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.)
What do a ripped live stream, a German reissue, a Dr. Phil star, a jazz-funk tape, and a Reed Dollaz bootleg have in common? In case it wasn’t obvious, they’re all featured in the September 2018 edition of Tiny Mix Tapes’s Favorite Rap Mixtapes column. Serially though, folks, this was a weird one. The month started so slow I was afraid I was going to end up writing about the worst rap beef since Esoteric vs. El-P rendered white rap unbeefable. Luckily, JoJo Pellegrino came through to correct the calendar’s course, as is his wont. One surprise AOTY candidate and a few deep dives later and suddenly we’ve surfaced a selection as thoroughly eclectic as any you’ll find here this year. It just goes to show that in rap’s new gilded age, there’s always treasure a-waiting. Ya dig?
Bruiser Brigade – Reign Supreme [a.k.a. Twitch EP]
We don’t know if everyone else needs to step up their game or if Danny Brown is simply untouchable at this point, but he just casually dropped a Bruiser Brigade mixtape on Twitch (after a Persona 5 session) and it already rivals some of his contemporaries’ best works. We shouldn’t be surprised, but… it’s a little surprising, right? The Detroit rapper is unattached to many of the trends that his peers latch onto, and he’s continually moving into more experimental territories. As on 2016’s Atrocity Exhibition (our ninth favorite album of that year), Reign Supreme (a.k.a. the Twitch EP) is full of hard-hitting instrumentals and obscure samples that the rappers effortlessly flow over, with fellow Bruiser Brigade members Dope Head, Fat Ray, ZelooperZ, and Kash Tha Kushman stepping up to the plate for the crew’s best collaborative effort yet. Listen to “Everybody Like Me” and tell us that Brown isn’t at the height of his career.
Chris Crack – Being Woke Ain’t Fun
Even if this were a beat tape, the song titles alone — “Empanada Elegance,” “Came, Saw, Left Early,” and “Explanation Kills Art” are just a few — would get you halfway to the verse of the year. Originally self-released in July, Being Woke Ain’t Fun got an expanded physical release earlier this month via the German FXCK RAP label. Phew. This is the sort of Chicago rap that too often goes ignored; that which neither claims allegiance to the drill scene nor gives itself over easily to disingenuous interpretation as a reaction against it. Instead, Chris Crack occupies the murkier middle ground; along with frequent collaborators TREE and Chris Spencer (both featured here), his music is an honest investigation of his own experiences, prioritizing the representation of what was over any ideas about what should be. The results are rarely suited for polarization along the spectrum of what people think when they hear “Chicago rap;” rather, this is Chicago reality.
Bhad Bhabie – 15
If you had told me in 2016 that then-14-year-old Danielle Bregoli a.k.a. Bhad Bhabie, of Cash Me Ousside fame, would, by 2018, be a relatively successful rapper with a debut mixtape — a good debut mixtape — one that I’d be writing about for a TMT feature, I probably would have shrugged and said, “Well, anything’s possible, and after all, no press is bad press — in fact, that sounds pretty interesting now that I think about it.” It’s funny how lmao-get-a-load-of-this-person internet virality used to destroy people’s lives, but now it can, and often does, catapult individuals into stardom. That’s what’s going on here, I suppose: Bhad Bhabie capitalizing on all the attention. In any case, my reaction to this tape is a mixture of genuine enjoyment and bewilderment. Beyond her
atypical claim to fame, Bhad Bhabie’s only 15 (hence the title), and beyond that, there are some brow-raising features here: Lil Baby, YG, and Lil Yachty, to name a few. Those folks don’t collab with just anybody, you know. And she holds her own with all of them, navigating a variety of stylistically distinct beats, employing an array of different flows. It’s Top 40, millions-of-YouTube-hits rap, borne of an unlikely source, sure, but oddly enough, this tape stands out alongside dozens of others in the same lane. Weird era we’re living in, huh?
Swarvy – No. 4 | Honey Blend
Laying others’ vocals over one’s own instrumentals for the length of a full beat tape kills two birds with one stone. Firstly and perhaps chiefly to some professional producers, it stops strangers from swooping in and swiping your work for unlicensed “collaborations.” Second, it can serve to eliminate the listener-fatigue and low replay value that sometimes come with the territory of loop-based compositions. Whether or not said bird kills are Swarvy’s intent, his take on the format has a third effect: by applying his jazz-funk instrumentation to the likes of Migos’ “Walk It Like I Talk It” and Rich The Kid’s “New Freezer,” Swarvy brings out other sides of these familiar pop songs, overcoming also the listener-fatigue that results from constant radio play. That’s dope.
