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

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Welcome to the second official installment of the Spin Cycle, a new column where yours truly personally aims to immerse himself 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 an exclusively 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 worst to best of the month.

Good news, we have an all new lineup of mixtapes to cover for the month of May. Looking over these ten lucky tapes chosen for this month, I quickly noticed that half of them have the great distinction of being from Atlanta—including both the best and worst of the month. Mind you, this wasn’t done deliberately by me, nor should it speak on any sort of far-fetched regional bias because that’s obviously untrue. Perhaps the reason why five out of the ten mixtapes for May are from Atlanta is because these ATLiens are simply dominating the game at the moment, and have been for quite some time. Just last month, as part of the first installment of this list series, Atlanta rapper Young Thug’s Barter 6 was named best mixtape. It doesn’t take much to realize that Atlanta’s furiously molting trends are setting the blueprint for contemporary rap, whether they like it or not. Just skim through LiveMixtapes’ overall statistics and you’ll be impressed to find the page littered with Atlanta rappers’ free mixtapes (I pulled it up for you: LiveMixtapes’ top ten all-time has seven Atlanta mixtapes). Just know, that even though there’s heaps of crap coming out the A, the few gems you discover are setting the trends, and will probably be your new favorite rapper.

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Migos & Rich the Kid – Still on Lock

Personally, I take issue with Rich the Kid’s title as honorary fourth Migo—he doesn’t offer up anything remotely interesting or unique as Quavo, Takeoff or Offset. I haven’t really been too fond of Rich’s music since being introduced to him on the Streets on Lock mixtape way back in 2013. Sure, he had moderate viral success with “Jumpin’ Like Jordan”, but other than that he hasn’t made a convincing argument for transcending past the proverbial weed carrier role. And despite all of this, Migos continue cosigning Rich. And judging from the fourth installment to the Streets on Lock series, Still on Lock, Migos are showing no signs of letting him go. Although Still on Lock finds Migos as a duo once more (Offset is currently incarcerated on drug and gun charges) as they did when they first broke into the mainstream with “Versace” in ’13, the material on this tape isn’t anywhere as good as that year’s Young Rich Niggas, which contained such instant classics as “Bando”, “Hannah Montana”, “China Town” and the aforementioned “Versace”. Fortunately for us, most of the Rich the Kid tracks remain separate from the Migos cuts, but in the end the content on Still on Lock is so paper thin that it doesn’t even matter. The more I think about Still on Lock, the more I dislike it. I think I’ll just dead this review right here, and await Migos’ forthcoming Y.R.N.: Tha Album. Done. D-

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Fredo Santana – Ain’t No Money Like Trap Money

It’s a sad realization, but Chicago rapper Fredo Santana will probably never record another song as good as “Jealous”. The song dropped almost two years ago, and Fredo has yet to top it. Ain’t No Money Like Trap Money is Fredo’s first mixtape of entirely new material since last summer’s uneven Walking Legend. Where he spent much of Walking Legend prematurely self-mythologizing (Fredo has only been rapping “professionally” since 2012), Trap Money has him trying on many different hats—to largely mixed results. Some hats just don’t fit either, like when Fredo tries to handle the hook duties on many of Trap Money’s tracks. I guess the M.O. nowadays is when you flat out can’t sing go ahead and pull a Kanye, and just try to sing anyway. But Fredo isn’t Kanye, so for such a disciplined street rapper to attempt to sing via Auto-Tune is, as you can imagine, all too painful to listen to—even if you’re feeling slightly kinky. Fredo’s strengths have always been in his all or nothing savage persona (it’s what made early lyrics like “Fredo in the cut, that’s a scary sight” so utterly striking when you first heard them), and tracks like “Bad Habits”, “Go to War” and “Play With Your Children” reassure that very sentiment. Trap Money is also a rare mixtape in that the features actually serve as the obvious highlights; Gucci Mane in particular drops off a strong, intelligible verse on “Play With Your Children” and fellow Chi-Town drill veteran Lil Reese makes two noteworthy appearances on the tape as well. Overall, another dud from the once promising Fredo. D

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French Montana – Casino Life 2: Brown Bag Legend

