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.
Gaika – HEATERS 4 THE 2 SEATERS
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
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
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)
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
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
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
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
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
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.