YungManny – Manny Phantom
Remember Tay-K? More specifically, remember his defiant mantra that lay central to “The Race,” the clarion call of “fuck a beat?” Maybe you do, maybe you don’t, but leaving aside the obvious baggage and implications of the original lyric, there are plenty of rappers quite literally forgoing tried-and-true cadences to operate instead between the beats. I’d like to think that YungManny from the DMV takes beat-fuckery to its logical extreme, and on Manny Phantom, he’s at his best when showing blatant disregard for the piano trap and Shirley Bassey samples, spraying quotables as and how he pleases — he’s “spittin’ in your lil bro Fruity Loops,” “watchin’ Cartoon Network in the trap,” and even making “Charlie bit my finger” references. Sublime, ridiculous, it’s all here — even the tape’s pensive moments can’t derail this energy.
Cyrax – Stay Active EP
Stay Active marks a significant shift for Cyrax, opening with a track (“True Pt. 2 / Baby Girl”) more indebted to Ghost Town DJs’ “My Boo” than Black Kray or any other influence on his earlier work. Formerly of Divine Council (or perhaps of the former Divine Council), the Richmond native reprises his partnership with with $ilkMoney once (on “Tank”) but carries the rest of the tape unaccompanied, flowing weightlessly over beats that run the gamut from “straight off the factory line” to “built around a synthesized saxophone” (“Stay Active”). There’s a lot here that could be found, well, everywhere, but Cyrax is no newcomer; his practiced delivery and years-long track record legitimize Stay Active as more natural evolution than wave ride.
Da$H – IS HE DEAD YET?
Ever since I read that Valee refuses to make a song over three minutes long, I’ve been pondering music release formats/musical digestability. Like, in the digital realm. It’s no secret that rap is, by a wide margin, the dominant genre on the streaming charts, which means fans have a lot to sift through, and the attention given to any one release grows shorter and shorter as 2018 releases abound. Lesser-known artists have to be crafty if they want people to listen. Shorter songs — and compact projects — seem to be the answer, or at least one answer. For what it’s worth, there’s no song longer than three minutes on New Jersey rapper and A$AP Mob affiliate Da$H’s new EP IS HE DEAD YET? (his first project since last December’s LOOSE SKREW). It is eight tracks and about 20-some minutes in duration, which, for me, is the perfect amount of distorted, menacing, borderline sinister music. Kinda gives us the chance to dip in and out while still appreciating multiple songs and ideas. There’s nothing too novel going on here in terms of its place among contemporary releases, but Da$H’s IS HE DEAD YET? is a nice addition to the endless list of short releases I’ve come across in 2018. In the end, there’s a higher opportunity cost to listening to any rap release these days, but IS HE DEAD YET? is more of an hors d’oeuvre than the full meal you’ll still have room for later.
iiye – dollaz .1
I guess iiye a.k.a. Pink Siifu is a big Reed Dollaz fan. It’s not all that unexpected to remix a capellas by say Tupac (see Knxlwedge’s recent 2PK.4TRK.B.SiDE.) or Migos (see the Swarvy joint covered above), but to make a whole tape putting music to truly a capella battle rap freestyles — verses we’ve never heard over beats to begin with, seemingly sourced from YouTube videos — is some other shit. So many questions arise. Why Reed Dollaz? Did iiye tweak his drums to account for natural variations in the freestyles’ tempos, or is Reed that deep in the pocket? For that matter, does he even know about this project, and if so, will dollaz .2 be a studio collab? Is the virtual junkyard of Grindtime/URL/Smack/KOTD videos destined to become remix fodder for the next generation of tech-savvy beatmakers? Regardless, be sure to also check out Pink Siifu’s other praiseworthy September mixtape, and if you’re in NYC October 9, catch him in concert with Quelle Chris and Armand Hammer, even if only on the strength of the flyer.
Young Dolph – Role Model
Young Dolph is somewhere between the 5th and the 500th to spit over solo piano, but Role Model opener “Black Queen” may be the first case of a rapper’s mother being the one on the keys. Moma Gabbana is a familiar subject in Dolph’s music, one whose appearance and evident health will come as a pleasant surprise to longtime fans. The reverie doesn’t last, of course; Dolph, the King of Memphis, has a reputation to uphold. The usual gestures to radio rotation are here, with Offset, Snoop Dogg, and Kash Doll, as well as Dolph’s cousin and Paper Route Empire signee, the ascendant Key Glock, all featuring. Beyond this, however, Dolph does what he’s done for years: hold forth uninterrupted, drawing in equal measure from his Memphian charisma and bone-chilling seriousness. It’s Dolph’s career thus far and then some: some filler, some Yo Gotti disses, and some moments (and accents) utterly unmistakable for the work of any other rapper.