I love a good “tragedy to triumph” rap story, and I’d like to think French Montana’s story can be categorized as such. Come to think of it, French kind of won the rap game. This was a Moroccan-born and South Bronx-raised rapper who went from barely speaking a lick of English to peddling street-flavored DVDs—smartly used to showcase his talent as an underground artist, interviews with major rappers, as well as independent upstarts—for roughly eight years between 2002 and 2010, to finally landing a major label deal himself. On the strength of some successful singles (“Pop That”, “Ain’t Worried About Nothin'”) and guest appearances (Rick Ross’ “Stay Schemin'”), French did the improbable: He dropped his debut album, Excuse My French. But since then, French has seemingly traded in the recording booth for television cameras and tabloid magazines. Sadly, his name attracted greater attention for dating celebutante Khloé Kardashian than any music he’s put out. And with Casino Life 2: Brown Bag Legend, French’s first solo project since Excuse My French two years ago, the South Bronx rapper is assuring us that he’s still passionate about rap music and that he’s also living the good life. In addition, Casino Life 2 marks the return of French’s (still) overlooked versatility. Tracks like “Hang On”, “Hard Work”, “Body Numb Full of Drugs” and “Yay Yay” are dark, monolithic, and will satisfy those craving bangers this summer. But, ultimately, it’s tracks like the opening cut “Hang On (Intro)” and closer “To Each His Own (Outro)” that are a welcome break from the tired drug mastermind raps. D+

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Jeezy – Gangsta Party

I don’t know what it is, but I can’t seem to hold back a chuckle any time I hear Jeezy nowadays. While it may seem like a lifetime ago, there was indeed a time where he seemed virtually invincible. Jeezy came up in an era of rap where his signature overblown machismo, and steadfast dope boy (later turned drug kingpin, I think?) swagger could go far despite being relatively superficial. I don’t know what it was, but his first two major label albums (Let’s Get It: Thug Motivation 101, The Inspiration) are some of the last decade’s most entertaining rap albums (or action films). But as time went on and hip-hop rapidly changed and progressed, Jeezy somehow remained exactly the same. He may have dropped the “Young” from his name but, to his detriment, he kept the austerity in his music. All this as rival Gucci Mane got weirder and easily became the most influential voice in Atlanta hip-hop (Gucci essentially decided the career trajectory of every ATLien trying to make it in the rap game). And with Gangsta Party, his latest mixtape, hosted by DJ Drama, Jeezy plays catch-up with hip-hop, even when he’s clearly sluggish and out of breath. This criticism of Jeezy is odd because he doesn’t do anything wrong, per se. In fact, a lot of it is pretty good: Zaytoven’s beat on “Everything Back” provides such an exciting backdrop for Jeezy, Young Dolph and Bankroll Fresh to let loose and have fun in the booth. You forget that all three rap about the same things in their verses—drugs (dealing, cooking, picking it up, dropping it off), bad bitches (strictly for sex), money (making and spending it, of course)—because it’s all done with extravagant ignorance and sounds totally credible. Sure, it’s nice to see Jeezy keeping tabs on what’s popping in Southern rap with Gangsta Party’s solid features and production credits, but that means the solo tracks (only two out of ten) are sorely lacking. C-

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Soulja Boy – Swag

I’m in a very small, but dedicated minority of rap fans who seriously consider the 24-year-old Soulja Boy to be one of rap’s unsung heroes—whose creative output over the last six years has documented a rapper delving deeper into the stream of consciousness, Lil B-esque based abyss. And sometimes the results are awesome (Pretty Boy Millionaires, Smooky, an assortment of singles and music videos), but often they are perplexing (Bernard Arnault EP, the other three dozen or so songs and mixtapes). Where does Swag sit? Sandwiched somewhere between the two categories. For starters, it’s titled Swag, which really speaks for just how much Soulja cares about this whole rap mixtape shit. Another thing worth noting is just how much Soulja is inspired by those he’s around during the recording process. For example, there are plenty of tracks on Swag that have Soulja cribbing notes from Young Thug or Future, and other’s find him evidently still renting out Migos’ signature triplet flow. But even in spite of its bloated twenty six tracks, Soulja can surprise and Swag does indeed have a handful of gems. Between every terrible track or studio throwaway are tracks like “Yeen Heard”, “Money Be Coming In”, “Way Up” and “Hella Klips”. “Salute” featuring Ca$h Out is a track you have to hear to believe—it’s perhaps one of the strangest rap songs I’ve heard in quite some time. Both Ca$h Out and Soulja rap with these passively excited and nonchalant accents over a bouncy, minimal beat that seems entirely fresh while also sounding like they hardly tried at all. Basically, what you can do with Swag is create an EP version of it by keeping the best tracks and dumping the rest. C

