Column: Favorite Rap Mixtapes of May 2019

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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 March’s installment here.)

Just a quick FYI: this is my favorite Favorite Mixtapes column yet.


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Last year’s Basic Volume was suffocating and suffusive in equal measure, at once a grim dispatch from the field and a way out (by way of a literal call to arms, granted). This freshly-minted mixtape, to these ears, is slightly more of a tonic than the album — not in the sense that it downplays the thematic concerns that Gaika has always tussled with, but in that it augments and consolidates different voices and sounds into the murk, just like on tapes previous. So, we have kindred war reporter Dean Blunt appearing twice, and on some very Blunt-y instros at that; dancehall royalty Spragga Benz rocks up for a coda; a hook-of-sorts from Rome Fortune on the stylishly sinister “Regulatesw8.” Chaff to Volume’s wheat this is not — HEATERS 4 THE 2 SEATERS serves to affirm that Gaika’s finger is still on the pulse, and that the machine is still in motion.

Moneybagg Yo – 43VA HEARTLESS

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You don’t need to look far past the macabre cover of 43VA HEARTLESS to gather that Memphis rapper Moneybagg Yo’s lyrical content waxes morose. But the mixtape deserves attention for more than the admittedly sobering album art. Understood metaphorically, the cover is both a harrowing portrayal of the unforgiving life illustrated by 43VA HEARTLESS and a suggestion that Moneybagg Yo has (at the risk of cliché) exposed his “heart” on this tape (or perhaps, as the title suggests, it’s simply been removed). His rhymes frequently venture into vulnerable territory (“I been through some shit man, I’m ruined/ I deal with this shit when I’m not tourin’,” “Sometimes I ride low key with a beat/ I just wanna feel normal one time).” True, the vulnerability is usually tucked away beneath vulgarity and braggadocio, but it’s there, and I think it strikes a vital balance, a subtle nod toward the very real costs of an oft-romanticized lifestyle. Like many of his Memphis contemporaries and forebears, Moneybagg Yo curates the beats on this tape (spine-chilling, eerie, etc.) with an expert ear, matching their intensity and darkness with an energy that’s both musical and imaginative. Overtly and between the lines, there’s a story here, and Moneybagg Yo tells it well.

SIR E.U – Red Helly / Twin Towers

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At this point, I’ve probably heard more than a half-dozen SIR E.U projects, yet I still have no idea what he sounds like. It’s not that he’s a chameleon lacking a sound of his own; on the contrary, his tapes are so different from one another and everything else out at a given moment that trying to pin to this artist any single sonic signifier is as hopeless as trying to watch Vox Lux with an ear infection and no subtitles at 35,000 feet. To that point, try juxtaposingRed Helly / Twin Towers with any of Sir E.U’s last tapes to appear in this column, and you’re all shoulder shrugs and WTFs. As in, what the fuck is going on? I damn sure don’t know, but I’m here for it. To hear SIR E.U tell it, he’s “a recovering post-misogynist” and maybe even a “Mars made Marxist male lesbian.” Whatever else you could possibly want to hear, it’s also here, ablaze, soul still dancing.

Bjarne B – SURVIVAL TAPE (Den Livsviktiga Kassetten)

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Swedish producer Bjarne B offers his own take on lo-fi with a “60 minute instrumental adventure on cassette.” Snippets of classic breaks (“alright now, listen,” goes the MC) interact with placeless exotica, as if a primordial beat beast evolved from a melted mass of cassettes stacked in the back room of a dusty Goodwill. Although a lot of SoundCloud lo-fi production is hindered by its reliance on the same dozen jazz cuts for samples, Bjarne B’s approach emphasizes individual drums and odd percussive accents, creating a collage of spontaneous gestures that never becomes monotonous. These layers occasionally come together into what resembles a song, but they mostly drift like odd, protozoic entities under a microscope, fuzzy and wet. Like all great tape compilations, it is obscure, enigmatic, and a total mess, lurching through time and technique to its creator’s inebriated logic.

10k.caash – The Creator

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Post-punk, in its many forms and subsequent revivals, has persisted in the indie scene for more than 40 years. As time has passed and other traditions (shoegaze, synth pop) have been pulled beneath the scene’s umbrella of influence, the term has taken on an ambiguity that allows critics to safely apply it to whichever release needs a signifier. I hate to contribute to that overuse, but I can’t find a better phrase to describe 10k.caash (and his fellow Texans Tisakorean and Splurge) than — brace yourselves — “post-crunk.” Nailing the ramshackle FruityLoops orchestration of Bush-era Soulja Boy down with harsh stabs of industrial percussion, 10k floods his debut mixtape with a stream of fragmented non-sequiturs, piling enough schoolyard chants upon ad-libs (“swajjuuuuur”) to ensure Tik Tok virality. Whatever “Pencil tattoo, ayy, these are swajjur shoes” means, it’ll all make sense when “Kerwin Frost Scratch That” inevitably soundtracks the next dance video that pops up on your Instagram Explore page. It sounds like 2007 and 2021 at the same time, enough so that it makes me want to buy a truckload of Bapes to singlehandedly bring back been hads. This tweet, originally made in reference to Tisakorean’s A Guide To Being A Partying Freshman, equally applies to The Creator. There’s not much more to be said.

