Welcome back to Mixtape Saturday, a weekly roundup of great rap tapes around the web hosted by FADER contributor Meaghan Garvey. This week, she talks about Migos transcending their potential sophomore slump, Dreezy coming into her own by letting her guard down, Lil Silk taking weird Atlanta to its extreme, and YDG's perfect counterpoint to commanding rappers like Young Thug.
Migos, No Label 2, February 25, 2014
The thesis of No Label 2—Migos' fourth mixtape, but their second "big deal" one—is essentially how everyone's blatantly swagger-jacked them since "Versace" became a thing. They're absolutely right, but that alone wouldn't be enough to carry the tape. Wisely, they've channeled their frustrations in two important new-ish directions that make these 25 (!!!) tracks worth the hour and a half. NL2 takes their signature sound—melodic, hook-centric semantic satiation and rhyme patterns that roll around in your mouth like the first sentence of Lolita—and thrusts it either towards its logical extreme (non-stop triple-time flows and hyper-speed repetition—Contraband! Contraband! Contraband!), or focuses on the trio's specific but underwritten lyricism. And though it's not the first thing you notice, especially in their most ubiquitous tracks, they are and have been lyrical; stuff like My plug live in Cambodia, finessing in Mongolia and Lettuce and cabbage and broccoli, I'm cooking up catfish, tilapia are the kinds of surrealist tongue-twisters that get indelibly scorched into your skull, evoking mid-’00s Gucci in his prime. It's not a drastic stylistic switch, but it's enough to definitively cross them over the pre-sophomore slump immediately following YRN, when they kept putting out loosies that basically sounded the same every three days and I'd wondered if they'd burned out as quick as they'd risen. It's also their first tape in the spotlight as a trio, and Offset's presence is a blessing; he's definitely a factor in their tightened-up lyricism. It's not quite as fun of a listen as YRN—95 minutes of anything is a pretty tough sell, and things stop being fun around track 17 (weird, that's also when MGK shows up)—and there's no immediate hit like "Versace" or "Hannah Montana," but pointedly so. But they're sharpening their weapons, and their moment is definitely not over.
Highlights: Quavo's the MVP of the tape: he's perfected his hoarse, shouty mode to the point where it feels like a divine being is speaking through him to tell the lames I don't wanna look at you! on "Peek A Boo." But the truly jaw-dropping moment is "Fight Night"—West Coast ratchet done Migos-style is unexpectedly perfect.
WTF: It's really hard not to laugh at a 25-track tape put out by Quality Control Music but hey. Additionally: Independent just like Macklemore?! Additionally: there's a producer called Cheese.
Dreezy, Schizo, February 25, 2014
I first became enamored with Dreezy on "Break A Band" with Mikey Dollaz. Like a lot of her older material, especially her collaborative tape with Dollaz, it fit pretty neatly under the umbrella of drill, but as satisfying as it was, it still felt like Dreezy didn't fit 100% comfortably inside that box. There are still a handful of those big, explosive drill-influenced tracks on Schizo—"Ain't For None" with King Louie is massive—and Dreezy pulls them off. But what makes the tape feel revelatory is where she's let her guard down. It's not just that she's put it all on the line lyrically—emotionally honest songs about love and sex and trust—but also that it feels like she's matured enough to embrace the part of herself that used to write poetry rather than work within the confines of popular Chicago rap. There's definitely a Drake-ness about Schizo, but it's a specific Drake mode: namely, album-intro embattled but optimistic you ain't seen nothing yet Drake a la "Over My Dead Body." A lot of that has to do with D. Brooks, who produced almost the entirety of the tape and sets a backdrop that's constructive for contemplation without being too delicate. Dreezy has come into her own here, resulting in what's easily her best work yet.
Highlights: "Heard It All," a soaring, radio-ready ode to an emotionally unavailable dude that's on par with the best of Nicki's pop catalogue. "Dreamer Pt. 2," a spotlight for her skills as a writer (with heavy Drake vibes but much more earnest). "Ain't For None," a massive drill-influenced cut where her I can hang with the boys flexing truly pays off—not to mention a feature from Louie that accurately showcases his particular knack for wordplay.
WTF: The production on "Truth Hurts" is straight strobe light trance party—it works, though.
Lil Silk, Son Of A Hustler, February 21, 2014
For "real hip hop" purists still haunted by nightmares of Young Thug wearing a dress and Migos' 7.4 Pitchfork score, Lil Silk is probably the anthropomorphic tombstone over rap's grave: ad-libs take precedence over lyricism (or rather, become their own condensed form of lyricism), spontaneity over meticulousness, and the voice is used as a way to show, rather than tell. Sucks to be them, because his music is fucking fun as shit! Son Of A Hustler, the Atlanta-via-Chicago rapper's debut full-length tape, takes the eccentricities of young Atlanta rap to its freewheeling extreme, where squeals and yelps and bon mots and non-sequitors take the spotlight. Sure, there are moments, particularly mid-tape, that could benefit from a bit more structure, and some of the production gets a bit same-y and could use some diversification. But what's cool about Silk, on top of his goofy ad-libs and easy charisma, is the sense that the dude is genuinely psyched about rapping (he's a rapper!), and his un-jaded enthusiasm is contagious.
Highlights: Silk has a knack for extreme literalism: "Party Anthem" is just that, as its hook explicitly declares, with a beat that sounds like "Stoner"'s rowdy little cousin, and "Rapper" takes rap songs about rapping to amazing new degrees of meta. Then there's the "Still Geeked," the follow-up to the first Silk song I ever heard, like warm waves of promethazine washing over your ankles.
WTF: Never before have valley girl giggles sounded so hard.
YDG, Truly Gifted, February 21, 2014
Slept-on Atlanta producer YDG crafts tracks for the likes of Young Thug, Peewee Longway, and his MPA associates that perfectly frame what makes guys like that so special in a way that's distinctive but unobtrusive—he scrawls his signature and then gets out of the way. Truly Gifted, a compilation of his best beats, comes at exactly the right time, in the wake of Thug's newfound stardom; it features a sampling of old and new tracks for Thug, Longway, Offset of Migos, Rich Homie Quan, and friends, and rather than riding their coattails, it's more a statement of hey, I've been here with these guys all along. He's got an arsenal of subtly weird little flourishes—most notably, a penchant for odd synth sounds that range from hallucinogenic twinkling to wailing stadium-EDM—that he incorporates tastefully around well-placed sections of open space. Thus, tracks like Offset's "Molly & Scotty" and Thug's "Ouch!" maintain a fine balance between weirdo production and weirdo rapping, never letting the two encroach upon one another. Plus, it's a fuckload of new and lesser-known tracks from Thug and Longway (and finally the excellent but largely glossed-over loosie "My Lil Woody" from last year sees the light of day)!
Highlights: YDG has to have the most heart-melting drop in the game: a clip of presumably his baby sister drawling My brother made this track!
WTF: Gonna need an Atlanta-based She's All That spinoff with Quavo as Freddie Prinze Jr. and Peewee Longway as Paul Walker based on I fucked your bitch and I gave her a makeover! from "Trappa Turned Rappa."