psyche. It’s relatively carefree, with beats that, bridging trap with noise rap, satisfyingly defer tension; quips like “she Björk cute/ So she really fine, just sorta weird;” and a verse from the inimitable drill innovator G Herbo. Aminé probably isn’t the “new CNN,” as he suggests on standout “REEL IT IN,” but his music is a lot more fun than watching the news.
Young Nudy – Slimeball 3
The hero-worship of Future/Metro Boomin/Gucci/Migos/ATL (and the sound associated therewith) is now the status quo, and how could it not be? Any discussion of hip-hop heavy hitters — 2010 and onward, if not earlier — has to include Atlanta, directly or indirectly (chances are that if you’re even mildly interested in a mixtape feature, you know this already). But that status quo is reaching an inevitable zenith, if it hasn’t already, which means that an ATL rapper like Young Nudy can make a timely tape chock-full of *bangers* using the long-championed ATL formula (140bpm trap beats in the vein of say, Metro Boomin, Southside, et al.; braggadocio hooks; earworm ad-libs) and effortlessly churn out tracks that will resonate by virtue of authority. Thus, we have Slimeball 3, a no-features tape that Young Nudy says is “for the fans,” which, at best, is a nod toward its mass marketability and, at worst, points toward a false dichotomy between art-for-critics versus art-for-the-common-people. Still, my hunch is that Young Nudy was instead referencing the aforementioned dominance of his city’s sound, to which this tape is loyal. It’s an accessible of-the-moment mixtape that holds its own alongside current projects from bigger ATL rappers. How long the Atlanta rap canon will dominate remains to be seen, but for now, Slimeball 3 fits neatly into its lexicon.
Q Da Fool – 100 Keys
Following the runaway success of last year’s DC rap summit “Crew” and the meteoric ascendance of his Largo, Maryland citymate Rico Nasty, Q Da Fool looks to be next in line for a chance to put the DMV on. Since getting out of prison a little over a year ago, he’s been relentless, releasing a string of regional hits and earning himself a feature from Gucci and a deal with Roc Nation in quick succession. 100 Keys is the first fruit born of the latter, linking Q with the ever-relevant Zaytoven for a collaboration that is equal parts coronation and rite of passage. Despite a mixed bag of beats (as is often the case with Zaytoven, a few productions here feel like his hundredth iteration upon a single idea), Q rises to the challenge, lacing each track with a presence that leaves no room for guest verses and no question about who’s on the mic.
Slauson Malone – (1) The Diffusion of Terror (2) Spaceways and Fugitivity (3) Resistance of Objecthood
With four subsections, including a preface titled “In the Absence of Origin,” Slauson Malone’s latest mix succeeds in elevating the mixtape format beyond our current understanding of it and the possibilities therein. Lately, we have defined it as either an artist’s album-by-any-other-name or a compilation of songs by multiple artists, typically but not necessarily sequenced with some sense of track-by-track cohesion or overarching theme. Here, however, it’s that sense that not only makes, but, for all intents and purposes, is the tape. Though over 50 other musicians are featured, the voice and ideas of artist-curator Slauson Malone remain most prominent, even when quoting Fred Moten’s Black and Blur or blending Funk Master Flex drops with Sun Ra organ lines. Objecthood be damned, that’s a hell of a thing.
Jeremiah Jae – DAFFI
I’m not one to drum up the importance of the splashy extramusical objects attached to a release, but when an artist willingly swerves around the elusive mechanics of modern stardom, their skid marks, thin on the pavement as they are, tend to speak louder. In the case of Jeremiah Jae’s DAFFI, the latest studio album from the reticent Chicago/L.A.-based producer, rapper, and visual artist, the nonmusical choice that struck me most was the use of motorcycle visuals. I started thinking of affinities between biker and hip-hop culture — their shared opposition to law enforcement, the public flattening of their diverse participants for the acts of an unruly few, and even the idea that those who ride motorcycles and lowriders are noise polluters — only to find that biking hardly figures into the work itself. It’s the highest form of praise to say that I’m happy about this; as I spend more time with DAFFI, I appreciate that Jae is allergic to convenient generalizations. Call him a precocious critic and he’ll admit he doesn’t have the pieces to the puzzle on “Rise.” Call him a “young face on an old god” and he’ll ice up an autotune dirge on “In the Cold.” Call his beats abstract or ambient and he’ll carbonize your subwoofer on “Da Low End.” The point, you ask? It’s still all him.
