Favorite Rap Mixtapes of February 2018 From Gunna & BbyMutha to Kodak Black & Tru Sno

"You local karaoke bitches ain't my speed, grow the weed." - BbyMutha

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.)

There are roses in February’s Favorite Rap-n-B (Crush EP) Mixtapes bouquet, steeped not only in expressions of love, but also his- and her-story (BbyShoe EP), the kind of introspection and outreach only lonely hearts can muster. Morose sadboy malaise has rolled over, making room for more purposeful lamentations (Melancholy Trill II / System of a Frown II) and proclamations (There Will Be Rain). Problematic (Heart Break Kodak)? Complicated (Kookin’ Kaine wit Abel)? Yes. But what is history without romanticizing, or romance without stories?

This month’s list is a reminder: It’s never too late to make someone a mixtape.


Gunna - Drip Season 3

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Whether you’re dyeing your hair some unidentifiable shade of the visible spectrum or pushing your autotuned voice beyond the limits of its range, exploring the extreme is a requirement if you’re looking to break into the internet’s trap-rap zeitgeist. Radical studies in timbre, emotion, and lyrical free-association are the rule, not the exception. Atlanta-based emcee Gunna, who’s spent the past few years playing a laid-back counterbalance to Young Thug’s caterwaul, just might be the blasé force the scene needs to veer back into streamlined polish. His third installment in his series of Drip Season mixtapes is a brazenly conservative work. Among an illustrious cast of collaborators like Lil Durk, Lil Uzi Vert, and Hoodrich Pablo Juan, he’s the adhesive that keeps the work from devolving into chaos: musical white space among Fauvist splashes of color. (See: “Carsick,” in which Gunna recites hypnotic trap incantations between Nav’s flourishes of melodicism over Metro Boomin production. See also: “Hotel,” a Chief Keef-produced slow-burn that draws from Aphex Twin’s harmonic bag of tricks, Lil Uzi Vert and newcomer Young Jordan trading emo-tinged inflections between Gunna’s murmured hooks.) Even at a beefy 17 songs, DS3 is one of the few tapes in recent memory with literally zero skippable tracks.


AJ Suede - Melancholy Trill II / System of a Frown II

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On February 17, AJ Suede tweeted, “Working on music all winter so I can work on a different art all spring.” Wintry is an apt descriptor for AJ Suede’s latest releases. An avalanche of bass dampens the mix, lending particular clarity to the vocals’ staccato doom and gloom. The effect is impossibly heavy and airily light. There’s a JPEGMAFIA beat on Melancholy that sounds like scavenging the ruins of a southern technotropolis. All the while, Suede spits chorus after chorus after chorus, a parade of anthemic anathema, as if deconstructing his way back to a blank canvas.


Ravyn Lenae - Crush EP

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Crush is a bit of a stylistic departure for Ravyn Lenae, whose prior release Moon Shoes was more of a part with Chicago’s Chance the Rapper-Noname-Mick Jenkins axis of rap positivity. Rather than a calculated, A$AP Rocky-style rebrand, the change makes sense in light of the fact that Lenae is, as of last month, 19 years old. While listening, it’s impossible not to think of Erykah Badu and Janelle Monae, architects of the neo-soul sound that has undergone a sudden resurgence among a literal new generation of artists — the youth of Lenae, collaborator Steve Lacy (the EP’s producer and guitarist for The Internet, also 19), and their contemporaries suggests the genre might need a second “neo-” prefix. Crush isn’t perfect, but neither was Lenae’s previous output; nevertheless, the moments when it all comes together (as on “Right of Spring” from Moon Shoes or Crush’s “Sticky”) are too good to ignore, and will only become more frequent as Lenae’s artistry continues to develop.


