The mixtape circuit has become a parallel market to conventional record releases. In this monthly column we'll help you separate the wheat from the chaff, with ten of the best free releases of the moment.
We have said - and written - it many times already, but we'll repeat it once more: mixtapes have become a parallel, and often complementary, market to the regular releases. It is fast becoming a mandatory tool for every artist, famous or not, who wishes to promote and distribute their music without having to care for contractual stipulations, official release dates or marketing plans. The volume of references flooding the internet is such that we have decided to dedicate a monthly column to the phenomenon, filtering through the most important free releases in one article. Once a month, we'll take a look at what's available on this never ending mixtape bazaar and comment on those we find relevant and worthy of being picked out. Things being the way they are these days in the record industry, we have no doubt that it will be hard to choose just 10 titles every 30 days.
“University Instrumentals” - a selection of the beats AraabMUZIK has been giving away, selling, lending or exchanging here and there over the past few months - makes it clear that the sound patented on “Electronic Dream” is, right now, his worst enemy. The singularity, freshness and syntax of his debut album contrasts with the convention, linearity and repetitive arrangements of his most orthodox side - which he defines as a beat factory for different clients. So, while “Electronic Dream” feels like a proper, lasting album, “University Instrumentals” is what it is: a beat tape with mixed results. As it's not a free mixtape, so we won't include the download link - but the one where you can buy it.
The sleeve is reminiscent of The Weeknd. But that clue can lead to disappointment: we're not dealing with a tormented rapper or a new indie R&B sensation. Calez - a Chicago MC with some years of experience trying to get his music out there - is a talented guy who tries to integrate his nostalgia for the golden years with a refined sound in the vein of the new wave (or: how to fuse A Tribe Called Quest, Pete Rock and Gang Starr with lo-fi production, electronic equipment and a modern flavour). On this mixtape, the best he's done so far, he delivers the goods.
With the rumours about his signing with Maybach Music at their peak, New York rapper Emilio Rojas has finally given the world his new mixtape. Taking into account his aura of future promise for the big leagues, it's no surprise that the sound of these tracks - with beats by The J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League and M-Phazes - openly looks for the electronic and emotional sound popularised by Rick Ross and, most of all, Drake. The problem is that when he spends too much time in the schmaltz department (“Blame Me”, “Realization” and “One Last Time”), he loses credibility and immediacy. He should instead focus on his more interesting side - as an ingenious, warrior MC with crude and menacing beats (“Middle Finger” and “Classic”).
“Eyes Of Veritas” was one of the revelatory mixtapes of 2011. Particularly to those who didn't know the Michigan rapper based in Philadelphia - Gilbere Forte - a promising exponent of the new post-Kanye hip-hop generation, now resurfacing with “YOTD: Year Of The Dragon”. As expected, the surprise factor of its predecessor is no longer there, but never mind that: once again, he sounds inventive, lucid and lyrically ambitious. Not to mention the notable selection of beats - again defiant and adventurous, connecting eighties references, catchy melodies and convincing beats. Free caviar!
Gucci Mane's case is very much like Young Jeezy's: as the days go by, his relevance and presence in hip-hop loses its power. Although Mane continues to bomb the market with official releases and mixtapes, it's as if everything he says or does doesn’t matter anymore. “Trap Back” comes shortly after his forgettable record with V-Nasty, and it doesn't look like he's going to be back on top of things anytime soon. Though he gets help from Lex Lugar, Drumma Boy and Mike Will - some of the people giving orders these days in southern rap - it all sounds repetitive and tired, far from the excitement Rick Ross' releases cause, for example.
Well, it had to happen - and it's good that it did now - now the affair is still somewhat interesting. New York rapper Kyle Rapps, with the help of DJ Diwon, has taken four of the five “songs” accompanying Cliff Martinez' score for “Drive” to pay tribute to the acclaimed film. “Tryone Gosling FreEP” shows that, besides an effective concept (even the sleeve is in keeping), the idea of fusing the disco-pop hits of the original with new school beats and our hero's rhymes, makes more sense - and has more punch - than we would have thought. An EP that is short, as it's supposed to be, but adds more fuel to the fire.
Initially, I didn't give two cents for this mixtape - mainly because in recent years, Young Buck seemed to focus more on milking his beef with 50 Cent than on making good tunes. As if he thought the only way he could get attention and fame was via the row with his former boss. But “Live Loyal, Die Rich” is a comforting and powerful surprise. Not only does it show that the Nashville rapper wants to come back with a vengeance - with a coherent sound, hard, very solid, and true to his roots this time - but also that he wants to do it in the company of some well-chosen collaborators. Drumma Boy, Celsizzle and Drumma Drama lead him back to a better position.
After the acclaim for “The Greatest Story Never Told” last year, Saigon wants to take advantage of his moment in the spotlight with a new mixtape that doesn't immediately make it clear which direction he will be taking next. Though he gets the support of some prestigious producers (Green Lantern, Ez Elpee, Scram Jones and, of course, Just Blaze), the material on offer is mixed and out of balance - with four or five killer tracks (“I Am 4 Real” and “Yeah Yeah”, for example), but also with some beats and freestyles that prove monotonous and with some signs of crossover intentions that aren't quite convincing.
One of my favourite crazies is back, this time with a piece that darkens and disturbs his sound even more. A nightmarish trip, hard to digest, on the border of Houston rap and Miami bass - but with a varnish of purple drank that could floor the toughest. It is fascinating and incomparable. It won't be necessary to ask your friend the doctor to get you some codeine illegally: even if you're sober, this tape is a hallucinatory affair with unpredictable results. Next to him, A$AP Rocky sounds like he's on speed.
Ta’East teams up with Casey Veggies in a knowing assertion of San Diego as an alternative scene for the West Coast. “The Popular Stranger” is an exciting debut full of interesting and fresh ideas that makes one want to keep an eye on him. With an anticlimactic sound, slow, with a tendency towards Chiaroscuros and emotional exploration - in debt to Kendrick Lamar and A$AP Rocky - the rapper bases a big part of his sound on the production. However, he doesn’t neglect his rhymes, which reveal a social and existential uneasiness, without abusing of stereotypes.
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