Favorite Rap Mixtapes of May 2017 From T-Pain & Lil Wayne to Dope KNife & Trippie Redd

Wintertime

With a daunting 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.)


Trippie Redd - A Love Letter to You

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If the the glam-rock throes of autotune that fortify Lil Uzi Vert’s “Xo Tour Lif3” have left you starving for follow-up material, Trippie Redd’s latest mixtape effort just might prove to be the angst-addled trap nourishment you’ve craved all along. Trimmed with gothic chimes and choked woodwinds, A Love Letter to You spills over with desperation. Redd furnishes his bleak production with throaty screams that feel as indebted to Robert Smith as they do to Young Thug; among the slew of likeminded SoundCloud emcees that claim “rockstar” status, he’s the only one who fully embodies a stadium-core ethos. Though the tape is best at its most melodramatic on cuts like “Love Scars 1&2” and “Blade of Woe,” closer “Can You Rap Like Me?” shows off Redd’s innovative side, posing its titular challenge to his sonic counterparts while lacing a boom-bap rhythm with hiccuped heat.


ICYTWAT - MILK

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ICYTWAT took the hard route to recognizability, achieving the admirable feat of a signature sound absent a producer tag. It’s rare that a producer is able to be so prolific within such tight stylistic bounds without repeating themselves, but the hallmarks of his style — cowbells and claves verging on kitsch, Odd Future-indebted synth pads, that fucking distorted kick — are strong enough to allow seemingly infinite permutations without growing stale. Although perhaps moreso with rappers than producers, the album format continues to be a difficult hurdle for the SoundCloud set, a proving ground that often exposes the flaws of increasingly singles-oriented careers. In this regard, ICYTWAT’s MILK doesn’t curdle, providing not just a survey of the producer’s work to date, but a fully-realized landmark in his growing catalog.


Dope KNife - FUCK.

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Savannah, GA is one of my favorite cities, if only for its squares. The metropolis’s grid is dotted with a series of 22 mostly parallel green spaces, all of which are mere blocks from one another and most of which have their own character. In the daytime, their overhanging trees and wooden benches provide quiet respites from the oppressive heat, like inverted urban oases. At night, they feel haunted by the surrounding architecture, like those same trees are holding history’s white-washers at bay; or maybe it’s the opposite. Unbeknownst to me until recently, Savannah is also home to a multi-faceted — some might even say burgeoning — hip-hop scene; and on my last trip down there, I learned about a crew called Dope Sandwich that is very much at the center of it. Later, while back in NY, I heard about a ferocious Savannah-based MC named Dope KNife who earlier this year put out an album called NineteenEightyFour on Strange Famous. It bangs. Most recently, I learned that Dope KNife is actually one of the co-founders of Dope Sandwich and as such has been a central figure in the aforementioned scene for much longer than I’ve known about it. All of which is to say Fuck.


Various Artists - Long Island Rap Comp Volume 3

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Decades after the brief, “golden” period in rap history shaped in large part by artists from Long Island, little is known or heard about contemporary Long Island rap outside of Nassau and Suffolk counties. Since 2014, Samuel Diamond’s Long Island Rap Blog has been working to change that. The blog’s third compilation of curated and submitted tracks is a wry and spontaneous assemblage, held together by few continuities aside from the wordy inventiveness of the MCs and a rough, often maximalist style of trap- and golden age-inspired production. When the vocals sit just low enough in the mix on tracks like Mido’s excellent “Melancholy High,” I’m reminded of SpaceGhostPurrp’s Blackland Radio 66.6. When known cuts by legends like Mobb Deep’s Prodigy and Eric B. & Rakim appear, it clearly isn’t for any want of innovation. Rather, when Prodigy’s “Don’t Be A Follower” passes into the punchy aggression of Kasper Dangers’ “Hell’s Winter” and the warped soul of Theravada’s “Bombs in Manhattan,” it sounds obvious that a new generation of Long Island rap artists has taken the title of that Prodigy joint to heart. My personal favorite tracks are “Vitality Stone,” for Oscar O’Malley’s dizzyingly unique delivery, and June’s “2k17/What’s Good” for its lo-fi bluntness; but the whole thing comes recommended alongside the blog’s previous compilations.


