Top 5 rap mixtapes of 2013 so far
Hello. My Name is Nathan, and I'm addticted to rap music. The following mid-year best-of list is culled from my semi-monthly column about mixtapes and other rap-related nonsense called Too Many Rappers. You can find over on ye olden blogge.
1. Underachievers – Indigoism
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.
2. Quelle Chris – 2 Dirt 4 TV episode 2: Niggas is Men
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, who's candence 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.
3. Mr. MFN eXquire – Kismet
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. On “Vanilla Rainbows” which apes Curtis Mayfield’s “Give Me Your Love (Love Song)”, the emcee displays his genuine love and respect for women. “Cherry Raindrops,” a tale of ill-fated love and all the struggles that go along with falling out of it, shows him being creepily honest, as he raps things like, “I kissed her on the spine and I kissed her thighs/I almost licked her ass but she started to cry.” Even the lone skit here, “She’s Not Fucking With Me” is a far cry from the blow-job-from-a-hoe-caught-on-tape one that appeared on Translation. This time around he and an unidentified woman are lying in bed, whispering I-love-yous to each other. 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 (see: “Illest Niggaz Breathin,’” “Tomorrow’s Gone,” and “Orbz a.k.a. Some Wise Quote Drake Never Said.”) 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.
4. KRNDN – Everything’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 accidently 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. Props for the imagery too, which is very much in the vein of DIY zine art.
5. Black Dave – Stay Black
“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. He effectively stirs an alluring cocktail of trap, club and boom-bap. Lyrically, he’s not saying much that hasn’t been heard before (see: song titles like “Bitch Nigga Why You Fake?” and “Muthafuck My Enemies!”) but that’s also one of Stay Black’s chief qualities – it’s fucking rap music, man!
Runner Ups: Gunplay - Cops & Robbers, SpaceGhostPurrp - B.M.W., Termanology - Hood Politics 7, Tree - Sunday School II: When Church Lets Out, Western Tink & Beautiful Lou - Mobbin' No Sobbin'
Top 5 best rap records of 2013 so far
Like I said, I got a rap music problem. Now that we've covered the mixtape game, here's the best of this year's actual albums so far...
1. El-P & Killer Mike – Run the Jewels (Fool’s Gold)
Well, they went and did it again. Following a year that saw El-P and Killer Mike releasing two of the best albums in any genre, let alone rap music, both of which were produced by El-P, the two have returned as the duo Run The Jewels. And as it was expected to be by anyone who loves rap music and/or has a Twitter account, Run The Jewels is actually the best rap album to drop so far this year. El-P's beats are deep, scientific, intense, and so far beyond bass-heavy that they need to be heard with headphones (and possibly a senses-heightening substance, if that’s your thing) to be fully appreciated. Cadence-wise, the duo attacks each track with sweltering intensity and unrestrained emotion. Their verses effortlessly traverse between humorous witticism and cutthroat battering. It’s not an easily shakable listening experience, but it’s wholly enjoyable one.
2. Tie: Gensu Dean & Planet Asia – Abrasions (Mello Music Group) / Durag Dynasty – 360 Waves (Nature Sounds)
Fresno, CA’s veteran underground emcee, Planet Asia has two of the year’s best rap albums so far—Abrasions with beatsmith Gensu Dean and 360 Waves with Durag Dynasty. As evidenced by last year’s Apollo Brown & OC and Guilty Simpson & Apollo Brown outings, MMG has a knack for pairing the right producers and emcees up with favorable results. The same can be said of this duo. Gensu Dean, who’s gone largely unknown up to this point, crafts simplistic yet alluring loops rooted in boom-bap nostalgia. As usual, Planet Asia masterfully rocks the mic with his commanding presence and sharp rhymes. Durag Dynasty finds him teaming up with emcees Tristate and Killer Ben, and prolific beat master Alchemist. Although there is a minimal air of comedy involved, mostly due to imagery and the fact that they’re called, you know, Durag Dynasty, 360 Waves is an exercise in grimy cypher rap – a prominent example of mic skill and hard beats. These two albums will appeal to heads who want more out of their rap music than a clever hook and a generic trap beat.
3. Ill Bill – The Grimy Awards (Fat Beats)
Over a decade has passed since The Future Is Now, the debut album by the now-defunct group Non Phixion, which featured beats from a grip of hip-hop’s most sought-after producers as well as menacing and poignant lyricism, and the vehicle that placed Ill Bill immediately into the annals of underground hip-hop greatness. For the latest in a fertile catalog of work that includes numerous collabos, supergroups, mixtapes and solo records, he has returned to that early formula of using high profile beatsmiths and spitting venomous rhymes. The sonic direction of the album is driven by some hard-hitting boom-bap backing from the likes of Large Professor, Pete Rock, the Beatnuts, DJ Muggs, El-P, and DJ Premier. But Ill Bill’s lyricism and delivery is as equally on point as his beat-selection. Not only does he do the requisite murder and paranoid conspiracy raps, but he gets deeply personal about his life, loved ones, and how much hip-hop (and even heavy metal) shaped him. The Grimy Awards is as near a “classic” rap record as we’ve heard in a while.
4. Ghostface Killah – Twelve Reasons to Die (Soul Temple)
Twelve Reasons to Die is the latest release in a recent-ish half dozen or so of hits ‘n’ misses for the Wu Tang Clan’s Ghostface Killah. More in line with the hits Fishscale and Apollo Kids than the misses The Big Doe Rehab or Ghostdini, the record is produced entirely by beat-maker Adrian Younge, and narrated by Wu head honco RZA. Twelve Reasons is a concept album of sorts. The premis being, Tony Starks is a former enforcer for a crime family, who gets murdered by the mob after falling in love with the Boss's daughter. His remains are melted in vinyl and pressed into a dozen LPs that, when spun, revivify him as the Ghostface Killah. He then exacts his revenge on his killers. It’s often been said that rap music is cinema for the ears, and it couldn’t be truer with Twelve Reasons. Similar to Prince Paul (or even early Cage) albums, this is story time rap being taken to the next level. The synergy between Young and Ghost is so air-tight it’s hard to believe this is the first project they’ve done together.
5. Kid Tsunami – The Chase (Head Bop / Fat Beats)
The Chase is the debut album from Perth, Australia’s producer extraordinaire Kid Tsunami. As someone who appreciates all forms of hip-hop (at least for their mere existence, if anything) I don’t really like throwing around terms like “real hip-hop” because I think it cheapens the evolution of the art form and more-or-less excludes anything that’s not boom-bap. But I’m going to give myself a pass here and just say it: This is on some real-ass hip-hop right here! Dude is a student of the game, as he has obviously immersed himself in classic hip-hop. And by that, yes, I do mean BOOM-BAP. There are 16 tracks here, constructed from soul, jazz and funk sample flips, with a virtual who’s who of emcees rhyming on them—Kool Keith, Sean Price, OC, Masta Ace, Sadat X, J-Live, Craig G, AG, Kool G Rap, KRS-One, Pharoahe Monch, Jeru The Damaja, and more. DJ Bless also leaves his mark on the project, as he flexes his impeccable turntablism skills, mixing the whole thing together and dropping some serious cut-laden hooks.
Runner Ups: Inspectah Deck and 7L & Esoteric –Czarface, Oh No – Disrupted Ads, Prodigy & Alchemist – Albert Einstein, R.A. the Rugged Man – Legends Never Die, Swollen Members – Beautiful Death Machine