Favorite Rap Mixtapes of June 2019 From Octavian & Valee to Blackfist & 70th Street Carlos

Octavian and his doppelgänger

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 May’s installment here.)

If you thought it was tough, as a listener, to keep up with rap music last month, imagine how hard it must’ve been for this column’s featured acts to compete with their peers over that same stretch. June saw early — and, to these ears, fairly easy — frontrunners for both album and song of the year: the first obviously being Freddie Gibbs and Madlib’s long-awaited Piñata follow-up, Bandana; the second being Mach Hommy and Tha God Fahim’s “Mozambique Drill” off the former’s Wap Konn Joji. That said, competition is a somewhat loaded term unto itself. And as Mach so smoothly summarized for the hook of said SOTY shoe-in, “Play stupid games, win stupid prizes.”


Blackfist - World Manumission Defense

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“Rap is like professional wrestling” is a long-standing defense made by just about everyone who’s had the unfortunate task of trying to convince old people that violent music does not necessarily advocate, nor should it be held accountable for, IRL violence. However, chances are most folks on the receiving end of that argument never saw New Jack wrestle. He was known for having Ice Cube and Dr. Dre’s “Natural Born Killaz” play not only during his ring walk, but also throughout his matches. A member of ECW tag-team champion holders The Gangstas, New Jack was perhaps the most extreme wrestler in a league based entirely around the concept of “extreme” wrestling, showing no hesitation to put his body and that of his opponents through all manner of hell – the types of bumps that simply can’t be faked, regardless of the matches’ predetermined outcomes. With World Manumission Defense, Blackfist, the duo composed of rapper/producers VIK and YUNGMORPHEUS, has staked its claim as The Gangstas of rap, Dre and Cube be damned. The tape is utterly extreme, unforgiving, and relentless in its pro-black, anti-slavery audio assault. Raw shit — accept no substitutes.


Pi’erre Bourne - The Life of Pi’erre 4

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It’d be tempting to file Pi’erre Bourne’s latest venture as a collection of loosies — repurposed beats that didn’t qualify for Young Nudy or Playboi Carti records — if The Life of Pi’erre 4 weren’t such a meticulously realized effort. While his collaborative tracks resemble porthole views into the world of a lysergic Gameboy Advance title, the 16 cuts on his new solo tape merge seamlessly to form that world’s total Pangea. Rattling off an endless stream of succinct anecdotes (“Stacking up these student loans/ Dean is racist, I’m a criminal”) and beautifully on-brand non-sequiturs (“Just got my money up, and now I’m baby”), Bourne crams TLOP 4 end to end with autotune, transitioning between beats like he’s commandeering a Boiler Room set. Before you’ve noticed the track titles change, the muscly chiptune production of “Stereotypes” morphs into the dreamy “Doublemint,” which in turn melts into the star-crossed “Horoscopes.” And don’t get me started on “Racer,” which finds Bourne juggling roughly three flows — one whispered, one mumbled, one belted — atop glassy chords for 5 minutes, somehow magically keeping simple loops fresh the whole time. Personable and endearingly earnest, Bourne has proved himself Carti’s worthy foil.


Jon Waltz - Monochrome

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Jon Waltz has been slow to bloom. The Memphis artist started rapping in 2013 and gained early attention from blogs like Pigeons and Planes (now a part of Complex), who supported him as he slowly released individual singles and EPs. Two tracks in 2016 and three in 2018, each song moving farther away from stock hip-hop and more toward an uncertain alchemy of guitar-based production, unusual song structure, and harmonically rich vocals. At long last, it would seem that Monochrome is Waltz’s first complete full-length project (yes, 21 minutes constitutes “full-length” these days), delineating a standard to which the artist can be held and compared. To those who stuck by him over the years, it’s a satisfying validation of Waltz’s unique vision, which has the mature, suburban congeniality of Steve Lacy, with traces of the bugged-out jazz psychedelia favored by King Krule. Waltz is learning to decouple himself from expectation and making music that reflects his upbringing, and Monochrome is nine damn-good songs that show just that.


Bambu - Exrcising A Demon | Article II | Brother Hoods

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Excrcising A Demon | Article I was one of the best rap projects of 2018 that you didn’t read about (unless, of course, you read Tiny Mix Tapes’s Favorite Rap Mixtapes of October 2018 column). In that case, it’s a project you’ve been eagerly anticipating and one that doesn’t disappoint. Where A Few Left documented in intimate detail Filipino gang culture of the 1980s and 90s, Brother Hoods is about the family ties underlying it and the psychosocial pressure points where these alliances crisscross. The tracklist is shorter, but the stakes are higher.


