Welcome to Mixtape Saturday, a weekly roundup of great rap tapes around the web hosted by FADER contributor Meaghan Garvey. This week, she talks about P. Rico's sensitive side, Le1f's sexy writing, Flatbush Zombies' rejection of Bloomberg and Zed Zilla's hometown pride. Read more and download the tapes after the drop.
P. Rico is part of Chicago's Brick Squad crew, the group perhaps best known for last year's tragic murder of member Lil Jojo. Preceding the release of Welcome To Puerto Rico, Rico's unexpectedly solid second tape, his biggest hit was "Hang Wit Me," a monstrous song where the raps lag just a touch behind the beat. But that's not even among the top five best songs here. Welcome To Puerto Rico begins as a fairly standard selection of drill cuts, but eventually things get really interesting. R&B moment "Protect You" shakes things up with its genuinely touching hook: Girl I will protect you / I know shit gets scary. It sounds like it would soundtrack the trailer to a teen romance set in Chiraq. Rico's got a great ear for beats and a casual but catchy lyricism, both of which are best showcased on standout "Heater." In the four door/ Keep a low pro rolls off his tongue over swirling production. "We Don't Know What To Say" is a perfect closer, Rico's sorrow cutting through his get-money boasts. Welcome To Puerto Rico positions Rico as one of Chicago's most exciting rappers. Brick Squad doesn't get half the national attention that rappers from Chief Keef's GBE crew do, and perhaps rightfully so, until now.
Highlights: The dramatic lurch of "Gladiators" (insert joke about a 300 sequel titled 3Hunna here). The lush shimmer of money-over-bitches anthem "No Love," which has more in common with Future than just its name. The Lloyd-like hook of sensitive thug ballad "Protect You."
WTF: Can we talk about how the tape is hosted by house and juke don DJ Slugo?
Tree House is New York rapper/producer Le1f's third full-length mixtape, and I think it's his best yet. Le1f once wrote on Twitter that he made Dark York, his first tape, to set him free and Fly Zone, his second tape, to prove a point. (Presumably, that he's not a "gay rapper"—he's a rapper, period). The unifying force of Tree House is its physicality—there's an underlying focus is on the body, hyper-sensory pleasure and sex. The tape doesn't just evoke sex—it is sex. But Tree House just doesn't need more of a thesis than that. Le1f's rapping feels more serious than ever, but he also sounds completely at ease. It's clear writing raps is genuinely fun for him. I found myself grinning at various points in the tape, like when Le1f ends a particularly acrobatic verse on "Jack" by throwing off the rhythm with a coy Oops, that's gross. For all that, the production still shines bright, and it's the all-star roster of future-focused producers—frequent collaborator Boody, Chicago duo The-Drum, Shy Guy, and Ninja Tune's FaltyDL in a rare foray into rap—that push Tree House into next-level territory.
Highlights: The-Drum's steel drums-meet-snap music beat for "Swerve." Le1f's interpolation of Aaliyah's "Beats 4 Da Streets" lyrics on the eerily lush "Kadabra / Anubish." The winking flip of the Trap-a-holics drop on "Damn."
WTF:Boy I love your pheromones/ Can you come and make this Pharaoh moan? from "Oils" enters the running for most eye roll-inducing yet awesome Egyptian sex metaphor, a title which Kanye was previously holding unopposed.
Brooklyn's Flatbush Zombies exist in a post-Odd Future, Tumblr-fueled sphere of rap that I'm guessing might be more compelling if you're an actual teenager and not a jaded twenty-something. You certainly can't knock Meechy Darko and Zombie Juice's energy—every track is a cathartic explosion, as though they've been waiting forever to release their thoughts. And in-house producer Erick Arc Elliott, who provides the beats for all but two tracks here, is a master at setting the scene for their druggy, snarling raps; his production really holds Better Off Dead together. But the group's "In case you forgot, we do DRUGS!" shtick gets exhausting pretty quickly, particularly when paired with blunted conspiracy theories. There's a way to pull off bleary-eyed, paranoid rap—see Ab-Soul's Control System—and the Zombies' staunch fuck-the-world attitude isn't entirely off-putting. (Their yelling Fuck Bloomberg on "Amerikkkan Pie" is admittedly badass.) But on tracks like "Bliss," where they chuck up middle fingers at literally everything in the universe—Fuck the moon, fuck the stars, fuck Venus and Mars—it's a bit much.
Highlights: Fellow Brooklynite Obey City's production on "TP4." Action Bronson's typically detail-packed verse on "Club Soda."
WTF: From "Death": Zombies blowing up like the Boston Marathon, boom / What, too soon?
Time 2 Eat is the latest hit-packed offering from Zed Zilla, the Memphis rapper signed to Yo Gotti's CMG label. It's firmly rooted in Memphis, not so much in sound but in hometown personnel: Lil Lody, Gibo and Brenae Beatz) contribute beats; local legends Yo Gotti and DJ Paul join together on "Memphis Shit." Zilla's not really breaking new ground here, nor is he trying to—Time 2 Eat is just a consistent collection of dark turn-up anthems and riding music. "All Again" and "Paranoid" are gorgeous and meditative, the kind of tracks you loop in the car at 3AM. "License Suspended" and "Hot" are guaranteed to destroy the club. At a time when Memphis rappers have become, understandably, more influenced by the general sound of the South than by Three 6 or 8Ball & MJG, and a young crop of rappers raised on Tumblr jack the city's diabolic sound, it's cool that Zilla is still putting on for his city.
Highlights: Lil Lody's chipmunk soul beat for "All Again." Kevin Gates' scene-stealing verse on "Come Up." The syrupy romance of "Voicemail Confessions," which recalls "Prostitute Flange"-era Wayne.