Favorite Rap Mixtapes of January 2018 From Azomali & Illogic to 4K Tay & AF1MG

Ohbliv holding his baby

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 October’s installment here.)

To some, January is Grammy month; to others, Rakim’s birth month — a false dichotomy to be sure, but then so too are rap and hip-hop, one might argue. And so we begin 2018’s Favorite Rap Mixtapes column riding the very punctuation absent from our ledger, with a two-month overview showcasing the Tiny Mix Tapes staff’s picks from the end of 2017 and beginning of 2018, and with deepest regrets to those November 2017 tapes lost in the endless sea of year-end features. To wit, for posterity, and as general good-housekeeping advice, Don’t Sit on the Speakers.


AZOMALI - Where the Mangos Grow!

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A cursory review of the tracklist shows that mango(e)s aren’t the only earthly materials catching AZOMALI’s attention this season: “Indica,” “Uranium,” “Aqua de Coco,” “Alkaline,” and “Sativa” are here too, as are some of their native lands — “Leticia,” “Bucaramanga” and “Serengeti.” Wash all that down with a swig of “Old English” and the requisite “Fuck Trump” (AZOMALI’s hat says, “Make America Indigenous Again”), and what you have before you is one of the most promising young artists from one of the most talent-rich areas on the hip-hop landscape kicking off 2018 with one of the most brilliant and beautiful projects to grace this column since, I dare say, its inception. Mangoes represent love and fertility, but even if spiritualism isn’t your thing, they taste great and contain significant helpings of Vitamin C. Indulge.


Drakeo the Ruler - Cold Devil

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There’s nothing about Cold Devil that’s particularly revolutionary in form, but Drakeo himself is a true original. He raps in an unending stream, occasionally making adjustments for the beat but more often bending it to suit himself. Hooks are more stumbled into than announced, but remain reliably catchy. He’s got a habit of speaking from the moment a track starts, leaning a little more toward rapping when there’s a beat and a little more toward shit-talk during a fade-out, but always either way — for the full duration of Cold Devil, Drakeo lives in your ear. He’s enormously personable, but not in a way that makes me want to know more about him; rather, he’s at once a captivating personality and entirely unknowable. Case in point: there’s evidence that he takes nice pictures, yet his appearance on video is rarely so genial; near universally, his hood remains up and his eyes stay averted.


Bladee - Working on Dying

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❄️❄️❄️ In which The Crown Sadboy Prince turns in bubbling cloud rap ambience for sheets of industrial sound. ❄️❄️❄️ Save for a lone Whitearmor cameo, Yung Lean-affiliated crooner Bladee has outsourced his usual staff of native swedes, populating his third mixtape with beats by Philadelphia’s most buzz-worthy band of producers: the same Working on Dying crew that held fidget-spinning wunderkind Matt OX up to SoundCloud’s fickle spotlight. Here, Bladee’s auto-tuned lamentations spring forth from the cocoon of aqueous synths that once enveloped him: now Lovecraftian moth-man, his hatched form hovers above the ashes of trashed Happy Hardcore mix CDs and PS1 memory cards. For the next 23 minutes, he surveys the wreckage, mourning his sense of self. Closer “Best Buy” best embodies the misery: Bladee’s mumbled monotone shifts into a raspy snarl, rattling off the night’s debauched itinerary: “House party nearby/ Bring in weird guys…” Certifiably weird guys Yung Lean and Ecco2k turn in memorable verses on the glittery “Cherry Colored Bracelets,” easily Working on Dying’s pop single. Well-mixed and minimal, the new tape is Bladee’s most consistent effort — it’s brief, focused, and sneakily pretty.


Justine Skye - ULTRAVIOLET

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Justine Skye makes heartbreak look easy. At 33 minutes, her Roc Nation debut is over before you’ve realized it’s a breakup album. More than merely the sum of its pop, trap, R&B, and dancehall parts, ULTRAVIOLET is a surprising exercise in emotional abstraction, surpassing breached trust, shattered intimacy, and a scrapped first draft with 10 concise bangers, ready to go blow-for-blow with the best of the club and the radio. Between the introverted sway of “U Don’t Know” and the blushing release of “Heaven,” Skye — or Skyers, the name of her quotidien, pre-popstar self, whom she describes as “shy, nerdy, and very weird, very awkward” — coolly inhabits a paradoxical realm of affect, giving herself over fully at the same moment that she seems to reach for another mask. Traversing sex, romance, pain, and indifference, ULTRAVIOLET is the rare debut that, more than just telling us something about its creator, embodies the tenor of modern love and sex, and in no more than a breakneck half-hour of effort.


Scallops Hotel - Sovereign Nose of (Y)our Arrogant Face

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The second installment in a mixtape trilogy that began with Over the Carnage Rose a Voice Prophetic (see the July 2017 edition of this column), Sovereign Nose of (Y)our Arrogant Face finds Milo’s home-away-from-home identity clause seeding the artist’s ever-expanding ‘biomythoverse’ from out the autumnal environs of Steel Tipped Dove’s Park Slope studio. Many an amazing phrase are turned, beat dropped, concept riffed, and so on, but to this listener at least, one of the greatest highlights of the tape has to be when YOUNGMAN, the Ruby Yacht seaman whose voice bears a striking resemblance to that of MC Paul Barman (who also just put out a mixtape, btw), declares himself “Top five dead or alive.” Dying.


