Favorite Mixtapes of May 2015 Common sins, lip-quivering catharsis, and sub-aquatic murk

With a daunting cascade of releases spewing out each day 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 simply free-to-stream) digital releases — but we’ll keep things loose enough to branch out if and when we feel it necessary. (Check out last month’s installment here.)

Slug Christ - The Crucifixion of Rapper Extraordinaire, Slug Christ

The budding Awful Records’s mass output — including April’s surprise #AwfulHoliday — has kept it on the marquee for awhile now, and The Crucifixion of Rapper Extraordinaire, Slug Christ is headlining this month. Bursting at the seems with eulogy, releasing EP after EP the last two years, Slugger has openly wrestled with the terms and conditions of death, god, suicide, resurrection, sacrifice, going back to PLANT MENTALITY and, to a lesser extent, its predecessor GENOCIDE’s “Genocide I” & “II.” The Crucifixion of Rapper Extraordinaire, Slug Christ is another division of the narrative. Ethereal, Father, GAHM, Lord Narf, Stalin Majesty, KeithCharles Spacebar, Dexter Dukarus, Rich Po Slim, and Pyramid Quince all help pad Slug Christ’s exile in existentialism, corralling the last six months of recording and last decade of experimental output of Slug Christ. The EP is best heard from front to back if you want to gather Slug’s endorsement of heaven and hell through crucifixion — the sacrificial image pointing dead at a struggle that one man (God, to some) took on to save the rest of us. So, praise be Slug Christ, awful god almighty.

Rich Homie Quan - If You Ever Think I Will Stop Going In, Ask Double R

If the 100+ leaked Rich Gang tracks didn’t fulfill your personal quota for Quan consumption, our affluent comrade has returned with more than an hour of solo music in the form of If You Ever Think I Will Stop Going In, Ask Double R — truly “solo” in that the tape features no guest spots and no sign of his former YMCMB associates. Instead, we have the pleasure of digging directly into RHQ’s free-associative headspace, as he rattles off a limitless stream of mush-mouthed melodies, moans, and the occasional party anthem. Quan tends to oscillate between two primary personas: 70% heart-on-sleeve balladeer, 30% shades-on-face rager. Lead single “Flex” offers a counterpoint to Thug’s “Check,” with Quan’s sing-song tumbling over a bright Mustard-esque beat, while the sublime “Throw It Back” finds him cycling between flows over darker synth lines. When he slows it down for the lip-quivering catharsis of tracks like “I Get” or “Now I Know,” he handily out-emos contemporaries like Makonnen, stretching syllables way past their breaking point and dripping them over acoustic guitar arpeggios and wailed vocal samples. But the devastating tape closer “Daddy” hits maximum tear-jerker capacity, as Quan paints the shooting of his father in crooned verses peppered with promises of vengeance.

Soulja Boy - Swag

Where were you when Souljaboytellem.com dropped? I was starting my sophomore year of high school, balls deep in Def Jux compilations, Illmatic, and Adult Swim bump music when one of my friends showed me “Report Card feat. Arab.” Its stupefying lyrical absurdity (“I just got my report card! Throw some Ds on that!”) and sheer aesthetic unity completely busted my conceptions of what constitutes “good” music. I wouldn’t experience such a visceral reconsideration until I heard Lil B’s “I’m God.” It’s these tiny innovations (taking one phrase or joke or word and meditating on it like a mantra) that make Soulja Boy such a blast in 2015. Soulja Boy’s latest collection of interjections, Swag, feels like it’s all about “slang,” whether it be universal (“Gettin Dough”), contemporary (“Fleek”), or completely invented (“Yeen Heard”). Take care that you don’t confuse simplicity with stupidity though; Soulja Boy’s relentless swag can cut deep if you’re not prepared. But don’t just take 10th grade Jackson’s word for it. As Lil B — purveyor of such confounding phrases as “choppin’ paper up” — once said on record: “I fuck with Soulja Boy.” Infallible words about an unlikely legend from God’s Father himself. Swag, indeed.

