Favorite Mixtapes of November 2015 Industrial fissures, sympathetic vibrations, and surgically stacked cadences


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.)


Erykah Badu begins BUT YOU CAINT USE MY PHONE with a busy signal. But in her first long-form release since 2010’s incredible New Amerykah Part Two (Return of the Ankh), she soon takes this annoying sound of failure and attunes it to her own “sympathetic vibration,” bending it into sultry frequencies and re-routing its signals to communicate an eyes-closed, oscillating delectation. Here and throughout the tape, off-hook tones and disruptive alerts turn into off-the-hook melodies and erupting lyricism. And it’s all plump with desire, contradiction, and inside references. Exaggerated inhalations, Tyrone and Drake, fear and love. Codas, suites, and cycles. Greetings in a time of greetings. But unlike the salutations of that rare diamond or that 3.38 million, Badu’s psychedelic hotline is marked by a dial tone rooted in spiritualism, a miscommunication smoothed over by Tibetan singing bowls, the cellphone’s cultural overtones subsumed by the tuning fork’s universal pitch.


“Humanity is being digitized” and #EVERYTHINGISGREY under Gaika’s watchful gaze. MACHINE, his debut mixtape, accelerates the deep-seated urban decay of the Streets into freshly twisted forms, tearing an industrial fissure in the fabric of UK hip-hop and dance music. The future-shock beats clang and rattle with mechanical menace while Gaika’s dancehall-esque vocals are placed atop, occasionally dissolving into the instrumentals themselves and becoming near-indecipherable. Dig deeper, though, and there’s a wealth of lyrical disconnect and discontent to be found, from watching turned-off TVs to political unrest — a reminder of the human in posthumanity, like bared teeth concealed beneath a meshy exoskeleton. By the time “HANNAH” rolls around, a voice that may (or may not) be saying “Are you my angel?” pierces through the off-kilter effervescence of a Dutch E Germ original, a call for redemption that remains unanswered as the tape fizzles out. It’s symptomatic of Gaika’s MACHINE, a dim portrayal of inner-city tensions with no bravado or glorification, “from fiction to friction.”


It’s the best Slugger. It’s the Slugger on PLANT MENTALITY 2. It’s the Slugger from “On It (Seven Grams).” It’s the Slugger, slowed and throwed. It’s the Slugger that got me into Awful Records before I knew about Awful Records. It’s the Slugger in a Fill My Cup Lord tee. It’s the Slugger with the Backwoods cough. It’s the Slugger, neurotic and perverted. It’s the Slugger who pours up before pouring his heart out. It’s the best Slugger. It’s the Slugger Tom Petty. It’s the Slugger walking around alone at night. It’s the Slugger low-keyed and vomiting off the porch. It’s the Slugger freestyling over a rough surf track. It’s the Slugger with lines like “Flowing a field of Gucci ‘cause I’m glorious.” It’s the Slugger who rocks socks and sandals for the little man. It’s the Slugger talking straight, no bullshit. It’s the Slugger you’d see yourself chilling with on occasion. It’s the Slugger inside all of us. It’s the Slugger on PLANT MENTALITY 2. It’s the best Slugger.

Young Thug - Slime Season 2

People can’t fly. If they could… The hero matures at breakneck speed as if it’s normal. Thugger doesn’t have to think (you can keep that). He knows better. That’s not his game. He’s puppet master and puppet, stringless. Playing like a superstar, like he’s got nothing to lose, like he’s just as flexible and made for it on the cloudiest beats as the hardest, Thugger emerges as the hero, listening only to his own breath, believing only his own intuition. Listen to him on “Raw,” which stands among his best: “A wise man told me nothing.” On Slime Season 2, he seems to shout: “I can fly! I shine like a star! I can move like lightning! Racing impulses! My memory lives forever! Reaction! Reflex! Speed of sound! Speed of light! Yeah! This is a game!” Listen to the feverish ooze of his flow: All my cells are singing with joy. That’s right… People can fly.

Freddie Gibbs - Shadow of a Doubt

After a dozen mixtapes and the crown jewel that was Piñata, it seemed like Freddie Gibbs had nothing left to prove as an MC. Give the man a microphone and he’ll wrap his agile verses around your skull, jab in with surgically stacked cadences, or shift on a dime and slide into a new flow without seeming to breathe. If Piñata’s benchmark declared that Freddie Gibbs would never rap over mediocre beats again, Shadow of a Doubt succeeds by contextualizing his talents within diverse productions capable of drawing him even further from his comfort zone. “Careless” finds Gibbs ripping into warp-speed polyamorous ruminations between sung vocal hooks that mirror the beat’s cascading samples. “10 Times” invites Gucci Mane and E-40 over for some breezy toasting over tuned 808 toms, while “Extradite” catches Gibbs and Black Thought exchanging lightning polemics over militant snare rolls. On “Basketball Wives,” Gibbs croons through a sheen of auto-tune, and for more than the sake of novelty, it fascinates. When that track shifts straight into the harrowing personal exorcism of “Forever and a Day,” we come to perceive Gibbs as a more nuanced craftsman than ever — aware of his own dichotomies, yet unwilling to compromise any of the contradictory sides of his evolving persona.

