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The Week’s Best Mixtapes and Free Mixes, featuring How To Dress Well, Da Mafia 6ix, OverDoz, Frankie Knuckles, Nadastrom, Ian Isiah, Neana 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.

The rap mixtape game might have already packed it up for the winter, but there are still a few diamonds among the rough, including a resurgent Southern crew and an insurgent West Coast one. The DJ mixes do the heavy lifting this week, from How To Dress Well’s [pictured] mash-happy set to Neana’s collection of drum trax to Frankie Knuckles’ veteran showcase.

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A veritable who’s who of their scene-defining era, 6ix Commandments might not be an ‘official’ Three 6 Mafia album but it manages to serve as the victory lap they never really got the opportunity to take. Founder member DJ Paul has inexplicably managed to rope in not only the sprawling collective’s most important members (crushing any former beef in the process) but also a series of very well placed guests. Even Juicy J (who declined to join the group, hence the name change) drops in for a quick few bars, and gives levity and authenticity to a mammoth nine-minute sequel to The End’s ‘Body Parts’. It might be a slightly incomplete picture, but there’s no mistaking who you’re listening to on 6ix Commandments, and it’s damn good to have them back.

[Full review]

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Tom Krell’s mixes are always good value, and this latest one might be his most manic to date as he mashes together fractured splinters of rap, r&b, drone and the kitchen sink with a smile on his face and a glint in his eye. There’s a ragged, ramshackle quality to his mixing that eschews the Ableton generation’s obsession with icy-cold perfection – when Rihanna’s ‘Where Have You Been’ coughs and splutters over Oneohtrix Point Never’s ‘Chrome County’ it’s jarring and sloppy, but that’s the point. Krell doesn’t seem to have any issue with this, and his enjoyment of the tunes themselves shines through above everything else – it’s refreshing, and markedly joyful hearing a musician whose passion for music extends into everything he does. There’s nothing cynical about his jarring crossbreed of Robert Miles’ ‘Children’ and Migos’ ‘Hannah Montana’ – Krell has put the two tracks together because in his mind it seems perfectly logical, and we salute that.

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LA rap collective OverDoz name The Pharcyde, Outkast, Tha Dogg Pound, and Parliment Funkadelic as their influences, and while they don’t hit those heights with Boom, the list certainly shows where their mindset is: smoked-out, funkified hip-hop with a focus on melody and musicality.

Throughout Boom, smart-ass West Coast rhymes mingle with sing-along neo-soul hooks. In-house producers THC (along with newcomer Iman Omari and others) lay down tracks that shimmer and strut with synth kisses and drum machine wallop. THC is responsible for Kendrick Lamar’s ‘Cartoon & Cereal’; ‘De$tabil’ comes closest to the beat of that instant-classic, while ‘Barbary Coast’ has a Neptunes bounce to it. Elswhere, Traxamillion crafts a bit of ratchet rap on ‘Tongue Ring’, a track that compares favorably to DJ Mustard’s recent assembly line hits.

For fans of left-of-center acts like Chance the Rapper and The Internet, OverDoz brings a little bit of everything to the party: ‘Killer Tofu’, with its sample of 90s-baby favorite Doug, is a short-but-sweet bit of space cadet rap; ‘Babysteps’ is straight-up soul; ‘These Niggas’ is ready to party. The hooks are strong throughout: the introspective ‘Thinkin’ has a perfect refrain for millennial malaise (“I still don’t know what I want / I still don’t know what I need”) and ‘F$WSAD’ is a laidback stoner anthem (“I wish I could fuck, sell weed, and sleep all day / but I gotta get this money” hook). So sit back, light one up, and enjoy the OverDoz show.

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When dubbing Neana a producer-to-watch, we noted that “fans of the Night Slugs Club Constructions aesthetic should be all over him.” The UK upstart lives up to that billing with his latest mix: a percussion-first tour through techno, ballroom, ghetto house, and club music that is never obvious in its track selection. The late-mix trio of Nguzunguzu’s ‘Harp Bell’ into a Jersey club remix of Three 6 Mafia’s ‘Lil Freak’ (by Jersey youngins DJ K Deucez, DJ Tricks, and DJ Problem) into ballroom godfather Vjuan Allure’s ‘Werq This Krash’ is a stroke of genius. This one bangs.

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Up-and-coming R&B singer Ian Isiah definitely has friends in the right places, checking off Hood By Air, GHE20 G0TH1K, and UNO NYC as associates. Similarly, his debut mixtape, The Love Champion, relies on the same network, with appearances by Le1f, Mykki Blanco, Brenmar, and Gobby, along with rising producers like ShyGuy and Boody.

