A new selection of records to brighten up your day with good music, without the need for turning your wallet inside out or feeling like Big Brother is watching you. The stream of releases just keeps growing, many of them trying to get us to warm to some of the big official releases of this year. Download and enjoy.
1. Casey Veggies: “Customized Greatly 3”
Someday we'll talk about the new rap scene developing on the West Coast, and we'll most likely discuss the great health the present San Diego scene is enjoying right now. One of its main representatives, rapper Casey Veggies, has been establishing his ‘next big thing’ status for about a year now with a series of mixtapes, the third of which came out a few weeks back. Once again, Veggies proves to be better at selecting beats than at MCing, as the sound of “Customized Greatly 3” is this collection's main attraction: a wise mix of weed-rap, funk and some southern elements, camouflaging the flaws in his rhymes and the lyrical content of some of the tracks.
2. Gerald Walker: “Believers Never Die”
Gerald Walker has some major virtues: he sounds different, personal, reasonably fresh and new. The secret is his flow, unconventional, slow, relaxed, sometimes even a bit too much. He shies away from any pageantry and instead sounds introspective, ideal for both smokers and die-hard lady-killers (although if you don't feel you're in either category, you won't feel out of place, either). The sophisticated and careful production, and Walker's tone - an even silkier version of Drake - is ideal for any of “those days” when you're feeling out of love.
3. N.O.R.E.: “Crack On Stereoids”
OK, N.O.R.E. is quite limited as a rapper. The Queensbridge posse would even say he's second-rate: always going on about the same things, a repetitive flow and a very limited lyrical range. In short: his art won't make the genre's history books. But all those flaws, obvious and manifest even on his best recordings (the abrasive “The War Report”), are compensated with his overwhelming personality. The same personality that is capable of turning “Crack On Steroids”, his new mixtape, in a chaotic mix of street and club beats with as many highs ( “My Alias”, “Baby Girl”, “Lehhhgooo”) as lows. A box full of ideas and intentions, in tune with Noreaga's irregular and unpredictable character.
4. Ras Kass & Doc Hollywood: “Spit No Evil”
There was a time when Ras Kass seemed destined to become the best rapper on the West Coast. It was the days of “Soul On Ice”, an underrated and forgotten masterpiece, a major exhibition of skill and lyrical wit. It was the time when this MC started to emerge and the buzz got louder and louder, to which, however, he had no answer. Lost in the minor leagues of underground rap for years now, you could say Kass is rapping for the fun of it. A good example is this magnificent free album he has just recorded with producers Doc Hollywood, who deliver the sonic goods - one of the things this extremely gifted, but unlucky rapper's recordings always lacked, until now.
5. Stalley: “Savage Journey To The American Dream”
Something's not quite right on the new and much awaited mixtape by Stalley, the release date of whose album, possibly one of the most anticipated of the year, is getting ever closer. Maybe it's the excessive sonic linearity of the album, which ends up distracting you; or maybe it's that unhealthy obsession with the contemplative and introspective tempo, which at times confuses the idea of travelling with boredom; or it could be the absence of one or two hits that help to elevate the tone and aspirations of the recording. Or maybe it's all of the above. But when it shines, especially on the first part, “Savage Journey To The American Dream” reaffirms Stalley’s role as the odd one out in Maybach Music circle; a rapper who has enough personality to deliver records that go against the grain.
6. Statik Selektah & Lord Sear: “Open Bar Classics Volume 3: New Jack Swing”
Let's bring back the quiffs, blazers, turtlenecks, gold chains, trousers tucked inside Timberland boots, sun glasses and gym room choreographies: my friends, new jack swing is here again. Or at least it is on this fun, cultured and frantic mixtape manufactured by Boston producer Statik Selektah and New York DJ Lord Sear. They show their excellent taste even in the artwork, a magnificent tribute to the golden age of the genre that was almost patented by Teddy Riley, who, at the end of the 80s, wreaked havoc in the USA. The highly recommendable feast of up-tempo beats, soul vocals and hot lyrics features some classics by Guy, Aaron Hall, Bobby Brown, Boyz 2 Men and Wreckx-n-Effect.
7. The Game: “California Republic”
A new display of power, means and possibilities from The Game; who's been giving new value to the concept of the mixtape, with huge releases full of previously unreleased material and dozens of collaborations that somehow didn't make it to the official albums. On “California Republic”, the Californian is basically recycling beats from his hits of the past fifteen months or so, inviting a string of friends to this party (which, fair's fair, goes on a little bit too long). Rick Ross, Snoop, Lupe Fiasco, Busta Rhymes and Nipsey Hussle are featured on a mixtape that doesn't reveal anything regarding his upcoming album, but serves, once again, as a little who's who in The Game’s address book.
8. True 2 Life Music: “Every Dream Has A Price”
This is another of those mixtape that could just as well be sold as a proper album, because of its high standard, seriousness and intention. Brooklyn group True 2 Life Music deliver a surprising release that is interestingly eclectic: a smooth and melodic flow and tone, the influence of Houston rap in a more global and pop context, and a positive and combative attitude. Their sound is still irregular ( “Almost Unreal” and “Every Dream Has A Price” want to be hits, but they get stuck on the way there), and they need the support of a good (known) producer who can get them heard outside the mixtape B-circuit, but there's enough talent here to expect a bright future.
9. Uno Hype x DJ Black Diamond: “FXCK THE HYPE”
At the tender age of 18, Maryland rapper Uno Hype honours his role as future promise with a second mixtape, this time in the company of DJ Black Diamond. The latter produced the whole release, on which the foundations of Uno's sound are reinforced: productions with powerful melodies and fresh beats, emotional introspection, and a lyrical register that is much more mature and aware than his age would have you expect. “FXCK THE HYPE” isn't only the best mixtape we've heard around here in recent weeks, it's also proof that it's going to be easier than we thought to find a proper replacement for the now definitely failed Lupe Fiasco.
10. Various Artists: “2012 XXL Freshman Class”
Like every year around this time, XXL magazine is releasing a mixtape dedicated to the great hopes of the season. The idea has lost some of its impact and relevance over the years, now that the public hear about the future stars way before they appear on the magazine's cover - through all the social networks and other new, online PR channels. Nevertheless, the mixtape is still a good way for those who haven't been paying 100% attention over the past six months to learn about the new stuff. Of the 2012 selection, three names clearly stand out: Danny Brown, basically because he's pretty established already; French Montana, Diddy's latest signing for Bad Boy; and, of course, Iggy Azalea, T.I.'s protégé and the only one able to battle for the throne with Nicki Minaj.