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OJ da Juiceman – The Realest Nigga I Know 2

Aye! Aye! Aye! This sounds like 2010, and I’m more than okay with that. Sometimes I miss harmless street rap like OJ da Juiceman. And let’s not front like “Make tha Trap Say Aye” isn’t one of the best rap songs of the last decade. Also, sidebar: OJ was one of Gucci Mane’s many proteges, so chances are there’s bound to be a diamond in the rough hiding somewhere. Frankly, you don’t have to venture far on The Realest Nigga I Know 2 until you reach something worthy of your time with OJ wasting not a second on the intro, “Realest Nigga in It”, by incessantly flossing all over Hamsquad’s energetic beat. You’ll have so much fun you’ll forget that it’s a five minute intro on an OJ da Juiceman mixtape containing eighteen tracks. But you should know by now that OJ is no rap prodigy, nor does he attempt to convince you of that, and even his distinctive “Aye! Aye! Aye!” ad lib can feel like a one-note. Where OJ always shined prior, despite his obviously facile traditional rap skills, was in his embrace of the trap rapper status as signified by outrageous candy-colored jewelry, frightening gold grill grin, and his own bizarre sense of swagger. When he raps in a slightly lower register, keeping his voice relaxed, and nonchalant calm, it has one think OJ is hiding a bloodthirsty stimuli (“Nickel”, “D.O.P.E.”). And yet, whenever he raps over a more uptempo cut, his vocals have a frantic yelp (“This Year”, “Falls Down”). For OJ, this is all just another vocal effect because he’s unconcerned with appearing profound, and purely interested in projecting his inward style. C+

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Kevin Gate – Murder for Hire EP

Rap’s fascination with Mexican drug culture isn’t all that different than it drawing inspiration from the drugs themselves. Drugs have played a pivotal role in hip-hop since the Bronx block parties of DJ Kool Herc, and as their appetites grew the music expanded, as well. The Mexican connection(s) probably stem from rap’s fascination with drug kingpins and the excessive, borderline cartoonish level of violence that unfortunately comes with it. Not to mention its direct relationship with the Black Mafia Family (BMF), an alleged drug trafficking organization that has associated with rappers like Jay Z. Today, even the most elementary of rappers will find a way to flip the Spanish language to their liking, and almost always adapting it to a drug setting. Which is why Kevin Gates’ Murder for Hire EP is the perfect middle ground, as the Baton Rouge native gives you a bite-sized piece of a rapper who has a tumultuous history with drugs and does a great job verbalizing it in a unique way. Although its a mere seven tracks (for someone who averages about eighteen tracks per project, it’s easily his shortest to date), surprisingly none of these miniatures feel small, nor swerve from Gates’ established objective. He croons in Auto-Tune, lays down great hooks, raps his ass off, and the beats rattle and roll. Just about every track on Murder for Hire chronicles Gates’ drug dependency, both as the consumer and pusher. Like on “Mexico”, where Gates barks about the burden of selling drugs and defending himself against enemies—all while rapping the song’s hook in Spanish. Other gems include “Chico” and “Rican Johnny”, which further compliment Murder for Hire’s Spanish-language drug czar angle, and accentuate Gates’ savvy songwriting. C+