Katie Got Bandz - Zero To 39th

Katieeeeee! On the follow-up to last year’s stellar Coolin’ In Chiraq, Katie Got Bandz (Chicago’s Kiara Johnson) begins with an echoing statement of purpose: “My mama raised me/ That’s why I grind every day like ain’t no tomorrow; so she ain’t never gotta work another day in her life.” With that hunger in mind, the self-proclaimed Drill Queen proceeds to eat alive Shady & D Gainz’s banger “Go In,” stealing the track like she stole its video back in 2011. Production is mostly handled by her cousin Blockondatrakk, pinging synths and hulking bass over which Drillary Clinton isn’t coolin’ as much as fire-breathing (yet breathless). While Zero To 39th never quite finds a hook like “BTAHB” or “Pop Out,” it ably relies on Katie’s flow to keep us on high alert throughout. She plows through the barking inferno of “Really” with the craft and focus of Furiosa driving the war rig. Bookending double features from OTF Savage and Canno Da God tie together the tape’s brisk 36 minutes and provide brief, cool respite from Katie’s powerful vocal performance. On “39 Bars,” Katie assures us: “I’m not writing verses/ Bitch, I’m telling stories.” These aren’t bedtime stories; don’t sleep.

Sicko Mobb - Mulah

Bopping’s glib guise as the drill swoosh in volt emphasizes its Chicago origins, at the expense of a wider set of references that could range from Miami Bass and dancehall to GFOTY and Alvin Lucier. Dave Tompkins has pointed out how Auto-Tune’s popularity with teenagers might have something to do with the realities of the pubescent voice, the inescapable public expression of hormonal growth. Auto-Tune is humanist and egalitarian; reset to zero, it jostles and mangles where it was once intended to measure and correct. Its synthetic birdcall is an admission that the responsibility for the song no longer belongs to the singer alone, a confirmation that the human voice (and therefore human authority) is inherently contingent, unstable, and temporary. The ragged whine of Auto-Tune is precisely not robotic and inexpressive: if anything, it is the abundance of emotion, exaggerated zigzag, that scares off listeners, not the absence. So just ask yourself: Is my heart big enough for Sicko Mobb?

Nikko Lafré - Troubled Soul: Blame The City

“The whole major thing might be approachable, but right now I’m rockin’ how I’m rockin’/ Those who love it gonna love it, those who don’t, well, god bless.” Nikko Lafré sounds at peace having just worked his way out of a deal with 300 Entertainment to drop Troubled Soul: Blame The City as a free agent. It was a bold move by the Minnesota rapper after moderate success from 2013’s The Otherside, but Blame the City has been pitched as Lafré’s “breakout album.” That might sound presumptuous, or at least it would if this weren’t a back-to-back victory lap of masterful lyrics, sleek production, and beautifully refined R&B. Lafré uses the tape as a vehicle for reflection on the lives and relationships he’s encountered since The Otherside came out — just after he finished high school — but in spite of his age, there are moments of sincere contemplation here that sound like they are coming from an experienced rapper having spent decades in the game. “TTINM” is its most hard-hitting socio-political commentary, while “How It Look” documents Lafré’s time growing up in the face of adversity. But he never flaunts his accomplishments to mask those tribulations — he’s grateful for his current situation, and if City does lead to signing with a major label, it couldn’t be better deserved.

OG Maco - Tax Free

So I’ve been listening to this new A$AP record since it dropped the other night. I’ll straighten out an opinion about it soon enough, but I can say shit’s straight up taxing. I only mention it because OG Maco has that same stylish magnetism A$AP proliferates so well; he flirts with new beat styles and atmospheres without letting it take any attention away from his steady, versatile flow. I’m still sitting with it, but A.L.L.A. weighs on you like a $50 admission ticket to a purple cloud chamber, where the music floats along like an inflated balloon-animal filled with lead — drifting for a few seconds, but eventually rolling on the floor through a sea of colored-contact-wearing demon-folk donning studded leggings. Shit gets expensive. Rather, Maco’s new shit is tax free. Tax Free is quick, satisfying, and listenable, but not without a sense of urgency — virtually everything A$AP’s 17-track behemoth is not. The tape’s title track cuts deep, letting an ever-present two-note piano motif roll over a balanced instrumental, while Maco kills it with a quotable snarl: “Charge it all to the game at a flat fee.” “NEW” has a unique instrumental flavor to it, while “NO MO” and “VANITY” recall a Kanye-style melodrama, without the often oppressive Kanye “tax.” Instead, Maco’s drama is millennial, as the tape’s climax proclaims a generational indictment: “People don’t feel no more, all they do is bitch/ People ain’t real no more, we robotic kids.Tax Free brings the anger, concern, nonchalance, and desire for realness that shows Maco’s sharpening his “common sense” teeth, honing in on an autonomous rap ideology against the status chasers, the aggravators, the rich kids, but never placing himself outside the drama: he emphasizes our “common sins” insisting that the “The difference is our poison.”

