Another month has gone by and to make the return to your normal, non-summery and broke life more bearable, here's a selection of free hip-hop mixtapes; good new music you won't have to spend a penny on
Summer's about to end. Holidays are over. Dread. Depression. It's hard to even pull up the blinds of our bedroom. Of course, we're broke. All the money's gone up in smoke in August. We have to reactivate ourselves, re-join the chain gang, and it's going to be a tough one. So, in order to make things somewhat more bearable, here's a selection of the ten most outstanding, for whatever reason, mixtapes of the past few weeks. Happy downloading!
1. Busta Rhymes: “Year Of The Dragon”
Though it's a free album, and it doesn't necessarily show where his next studio album is going, “Year Of The Dragon” is somewhat worrying. Basically because you can hear that Busta Rhymes is part of Cash Money, and that his new record is going to be out on the New Orleans label. Collaborations with Lil Wayne, Gucci Mane, Rick Ross, Trey Songz, Maino, and Robin Thicke, among others, show the rapper's commitment to the platform and, most of all, to the idea to make an album aesthetically and musically in the vein of the rest of his new home's catalogue. But they also make it painfully clear that this is not the best environment for the former member of Leaders Of The New School. This is some of the worst material he's ever released.
2. Champion’s Edition: “Alchemy”
The left-field is represented this month by Champion’s Edition, the project involving MC Noah Bility and producer Suede Hernandez, both experienced travellers in the indie-rap underground. The result of their union is this magnificent “Alchemy”, a free album featuring a collaboration with Kool AD, from Das Racist, which is a good example of what type of hip-hop we're dealing with here: a mix of jazz moods, abstract electronica, and playful experimentation, with a laid-back and contemplative sound. All this alongside - of course - elaborate rhymes, dense thoughts and intellectual ambition; essential ingredients for a release of this kind.
3. DJ Jazzy Jeff: “Life Colors”
At this point, Jazzy Jeff has nothing to prove, but if there's still anyone out there who doesn't know more about him than his forced exit from the Banks mansion, here's a new opportunity to find out why this man is one of the best DJs in history. On this mixtape sponsored by the LRG clothing brand, Will Smith's former partner in crime offers up a feast of hits - hits from yesterday, hits from today, pop hits, and hip-hop hits - original samples and posterior recreations, mixed with his usual, incredible skill. It’s as if the whole process of selecting, connecting and making it coherent was the easiest thing in the world.
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4. Hit-Boy: “HITstory”
Kanye West's protégé and one of the darlings of G.O.O.D. Music takes the leap we feared the most: entering the world of rhyming. He warned us months ago and now it's a reality, but the result is surprisingly good. We already knew him as a producer (from recent hits like “Niggas In Paris” and “Goldie”), but every doubt about his abilities as an MC is taken away on this mixtape, on which he pleasantly flows in a confessional and intimate tone, with tasteful and well-crafted lyrics about his life, career, and success. The sound is sometimes soulful, sometimes club oriented, but always with something to say.
5. Iggy Azalea: “Glory”
It's still unclear to us what Australian rapper Iggy Azalea, T.I.'s personal darling for his Grand Hustle label, is all about: is she the white version of Nicki Minaj? The female version of Eminem? The hip-hop version of Lady Gaga? While we're waiting for her new mixtape, produced by Diplo, this EP featuring six tracks (some of which we already heard months ago), point in the direction of Minaj, only without some of the characteristics that make her sound so good: lyrical talent, artistic versatility and, most of all, credibility. Azalea does that pop-rap thing, counting bills ( “Me, Myself, My Money”), gets the boys going ( “Flash”) and she surrounds herself with big names, but she doesn't manage to mask her obvious lack of writing and rhyming skills.
6. Machine Gun Kelly: “EST 4 Life”
If Eminem is to be replaced by rappers like Machine Gun Kelly, Slim Shady can rest easy. We expected a lot from “EST 4 Life”, basically because, if everything goes well, it's supposedly a taste of what's to come on his debut album on Bad Boy, slated for release in October. But the result couldn't be more flimsy and hopeless. The problem isn't only MGK's irritating flow, or his more than disputable lyrical talent; his overall sound and concept just doesn't tally. This mixtape has some AOR slips, is fruitlessly looking for the pop angle and it flirts with the southern bounce thing, but doesn't get it right. The overall impression is that his major label debut will stretch this unjustified crossover to the maximum.
7. Mikkey Halsted: “Castro”
There are some MCs who really know how to transmit that idea of 'authenticity' many headz are looking for in the genre. One of them is Chicago rapper Mikkey Halsted, a rather non-prolific figure who on his mixtape “Castro” gets support from heavyweights Don Cannon and No ID (five beats in total), unmistakable signs that his lyrics must be good. With a background of change and revolution, the mixtape shows an aggressive MC who wants to make it clear that he's ready to fight man to man, but is also lucid enough to make social-political comments ( “Obamanomics”, for example). The soul-funk flavour of the samples and the great beats accompany some high-quality lyrics.
8. Styles P: “The Diamond Life Project”
D-Blockkeep doing what they're doing, which is releasing mixtapes and street albums to stay in touch with their fans and keep track of an industry to which they almost no longer matter. Styles P, my favourite MC from the collective, comes with another selection of new material on this brief mixtape, featuring highlights “YO Trill Shee” and “The Myth”. The former, with a spectacular beat by Lex Luger, is a collaboration with Bun B, which is always good; the latter is one of the most fascinating productions in recent times by The Alchemist, a six-minute piece divided into four acts. When D-Block go street, they are unique and inimitable.
9. The Kid Daytona: “Summer Games: The Kid With The Golden Pen”
The Bronx rapper isn't too fussy, using productions by 9th Wonder, Bink, Rockwilder, and Harry Fraud for a new mixtape that, as usual, sounds like a free official album rather than a mixtape - because of the material, the talent, and the effort. On “Summer Games: The Kid With The Golden Pen”, he once again shows off his great lyrics, reminiscing about his travels and vindicating himself as one of the most solid MCs from the Bronx right now. Moreover, apart from being an inspired rhymer, the man shows he has a fine nose for beats: this is one of the mixtapes of the month, also because of the sound and consistency. Top class NY rap, old school style.
10. Tim Vocals: “Live From Harlem”
Even with all the imperfections of any debut, the totally lo-fi, free, and self-produced “Live From Harlem” is one of the surprises of the year. Its maker is Tim Vocals, a young singer from Harlem who's ready to join the army of R&B renovators led by The Weeknd, Frank Ocean and company. Think Drake - with his tone, his schmaltziness and his melancholic productions - talking about wild sex, explicit violence and life on the streets. Vocals adds his personal touch to the genre, taking this subject matter to a musical context of nocturnal strolls, intimate dinners and silky kisses. Recycling beats by Drake to take them to his territory, the result is as worrying as it is astonishing.