An Excerpt From 2013: A Year In Review
By Nathan G. O'Brien on Scene Point Blank
Continuing our year-end best-of coverage, here is a list Nathan compiled of the 20 best rap mixtapes from the past 12 months. It goes alphabetical by first letter of artist's name, so no fighting about silly rankings! Read it and let us know what you think.
Action Bronson's greatness has never come as the result of focused lyricism, but rather the opposite—scatterbrained rhymes; seemingly written with little regard for things like story arc or cohesiveness, but delivered with superb breath control. Much in the same way the Beastie Boys were the Internet before there was an Internet, Bronson boasts a savant-like spank bank of '80s sports figures, pro-wrestling history and pop culture references. Blend it with a dose of druggy, misogynistic shithead-ness, a don't-give-a-fuck attitude, and an unhealthy food obsession and you have the most trivial and irreverent, yet amazingly fluid rap songs available for free on the Internet. If you’re not downloading Action Bronson mixtapes, you're literally losing money.
Tie: Black Dave – Stay Black and Black Dave – Black Bart
“All I do is rap – All I do is skate,” states the rapper/skater on “Rap & Skate,” the mid-tape track that in the simplest terms possible sums up what Black Dave is all about. Although he’s a New Yorker, Dave applies a multifarious approach to rap, successfully flexing mic skills in a variety of regional styles—effectively stirring an alluring cocktail of trap, club and boom-bap. Lyrically, he’s not saying much you haven’t heard before (see: song titles like “Bitch Nigga Why You Fake?” and “Muthafuck My Enemies!”) but that’s exactly what’s so great about it—it’s fucking rap music, man! Black Bart picks up right where Stay Black left off, leaving no inclination of Black Dave slowing down. In fact, when it comes to rapping, he’s gotten faster. At times he sounds like more attentive and decipherable Twista. His granular, vigorous flow is complimented well by beats from a variety of producers. The assortment of production lends the tape a bit of a multi-regional feel, but ultimately, much like fellow New Yorkers Flatbush ZOMBiES and A$AP Mob, Black Daves’s sound reflects the trap emergence of modern day rap music. Shy Guy takes on the majority of the production, providing super-clean trap-happy slaps and chimes to seven of the 15 tracks. Brady Becklo delivers the boom-bap leanings for “Recognize”, which is as close to old-school New York rap as you will get on this tape. Other notable tracks are “To Da Grave”, in which DJ Smokey goes the full SpaceGhostPurrp on the beat, and the electro-tinged “Fake ID”, where VeryRVRE provides a buzzed-out noise manipulation score.
Sure, you saw the A Tribe Called Quest movie and found it disappointing to learn how much of an asshole Q-Tip turned out to be, and no Busta Rhymes hasn't made a good album since Extinction Level Event, but trust me, when these two get together it's like time travel. Roll a Dutch Masters blunt, crack a deuce-deuce of malt beezy, and suit-up in your baggy Silver Tabs, puffy skate shoes, and oversized sweatshirts. Then jump in a DeLorean with 2.21 gigawatts and the dial set to a house party in 1996. Hip-hop don’t stop, ya’ll.
Da Mafia 6ix – 6ix Commandments
If ever there was an applicable usage of that old the band is back together adage, Da Mafia 6ix is it. DJ Paul reunited five of the original Three 6 Mafia members and their Hypnotize Minds peripherals for a new tape of straight grime. Crunchy Black, Koopsta Knicca, Lord Infamous, Gangsta Boo, and Paul are joined by Lil Wyte, Skinny Pimp, La Chat, and sometimes Juicy J (although he’s not credited due to contractual obligations) for a full-on re-visitation of the dark, violent, confrontational, unapologetic, krunk’d, trap’d, and purp’d the fuck out Southern rap music that every corner boy and their crack-bagging mother is copycatting these days. 6ix Commandments is what happens when Three 6 Mafia jumps all over their own damn bandwagon. And holy shit is it so goddamn unbelievably great.
