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.)
Boosie Badazz - Happy Thanksgiving & Merry Christmas
“Cancer couldn’t kill me/ Bullets missed at close range/ Prosecutors couldn’t get me/They was tellin’ hoes name,” Boosie raps on “Angels All Over Me.” At the close of a marquee year for a one-of-a-kind performer who overcame both cancer and the United States criminal justice system, the Boosie recently christened Badazz is feeling festive, and we should be equal parts thankful and fearful. Where that slow, snarling, and scattershot flow returns alongside his familiar lyrical sensibilities, both hit with greater impact thanks to some extremely crisp production. Particularly in the eschewing of rhythmic convention on tracks like “Big Shot” and the time signature-bending “PWA,” you can hear Boosie channeling his most unique strengths with more focus than ever. Straddling as always the line between piety and profanity, the Bible piece-sporting Badazz has served a potent batch of beautiful contradiction like a Christmas present the world wanted but didn’t ask for.
Rome Streetz - I Been Thru Mad Shit
Rome Streetz bridges the gap between grim urban mundanity and surrealist menageries of escapism. The Queens-based rapper has an ornate flow that pours profusely from beats that propel tales of intoxication, violence, narcissism, and romance, which gives this tape gravitas, as though we are on the precipice of something grand and supreme. Streetz’s flow is almost unsettlingly confident, gliding through the rickety pulse of “Acid Reflux,” the mawkish dirge of “Leroys Fist,” and the gnarly bombast of “Trill Street Bluez” — it’s a gripping combination of styles that’s kept impeccably tight with Complexx Productions at the helm. And with at least two mixtapes already under his belt, I Been Thru Mad Shit is somewhat of a crowning chapter in 2016, making Rome Streetz a rapper to keep firm tabs on in the new year. Mark it.
Morgue! - 1990Morgue
Philadelphian dark-trap architect Morgue!, 5 Finger Posse’s most crepuscular digit, channels the restless pneuma of Memphis Horrorcore’s heyday while riding dense, forward-thinking production to the forefront of SoundCloud’s avant-garde. 1990Morgue is propulsive and precise; though the tape’s sinister, fragmented patchworks of excess can drag listeners into strange and harrowing depths, rubbery constrictions of sub-bass dispatched by OogieMane and Forza keep Morgue’s material suspended in aural deprivation. Morgue flirts with the underworld that houses the grime-encrusted, occultish output of SpaceGhostPurrp and co., but is ultimately tethered to to the more energized sense of play that drives the creativity of Lil B and Lil Yachty. Although initially jarring, 1990Morgue displays aggression’s ability to give way to comfort after sustained periods of time. It’s the tornado siren that soon fades to the the back of your conscious — the fan’s oscillating hum that you can’t sleep without.
Sh3llz - Black in Amerikkka
G-funk is most immediately associated with the West Coast, but if you know your history, you know the style spent some very formative years in the Midwest and South as well. On Black In Amerikkka, Sh3llz shows up for Detroit g-funk with scrappy irreverence. Here, the kinds of bass lines that turned out hits for Iggy Azalea and Kendrick Lamar are brought to trial by fire, found guilty of criminal negligence, and sentenced to community service. Think that’s getting off easy? Think again. Sh3llz’s tragic tribulations may translate seamlessly, but it’s hard labor all day in these parts.
Yung Lean - Frost God
Dropped in December without any prior promotion, Yung Lean’s Frost God channels lessons learned from the thrilling debut full-length of his punk side-project (Död Mark’s 22 minute Drabbad av sjukdom) with a concise, eight-song package of hip-hop reinvigoration. The sonic equivalent of an igloo trap house, Lean’s newest blends the gritty undertones of his recent work with the chilling atmospherics of Gud’s and Whitearmor’s production magic that defined his earlier treasures. Synths glisten like fluttering snowflakes amidst clattering hi-hats on the anthemic, A$AP Ferg-featuring “Crystal City,” while “Head 2 Toe” finds Lean injecting genuine swagger into a track that would have otherwise fit comfortably on Unknown Memory. The rapper’s poise is not always conveyed via posturing bravado, though, as album standout “Hennessy and Sailor Moon” manages to deliver airy, R&B goodness with his sung vocals front-and-center. On the hook, Lean declares, “I could be your savior, with everything we’ve been through.” Like many of his lines, it’s a bit awkwardly phrased, but it’s a defining moment of confidence renewed for a young frost god as he continues to find his footing in a cold, cold world.
