Favorite Rap Mixtapes of January 2019 From DeJ Loaf & Tree to Big Kahuna OG & BIGBABYGUCCI

Photo: BIGBABYGUCCI

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 November and December’s installment here.)

It’s cold, not no home-heating cold, but that Russian snow-eating cold. Not that Ariana Grande portable stove cold, but that Soulja Boy told-you-so cold. Not no Fuego cold, it’s Caldo de Hueso cold. It’s August’s absolute opposite cold, that Richer than the Opps shit cold. It’s Paul Hares cold, that second or third Sweatshirt layer cold, that frozen stare cold, that Minneapolis air cold.


Tree & Vic Spencer - Nothing Is Something

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God bless Tree! And outs to the SaveMoney-aligned Vic Spencer, as the two reunite for another VicTree lap on Nothing Is Something. In fact, Vic probably says it best barely two minutes into the thing: “Me on a muhfuckin’ soultrap beat, that means I’m rappin’ the best.” Minds meet, we meet minds — those rough-around-the-edges soultrap flourishes jive with Tree’s weary tales of botched robberies and ass-whoopings, while Vic’s medley of humblebrags come across as both brutally honest and a touch remorseful, typifying a consummate storyteller with plenty on his mind. Street dreams, hood nightmares: Nothing Is Something has them all at a base level and at an easily digestible 30 minutes to boot. Lobbing in a Chris Crack assist on the excellent “Lucifer Callin’” and longtime Tree collaborator Ton3 Sk33t on “Flood” further completes the set; this latest VicTree saga really doesn’t pull any proverbial punches, though I don’t doubt its creators have had to for real.


DeJ Loaf - ‘Go DeJ Go’ Vol. 1

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The rap world into which DeJ Loaf unleashed “Try Me” in late 2014 already feels a decade old; capitalizing on a hot single was once an intricate, artistically agonizing process, but in 2019, the solution is simply to open the floodgates. Strange, then, to look back at the relatively small body of work upon which DeJ Loaf’s considerable impact has been built: a few concise mixtapes, an EP, and a collaborative album with Jacquees. With nearly two years having passed since the last dispatch, it’s a little surprising that DeJ’s return feels so informal. On the other hand, it’s a reassuring return to form; the silence since her last release was punctuated only by occasional high-gloss singles that had little to do with the identity for which the Detroit native was beloved. Brevity and rough edges aside, the triumph of Go DeJ Go is that DeJ is once more inhabiting what is unmistakably her style.


Foolio - Never Wanted Fame

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I first spotted Jacksonville, Florida’s Foolio in 2018 when he collaborated with the legendary Zaytoven to make 6toven, a featureless tape with a rapper I’d never heard of effortlessly maneuvering over lush productions from the most important producer in the history of trap music. Foolio held his own quite impressively, but then again, Zaytoven doesn’t do a full-length collab with just anyone, you know. Anywho, Florida has had a comeuppance in recent years, and here you can expect the same clamorous temper of Foolio’s Floridian contemporaries (Montana Fat, KirbLaGoop, Big Baby, Mob Squad, Baby Soulja, to name a few). Riding the wave of a tape with someone as established and prolific as Zaytoven on the decks is the easy part; what’s difficult is navigating the fame and success that comes afterward. As an answer, Foolio proclaims that he Never Wanted Fame in the first place. Nevertheless, this tape is a determinant answer to the “success” question posed by 6toven in 2018.


BIGBABYGUCCI - Universe 2 +。゚φ(ゝω・`○)+。

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North Carolina emcee and infamous Twitter shitposter BIGBABYGUCCI is as much a curator as he is a rapper — Universe 2 +。゚φ(ゝω・`○)+。 augments its verses with sampled anime monologues, Jesse Kanda-inspired cover art, and adorable ascii smileys. Beneath these aesthetic trimmings, BBG’s music reinvents the mid-tempo crawl of Gunna and Lil Baby’s Drip Harder as a new lane for art-damaged Gen Z-ers who yearn for mainstream uniformity while still clinging to the core tenets of whichever Tumblr subculture they happened to haunt in high school. There’s even a Tame Impala cover on the SoundCloud version of the tape. Paid streaming platform users should check out “Sonny Liston,” a breezy R&B cut that charges yacht-rock guitar riffs with fluttering hi-hats and shimmering piano. “What’s wrong with you,” he warbles. “I’m on the moon — thumbin’ through.” Drip overload.


