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.)
Young Dolph - Gelato
One way to explain Young Dolph’s oeuvre might be to say that he’s the Memphis answer to Young Scooter: although his style is a little more humorous and bombastic (Dolph proclaims to have gotten rich off strong rather than white), his songs are just him talking about his life as it is occurring. This lends a palpable spiritual quality to the music, as you can tell that for Dolph rapping is as much a process of understanding as it is performance. Gelato, the rapper’s latest short mixtape, doesn’t diverge stylistically from what he’s been doing, but it continues to transmit the electric present-tense quality that some of Dolph’s contemporaries have lost to the simulation vortex of crossover success. In the middle of second track “Baller Alert,” Dolph drops the line, “God keep blessin’ me so everyday I meditate,” and the idea comes across as completely believable. Atlanta standards Migos and Lil Yachty and the unlikely presence of Wiz Khalifa show up for guest spots, but Dolph’s unique ethos shines most when left to its own devices.
Mila J - MILAULONGTIME
Since emerging from hiatus in 2014, seven years after the planned release of her shelved debut, Mila J has partly re-situated herself into the mixtape circuit and collaborated with the likes of Timbaland and BC KINGDOM. MILAULONGTIME, her first tape of 2017, is equipped by I.Rich with both some incredibly crisp, sultry production and a heart-wrenching recreation of Shaggy’s “Wasn’t Me” hook (see “YESTERDAY”). Working primarily with a palette of sub bass, warped keys, and hi-hats, he creates spaces of mischief and melancholy for and with a clear sensitivity to Mila’s vocals. Her delivery has a precision and a fluidity along the lines of Cassie or Jhene Aiko, but the way it relates to its sonic surroundings and the meanings that it conveys — sometimes tangled and more often made more brutally direct through repetition and wordplay — are clearly of her own invention. The lyrics are stuck between the cool confrontation of the “MOVE” (“Kyrie Irving with the moves”)-to-“FUCKBOY” suite and the unutterable intimacy, the na-na-na-na-ing, and the “we got something to do” of the “NEW CRIB”-to-“BODY” suite. At seven tracks delivered through the familiar channels of HotNewHipHop and SoundCloud, this mixtape has the confident polish of a “studio album” (whatever that means) and something extra. Although you couldn’t really call it an R&B album or a rap mixtape, MILAULONGTIME has a lot of what I like about both.
Starlito & Don Trip - Step Brothers (Karate In The Garage)
Don Trip and Starlito (a.k.a. Allstar Cashville Prince – not as good as a name change as Tity Boi to 2 Chainz, but a step up, Starlito) have been around since the late-first, early-second round radio rap meets the internet mixtape hustle (2002-04), neither making shore-crushing waves but each with enough content to keep a waterpark wave pool going without much upkeep. Don Trip deservedly landed a 2012 Freshman cover, but faded away since and Starlito’s “Grey Goose” still bangs. The Step Brothers mixtape series is the best material either has released since the first one dropped back in 2011, with Katate In The Garage looking like a prequel to Stepbrothers 3 (allegedly out March 15). It’s six tracks deep and features frequent DT&S collaborator Yo Gotti and the recently freed Red Dot. (Side note: Will Ferrell doesn’t really want to make another Step Brothers as him and John C. Reilly continue to age, but isn’t ruling it out.)
Denmark Vessey x DRXQUINNX x Azarias Are Doppelganger - Doppelganger
I really shouldn’t be telling you this, but Sam Diamond is my evil twin. My parents had told me I ate him in the womb, but then I found him one day in the basement behind the boiler. I was going to hit him over the head with a dusty hockey stick and then eat him, as one does when confronted by one’s doppelganger, but we got to talking and the kid was actually pretty cool, so I decided to teach him to read and write instead. As it turns out, it’s way easier to live a double life when you have a double who’s down for the cause. Now, like Cormac McCarthy, I haven’t worked a full-time job in years. What have I been up to all this time? Listening to rap mostly! Some days, it occurs to me that many of my favorite duos sound a bit like doppelgangers too, at least on first listen. De La Soul’s Trugoy and Posdnuos, Camp Lo’s Geechi Suede and Sonny Cheeba, Wu-Tang Clan’s Ghostface Killah and Raekwon, and the list goes on — voices so complementary that you wonder if they’re related. Add to that list Doppelganger’s DRXQUINNX and Denmark Vessey, the latter of whom is known for his work with Quelle Chris as the duo Crown Nation. DRXQUINNX’s name isn’t quite as familiar, nor is producer Azarias, but take it from me: an evil twin’s an invaluable resource, and there are more out there than you realize.
nekomimi + luvfexxx - LUVISCOLD
The romance is palpable. Cloud-rap power couple nekomimi + luvfexxx trade angst-addled diary entries on college-ruled waveforms, sighs of Rhodes piano melting into boom-bap sizzle. Swelling like cocoa’s warm condensation in the chest, LUVISCOLD is the cure for its titular chill. Whether nekomimi’s hypnotically waxing naturalist or luvfexxx sulks atop his own neo-soul soundscape, there’s a warmth to be enjoyed in the middle of their emotional crossfire. It’s one more episode of Toradora; K-On; FLCL — another after-dinner slice of life, topped with Cool Whip and a maraschino cherry. “I feel the warmth of my blood every time it snows”
Wiki & Your Old Droog - What Happened To Fire
In the roll-up to the March 10 release of PACKS, Your Old Droog’s sophomore album, YOD and Wiki (of Ratking and featured on PACKS) spit out What Happened To Fire. The irony being that the flint stone duo leave the mixtape with the room ablaze. Wiki and YOD spend the tape finishing each other’s thoughts, leaving only enough oxygen between words for the beats to breathe. Blunt sparks and ember burns smoke out the booth with NY adages – social neighborhood conscience expanded in global ideals and conflict next to subversive braggadocio. What happened to fire? Check the God. Damn. Mic.
Various Artists (Synesthesia Records) - A Stick On the Fire
☑ Killah Priest guest feature
☑ A dude who sounds vaguely like Artie the Strongest Man in the World, but has bars
☑ Twilight Zone dialogue clips
☑ Maaad non-English-speaking rappers
☑ Many of whom ride that 90s era Crustified Dibbs/Shabazz the Disciple monster flow to deeper depths of demonology
☑ Super-syllabic raps transparently purposed toward self-therapy more than lyrical miracles
If you don’t listen to this, fuck you. I mean, what more do you want from a mixtape? And like, I fully understand that now more than ever we need to check our individual biases at the door and open ourselves up to new perspectives and all that… but, seriously, fuck you.