Favorite Rap Mixtapes of April 2018 From BLVC SVND & KA5SH to Princess Nokia & WiFi OG

WiFi OG (a.k.a. DJ Prince)

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

It’s official: rap is high art now. Eight out of ten classically trained musicians agree. I know, finally, right? Imagine being that one violinist who still doesn’t get it. Is that an ignorant-bliss thing? And wouldn’t we all feel better if there weren’t a part of me that kept saying, “Cool, yeah, but then what, ‘Millie Pulled A Pistol On Santa’ should have all the Pulitzers, shouldn’t it?” Whatever, that is, Damn. Pulitzer has Pulitzers. Tiny Mix Tapes has Favorite Mixtapes. Young M.A. has both a mixtape and an all-female porn out this month. Everybody wins. Be warned, though; if Western politics have anything to say about token corrective status achievements and their populist fascist fallout, the next Pulitzer Prize for music will go to Taylor Swift Kid Rock. This has been a Public Service Announcement. Now scoot over and pass the sleep apnea medicine, Minnesota.


Doja Cat - Amala

[STREAM]

I saw Doja Cat’s debut performance at that weird Arcosanti festival in spring 2015, at which point she had one song, “So High,” to her name. I registered the performance, but didn’t expect to see her again. Enter Amala. While the stylistic pivot from the “So High” era is obvious, it’s more than welcome; where the former was utterly indistinguishable from any of a thousand Coachellan audio hallucinations, Amala is noteworthy for the mere fact that it’s immediately identifiable among a sea of vaguely psychedelic R&B albums populating the post-SZA world. The album is a survey of a sonic landscape that might be categorized as “Californian;” thoroughly chilled-out save for the occasional excursion into hard-edged Kehlani territory, and striking the requisite balance between slow jam production and beats made either by the Soulection crew or in their wake. It is, above all, varied. Say what you might about established genres’ capacity for yielding surprises; Amala is riddled with them.


BLVC SVND - LIL GRAIN SEASON

[STREAM]

Around the turn of the millennium, people used the tools of rock to make rap; now, people are starting to use the tools of rap to make rock. I’m hesitant to associate BLVC SVND with the oeuvre of, say, KoRn or Coal Chamber or something. And yet, at least on an aesthetic level, I can’t help but think that nü-/rap metal might have sowed the seeds of success for artists like him, Lil Peep (RIP), $UICIDEBOY$, Lil Uzi Vert, et al. Indeed, several songs on LIL GRAIN SEASON hit with the force of a death metal concert (“LEGIT,” “HAMMER TIME”), while others contain considerably less frenetic rage (“ROLL IT UHHH,” “BABE RUTH”). While I currently prefer the latter, I might soon come around more fully to the former, and maybe you will too.


WiFi OG - Web of Lies

[STREAM · DOWNLOAD]

A jack of all trades, WiFi OG a.k.a. DJ Prince has worked on music videos for the likes of Conway (whose Blakk Tape dropped to acclaim this month); as DJ for Skyzoo (whose In Celebration Of Us is my #1 album of 2018 so far); as co-host of semi-weekly podcasts and vinyl record appreciation nights in NYC; and as MC, producer, and mixer on a number of solo and collaborative projects issued via his Mobile Kitchen collective. The latest, Web of Lies, has been in the works since at least 2015. That it retains the most essential raw elements of its OG Jamaican-toasting flavors despite three years of future-looking fusion and refinement is testament to WiFi’s maestro-minded musicality and dab-dread discipline. Web of Lies is a Work of Art, in the truest sense of both words.


PeeWee Longway - Spaghetti Factory

[STREAM · DOWNLOAD]

Peewee Longway has been my favorite rapper for a while now, and you don’t have to look too far beyond the Spaghetti Factory cover art to see why. Over the past five or so years, he’s released a stream of mixtapes and features that have largely tracked with the ever-shifting Atlanta rap scene, never quite crossing over but also never sounding for a moment like the product of anyone but Longway. In an era in which personality seems like over half the battle, it’s remarkable that the PeeWee Longway experience — his reliably bonkers videos, knack for nicknames, and latent ability to out-rap anybody — hasn’t caught on in any evident fashion. Alas, those who know, know; Longway’s tapes do respectable numbers, and the fanbase that he does have doesn’t seem to be in any danger. Spaghetti Factory exists for those who need it, serving (much like Longway’s career as a whole) as a permanent, ever-replenishing resource for those who still can’t believe the year Atlanta had in 2014.


Princess Nokia - A Girl Cried Red

[STREAM · DOWNLOAD]

A Girl Cried Red, the follow-up to last year’s much-beloved 1992, is a stylistic left turn, veering hard into the substantial lane of emo-rap hybridity that’s been blossoming with disarming grace as of late through the works of various “teen” artists. While others have mined the depths of autotune meloncholia or narrowly toed the line of mainstream hip-hop, Princess Nokia’s gleeful, singsong self-laceration on A Girl Cried Red imparts a decidedly weirder affective timbre. Nokia is never just operating on one level, and there is work being done herein equivalent to the decolonization of the sadboy mentality. And yet, that doesn’t prevent this tape from being straightforwardly cathartic: a welcome departure from an already eclectic artist.


KA5SH - Big Pink Loser

[STREAM · DOWNLOAD]

Big Pink Loser is a hell of an elevator pitch. In 19 minutes, KA5SH rips through countless styles and flows. Right when you think he’s about to make a point, he changes topics. You’ll want to stop him and try to get ahold of what you’re hearing, but you’re so intrigued you let him go, and go, and go. He talks about his friends — Young Skrrt, Glitter Princess, and Swsh — like you’ve known them for years. He uses self-deprecating humor even though you’ve only just met. The elevator keeps going up, eventually hitting your floor, but you stay put. You’re in it now. What’s next? Tell me more. When he finishes, you look down at your watch and realize the budget meeting you were supposed to attend is over. So, what the hell: “Can you tell me that one more time?”


Papo Johnson - Hollywood Po

[STREAM]

My personal favorite emcee from the AF1MG/2oo4 crew, Papo Johnson released Hollywood Po as something of a one-off, a “West Coast” tape departing from the group’s usual post-Dipset New Jersey club sound. The subject matter’s still there — references to basketball and pop culture more broadly abound — but the beats are a revelation, in-house producers Cyber Tek and Subjxct2oo4 fully embracing breezy samples and G-funk whistles to completely reframe Johnson’s usually grimy Tri-State flows as soundtracks for cruising. The title track is the highlight by far, all parties stepping into uncharted territory to deliver the song of any and every summer between 1992 and 2018.


Maxo - Smile EP

[STREAM · DOWNLOAD]

One of the few legitimate arguments I ever got into on Facebook was over the cult of positivity. (The other I can remember off the top was about Yeezus and might have helped bring this column into existence.) I’d posted a video in which a cancer survivor pointed out something that seems to elude many in my generation: that there are times when it’s healthier to be negative than positive, that some occasions call for abandoning any sense of hope or optimism and simply wallowing in despair, and that this is completely fine. One of the things I enjoy most about Maxo’s Smile EP is that, I think, the titular expression isn’t necessarily or primarily one of happiness here. It is equally a function of experiencing, appreciating, familiarizing, and knowing. You might’ve heard Maxo last year on the song “8 24” off Medslaus’s Poorboy. His was pretty obviously a standout contribution, and on an emotionally layered tiramisu like that album, making a memorable impression is, although critical, no cakewalk. They say it takes more effort to frown, but there are so many different kinds of smiles, and only some belong to happy faces. This one’s deeper.

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