With a daunting 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.)
TREE & I.B.C.L.A.S.S.I.C. - I.B.TREE
Maybe you’ve been fucking with Tree since the Sunday School tapes. Maybe you hopped on board after last year’s Trap Genius. Or maybe you’ve never heard the guy at all. But when he raps “I’ve been in my ways since about 20,” you’d better believe the world-weary determination in his voice. A relentless ambassador for Soul Trap (which could probably be traced as a precursor to the stylings of TLOP or Coloring Book), Tree’s brand of soul chops, trap kits, and an inimitable rasp is downright infectious. I.B.TREE, his latest project with producer and fellow Chicagoan I.B.C.L.A.S.S.I.C., isn’t as cluttered-sounding as Tree’s own work behind the boards, the “impeccably entropic sense of syncopation” switched up for a more traditional approach to beatmaking. Fortunately, I.B.’s beats and Tree’s distinctive voice mesh together so nicely that anyone can jump in. This ain’t a meeting of two unilateral forces; the collaborative spirit of I.B.TREE doles out enough soul for everyone.
Noname - Telefone
Damn, contemporaneity got me bummed, because it’s always been like every artist is either an aspiring inventor marketing some new hybrid we didn’t ask for or a naïve archeologist digging up bones of other people’s saints for profit. And it’s even ingrained in this mixtape game too; everybody’s out there hustling their products like they NEED exposure, but come review season, everybody’s hiding under this guise of amateurism as an excuse for why it doesn’t sound more cohesive. Bringing far away voices together has somehow made cohesion a perceived artifact of classicism, but in reality, FREE music is still an inferior good. Scope this Noname tape tho: smooth as Georgia Anne Muldrow, weird as Erykah Badu, COHESIVE as Kendrick. It’s cool like Miles Davis, yet it still feels like a birth of something. It’s remarkably univocal, yet studded with virtually unknown guest spots. It’s free, but most notably, it’s freeing, a reminder that sometimes message can transcend medium.
Curtis Williams - Danco SZN
#CELEBRATEEVERYDAY: Trimming much of the sleepy cloud-rap flab that saddled past efforts, Two-9 affiliate Curtis Williams dabbles in the sort of truncated, vaguely industrial, party-trap attributed to labelmates Rae Sremmurd on DANCO SZN. What’s been sacrificed melodically on the new tape has been replaced by a dangerous abundance of potential energy, its understated flows and taut, trunk-rattling production forming a claustrophobic atmosphere that threatens to burst at a moment’s notice. While the dreamily baroque arrangements of 2014’s Danco James may have been the life of the function, SZN makes for the primo aux cord-enabled soundtrack to the car trip there.
Master P - The G Mixtape
If DJ Khaled’s definition of an anthem leaves you feeling cheap and empty inside, don’t worry: Master P’s got what you need. Striking while the Usher-assisted iron is hot, P has assembled his strongest release in years. Recent mixtapes as Money Mafia, Master P and Money Mafia, and simply Master P all feed in tracks to be reissued on The G Mixtape, all with new production, arrangements, and mastering that make them huge and streamlined. The new tracks remind everyone that P has some serious friends as well (E-40, 2 Chainz, Nipsey Hustle). If you haven’t had the patience to wade through previous demo-like offerings, the final product is now complete and ready for even the snobbiest of ears. You’ll be left rich.
Young Thug - No, My Name is JEFFERY
No, My Name is JEFFERY comes packed with the viral factors that make a Young Thug album release into a cultural event, but the music speaks even louder than the Alessandro Trincone dress (*prayer hands emoji*). Thugger levels up the grab-bag freestyle trappings of his Slime Season series and distills his wild card delivery into some of his most groomed crossover jams to date. The pyrotechnics that we crave remain: momentary sing-song hooks threaded into head-spinning double time verses, on-a-dime flow reversals, unhinged ad-libs shouted with chipmunk glee. By now, Jeffery can balance these tactics with confident earworm choruses that carry just as much weight. “RiRi” smears its namesake’s stuttered “Work” cadence into a throat-shredding falsetto. The towering hooks of “Webbie” feel like “No Way” 2.0: every syllable dripping with melody, supernaturally tumbling out of our hero against a gentle piano arrangement flecked with 808 bass. Beats by perennial MVP Wheezy transplant the massive low-end and rolling hi-hats of trap into expanses of ambient texture, draped with curtains of detailed synth shimmer and clouds of electronic vapor. TM88 delivers the future reggae of “Wyclef Jean” and the double-time eruption “Future Swag,” and Thug chews them both to pieces. “Guwop” lays out an imperial palace of synth wisps and sequenced arpeggios for Offset and Quavo guest spots to demolish. The hi-fi production standard cushions the tracklist’s see-saw between pop anthems and subdued trap bangers, unifying the diverse moods and mindsets at Jeffery’s disposal into some logical universe. He “aim[s] at your fuckin’ fam” and howls on the verge of tears at the devils inside of him on the ballistic “Harambe,” two tracks before blissfully harmonizing with Wyclef Jean at the aural equivalent of a pool party on Saturn on “Kanye West” (f.k.a. “Pop Man”). JEFFERY contains multitudes, and we are lucky enough to experience them.