Tru Sno - Kookie’ Kaine Wit Abel

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Those vaguely mournful-sounding, pitched-down pianos that kick Kookin’ Kaine Wit Abel into action had me thinking Tru Sno (a.k.a. Truman Snow, sometime darkener of this section’s door) might’ve cranked the bleakness up a notch; the final nail in the Kingdom Heartless coffin, a brutal show of no mercy. Alas, it’s still the same show, just a new episode, and this one’s memorable. Abel The Plug turns in some gauzy, low end-heavy beats across the tape, sure, but they always play a convincing foil to the knotty vocal stylings of Tru Sno himself — blunted-out code-switching on a dime, laced with ad-libs. Ever the dialectician, Truman has synthesised the chops of Yakki, Thugger, et al. with post-Playboi Carti soundscape wreckage, and it’s very moreish indeed.


BbyMutha BbyShoe EP

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Twenty-eight-year-old Chattanooga, TN rapper BbyMutha releases her second EP of 2018, BbyShoe, 6 tracks plus an intro in which she’s implored via voicemail to “show these motherfuckers who BbyMutha is.” She heeds the call, delivering a characteristically woozy drawl over low-bpm, brooding beats reminiscent of the nearby Memphis sound in the early 90s. Since first collaborating with GHE20G0TH1K artist LSDXOXO back in 2013, BbyMutha has released a prolific body of work, all while raising two pairs of twins herself. As dedicated as she is talented, I’ve got high hopes for whatever else she releases in 2018.


Hoodrich Pablo Juan & Brodinski - The Matrix

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It’s equal parts unfortunate and unsurprising that electronic music’s involvement with rap is so often self-serving (charitably, “curatorial”); remixes, samples, and namedrops abound while true cross-genre collaboration is relatively scarce. Brodinski has been working to change that for a few years now — starting with 2015’s Brava and fully realized on 2016’s The Sour Patch Kid, he’s pioneered a certifiably original sound, a fusion of the Atlanta underground and… somewhere else (it’s difficult to pin Brodinski’s beats to any particular location, or really any entity besides, well, Brodinski). On The Matrix, he links back up with Hoodrich Pablo Juan, himself no stranger to off-kilter beats, for a focused collaboration unmistakably a product of its creators.


Art House - The Anarchal Response

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Judge this book by its cover. This is “art rap,” a successful fusion.dance of lo-fi anime aesthetics, flowery production, and lyrics that reference Danny Phantom. The Raleigh rapper is a shameless product of afterschool cartoon network specials and 00s viral YouTube culture. Art House isn’t here to hide, proudly boasting a #ProtectAnime tag in his Twitter bio and tweeting out lists of his favorite underground rappers. The Anarchal Response, is his most put-together work yet, and the potential contained in these few tracks oozes out of the packaging. We’re waiting for that full-length…


Caleb Giles - There Will Be Rain

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It’s almost hard to believe that the Caleb Giles on There Will Be Rain is the same Caleb Giles who gave us last year’s Tower. Don’t get me wrong — they’re both dope, but the breadth and scope of There Will Be Rain is so much vaster in terms of mood, theme, and overall experience. It’s as if Tower was one thing in one place, done extraordinarily well but always singular, stationary, and Rain is everything everywhere. One of the lines TMT writer Birkut chose to highlight in his write-up for Tower was, I know I’ve been a little dismissive, but I’ve just been searching for a bigger pot to piss in. Here, the pot’s ocean-sized, and the only dismissal is of limitation.


Kodak Black - Heart Break Kodak

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It feels a bit redundant to comment on this tape — at this point, the name “Kodak Black” provokes one of two possible polarized reactions, to the extent that most could have made their mind up about Heart Break Kodak prior to listening to it. Rape allegations tend to do that, which is certainly an improvement over the prior standard of disregarding them. However, I’m uncomfortable with the tendency to react to Kodak’s misdeeds by muting the discussion around him entirely, not least because doing so excuses us from confronting the question of his massive popularity among fans young and old across the South. The dividing line between Kodak’s fans and detractors, I believe, is the willingness to elide context; for the former, his songs are self-contained rather than part of an overarching narrative or holistic, irreducible persona (Briana Younger laid out the latter group’s thinking in her review). It’s left to the reader to choose a side, I suppose; there’s no other artist about whom I am so conflicted, and Heart Break Kodak is rife with tracks (“When Vultures Cry” and “Loyal” in particular) that make the decision no easier.

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