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.)
Truman Snow - Kingdom Heartless
It’s the trap on candid camera in a reality TV movie, not Menace II Society or Snow on tha Bluff, but The Truman Show, except the cast of friends, neighbors, and family casually advertise illicit substances instead of cleaning products and lawnmowers, and everybody’s armed to the grill. It’s a winter in the Taiga completely isolated from civilization for the chance to win a stack, but the show gets canceled, the lenses in the trees go dark, and no one bothers to tell the contestants. It’s technicolor carnage visited upon greyscale fantasy, i.e. Connecticut.
Caleb Giles - Tower
Above all else, Tower harks back to an era when rap was more about focusing on what was in front of you as opposed to what might otherwise be experienced on a virtual platform, and in this case, that’s the Bronx. On his debut mixtape, Caleb Giles ensures a gritty listen, even when punctuated through his smooth, pronounced vocals and snippets of jazz instrumentation. Giles challenges the comforts and securities that are sometimes hinted at when contemplating one’s home city, focusing on the trials and tribulations that impinge on his own aspirations. “I can’t do anything but rhyme,” he spouts on “YBR” amidst pitched-up vocals and carefully spliced beats and clicks, hinting at his own determination while experimenting profoundly with the productions that wrap around his thoughtful flow. The mixtape is a solid listen that remains concise across each track in terms of content and production. “Valley” is a personal favorite, where a public service announcement melds with antagonistic conversation. “I know I’ve been a little dismissive, but I’ve just been searching for a bigger pot to piss in,” Giles snaps before his voice crackles and fades — it’s a fleeting moment, but one that one that stays true to the mixtape’s theme and the direction that this young rapper is headed.
CHXPO - SAUCE FOR SELL
“Vitalists have argued for 40 years that postwar art’s ultimate expression will be a kind of enormous psychosocial excrement. The real aesthetic, conscious or otherwise of today’s best serious rap may be nothing but the first wave of this Great Peristalsis.”
– David Foster Wallace, Signifying Rappers
In a post-Lil B era, prolificacy seems more like a byproduct of exorcism than the exuberant mixtape manna once lavished by The BasedGod upon his loyal followers. There’s only so much information one can process in the digital realm before resorting to desperate measures of discharge. Cleveland-native CHXPO’s a human kidney when it comes to waste filtration, honing in on moments of improvised vitriol and pasting them into cathartic patchworks. Six (entirely-freestyled) mixtapes into 2017, the Black Money Boys Death Row affiliate treads the artistic path of Warhol and the technological vision of Musk: Sauce For Sell is a product of automaton creativity, produced, packaged, and shipped as efficiently as possible. If a recycled verse or two rises to the surface mid-process, so be it. Quantity over quality. Quantity and quality.
“The angels respect me / The demons protect me.”
– CHXPO - “BVNDGXD”
The Noise Above - Blossom!
Unlike memes, a creed does not degrade upon repetition. Take 1990s jazz-tinged hip-hop as an example; the two decades transpired have turned it as much a tradition as the rare groove tracks it originally sampled. New York-based producer The Noise Above qualifies as a third inheritor in such lineage, his latest mixtape Blossom! boasting the soulful vibe and melodious rhyming of its East Coast forbears. With a richer production and a more seasoned flow than his previous releases, Blossom! highlights the evolution of The Noise Above as an artist who’s maybe two or three mixtapes away from his mainstream breakout. With lots of pop hooks and clever lyrical turns in his tracks, what weighs him down is a compulsion to overdo things production-wise and the restlessness of someone who knows he’s poised for greatness but anxious because the future takes too long to materialize. With killer tracks like “RACE,” “What if?,” or “Lemon king” announcing there’s more fire from whence they came, some patience would no doubt go a long way for the young New Yorker.
