Favorite Mixtapes of June 2015
With a daunting cascade of releases spewing out each day 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 simply free-to-stream) digital releases — but we’ll keep things loose enough to branch out if and when we feel it necessary. (Check out last month’s installment here.)
Denzel Curry – 32 Zel / Planet Shrooms
When a talented young MC reaches the public eye, he or she can win hearts most easily by presenting a digestible narrative and an idiosyncratic style to match. Earl Sweatshirt: isolated introvert makes claustrophobic misanthrope manifesto. Lil Herb: the horror of Chicago’s gang culture fuels his intense documentarian verses. For some reason, we demand coherence, as if each element of an MC’s perceived persona has to correspond to the whole of their catalog. On the psilocybin-soaked, scattershot double EP 32 Zel / Planet Shrooms, 20-year-old Florida native and loose Raider Klan affiliate Denzel Curry offers no such coherence. His music bubbles with signifiers (and name checks) of numerous scenes, from Hypnotize Minds to Def Jux to Dungeon Family to Dr. Octagon to Weird Atlanta. His beats drip with processed synth lines, damaged percussion, and static noise formants. He confidently cycles through enough flows and vocal styles to obscure any elemental truth of his delivery (compare the desperate howl of “Ultimate” to the bouncing couplets of “Underwater” to any other track). He embodies the modern pluralistic capacity for unlimited harnessed influences and unlimited self-fragmentation. Curry melts into a fractal puddle before us, over and over, and each time we eagerly await his next reconstituted form.
Ho99o9 – Horrors of 1999 [EP]
Ho99o9 is in the pit with Torture Garden and It’s Dark and Hell is Hot, filling a basement with paint fumes and bloody mouths. The duo (pronounced “horror”) consists of Yetti999 and the TheOGM, two gnarly other-level guys who grew up within the NJ/NY rap scene but found that the energy and nihilistic power of NYC punk transcended the placid crowds around them. Now out in Los Angeles, they’re filling spaces with bodies and thrash, tearing shit up. HORRORs of 1999 is their second EP in as many years, and it doesn’t play like a collection of singles like Mutant Freax did. The EP is a horror flick made with the homemade videos of every non-skit track bleeding Ho99o9’s affinities for seance, death, and general mayhem together in a Grade A gross load. A far cry from two dudes on an 808 soapbox.
RJ – O.M.M.I.O 2
“Some of my records may sound ratchet. Some of my records may sound real. Some of my records may sound like some pain. Some of them may sound like love,” says Los Angeles-born Reginald Palmer Jr. a.k.a. RJ, whose latest mixtape runs that gamut twice over in its 22 tracks. The YG-signed and frequently DJ Mustard-featured rapper stays riding the ratchet wave from his 2013 O.M.M.I.O (On My Momma I’m On) that crested with TMT favorite mixtape Rich Off Mackin earlier this year. “Get Rich,” featuring IAMSU! and originally released on that Choice tape, remains the slickest entry point to RJ’s slinking flow. Breezy banger “No Talking” and Mustard-produced “Gudda” have some of the standout instrumental goods on a tape slapping from start to finish. With bass hooks and humbling self-examination (“Damn, I done gave the block some of my best years”), O.M.M.I.O 2 delivers an anecdotal auditory antidote for Kendrick’s This American Life register (that’s not to disregard K-Dot’s own powerful “on my momma”). If the “Blue Face Hunnids” and “Really Out Here Too” choruses don’t get you on board from the jump, you can go back to sleeping. Meanwhile, Mr. L.A. is making a spirited run for mayor this summer.
Lil Silk – Son Of A Hustler 2
The whistling voice of Lil Silk, a bit bratty yet nonchalantly carried on a breeze, is a perfect match for his sense of humor. Almost like Roseanne in the first few years of her sitcom, Lil Silk’s jokes feel like something stated as an aside, unconcerned with how overlooked they will be. Like its first installment, Son of A Hustler 2 has a self-awareness so quick, so immediate it’s almost prophetic. Are his jokes satire on the expected motifs of street rap? Spells manifesting new truths for his career? Or simply the dreams of a young musician with a whole lot of wit? Somewhere transcending self-mockery, stating the obvious, and pure wisdom, Lil Silk lets us know he is “Almost Famous.” And if anything, having Fetty Wap on your mixtape in 2015 already puts you far above the majority.
Chris Travis – See You There
Why you sip lean? ‘Cause I’m Chris Travis, bitch. The Memphis MC — ex-member of Raider Klan, current member of new crew Waterboyz — might work hard to emulate the phlegmatic demeanor of his perpetually-stoned peers, but his new tape betrays a few passions. For instance, Travis obviously thinks SoundCloud is important enough for an Unlimited Pro account and, by extension, that his music is important enough to potentially merit unlimited tapes. He’s already uploaded 10 just this year. Travis cares about weed, enough so that his beats can leave a sticky residue on headphone cups. On “Watch and Forget,” he makes a concerted effort to tell us “it” is all about the money, before “Just saying sometimes/ It’s not about the money.” Just watch and forget. The music is like water, whose simplicity as a fluid allows for endless, fascinatingly complex configurations and combinations. It is ubiquitous, transient, and satisfying, be it dense fog or thick drops of sweat in the southern heat.
