Favorite Mixtapes of February 2016

Babyfather

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.)


Curren$y & Alchemist - The Carrollton Heist

Like most, if not all, Curren$y mixtapes, The Carrollton Heist, despite its allusive title and artwork, fails to deliver anything substantial in terms of narrative. Although Spitta is always either waking up or sitting down, weed smell ever present, his nasally mellifluous drawl cuts reliably through the fog, lending an occasionally beguiling edge to the hooks and punchlines of his Jet Life imaginary. Any stories are strictly past-tense, striking a nostalgic chord perfectly suited to The Alchemist’s even-textured, edifying blend of noirish crimejazz tension (“Black Rally Stripes”), bittersweet Shaolin soul (“Smoking In The Rain”), and shimmering jazz-funk synthesizer (“Inspiration”). A sometime member of DJ Muggs’s Soul Assassins collective, Al’s connections and credentials smuggle him unceremoniously close to hip-hop royalty. The recent successes of Piñata and Days With Dr. Yen Lo suggest a ready desire for exactly this sort of robust and well-schooled conservatism, “crafted by the masters, to be played on the block/ In the project hallways of secluded mansions.”



Matti Baybee - Mulaism

Mulaism; it’s the new religion. Chicago’s Matti Baybee, the now 18-year-old rapper who first gained notoriety as Chief Keef’s babyfaced little cousin, has been doing his thing on the low for a solid minute, but Mulaism sees him switching into a true lane of his own. The tape’s lean 10 tracks, all featuring shining production courtesy of the relatively unknown ISM Beats, land in that head-nodding sweet spot between minor-key menace and Chicago Blues soulfulness, and find Matti emerging into an increasingly mature and solitary worldview, effortlessly kicking airtight flows, tightening up his circle, and mourning the untimely death of cousin Big Glo. Matti’s buzz might still be at a low simmer, but Mulaism is easily the unsung problem tape of the season.



Sicko Mobb - Super Saiyan Vol. 3

Super Saiyan Vol. 3 initially smacks of restraint, especially when measured up alongside the drug-addled skee-phoria of volumes 1 and “pure potentiality” in the mechanical. Even if they haven’t really matured or grown up since “Fiesta” and “In My Maserati,” they’re still walking the tightrope between the grounded crags of reality and sheer otherness; ears to the streets, minds in the stratosphere. Here, the transcendent breaks into time: only Lil Trav and Lil Ceno could make something as innocuous as finally getting that number in your phone, shouting out where you’re from, or ordering steak and lobster sound like an encounter with an incorporeal agency. Take up their lead, and skeeEEeeee into the sunset with SSV3 on blast.



YFN Lucci - Wish Me Well 2

If you're like me and are still craving some new material from the dynamic duo that is Young Thug and Rich Homie Quan, in the wake of their split from Birdman's Rich Gang imprint, then YFN Lucci's latest mixtape, Wish Me Well 2, is here to momentarily quench your thirst for steamy street rap. Where Lucci might not be a naturally exciting rapper like Thug or even exhibit the same emotional vulnerability as Quan, he more than makes up for it, suffusing his music with striking piano ballads and introspective bangers. Wish Me Well 2, like the very best of Rich Gang circa 2014, is a tape that not only pulsates with life — reaffirming the old adage that music is the true path to salvation — but reflects on those moments with confident, catchy melodies (“Woke Up,” “Bloodshed,” “Key to the Streets”) and infectious hooks (“YFN,” “Dope Boy Dreams,” “Everytime”).



Raz Simone - Trap Spirituals

Last year’s Macklemore Privilege & Chief On Keef was an avant-garde masterpiece interweaving sophisticated social politics, powerful hooks, and complex eight-minutes+ compositions. It’s riddle-like nature made sure it wasn’t for everyone. On Trap Spirituals, Raz Simone has heavily refined. While last year his ideas were #Truth with the distraction of conspiracy-theory paranoia, now we get #Church, and no one can deny that, at least one of the days of the week. Every time Raz Simone says "fuck," it's like an Amen; and every time his sermons lock into repetition, you get the fucking message.



Young Thug - I'm Up

I never thought Gucci Mane's I'm Up would be my second-favorite mixtape called I'm Up, but here we are. Everything Brooklyn Russell wrote holds, but I'll add that there's something substantive to be said about Thugger's creative relationship with Kanye, made manifest in tweets about the Grammy’s™. Oh, and apparently they made 40 songs together(?). “Everyone’s listening to TLOP and I’m over here waiting for Slime Season 3.” If TLOP is the new dominant release format carried out to perplexing absurdity in an unfinished and never-ending leak of becoming, I’m Up is the same reckless force tamed and cultivated and allowed to flourish in confinement. Remember Yeezus? Those days feel comparatively innocent. And as provocative as Young Thug has been, I’m Up finds him turning from the abyss toward pure meanings: in a celebratory and appropriate ode to Boosie, the beleaguered legend; in his Boys, and his People; in Dora and Dolly, his sisters and collaborators. This is Thug at his least overt and his most personal. Many have shrugged this one off, taking for granted that the dried cinders of drought are just as essential as the Slime Season to the articulation of the whole picture.



Slug Christ - Sometimes Even the Moonlight Hurt my Eyes

Slug Christ snuck in the back turn of January with another mixtape and hoo boy slug caught fire again. Mix the bravado-heavy GOD IS UNDER THE PORCH WHERE THE DOG DIED and rising 808 Mafia member EVK95, add the pull of night skies and we get Sometimes Even the Moonlight Hurt my Eyes, a sick seven-hit combo that makes Slug’s 10th tape (including Slugged Out) feel outright bigger than any of its predecessors. The first two tracks "Elevate" and "3 Tab Shawty" bounce high, tossing lines like "They all think I'm trying, but I'm just existing, nihilistic slugger on my die-fast steeze," and "my life's a motherfucking jrpg, I look like a main character and you is just a npc" in a slug-depreciating and -exultant way. "Dopefiend" is the only track accompanied by a video that's bound in the inescapable and twisted around expiry, a.k.a. Slug Christ. Stream it all, and cop the The Crucifixion of Rapper Extraordinaire, Slug Christ LP for extended mobbin’.



Babyfather - Platinum Tears

Are platinum tears the millennial rain? Dense and malleable, highly unreactive and precious. The pauses in the mix are silences in the stream, a buffering of feeling to remove our buffers to feeling. Something went wrong. Dean Blunt did not, or did. This release isn’t black; it’s gray-white, quietly flourishing in the basements of emotion. This isn’t a metal, it’s transition rap, where synth strings trace a beautiful arc from “Meditation” here: Phases for phases’ sake, a late-night realm as heavy as Purple Reign. Its intro an un/easy Caretaker loop with a thrown beat; Platinum Tears is still more than anything way listenable. It bangs. It whimpers. A continental drift from the redeemer to the ecstatic, the helium fever-flow blows uncanny psychic life into warm-worn production from the likenesses of DJ Escrow, the cruelest DJ in the world. These 24 minutes of scraps, trusted to a third party, can’t be found. If you were waiting for a way in (after all these years?), this tear-pool is more than worth searching for. Flipping channels in a hangover lounge, do you ever feel like sometimes searching is enough? I feel like that. I feel like that all the time. “Bless.”


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