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Mixtape Round-up: Gunplay, Dro Carey, DJ Spinz, Corey Grand, and more

With each passing week, listening to the deluge of mixtapes, radio shows, and live sets from electronic producers and hip-hop artists alike becomes an even more insurmountable task. Quality offerings can fly under the radar, either added to our ever-growing “to listen” list or — more often than not – disregarded all together.

Surprisingly there aren’t huge amounts of great instrumental mixtapes that make it to the FACT roundup, but when it rains, it pours: this week we have three beat tapes, each with its own sonic palette, along with DJ mixes focusing on Dance Mania favorites and Atlanta club hits. As for this week’s rap efforts, acts from frequently-featured cities Chicago and Atlanta make appearances, along with newcomers from Seattle and a FACT favorite from Miami.

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Cleveland-based DJ and producer Corey Grand makes a huge dent in this week’s selection with this truly forward thinking and deeply listenable selection of beats. It’s a little misleading even to call it an instrumental tape as that might suggest that it needs, or indeed is missing, rappers – in actual fact it sounds as if Grand has composed these tracks without vocals in mind.

Low-key and experimental, there’s a definite waft of influence from the Brainfeeder camp, but where FlyLo et-al take their cues from jazz and fusion, it sounds as if Grand owes more to electronic music. ‘Spy’ and ‘Leave (Peace)’ sound like they could have been culled from To Rococo Rot’s innovative early LPs, while ‘Nebu-LA’ isn’t a million miles away from German IDM pioneer Arovane and ‘You.Dont.Know’ sounds like a restrained take on Machinedrum’s rave-indebted footwork experiments. It’s not clear whether the young producer even intended any of these references, or had even heard the artists at all but either way it’s a refreshing look at a genre that’s often mired in a repetition of its own mistakes.

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Here’s a weird one – Vampsterdam is the abstract collaboration between Seattle’s Nacho Picasso and Avatar Darko. Darko is an Estonian transplant, and Picasso has long been an associate of weirdo production outfit Blue Sky Black Death, so Vampsterdam is a record that’s laden with expectations before you even press play. Thankfully both rappers have enough fight in them to escape the hype, and thanks to a selection of on-point beats (from Araabmusic, Clams Casino, Blue Sky Black Death and more) Vampsterdam is elevated far beyond the status of ‘just another mixtape’.

Dark but not cloying, and cloudy without drifting too far into the doldrums of what’s come before, the two rappers make an appealing noise together, and highlight each other’s specific traits. It’s drug rap, and thankfully comes laced with all the psychedelic qualities (overdriven samples, haunting half-head melodies) that are usually missing from similar tales. From the woozy, distorted bliss ‘Emptiness’ to Clams Casino’s outstanding ‘Smells Like Lean Spirit’ Vampsterdam is just the kind of retching summer bummer we were looking for in mid June. Thanks guys.

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Über-prolific Sydney producer Eugene Hector has always used his Dro Carey alias to fuse a Southern rap drawl with the uneasiness of UKG; for his Brand Ambassador beat tape, he focuses on the former. The beats on display all have the paranoid, subterranean feel of his other work, but with the ratatat percussion and orchestral menace of Atlanta trap-rap. There are shades of his influences here rather than full-on homage: Dro reaches for spooky mellotron of ‘Kufi’ and trance arpeggios of ‘Break em Down’ a la Mike WiLL; ‘Since 92’ is trap-via-NIN. Meanwhile, ‘Im Ghost’ is an ominous nightstalker and ‘Everybody Grind’ would work as well for Brick Squad as it would for Raider Klan. The tape ends on a hopeful note, with the sultry groove of ‘Breakup Voice’ owing more to 90s R&B and the Neptunes than some of Dro’s more sinister forebears. Here’s hoping that Hector is the next underground dance producer to team-up with actual rappers, either under this alias or a brand new one.

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In his last warm-up before his debut full length, Gunplay shares this lean collection of street rap. As expected, the MMG maniac stays in his wheelhouse with tales of drug-dealing (‘Salute Me’), drive-bys (‘Drop Da Tint’) and conspicuous consumption (‘Been Did It’, which features the A-plus couplet “All I know is Rolex, all I know baguettes”).

Most of this is paint-by-numbers, but there are a few memorable moments: his half-sung chorus on ‘Cocaína (Que Linda)’ and recent highlights ‘Pyrex’ and ‘Bible on the Dash’. The 10-track effort features just a handful of guests: Gunplay’s Triple C compatriots turn up for the razor-edged trap anthem, ‘D.O.P.E.’; ‘Topside’ enlists Brick Squadder Young Scooter and Triple C’s Young Breed; newcomer Peryon mans the hooks on ‘Salute Me’ and ‘Get Like Me’.

Acquitted celebrates the end of Gunplay’s recent legal problems, but the real celebration will occur when Gunplay drops Livin’ Legend. For now, there’s this quick reminder that Gunplay is the most compelling member of Rick Ross’ MMG clique, even if the material isn’t groundbreaking.