The majority of the production is handled in-house by Erick Arc Elliot. His dedication to his craft is apparent. The ample soundscapes on BetterOffDEAD are the result of what I can only imagine must be hours upon hours in the lab. BetterOffDEAD is a rap opus. Inasmuch as an opus can contain the following descriptors: psychotic, psychedelic, druggy, drugged-out, acid-soaked, obnoxious, eerie, ominous, rugged, raw, and bangin’. Emcees Meech and Juice stir a bubbling cocktail of nasally, drug-addled, murderous, and thought-provoking lyricism that recalls early Nonphixion, Necro, Cypress Hill and Gravediggaz.
Gucci Mane – Diary of a Trap God and Gucci Mane – World War 3: Lean
In a move that surprises absolutely nobody, Gucci Mane put out a whole bunch of mixtapes this year - nine to be exact. Well, that might not be exact because there's always the very real chance that he dropped like, three more in the last 10 minutes. No, wait, he’s in jail, right? Who knows – I don’t have the energy to keep track. When Trap God 2 came out at the beginning of the year I jumped all over but now I can't remember much about it other than Gucci said his name a lot, the production was lame, and it was not as good a tape as Trap God 1 from last year…which isn't saying much really. August’s World War III: Lean was dope though. I've been bumping that one and Diary of a Trap God whenever I feel like punching down. Although Gucci does really irritating things like releasing nine tapes in one year—most of which are like, 20 songs long—I give him a pass because he was in the highly under-appreciated film Spring Breakers, has an ice cream cone tattooed on his face, has Twitter beefs with rappers who are featured on his songs, and, well, is Gucci Mane
“Bet That,” the first song on Gunplay’s tape Cops & Robbers starts off with the MMG loudmouth boasting, “I just beat a life sentence. Fuck ya!” This is a guy that is fresh off of house arrest, mind you. It’s clear Gunplay doesn’t give a fuck. I mean, come on, dude has a swastika tattoo. Like with past releases, his approach to tapes falls in line with the traditional template set forth in the days when they actually came on cassette or CD-Rs that you had to buy at the corner store or from the dude in the parking lot of A&J Fish & Chicken—he raps over second hand trap beats, the audio quality is poor, and it’s a collection of songs largely void of a thematic cohesiveness or album continuity. The guy’s name is Gunplay and this is called Cops & Robbers, so there’s that type of thing going on in every song, but there was likely no real thought to how they are assembled. It’s raw, ignorant, and completely unapologetic. And, well, it’s pretty great actually.
Tie: Hit Squad – Two Turntables and a Microphone and Redman – The Remixxes
Two Turntables and a Microphone marks the return the Hit Squad. Yes, that Hit Squad. EPMD, Das EFX, K-Solo, Keith Murray, DJ Scratch, and Redman all up in here doing that old-school record-scratching boom-bap hip-hop rap shit. While it’s mostly new beats and new raps, there are a few nods to their collective history on it that sort of tie it all together. So is it true that time heals all wounds? Well the jury is still out on that. And speaking of Redman, Remixxes finds him rapping over “classic” beats from other artists in true mixtape fashion. He meritoriously breathes new life into Eminem’s “Just Don’t Give a Fuck”, Nas’ “My 2nd Childhood”, Jay Z’s “My First”, and Kirko Bangz’ “Drink in My cup” among others.
Summer Knights is the latest from NYC boom-bap revivalist wonderkid Joey Bada$$. This is his fourth mixtape (counting the Pro Era crew tape) since 2012. Over the course of 17 tracks, the emcee proves once again that he’s more advanced than many of his peers, and deserving of the praise heaped upon him. The majority of the production is handled by Pro Era crewmates Lee Bannon, Chuck Strangers, and Kirk Knight, who acted in accordance to give the tape a cohesive resonance. As I ride my bike around the city with Summer Knights bumping in the earbuds, I recall memories of summer days during my youth, listening to A Tribe Called Quest cassette tapes on my Walkman. In addition to the previously mentioned beatsmiths, the tape gets a little extra mileage thanks to singular contributions from Statik Selektah, MF Doom, Oddisee, and DJ Premier.
