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The Week’s Best Mixtapes and Free Mixes, February 28, 2014

Listening to the deluge of mixtapes and free mixes from hip-hop artists and electronic producers alike is often an insurmountable task. That’s why we scour Datpiff, LiveMixtapes and beyond, separating the wheat from the chaff each week.

Some variety this week: Atlanta rap from Migos, Lil Silk and YDG, along with Tri Angle narcotics, ballroom beats, instrumental grime, hazy house fare and more.

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Migos flat-out dominated 2013, not just with club hits ‘Versace’ and ‘Hannah Montana’, but with an infectious, triplet-heavy attack that was copycatted by street rappers in Atlanta and beyond. Quavo, Takeoff and Offset (who was incarcerated during most of the group’s rise to prominence) are well aware of both facts (‘Kidding Me’), and the mammoth No Labels 2 counters any claims that they’re one-trick-ponies or one-hit-wonders.

The trio are in fine form on the 25-track, 95-minute sequel to 2012’s No Labels. It’s great to have all three members back together, because Offset’s voice fits right between the lithe Quavo and the growling Takeoff. While better known for turning syllables into hypnotic chants, they’re underrated as lyricists, dropping punchlines (“a young black nigga with all white neighbors / stand in a mansion with 40 acres”) and off-the-wall lyrics (“My plug live in Mongolia / Finessin’ in Cambodia / Got Iggy Azalea in the kitchen and she’s naked from Australia”) that will keep you rewinding.

Despite the bravado of the young trio, they imbue most of these tracks (‘Add It Up’, ‘Migo Dreams’,‘First 48’) with melancholy, highlighting the dark days that preceded (and interceded) their rise to fame. Throughout the tape, they’re very self-aware about the rap game but hesitant to play along. When’s a tape going to drop? When are they going to sign to a major, or go solo? “Just wait on it nigga, stop asking me shit that I don’t know.”

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Following last year’s underrated (but overlong) War Cry tape, Alley Boy has decided to add himself to the long line of rappers with the audacity to compare themselves with Cali’s Tupac Shakur. Woven together by samples of the great man himself, that’s pretty much where the Tupac link begins and ends, as Alley Boy seems oddly more interested in emulating the slick, glossy rap sizzle you’d expect to hear blaring from Rick Ross’s Maybach. It’s a good look for the rapper, but might surprise those who actually spent time with Alley Shakur’s grizzled, uneven predecessor.

If you didn’t know better you might confuse the tape for his major label debut (which is unusually yet to emerge), as it has the kind of silken production and guest stars that make it hard to believe it was put together on the cheap. King of New Orleans Kevin Gates makes his appearance known on standout cut ‘No Patience’ and fellow rubber-voiced Southerner Starlito pops up on ‘Familiar’, but this is assuredly Alley Boy’s beast, and with mixtapes that sound this solid, surely wider success is just around the corner.

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Evian Christ has successfully made rap music weirder, and that’s a good thing. Whether it’s working with Kanye West or simply slapping Grouper and Black To Comm samples on his own influential instrumentals, he’s been putting in work to make sure that we know exactly what’s possible in 2014. His latest mix for Resident Advisor is a narcotic collection of unreleased synth jams, inebriated trance and totally unknown tracks no doubt nicked from some YouTube stream or another.

It might be so of the moment that it’s likely to have fallen out of fashion by the time you’ve finished the download, but you can’t fault Evian Christ’s selection. The mix plays like a statement of intent, and captures his ghostly selection of influences perfectly. Bonus points for the inclusion of Autechre’s world-beating ‘Vletrmx’, even if it is a cover version.

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With Young Thug finally wrestling free of regional and underground shackles, it seems like it might be just the right time for Thugger protégé Lil Silk to make his move, and Diary of a Hustler is an admirable effort. Building on the success of last year’s ‘Rapper’ and ‘I’m Geeked’, Silk whines and squeals over a generous 17 tracks, and for the most part nails it. While the tape’s opening third takes a while to get going, when Silk hits his stride it’s hard not to hear his potential. ‘Young O.G.’ is particularly strong, juxtaposing Silk’s unmistakable ad-libs with rock-solid rhymes from Chilly Chills and Skypad War. When Silk’s high-pitched wail finally hits, it feels like a well-deserved release of pressure. Watch this space, you’re gonna be hearing a lot more from Lil Silk in 2014.

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Of all the female rappers bubbling up in Chicago, Dreezy might be the purest lyricist in a classical sense, but on Schizo, she doesn’t want to be pigeonholed: “I make music for n*ggas in Chicago that be trappin’ / but still switch it up for poets that be snappin’.” True to her word, Schizo mixes it up, balancing heart-on-sleeve confessionals and boastful street rap. The mixtape leans heavily on the former; produced almost entirely by D. Brooks, there are plenty of piano-kissed beats reminiscent of Late Registration-era Kanye.