Akai Solo – Alone Throughout Heaven and Earth

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Our last Akai Solo blurb was laden with an extended subway metaphor. How fitting it is then that May would bring us not only a new tape from the self-proclaimed “Neo New York Pirate,” but also the news that much of the recent and oft-lamented MTA delays might have been the work of a single transit saboteur who’d been riding on the back of trains, unhitching their safety chains and pulling the emergency brake. Alone Throughout Heaven and Earth finds Akai cruising different modes, though; anime clips exchanged for IRL insights. If From the Burning East with Love was a deep dive, Alone Throughout is a steep climb. Three songs track in at over five minutes, and the last is actually over seven but also possibly Akai’s catchiest most gripping number to date. At that degree of sustained mastery, the discussion can longer be about skill, style, or substance. All that is settled. It’s now a simple matter of ascendance.

Chris Crack – Never Hated I Just Waited

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At a time when the sanctity of the “mixtape” is as imperiled in the music industry as the CD itself, Chris Crack is breathing new life into the format. In 2018, he released four mixtapes, each about 20 minutes in length, each comprising over a dozen short, hilarious hip-hop gags that pack movie references, soul samples, and guest verses galore in little one-minute snippets easier to pop than Tic Tacs. It’s only May, and so far Never Hated I Just Waited is his fourth of 2019. Chris Crack plays the same clever, jaded seer as early-career Earl Sweatshirt. He’s not afraid to go dirty and dumb on his production, and he manages to cut against the grain, leveling pop culture disses without seeming like a crank. His music is full of life, fun, and a sense of irreverence that is often missing from the rap game.

Johnny Cinco – Don’t Play Wit Him

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It’s been a little over cinco años since Johnny first got some shine (via the inclusion of “No Choices” on the seminal Lobby Runners mixtape), and the Atlantan rap landscape of 2014 is nearly unrecognizable. Lobby Runners is a tape of two trajectories; Migos and Young Thug went on to become… Migos and Young Thug, while the others — Cinco and Peewee Longway, Skippa Da Flippa and MPA Duke — did not. Ever since, the Great Eye of the industry has been fixated on Atlanta (and the city’s biggest stars oriented toward it in turn); Don’t Play Wit Him is, by and large, the inevitable byproduct, but it only takes one track like “Love Me” to remember when the city’s scene felt like a revolution rather than a rehash.

Jaya – Não Foi Tempo Perdido

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So many casual rap listeners seem to care so little about lyrics it’s a wonder that more non-English-speaking artists haven’t broken through to an American audience. And by “wonder,” I obviously mean yet another demonstration of the cult of American exceptionalism. Alas, furthering Tiny Mix Tapes’s Favorite Rap Mixtapes column’s concerted (read: Luciferian internationalist) efforts to globalize all the musics, we humbly submit for your consideration Não Foi Tempo Perdido from Brazil’s Jaya, an inspired rapper/singer with a voice deserving ears on any continent. Google translate tells us this was officially released in February, but apparently Bandcamp didn’t get it until May. And as long as we’re paying attention onward, then like the title says, it was not time lost.

MUTEK announces first wave of artists for second edition of San Francisco festival, feat. Kelly Moran, Amnesia Scanner, Gaika, and more

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Everyone, Spring is HERE.

Well, okay; not here-here. But “here:” the second-ever San Francisco edition of the steadily expanding MUTEK festival is going down soon: May 2-5, to be exact. Now, the first wave of the electronic music celebration’s artists has been announced, and oh my, you’re gonna like some of these names.

Uniquely focused on American acts among its various local iterations, MUTEK San Francisco will host some of TMT’s estadounidense favorites: Kelly Moran, Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith, Steve Hauschildt & Tzonev, and Lara Sarkissian (of Club Chai).

The supporting international line-up looks equally thrilling, with Amnesia Scanner leading a pack that counts GAIKA, Smerz, Kode 9 (performing with Koji Morimoto), and N.A.A.F.I.’s Tayhana in its roster, among many others. Seriously, there’s a LOT of others, so be sure to check out the full line-up at the bottom of this post.

Tickets for the festival, including 4-day “passports,” can now be purchased through Eventbrite; they range from $150 to $450. Watch a brief recap from last year’s inaugural edition below, and then listen to a track from a lesser known of the just-announced performers, Edna King, ‘cause we know you’ve already listened to Amnesia Scanner like five times today.

