Favorite Mixtapes of April 2016 From DeJ Loaf and Gaika to Lil Uzi Vert and Tate Kobang

Lil Uzi Vert

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.)


DeJ Loaf - All Jokes Aside


In a recent statement, DeJ Loaf described All Jokes Aside as mixtape about growth. “It’s called growth, it’s called maturity, it’s called living life to the full potential and being true to who you are.” For DeJ, growth means chasing self-made boss status over relationships, which she’s clearly over at this point in her life. Throughout the tape’s 11 tracks DeJ exudes a cool confidence over jangly, airy, and most of all, perfectly laid-back springtime beats courtesy of Izze the Producer, frequent collaborator DDS, and Sonny Digital. Despite All Jokes Aside’s serious tone, DeJ Loaf’s flows and tongue-in-cheek raps are largely smoove, infectious, and endlessly entertaining. DeJ’s biggest, most recognizable single remains “Try Me,” her breakout hit from two years ago, but tracks like “I’m Gon’ Win” and “How” will inevitably become surefire highlights in her career.



Gaika - SECURITY


On his first release for the venerable Mixpak label, Gaika’s machine rumbles forth at the intersection of dancehall, grime, and drill, all tinged with a shade of neofuturist digitalia. SECURITY consolidates its specific geopolitical reference points — the Mancunian greys, the Brixton street smarts, vocals informed by Caribbean patois, and so on — into a sweeping run of tracks that are vulnerable in their bravado, uneasy in their temerity; even when he’s “on a madness”, the surface tensions never subside. Tensions are well and truly unbound in the tape’s closing track, “White Picket Fences,” wherein 6Cib’s overtly political monologuing is underpinned by a lurching, queasy instrumental. What can be secure in the age of the Snoopers’ Charter, safe spaces, and a society that still rejects and marginalizes certain groups? It’s a question Gaika never explicitly answers. Maybe the escape is the only sure footing we can have in this fucked-up world, being “out of it, drunk enough to not give a fuck” until the embers die down.



Lil Uzi Vert - Lil Uzi Vert. Vs. The World


Dad is mad. He’s saying that hip-hop isn’t what it used to be. Again. He says his kids got no bars and never go visit their Grandpa Boom-Bappy in the rest home. Dad, what is your fucking problem? Don’t you love your kids? Can’t you see they love hip-hop so much? They’re in such a unique place, to be able to pull from such a huge history of sounds. So many innovations in intonation — from B Real’s weasel to Mase’s under talk to Lil Wayne’s full alien. MC Hammer and JD teaching them it’s OK to keep it pop. Puff going over the top epic; Timbaland changing everything with a beat; and just a constant obsession with the most cutting edge in musical instrument science. Yes, Dad, they aren’t slaying bars, but stop idol worshiping just one part of this rich legacy you’re handing over. It’s all there these days, being more the way it is now than it ever has been; with Young Thug, Future, Lil Yachty, Sicko Mobb, Lil B, OG Maco, Rae Sremmurd, and yes, definitely Lil Uzi Vert.


Ethereal - Look at Me


Vaporwave is dead. Lil B is pissed off. Meanwhile, Ethereal, Atlanta’s quietest Super Saiyan, is coming through on a Gundam, demanding everyone’s attention with muffled landing gear and a whisper. Like a kid perfecting a kickflip when you weren’t looking, Ethereal’s at once persistent, patient, and confident as shit on Look at Me. Don’t let that imperative fool you, though; dude sounds like couldn’t care less whether you do or not, like he’s really just rapping for himself at this point. Of course, that isn’t remotely true, especially ‘round these parts. Ethereal is on fire. Real marshmallow shit. Smoldering on low. Crackle game relentless. Burn until dawn underneath yesterday’s paper. Long live Ethereal. Blaze into infinity.



Rich The Kid - Trap Talk


When will the Migos formula run out? Words shot in bursts like the hi-hats they rap over or a Motorola ring ad-lib and only using three-fourth’s of the bar, should we call it tired and move on to whatever cosign big views daddy is on? Or is the formula another rap lexicon tied into Atlanta? A language foreign markets write off, but locals embrace pridefully. Like other languages, both spoken and digital, Young Thug’s snarl, Young Chop’s production, DJ Mustard’s stripped-down sound. Rich The Kid is under the schooling of Migos, but dating a girl from Young Thug U. The sound of Rich, Lil Uzi Vert, and Playboi Carti is the culmination of five years of Atlanta radio. Their torch has the same, ever-burning flame, but the hardware looks different to young eyes.



Tate Kobang - Since We’re Here


No matter how good, debut mixtapes can often be one-note, a showcase of the artist’s nuanced twist on an otherwise established contemporary sound. Rarely do rappers go all out and experiment with genres and feels and flows and geographies from the get-go, but Tate Kobang uses Since We’re Here to fux with all of the above. On his debut, the 23-year-old Baltimore artist shows that he’s not just a rapper, but also a rapturous singer, getting all Late Nights-like on “Lied To Me” and busting out a badass falsetto on “Love Again.” Other highlights include cuts that are deeply raw (“Nasty Girls”), throwback-y minimalist-pop (“Number 5”), and oppressively dark (“Poppin”). Sure, a few don’t quite work — he’s actually weakest on the brooding trap numbers — but this debut aims high enough that it makes his recent signing to 300 Entertainment feel more necessary for the label than for himself. My god, imagine what Tate could do over production from WondaGurl or Dre Moon.



Skippa Da Flippa - I’m Havin II


Skippa Da Flippa can’t help but be the unsung hero of Atlanta; his style and flow are the exception that has become the rule in hip-hop today. Flippa isthe dab, his muscular flow the sturdy architecture behind today’s ubiquitous, accoutrement-heavy Migos flow. I’m Havin II carries on much in the same vein as its predecessor, and that’s a good thing: Skippa’s bars gnarl around the corners of snares like sparks flying off melting rebar, and it’s a treat to watch him redefine what rapping can mean, even when he’s just experimenting and having fun. Da Flippa Man stays having on this one.


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