Favorite Mixtapes of January 2016

Lil Durk & DeJ Loaf in "My Beyonce" video

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.)

NOTE: This month’s installment also includes releases from December 2015.

Lil Durk - 300 Days 300 Nights

Coming off the heels of last year’s Remember My Name, Lil Durk’s long-awaited major label debut, 300 Days 300 Nights was a return to form for an artist who shines through the mixtape format. Durk is a pop artist and street rapper, and 3D3N sees an ear-worming development of religiously emphatic street aphorisms woven through mind-numbingly simple, repetitive melodies, and gunshot adlibs. Following up on his longstanding tradition of hair-raising intro tracks, “Intro” finds Durk penning a line for all the loved ones he’s lost — some of them having passed or gone to prison since after his rise into the spotlight — and the tape carries a poignant tone throughout. Durk is at the top of his city; he knows it, but he also understands the depth of his sacrifice in getting there.

Katie Got Bandz - Drillary Clinton 3

Katie Got Bandz has been queen of drill for years now — at least according to her side of the story, which is all you get here. And it’s Hard To Be A God; Drillary Clinton 3 will be her “last drill album.” It’s (kind of) a shame, the parenthesis owing to the fact that these 17 tracks are the headiest endurance test on wax since G Herbo’s transmissions from Fazoland and, in combination with the two mixtapes preceding it, give us enough pissed-off sketches from the queen of drill to sneak into the next umpteen summers of posse playlists. Most of the comments on mixtape sites’ streams of DC3 are dudes complaining about how Katie’s “always screaming.” On the intro, which reminds us “the faces of these lost and disconnected young and women are often invisible, until we see them in a mugshot,” before the hi-hats come in, I get the sense Katie is screaming to fill the negative space wherein we locate lostness and disconnectedness. But still, those commenters are selling her intense versatility too short. This mixtape has everything from the absurd comedy of Katie’s introduction as the “First Lady of Drill,” culminating in her exhortation: “I need that moneyyyyyyyyy!!!” to a bass-y, minimal banger featuring Jeremih, to a not-embarrassing alternative to that Yelawolf “Don’t Make Me Go Pop…the Trunk” song (“Jump Off Da Porch”), to a Plies verse, haha. In the end, Katie ends her drill career diplomatically: by expressively addressing her haters in just more than a minute, Gettysburg-style.

RetcH - Lean N Neck

Has RetcH leveled up since Finesse The World? Well, if Lean N Neck has anything to say: YES. Production-wise, these beats are the complete swag software, and the way RetcH traverses their synthetic terrain is akin to the potential amount of synthetic fluids he been sippin’ into his system. So when the depths of tracks “Matrimony,” “Not to Mention,” “Codeine Gangsta Party,” ” Souple Straps,” and “Lean Talk” enter your home or car-audio system’s woofers, you best bet the tweeters be tripletting with furor. Lyrics that make double cups sweat like they done-did the crime, but nobody snitching ‘round RetcH’s trap. The hornet’s nest swarms. What’s next? Lean N Neck.

Kodak Black - Institution

Although he’s already being compared to veteran artists like Lil Boosie, the raspy-voiced, young, downright reckless charisma of 18-year-old Kodak Black is distinctively his own. Because this young Florida rapper’s strength is his unflappable confidence, his ability to disregard the self-conscious aspect of the mixtape format, he’s able to produce an intensely personal experience with Institution; something larger than itself. An introvert at heart, Kodak taps into the darkest parts of his soul to pull surprisingly moving results from his viscera; warranting Institution’s uncompromising hourlong street rap expanse. “I ain’t gonna sugarcoat nothing,” he professes in his gold-mouth Southern drawl on “Deep in These Streets,” a song that reflects on his time behind bars and in the Golden Acres Projects, a place that’s comparative to “living in hell.” “I’m’a tell you times when I was up, I’m’a tell you times I was struggling,” go the lyrics and not for one second do think to doubt them. When the sun finally wakes up, like on the aptly titled “This Life,” for instance, it serves to humanize Kodak, spotlighting the raw stories behind the tape’s booming 808s-heavy production. To think, this self-proclaimed Project Baby is feasting without having yet cashed in on his Drake cosign.