KRNDN – Everthing's Nothing
KRNDN is how Krondon from Strong Arm Steady spells his name now, because he’s like, a rapper and stuff. Everything’s Nothing is his first solo outing, and as anyone familiar with SAS would expect, it’s impressive as hell. It’s hard to put this into words, so I’m not sure this will make sense anyone besides me, but it’s almost as if Krondon accidentally created a better piece of art than Kendrick Lamar very purposefully attempted to create with good kid, m.A.A.d city. Against a backdrop of smoothed-out beats (by Cardo, DJ Dahi, DJ Khalil, and 321) he interweaves autobiographical memoirs and herb-puffed anecdotes; parading the laid-back, sunny vibe of California rider music. The sound emanating from your speakers will only enhance the hallucinogenic properties of whatever it is you ingested...if that’s your thing or whatever.
Kismet, which means “fate” or “destiny”, is also the name of the new tape by New York’s Mr. MFN eXquire. And while it may seem like an odd title choice for a tape whose cover art shows the emcee gripping a naked woman’s rear end in a pose that can’t be construed as anything other than standing coitus, it’s actually very apropos given the direction he’s taken things since his 2011 tape, Lost in Translation. Sure, the raunchiness and wild’n out aspects are still intact, but several tracks are dedicated to personal insights and human growth. For the most part, Kismet is dare I say, a kinder, gentler eXquire. That is not to say he doesn't go hard in typical braggadocios rap fashion from time to time but overall, the tape is more on the personal revelations tip than anything else. eXquire’s flows and beat selections are as varied as you’d expect from a man who refers to himself as an “avant-garde hood nigga.” “Hoes I Don’t Remember” is the Willie Nelson “For All the Girls I’ve Loved Before” of rap songs, if ever there was one.
Tie: Project Pat – Cheez N Dope and Project Pat – Cheez N Dope 2
When it boils down to it, there’s too many rappers out there trying to clone this sound, that it’s actually refreshing to hear a veteran of the Memphis scene put out some new songs, even if only half of them are necessary. The standout tracks here are the Drumma Boy produced ones “Flippin N Stackin”, “No Mirage”, and “Gettin Cash”, which features longtime collaborator Juicy J. As far as production goes, Ricky Racks turns in some trap bangers on the aforementioned “Mask Up” and the Nasty Mane feature, “Dick Eatin Dog”, which is lyrically just as ridiculously misogynistic as the title would imply. I’d reprint a sample lyric here but then I’d have to register as a sex offender.
Niggas Is Men is the second episode of the Quelle Chris’ 2 Dirt 4 TV series. The production is handled by Stifu, Messiah Musik, and of course, Quelle himself. The majority of the songs feature verses from Cavalier, whose cadence compliments Quelle’s oddball delivery quite well. “Natural Flavors” has the captivating buzzed-out bass beat that invokes the same feeling of intrigue that almost broke the Internet the first time everyone heard The S.O.N. EP. Tracks like “Greene Eyes”, “Good Days” and “Long Tokes” are the type of head-nodders that rely heavily on raw sample loops.
Rapsody – She Got Game
She Got Game marks Rapsody’s full emergence as one of the genres flyest emcees. Even though the tape is ripe with soulful beats by fellow North Carolinians 9th Wonder and Khrysis, and some guest spots from the likes of Raekwon and Chance the Rapper, she fully owns the project. Showcasing her ever-flowing breath of lyrical acrobatics and impeccable songwriting, She Got Game is an album-worthy collection of songs. She touches on a number of subjects—love, basketball, education, family, etc.—from a personal point of view, rather than speaking in hypothetical or metaphorical terms. DJ Premier lends one of his signature cut-laden, sample-heavy beats for “Kingship,” which is one of the tape’s harder-hitting songs. The pairing is so natural; I’d love to see a whole project by the two.
The best mixtapes are those that could stand on their own as a retail album, which is the case with many of those on this very list. In that vein, The Pimpire Strikes Back plays a lot like it could be disc 2 of Roc Marciano’s 2013 album Marci Beaucoup. Why anyone needs more than, say, 15 songs from any one artist in a 12 month span is beyond me. Rappers are the prime offenders when it comes to market saturation but it’s an annoyance that’s easily forgiven when it comes at the hands of a rhyme and production beast like Marciano. As per the usual, his deeply smooth vocal tone perfectly matches his favored subject matter – dealing drugs, concealing weapons, and pimping out his ladies. While he’s fully capable on his own behind the boards, he hands over half of these tracks to top-shelf beatsmiths like Evidence, Madlib, Lord Finesse and Alchemist, all of whom are hyperaware of Roc’s preference for grim loops and dusty samples.