Young Scooter - Married to the Streets 2

Frankly, we’ll never truly understand how dedicated Atlanta rapper Young Scooter is to these here streets. In fact, labeling him a rapper would be a disservice to what he exemplifies. Go and survey his Instagram page; I bet you’ll find a man who views the world as nothing more than cold and calculated, one that’s hellbent on backing the underclass into a corner. Ultimately, even his “lighthearted” memes are transmogrified into fatalistic mantras. And with seemingly no alternative for the uncompromising trenches of Lil’ Mexico, Scooter is preconditioned to be unapologetic in his pursuits. Likewise, the music he churns out is often nihilistic and capricious, with a sharp lyrical focus that cuts deep in both delivery and message. But make no mistake, he’s fluent in this rap shit; and unlike his peers, he flexes authenticity by rapping from the hood rather than simply about the hood. You can just feel the frigid project hallways in his raps (“Lifestyle,” “Sacrifices”), where Scooter’s standing tall in squalid kitchens, flipping dire circumstances into profit (“Daily Job,” “Recession Back”). And when he’s not effortlessly rapping about a litany of illegalities, Scooter’s dropping PhD street knowledge on your flaugin’ ass (“I gotta pay my bills, can’t let my kids live how I live”). By the end, it’s not difficult to see why Young Scooter would choose the streets to be his lawfully wedded wife; after all, she’s the only one who truly understands him.

Leikeli47 - Lk-47 Part III

NY rapper Leikeli47 has boasted a mesmerizing personality and an unstoppable approach throughout her work. And on Lk-47 Part III, the masked artist takes whatever resources she got from her new label RCA and proves no one can shine brighter. Looking for a new Prince, a new Michael Jackson, a new Nirvana? Something that can be everything at once without creating any confusion over what the fuck it is? Leikeli47 is it. Bold, I know, but I can’t be dishonest about how incredible it feels to hear these sounds. It’s already a classic, in my mind — simultaneously effortless and obsessively cared for like one’s own child, that magic combination few musical works ever have. It’s also a convincing argument for why major labels should invest in forward-thinking artists. Listen up, RCA: if you want to make a return on your investment, “The Hit Factory” is the most infectious song of the year.

French Montana & Fetty Wap - Coke Zoo

Earlier this year, Kendrick told us that he “know[s] everything… cars, clothes, hoes, and money,” before revealing that until he came home, he really “didn’t know shit.” On Coke Zoo, French Montana and Fetty Wap interrogate them same hood politics, tracing their “Gangsta’ Way[s]” back to their “First Time[s].” Unlike Kendrick, Fetty and French prefer reveling in that American Dream, concentrating on living it instead of escaping it. Like Kendrick, though, these two make you think about what being “Real Ones” real-ly means, about why music this street level has always been touted as escapism, about why squading up and bein’ freaky is crucial. This is a long way from what most define as “shit that’s conscious,” but it’s been a minute since harmonies this cloudy and dense really cleared shit up on a mixtape.

Waka Flocka Flame - Flockaveli 1.5

Hold up, trap! Hold up, trap! Hold up, trap! What’re you to do when your once-loyal fans, friends, family have deserted you? Will you stand up and fight, or will you fold under the pressure? With all logic ostensibly thrown out of the window, Waka Flocka Flame — with his hulking chest puffed out — instead looks to mercilessly beat the listener into a bloody pulp, swinging his clenched fists (“Short Handed,” “Blue or Red”) and unloading every clip (“Shootin,” “Feel Bout Me”) on Flockaveli 1.5. Acting as his lieutenant is executive producer Southside, who provides Waka with the necessary hollow-point ammunition he’s been desperately missing to reestablish his dominance in the rap game. In turn, Waka goes to elaborate lengths to enforce security and guarantee he remains Mr. Untouchable (“Blood Brother”) while thrashing all opposition infringing upon his success. However, not once does Waka depict this lifestyle as seductive — not even when he retreats to the club (“Birthday”). Additionally, Flockaveli 1.5 is a reminder that this particular brand of rap music isn’t a mere illustration ripped from the pages of a comic book; this is the original, comprehensive look at the savage world we live in, produced with concern from a group of stone-faced individuals that bestow unyielding insider information.

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