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Sensitive thugs, weird Atlanta, and young California: the week’s best mixtapes and mixes

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.

Well, it looks like everyone has returned from SXSW spring break. A week that saw the release of albums by Freddie Gibbs and YG had no shortage of mixtapes, including an exemplary one from Kevin Gates. On the electronic side of things, we’ve got London grime, Fade to Mind club heat, and neon-blasted rave-rap.

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By Any Means follows Kevin Gates’ impeccable 2013 run, and while it might lack some of the bloodied grit of The Luca Brasi Story and the accomplished lilt of Stranger Than Fiction it is in no way a step backwards. It feels instead as if Gates is placing himself directly within spitting distance of rap’s coveted upper ranks; production-wise, the album sounds as if it could have easily slipped from any number of top tier rap labels, yet with Gates at the helm, the journey is deeper, darker and far more invigorating than anything with a Rozay, Em or Hov co-sign, at least in the last couple of years.

Excerpted from full review

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Ola Playa sends a dispatch from weird Atlanta with his first proper mixtape, Slime Season. Joined throughout by frequent collaborators Young Thug — credited as YSL (“young stoner life”) — and Bloody Jay, Ola’s flow is guttural and clipped, providing a sullen counterpoint to Thug’s singular squeal and Bloody Jay’s chest-pounding intensity. Ferrari Smash and Trip Da Hit Major handle most of the production with twisted trap beats that glisten and rumble, and there are a few moments that break the formula: the jumpy ‘Don’t Move’ bridges the gap between ATL rap past and present.

Unsurprisingly, Ola is outshined by the Black Portland pair on technicolor tracks like ‘All Kinda Drugs’ and ‘Feelin Myself’, or basically anywhere they show up. But who cares? We’re fiending for this stuff, and Slime Season is loaded with it.

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Chicago’s Cap1 teams up with hard-working Atlanta spitter OJ Da Juiceman for Clock Werk, and whilst it might not offer much in the way of originality, the tape is rock-solid from beginning to end, and surprisingly doesn’t overstay its welcome. Both rappers have already dropped solo tapes this year – OJ threw down the chilly Alaska in Atlanta 2 and Cap 1 cobbled together Caviar Dreams – and Clock Werk feels like a celebratory reminder not to miss out on their respective flows. They’re both clearly eager to wrench themselves from the shadows – Cap from regular collaborator 2 Chains and OJ from Gucci – and while the tape doesn’t have the instant appeal of Thug or Migos, its chunky selection of slippery strip-club anthems fills the hole left by 1017 Brick Squad’s absence.

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A$TON 3:16

California’s A$ton Matthews is a Guatemalan-American rapper with friends in the right places: he featured on A$AP Ferg’s Trap Lord and he’s worked with both rap veterans (Alchemist, Evidence) and leaders of the new school (Danny Brown, Schoolboy Q). On his strongest offering yet, he plants the flag as a sort-of West Coast A$AP Mob representative with the hazy, menacing and often claustrophobic A$ton 3:16.

Matthews and company cut through clouds of gunsmoke with bi-coastal, hardcore gangsta rap (the cover references Ice Cube’s Death Certificate) and a heavy dose of wrestling rhymes (the title and the sample that kicks off the tape are nods to Stone Cold Steve Austin). Fans of underground rap are in for a treat: A$AP Ferg, Ab-Soul, 100s, Action Bronson and Matthews’ Cutthroat Boyz crewmates Vince Staples and Joey Fatts offer verses. But be warned: A$ton 3:16 is an unrelenting listen — think Trap Lord with less white space.

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With the renewed interest in grime, Goon Club Allstars’ spidery new mix could hardly have come at a better time. The London label bodied the competition with last year’s self-titled EP from newcomer Mssingno, and looks set to have a year of rock-solid releases if Layers is anything to go by. Fresh cuts from Moleskin, DJ Name are blended with unreleased dubs from Mssingno, Neana, Sudanim and Jam City, ass-shaking anthems from Deeon and DJ Tameil and it’s all held together by a light film of r’n’b. Occasionally we even get treated to a more oblique reference – the early PARTYNEXTDOOR drop is a clue, but A$AP Ferg’s ‘Shabba’ is a neat confirmation that it’s not just a London-centric circle jerk over at the Goon Club HQ.