Like fellow Chicagoan Tink, Dreezy spends most of Schizo searching for self and for love: “If I open up to you, please don’t judge me,” she begs on ‘Schizophrenia, “I want somebody, anybody, just to love me.” Likewise, heartfelt tracks like ‘Lonely’, ‘Heart It All’, and ‘Bad Habit’ are the standouts; the synth-laced ‘Up and Down’ is ready for radio.

As for the harder edged offerings, Dreezy dabbles with drill (or post-drill at this point) on ‘Ain’t For None’ (which features King Louie on the original and Lil Herb and ZMoney on the remix) and ‘Zero’ (a remix with fella hittas Katie Got Bandz and Sasha Go Hard appears, too). She’s got the pop ear to breakout of a crowded field, and the chip on her shoulder to motivate her: “these rappers sounds like me / when they gon’ give me back the flow that I lent to them?”

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SUB.FM, 2/23/14

Glacial Sound, whose eponymous label is poised to have a huge year, drops two hours of instrumental grime, barebones club tracks, and R&B rinses for Sub.FM. The tracklist is just loaded here: exclusive remixes and edits by Neana, Georgia Girls, Miss Modular, Rabit, Inkke — basically everyone to watch for in 2014 is included in some way. Plus, there’s plenty of tracks to add to the wishlist, notably Mumdance, Logos & Rabit collaboration ‘Inside the Catacomb’.

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Y.D.G. is another talent trying to make his name among Atlanta’s seemingly never-ending producer ranks. Truly Gifted collects two dozen of his productions for Migos, Young Thug, Peewee Longway, Jose Guapo and more. Trunk-rattling trap rules the day, but Y.D.G. has a few tricks up his sleeve. Migos ‘Trappa Turned Rappa’ plays with white space, while ‘Molly & Scotty’ has some of the best trance synths this side of bop. ‘Like a Thug’ uses both techniques and features Thug’s charming shout-outs of his partner-in-crime, Peeway Longway. For his part, Peewee is awash with smoke and Auto-Tune on the 007-sampling ‘James Bond’.

The standout is ‘Ouch’, which is powered by what sounds like a trance gated guitar, and it doesn’t hurt that Young Thug is at his best on the track: “you keep some bullshit on your mind, man / but I’m gon’ help you take it off,” he croons, before the song’s minimal “hundreds / thousands / millions / ouch” hook. YDG lays down some guitar on ‘Trap, Trap’, too — maybe he’s onto something?

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Sailing on the acclaim garnered by brand new platter ESTOILE NAIANT, patten has put together this fuzzy collection of hazy bangers for FADER, and you can bet your cotton socks that it’s a good ‘un. There aren’t many surprises here, but what patten lacks in shock he more than makes up for with raw quality. Actress, Goldie, Lukid, Moodymann, Aphex Twin, Legowelt, Kassem Mosse and more are jammed together with a nudge in the ribs and a wink to the camera, and we approve wholeheartedly.

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It can’t be easy to shake off the long shadow cast over you when your dad’s a rap legend. ISSUE is the son of Bay Area veteran E-40, but he’s distanced himself from the estimable family business (his brother Droop-E is a respected rapper and producer also) simply by being incredibly weird. Following the example of Berkeley’s Lil B rather than that of his father, ISSUE free associates about the wonders of tea (Liquid Wisdom, geddit?) and seems drawn to beats cloudier than Main Attrakionz entire catalogue. He also wears a metal mask (he’s shy) and would rather spend his evenings listening to Boards of Canada, Lali Puna and Pink Floyd than catching up on the latest ATL mixtapes, so it’s hardly surprising that Liquid Wisdom is really out on its own in terms of sound.

Haleek Maul-featuring ‘How I’m Feeling’ actually sounds like it wouldn’t have been out of place on Tomorrow’s Harvest, ‘Livin On A Dream’ sounds oddly like an 80s stadium anthem, and each cut is slathered in pitchy meanderings that frankly couldn’t be confused with anyone else. It’s not easy listening, but we can’t think of many rappers quite like ISSUE out there right now, and that has to be a good thing.

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The Qween Beat producer presents his fourth volume of his Ckuntinomksz series, another collection of club-ready remixes of rap, R&B and pop tracks. As their titles suggest, tracks like ‘Britney Jean’s Aching Ha’, ‘Beyhive Drop’, ‘Banji Click’ and ‘Looking Ass Ha’ are pure ballroom fodder, but S’Vere isn’t afraid to mix it up. Lady Gaga’s ‘Do What You Want’ gets the ‘Think’ break / ‘It Takes Two’ treatment, while Chris Brown’s ‘Too $hort’ gets taken to the dancehall. The producer tries his best to make pop-rockers Imagine Dragons listenable; the remixes of Tinashe and Iamsu! are better looks.

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