Every year since 1992, the British Phonographic Industry and British Association of Record Dealers have awarded the Mercury Prize to the best album out of the UK and Ireland. Recent winners have included Skepta’s Konnichiwa in 2016, Sampha’s Process in 2017, and Wolf Alice’s Visions Of A Life in More »
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 February’s installment here.)
Rap fans can be a spoiled bunch. March saw new releases from Quelle Chris, billy woods & Kenny Segal, Mach Hommy & DJ Muggs, Chief Keef & Zaytoven, and 2 Chainz, among others. Yet here you are still craving more! Never ones to disappoint, we Tiny Mix Tapes menschen heed readers’ calls even closely on the heels of yet another quarterly list. Thankfully, we didn’t have to look far, because this month’s rap offerings were many, diverse, and, in some cases, every bit as impressive as the aforementioned. On that note, below you’ll find at least one early bid for album of the year, and that’s just for starters. Personally speaking, I think we saved the best for last, so do the dig dug.
P.S. Apparently Kanye stars in Keeping Up With the Kardashians now, and Rhymefest gifted Kim a crystal on last night’s season premiere.
P.P.S. RIP Nipsey Hussle, who taught rap’s current generation a valuable lesson on supply and demand, and in doing so offered a new blueprint for independent success.
Little Simz – GREY Area
Remember when Kendrick said Little Simz “might be the illest doing it right now” on BBC a few years back? If he wasn’t right then-“now,” he definitely might be now-now. Simz’s third LP sees her leveling up in real time. It’s more aggressive, clever, off-the-cuff, and catchy than any of her already impressive past works. On the fourth verse of the record, Simz boldly claims “I’m Jay-Z on a bad day, Shakespeare on my worst days,” and frankly we believe her. GREY Area is a 35-minute, distorted record of airtight songs, bluesy samples, dense lyricism, and bold proclamations of self, all with few features. Gotdamn. See y’all on the year-end list?
Billyracxx – RELIGION
If high-production value translated directly to success in the music industry, Billyracxx would be Billy Joel, slurring his way out of felony DUI charges, with unreleased Atilla tracks bumping out of the 67 Citroën he crashed into a house in Bayville, NY. This is not to say Billyracxx’s music and visuals are all shine, no substance — far from it, really — just that I have no idea how he’s not a huge star yet, and I can only blame politics. I don’t know, maybe listeners are subconsciously scared of a rapper who can “spend like 60 on [his] vision” while also possessing the creative drive to pen bars like “I killed the verse never lost it/ I’m smoking dope in the process/ I put in work for my look and my ideas/ Sometimes I straight forget I need oxygen.” With that, Billyracxx shouldn’t need a co-sign to get his, but if it helps, you may recognize RELIGION producer ChaseTheMoney from his work with Valee, Offset, Chance the Rapper, and Jeremih. Oh, and by the way, Billyracxx has about four or five distinct voices on here, but they’re all his. Scary indeed.
AJ Suede – Darth Sueder IV
“No Jumper, that shit is all cap / Sent ‘em ‘Gaslight’ and Adam said it didn’t slap / ‘Cause it wasn’t ignorant and they couldn’t exploit it / R.I.P. Yams, ‘cause I know he’s disappointed.”
AJ Suede’s fourth installment in the Darth Sueder mixtape series is also his shortest. Weighing in at a brisk 18 minutes and 9 tracks, DS4 is the underground auteur’s most original work to date — an overcast cloud of
vaporwave samples, dark humor, and Suede’s signature references to Esoteric philosophy. Flirting with ambient soundscapes, the Seattle emcee feels most at home on beats with very little percussion, his deadpan delivery acting as a guiding beacon that cuts through the fog. Whether Suede’s paging through some Malcolm Gladwell, dipping his blunts in Adrenochrome, or tuning into sacred mathematics, there’s no questioning his thoughtfulness or his sample selection. He makes those 18 minutes feel like five.
Shitao – Sunless
As far as I can gather, I first heard Shitao on the Wu-Tang Corp message board in March 2007 (and yes, the link for that .rar file still works, so enjoy). Imagine my surprise when 12 years later I randomly stumbled on his latest instrumental project in Bandcamp’s new arrivals tab. In true Wu-fan fashion, Shitao appears to take his name from a Chinese landscape painter. it fits too, because you could imagine his music soundtracking any number of nature scenes, especially darker ones in this case, the chirping crickets and rustling branches his MCs and DJs. It’s been six years since Shitao’s last project, but the passage of time has done nothing to dull the producer’s seemingly innate ability to see and make others see the poetry and cinema in beatmaking. Bravo!
DJ Lucas – Big Bleep Music Vol. III
He’s back, folks. That’s right, the farmboy himself, the crème de la crème of Massachusetts, the Young Mr. Clean: it’s DJ Lucas with the third installment of Big Bleep Music. It probably has the best album art on this list, but that’s not (all) what makes it deserving of a spot. As release formats continue to nebulize in the age of streaming, what makes a mixtape a mixtape seems to grow more opaque. But here, refreshingly, DJ Lucas stays true to the platform’s historical function, treating it as a sort of playground for short(er), raw tracks guided by his verses while simultaneously experimenting with different tempos, beats, and styles. The king and a major innovator of that approach is, of course, Lil Wayne, whom DJ Lucas has lauded as his favorite rapper. DJ Lucas utilizes the freedom a mixtape format enables, having fun testing his versability while still evidencing his knack for earworm beats and catchy hooks. In terms of beats and flow, Big Bleep Music Vol. III is discursive but consistently engaging, with some of the best track watermarks I’ve heard in awhile (“DJ Lucas on the fuckin’ thang,” “All the major labels need to see this,” etc.). It’ll give those of you already faithful to the Dark World camp another to add to your collection and hopefully rope in some new fans too. DJ!