Montana of 300 & Talley of 300 - Gunz n Roses

Late-80s Sunset Strip rock is a misleading reference point for those of Chicago’s 300. Rather, think Power Metal; think DragonForce. Driving, completely heroic instrumentals, deeply harmonic sung raps, clean and enunciated lyrics, and virtuosity everywhere. The subject matter keeps the unique style rooted in street rap while emphasizing the elements in a way that’s completely 300. Rap always has flourished by way of embracing the listener’s love of outlaw tall tales. Montana of 300 and Talley of 300 take this theme and elevate the proceedings to full fantasy, novel-level epic. At no point do they stop soaring through epic tales of bravery, getting to fuck the princess, and nabbing the treasure. The story of the 300 is a crusade of personal freedom, and they are their own perfect bards. Yes, it is as hammy as I’m indicating, and that is why it is great.

Busta Rhymes - The Return of the Dragon (The Abstract Went On Vacation)

Decades have passed since Busta Rhymes roared his way to rap superstardom. Absent any monumental smash singles on the scale of a “Woo-Ha,” “Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Can See,” “Pass the Courvoisier,” or “Touch It,” for 10 years Bus has led the new school via guest appearances on pop remixes in which he typically out-raps everyone else on the track, often rendering otherwise-dull tracks listenable. So, in a way, it’s fitting that the brightest moments on Busta’s December 2015 mixtape, The Return of the Dragon (The Abstract Went On Vacation), come from hearing the dungeon dweller trade syllabics with MCs of similar fire-breathing pedigree. Chance the Rapper on “Hello,” Raekwon on Roc Marciano-produced “Watch How You Move,” and, most impressively, MF DOOM on Dilla-produced “In the Streets” are just a few examples. As a followup to The Abstract & The Dragon, this tape had a lot to live up to, but the latter song is strong enough to stand side-by-side with any of Busta’s best.

Soulja Boy - S Beezy

Soulja Boy ain’t nothing if not consistent(ly underrated). This time though, he’s locked in. S Beezy is a self-induction, real Bruce Wayne-into-Superman shit. Fam’s at Drizzy’s feet like, “I’m good here with my chain on because while you claim you started from down here, it was my table crumbs that was feedin’ you.” S Beezy’s peaking out of that stream of Waves that Yeezy Swished in on like, “While you waitin’ on your messiah, I’m here with that shit you never knew you wanted.” Which prompts a loaded question of spacial relevance: “Where is this dude even coming from?” Answer: S Beezy never left that desk in back of the class, shooting you a patient head-cocked stare every time you spit some shit like, “Man, this year sucks for music. Where are all the BIG albums?” Maybe I’m predisposed for this shit, but after you witness a bunch of turnt-up eighth graders teach their white-as-fuck science teacher how to “Superman that ho” on the last day of school, you stop waiting for the butterfly to pimp itself and start paying attention to the little man. Because it won’t be long before they’re all grown up.

Rowdy Rebel - Shmoney Keeps Calling

Shmoney Keeps Calling was released New Years Day 2016 but pulls from a year’s worth of archives. With both Rowdy and Bobby in jail, Shmoney tosses out 17 tracks to the hat-tossing, cha-cha-dancing, G69 true believers. The tape doesn’t come together as a cohesive project, instead hitting highs in its assorted cast and styles. “Shmoney Speaking” is “Computers” part 2 with a mirrored drive that gives in to even bigger bells. Immediately after, TeeFlii fucks up every feeling of love you were just feeling about the $$$ and your boys and reroutes it into a house-traveling bedroom jam on a candy beat. Wait a little and you’ll hear Rowdy say he doesn’t make drill music (he sometimes doesn’t, a lot of times does), but idk because he’s trading bars with Lil Durk earlier on banger “Gang.” I wasn’t feelin’ Rowdy’s take on Black Sheep’s “This or That,” but I’m not gonna sweat it! Point is, don’t worry about the not-as-good songs — smile a little, think about how shitty prisons are, and cross your fingers that our boys will be out ASAP.

