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The Week’s Best Mixtapes and Free Mixes, November 29 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.

Bookending this week’s selection are Tinashe and Jacques Greene, the U.S. r’n’b singer and Canadian DJ/producer who collaborated on a highlight from the Songs From Scratch series earlier this year.

In between those two you’ll find on-the-pulse, percussion-driven club music (Bok Bok), a soundtrack for your seasonal affective disorder (Micron Diamond), an atmospheric stunner (Gorgeous Children), Autotuned rap-croons (Rich Homie Quan), Houston bombast (Trae Tha Truth), twerk fuel (Beat King), a quarter-century of house (West Norwood Cassette Library) and an absurdist radio play of sorts (Lee Gamble). After you.

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On last year’s In Case We Die and Reverie mixtapes, Tinashe emerged as another R&B singer to watch. Combining the hushed promises of Cassie and the woozy beatcraft of Noah “40” Shebib, the now-20-year-old talent soon caught the attention of producers beyond the world of R&B, collaborating with Jacques Greene and Ryan Hemsworth. With Black Water, she makes her first stab at separating herself from the post-Weeknd pack.

Across 11 songs (plus two interludes), Tinashe tries a few different approaches. Thanks to her major label backing and growing profile, Black Water benefits from some steady hands behind the boards. Drake producer Boi-1da provides a radio-ready, bass-heavy beat for ‘Vulnerable’, a song that finds her in her sweet spot: dripping sex, cooing her verses, and demanding her audience’s full attention on the hook (“don’t stop looking at me”). ‘1 For Me’ (a tweaked version of her Frou Frou-sampling collaboration with Hemsworth) remains one of her stronger performances, and the too-short ‘Fugitive’ shimmers with the hitmaking flourishes of producer Dev Hynes.

The biggest knock on Tinashe has been a voice that often falters at higher registers and tends to get too breathy: that problem is particularly noticeable on the Inc.-produced ‘Middle of Nowhere’, and she’s practically whispering on closer ‘Ain’t Ready’. Yet, when she balances the breathiness with something more concrete, it pays off. She explores her full range on ‘Black Water’, knowing when to give a light touch to a melody reminiscent of 90s R&B.

Black Water is Tinashe’s tightest effort yet, and there are certainly moments where it feels like she’s finding her way, including ‘Vulnerable’, ‘1 For Me’, ‘Black Water’, and the bipartite, Aaliyah-nodding ‘Midnight Sun’. The trick seems to be keeping her voice grounded in her comfort zone, with producers that can keep their tracks from fading into vapor.

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Bok Bok and the rest of the Night Slugs crew have been heavily represented in the mixtape round-up, and for good reason: one of 2013’s most significant trends has been the stripped-down, percussion-focused sound favored by the label’s Club Constructions imprint. Bok’s 75-minute mix for Resident Advisor keeps the party moving with that same ethos.

“The tracks in here all come from different places,” he tells RA, “and I try to bring them together and make them sound like they’re all coming from the same place.” True to his word, Paul Hardcastle’s 1985 single ‘King Tut’ and Bok’s edit of S.N.H. Foundation’s ‘Find A Way’ sit nicely next to contemporary tracks by Jam City, Helix, and Neana. There’s also a touch of what he describes as “new skool club music” that takes Jersey club and ballroom music as its inspiration, but the overriding principle is a simple one: “In this mix, drums rule.”

Download directly or via iTunes.

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Rich Homie Quan caps off a year highlighted by breakthrough hit ‘Type of Way’ with I Promise I Will Never Stop Going In, his fourth mixtape to laud his ability to “go in” (hopefully he’ll find a new titular hook in 2014). A more dour offering than February’s Still Going In (Reloaded), Quan’s Autotune-laced, rap-crooning even sounds sorrowful when he’s boasting about his newfound fame.

On that charge, at least he has a bit of self-awareness: on the Birdman-featuring ‘Cash Money’, he raps, “a little sense of humor / they say that I don’t laugh enough [laughs] / these niggas got me cracking up! / no joke, they fucked me when I was broke.” Thankfully, it’s not all suffering-from-success: ‘Walk Thru’ has a bit of LA snap and ‘Real’ is a club-clapper produced by Atlanta hitmakers DJ Spinz and Metro Boomin.

There’s a case to be made for anointing Quan ‘Man of the Year’, but despite his claims to the contrary on ‘They Don’t Know’ (“I’m the future, nigga, I see your past / Who the fuck told you I wanna be your ass?”), it’s difficult to not compare him to Future. ‘I Fuck Wit You Girl’ has the acoustic guitar flourishes and a similar flow to Future’s recent work on ‘Honest’ and ‘My Darlin’; ‘Off You’ is another ballad in the sensitive thug mode. Still, Future doesn’t have a monopoly on the new Atlanta. There’s plenty of room for rappers like Quan and his ilk; as Young Thug squawks on ‘Get TF Out My Face’: “we the next superstar[s], boy.”

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Adding to the Jacques Greene theme of this week’s selection is a stunner of a mixtape from Gorgeous Children, aka Denver producer Gila Monsta and Washington-based rapper Face Vega. Cavernous 808s sidle up next to twilit jazz moments, pitch-bent sirens, harp glissandos, dubwise rimshots and all manner of expertly selected miscellany, forging a dim, smoky mood that Face Vega artfully punctures with heavy-lidded, sing-songy rhymes.

Though tantalisingly brief – clocking in at just under half an hour – ICE is the release that should establish the Children as serious contenders, with the pair cramming more ideas into one tape than most rappers manage in three.

