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The Week’s Best Mixtapes and Free Mixes, August 9 2013

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.

The round-up is all over the map this week: there’s rap from rising Atlanta newcomers, Louisiana veterans, a MMG backbencher, a mysterious Internet rapper, and a Le1f collaborator. There are also DJ mixes from a Parisian club producer and two divergent efforts from the Night Slugs / Fade to Mind axis.

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Like frequent collaborator Le1f, Harlem-via-Philly newcomer DonChristian Jones exists at the point where New York’s dance music and hip-hop undergrounds collide. His debut mixtape, The Wayfarer, lives up to its title and “wanderlust” Soundcloud tag: DonChristian’s languid, smokey flow meanders through a collection of shadowy beats that range from jazzy and loose (‘Morning Glory’) to punchy and frenetic (‘Turnt’).

The mixtape twists and turns through the ether, in search of… something. Like the title of N.E.R.D.’s In Search Of…, the ellipsis is everything: an ennui satisfied, if not by finding meaning, than at least by the next high or the next fuck. The tightly-constructed tape finds DonChristian in a handful of moods over its twelve tracks: self-produced ‘My Crew’ takes Drake’s ‘Crew Love’ and ‘Started From The Bottom’ to their logical, introspective conclusions, while ‘TURNT’ sees DonChristian flipping Kanye (“I could be your black Kate Moss tonight”) over Mess Kid’s club-ready beat.

Along with his own productions, beats are provided by collaborators Le1f and Boody, Philly’s Squalladay, and US-born, Tokyo-raised Cybergiga (among others), the latter of whom proves that Lee Bannon isn’t the only jungle-obsessive making rap beats (‘Harikari’). Early on, DonChristian raps that he “won’t stop till [he makes] you a fan” — by the time blown-out closer ‘Angel’ end, he probably will have succeeded.

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While its unorthodox distribution method might be the biggest selling point for Red Eye, there’s plenty more to the crew tape than a gimmicky package. Sure Curren$y might have been able to broker a deal with BitTorrent to make sure the tape was bundled with a documentary and a bunch of other goodies, but it’s actually his crew’s best showing in some time.

Kicking off on a high with Fiend’s ‘California Mornings’ we’re pretty instantly dragged into Jet Life’s usual smoky fug thanks to a sizzling Dilla-via-DOOM beat from Thelonius Martin. Ex-No Limit soulja Fiend is also on point lyrically, and seems to be going from strength to strength following his really quite good Lil’ Ghetto Boy tape. While this and another of Fiend’s contributions ‘Crawfish’ are unexpectedly the album’s two heaviest hitters, Red Eye’s quality rarely dips, and is buoyed by typically vivid funk-laced productions and some inspired performances from its selection of rappers.

Corner Boy P’s emotive ‘Winners Never Lose’ (aided by an elegiac beat from Bizness Boy) is another highlight, and while it’s possibly the album’s softest cut — and the polar opposite of Juvenile & Fiend’s ear-bashing ‘On My Job’ — it’s the kind of track that makes you want to move to California and buy a lowrider, and there’s nothing wrong with that at all.

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Night Slugs co-boss Bok Bok shared this month-old set, and it leans heavily on a familiar genre: grime. There’s no tracklist, but expect 40 minutes of metallic, smash-mouth beats and walloping basslines. Bok’s mixes (like the one he did in March) are always essential, but this one is taken to the next level by guest vocalist Kelela. The Fade to Mind singer performs songs from her eagerly-anticipated debut mixtape and drops in ad-libs along the way. Her mixtape is expected to “blow brains” — hopefully it’ll be released soon, because we’re wearing out our copy of ‘Bank Head’.

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2013 has been a rather good year for Atlanta three-piece Migos, and if you haven’t heard the band’s breakout single ‘Versace’ at this point, you probably haven’t been listening to much rap. The Zaytoven-produced track had an instant connection with listeners, and whether it was due to the production itself (in a similar way to Rocko’s ubiquitous ‘U.O.E.N.O’) or simply the trio’s incensed chant of “Versace, Versace, Versace,” it’s certainly pushed Migos into the spotlight.