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Despite having managed to avoid releasing anything truly of note for some time now, Soulja Boy at least proved at last week’s South By Southwest that he still carries an inexplicable star power. Whether that’s simply because (white, suburban) journalists flocked around him like moths to an almost burnt-out flame in the hope of absorbing some of Soulja’s peculiar swagger, or actually because fans are still snorting up his alarmingly regular flow of marshy mixtape material though, it’s hard to tell.

Regardless, his mixtape production line keeps on chugging on, and King Soulja II is yet another incredibly uneven, overlong and mostly avoidable collection of mutterings and meanderings. It’s not awful by a long shot, but after a few tracks it takes a strong stomach not to wonder if it’s actually worth listening to the entire thing. Soulja is no longer rap’s polarizing young innovator – there are countless other rappers more than ready for that title – and what used to sound endearingly lazy now sounds sodden and unwieldy. The tape’s saving grace comes from the most unlikely of places, a collaboration with old friend Lil B, who in a few words manages to throw shade on Soulja’s entire performance. It’s not often a rapper can claim they were ethered by Lil B, but DeAndre – you did it.

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Another ace mix from the Brooklyn-based Fade To Mind agitator. 30 minutes of blood-pumping, body-wining kunq tracks that jam dancehall, ballroom, rave, and hip-hop in a blender. Explicitly political — that cover art is not Photoshopped, and “Put down the Master’s tools” can send you down a queer theory rabbit hole — but the message informs rather than overshadows the music. As always, Rizzla’s bootlegs are untouchable culture clashes, and we don’t care what he says: we didn’t “imagine” that Kelela / Twin Peaks mash-up.

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From what we can gather, singer/producer Boxxx (formerly Fatboxxx) is the co-founder of Excuse My Liquor records with frequent DJ Mustard collaborator TeeFLii. That should give you some idea of what to expect from XTC: West Coast R&B slappers with the bedroom in mind, albeit about an octave lower and with a little less charisma than TeeFlii.

Despite its title, XTC is far from ecstatic: there’s definitely a sullen streak throughout. Even if the mood is a little morose, there are some tracks that jump off the page. ‘IKW2D’ is radio-ready and has enough bass to rattle your teeth, while ‘Proper’ benefits from a filtered ‘Funky Worm’-ish synth and rhymes from Twiin & SBA1 Neighbors Gone; same goes for ‘Neighbors Gone Hear’ with Dom Kennedy. Skip ‘Kind of Sex’ though: flipping ‘Pony’ is getting a little tired.

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Atlanta production duo FKi have become unavoidable over the last couple of years, both for their outstanding high profile productions and their polarizing collision of dubstep and rap exemplified on the Transformers in the Hood mixtapes. Produced by FKi sweeps up some of Raye Rich and 1st Down’s best rap cuts, and we can’t think of a better way to get a good long look at the duo’s very particular sound.

Featuring tracks from Jeremih, Ty Dolla $ign and Kirko Bangz, Juicy J, Childish Gambino, 2 Chainz, T.I. and loads more, the mix serves as a good primer to FKi’s unique neon-blasted electronic sound, while also standing as a kind of catch-up of low-key hits you might have missed. You’re probably not going to want to be digging through an Iggy Azalea record to find Wale collaboration ‘Work’, but it fits pretty well sandwiched in between bangers from Kid Ink and Zuse, and that’s something we never expected to be saying.

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Yung Xela (emphasis on young – he looks to still be in his teens) mixes the weirdo stylings of Raider Klan, the Sad Boys and Metro Zu with heavy doses of based-rap and psychedelics on Tripping Out The Trap. His drug-heavy lyrics don’t flow as much as tumble out over cloudy beats that run the gamut from video game trap (‘Trapping Out the Temple’, ‘Started With a Lick’) to laidback Southern grooves (‘ANARCHY’) to Triple 6-inspired fare (‘Gimme The Sheets’).

Lyrically, Xela is of two minds: the hypnotic title track’s threats about “smashing” girls and robbing their boyfriends at knifepoint is balanced (unbalanced?) by self-loathing (“I’m dumb, repeating the past / I want to die”), which is even more explicit on the suicidal ‘Take My Life Away’. Elsewhere, the languid ‘Fed Boy’ revolves around a brilliant ‘Drunk in Love’ sample and takes aim at snitches and narcs. The most fully-formed track is the menacing drug anthem ‘Stupid Dumb’, but the 16-track effort certainly has a teenaged attention span. A few of the songs don’t even hit 2 minutes, which is fine: more rappers should make their point and move on.

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