We have chosen another ten mixtapes spreading on the Internet this month, which give us an idea of the times in the most recalcitrant underground hip hop. All free and only a click away.
We haven’t landed in April yet, and the mixtape market has already given us several releases that are very likely to rank high on the list of the best of the year: Big K.R.I.T’s “4Eva N A Day”, and “Rich Forever”, by Rick Ross, have confirmed that right now the flood of street albums is deep and wide, and you have to dive in to catch those releases with noticeable artistic aspirations and media resonance. More will come over the course of the season, and we will keep trying to reel them in here. These are the most outstanding new items from the last four weeks. All free, of course.
1. Action Bronson & Party Supplies: “Blue Chips”
Any release that Action Bronson puts out deserves high expectations and our undivided attention; especially after the productive, successful year that 2011 was for this New York MC obsessed with food and cooking. As is usual in his way of going about things, there is a single producer for his new mixtape - fellow New Yorker Party Supplies - to give the release the necessary solidity and coherence. The result: one of the best street albums of 2012 so far, a hard-hitting, exciting brew of boom bap (magnificent sampling work), gastronomic references and flashy collaborations from Roc Marciano or Meyhem Lauren. Download without delay.
2. Boldy James: “Consignment: Favor For A Favor The Redi-Rock Mixtape”
Another firm candidate for a high-ranking position on the list of the best mixtapes of 2012. Let’s imagine the depressing, morphine-injected flow of Prodigy, of Mobb Deep, kept on a short leash by a sound that is clearly inspired by 90s gangsta, but with contemporary make-up, unmistakeably current and vigorous. That’s what Boldy James’s sound is like; he is a Detroit newcomer who already made noise last year with “Trappers Alley”. His return (the long but intense “Consignment: Favor For A Favor”, almost two hours in the paradise of the most refined gangsta rap) is dedicated to spraying his competitors with a time-bomb, that reclaims the golden era of the Queensbridge sound with plenty of nods to the present and new tricks. Awesome.
3. DJ Skizz: “Kings From Queens”
As an advance for “B.Q.E. (Boston Queens Equation)”, an album that will bring together MCs from Boston and Queens, DJ Skizz whets our appetites with this mixtape that he produced himself. It’s a mixture of already previously-released songs and new material to remind us of why the hardest, most uncomfortable and incorruptible rap in the Big Apple came from Queens for so many years. Skizz recovers the spirit of the good old days with an unquestionable selection of fat beats and sinister loops, and the guests at the party - Big Noyd, Big Twins, Meyhem Lauren and CNN, the usual suspects - are like fish in water.
4. Gunplay: “Bogota Rich”
With the promotional support of Maybach Music and boss Rick Ross, the Miami Gunplay rapper has caused enough of a stir - and called enough attention to himself on the scene - to become another figure with popular appeal when he releases his awaited album. He has done so with an extremely simple, common formula that he repeats, step by step, in “Bogota Rich”. It will be his last mixtape before the official assault, if all goes well. It is an undisguised replica of the sound patented by Rozay: bombastic synthesizers, pounding beats, thumping bass lines, along with unpolished lyrics focused on cocaine - and all of the lyrical and thematic resources that can come from that - with gangsta staging that is more self-parodying than intimidating. His debut will be the test by fire.
5. Obie Trice: “Watch The Chrome”
The title is no lie: the majority of the songs included in Obie Trice’s new mixtape, which is the warm-up for his new studio album, are based on “ Watch The Throne”, by Jay-Z and Kanye West. Not very inventive, really. Now that the mixtape is more and more similar to a standard studio album, this type of product, which looks like it comes from another time, doesn’t offer much to the overflowing market of street albums. Trice tries to come up with new arguments for those who consider him to be an underrated MC, but right now there are more interesting and attractive free releases to spend time and download space on.
6. Novel: “Red Wine & Ambien”
Novel isn’t The-Dream. Or The Weeknd. Or Frank Ocean. Not even Jeremih. His thing is more conventional, academic R&B, but this new mixtape with an ambitious format and concept - 19 songs divided into two thematic and plot blocks - speaks very well of the singer. He smooths his album’s way in the studio, with the aid of flashy producers like Statik Selektah, J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League and Dallas Austin. The first part, aimed to heat up the ladies, works easily with several textbook hits. It marks the line to be followed on the next round. The second part, with a slower ambient sound, manages to fit in as a sort of sugary, mainstream version of The Weeknd.
7. Prodigy: “H.N.I.C. 3”
A couple of days ago, I read a commentary about this new Prodigy mixtape that cracked me up. It said something like “a few years ago, I would have downloaded it, but now…” That is a good way to define Mobb Deep’s progressive loss of importance and relevance in current rap, which is increasingly less forgiving of 90s figures who haven’t managed to keep the status they then had. “H.N.I.C. 3” isn’t the worst recording to come out of Prodigy’s mouth, not at all - in fact the first part of the mixtape stands solid and dignified - but it doesn’t have the punch or the intensity that always used to characterise the New York group. Only for fans with free time.
8. STS: “GOLDrush”
Atlanta rapper Sugar Tongue Slim confirms all of the positive expectations generated over recent months, and he makes a bid to become the “next big thing” in hipster rap. Featuring samples from Coldplay, John Foxx & Louis Gordon (yes, the main song from “Drive”, the virus is still spreading), Foster The People, Drake, The Band Perry and Britney Spears places him close to the early Chiddy Bang; but with some nuances that reinforce his personality. Firstly: STS presents more credentials, resourcefulness, and inventiveness in the lyrics - the dude has a lot of talent still to come out. Secondly: when he doesn’t resort to the most evident sampling approach, his discourse is equally fresh and contagious. We’ll have to keep a close eye on him in the coming months.
9. The Cranberry Show: “Paranormal Karaoke”
It can’t be said that The Cranberry Show are unknowns - there’s been a real buzz about them for the last couple of years - but with “Paranormal Karaoke” their name as rising stars in the leftfield should be on everyone’s lips. For better or for worse, this Milwaukee duo sounds different, imaginative and daring within the clear parameters of post-Kanye influence. They play with electronic beats, pop sounds, well-traced melodies and emotional depth with good taste, and they can boast of convincing flow. Emo-rap, hipster-rap or indie-rap, it doesn’t matter: what really matters is that these songs are overflowing with freshness, augmenting a promising future.
10. Tona: “Reform School”
Although his official debut - “Direct Deposit”, produced entirely by Lyle - already revealed Tona as an MC with a very interesting future ahead of him, his new mixtape surpasses all of the expectations generated by his first album. In reality, “Reform School” is notably better than his first work, for two reasons. The production (almost all by Rich Kidd, with a contribution from Boi-1da in the middle) gives his rhymes more versatility and projection. Furthermore, we also have the Canadian rapper’s own insistence on growing as a lyricist, reflected in a more elaborate, complex proposal, both in the play on words and the subject matter. It is one of the most pleasant surprises of the month.