MUTEK SF 2019 full first-wave line-up:

Abandoned Footwear & arc (US)
Amnesia Scanner (FI/DE)
Arpanet (US)
BLEIE & Chelley Sherman (US)
Byetone (DE)
Cool Maritime & Emily Sprague (US)
Cruel Diagonals (US)
Diagraf (CA/QC)
Dopplereffekt (US+DE)
Ectomorph (US)
Edna King (CA)
Freeka Tet (FR)
fuse* (IT)
The Hacker presents Amato Live (FR)
Halal & Relaxer (US)
Joyfultalk (CA)
Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith (US)
Kelly Moran (US)
Kode9 & Koji
Morimoto (UK+JP)
Kyle Evans (US)
Lara Sarkissian (US)
Lawrence English (AU)
Layne (US)
Marpi (PL)
Michael Claus (US)
Mozhgan & Josh Cheon (US)
Nihar & Subset (US)
Rainforest Spiritual Enslavement (US+FR)
Revlux (CA)
Robot Koch & Mikael Le Goff (DE)
Sepehr (US)
Smerz (NO/DK)
Steve Hauschildt + Martin Tzonev (US) (CA/QC)
Tayhana (MX)
Veronica Vasicka (US)

Music Review: GAIKA – Basic Volume

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Basic Volume

[Warp; 2018]

Rating: 2/5

This is what Batman would sing, alone, to himself, in his Batcave on a night where no Bat-Signal signals, if he could sing, which he can’t.

This is what the white man’s world doesn’t want to know. Of the black body within a country that doesn’t recognize it. Of the black body being scanned and feared and exploited and shot and killed. Of the mouth that tells it it can’t be British.

This is the false hope that all of this racial and political strife will turn into tears and tears and tears drifting down every cheek in England, of every color, and we will, amid our tears, recognize that we have more in common than we thought, and that life is but a dream.

This is what it sounds like to be rid of your body but still have it, and love it; to transcend it.

This is sound as a form of rebellion, resistance. Of the bodily, of the body’s energy held in a lightness and shedding a soft, unspeakable tone: a light frequency you can’t see.

This is an inner emptiness. An identity mistaken for nothing. Something glossed over as nothing when in reality, it was something. Karmic imprints in our bodies. Traces of the past. Scorpions glowing at night from the moon’s ultraviolet light.

This is how to resist the temptation of a supposed utopic, post-racial space.

This is coming to terms with the beauty of anxiety, stress, physical pain, depression, and thoughts of inadequacy.

This is the sound of having something that they don’t want you to have and that you can’t get rid of. Something sinister, drifting quickly toward nebulousness. Something powerful. Something that you can’t speak of. Something unnameable.

This is how to repel the Evil Eye. How to allow your melancholic restlessness to morph into angelic postulation. How to start praying again. How to restart the ability to imagine who you are. How to redefine your limits.

This is the sound of a thin stench of burning bone coming from a kebab shop’s dumpster.

This is the sound of no end in site.

Warp turns the gothic dancehall knob to 11, announces debut album by Gaika, Basic Volume

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What more do you need to know? After releasing two EPs for the venerable electronica label — Spaghetto and The Spectacular Empire (not to mention a few self-released mixtapes for good measure) — Warp Records is turning shit up up UP by finally announcing the release of Brixton-based Gaika’s proper debut full-length album.

Need more factual incentives? How about these apples:

Due July 27 on digital (with other, slightly less-electro-tinged formats to follow), Basic Volume’s 15 tracks — which include production from the likes of SOPHIE, Jam City, Dre Skull, and more — freely intermingle some primo signifiers of British reggae, gothic-dancehall, and soundsystem culture with some deep-ass ideas concerning race, personal philosophies, and political ideologies. “My thing has always been: be yourself — whatever you are, be that — and people will walk towards it,” Gaika says. “I am whatever I say I am. And I want that to apply to all people of colour, all black people. This idea of what we like, make, do and how our art can be defined from outside of us is something I’ll actively try to disrupt.”

I’m sure you’re sold by now, but just to kick the tantalization dial up another notch, check out the new video for album single “Crown & Key” (directed by Paco Raterta) down below, which you can purchase now while you wait for the rest of Basic Volume’s basic volumetric volume to materialize.

Gaika announces debut album, leads with ominous new single ‘Crown & Key’

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Brixton-born Gaika has announced his debut album, Basic Volume, will be released on July 27 on Warp Records.

Steeped in gothic multitudes, the forthcoming LP is rich with high-concept imagery and futuristic beats. Gaika wants to shift where “normal” is for black UK artists, and as a result, his music is severely distinct, far from the grime, reggae, or coffee table music he explains defines his region.

Basic Volume will feature production work from modern pop’s greatest provocateur, SOPHIE, as well as Jam City — who worked closely as an executive producer on Kelela’s debut —  as well as Dre Skull, Nick Leon, and others.

According to the artist, the LP of “gothic dancehall and industrial electronics” is influenced by “academia, British reggae sound systems, philosophy and political theory… [intersecting] with meditations on his own identity.”

“My thing has always been: be yourself—whatever you are, be that—and people will walk towards it,” it continues with Gaika saying. “I am whatever I say I am. And I want that to apply to all people of colour, all black people. This idea of what we like, make, do and how our art can be defined from outside of us is something I will actively try to disrupt.”

So far, Gaika’s led Basic Volume with the severely sociopolitical new single, “Crown & Key.” “God save the roadmen, goons, and thugs, and the youths beggin’ boots, get their racks from drugs,” he half sings. Evidently refraining from genre limitations, “Crown & Key” is a meeting of industrial dancehall and gothic grime that is unique to Gaika and Gaika alone. His free-thought is carrying an unmistakable air of refreshing British grit, and that’s another incredibly compelling defining feature in itself.