Spin Cycle: The Best and Worst Rap Mixtapes of April ’15

mixtapes

I have something I must admit: My relationship with rap mixtapes is mighty unhealthy. But it wasn’t always like this. There was a time where things were actually amicable. Whenever we were together, it was new, thrilling and I always looked forward to spending quality time with you. I felt like our time together was the ultimate quality time: cozy, fun, and a wonderful bonding experience. What the hell happened? Is the honeymoon phase officially over? Because now I can hardly stand you. You’re not the same anymore, you’re dismissive of my emotions and you’ve even cheated on me with retail. What have you become? I barely recognize you anymore. You regularly insist on flooding my inbox with generic, hastily thrown together mixtape–serving to merely boost your ego or generate last minute hype. These days, you spend most of your time too preoccupied with digital pushers like DatPiff and LiveMixtapes to care about us. But I still have hope for us, because beneath all of this ugliness exudes a similar warmth and spirit that I cannot ever forget. Besides, you still have a way of surprising me—if I dig deep enough I will surely find moments of beauty and clarity.

Alas, we arrive at the idea of attempting to keep up with the oppressive, time consuming yet increasingly crucial rap mixtape game. In this brand spanking new column—cleverly entitled Spin Cycle (ha ha!)—I personally aim to immerse myself even further into the world LL Cool J once called incredible because it’s “straight from the brother’s heart”. With the focus of this column being primarily rap mixtapes, all of the tapes featured on Spin Cycle were scrounged from digital emporiums DatPiff and LiveMixtapes, and free audio streaming sites like Audiomack, SoundCloud and Bandcamp. In addition, we are defining mixtapes here as a full length project that is either free, free-to-stream, or exclusively a digital release (see: Drake’s If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late or Young Thug’s Barter 6). The mixtapes featured monthly on Spin Cycle will also be organized below from the worst to best of the month.

audiopush

Audio Push – The Good Vibe Tribe

Make no mistake, West Coast hip-hop duo Audio Push (Oktane, Price) are fine rappers. So I’m not going to use this space to diss their studious rhymes and strained metaphors—because they’re just fine. The thing with hip-hop like Push’s latest mixtape, The Good Vibe Tribe, is that once you’ve consumed and digested all fourteen tracks you have a hard time remembering what they even tasted like, or what any of the flavors were. Nothing pops, there’s nothing here even remotely distinct or characteristically Audio Push about The Good Vibe Tribe. It’s vanilla. Background music. Background rap music. Eek! And that’s the worst kind of rap music. It’s a shame, Audio Push have been riding Hit-Boy’s coattails for so long by now, you would figure they’d have honed in their own sound. But a track like the Ducko Mcfli and Hit-Boy produced “Heavy” sounds like they compliment the feature artist more than doing something interesting on their own (in the case of “Heavy” it’s Atlanta’s OG Maco who drops by to murk the track). Perhaps the glaring flaws on The Good Vibe Tribe speak on more vexing problems, like Push’s place in the current hip-hop landscape. Technically, the duo never did fully shake their regional one-hit wonder label since they released “Teach Me How to Jerk” six years ago. Not even the guidance of a prodigious producer like Hit-Boy could help The Good Vibe Tribe from being less annoying and/or grating. Once a jerk, always a jerk. D

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Towkio – .Wav Theory

The skepticism and ruminations of an industry plant in hip-hop usually arises whenever an artist blows up without ever touching the streets, the fans, or the blogs. Usually in that exact order. The last major “discussion” of a rap industry plant was Chicago’s star emcee, Chance the Rapper. Fast forward to this year, where the conversation easily applies to another newcomer in rap, Towkio. Towkio who recently dropped his debut project, .Wav Theory, a twelve track tape featuring fellow Save Money collective members Chance the Rapper and Vic Mensa, is also generating a lot of buzz in little to no time. But Towkio is obviously conscious of the high expectations facing his debut project (“I get it get it, your friends did it, they famous/ And you rap, too, so when you gon’ make it?”, he raps on the Chance-assisted cut “Clean Up”), and this self-awareness unfortunately has Towkio sweating mad bullets—attempting to find a voice that is distinctly his own. .Wav Theory is largely scatterbrain, but without the excitement or adventure that usually comes with getting lost in a disorganized project. After going through the twelve tracks a couple of times over, I still don’t know who Towkio is or what he’s contributing to music with .Wav Theory. And I don’t think I really care, honestly. Skip it. D