Illogic - The Beauty in Evolution: Vol. 1

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The beauty in evolution is movement, over time, across boundaries. Evolution means: things change in themselves, over time. Beauty means: things change together against other changing things, against time. Illogic pulls movement’s moments into lines and beats on his first fully self-produced work, The Beauty in Evolution: Vol. 1, wherein souls and sciences slip over. In instrumentals (“Movement,” of drum fills, clarified alarm) and crackle of warm coarse voice (“Blank Eyes” synth hiss, “I just wanna wake up so I can dream again”), this evolution’s sound is a spiral galaxy, a sunflower prayer, the modality of nautili shells. Illogic, like movement, gives shape to the changing things. Herein, in hopeful tones, a beauty of us, in evolution.


4k Tay - No Rap Cap

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If you do any research on 4k Tay, you will find three recurring things: He and fellow Jersey-boy Fetty are close as kin, his bars read like an unedited autobiography, and every YouTube comment on his video’s reads “Inb4 u blow up.” The Fetty prodigy is a fast-rapping, fashion-referencing addition to the RGF lineup, and his debut mixtape No Rap Cap speaks for itself. Track after track, this thing goes off, showcasing Tay’s signature buttery delivery, telling lyricism, and clever production choices. This is an artist who has done his homework and applied his knowledge to the final. It’s what separates him from the SoundCloud he(a)rd. Inb4 he blows up.


Knuckle Sandwich Deli - Money Makin Music

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Knuckle Sandwich Deli, for all yous new patrons out there, is the bi-coastal duo comprised of ‘Cisco-based rapper/producer Flashius Clayton and Hempstead-bred Panamanian-American pimp/rapper Lisaan’dro. Speaking with me last April, ‘Dro said of Flash, “His wordplay is sick, and his delivery is like an angry nigga from Cali holding a bullhorn inciting a riot on the streets. The ill shit about the homie is that he don’t be yelling and screaming in the booth, but his vocal aggression gives off that type of energy.” That observation speaks volumes of both artists.


Five Finger Posse - Behind Enemy Lines

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Your typical Five Finger Posse venture is a sprint from start to finish. Flooded with an endless stream of OogieMane basslines and menacing flows, the Philly-based collective’s back catalogue is tinged with a lo-fi snarl equally informed by first-wave hardcore and early Three Six Mafia tapes. Though a pair of OogieMane productions do show up on their latest mixtape effort, Behind Enemy Lines, FFP use their third group as a chance to slow down and explore new sounds; grime-caked soundscapes are their bread and butter, but Alvin Abyss, Yung Mojo and Co. gel surprisingly well on some of the more subdued offerings. “Everyday,” produced by Jaguar Pyramids mastermind Tony Seltzer, simmers in its own narcotic haze, whipping syrupy whirlpools around laconic bars. Supplemented by a semi-melodic RIP Eternal hook, the Yuniverse2k15-produced “All About It” resembles your average BandCamp bedroom-pop project’s debut, if the instrumentation was swapped out for a JRPG soundtrack and a few SoundCloud rappers joined in the fun. Whether you’re hungry for trap-slappers that recall Cabaret Voltaire’s dark ambience or beats that would feel at home on a 2011 OJ Da Juiceman tape, Behind Enemy Lines has you covered.


AF1MG - Need4Speed

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Despite a relatively small following (for now), AF1MG punches well above its weight in terms of a fully realized collective vision and sound. It’s been a minute since New Jersey was much of a factor in the rap game, but the AF1MG sound has deep roots in both the region’s club scene and its cultural potpourri — their tapes are liable to bring back the Dipset Trance Party era on one track and rock a calypso rhythm the next. The group’s membership is ever-expanding, yielding an astonishing rate of musical output (core members put out at least eight tapes in 2017 alone, with even more coming from the closely affiliated 2oo4 crew) unified by distinctive production from ringleader Subjxct 5. On the strength of novelty alone, they might be the most intriguing group working in rap today; their blowup feels at once inevitable and, selfishly, a little unfortunate — AF1MG’s appeal is rooted in the DIY weirdness of their current work, a sensibility that came about organically and certainly doesn’t need outside input to thrive.


Ohbliv - OHBLENDS

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For some, the first track of this blend tape will inspire thoughts like, “Huh, I’ve never heard Killarmy in that context before.” For others, it’ll be more like, “What’s a Killarmy, and where do I enlist?” (And for anyone in the latter category, I am genuinely excited.) Whatever other differences may come between us, we can all agree on the dopeness of Ohbliv. Come to think of it, the roster of TMT scribes who’ve scrivened them some Ohbliv blurbs is nearly as eclectic as the list of vocalists on this tape. In addition to Killarmy’s Dom Pachino, Beretta 9, and Islord (with 93,000,000 apologies to Killa Sin, I’m sure), Project Pat, Playboi Carti, MC Ren, Slim Jesus, Will Smith, Huey, Canibus, and Lil Yachty all make appearances. Oh, the harmony.

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