Spark Master Tape – The #SWOUP Serengeti
There are all types of things going on here and the whole thing bangs. Because all of the vocals are chopped and screwed, at times it’s hard to tell if who’s rapping; whether it’s the mysterious Spark Master Tape or if it’s samples of like, Busta Rhymes or MC Lyte or something. Although it would appear SMT is a skilled emcee, he is also obviously very aware of all of hip-hop's various stereotypes, as he and producer Paper Platoon exploit them to the fullest. The beats are reverb-heavy, as if they were constructed under a thick cloud of sour diesel while syrup dripped all over the 808s. As to the identity of SMT, I have no interest in playing the guessing game; I’m too busy bumping the shit out of this in my imaginary jeep.
The Underachievers are the latest duo to spring from New York City’s rap collective, Beast Coast; a crew that also includes Flatbush Zombies, Pro Era, A$AP Mob, and Smoke DZA. Against a backdrop of beats that range from conventional boom-bap to the trap’d gradations of modern-day tape rap, emcees AK and Issa Dash exasperate wordy lyricism at a rate that is both impressive and slightly overwhelming. They go heavy on the sour diesel and psychedelics but disguise it via well-written, clever similes rather than easily decipherable one-liners. Whereas some of their contemporaries are reviving classic NYC rap, Underachievers are strangely enough, reinventing it.
Tree – Sunday School II: When Church Lets Out
Tree has a really distinguishable voice that is part soulful croon, part grayish growl. There’s a lot of emotion in his rapping like he’s always on the verge of meltdown or something. For the uninitiated it might not be the easiest thing to digest on the first spin. The first Sunday School tape took a bit to grow on me but eventually it ended up being one my favorite tapes of 2012. The second edition, When Church Lets Out is even better, and production-wise, more focused. Although a number of producers contribute beats to the tape, it’s Tree’s own brand of “soultrap” that drives the overall sonic direction. As expected, Tree’s songwriting is introspective and inspirational. While that may translate to some rap fans as “not bangin’” there are some tracks that go hard too. Particularly near the end with, “Tree Shit” and “White Girls.” And there are noteworthy guest appearances by Danny Brown on “No Faces” and Roc Marciano on “Trynawin.” The latter of which, is such a unique pairing, it leaves intrigue as to what an entire project from the duo would be like.
Whether or not you believe that New York was in need of a rap “renaissance” probably depends on your history of seeking out and actually listening to rap music, what region of the country you prefer your rap music to come from, and/or if you only hear what’s on the radio or MTV Jams and BET. New York Renaissance is compilation of newbies, curated by NYC radio station Hot 97’s Peter Rosenberg. If you’re already hip to Action Bronson, Joey Bada$$, Smoke DZA, Troy Ave, Flatbush Zombies, Harry Fraud, A$AP Rocky, Oddisee or Homeboy Sandman then you’ll probably dig it. If you’ve never heard of these names or listened to any of their material, then you should at least see what all the hype is about. The live radio freestyles will appeal to fans of hip-hop radio shows.
Western Tink & Beautiful Lou – Mobbin' No Sobbin'
My initial reaction is to call this blogger-approved rap. Mobbin’ No Sobbin’ strikes me as the type of rap that would get favorable attention from outlets where the people writing about it don’t normally like rap music that isn’t, for lack of a better term, weird. To further my point, Beautiful Lou’s most popular beats to date are the ones he has done for Lil B and Kitty Pride & Riff Raff. After a lackluster start the tape begins warming up with “Gity Up.” Western Tink goes hard over Lou’s fuzzy, screwed trap beat: “Fuck the laws, fuck the rules, fuck your family, and you’re dead homies too.” One of the best songs comes mid-tape with “Bounce Back,” an infectious stripper pole-ready jump track that commands neck snapping from the listener. The song accurately encompasses the tape as a whole – it’s bass-heavy Texas rap where everything is at a favorable level of loudness that borders on distortion. Mobbin’ No Sobbin’ is a solid tape front to back and totally worth the download.
Please check out the rest of Scene Point Blank's 2013: A Year In Review here.
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