The Diabolical Dr Strange and Friends - Doctor Strange and Friends

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As far as we know, The Diabolical Doctor Strange is a rapper of unknown origins and member of the Guerilla Godz collective, which has worked with London-based producer Solomon Caine. On Doctor Strange and Friends the MF DOOM influence is shamelessly obvious, which is jarring at first but quickly zones into thematic production. Strange focuses on immediate horn loops with slick transitions that complement the flow rather than deflect, clouded in endless billows of SP-404 samples. “Return to Forever” veers more on The Beatnuts sampling than DOOM, but it’s bookended by superhero dialogue that overlaps severe fandom with skilled precision. The mixtape is short, but it’ll definitely meet your summer jam needs. It’s the Saturday morning cartoon missing in your morning-after campfire.


T-Pain & Lil Wayne - T-Wayne

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I’ve never been much of a Weezy fan, but I’ve fucked with T-Pain since Rappa Ternt Sanga. It helps its case then (for me at least) that T-Pain is holding Wayne down on this rap shit on their long-awaited, stupidly clever T-Wayne collaboration. But then, on opener “He Rap He Sang,” Wayne creeps up like some spiral-eyed, de-lisped, pitch-fucked serpent out of a shelved Disney movie from 2005 and it’s everything I never knew I was missing. Bumping this thing’s eight tracks, which vacillate between Wonka-bangers (“Listen to Me”), hypnotic auto-ballads (“Snap Ya Fangas”), and low-riding bass joints (“Heavy Chevy”), reminds me of queuing up Freaknik videos on my first iPod. It was a pimplier time, when I only repped rap that was cosigned by Adult Swim. Now, I rep T-Wayne because it’s hard as a fucking turtle shell, and it hasn’t cracked yet. So, if you’ll excuse me, I’ll be in my Focus with a baseball bat and my windows down if you need me.


Wintertime - Wintertime

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More sleeptalker than mumble rapper, Wintertime drools reverby phrases into polychrome synthscapes, effortlessly forming moments of hypnagogic bliss. On highlight “Top Notch,” the Floridian pens a lullabied answer to Chance the Rapper’s “No Problem,” rattling off a string of based self-comparisons to Sarah Silverman, the Silver Surfer, and a stopwatch. “Cold at Night” reveals Wintertime’s beat-making proficiency, enveloping his vocals in a tunnel of menacing chords and twists of squeaky synth. Wallowing in “less-is-more” sentiment, this self-titled tape is a sequence of lovely nothings ― synthesized bubble bath.


Lucki - Watch My Back

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To say that Lucki’s soporific flows and affinity for overcast beats are Xanax-inflected undersells the point somewhat; in both form and function, they are the precise expressions thereof. Few songs on Watch My Back exceed the two-minute mark, hardly enough time to build in hooks or even verses that would make individual tracks memorable. Yet it works; independent of the precepts of album structure, the tape is, in the parlance of the times, a “vibe.” Even at 18 tracks, it’s never tedious; in the best way, it takes no more than three or four songs to forget if you’ve been listening for minutes or hours. Psychedelic effects aside, there are few descriptors less appropriate than “blissed-out” for the narcotic hellscape Lucki presents. Watch My Back adopts the “show me” approach to [insert popular and vocally addiction-addled rapper]’s “tell me,” foregoing the smoother pop production that could elevate these tracks from alarming diary entries to the mainstream eye.


Paris Michael - And Then We Grew Up

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The best and worst of everyone lives on the internet, where all our collective insecurities and imperfections enjoy a forum for their discontent. As a result, we can all simultaneously stay young longer and grow up faster. If war is pre-human, then art is post-human, and we’re just now starting to catch up to it. Which is not to take away anything from the talents of a Paris Michael. The self-proclaimed Southside Super Saiyan may sound nothing like fellow Chicagoan DBZ enthusiasts Sicko Mobb, but don’t let that discourage you; he’s the ambition to give his second mixtape a three-act structure and the chops to pull it off. Hell, within a year, the kid will probably be ghost-writing for Drake. And then when it comes out that he is, you’ll be all like, “Word, that’s cool, Doves Don’t Cry Anymore was my jam.” And in place of blood, there will be tumblr.

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