Lil Ugly Mane - Third Side of Tape

Actually, I think you can easily read that we like folk music; we are doing folk music for the Twitter age… This cheap technology has a story; the language that technology develops has a story… So you can listen to Dilloway and to Lil Ugly Mane, to Chicklette and Primitive Art, to Stargate and Jaws… And I’m sure you will have good time… And I’m sure they are telling you more about the world we are living in now than Waka Flocka Flame or a fucking well-dressed, short-hair revival punk band from Northern Europe, or some hashtag micro-genre starlettes… Lil Ugly Mane: a fictional character, but how deep about the everyday feeling he went?
Simone Trabucchi in piecemeal

I’m, like, white-girl obsessed Lil Ugly Mane. Please, travel to the Bandcamp and read the diary provided. This is exactly that sociopath behavior David Keenan was referring to in his 2014 year-end article Subterranean Homesick Blues. Like, Side Three-B 5:18 mark — what’s HAPPENING. This is bombed. No genre. Completely poisoned music. It’s filthy. A spider tattoo. Dirty boots. Disembowelment.

King Louie - Drilluminati 3: God of Drill

I lie awake most nights fretting if Chicago drill has been tapped out, but goddamn King Louie’s Drilluminati 3: God of Drill sends my worries away. Right after releasing the video for “Throw Yo Set Up,” Louie dropped the Drilluminati threequel and, though there’s plenty Chi reppin’, Louie is at the height of confidence in his flow, taking on several two-minute tracks that don’t rely heavily on hooks. The mixtape speeds quickly to the third track, “Take Em To Church,” where I was hoping Louie would make fun of that dumb Hozier song, but instead we get splotches of innuendo, with Louie giggling like a sophisticated incarnation of Lil Wayne. The glossiest production is from D Brooks on “Live It Up,” a standout track that features Interscope’s newest signee, Dreezy. The hook does matter here, and even though there’s a lack of collaborations on Drilluminati 3, “Live It Up” leaves you wanting to hear more Dreezy than Louie. Fortunately, Louie makes you love him again with the more melodic and memorable tracks: “Like Louie,” produced by DJ L, and the penultimate “Smoke Break.” Just like the real Illuminati, the Drilluminati is a group within the shadows slowly poking its head into the mainstream geist; Chicago drill is still very much alive and poppin’.

KeithCharles Spacebar - We’re All a Little Triflin

KeithCharles Spacebar put it best when probed about Awful Records’s status as outsiders amongst the media that cover them: “Point Blank. We don’t give a fuck.” By eschewing the usual methods of distribution, the Atlantan crew has forged its own way in today’s rap game, creating and sustaining the hype by the simple virtue of being independent as fuck. It’s an outlook that pervades We’re All a Little Triflin, all sub-aquatic minimal murk and blasé sexuality. While KCSB literally does it all here — rap, warble, produce — collaboration and cross-pollination are crucial components to his philosophy, and some of Triflin’s high points come from a meeting of the minds; ABRA’s track-defining hook on “All My Luv” and the urgent turn of RichPoSlim on “Always 1” are shining examples of Awful’s broad church of talent. Even so, this is KCSB’s tape through and through, his lurching productions tying the whole thing together. The whole crew stays winning, but KeithCharles might well have offloaded their tightest effort to date.

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