Streets On Lock finds Quavo and Takeoff (third Migo Offset is still incarcerated) appearing alongside Rich the Kid, and the tag team hustle their way through an ambitious 25 tracks over the course of the record. Zaytoven, of course, appears a number of times, lending his ATL swagger to a fair few of the album’s highlights. ‘Sorry’ is maybe the most obvious, finding Migos and Rich alongside OJ Da Juiceman and inexplicably, Riff Raff – it just about holds together though, as Riff Raff’s collapsible flow has found an ally in Migos.

Elsewhere, advance single ‘Jumpin’ Like Jordan’ does admirable work, and Rich’s ‘Grew Up In The Streets’ is hard not to fall for, with his sing-song Young Thug-alike flow finally getting a chance to shine alongside a set of gloriously tinny synthesizers. The album is about a third too long, that’s for sure, but if you enjoyed the tape’s predecessor, Y.R.N., there’s plenty more Atlanta goodness on show on Streets on Lock.

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With pitch-shifted vocals and an air of anonymity, Spark Master Tape is like an ultra-modern, Dirty South take on Flying Lotus’s Captain Murphy project. The enigmatic rapper, along with equally mysterious Paper Platoon, have crafted a trunk-rattling, screwed-down mixtape that highlights both the rapper’s rapid-fire flow and the producer’s affinity for cinema-sized beats and well-placed samples (e.g. Busta’s ‘Dangerous’ vocals on ‘Mutual Fund’, the porn-intro on ‘Tina Tuna’).

Spark Master Tape can certainly rap — but his decision to mask his real voice as a detuned grumble is sure to be polarizing. The result is somewhere between the Southern triumvirate of Bun B, Luda and Killer Mike, but the artifice may be too much for some; it’s reminiscent of SALEM’s Jack Donoghue, whose lyrics lost their menace when at normal pitch.

Whether Spark’s “voice” is a gimmick, a sonic choice, or something in-between, The #SWOUP Serengeti is still an engaging tape, from the soul-tinged ‘All I Know’ to the 808-and-siren laced statement-of-purpose that is the title track. It may not share Big K.R.I.T.’s reverence for the Dirty South, but by leaning on revelry instead of revival, it’s a hell of a ride.

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The Brooklyn-based talent demonstrates that while the Night Slugs/Fade to Mind crew might share an ethos and an aesthetic, their individual approaches to forward-leaning club music can be quite divergent: no one will confuse Rizzla’s 40-minute mix of all things #KUNQ (a seductive mix of hard house, vogue swing and Caribbean beats) with Bok Bok’s grime mix.

And that’s okay; any mix where tracks by ballroom specialists MikeQ, Divoli S’vere, and BYRELLtheGREAT mingle with those by DJ Orion, DJ Rekha, and Joan & Oneill is good in our book. Rizzla’s own tracks and bootlegs, along with those of likeminded producers Dubble Dutch and Blk.Adonis, show that dancehall riddims through a different lens are unstoppable: as the girls of T.A.T.U. scream at the mix’s frenzied conclusion: “they’re not gonna get us!”

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Clocking in at 80 minutes, you can’t accuse No Limit-founder Master P of doing things by halves. The entrepreneur and rapper dominated the Southern rap landscape back in the mid 90s, but since his glory days he’s struggled to stay relevant in a very rapidly changing genre. Famous Again is P’s follow-up to the really quite good comeback tape Al Capone, and again the rapper has dragged together an enviable selection of talent to help him out. Chief Keef, The Game, Alley Boy, Fat Trel and Problem all pop up, and lend a modicum of relevance to P’s defiant, shouty street flow.

While Rick Ross has made an entire career out of jacking Master P’s flow, it feels like P is pretty much alone in an ailing scene at the moment. More urgent and incised than the young Chicago drillers, and a million miles from the thoughtful abstractions of Kanye or Kendrick, P’s draw has always been his unbridled ability to put out shit that actually bangs, and thankfully, Famous Again does exactly that.