richhomiequan

Rich Homie Quan – If You Ever Think I Will Stop Goin’ In, Ask Double R

While Rich Homie Quan is looking to take the lead in the proverbial running for the elusive “Song of the Summer” title with his bouncy new single “Flex (Ooh Ooh Ooh)”, his latest solo project If You Ever Think I Will Stop Goin’ In, Ask Double R is, sadly, in contention for one of the worst mixtapes of April 2015. And it surprisingly has virtually nothing to do with the project’s cockamamie (and terribly misleading) name. Misleading because Quan doesn’t really “go in” here. He doesn’t even go anywhere, really. Throughout its exhaustive twenty tracks (clocking in at over an hour in total length), Quan just kind of aimlessly skates along with the production, which is just so empty and passive—lacking any sort of enthusiasm or oomph. Where Barter 6 has former sparring partner Young Thug moving past their collaborative project Rich Gang: Tha Tour Pt. 1 with brevity, If You Ever Think… has Quan idling unilaterally. If You Ever Think… is like a flattened out version of the sounds on Tha Tour Pt. 1. This is especially frustrating, because Quan is someone who is very much capable of making catchy shit—we’ve heard it before. Quan’s proven himself to be quite the hitmaker, especially as weather heats up (see: 2013 with “Type of Way”, 2014 with “Lifestyle”) and although “Flex (Ooh Ooh Ooh)” will rightfully be part of the zeitgeist this summer, he’s beginning to show signs of fatigue. Summer 2016 is already starting to look a bit “Quan-less”, unless he can somehow rehydrate. C-

theironway

T-Pain – The Iron Way

Poor T-Pain, the dude really does get the short end of the stick when it comes to this hip-hop shit. And although a full length T-Pain project in 2015 seems like it dates itself by default, given the dramatic shift rap music underwent since he first garnered success in the mid-aughts, with his virtuoso display of Auto-Tune, the DJ Drama-hosted mixtape, The Iron Way, is a fine reminder of T-Pain’s gift for catchy songwriting. Still, there are moments when The Iron Way drags and reminds me that I’m listening to a T-Pain mixtape in ’15, which doesn’t exactly bode well for anybody. To add insult to injury, T-Pain has a track entitled “Hashtag”, a song that even in spite of its cringe-inducing title just goes to show how desperate T-Pain is to stay relevant in today’s tech-driven society with equally silly lines like “just let go of that phone” and “stop staring at that Facebook wall”. But there are moments on The Iron Way that aren’t all bad, and are actually quite exciting at times. These particular moments further accentuate T-Pain’s skills as a master songwriter, like when he expertly trades flows with Migos (“What You Know”) and tracks like “Heartbeat” altogether. But once more: you’re listening to a T-Pain tape in ’15. It’s like the whole thing never even happened. C

bankroll

Bankroll Fresh – Life of a Hot Boy 2 (Real Trapper)

Bankroll Fresh has positioned himself as a classicist, so to speak, in the flourishing Atlanta trap rap scene. Like how his Life of a Hot Boy 2 (Real Trapper) mixtape features twenty tracks, which really just means Bankroll is allotted twenty tracks to tell you that he’s indeed a “real trapper”. With that, Bankroll reminds me of fellow Atlanta trapper Young Jeezy in the way both rappers will uncompromisingly rap about dealing tons of drugs and making bundles of money in the most straight forward, no nonsense way humanly imaginable. But Bankroll’s approach isn’t like, say, Young Scooter’s, which can border on straight up nihilism. Bankroll’s focus on rap is extremely provincial, sure, but that’s because for him money is the only thing truly worth attaining—it’s an ongoing process of infinite financial cumulation without loss, without superfluity, or without expense. But even if Bankroll’s Life of a Hot Boy 2 is posited as an alternative to the much-bullied “conscious rap”, it’s among the least fun tapes released so far this year. In other words, the proceedings on the mixtape are even slower this time around (a chopped and screwed Life of a Hot Boy 2 could be able to stop time completely). The standout (or sore thumb) is probably “Trap” or “Free Wop Freestyle (Free Gucci)”, although I’m not even sure anymore because at some point every track on the mixtape just rolls together. C

