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.)
The 2010s decade is not yet dead, but Tiny Mix Tapes’s autopsy of it is already in the works. Hence, we have a slightly abbreviated Favorite Rap Mixtapes column this month, without even one Halloween-themed tape for the holiday weekend. (If that’s your thing, we have you covered with our latest Chocolate Grinder Mix.) Still, there’s plenty to go bump in the night (see what I did there).
Also, congratulations to Peewee Longway, who — sans an official count, of course — might have just set the record most appearances in this column. Now if only he’d return our phone calls!
Dark Lo – American Made
A relentlessly unsparing, brutal, frank, merciless, calculated, and aggressive indictment of the country, the government, the genre, the unscrupulous… damn near everything and everyone. But don’t call American Made nihilist or sociopathic. There’s definitely a code in here. It might be as indecipherable to outsiders as Philadelphia is indescribable to those who’ve never been, but it’s there, unspoken by necessity. Even when Dark Lo raps, “Cops on my dick in Philly, I’m ‘bout to move to Atlanta,” it’s still inextricably, inexplicably tied to that place. An oversimplification, no doubt, but plainly speaking — it’s hard as fuck, even when the next line’s “And I wish she could see me, I do this shit for grandma.”
Skengdo x AM – Back Like We Never Left
Brixton’s Skengdo and AM could well stake a claim to be UK drill’s current flag carriers, and for the most part, Back Like We Never Left is a tidy consolidation of their already-noted qualities: a shared intensity of vision (though not without their respective moments of introspection), matched by a tried-and-true dynamism between their bars, all bound up with the addictive sonics that have endeared UK drill to the wider world. Behind the driller exteriors and nostalgia-inducing cover art, though, stakes never was higher for Skengdo, AM, and the entire scene within these shores. The two have recently been sentenced for performing their music, and as such this tape flies in the face of the Met police force who, without material qualification, have described their activities as analogous to gang violence. The encroaching arm of the state, in its myriad guises, poses an existential threat to some of the most interesting musicians in the UK right now — Back Like We Never Left, then, speaks to a very particular truth while it can still be (just about) spoken.
Peewee Longway & Money Man – Long Money
Thanks to Teejayx6 and Kasher Quon, scam rap’s having its cyberpunk moment right now, but let’s not forget to also recognize Atlanta MC Money Man’s instincts for online profit-making. In 2018, the 33-year-old Auto-crooner bought his way out of a frustrating deal with Cash Money records using money he’d earned trading Bitcoin. Relishing in newfound autonomy, he’s dropped five mixtapes since going indie, including his latest collaborative effort with like-minded local Peewee Longway. Peewee proves a well-suited partner, lending cartoonish, Young Thug-adjacent energy to Money Man’s understated composure, which makes brief forays into melody while largely clinging to hypnotic triplet pockets. Especially when riffing back and forth over guitar-sampling beats, they’re a formidable duo.
Black Sand (Pink Siifu & Akai Solo) – Black Sand
Black Sand is traveling mystic Pink Siifu and New York-based MC Akai Solo, a duo previously heard on Siifu’s grden.2, iblss’s Infinity, and more recently billy woods’s Terror Management. Looking back to look forward, Akai’s 2019 output alone positions him as one of the most promising artists of the coming decade. Lately, Siifu seems to have turned his attention to the production side — he did all the beats here and only raps on two or three of 15 tracks — which make his verses fewer and farther between, and all the more potent for it. Whether this remains the format for future Black Sand releases or not, the duo’s proper debut does not disappoint. The two artists’ very different sounds and strengths complement one another beautifully, such that the often spoken but rarely realized phrase “combined force” truly works. Don’t sleep on Black Sand. It’s too hot.
MAVI – let the sun talk
“The thing about lettin’ the sun talk is… n***a, you don’t let the sun do nothin’.” MAVI’s output has thus far tended towards the economical, but every last SoundCloud morsel and YouTube upload has outsized its unassuming scale of distribution — whatever you do, don’t call them “loosies.” There’s (meta)narrative weaved into daydream, into darkly humorous aside, carved between familial strife — so much to chow down on, so much to hear in a two minute rap tune. let the sun talk explodes that logic onto a mixtape’s worth of lyrical about-turns and deviations, each free-flowing line an impressionistic stroke onto the hazily-arranged canvas. The sun is a leitmotif of sorts, as you’d expect, but MAVI nonetheless resists an easy animism or trite spirituality. Instead, his words and verses are always the animating thrust here, whether they’re razor-sharp or heavily blunted (and better yet, for those of us who may struggle to keep up, they’re all laid bare).
Curren$y, Trademark & Young Roddy – Plan of Attack
Curren$y’s prolific and consistent enough that his output constitutes its own genre. He scatters mixtapes like a perpetually stoned Johnny Appleseed, his drops usually sprouting up from my crowded spotify backlog when I’m in need of something familiar and strangely cozy. The majority of his tapes, which seem to drop roughly tri-monthly these days, are encoded with the same genetic makeup — dreamy jazz-rap samples, somnambulant flow, and a knack for making opulence feel mundane. Curren$y’s arguably at his best when his work cross-pollinates with collaborators like Freddie Gibbs or Wiz Khalifa, and it’s no exception when the NoLa emcee enlists Jet Life co-founders Trademark and Young Roddy in their first proper trio outing since Jet World Order 2. Grounding Roddy’s high-register pugnacity, Trademark and Curren$y touch down in a hazy yet focused headspace, knocking out a dozen cuts of ambient music suited to soundtrack debates on the merits of bustdowns vs. plain janes.
Pipomixes – Raw Smooth Sh*t
Again looking back to look forward, Raw Smooth Sh*t is something of a homecoming for Pipomixes, whose Marciano mixtape Sounds Like Porridge appeared in the inaugural edition of this column, all the way back in January 2015. (Personally speaking, that also makes this something of a 360 moment for me, as Sounds… was the first tape I covered for this column.) That said, Raw Smooth Sh*t is almost an entirely different animal of a mixtape, still seamlessly smoked out but with much greater emphasis on the “out.” It’s the Roc Marciano-Sade collaboration we’ve all been waiting for, if we’ve all been swapping multi-thousand-dollar OG Screwtapes via Dark Web promethazine transactions and expecting a sonic representation of that lifestyle. But with more cross-genre blends and beat juggling. The treatment is especially effective and exciting when applied to Roc’s later work, which sees him employing more melodic deliveries and uptempo cadences. As always, Pipomixes handles the juxtapositions deftly, with utmost respect for the source materials and commitment to originality.