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The latest mix from the Atlanta tastemaker is a status report on the hottest tracks to come out of the city’s vibrant rap world. Dirty South veterans like T.I, Ludacris, Young JEezy, Juicy J, and Waka Flocka are represented, but the highlights are youngbloods like Rocko, Migos, Que, and everyone’s favorite ATLien, Future. Elsewhere, Spinz looks outside Atlanta for the bombastic, festival-sized trap of DJ Carnage & Katie Got Bandz ‘Katie’. Undaunted by controversy, Spinz includes ‘UOENO’ and ‘Karate Chop’, which are definitely starting to seem tired. Still, as a look at the street heat coming out of Atlanta, a Spinz mix is unparalleled.

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There’s been no shortage of Chicago drill in the last year or so, but few artists have put together a tape with the sheer conviction of West Side newcomer Mikey Dollaz. The rapper might not have the same instant hit of manic personality as Chief Keef or have Lil Durk’s unshakable air of melancholy, but he’s got rhymes by the sackload and a tidy selection of slick, atmospheric beats to boot.

Street Life is anchored by its chattering percussion and gut-churning low end, but there’s plenty more to the tape than Dollaz’ street tales and a club-friendly backdrop. Local producer and King Louie affiliate Chase N Dough drops in to engineer the record’s gloomy highlights; the string-led ‘Add ‘Em Up’ and the 808 Mafia flip ‘Who Sent You Off’. Sadly these destructive early bangers are over quickly and give way to far less interesting productions, but even so Dollaz has the kind of presence that turns even an adequate drill beat into something urgent and invigorating.

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San Francisco club fiend Vin Sol goes crate-digging through the raunchy, body-jacking repository that is the Dance Mania catalog. The nearly hour-long mix of Chicago house – with classic, acid, and ghetto flavors represented — features the major players of the Dance Mania label: DJ Funk, Jammin Gerald, DJ Milton, DJ Deoon, Gant Man, and FACT-favorite Paris Mitchell. With Dance Mania set to relaunch this year, Vin Sol’s mix is as good a place as any to get familiar with the Chicago institution.

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The upstart Atlanta trio (who were heavily featured on DJ Spinz’ FADER mix) have their coming-out party with Y.R.N.. Migos won’t win any rap contests, but their staccato flows and sing-along chorus have the club in mind. The songs are so simplistic and repetitive that the tape is sure to be divisive even among devotees of Atlanta trap rap: titular hooks are repeated with such mind-numbing frequency that the words start to lose meaning (e.g. ‘Versace’, ‘Hannah Montana’).

Trunk-rattling beats are provided by Dun Deal, Stack Boy Twaun, Phenom Da Don, among others, but as is usually the case with this type of mixtape, the star is Brick Squad favorite Zaytoven: the title track bounces and surges thanks to one of his manic, Casiotone beats and his contribution for ‘R.I.P.’ is equal parts macabre and menace.

Most of the tape follows the usual trap-rap tropes, but Migos are unafraid to mix it up: the Autotuned ‘Finesser’ is surprisingly catchy, the C4-produced ‘Dennis Rodman’ finds Gucci Mane reviving his ‘Hell Yes’ croon, and roping in polarizing Internet stars Trinidad James and Riff Raff for the pan-fluted ‘Out Da Gym’ is a finger to the eye of “real hip-hop heads” — for that we salute them.

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!Illmind is hardly a young buck when it comes to producing, the Jersey beatmaker has been in the game since the early 00s and had produced for everyone from 50 Cent to Erykah Badu, so Kanye West would be the next obvious target, right? Well !Illmind actually had a production on West’s Cruel Summer compilation (‘The Morning’), and clearly took that as an indicator to write a whole bunch more. Sadly while Kanye has moved further and further into weirder territory, !Illmind’s beats, sound comparatively a little rearward facing.

You can imagine any one of these tracks gracing the early part of Kanye’s career, but whether they fit in with the meteoric rapper’s psychedelic headspace post-808s & Heartbeaks we’re not so sure. Still, kudos to !Illmind for releasing these beats to the world, and even if they’re not as vigorous and weird as what we’ve heard so far from Yeezus, it’s rare to find such rich, intricate beats this side of, well, Kanye himself.

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At a mere five tracks The Taylor Bennett Show isn’t a definitive offering by any means, but since Taylor Bennett is Chance, The Rapper’s younger brother it’s well worthy of a closer look. Chance’s Acid Rap has been one of our favourite tapes this year so far, and while The Taylor Bennett Show is a whole lot more straightforward, it’s still a great jumping off point for Bennett. Lead single ‘Speed Racer’ is a clear highlight, and Bennett’s sing-song flow sounds just right fused with Sami Abdullahu’s wonky almost-drill beat. It’s with ‘Lift Off’ that Bennett hits his stride though, and over more emotive material the young rapper’s lyrical dexterity is clear to hear, unimpeded by puerile street moves.

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