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Sicko Mobb – Mulah

Sicko Mobb’s Mulah arrives rather quickly, especially after the release of the Chicago duo’s Super Saiyan, Vol. 2, one of April’s best mixtapes. According to Lil Ceno, the new mixtape is “about saving your money, spending your money, girls and life”. In addition, Ceno spoke on the challenges facing the duo following their newfound success. “Things done changed up, so it’s about our new life and the money we get. Saving money is a challenge, but you learn from your mistakes,” he further explained. “We spent money when we was younger, now we learn how to save it.” This sentiment, while commendable, is also unusual; not because this is hip-hop, a culture that strives on making big bucks quick, and spending it all just as fast. It’s peculiar because Lil Ceno and Lil Trav, both barely out of their teen years, are no longer considering themselves young. Although they have yet to drop the “Lil” from their rap names (Bow Wow already did it at age sixteen), the Chi-Town duo continues venturing away from the localized bop movement, and diving headfirst into musical refinement and maturation. With that being said, Mulah is perhaps Sicko’s best project to date. But that’s mostly due to how easy it is to listen to (the seventeen tracks notwithstanding), as the duo carefully crafts their most fully fleshed out tracks (“This Is How We Rock”, “She da Thang”, “Gang & Mobb”). That isn’t to say Ceno and Trav traded in their excitable party rap style for more moody music—plenty of tracks on Mulah are serviceable in providing you with a much needed sugar rush (“Audi”, “Robin Jeans”, “Ana Shit”). The best of Mulah still lies within tracks that are as equally enticing as they are addictive, and fortunately there’s just enough of that on the tape. B-

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King Louie – Drilluminati 3: God of Drill

King Louie’s music is brutal. It rumbles, storms, swirls. It’s jagged, capricious, unrelenting. But make no mistake: it has to be brutal. Hailing from some of Chicago’s notoriously violent inner city neighborhoods, Louie helped establish the Windy City’s street rap scene (a.k.a. drill music), which went from being a mostly local anomaly to overnight being co-opted by one of rap’s global ambassadors, Kanye West. Although the drill scene’s mainstream recognition is often attributed to Chief Keef’s “I Don’t Like” video, which became a viral sensation in 2012, the 27-year-old Louie has been putting on for his city dating as far back as 2007, with the release of Boss Shit, his debut, recorded when he was just a teenager. Enter Drilluminati 3: God of Drill, Louie’s fourteenth tape, which finds the rapper utilizing his city’s distinct regional slang, bleak language and imagery, and obstinate soundscapes to craft striking action paintings. From top to bottom Drilluminati 3 is an excellent tape, and continues the longstanding argument for Louie as one of rap’s most underrated talents. The first five tracks, in particular, fire off more rounds of ammunition than some of the more highly touted gangsta rap albums in recent memory. “Johnny Tapia” may be the best display of Louie’s prowess as a rapper; nonchalant but dour, amusing while remaining one hundred percent dead serious. The entire project really is just a blast to listen to from start to finish as there are no obnoxious DJ interruptions, weird skits, or aimless interludes. The only time I can recall Louie stumbling on Drilluminati 3 would have to be on the PartyNextDoor-assisted cut “Clique’d Up” with the track being entirely too long and Louie sounding obviously out of his comfort zone with this emo R&B shit. I’m not going to talk your head off; get this mixtape and play it loud. B, for brutal. B

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Gucci Mane – King Gucci

Ten years ago last month, Gucci Mane released his debut album, Trap House. It would inevitably be the first in a series of highly decorated albums and mixtapes. In fact, Gucci released the fifth installment in the series just last month, which received a B grade from yours truly. While Trap House is undoubtedly a monumental moment in rap—introducing the world to one of the most colorful and uninhibited characters around—it is certainly no celebration (hence why it is difficult to call it an anniversary). “I remember being proud and angry the day it was released,” the imprisoned Gucci writes in a letter to fans. “I was proud of the work I put in and the quality of the project but I was angry that someone had to be killed over a dispute about the rights to some of the contents of the album.” But Gucci’s certainly traveled a long distance—both artistically and personally—since being charged with murder in 2005 (he would eventually serve time for violating probation) and although one may cry uncle over the sheer volume of projects he churns out, if you’ve actually listened you’d know each offers, at the very least, a grab bag of exceptional rap music. And his latest drop, King Gucci, is no exception to the aforementioned fact. With a mere ten cuts, King Gucci is light and easy for those seasoned Gucci fans, but that isn’t to the mixtape’s detriment. Quite the contrary, in fact, as it’s the ideal Gucci incarnate you’d want just in time for summer. In addition, King Gucci is a pleasant return to the exciting and bubbly side of Gucci (see: The Burrprint: The Movie 3-D) that sadly laid dormant for much of the last dozen or so projects. Standouts “Still Sellin’ Dope” and “I Hate Hoes” are sweet, and fizzy while all-around great tracks like “Real Dope Boy” and “Smart Mouth” are playful and invigorating. Put down the guns and pick up the Super Soakers—it’s summertime. B+

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