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iLoveMakonnen – Drink More Water 5

Makonnen Sheran, a.k.a. iLoveMakonnen, is one weird ass dude. Despite a bevy of personal tragedies and pitfalls (seriously do your Googles: these are the real life horror stories you often read but can’t fathom anyone going through), Makonnen was able to turn his grim reality around via the online world. Shortly after being witness to the death of his best friend at age eighteen (plus the subsequent drawn out legal proceedings and seven years bad luck being bounced around between jail, house arrest, and probation), Makonnen was finally able to rest his weary head. Fast forward to the fifth installment of his Drink More Water series, which finds Makonnen a year removed from the overnight success of the Drake-assisted “Tuesday”, and evidently he’s weirder than ever. But even in Makonnen’s brand of “weirdness”, there’s something incredibly soulful and downright approachable about his music. Makonnen’s world is one that’s inviting, but in that friendly invitation comes the recreational psychedelic drug use—but hey, “no peer pressure”, says Makonnen. Drink More Water 5 can be melodic, gentle, playful, dark, self-indulgent, and over the top all at once. With that in mind, it’s an overwhelming project compared to his light and feathery iLoveMakonnen EP from last year. But that isn’t to say it’s not worth a listen, especially with standout cuts “Drink More Water 5 Freestyle”, “Super Clean”, “Whip It” remix and “Dodging 12” appearing in the track listing. C+

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Bricc Baby Shitro – Nasty Dealer

As much as Young Thug is obviously a great thing for hip-hop, he’s also responsible for inadvertently spawning so many shameless copycats. Instead of standing ten toes down and creating unique, unobstructed rap music, many blatantly stole Thug’s playbook and are now forging entire careers off of it. But we can easily smell out the bullshit these dime a dozen SoundCloud rappers are haplessly serving up, so it’s not really an issue. But Thug’s meteoric rise to superstardom did leave sizable damage to Atlanta’s rap infrastructure, leaving many on the outskirts to fend for themselves and fight an unrelenting uphill battle. Enter Bricc Baby Shitro, an Atlanta rapper differentiating himself from Thug and the New Atlanta pack by slightly shifting his production “left field”. Fortunately, Shitro (I still feel slightly uncomfortable typing that out) adds enough bells and whistles to Nasty Dealer to keep you thoroughly engaged. Nasty Dealer’s whopping eighteen tracks go down easy thanks to his all-encompassing reach; there are solid features from rappers like Young Thug and Casey Veggies, some exciting production from trusted ATLiens Metro Boomin and Sonny Digital, as well as rising young producers like Sam Tiba and Epikh showcasing their talents. Shitro’s entire scheme behind Nasty Dealer is to basically throw everything at it but the kitchen sink. The result on Nasty Dealer is—as you can imagine when spotting EDM-leaning Parisians receiving production credit on a 2010s Atlanta rap tape—stylistically bewildering, but an altogether fascinating project. B-

traphouse5

Gucci Mane – Trap House 5 (The Final Chapter)