Valee - Runnin’ Rich

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Valee dyed his dog red & PETA is mad, but he claims it was pet-friendly dye and that the dog is doing OK. The red dog is on the cover of his new mixtape Runnin’ Rich, which is featured here because it sees Valee successfully reaching deeper and deeper into the depths of languid productions (courtesy of CHASETHEMONEY, Young God, CHEEZZ, et al.), while his soft-spoken, detached flow incubates neatly aloft. He’s enjoyed a steady and subtle comeuppance over the past year (signing with G.O.O.D. Music in 2018), and I’m pretty confident that’ll continue — or at least I hope it does. From the vocals to the general demeanor he harnesses on his tracks, Valee remains “in his own lane,” as they say, even when some of his fellow Chicago guests (G Herbo, King Louie, Vic Mensa) borrow his monotone, rhythmically uniform flow. Listen up and go walk your dog if you have one.


Octavian - Endorphins

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Octavian’s whole M.O. was so succinctly sketched out in the previously-released videofor “Bet” that I think it bears repeating here: sleek aesthetics, droll cameos, extras and fits galore — and that’s without mentioning the collaborative, crew-oriented vibe that emanates off the thing (peep fellow Essie Gang-er Michael Phantom and grime laureate Skepta on the track). Endorphins taps into that very same serious-but-playful spirit and more than makes good on Octavian’s opening gambit, last year’s SPACEMAN. His hybridity, cycling through trap, drill, gospel, house, etc., never sounds forced or scattergun, and his collaborations are tasteful and effective — “My Head,” featuring Abra as a delicate vocal foil, is a case in point. Repeat after me: it’s payday, fellas!


Heaven Razah - Ockham’s Razor

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Somewhere early along your way through Ockham’s Razor — about 5 minutes in for me — you should come to realize it doesn’t matter when these songs were recorded or whether you’ve heard parts of them or not, because the music you are listening to feels timeless. This is due in no small part to the production of Jordan River Banks. How to describe it? More classical than classic, golden but not necessarily of that era, maximalist without getting too busy or crowded. If an artifact of a lost ancient civilization were discovered, and if it were later revealed that it belonged to evolved time travelers who might have started life on our planet and civilization itself, and if that object played music, it might go something like this. No, it’s not a set piece. Yes, some dust might have collected, but it’s of the stars. Wings up.


70th Street Carlos - Win or Lose

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70th Street Carlos has to date been primarily a singles artist, and for good reason. His best work has been both catchy and goofy enough to require multiple consecutive spins before moving on to another track. It’s a relatively simple formula, but it’s a successful one; Carlos’s flows bounce over brassy, parade-like production from Trelz Itz A Hit, often a little out of breath from racing ahead of the beat (Carlos is perhaps the foremost current practitioner of the “Fat Guy Rap” genre). With that said, Win or Lose, like last year’s Ball Out, is a victim of the friction inherent in translating YouTube stardom to the mixtape form. Presumably for fear of monotony, highlights like the long-awaited “Drip On 70th Street” (with Sauce Walka) are interspersed with utterly anonymous autotuned boilerplate like “Middle School Love” or weighed down with features that, while usually listenable, detract from Carlos’s single greatest strength: his unwavering charisma. My 70th St Carlos Music Videos 2017-2019 YouTube playlist, though, remains unmatched.


Key! - So Emotional

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Key! landed on my radar back when he was featured on OG Maco’s semi-viral “U Guessed It” back in 2014, a track that helped usher in a new era of post-Lil B rappers, nudging mainstream rap into a more experimental and, well, silly (sometimes ironic) direction. Key! lurked in the shadows of the movement (which in large part grew out of his home city of Atlanta) as a loose affiliate of the Awful Records camp, a friend of ILoveMakonnen, and a key player in the rise of Playboi Carti. Despite being both neatly plugged into and a valuable asset of a network of young, subversive, and of-the-moment mid-2010s rappers, he’s never really enjoyed his own moment in the spotlight, whether because he wants it that way or because of the cruel mechanisms of the industry. While I’m not sure So Emotional will bring him widespread recognition, it certainly evidences how much he deserves it, with ATL hip-hop fare as you like it: clean instrumentals and melodic, emotive furor inflected with distinguished style. Whether or not he’s worried about blowing up, it’s apparent that Key!’s still putting in the good work.


Isaac Thursday - The Introverted Experience

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The title and tracklist might seem contradictory when you consider all the features, but is it really? After all, “introvert” and “loner” are not synonymous. For The Introverted Experience “short audio film,” Isaac Thursday teams once again with frequent production partner Wander, and though they’ve linked numerous times before, this is perhaps their most cohesive pairing: harmonized declarations of humanity in all its insecurities, vulnerabilities, victories, and tragedies over lush, melodic, dreamy orchestrations. On “Shattered Pieces,” Thursday raps about being molested by a woman at 13: “All his n****s clapped for joy ‘cause his cherry popped/ Not considering the cost, god all you did was watch/ I was begging her to stop, any purity got rot.” Somehow it’s one of the most beautiful moments on a project filled with them.

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