Lil Durk - Love Songs For The Streets
After weathering some career-growing pains and serious personal losses within the past few years, Lil Durk found himself on something of a back-to-basics winning streak à la Monster-era Future at the outset of the 2017, building on the slow-burning success of last summer’s refreshingly no-bullshit LilDurk2x album with a scorching, taut return to street rap on November’s They Forgot mixtape. Love Songs For The Streets thankfully continues in this crossovers-be-damned vein, offering up precisely what the title implies in a brief but electrifying set of tracks. Love and respect for the wisdom that can only be gained through loss and struggle is what has always fueled Durk’s best songwriting, and for new listeners and old fans alike, it is strangely affirming to hear the rapper speak humbly and candidly about the disillusionment and loss of intimacy that has come with success. “Better,” the tape’s brittle, cold centerpiece and most potent track, is just one of several odes therein to the bittersweet, lean-clouded freedom experienced on the opposite end of a betrayal: “You were my brudda/ Changed on me for that chedda/ You were my brudda/ We can do better.”
Slug Christ - It’s Colder at the Bottom of the Shower
Slug Christ’s return to non-feature work in 2017 is a quick five-track EP dealing directly with his troubles with addiction: emotional and chemical, mostly. The first four tracks have Slugger reflecting on his heroin addiction, which is explicitly noted in nearly every mixtape dating back five years. In the same recovering imagery as It’s Colder at the Bottom of the Shower, “Scraped Me Off The Pavement” and, more directly, “At The Bottom” and “I Been Tryna Get Clean” are devil-off-the-shoulder interpersonal conflicts of love and relapse. The closer “Gamecube” seems like a hang-on, with the only real correlation between it and the rest of ICATBOTS (holy shit that acronym) being L.A. producer Nedarb. It’s another Christ banger. Praise the man. Hopefully, Slug’s still trying. Hopefully he’s still kicking it with the shawty that saved him. And hopefully you’ll go find him on the East Coast tour he’s on right now.
۞ pvps ۞ - 2K17 GLO
2011. Washed Out’s Within and Without on my iPod Touch against the stitching of my blue Oxford. Breathe in. New car smell. Old Navy warehouse smell. Synths like 2-in-1 Shampoo and Conditioner webbing my fingers. Bass like an oscillating fan on a humid night. Yacht-rock trap jams to wax upper-middle class to. Dig it.
Devin the Dude - Acoustic Levitation
Affectionately nicknamed “your favorite rapper’s favorite rapper,” Devin the Dude’s unique delivery and ear for production brought his self-deprecating brand of weed rap a degree of critical respect he probably wouldn’t have anticipated prior to the success of 2002 singles “Lacville ‘79” and “Doobie Ashtray,” respectively about driving a shitty car and people smoking all your weed. Quietly beloved by rappers and fans with a rapper-like interest in his wonky flow, Devin has nonetheless spent his career relegated to a niche. Acoustic Levitation, his first project in four years, is true to his principles in a way that, as before, makes a case for their appeal outside of the narrow window afforded him. Particularly benefiting “Can I” and “Apartment #8216,” its basslines are appropriately sticky, and Devin’s flow hasn’t budged an inch; if you don’t like his mid-2000s output, Acoustic Levitation won’t change your mind about Devin the Dude. “All I need is good weed, and I’m cool man,” etc. For me, though, and because the game hasn’t been fair to him, his consistency is well worth celebrating.
Lil Uzi Vert - Luv Is Rage 1.5
There’s always been a hint of melodrama to Lil Uzi Vert’s sound amidst his array of malleable flows and quick-hit punchlines, but it’s generally carried a cartoonish element to it that’s thwarted any sense of urgency (see: “You Was Right”). And while Uzi’s Luv Is Rage 1.5 delivers three quality head-nodders mixing humor and sentimentality, the project’s breakout single “XO Tour Llife3” steals the show, finding rap’s rising star at his most revealing. Gone is any hint of a tongue placed in cheek, instead replaced by a raw, melodic warble of a performance that lays all out bare; the end of its first verse is outright heart-wrenching as he croons, “She say I’m insane yeah, I might blow my brains out, Xanny help the pain yeah, Please Xanny make it go away,” only to be emotionally bested by the cry of “All my friends are dead” with a cadence more likened to emo than hip-hop. Uzi’s usual brand of pop rap is a consistent, comfortable machine that’s always fun at the very least, but his most thrilling moments from a critical perspective occur when he takes risks like “XO Tour Llife3.” Here’s to hoping they won’t be hidden within SoundCloud mini-mixtapes in the future.