YNW Melly – I AM YOU
As is now tradition, I AM YOU is not so much a debut mixtape as it is a vehicle for YNW Melly’s two biggest SoundCloud hits to date, fleshed out by a combination of second-tier singles and new tracks that largely rehash ideas contained within the prior (cf. the re-use of the beat from the standout “Murder On My Mind” for the very next song, “Mind On My Murder”). However, YNW Melly operates on a broader spectrum of styles than the average SoundCloud rapper — he remains very much Young Thug-derived at his core, but rises head and shoulders above his contemporaries when it comes to actual singing ability. Melodically, he’s more akin to Fetty Wap, displaying a preternatural gift for hooky songcraft and a willingness to embrace “overwrought” as a virtue rather than a critique. It’s easy to think ahead to what YNW Melly’s label-funded future might hold (naturally, he’s signed to 300), but don’t let that distract you from the fact that he already has a solid 18 months of work that’s well worth your time.
N3ll – Raider Klan Resurrection
The last 30 days have seen new projects from Denzel Curry, Xavier Wulf, Grandmilly, Bones, Rell, and N3ll, all former/current members/affiliates of the Raider Klan (both those lines have always been blurry). That might seem like a lot of releases from the same crew (active or disbanded) inside one month’s time, but consider that, at its height, Raider Klan purportedly consisted of hundreds — literally hundreds — of individuals. For all we know, there could easily be as many as a dozen Raider-related projects out this or any given month, yet only one bears the declarative name RVIDXR KLVN RXSSXRXTIXN. (Believe I thought about doing this whole post in Raider-glyphs but decided against it — you’re welcome.) Matured but unconcerned with outsider notions of what “artistic growth” means in hip-hop, N3ll’s latest is, like the earliest and most seminal Raider Klan releases, best described in a word — phonk.
ZMoney – Chiraq Mogul
It’s hard not to think of ZMoney as a cautionary tale: a too-common example of the close-but-not-quite stardom that awaits the vast majority of “weird,” idiosyncratic rappers who will fail to catch the gulf stream of tastemaker cool that propelled Valee to a G.O.O.D. Music deal and Twitter timeline omnipresence. On the other hand, his work may very well be better off in the long run for its organic nature. Until then, he’ll continue to build a following, maintaining his Chicago roots (G Herbo and, yes, Valee feature on the tape; Rio Mac and St. Louis’s ChaseTheMoney produce seemingly every other track) while releasing a steady stream of projects through Gucci Mane’s 1017 Eskimo label. For a man whose rapping is perhaps best described as a sleep-talking Gucci, there are certainly worse fates.
Psychedelic Ensemble – Live at the Clinic
To my understanding, psych rap is, by definition and necessity, about achieving and conveying mind expansion via deeply introspective and/or intricate rhymes, i.e. blacking out. Further, in any psychedelic music, things like song structure and instrumentation matter much less than the end result. Perhaps that’s why psychedelia and hip-hop can complement one another so well when done right, like this. The commonality between Live at the Clinic guest MCs Denmark Vessey and Young Morpheus; Jeremiah Jae and Tha God Fahim; or Blu and Mr. Mothafuckin’ eXquire hasn’t so much to do with their respective styles as their penchant for blacking the fuck out on tracks. Psychedelic Ensemble brings the backing music to facilitate and channel that rite, not so simply, the conduit. And the combined effect of experiencing this 21 times in a row is nothing short of expansive.