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.)
Adamn Killa + DP Beats - Mr. 650
Cushioning the sturdy drill delivery of his native Chicago with the same thermal bundle of fleece-lined synth drones and reverb insulation employed by Swedish tourmates/collaborators Yung Lean and Bladee, Adamn Killa’s Mr. 650 mixtape is a transatlantic affair. Longtime Chief Keef affiliate DP Beats is brought along for the voyage, packing a briefcase with 14 fittingly oceanic instrumentals that loft Adamn’s buoyant bars like gently rolling waves. Theirs is a chemistry not unlike the ionic bond that seamlessy fuses 21 Savage’s stoic stanzas with Metro Boomin’s ethereal soundscapes. Syllabically frugal, Adamn whispers gravelly hooks as if to avoid fracturing the delicate, wafer-thin arrangements provided by his producer. Mr. 650 is too tight, too catchy to work as an incidental study soundtrack, but it isn’t quite suited for backseat slam-dance sessions either. It cruises down its own lane late at night, watching Arby’s signs and blurred taillights pass by. It’s lowkey heat.
Children of the Corner - Standing On the Corner
Even from a geometric perspective, corners are intriguing objects — things happen in corners. You would know as much if you had spent some nights in a big city’s intersection. Then again, nothing approximates the feeling of complete stasis as a summer afternoon hanging out with your buddies in a suburban bend. Such a paradoxical relationship with time is central to Children of the Corner’s Standing On the Corner mixtape. While proudly rooted in the act’s native Crown Heights, from a chronological angle, the tape is a collection of songs unbound to a specific period yet with the discernible core of a rich soulfulness that manages to accommodate chopped-up experiments, superfly impulses, the deep flow you’d expect in a 1990s East Coast album, the ice cool soundtracks of Lalo Schiffrin, some late-2000s indie, and its 1980s-cassette aspirations, even a warped salsa signposting Children of the Corner’s nuyorican heritage. Come to think of it, precisely the things one would hear and grow to love if they got his sentimental education from the transistors blasting in a Brooklynite corner. Evoking that experience is Standing On the Corner’s biggest triumph.
DJ Surrup - #BarcelonaBrazy3
It’s safe to say that #BarcelonaBrazy3 is not like the other mixtapes on this list. In fact, it has much more in common with the compilations you’ll find in the Mix Tapes section of this website. So why is it here? Because despite DJ Surrup’s insistence that “Hip Hop is on the backburner this time,” in his hands, even transitions from New Order’s “Lonesome Tonight” to Hole’s “Violet” to She Wants Revenge’s “Tear You Apart” somehow come off as unapologetically fresh hip-hop fundamentals. Maybe it’s the beatmatching that’s so masterful it plays like chord theory, or maybe it’s an eclectic ear that empowers him to blend “Passing Me By” with 90s house without it sounding like Girl Talk gimmickry, but whatever it is, you’ll find cause to let this 56:40 continuous mix loop. One more thing: BB3 isn’t the only DJ Surrup mixtape that could’ve justifiably made this list; his Konnichiwa (Slowed + Throwed Remix) is not only arguably better than the original, but also reaffirms that Surrup is one of the most innovative and talented Screw-sciples doing it.
Ralo - Diary Of The Streets II
Ralo is a rising street rapper from Atlanta who has a couple claims to fame: his rapping voice is really, really high, maybe even higher than frequent collaborator Young Thug, and he grew up in the same East Atlanta neighborhood that gave the world Future and Young Scooter. On the second installment of his Diary Of The Streets series, Ralo lets his world-weary old soul shine through, even while he’s spitting hacked-up, doubled-down flows. In that sense, he splits the difference between Young Scooter’s dead-earnest and plainspoken street stories and Thugger’s manic flows. Tracks like Chophouse-produced “Showers In The Dark” and “This One For” showcase an artist who, like Kevin Gates, is willing to draw closer to the story of his own failures even while he’s bragging, and in doing so makes for a much more compelling listen.