2 Chainz - Daniel Son; Necklace Don
“Fell off, came up, fell off, came back up,” raps 2 Chainz (f.k.a. Tity Boi) on “Get Out the Bed,” the first proper track of the release whereby he seems to finally reconcile the two energies he’s been struggling to synthesize: of crossing-over and of laying-low. Framing a tension between authenticity and viability isn’t a new storytelling tactic in rap, but to be fair, 2 Chainz has made it nearly impossible to tell his story without it; while the B.O.A.T.S. albums on G.O.O.D. Music represented, with sleek instrumentals and sleeker cover art, a titillating paradox, they failed to deliver “Duffle Bag Boy” levels of sharpened swagger and controlled recklessness. There’s no denying that 2 Chainz and his reputation retreated temporarily to Tity Boi territory as a result. While Daniel Son; Necklace Don displays a similar bangers-only approach to its polished predecessors, the bangers actually bang and the mixtape format suits them well. Synths squelch and glasses break to the staccato punch of “Ghetto,” and “Blessings” bops with the clumsy ecstasy of its bemused lyrics. In another unexpected and pleasurable development, the days of skipping all the 2 Chainz verses on Cruel Summer have passed into those of skipping the Drake verse on “Big Amount.”
No Panty - WestSide Highway Story
Three rappers (two New Yorkers, one Floridian) and one producer (New York) ride pantless down WestSide Highway Story. Slaughterhouse’s Joell Ortiz, Strictly 4 My P.A.P.I.Z. and MOTM vet Bodega Bamz, and up-and-coming emcee Nitty Scott MC all team up in a Caribbean alleyway taking turns over beats from the massively influential Salaam Remi, who probably touched every critically acclaimed reggae-felt sound in the aughts. WestSide Highway Story was the first taste from this No Panty collective, but damn: the four might as well have grown up together. Their lyrical chemistry whipped up with Remi’s Copacabana Funk is burn-up-an-aux tight and, lucky for us, all 13 tracks are 36-year-old Barry Bonds huge.
The Outfit TX - Green Lights: Everythang Goin’
The Outfit TX channeled a gloomy, overarching aesthetic on their Down By The Trinity project, but as time has passed, so has the driving force behind their work. Opting to deliver a homage to their steady upward-movement, the Texas trio equally taps into their home state’s syrupy southern-drawl and occasional upbeat spitting for bars upon bars of money- and women-centric celebration that manages to sound fresh as fuck — a notion partially owed to the serious diversity in flows and cadences between the three members, and partially owed to Stunt N Dozier’s Memphis-to-Houston production blend. With a low-end made to rattle low-riders skirting pavement and ominous synthesizer trappings of early Three 6 Mafia association, the trio is provided ample room to carve out a lane that’s grounded in the Southeast and Midwest, past and present, on Green Lights: Everythang Goin’.
Young Nudy - Slime Ball
The mixtape game in the internet age requires a certain quickness, the ability to seize the moment as soon as it rears its head. You’ve gotta stand out amidst the reams and reams of DatPiff uploads and HNHH blog posts, somehow. And sometimes, it’s a case of who you know; enter Young Nudy and his debut tape, Slime Ball. Dude’s in the same crew as (and apparently related to) 21 Savage, who’s made his own waves lately, but Nudy doesn’t attempt to replicate the downbeat, sour-faced delivery of his peer. He sounds closer to Gucci than 21 at times, rattling through street aphorisms as though it were everyday conversation — the beats bang, too, with an eerie, kinda Memphis-y vibe on “Spaced Out” and a predictably good Metro Boomin track early on in the tape. The mixtape, a fruits of a rapper’s labor, needn’t be an instant classic but an enticing snapshot in a vortex of content. We spend a lot of time wondering who’s up next, but Nudy’s Slime Ball sounds too effortless to be concerned with all that noise.
DJ Paul - Mafia 4 Life
Given that Three 6 will never officially make music again, it’s funny just how hard its former members still rep the name. DJ Paul is no exception, except that he also actually backs it up with music that truly feels as if the energy and enthusiasm of Three 6 never died. While others have found their own new styles, DJ Paul’s soul still screams street satanic. Two collaborations here with OG Maco show how fresh things remain. This is no genre exercise. While last year’s Da Light Up, Da Poe Up is slightly more memorable, the successful formula remains the same: a ton of solid tracks with effortless chant-hooks, plus one amazing stand-out single (this time around “Light Em Up Feat. Dope D.O.D.”). If DJ Paul just released these mixtapes as Three 6 Mafia, everyone would be happy. Well, maybe not those inclined to take things personally.