Lil B - Thugged Out Pissed Off

It’d be easier to think of topics that haven’t appeared on a Lil B tape as yet. 05 Fuck Em alone covers enough ground in that respect. Life’s intricacies, little and/or large, have been a part of the BasedGod’s lyrical repertoire from the get-go, informing the vibe of each successive release. Thugged Out Pissed Off finds Lil B tackling hard-ass streetisms in typically #based fashion, splicing freestyles, off-the-cuff ad-libbing, nonsensical references to Fetty Wap and “Jerry,” and memorable one-liners into a 63-track monster — monstrous in size and scope, for sure, but also in his uncompromising method of weighing in on contemporary issues. Few could contend Lil B’s self-proclaimed status as the rawest ever after hearing “Domestic Violence Case” or “I Am A Thug,” for better or for worse. And that’s just how we like it, ‘cos the Lil Boss’ brand of unfiltered, unabated rapping is a delight to behold. Whether you schedule your day around listening to Thugged Out Pissed Off front-to-back, or throw it on shuffle, collecting this jawn will reward you with the Based-payload well into 2016.

OG Maco - The Lord Of Rage

The intersection of psychedelia, street rap, and thrash, which OG Maco loves so much, has never felt more fully realized than on The Lord of Rage. A unique philosophy of mix and EQ unifies as each element occupies a singular section of the frequency spectrum. Synths only up in super-high registers. Densely affected vocals wash through the mids. The kicks get free reign over the lows, unencumbered by bass lines. At first, it’s startling, demanding even; it requires the listener to take in an overlapping, three-way conversation. It’s also why the release becomes even more rewarding on second, third, and fourth listens. Never wanting to be pigeonholed as the “U Guessed It” guy, OG Maco has found a singular voice, one as complex as he. The Lord of Rage is a sophisticated ruler.

Lil Bibby - Free Crack 3

Another trilogy came to an end last year. One that sits on top of the greatest runs drill-era Chicago ever produced. One that ends when friend and frequent collaborator Lil Herb wiped the slate clean and started a new chapter under the name G Herbo. Free Crack 3 comes two years after the first installment, one after the second, and three months out from his album debut, set for February 5 on Kemosabe Records. Lil Bibby is consistent the way y = x is: rising steadily out of a negative plain into bigger and bigger charts. Free Crack started with three base-level drill features, while Free Crack 3 ends Bibby’s run with features from R. Kelly, Future, Jeremih, and Common. The dude has come up fast and nobody should doubt he’ll double 2015 in 2016.

21 Savage - Slaughter King

I highly doubt there’s a more fatalistic opening line on this list than 21 Savage’s “Knife in my face, 30 on my waist/ Real street nigga, and I keep a dirty K”. There’s a thick line of madness that surges through Slaughter King, his latest mixtape; it’s classic hard-nosed street rap that pulls from the internalized heartache and pain of an individual that raps over dark beats and lives in even darker streets. But 21 isn’t just the latest entry in Atlanta’s seemingly inexhaustible canon of trap rappers, he’s the most compelling. “He’s the last street nigga left making music,” says Metro Boomin describing 21, whose gruesome knife-in-the-face line isn’t actually a clever rap metaphor but of an actual dagger tattoo in between his eyes, a tribute to his best friend that was killed. Sure, he’s probably never going to fire-off a particularly impressive 16, drop a truly mind-bending line, or string together a set of dazzling similes. However what 21 does well with Slaughter King is create a world that doesn’t glamorize rap music: giving the listener the raw, no-holds-barred, lived-in street shit. Savage is ultimately an adept descriptor for this burgeoning young rapper, and the tape wisely bypasses Magic City’s glitz and glamour throughout its 14 blunt force tracks, finding comfort in trap houses and country dirt roads.

Future - Purple Reign

Even warmed by blue face insulation, royal colors coming in, fly guy Future won’t rest assured, won’t pause to catch his breath. On centerpiece standout “Inside The Mattress,” he raps, “I’m getting better, I’m at practice/ I’m working every day crafting.” His practice is what we cherish, and it seems to be at least as therapeutic as Alexander McQueen, how he relentlessly rings hooks from his monstrous imagic self-disclosure. So we get Purple Reign, extending his victory lap with Drake into a victory marathon, continuing the super Future saturation and creative downpour that took over 2015. Purple Reign feels like more than just exercise, though; its cohesive din another cloud of ragged emotionality. With this now-typical Future flood of tears comes the thundercrack, bangers like “All Right,” “Never Forget,” and “Drippin (How U Love That).” But it’s the closing duo of “Perkys Calling” and the title track that really lower like the storm raging throughout the tape. Future sings the sunless Ciara-shaped hole in his heart, his pain direct: “I just need my girlfriend.” There’s no calm before it, no clarity in its eye. But he’s getting better and better. Bye bye.

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