Ras G - Azla Sounds Volume 1
Azla Sounds Volume 1 is a beat tape by L.A. producer Ras G, made for a South Central L.A. vegan Ethiopian restaurant called Azla Vegan. The track “sïddïst” ends with a sample of founder Nesanet Abegaze speaking earnestly, with the familiar note of well-intentioned evangelism, about the restorative value of the food she serves. Like good food, Ras G’s music isn’t particularly fixated on any one texture, balancing piquancy with dull embrace. An adventure in nutrition, with a hint of cosmopolitan curiosity. Informed by cultural links to Ethiopia transcending the culinary ones, all of the beats on Azla Sounds flip, in a few inventive ways, Ethio-jazz and some traditional Ethiopian songs. “Flipping,” in this case, really means illuminating source materials as if elaborating on their undisclosed possibilities. Footwork resonances are strong on the aforementioned “sïddïst” as well as “sïmmïint,” while tracks like “hulätt,” “sost,” and “aratt” are built on the hazy sort of repetition that wouldn’t sound out of place on a BBF sequel. Tracks like “and” and “zät’äñ” incorporate longer samples, making this feel more like a mixtape, but in each case honoring an underheard classic in the proper way. Stick with Ras until “assïira sost” and he’ll hit you with (spoiler) the best “I Love Kanye” remix to date (/spoiler), and if you want more after that, here is an article documenting famous Ethio-jazz samples throughout hip-hop. This tape is surely one of the best executed efforts in that tradition.
Young Dolph - Rich Crack Baby
Young Dolph’s streak as one of the year’s most consistent rappers continues on Rich Crack Baby, yet another tenacious entry in his catalog that broadens his sonic boundaries in tandem. Dolph’s approach has always walked the line between laid-back and urgent, transitioning from one disposition to the other on any given string of syllables; it’s a flow that makes lines like “My OGs keep on telling me young nigga just stay focused, remember I used to pull up with 60 pounds in the FOCUS” resonate elements of blunt disclosure and whimsical wordplay alike. The latter notion is expanded upon by the addition of 2 Chainz’s witty lyrical gymnastics on “What Yo Life Like,” and while Dolph isn’t in dire need of outside pressure to keep his audible finesse engaging, he seems to be tacitly eyeing audiences beyond his devoted mixtape congregation in the long-run. It’s therefore intriguing to hear not only his companion in 2016 tease out a bit of eccentricity, but also a living legend in Gucci Mane push him into club territory on “Strippa” and T.I. appearing for tropical-tinged experimentation on “Foreva.” Sure, these sonic auditions aren’t nearly as polished as the colossal slabs of trap-rap that comprise King of Memphis or as potent en masse as the hyperconcentrated Bossed Up, but thrilling signs of progress they remain. Even if Dolph eventually proves to not be suited for quasi-crossover material in glossier settings, cuts like “Want It All” and the 21 Savage-assisted “150” assure he still has more than enough of his usual street-sourced sauce to spare on Rich Crack Baby.
Princess Nokia - 1992
Princess Nokia (a.k.a. Destiny Frasqueri) remains one of New York’s/rap’s best with 1992. The power and prowess that screams through the speakers on “Tomboy” or “Kitana” flick on the *I’m bout to mob* switch that few can reach, but Nokia’s wall-shaking boom pumps up the same blood that studies have concluded is best during the verses of Crime Mob’s Princess and Diamond on “Knuck If You Buck.” Even when 1992 slows down its blunt force energy on the latter half, Nokia remains in a haze of direct positivity exalted in self-confidence for her and anyone in need.
âtƒ - secret places
The can of Hawaiian Punch sweats into your palm. The sip leaves a tinny aftertaste. Bring secret places along for the ride on journeys to the cosmos’ public swimming pool like a couple 12-packs in your Rubbermaid cooler. Muzak drifts into the aether. The chlorinated water levitates a good six inches above the bottom of the pool’s tile surface, which will never be touched by a swimmer’s wandering toe. âtƒ is Vince Offer to these samples, man. Slap Chop ‘em up. Juice ‘em and ShamWow the surface. Leave ‘em on the countertop — dried, smoked, and seasoned. Ship ‘em into cyberspace. Fall asleep in the folding chair.
Zeroh - 0 Emissions 4
If you haven’t been following the 0 Emissions mixtape series by Los Angeles-based Afrofuturist Zeroh, I blame myself. To be fair, I was late on these tapes too. And now, as I sit here listening to the fourth installment (almost a full month after its release), something keeps making me want to call it an “odds-and-ends” tape, but let’s chalk that up to untrained ears more than anything. Earlier today, I was thinking about how when one does something so great that it’s never been seen before, its initial spectators tend to devalue it, whether out of discombobulation or sheer ignorance of the creator’s process. Whenever ingenuity is executed effortlessly, it’s mistaken for simple trickery. This is that shit.