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.

RJ & Choice - Rich Off Mackin

We’re moving toward the second of DJ Mustard’s projected 10 Summers, but his distinctive brand of ratchet music has proved to be one of the most enduring sounds of the past few years, lending itself equally well to both the radio and the club. Now that the likes of YG, Tyga, and 2 Chainz are bona fide forces in mainstream hip-hop, it’s refreshing to see that Mustard is turning his gaze toward new, up-and-coming talent with RJ & Choice’s Rich Off Mackin. There’s no doubt that Mustard’s beats have a mass appeal, and here they unify the disparate geography of the respective rappers — RJ from L.A., Choice from Seattle — but it’s to their credit that they never let the star power overshadow their own abilities on the mic: there’s a tangible chemistry at play here, as the duo trade bars about their come-ups and, of course, the excesses that follow. With a tight-knit 15-track runtime and some solid features (Casey Veggies, IamSu!, and Que among them) to boot, Rich Off Mackin isn’t just the extension of the Mustard dynasty it could’ve merely been; it’s also a showcase for two MCs who are well worth keeping an eye on.

Kitty - Frostbite

Female artists often have their accomplishments undermined by music critics, while male collaborators’ contributions get underlined by those same authors. Artists like Kitty, who avoid being boxed into that narrative, too frequently find themselves left out of the conversation. Frostbite is produced almost entirely by a Brony DJ she found on YouTube (the sole exception, “Hoaxxx,” arrives by way of PC Music-/Manicure-affiliated producer Guy Akimoto), but there’s no mistaking creative vision as belonging to anyone but Kitty. Despite her lack of self-mythologizing, Kitty is an auteur, the likes of which neither rap nor popular music at large has really encountered. Frostbite leans heavier into pop than any of her previous EPs, but it should be a consolation to Kitty’s long-term fans that her rapping is better than ever. She’s more nimble and less mumblecore than she was five years ago, and not once does she slip into vocal minstrelsy or masculinist drag. Even with this latest stylistic pivot, Kitty stays true to her recurring thematic concerns — social anxiety, technology, regrettable relationship choices — and in doing so, continues to light the way for artists trying to work within artforms that inevitably belong to other cultures. If it’s easy to forget that Kitty’s not just a whip-smart Tumblr construct, but also a meatspace tourmate of Danny Brown, then at least she lets her audience have it both ways: we get the promise of a more varied and inclusive future for pop-rap, plus the unexpected pleasure of Brony interpolations of mid-00s classics like “Umbrella” and “Why You Wanna.”

Rich The Kid - Rich Than Famous

If the roster of Atlanta-based indie empire Quality Control gained a distinctive loose cannon in the form of OG Maco, then trap deputy Rich The Kid continues to dutifully fly the flag from the roof of the bando on his third solo mixtape, Rich Than Famous. “Migo the gang/ It’s all in my veins,” he spits on “Quit Playin,” as if we hadn’t yet noticed his wholesale co-opting of his label heads’ triplet patterns, incessant mantra choruses, and production team. While Rich never quite achieves the surgical rhythmic flows that Migos pour out over 808 kicks on triumphant feature “Ain’t Workin Dat Move,” the MC carries his own weight as a versatile headliner able to flit between a casual sing-song delivery (“Goin Krazy,” abetted by a breezy YG verse and a lush G-funk vibe courtesy of KE on the Track) and moments of howled energy (“Trap Still Jumpin”). As ever, hi-fi beats from Metro Boomin and Zaytoven captivate with synth details and dizzying drum loops, while QC newcomers Deko and OG Parker offer a minimal strain of bass-heavy trap that coasts through wide swathes of empty space.

Pipomixes - Sounds Like Porridge

It’s not just that Roc Marciano and I are both from Long Island or that he’s one of my favorite rappers right now; the reason Pipomixes’ Sounds Like Porridge mix gets my pick is that it perfectly, simultaneously appeals to both longtime fans of and potential newcomers to the Hempstead-bred UN representative. Imagine you were pals with an adept DJ who wanted to get you into Roc Marciano, but instead of just sending you links to a few choice cuts, your friend had you over, sat you down, smoked you out, and then proceeded to de- and re-construct the artist’s greatest hits, blending a cappellas, instrumentals, sample sources, and more into a seamlessly sequenced pimpadelic cornucopia. An ideal introduction and a comprehensive retrospective, Sounds Like Porridge captures the essence of Roc’s music; it sounds like nothing else, and that’s exactly how it should be.

Rome Fortune & OG Maco - YEP

Atlanta remains forever in bed with Atlanta. YEP, a continuation of OG Maco’s three standout features on Rome Fortune’s Small VVorld, is a two-headed beast from two dudes who, outside of being on the come-up in the same city, don’t appear formulaic like Young Thug and Rich Homie Quan’s Rich Gang. Both emerging voices play off one another’s signatures — Rome Fortune can turn up and OG Maco can lay low. But the continued collaboration of Maco and Rome above all brings two worlds of production together, YEP being the Thanksgiving dinner of two Atlanta-based families: Rome brings Cubby back from Small VVorld on both “Make It Loud” and the mixtape’s opener “Jungle” (where Maco channels a pitched-down Danny Brown verse on Mr. Muthafuckin eXquire’s “Huzzah” remix); Atlanta’s TM88 makes the title track; OGG rep LC on the Traxxx finishes the main tracklisting with a mob classic “Riot;” and Rome brings back Childish Major and the heavy-subtle-hard collaborative mix from suicideyear and Honeycoma off Small VVorld. Here’s to a possible 808 Mafia x suicideyear x OG Maco x Rome Fortune collaboration next.

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