Akai Solo 無限 力 - From the Burning East with Love

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“New York is a state of mind” is the kind of cliché that, tragically, has taken on new meaning across the past few decades. Increasingly, it seems the place only really exists in the minds of its few remaining lifetime inhabitants. If From the Burning East with Love plays like one of the most uniquely New York pieces of music to come around in recent memory, it could be because the tape was conceived entirely within the recesses of this headspace and from the depths of that understanding. Like his compatriots in Tase Grip and parallel collectives such as SlumsNYC, Akai Solo 無限 力 culls his ideas from the endless tunnel of introspection. But on Burning East, it’s as if he’s traveled farther down that passageway than any of his peers have yet dared to venture and in doing so arrived at long-abandoned transit platforms, where instead of graffiti-glyphics the walls are decorated with actual mecha parts. If decommissioned, why are they still so hot to the touch? The streets above may be cold and sterile, but below the City burns with the passion of its brightest sons.


Big Kahuna OG & Fly Anakin - Big Fly 3

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Richmond rap is at something of a crossroads, or perhaps an onramp; anything but a dead end. Befitting its location at the geographic and cultural midpoint of I-95, the city’s rap talent spans the full spectrum of East Coast styles, cultivating a scene that is much more potpourri than singular sound. Is that a problem? No one’s sure, but the status quo is pretty good. With each subsequent release from Mutant Academy — the city’s ranking merchants of what might be incompletely classified as “boom-bap” — it seems less important exactly which members of the collective live in New York and which are in Richmond. In a scene that depends, and thrives, upon online distribution, the correct frame for Big Fly 3 is perhaps more temporal than spatial — its relationship to Big Fly 2 rather than the Bandcamp server it was uploaded nearest. By this measure, it’s superb; the series’ third entry in five months, each brief enough that the next is anxiously awaited.


HiDoraah & Dolly White - Slimestas

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I got sisters and brothers to feed/ I ain’t going out like no idiot, I’m an OG,exclaimed Young Thug back in 2014. A lot has changed in the five years since “Lifestyle,” but Young Thug is still showing love for his siblings. He has 10 (i.e., a lot), and two in particular are relevant to this feature: Dora and Dolly, a.k.a. HiDoraah & Dolly White. He helped put them on the map back in 2016 with the track “Family (feat. Dora and Dolly),” a song on I’m Up that was more or less the result of a not-so-serious studio session during which Dora and Dolly hopped on the mic for fun (apparently they didn’t even know the engineer was mixing/recording it). After it dropped, its popularity inspired them to work on a collab project, and here we are! Slimestas belongs in the short but sweet category, but it’s a fun listen and has some standouts. HiDoraah & Dolly White are at their strongest on tracks with more emotional intensity/melody (“Ready for Love,” “Trust Issues”), songs that aren’t quite ballads but aren’t club hits either — they seem to have a knack for carving out a sweet spot between the two. Slimestas is a good omen if they continue to pursue rap as assiduously as their brother has.


5G - Therapy

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Once disciples of SpaceGhostPurrp and the Working On Dying collective, Philadelphia’s Five Finger Posse have come into their own over the past year, shedding their punk-rock pugnacity for a comprehensive survey of the underground scene. Although their output’s remained lo-fi and laconic, the posse’s members have lent their horrorcore roots to other fringe microgenres. Alvin Abyss indulged his gothic proclivities on last year’s excellent Hellbound LP, Morgue! frequently hops on creaky boom-bap production, and founding digit 5G has evolved into an avant-garde auteur of sorts. The latter’s latest effort, Therapy, is a blur of Mephistophelian imagery and real-world griminess, set to a sinister backdrop that can shift from hypnagogic pop to musique concrète at a moment’s notice. “Mrs. Butterworth,” the tape’s highlight, features fiendishly-sliced jazz samples that do little to rein in an almost arrhythmic flow. 5G’s bars are as messy and free-associative as thought itself, wandering from divine contemplation to masturbation to corn chips, without much regard for decipherability. Mark my words, it’ll be the sound of Winter 2019 — at least among those in the know.


Darkchamberz - Eternal Hitz from the UltraVerse Vols. 1 & 2

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For most anyone who’s been finding new rap music via the internet before SoundCloud and Bandcamp, the word “chamberz” holds certain weight. Especially when using a “z” in place of an “s” and especially to those familiar with the Wu-Tang Corp. and Chamber Muzik forums — peace to Imperial Skillz Empera, shout-out Pharaoh Snefru and Graveyard Shifter — chamberz signifies Wu-Tang fandom/influence sometimes bordering on obsession. So, admittedly, it was a very particular brand of nostalgia that inspired me to click through when I found the Darkchamberz collective on Bandcamp this month. As it turns out, the self-described “South African astral goth Hip-Hop clan” owes at least as much (if not more) to black metal and theosophy as hardcore hip-hop and supreme mathematics. And yet, the music couldn’t be further removed from the nu-metal/emo-rap genre clashes of the moment. Truly, Eternal Hitz from the UltraVerse is the perfect title for these compilations, because as the tracklists hint and the larger Bandcamp page confirms, Darkchamberz occupy a continuity all their own, wherein the canon is all esoterica and all the trax hitz.

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