“In my office I probably got like, three hard drives worth of Gucci [Mane] music that ain’t been released,” says Curtis Daniels, CEO of Atlanta’s Patchwerk Studios. And although Gucci Mane has been locked up for much of the past two years (he’s currently serving time for multiple convictions, including possession of a firearm by a convicted felon; his release date is scheduled as March 2017), that hasn’t stopped him from flooding the market with his releases. The one we have in question here, Trap House 5 (The Final Chapter), his supposedly final installment to his street decorated Trap House series (check out the third entry in the series for some serious gems), finds Gucci going back to a strictly mixtape format. There is a clear distinction with Trap House 5 that it’s a mixtape in contrast to a studio or digital release, and it’s important to note that when listening. Trap House 5 continues the Trap House tradition in stitching together all of the best dark and menacing production Gucci could find. This time, he’s got his usual entourage of Atlanta producers; Honorable C-Note drops off an absolutely sublime synth-laden beat on “Constantly”, Mike WiLL Made-It makes an appearance, and veteran Zaytoven handles the bulk of the project’s production. While Trap House 5 won’t have you rearranging your ever growing Gucci Mane power ranking, it’s an overall excellent effort from a rapper whose entire rap career is essentially based around rapping from the point of view of a drug dealer. B

sickomobb

Sicko Mobb – Super Saiyan Vol. 2

Back in the winter of 2013, a little known rap duo from Chicago’s West Side released a mixtape with a goofy name and equally colorful cover art. Known collectively as Sicko Mobb, siblings Lil Ceno and Lil Trav create rap music differently than their popular hometown counterparts in the drill scene. Creating music within the cheery bop subgenre, Sicko’s posi attitude in tandem with the city’s own dance style helped establish the scene as being something more than just a mere gimmick you read about on the internet a year later and cringe. Ultimately, Super Saiyan Vol. 1 was a load of fun to listen to, and offered plenty of replay value. Between the release of Vol. 1 and now, not much has happened for Sicko. Well, perhaps I’m being hyperbolic as Sicko have since inked a publishing deal with Stellar Songs/Water Music Publishing, an imprint for Sony. In addition, the duo was covered by many trendy publications desperate to break the next big artist in music. But I suppose what I mean by “not much has happened” is mostly concerning their musical output. Ceno and Trav kept relatively quiet during most of 2014—occasionally only popping up on our radar by releasing a single, remix or throwaway cut. Where they mistakenly dropped Vol. 1 in late December—a proverbial dumping ground for music, especially when Sicko’s summertime fiesta sound is taken into account—they smartly get it right this time out by releasing Super Saiyan Vol. 2 just as the temperature rises. Furthermore, the duo’s sugary sweet sound is now given palette cleansers in crystalline songwriting and introspective tracks. Take the mixtape’s lead single, “Kool Aid”, with its infectious nursery rhyme over Blue Ranger’s sparkling production. While significantly slower in pace and melancholy in sound than Sicko’s usual formula, this new appliqué still remains bubblegum sweet. B+

thug

Young Thug – Barter 6

I know I’m going to come off as a lowly stan by saying this—whatever I’m feeling a little hyperbolic today anyway—Young Thug’s Barter 6 is not only the best mixtape released in April, but it’s hands down the best mixtape released in all of 2015 thus far. In fact, I would say Thug is one hundred miles and running right now. Basically, rap has a lot of catching up to do. I really could just end it right there, because I’ve said all I could possibly say about Barter 6 in my longwinded review of it. But in the interest of not coming off as lazy journalist scum, I’m going to elaborate on my review and add new observations along the way. For starters, “Constantly Hating” would be the number one song on the Billboard Hot 100 had we been living in the perfect world. It’s a gentle opener that unfurls into a ghastly tropical landscape with low end bass tremors—leaving Thug unattended to explore like a juvenile delinquent on an extended vacation. In addition, “Halftime” is, without a doubt, still one of Thug’s best vocal demonstrates yet. It’s an outright exciting track that gives Thug free reign to indiscriminately play around with Kip Hilson’s plucky beat. And man, does he kill that beat. Again, I can probably go on about Barter 6 until I’m blue in the face but I think I’ll just leave you with this tidbit: don’t give up on Young Thug even if it’s the popular choice, because all you need to do is listen a bit more carefully. A

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Freelance writer based out of NYC with a focus in pop culture, music and film.