BeatKing – Houston 3AM
Club Godzilla knows how to break the track, get a flow going, mash it up, whirr it backwards, cut it forward into double time, like he could give a 100% fuck throughout multiple moments in multiple lives, but “then stopped.” This is ice cold trap, the goosebumpy kind with streaks of evil that could freak out an X-Files plot. Shit’s spooky when doberman nonchalantly drops cult wisdom like “Bitch I’m your conscious/ Bitch listen to yourself.” The instrumentals have a slick, blue streetglow reminiscent of VST start-up screens with gun metal trim and aqua interfaces. Still, BeatKing might be right in saying something’s “not right,” like the nauseating echo on “Chasing Dat Check,” where his whisper evolves into a low echo over the tape’s crystalline palette: “I lost all my friennnnds… I just want the monnnney.” After all, he puts his vote in right next to Rraro for what 3AM should feel like, with an image-swap of burning Volkswagens for a prepared piano filled with Vine twerk loops.
KiD – New King
KiD is the New King, and on his latest mixtape, we’re never in any doubt about the grind it took to scale the heights of rap royalty. Fostering a connection between Chicago and Atlanta as a member of Drumma Boy’s Drum Squad, he raps urgently over a set of beats that lurch between menacing and exuberant in mood. Drake comparisons aren’t entirely inaccurate — at times, the instrumentals recall the skittering 808s of If You’re Reading This, and both are adept at writing hooks — but what sets KiD apart is his deeply uncontrived method of storytelling. While the 6 God might have purportedly started from the bottom, KiD started from nothing, and when he’s flexin’ everyday on the deliberately-paced “Intro” and bending reality on “New Truth,” there’s an irresistible air of authenticity about him. The rags-to-riches story is hardly untraversed territory, but KiD tells it so compellingly and so succinctly on New King that it’s impossible not to believe his every word.
Young Scooter x Zaytoven – Juggathon
Juggathon is spread thicker than February’s sprawling Jug Season mixtape. The quality is more even, too, with trap pioneer Zaytoven taking equal billing for his work on all 11 tracks. Scooter can be Leslie Nielsen-weird, playing it arrow straight even when he’s clowning: “All you rappers sound alike/ That’s why I make Count Music/ I don’t stop at red lights/ Real talk, that’s irrelevant.”Taking the stream-of-consciousness methodology of Count Music at face value, Scooter raps about everything passing through his mind at the time. His lyrics can blur — his themes overlap, his cadence relies on short spikes and troughs within the same middle register — and it’s no coincidence that the most memorable stuff on here features Scooter’s voice Auto-Tune’d into a state of relative frenzy. Future shows up on “Hit It Raw” and “Play With Them Keys,” and I swear Scooter at least smiles; on the solo joint “Melrose,” he count-raps about riding his bitches, his whips, and the motherfucker sounds wistful. Zaytoven’s loading-screen beats seem filled with detail by comparison, and it’s Zay, not Scooter, who is really at the wheel here: the emcee is nodding in the back, his directions a little hazy.
ABRA – ROSE
Oddly, I was not feeling ROSE soon after signing up to blurb the Awful-affiliate ABRA’s mixtape, but I wasn’t ridden with stress at the time (I heard it a week or two back and remembered it helping melt anxiety). While last week was a downpour of shitty situations at work, I’m over it now. So when I hear ROSE, my mentality doesn’t quite relate to her lyrically. But vocally? I totally feel you, girl. Like, I understand dark R&B (as she labels herself) more so as a night-time thing, because the lyrics and melodies are way less heavy than they could be. Yet, I’ve no need for heavy content these days. The “dark” I feel through ABRA is a night-core vibe that’s as bouncy as her fluttering voice intonations. ROSE pushes a boundary akin to ABBI PRESS in terms of Diva vs. Songstress, an interesting mode to try and figure out personally rather than to let the artist impose on us. Feel the freedom of ABRA and roam her newest mixtape ROSE ASAP.
Jared Evan – The art form of whatever
Will this be the summer of the producer-showcase album? Unlike the two big budget flops we’ve endured so far, Jared Evans offers us a work deftly attuned to mainstream pop and contemporary rap, strengthened by the lack of expectations. The young producer’s blueprint could be last year’s Run The Jewels/Boots collaboration “Early,” with the album’s tracks built around appealing choruses and fast-paced rhyming. “The art form” sets the mood with nods to G-funk’s holy scriptures, TMNT references, and FM-ready melodies. It’s a path several cuts follow (“Karate,” “Sadie,” “Signals,” “Etch a Sketch,” “Me vs Me”), adding smooth synths, robust beats, and plenty of sung verses to further push the pop potential. But The art form of whatever — a surprise release conceived during a transatlantic flight and recorded over four days — was not made to last. The production is sometimes clunky, more than a few rhymes sub par, and a couple of cuts forgettable. Yet, the tape manages to call attention to Evan’s imminent full-length debut, boasting the New York producer’s fortes and pregnant with ambition. It may not best Action Bronson’s or Donnie Trumpet’s (spotty) 2015 releases when it comes to pop-leaning rap efforts, but The art form of whatever serves as both fine background music for a summer evening and the flare to announce a career set to turn heads.