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Unlike the pollen-dusted mix that popped up in the round-up over the summer, the latest from Laura Couture/Micron Diamond was certainly certainly assembled with winter in mind. A soundtrack for your seasonal affective disorder, the mix (which plays transition-less, like an old school mixtape dubbed for a high school GF/BF) stays gloomy with Choongum’s Burialesque ‘Cold World’, Parisian upstart Andrea’s remix of Daughter, WET’s low-key ‘U DA BEST’, and a nightstalker from Tinashe’s just-released Black Water (also in these pages).

It’s not all doom-and-gloom, though: Machinedrum’s breakbeat-fueled ‘HEAVYWEIGHT’, the technicolor splatter of Warlord’s edit of Tokyo Hands’ ‘Down 4 U’, and the big room trap of RL Grime’s ‘Because of U’ will keep you from reaching for the razor blades.

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Houston rap hyphenate Beat King calls himself the “Mozart of Classical Thot Muzik”, a title which should give you some idea of what to expect from the third volume of his Club God mixtape/album series: strip club-ready rap that doesn’t take itself too seriously.

Despite his Houston roots, Beat King doesn’t limit himself to traditional H-Town sounds. ‘Pole Killa’ snaps and burps like any DJ Mustard production, ‘Where You Get That From’ is straight-up Maybach Music, ‘Twerk Star’ has a Cash Money drawl, ‘I Know’ references Three 6 Mafia, and there is plenty of Brick Squad-esque trap, too. Basically, if it gets asses moving in 2013, it’s on Club God 3.

Beat King runs the tape like a combination MC-ringleader-twerk team manager, and he never loses focus. The zeitgeist grabbing ‘5 Years’ lays out his case: “These mollies are gonna kill you / in five years / but it’s not five years right now / so mix that shit with the codeine and turn up.”

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Houston rapper Trae Tha Truth is no stripling, but despite a weighty back catalogue of solo and collaborative albums, the 33-year-old has only found a fanbase beyond Southern rap die-hards in the couple of years since signing to T.I.’s Grand Hustle Records. His latest mixtape, I Am King, is intended to fill a gap before his full-length Banned, but the sheer scale of the release – in terms of length as well as star-studded guest features – means it’s more than just a stocking filler for fans.

The 20-track project features spots from, well, pretty much everyone, including T.I., Diddy, Young Jeezy, T.I., Kevin Gates, Lupe Fiasco, Meek Mill, Snoop Dogg, Wiz Khalifa and Big K.R.I.T., and the A-list sheen rubs off on the generally slick, hook-heavy production, provided by the likes of Boi-1da, League of Starz and Jahlil Beats.

As is standard with a project of this scale, I Am King would have benefited from an edit, with the Coldplay-riffing, Lupe Fiasco-featuring ‘Driven to Distraction’ a particular bum note on the sprawling collection, but Kevin Gates’ star turn on ‘Dark Angel’ and the G-funk bombast of ‘Stay Trill’ are both head-turners.

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Anyone that’s ever been dragged kicking and screaming to a Hot Dub Time Machine bash will, quite understandably, be leery around year-by-year mixes. Bless Bob Bhamra, aka West Norwood Cassette Library, for carrying off a chronological session for Dummy with the required levels of commitment and verve.

Taking 1988 as his Year Zero (an admittedly arbitrary starting point, “before anybody starts getting their knickers in a twist”), Bhamra plays historian by selecting 25 of his favouring house tracks, one a year, from the last quarter-century. Kicking off with the likes of Hardhouse and The Prince & The Wizard, Bhamra bigs up the biggies (E-Dancer, Cajmere, Ame), points out the small fry (Gintare, Chuggles), and finishes up with the boy Blawan. An “impossible and possibly futile task”, mumbles Bhamra; “a noble failure!”, we reply.

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Around this time last year, we were quietly bugging out to Gamble’s farewell-to-jungle album Diversions 1994-1996, not to mention his top-notch FACT mix. With winter drawing in once again, here’s a welcome reminder of Gamble’s unique perspective, courtesy of the commendably reliable Secret Thirteen mix series.

Gamble’s submission is subtitled “Your Sociometric Afterlife (Hyperrealist Absurdist Psychodrama Written For Radio)” – a title designed to winnow down Gamble’s audience to the hardcore this was presumably intended for. It’s a rigorously theoretical release, built out of “sampled discussions and lectures on the theory of ‘The Biocentric Universe’ and concept of ‘The Resistance to Social Change'”, Gamble also asks that the listener consider the mix as a radio play, with a narrative examining the illusory nature of death and the afterlife apparently “hidden as a sub-vocalisation'”.

In practice, that means an olio of warbling vocal samples, passages of ambient drift, and moments of bricolage redolent of Stockhausen’s more playful work. Others have stumbled in this sort of territory – see Heatsick’s patchy Re-Engineering LP- but Gamble manages to do cerebral without coming off as lofty.

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Greene’s kept his release schedule relatively clear in 2013, dropping LuckyMe single ‘On Your Side’ (and not much else) and dialling down the output from his Vase imprint. To compensate, he’s been playing out fairly constantly, and this session shows how his DJ artistry has come along in the meantime. RBMA are hosting a recording of Greene’s spot at the Pitchfork Music Festival in Paris – a rich 90-minute session of easy-to-swallow house that glitters like coral and moves like Naomi.

Autre Ne Veut, James Blake, Kelela and Greene’s high-drama edit of Ciara’s unfuckable-wit ‘Body Party’ all feature. It’s a propulsive set, and a reminder that, in a world where Disclosure are a commercial force, it’s a quiet absurdity that Greene hasn’t had a sniff of some real crossover dollar yet.

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