Favorite Rap Mixtapes of July 2019 From Pollàri & Yung Bans to Maxo Kream & Master Holy

Maxo Kream (photo: Jordan Marble)

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.)

Rap Mixtapes are like Democratic presidential debates. I know… but bear with me for a sec. Everyone rapper is ostensibly on the same side, except some have big corporations behind them, others only grassroots movements, and others still just a few well-connected friends possibly in possession of enchanted crystals. Also, there’s a proverbial shit-ton of candidates. Only eight made the big stage this month, but if we were to air a second night — and why not, really — you might see such pundits as 03 Greedo, King Carter, Wifisfuneral, Jodi.10K, Sir E.U, and Trick Papi, plus Method Man’s son, Pxwer, and actor Idris El— “But you don’t know that,” somebody interrupts. I do know that, I wrote the damn bill!


Maxo Kream - Brandon Banks

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Ever since I heard this, I’ve been drawn toward Maxo Kream, not only for his endlessly listenable tracks, but also for his rich lyrical portraits that are less narrative-driven than swirling gestalts of his past and present. On Brandon Banks, which listens as an autobiographical survey of emotion, memory, and introspection, we see Maxo Kream making something of the indelible sadness he and those around him confront daily. His tone is mostly flat, which isn’t to say boring, but rather devoid of emotional appeal to the listener, which makes the songs feel almost voyeuristic. It’s as if we’re listening in on Maxo’s internal dialog, not unwelcome, but not acknowledged either. “Meet Again” is probably the most inescapably forlorn song I’ve heard all year, a track centering around a private-seeming letter to a friend who’s been locked up; it’s perhaps the best example of the painfully open lyricism that permeates the album. The songs range from boisterous (“Murda Bloc,” “Drizzy Draco”) to pensive vexation (“Dairy Ashford Bastard,” “Change”). Maxo Kream’s past is not universally relatable, but the fundamental human emotions and ethical dilemmas he paints here surely are.


Master Holy - BLOOD BROTHER

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You’re not going to find much info about Master Holy online, which works out well. Who he is isn’t important; what is important is how he flows on BLOOD BROTHER Adé Hakim’s production. And it’s like he was literally born for it. The Quasimoto-style pitch shifts suit the project’s fascination with atemporality, as well as the rapper’s general anonymity, but it remains largely beside the point in terms of the bigger picture — i.e., Hakim and Holy’s chemistry resulting in a powerful reaction unbound by regional sound tropes and city scene expectations. Earlier this year, jazz artist Angel Bat Dawid sang on AOTY contender The Oracle, “The black family is the strongest institution in the world.” BLOOD BROTHER makes about as solid of a supporting argument as you’ll hear from any two contemporary musicians.


Pollàri - Lil Jesus 2

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Pollàri never blew up in quite the same way as some of his Atlantan contemporaries did. Then again, he never downsized his ambitions, becoming not just the god of his very own world/galaxy, but also its savior. Like its predecessor from earlier this year, Lil Jesus 2 amounts to a refinement of llàri’s more freewheeling inclinations, without sacrificing the infective charis at the core of his music. His croon still yawns its way into being, announcing nothings of both the sweet and savory variety, and his beats obviously still bang (none more than on “CAN’T RELATE”). These kind of taut, easily digestible statements can seem dime a dozen within the realm of SoundCloud, but llàri has more than enough keepers here — at its best, Lil Jesus 2 diffuses like a cooling blast of air in the sweltering summer’s heat. Don’t we all need that right now?


Spaghetti Blacc & Theravada - The Gorgeous Bible

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I just downloaded the entire Spaghetti Blacc discography for $20. It could’ve been mine for as little as $5, but that felt wrong seeing as it’s 86 projects with at least a dozen different artist monikers attached. The Gorgeous Bible is the latest. A collaboration between Spaghetti Blacc and the perpetually viral Theravada, it is very much in the vein of the latter producer/rapper’s moxy, i.e., SParse and SPartan. The beats sound stitched together by hair follicles, as if they could tear apart at any time yet remain held in place by Spaghetti’s anti-cadence, which threads lines in and out of bars like a bootleg DVD vendor.


Comethazine - Bawskee 3.5

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Do you ever like an artist and feel like you shouldn’t? Yeah, me neither, but if I did, then I might say I felt that way when I first listened to Comethazine. Now, I know I shouldn’t start a blurb about a “favorite” mixtape that way, but based on some bad press he’s gotten RE: a particularly crafty SoundCloud bait-and-switch (Comethazine’s reps deny responsibility) and a panning review of the first Bawskee tape, I feel like I should be writing this from the angle of an apologist seeking retribution. In any case, artists can grow and get better, especially in the arena of hip-hop, where hard work ethic is an oft-touted credential. Comethazine’s Bawskee 3.5 (technically the third mixtape in the Bawskee series) sees him growing into himself and contains more variety/inventiveness than his last two tapes. It waxes SoundCloud Rap, but then “Find Him” finds its place among that movement’s gems. The most scathing charges levied against Comethazine have to do with a lack of “originality,” which I don’t find all that convincing. Whether you see Comethazine as a child of the No Jumper hype engine or something more, throw him a bone and listen to this tape.


Magmuzzle, Don Def, The Supervisor - Hazmats

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Hazmats brings together three Cambridge, MA rap stalwarts. Don Def, a veteran of the Wally Sparks convenience store mixtape/public access TV canon, steps forth from behind the boards to focus on his lifelong pursuit of rapperfection. Meanwhile, property manager of El Cortez Hotel, The Supervisor, is in the lot out back at the break of dawn, doing karate exercises that have the tenants throwing sideways looks. The backbone of it all, though, is low-key Cambridge rap royalty Magmuzzle. The kind of rapper who was saying the universe is a hologram before the academic community, Magmuzzle materializes bars that leave you feeling like it’s the morning after that epic annual MIT party, where an entire section of campus transforms into an experimental bacchanal. You don’t even gotta go to summer school.


Yung Bans - Misunderstood

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If the enemy of my enemy is my friend, then call me Yung Bans’s biggest stan. Misunderstood finds the Atlanta-based crooner shedding plug beats and blown-out 808s for a more lush lane — he’s never sounded as comfortable as he does on the record’s shimmering post-hardcore guitaristry, belting out somber hooks that stretch on for miles. When Bans is in his melodic bag, it’s not hard to see why elder trap statesman Future took the kid under his wing. Although the former hits notes in a higher register, the pair have a way of translating complex emotions into autotuned moans and one-liners. Their chemistry is palpable on “YEAA,” Bans verbally tip-toeing between impassioned vowel sounds while Future both waxes anhedonic and flexes his frenetic vocal range. Bans can body a beat on his own as well, as evidenced by the infectious “BLAH BLAH BLAH” and “GANG,” which is caked in enough reverb to qualify as dream pop. He’s easily among Atlanta’s least flashy emcees, yet can devise some of the city’s most unforgettable refrains. The phrase “all black with a mask, feel like Bruce Wayne” has run through my head at least once a day since Misunderstood dropped, solely on the strength of Bans’s restrained-yet-confident flow.


French Montana & Max B - Coke Wave 4

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