Favorite Mixtapes of January 2015 From Lil Wayne and Lil Herb to Chimurenga Renaissance and Pipomixes

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.

NOTE: This inaugural edition includes releases from mid-December 2014 onward.

Lil Wayne - Sorry 4 The Wait 2

At the start of 2014, contemporary seer Young Thug revealed his top three all-time favorite rappers: Lil Wayne, Lil Wayne, and Lil Wayne. While it’s clear the germ of Thug’s syrupy freedom of expression and batshit flexibility originated in Wayne, Sorry 4 Tha Wait 2 reveals the inspiration flows both ways. Throughout the entire mixtape, Wayne keeps his voice locked in the upper register as if he’s exaggerating his own commitment to squeezing out every last drop of sing-songy viscosity. Although the cut is literally an apology, we’re getting some of the best Weezy verses since 2008, which *surprise* was seven goddamn years ago. It’s kind of fun seeing the “Best Rapper Alive” rap over Shmurda and Sonny Digital, and he’s doing the near-impossible by convincing us he might have something sharp left in that perpetual codeine flow. Well, at least, it’s sharp enough that we’ll actually shame you a little if you stop listening after the new Drake drop.

Chief Keef - Nobody

The Almighty So(mebody) is consumed by his contradictions till he’s nobody (caught in the space between “now I’m writing what I want” and “they thought I was a joke” on the title track). The L.A.-via-Chicago artist’s breakneck, snaking discography continues to take him further outside of the radio rap world that seemed ready for him (or couldn’t handle him). Coming into his own as an indie, Chief Keef emerges as one of rap’s most exciting singular voices. The toiling Nobody makes his major crossover successes seem like a fluke, a deviation from the dark, twisted sonic world he continues to discover. This mixtape takes Sosa’s sound to fresh territory, a subzero, minimalist distillation of drill and Heartbreak-era Kanye, syrupy synths lurking under its surface. His trademark choruses are redirected here as a wintry freeform flow aimed at his interiority, his self-harmonizing layered vocals reflected over and against himself. Spanning from haunted, sparse instrumentals to the energetic a capella ending of “Fishin,” Nobody is an always inventive, if not immediate listen, that makes the long, cold wait for Bang 3 bearable and all the more promising.

Katie Got Bandz - Coolin’ In Chiraq

Coolin’ In Chiraq demonstrates that, besides Bandz, Katie Got two other things going for her, and that those three things in total are more than enough for her to stand out from the crowd. The first other thing is her delivery, gritty and sharp, a heavy weapon capable of clouting and cutting. The second other thing is her partnership with cousin, beatmaker, and label boss Blockondatrakk. Block produced her last mixtape, Drillary Clinton 2, in its entirety, and he’s working on all the hits here. There’s an icy hot magic to the remix of “Lil Bitch,” Katie and TMT favourite Lil Herb breathing fire over subzero chime, rattle, and thump. Chopped-up vocal snippets worm their way through King Louie feature “Spend A Band,” their filtered echo trails disrupting an otherwise steady roller. Most disarming of all, “See U In 8” is nothing less than full-hearted, radio-friendly rebel pop music. A reminder that upper-tier form-first performers can work wonders with even moderate material, this R&D™ prison ballad perfectly showcases Katie’s strengths. Guest star Tink’s sugary sweet Auto-tones might uplift her lover with the promise that “I’ll do your time, ‘cause you’ll do mine,” but it’s left to the headliner to point out how deep things really are. Working within the No Metaphors, No Punchlines framework, she simply wills throwaway couplets like “Hope you’re loyal, that’s everything/ I want your heart, fuck a wedding ring” and “Yeah, yeah, I’m crazy/ But you knew that when you got with me” to the level of resonant emotional truths.

Chimurenga Renaissance ft. Chief Boima - Kudada Nekuva Munhu Mutema

This odd, challenging, genre-blending mix is as delightful as it is relentlessly strange. Chief Boima throws together seven new songs from Shabazz Palaces offshoot Chimurenga Renaissance and another dozen pieces from other appropriately-chosen spots on the soundscape. Zippy digital sounds and buzzing digitalia mingle and spar with plucked instruments and hand drumming that’s distinctively human and fleshy, until their common aural qualities start to emerge for the patient listener. Through it all, there’s a sorrow, a wailing tone, that pervades the trip. Junior Reid provides reggae stylings, and Zimbabwe Legit throw in a couple more-or-less traditional hip-hop notes, although actual rapping is relatively scarce. (“Poet, et cetera, light years ahead of ya, guns down like Danny Glover surrounded by predators,” Legit’s Dumi Right rhymes in one of the best verses on the tape, from 2007’s “Where I’m At.”) Evoking early Dead Prez here and borrowing DJ Mustard’s promethazine-washed club denim there, the tape puts a bunch of different pins on the map. Together, they offer one sketch of what Chimurenga Renaissance itself is going for, even if the group’s own tracks get a bit buried in the mix.

Lil Herb - Pistol P Project

Lil Herb’s harrowing, gut-wrenching, and all-around dope-ass Welcome to Fazoland mixtape (#50 on TMT’s Favorite 50 Music Releases of 2014 list) busted out mid-breath with a piping hot reel of aggressive intro snapshots, cut like Easy Rider transitions. In contrast, Herbo’s follow-up mixtape, Pistol P Project, opens coolly with a newsreel about a particularly violent week in Chicago, delivered not by a beat-hopping Herb, but by an apprehensive, white newscaster. If Fazoland’s “Herbo Intro” was “Countdown to Armageddon,” a piercing wake-up call as well as a snapshot of what was impending, then “Pistol P Intro” is “Contract on the World Love Jam,” a collage of discriminating footage from outside looking in. But what follows on Pistol P Project isn’t a series of reactions or explanations or even defenses; it’s simply more footage, more fuel for a fire we pretend is only raging on “that” side of town, and is therefore none of our concern. Herb confronts this question of audience on Pistol P Project by simply flipping a mirror on our scalpels and then flipping it back on his own. Pistol P Project is what it is, whether or not you’re paying attention; once it clicks though, it’s hard not to consider dropping it all, picking up a torch, and marching into hell. Luckily for us, Herbo knows we can only take four minutes.

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