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 Young Thug and Bloody Jay's seamless collaboration, HBK Gang's secret weapon, Tree's soul trap evolution and the Peewee Longway-hosted Atlanta/Chicago venn diagram.
It's finally happened, the moment I'd always hoped for but never quite thought possible: Young Thug is a bonafide star, and his post-1017 Thug fame couldn't be more deserved (though I'm still arguing I Came From Nothing 2 is his best work yet). But there's a tendency to get caught up in his "wackiness"—which, yes, is there, and it's awesome—and gloss over the fact that Thug isn't riding to the top off his yelpy voice and zany adlibs alone. The dude can rap, and on Black Portland, his collaborative tape with Atlanta underdog Bloody Jay, he does so in a narcotic, cryptic mumble ("Florida Water"), an inhuman rapid-fire barrage (the beloved "Danny Glover") and while screaming at the top of his lungs like he knows this dull earth is no place for a guy like him ("Signs"). That said, this is a project by two rappers, and it'd be a mistake for to ignore the contributions of Bloody Jay, who's easily as enigmatic as Thug. (Jay's Blatlanta 2 tape, on which the transcendent "Let's Go Play" originally appeared, was grievously slept on last year.) Like Thug, he's got a voice that occasionally goes completely off the hinges and a penchant for connecting unexpected dots to make a weird and sublime picture: Are you a author? That's why you get goosebumps when you see me, no RL Stine he raps on "Movin." In fact, his flow's even more avant garde than Thug's; it's like he takes pleasure in building rhythmic mazes only so he can find his way out, as on his choppy, borderline spoken-word verses on "Nothing But Some Pain." This is the Platonic ideal of a collaborative tape: no one's carrying the bulk of the weight, and two weirdos bring out even weirder sides of each other without sacrificing listenability. For me, this is the best rap tape of the year so far.
Highlights: "Florida Water," a sickly-sweet, mush-mouthed ballad, the chorus of which all but renders English obsolete. "Signs," a howling, Three 6-sampling beast where the two alternately lose their shit and big up each other. "Let's Go Play," a showcase for Bloody at his best.
WTF: An overwhelming majority of this tape is kind of a glorious WTF, so instead, some advice: go listen to Bloody Jay "Strange World" when you're done with the tape.
Since his highly acclaimed Sunday School tape in 2012, soul trap originator Tree has been one of Chicago's most distinctive voices. His rasping Midwest drawl evokes a sense of omniscience, seeming wise beyond his years—lyrically and emotionally, production-wise and street-wise—particulary in a city that's sound is largely defined by anarchic kids. With his latest EP, he's further streamlined his sound, stripping down his lush, soul-sampling style and adding in a bit of DJ Mustard-esque snap, to elegant and emotionally evocative results. ("Probably Nu It" and "Like Whoa" are good examples of this sparseness, which Tree had previously hinted at with 2013 posse cut "G. U. Double T A.") But the signature soulfulness remains, especially on standout cut "Soultrappin / I Believe."
Highlights: "Like Whoa," an earnest celebration of self-love and a shoe-in for 2014's go-to graduation song. "Stay Away," the EP's most tortured moment, Tree's voice alternating between a bitter snarl and a pleading crack. "God Like," a restrained contemplation on reconciling personal and family life.
Skipper's hardly the most prominent member of HBK Gang, but after Wet 2, I'm willing to say he's the Bay Area crew's secret weapon. There's a tendency, in projects built around the thwacking sound that underscores much of young West Coast rap, for things to get a bit same-y after a handful of tracks. Skipper avoids this pitfall, jumping from heady love songs ("Make U Feel," "Cover Girl") to soulful yet understated crew-love numbers ("Still Good," "The Glory") and requisite club anthems. And on Wet 2, even the latter deviates from the standard; "In This Bitch" is a banger built around hyperactive MIDI flute and Yeezus-y distorted soul. The primarily in-house production from fellow members of HBK and The Invasion (including Iamsu!, P-Lo, Kuya Beats, and Jay Ant) holds everything together, but doesn't overshadow the fact that Skipper's the HBK crew's lyrical beast.
Highlights: "What It Look Like (Made It)," a five-minute opus detailing Skipper's journey-to-the-top over gradually building layers of twinkling, Charlie Brown Christmas piano. "That's My Word," the tape's easy hit, an effortless club smash produced by P-Lo.
In just the past month, Peewee Longway's two for two at the helm of compilation tapes. Frequent Flyers 3 isn't on the level of December's incredible Lobby Runners tape, but it's still a strong selection of regional hits, a combination of exclusives and people's favorites from the past couple months. Atlanta-focused collections spring up on DatPiff daily, but FF3 distinguishes itself by splitting its focus between Chicago and Atlanta., spotlightighting King Louie, Lil Herb, Johnny May Cash, Cap 1, and Spenzo alongside rising Atlanta stars like Longway, Jose Guapo, Johnny Cinco, and Migos. (Plus: overlords Future and Gucci.) It's no newsflash that the sounds of the South are a heavy influence on Chicago rap (and more frequently in the past couple years, vice versa), but the juxtaposition here creates an interesting venn diagram, allowing you to examine stylistic elements both shared and distinct between the two cities dominating 2014 street rap.
Highlights:Spenzo's "Wife Er," a yelping tough-guy almost-love song over a triumphant Young Chop beat. Kwony Cash's self-produced "On Me," its cathartic energy on par with Angry Future's best tracks.
WTF: Gucci fires more shots at French Montana on "Anything": French Montana can bite my swag, but I'm still head honcho.