Favorite Mixtapes of April 2015 Death drives, robo-cadences, and another “retail mixtape”

Sicko Mobb - Super Saiyan Vol. 2

If DJ Moondawg’s We Invented the Bop is the blueprint, Super Saiyan Vol. 2 is bop’s final cornerstone; everything from here is up. Sicko Mobb have been on the map since “Fiesta” back in 2013, rolling around and gaining equal accolade and comment-section disapproval. Any downplay of Sicko Mobb saw deaf ears, since in the two years between Super Saiyan Vol. 1 and 2, Lil Ceno and Lil Trav have upped bop’s evolution toward a wider audience. The cohesion of Super Saiyan Vol. 2 makes the listen so incredibly clean for two kids only on their second mixtape. Auto-tuned vocals are a mainstay in bop, often slapdash, and here, it helps distance Sicko Mobb from the Moondawg herd. Shame on y’all nonbelievers; Sicko Mobb is digging a moat around the bop throne.

Bones - Powder

Total ownership of the aesthetic. It’s something few artists can claim, but you can count Bones among them. Informed by yesteryear’s technological detritus — the long-forgotten sounds of dial-up modems, AOL notifications, etc. — he chiefly stutters anxious SoundCloud raps atop maudlin instrumentals, all filtered through the lens of a decayed VHS camera. Powder is the latest in a flurry of releases, and it could be his most scattershot yet; at turns descending into queasy sing-rap (“TreeOfLife,” “ModestGoals,” “UponTheDyingGrass”), at others abandoning hip-hop altogether for previously uninhabited territories — see the creepily sterile screamo of “ICanSeeMyHouseFromHere” and the dusty ambience of “HowAboutThat.” What’s most impressive about this set is not the reach (or perhaps overreach) it proffers, but the way in which a diverse grab-bag of influences is unified under a cohesive vision. In spite of the conspicuous underuse of the trademark “SESH” production tag, Powder couldn’t have crept out from anyone other than Bones, and that’s as good a testament as any.

Tree - Treestrumentals

Our coverage of TREE’s BlueSkyBlackDeath collaboration “New Or Leins / Training Day,” off his February 2015 mixtape Trap Genius concluded that “the ‘soul’ in soultrap has just as much to do with [TREE’s] voice as it does his beats.” (While we’re on the subject, the only reason Trap Genius didn’t make the cut for our February mixtape feature is that it dropped after writing was completed; it’s clearly one of the best releases of the year, duh.) Now, instead of experiencing TREE on other people’s beats, we get to explore his beats void of any vocals. And honestly, it’s off-putting at first. The instrumentals don’t sound like they should work. They feel as if they’re about to fall apart. We look for TREE’s vocals even though we know they’re nowhere to be found. And this leads to three BIG realizations: (1) Nobody else, except perhaps TREEffilates Chris Crack and Tone Skeeta, could possibly begin to do these beats justice; (2) With that understood, Treestrumentals truly is the perfect title for this project, and; (3) Much more than simply joining soul and trap in slightly unorthodox unions, TREE’s musicianship, with its impeccably entropic sense of syncopation, tells the story of our generation and does so before the MC ever picks up the mic or puts pen to paper. Say it with me now… TREE!

Juvenile - Mardi Gras 2

The fun of keeping up with Cash Money is the endless soap opera-level drama. An evolving history of great releases doesn’t hurt, but really what the world needs now is a definitive tell-all book. For instance, we’re all hearing a lot of Drake and Wayne’s recent departures just as Rich Gang is stepping up to true stardom, but what about the little spoken of strangeness surrounding Juvenile’s return to the label? Cash Money’s first true star formally resigned last November, but the label isn’t talking about his incredible comeback mixtape in the slightest. Even the Cash Money logo on the art looks slapped on unofficially. Plus, what does it mean that it has a Rich Gang logo on it? Isn’t it monumental news that Mannie Fresh, one of Cash Money’s biggest deriders, blessed this with a feature? Some very odd and secretive drama here that has unfortunately downplayed that this is Juvenile’s strongest release since 400 Degrees. Exquisitely selected beats and that classic 90s sense of commanding vocals throughout. Don’t let Drake & Wayne’s giant celebrity cast a shadow over this collection of hits.

AD - Blue: 89

Sometimes — especially now, when comprehensiveness seems most impossible — we need reminding that rap is more absorbent than isolating. As art keeps proliferating exponentially, compartmentalizing regional styles and fabricated genre tags becomes both compulsive and exhausting. Those artists that stand out over time amid all others are more often those who can synthesize and expand rather than consolidate and seclude. It is an even greater and rarer accomplishment when it comes out sounding like nothing and everything you’ve ever heard. Silently screaming straight out of Compton, rapper AD pulls from an array of arsenals on Blue 89, at times sounding like Twista spitting gasoline over new age drill beats, at others like Killer Mike ripping a mic with a cause over Public Enemy horns, at others like Kendrick scatting over lush Cali breaks. As transcendent and nomadic as it is detailed and sedentary, Blue 89 doesn’t discriminate in its affectations; it is both a history of expressive media as well as one MC’s vital story of breaking out of his cage. That he emerges sounding more established than some of his veteran contemporaries solidifies that there are still combinations left unmined in our sound memories.

Gucci Mane - Trap House 5 (The Final Chapter)

Gucci Mane releases more music from prison than should be humanly possible, and he could easily phone it in (figuratively) at this point, collecting the checks. Gucci won’t stop though, and for his fifth (and supposedly final) edition of the Trap House saga, he distinctively makes this one a mixtape vs. a studio or digital release. Hot off releasing Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner, Gucci switches appetites to the return of that trap house sound, wherein a typically upbeat and cheerful Gucci delivers more bangers than mash. The dark gravy persists, but “No One Else” jams harder than any track on the three-course meal trilogy, with Young Thug and PeeWee Longway helping Gucci to cook more than consume on “No One Else” — a reincarnate of summer radio replay. On “Money Stacks,” Gucci sings, “I got money stacks like dirty clothes/ I love the kids, but I don’t love the hoes,” and you instantly want to smile and sing along, something that can’t be said for the entirety of other Gucci albums. The real highlight is “Constantly” featuring Chief Keef, with transcendent synth-sampling from Honorable C-Note. Bottom line: Gucci’s Trap House albums are always the funnest. Even odd missteps like the unironic hook of “Go-Go Gadget Gucci” on “Go-Go Gadget” are amusing as hell. Additional production from Mike WiLL Made-It and Zaytoven may not be as booming as previous Trap House installments, but with Gucci’s jovial tone, club beats, and spotlight collaborations, it’s pretty damn close. With so much fun to be had, of course there will be future Trap House editions, even if it’s Trap House in Space.

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