K9 - Mad In The Cut 2
“I like to mix the sour and the sweet.” Could easily be an allusion to zoots and Ribena, but it holds true for K9’s ruff MC’ing and his typically awesome beat selection, with cuts from previous collaborators (and heavyweights in their own right) Dark0, Mssingno, and Visionist featuring here. And it’s not like Mad In The Cut 2 doesn’t slap, either. Nine lean tracks, ‘ard riddims, serious bars. Trap and grime are kindred scenes, really, and the possibilities explored by the likes of GAIKA and K9 in synthesizing both styles is exciting going forward; now that Kruddy Ninez is two-for-two in the mixtape circuit, it’s not hard to see him getting even sharper. “If you’re not down with K9, then get with it, blud.”
earoh - Big Trouble in Little Chinatown
Described by L.A. beatmaker earoh as “one part beat tape, one part ode to John Carpenter’s classic, Big Trouble in Little China, Big Trouble in Little Chinatown offers nine adventurous and still relatively bite-sized morsels of sample-based instrumental hip-hop. Its tracks play depth and shallowness against one another, working simple loops into layered compositions by mixing and altering melodic samples as an abstract backdrop of sorts to the constant, one-dimensional stutter of drum hits. It possesses an uneasy sort of momentum, like a narrative that struggles to express itself as such. The pervasive use of short vocal and string samples as the main units of melody puts Big Trouble in a comparison class somewhere between anime Vines™ and 0PN; never quite as simple as the former or as challenging as the latter, earoh makes creative use of the synthetic gesture in the MIDI freakouts of cuts like “Green Eyes [Trouble].” Within the fledgling medium of the beat tape, earoh manages to both zone out and freak out.
Rapsody - Crown EP
“Whatever you dream, you can do,” opens Rapsody’s latest mixtape, Crown. The North Carolina MC has been collaborating with the likes of Big KRIT and Kendrick Lamar since 2010, but accession to Roc Nation in 2016 marks a significant power move. Although none of the guests on Crown are Roc royalty, Rapsody displays veteran confidence. Her chemistry with Anderson Paak. on “OooWee” is strong, and the beat contains the same feel that gave 2 Chainz’s “Feds Watching” a formidable heat factor. Regardless of the beat’s flavor, Rapsody’s wordplay and flow is immaculate: on “Mad,” I double-take on deftly acrobatic lines like “the boss man’s wife’s sister’s sample is what I’m on.”
Lil Uzi Vert & Gucci Mane - 1017 vs The World
What a time. The winter is cold and heavy-hued, but a little play can go a long way. Freed Gucci Mane’s low-stakes November collaboration with young punk rocker Lil Uzi Vert is effortless and colorful, alive with elastic flows, and lit by brotherly love. The diamond-precious beats from Gucci’s rogues gallery pause an open-world game for the pair’s surprising chemistry, hooks and verses shared like special combo moves. Like the Gucci & Future mixtape from the same month, 1017 feels a minor victory lap for the only happy story from 2016. Two weird voices finding harmony in new peaks, the short-and-sweet runtime dripping with spontaneity. The versus is less about who the two are against and more about who else could fit in this groove. To be alive: It means you can change the weather like Uzi and Guwop.
L’Orange - Koala EP
Déjà vu again?
The tyranny of permanence or
The freedom to forget
Choose your weapon
Dig dug dead
UGHH said the corpse
Izzy Izzy Izzy?
Slept 20 hours straight
Cousin went missing
Like Itt or not
Lil Durk - They Forgot
If Lil Durk 2x was the eponymous rapper’s first successful attempt at merging the singular melodic style that brought him to prominence with Def Jam-sized exposure, surprise Black Friday drop They Forgot comes full circle, doubling down on the speed and minor-key repetition that typified Durk’s early tapes while blending in a newfound vocal dexterity and a palatable sense of urgency. At a slim 40 minutes, They Forgot is a fitting mantra for the tape’s Chicago-heavy yet success-inviting ethos: Durk honors where he came from, even as, in the glow of fame, these details become ever more invisible to those who are watching him.