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Mixtapes #006

A selection of free music to brighten up your end of the month

October's been one of the best months of the year when it comes to mixtape releases. Making the selection of ten outstanding street albums has taken some time and been a headache, but in the end we've been able to put together a list of titles worth mentioning and analysing. Pay attention people, many of these tapes will be among the best of 2012.

October's been one of the best months of the year when it comes to mixtape releases. Making the selection of ten outstanding street albums has taken some time and been a headache, but in the end we've been able to put together a list of titles worth mentioning and analysing. Pay attention people, many of these tapes will be among the best of 2012.

1. Big Sant: “MFxOG”

Mississippi MC Big Sant comes with the guarantee, protection, and even help of Big K.R.I.T. Which in itself is enough reason to get your teeth into this excellent mixtape, which, as it turns out, confirms our highest hopes: something serious is going on in Mississippi. And it has something to do with the renovation and remodelling of the area's sound (with David Banner always being present) with expressive and aesthetic mechanisms that open up to other places and sensibilities, yet never losing touch with the control centre back home. Big Sant is more direct and explosive than K.R.I.T., and, while lacking the latter's soul and lyrical depth, “MFxOG” is one of the best things that have happened to Mississippi rap in months. An impressive mixtape presenting the credentials of the new dirty South.

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2. Christian’Dee: “SHVPXRT”

Slo-mo rap is in excellent shape right now, or at least, the scene is more productive than ever. Christian’Dee is a good example of this trend: his mixtape “SHVPXRT” revolves entirely around an ambient sound, slow and contemplative, and full of evocative synths. He does so with clear signs of personality and a voice of his own, especially in the production, most of which he takes care of himself. His sound is a satin bedroom revision of the Tribe Called Quest aesthetic (he even gets his particular version of “Can I Kick It?” in there), and of the most orthodox brand of dirty South. He's still green, needs to mature and find his place, but this release is very promising.

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3. Famoso: “Before Tha’ Dope Comes

A strong candidate for the title mixtape of the year, “Before Tha’ Dope Comes” is much more than the visiting card of Brooklyn rapper Famoso. It's also new evidence that NY rap is not about to let this much talked about underground comeback die down. This street album, mixing new material with freestyles and recovered collaborations, has the sound, acid and rawness of the best years of the genre in the Big Apple, and it's one of the highlights of the year. Even in the lo-fi and disparate context of the mixtape, which is more a catch-all term than a semi-official release, “Before Tha’ Dope Comes” is an uncontrollable hurricane of fat beats and menacing street lyrics that would scare a whole army. Mandatory download.

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4. Freeway: “Freedom Of Speech”

Yours truly has a soft spot for Freeway. Not only because he's one of the most solid and personal MCs of the East Coast, but also because he's been blurring his own comet's tail, and seems almost more comfortable now than when he started out. Back then he was supported by Jay-Z and Damon Dash, and his debut, “Philadelphia Freeway”, hinted at yet another millionaire son of the Roc-A-Fella empire. But fate, and his personality (elusive and controversial), proved to be an obstacle. And that's when Freeway's real career began: releases that were almost clandestine, unexpected collaborations, and hard-core underground militancy. Now he's putting out a preview of his new album with this excellent mixtape, on which the Philly MC shows his great nose for good producers: Jake One, Mr. Green, B. Jones and Thelonious Martin give the whole an extra push and shine.

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5. Gucci Mane: “Trap God”

One can't escape the feeling Gucci Mane missed the train of mass success. His most recent releases didn't get the media attention and sales figures one might expect from someone of his status and personality, and it's unlikely things will be different with his new mixtape “Trap God”. But in his defence, this is probably his best work in years, and maybe that's because on this free album, Mane makes a real effort to show he wants to go back to his roots. In other words: “Trap God” is the closest the Alabama rapper has been to the “The Cold War” trilogy in some time, and that's something to keep in mind with regards to his upcoming official release.

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6. Jimmy Kelso: “Kelso’s Castle”

When The Alchemist sponsors it, think well and you'll get it right. Jimmy Kelso was the only remaining member of Forever FC to release his mixtape outside of the group, and I would almost say it's the best of them all. You can reproach the Charlotte MC for his flow lacking uniformity, but you can't say the man's not a talented rhymer and lyricist. Kelso and his team of guest producers (besides Alchemist, Thelonious Martin, Soul and Mykal Riley) have gone for a gangsta noir sound, with plenty of samples from thrillers and doped-up beats, and they're spot on: his parsimonious, misty and tired flow has found the perfect ally in the selection of productions his friends and supporters gave him. If anyone was in doubt, the North Carolina scene is very much alive and kicking.

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7. Rick Ross: “The Black Bar Mitzvah”

Rick Ross continues to feed Maybach Music's ego and need to be present with another mixtape, with irregular results. It's just more of the same, if you ask me, even overly repetitive. Maybach Music needs solutions: either a break, or a breath of fresh air in the particular dynamics of its productions, but for weeks now, every time we have news from Ross and his gang, the expectations always exceed the results. “The Black Bar Mitzvah” recycles beats and cameos, features some unreleased material that isn't all that, and confirms the idea a holiday is in order.

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8. Smoke DZA: “K.O.N.Y.”

Is Smoke DZA going too fast? Until a few weeks ago, the answer to that question was affirmative and without hesitation: a lot of consecutive releases and the overall feeling that the MC had lost himself in his own creative mist. But the release of his new mixtape, “K.O.N.Y.”, will shut everybody up and restores the faith in one of the champions of today's weed-rap. He gets help from Ski Beatz, Lee Banon, and Kenny Beatz, and it shows. Smoke DZA comes out of his cannabis tunnel he lost his way in recently, and comes back with his most inspired work to date. The tone and aesthetic is hardly different, but the beats firmly stand out, alongside the lyricist and rhymer's determination to recover lost territory.

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9. Tuki Carter: “Atlantafornication”

For those who insisted on doubting Taylor Gang, here's another slap in the face: the debut by Tuki Carter, one of the freshest and most infectious releases coming from the Southern scene in months. A meeting point between Camp Lo, Snoop Dogg and Wiz Khalifa, the reputed tattoo artist's discourse has pop vocation, respect for the roots and a lot of strength. And he distances himself from the neo-gangsta cliches with a range of rhymes that focus more on a personal and homemade vision than on the cocky exaltation about success and life on the streets. “Atlantafornication” is a notable and, most of all, addictive example of the path Southern hip-hop should be taking in the near future. Taylor Gang are still up there.

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10. Wiz Khalifa: “Cabin Fever 2”

In one year, Wiz Khalifa has released three mixtapes: the two “Cabin Fever” deliveries, and the notable “Taylor Allderlice”, which could almost be counted and work as an official album, both because of the material and the quality thereof. And the three releases have made it clear that Khalifa is one of the most sensible and intelligent MCs out there: able to move around with coherence and credibility in the mainstream (his alliance with Snoop Dogg on “Mac & Devin Go To High School”) and on the streets, free of commercial ties. While expecting his major label return, the Pittsburgh rapper keeps himself busy with close collaborators to emphasise his more personal discourse: “Cabin Fever 2” is another notable display of talent for an atmospheric and melodic brand of rap, something he's starting to have the patent on.

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