So while Ian Isiah is very much an underground phenomenon, The Love Champion has its sights on the mainstream. Over its ten tracks, Isiah positions himself as the next late night crooner in the tradition of R. Kelly, The-Dream and The Weeknd, among others. These are sex jams, both for the bedroom and the club, and with the requisite lyrical corniness (“it’s not your booty / it’s your beauty”).

Throughout, Isiah overdoses on Autotune over two types of songs: the gauzy and hypnotic syrup of tracks ‘Showtime’, ‘Private Party’, and ‘Love Champion’ or club-ready jams like the Brenmar-produced ‘Sweat’. Of the former, ‘Freak U Down’ is the strongest example, as synth pads and Isiah’s lovelorn earnestness swirl over a beatless production. The latter is well-represented by ‘Sweat’, ‘Dynamite’, and the Mykki Blanco-featuring ‘That Body’, while mixtape highlight ‘Blindfolded’ finds a percussive path in between. Ian Isiah is not quite a Champion yet, but he’s one to watch.

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As we’ve said, “eclectic” gets thrown around too easily when describing DJs, but as with that Eclair Fifi FACT mix, this set from LA-via-DC duo Nadastrom is as free-wheeling as they come. Throwback house vibes and Fela Kuti edits give way to Mixpak and Trouble & Bass low-end rumblers (the duo’s edit of Murlo and Famous Eno’s ‘Ariel’ and Jubilee & Burt Fox’s ‘Keys Wallet Phone’, respectively), then breakneck techno clatter (their NSS supergroup’s ‘4ALL’) turn into hardcore belters (Tessela’s ‘Horizon’) — and that’s all in the first 30 minutes. Stick around as the dembow beats of moombahton (a style they pioneered) and deep house grooves (like those of Behling & Simpson’s silky ‘Linctus’) find common ground. Oh, and some Danny Brown (why not?). Like most Nadastrom mixes, this one has a way of sneaking up on you, in the best way possible.

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If you’re into house music and haven’t come across Frankie Knuckles yet, it might be best to do some rapid internet searching. The veteran DJ is one of the scene’s most important figures, and he’s still got the chops to prove it, as this mix proves again and again over its generous two-hour plus length. Recorded live at Kingdom in Texas, it shows Knuckles’ experience and knowledge surprisingly subtly – he’s never been a DJ to rely on simple tricks, instead he lets the tracks themselves breath their way through the mix, allowing a natural current of hedonism and calm. It’s hard not to get effusive over Frankie Knuckles – if you like house, you should know what to do.

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One of Brooklyn’s most exciting new imprints, Mister Saturday Night might be a young label, but born out of a successful club night they seem to know exactly what works. This two-hour session is a prime example, and was recorded live at the close of the summer season. Eamon Harkin and Justin Carter are responsible for manning the decks, and the mood is surprisingly eclectic as they funnel disco, house and techno through a gauze of slippery noise without losing focus. This means that they manage to drop an all-piano cover of Derrick May’s seminal anthem ‘Strings of Life’ and it somehow sounds totally brilliant. Tempos are pushed down to a crawl, and it’s heart and soul that drives the mix – just imagine you’re sitting in the dipping Brooklyn sun and sipping on a PBR and you’ll be right there.

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Yeah yeah, we need another autotuned collection of Atlanta strip club slow-burners like we need a hole in the head, but don’t stop reading just yet. Kwony Cash’s Don’t Sleep is actually better than it should be – sure it’s no Pluto, and Cash doesn’t have anything here that might make Rich Homie Quan start quaking in his boots, but it’s still a surprisingly serviceable collection of tunes. Cash nattily handles most of the production himself, and while he doesn’t try anything too off base, his knack for blippy melodies is an admirable quality – ‘Faith Confession’ is chirpy and memorable, and ‘Do It For Me’ is just the right side of minimal, sounding like it could have been graced with a Cassie hook in a different life. Don’t Sleep isn’t going to change lives, but Cash’s light production touch and confident vocals give the tape a sense that after a few listens it could continue to reveal itself.

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The latest tape by Queens-via-Seattle rapper Aaron Cohen comes with co-signs by NYC strongholds Decon Records and Mass Appeal, which will give you an idea of what to expect: indie-facing hip-hop with heavy reverence paid to Def Jux, Anticon and the like. Cohen can certainly rap, and his wordplay-heavy rhymes will certainly remind you of rap of the post-Golden Age rap that had a chokehold on the underground about a decade ago. The tape’s 14 tracks run the gamut from soulful boom-bap on ‘True’, to off-kilter menace on ‘Nickvanexelrose’ to synth-heavy cloud ish on ‘Like They Should’, and contemporaries Grande Marshall, Tommy Kruise, and Yuri Beats make appearances. But you’ll probably know whether Cohen’s latest effort is for you by the end of the first 16 bars. As he raps on the title track: “I ain’t got critics, I got potential fans / Cause real motherfuckers know who I am.” Which category do you fall into?

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