The majority of the production falls again to Young Bugatti, who does a fantastic job of retaining No Limit’s trunk rattling legacy while updating the sound just enough to sit comfortably in a scene dominated 808 Mafia and Young Chop. Opener ‘Yea I’m Rich’ is one of the finest examples of this, and blessed with a set of widescreen, lush synths and basses manages to reconcile the old and the new with a masterful ease. Sadly, it’s not all successful, and it’s hardly surprising that the record overstays its welcome, but for a rapper who was probably past his use-by date in the mid ‘00s, Famous Again is another good reason why we should still care.

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While advance single ‘Swangin’ might have simply been a worse version of underrated Huntsville duo G-Side’s original, there’s thankfully a little more to Honest Cowboy than one flat track. The Maybach signee has been long been one of the label’s hardest sells — he’s not got the street savvy of Rick Ross or the magical pop touch of Wale – but he sticks to his guns on Honest Cowboy, laying his softly spoken lyrics over typically gauzy funk and soul-laced beats.

There’s an unshakable melancholy to the record, from the spiritual and Tree-like ‘Samson’ to the organ-led ‘Cup Inside A Cup’, and it’s on these joints where Stalley feels at home. The slower, sparser tracks feel aptly matched with his flow, and his tone itself lends itself well to the more downplayed material. ‘NineteenEight7’ might have Black Hippy ScHoolboy Q on a verse, but its jaunty jazziness pales in comparison to the sparse and low-end heavy ‘Feel The Bass’, one of Honest Cowboy’s rare high points.

It’s not a perfect album by a long shot, and Stalley’s never going to have the most arresting personality at MMG, but Honest Cowboy is well-rounded, uncharacteristically brief at an economic ten tracks, and isn’t worth passing off lightly.

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The Club Cheval member has a knack for mixing contemporary R&B and hip-hop with old favorites and brand-new club constructions. The heart-struck title and downcast romance of the 35-minute mix will not surprise those familiar with Tiba; his last EP included a song entitled ‘U Lookin for a Title and All U Think About Is That Other Person So U Name It Me & Her’ (which, sadly, isn’t included here). Instead, we’re treated to an examples of why Tiba is one of the most exciting members of France’s new class of club producers.

“Here’s a mix I’ve done for the summer. Cruel Summer,” he writes on Soundcloud. “Didn’t pay any attention to the BPM. Fuck a BPM, every tune is played at the wrong tempo.” He’s right: Kelly Rowland, Ryan Leslie, Drake, Miley Cyrus and more are skewed just enough to reveal something different than the originals. Like his Valentine’s Day mix, it moves at an impressive song-a-minute clip, making you wish the mix — like summer — would last a bit longer.

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In case you were confused, Reese is not the same as rapper as Chief Keef affiliate Lil Reese – this particular Reese is from, you guessed it, Atlanta, and carries a typically ATL-heavy list of collaborators. It’s hard to believe then that DSNRTRAPN actually avoids sounding like a loose facsimile of Gucci, Migos or Future’s last tapes, but with a particularly vibrant turn from Reese himself there’s a sense that the rapper doesn’t simply want to repeat the successes of his peers.

‘Gold House’, for instance, finds the rapper’s soft tones sounding more like Rome Fortune than maybe you’d expect, and his choice in beats is similarly inspired. Jahlil Beats’ cloudy backbone to ‘Wakebake’ is maybe the pick of the record, doing a great deal with just one ominous synth drop and some spikey strings. Elsewhere, ex-Cool Kid Chuck Inglish throws down a typically unusual rock-influenced beat for ‘Tissues’, showing Reese’s breadth and scope. DSNRTRAPN isn’t simply business as usual, and in a world when Atlanta mixtapes are ten a penny, it’s refreshing to see one of the new wave doing it right.

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