Don Trip – Don’t Feed The Guerrillas
Don Trip has been in the same lane since the mid-2000s at least, and with each new tape, my respect for his commitment only grows. His style has little in the way of commercial prospects; rather than broad appeal, the audience tunes in for the resonance that they find in the highly specific details of Trip’s day-to-day. If this sounds familiar, it’s because Don Trip’s world has considerable overlap with fellow Tennessean Starlito; their work on the collaborative Step Brothers mixtape series is among each’s best, to the point where a solo tape from either can feel a little bit empty. While there is admittedly little to draw in new listeners or suggest that Trip is working near what we know his peak to be, Don’t Feed The Guerrillas delivers what the already-subscribed Don Trip fanbase craves. Gotta respect his grind.
AZOMALI – GUAYABA MIXTAPE (uploaded from an internet cafe somwhere in Medellin)
If I had a record label, I would dedicate all of my resources to putting out an AZOMALI project. Of course, I do not have a record company. Do you? If so, you should be investing all of your time and money in an AZOMALI project. No, seriously, get your checkbook out right now and write down a ridiculously high number. Don’t have a checkbook? Enter a number in whatever account you use to pay people money. Nah, that’s not going to cut it — a higher number! You got it? Good, now go find AZOMALI, possibly somewhere in LA or NY, maybe on Instagram. Tell him I said that you need to release his next project, that he gets to retain ownership of the masters, and that you are willing to pay him an insanely high amount of money, then follow through on all of that. You’re welcome. No, I don’t want a “finder’s fee.” Find these nuts. Do send me a test press, though. All right, peace.
DaBaby – Baby On Baby
If you put any stock in the adage that time = money, then North Carolinian emcee DaBaby is an extreme couponer, clipping any moments of dead air from his work and cramming the remaining space with Bars. His major label debut, aptly titled Baby On Baby, is a wall-to-wall stretch of infectious charisma and flex-laden triplet flows as exciting as hearing 2015 Migos for the first time; DaBaby’s so eager to get to work that his beats often have to catch up to him. As Pitchfork’s Paul A. Thompson calculated, the longest you’ll ever wait for DaBaby to start rapping on a track is 16 seconds — most of his intros range from 0 to 2 seconds long. Across the stretch, “Walker Texas Ranger,” an early single that also appeared on November’s Blank Blank tape, remains the main attraction — a careful balance of Triller-friendly percussion and scattered flecks of brilliant storytelling. ““I left the jail, had like 336 missed calls,” the rapper remembers. “Oh they wanna check on me now?” Can we blame them?
Koncept Jackson – Thot Rap: Chapter 1
Shout out Cirrus Slump for not letting me sleep on Richmond rap. Thot Rap: Chapter 1 is every bit as ridiculous as the title makes it sounds, and thank god for that. Existing at the crossroads of slick talking and Diddy bop, the record finds Koncept Jackson celebrating the power-you while almost parodying 90s R&B in the way Prince Paul did during that decade, but with a production roster that reads like a who’s who of dusty, sample-based hip-hop in 2019, namely Ohbliv, August Fanon, and Dibia$e. Flip Theravada’s “now-for-something-completely-different” intermission track with the bonus cut, and this mixtape treads dangerously close to four or five mics in The Source status — though the classified ads that followed the reviews section would probably offer a more fittingly X-rated basis for comparison.
Sahbabii – 3P
“That’s what they doin’, Cam; they actin’ like these singers, man.”
“I ain’t goin’ to the studio until I got a situation — a subject. I need a beat, I need the producer… who gon’ be on the hook?”
I need a noun, I need an emoji… the list grows ever longer. Both creatively and commercially, Sahbabiii’s in good company; his peers Gunna and Lil Baby have been gifted the careers that Young Thug’s management could never quite deliver, and collectively their sound rules what Hua Hsu called “a moment where being weird seems a bit derivative.” But as these studio castoffs show, that weirdness alone does not an identity make, squid. Sucks, I imagine, to make music at a time when one’s output must be both unique and prolific.
Maxo – Lil Big Man
Lil Big Man — not to be confused with Little Big Man, the debut album from Bushwick Bill — marks Maxo’s first release on Def Jam. This blurb could be all about the label putting its stock in a burgeoning brand of individualistic “lo-fi” hip-hop, but that would only deter from the real story: transcendence. While last year’s Smile EP hinted at this, Lil Big Man is the complete portrait of an artist not just coming up, of age, or into his own, but truly breaking through and down preconceptions of his art’s purpose. Rather than employ minimalist production as inspiration for bloodletting, the project starts sanguine and builds by exploring the complexity of that emotion, keeping the production as honestly full-bodied throughout. Yes, you could put it on in as background music for studying, but don’t be surprised if you suddenly find yourself gazing down at a hyper-concentrated student who looks oddly familiar.
Tree – We Grown Now.
Spring has sprung. Sunlight washes over the trees from where I’m sat, extinguishing the grey skies and biting cold of the winter months. A full-stop, and the ensuing renewal. Not that he (or, at the very least, the sound he birthed) ever went away, of course, but 2019 is shaping up to be a memorable one for a freshly vitalized Tree. We Grown Now. arrives in close proximity to the VicTree link-up just two months ago, and the strides made there continue to widen — the stories more personal, the confessionals more intense, the soul really shining through the trap. “I hate being famous, I hate it,” he monologues on “No Lies;” “I may never do a show again.” It’s an unflinchingly honest take on navigating life’s growing pains, chasing the light at the end, and staying true to family and friends. Tree’s grown, and through this release, we’re grown (and still growing) alongside him. Period.
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