Although April was nearly void of notable major-label reap releases (besides Future’s weirdly charming debut Pluto, which maybe shouldn’t even be called rap), the month brought the pain in terms of free mixtapes. Below find brief reviews and download links for the month’s strongest free albums.
5. Fat Trel – Nightmare on E Street
Easily the biggest rapper to come out of DC since Wale, Fat Trel succumbs a little to the disease of major-label pop dalliance on this follow-up to last year’s No Secrets, even though it’s still a mixtape. So, upon downloading you should delete the regrettable collaborations with Rich Hil and David Correy and the corny pop-dance track “Time of Her Life” and focus on the album’s engrossing criminal side, exemplified by the surprisingly sinister K.R.I.T.-produced “Swishers and Liquor,” the soulful “Runnin,” and the bouncing “Paper Bag Magic.” With an elastic, agile flow that is two parts Tupac to three parts Rick Ross, Fat Trel has the talent to become a huge deal. But we all know that predicting hitmakers in rap is hardly a sure bet, so just enjoy this album for what it is.
4. N.O.R.E. – Crack on Steroids
This mixtape from the grizzled NYC vet hasn’t received a lot of attention, maybe because it’s exactly what you would expect: wickedly witty raps about violence, chasing women, and the drug game, served over classicist beats with tuneful hooks few and far between. But the fact is that this kind of authentic East-Coast grown-man rap is becoming harder to come by, especially if you want it from original sources and not unconvincing up-and-comers who seem to create their biographies from The Wire and comic books. N.O.R.E. is a rapper’s rapper, and he wisely fills his features list with emcees who share his unflinching, no-bullshit ethos: Gunplay (wilding out on the hook of album standout “Talk 2 Em”), Action Bronson (lounging on the celebration “Mazel Tov”), Busta Rhymes (“Lehhhgooo”), and Styles P and Raekwon (“Google That”).
3. Killa Kyleon and Mouse On Tha Track – Welcome to the Fish Fry
With radio rap dominated by Drake’s sad-guy schtick and Waka Flocka Flame’s fight-me crunk, one forgets that hip hop can actually be a lot of fun. Baton Rouge producer Mouse On Tha Track has been building a rep over the past few years by creating Cash-Money-esque beats that rely on bluesy synthesizers, bouncing percussion, and his own moaning, melodic hooks -- in other words, hip hop that manages to be serious and danceable at the same time. On the long-brewing Welcome to the Fish Fry, Mouse hooks up with Houston’s Killa Kyleon, a technically gifted rapper who’s been slept on for a while. Killa and Mouse have a chemistry that recalls Juvenile and Mannie Fresh, as Mouse drops beat after beat of effervescent, just-try-and-sit-still jams while Killa shows off his Swiss Army Knife flows. Welcome to the Fish Fry provides the perfect playlist for your summer barbecue or, you know, fish fry.
2. Stalley – Savage Journey to the American Dream
Another producer-rapper tandem that makes total sense, Stalley and Block Beattaz team up for Savage Journey to the American Dream, a mixtape which was actually released at the tail end of last month but is too good to be left off our list. One of the most earnest dudes in hip hop, Stalley is a perfect match for Block Beattaz’ ruminative space jams. Although he affects the same sort of chilled-out, maximalist vibe as Curren$y, Stalley is hardly carefree. As its title indicates, this mixtape is themed around the idea of the American dream, and how for most Americans, it’s becoming more a dream and less a reality. Every song here has at least one moment of significant pain or regret, as if Stalley is the kind of guy who won’t let himself fully unwind, who can’t forget the materialist visions of every rapper’s paradise are fueled by endemic, soul-crushing poverty. Paired with Block Beattaz sparkling soundscapes, and enlivened by appearances from Rick Ross, Curren$y, and Wale, Savage Journey to the American Dream is one of the more compellingly anxious rap releases to come out in a long time.
1. Big Baby Gandhi – No 1 2 Look Up 2
No 1 2 Look Up 2, the name-making mixtape from Big Baby Gandhi, the 21 year-old Queens emcee and Das Racist associate, bears all the characteristics of its creator’s age: dormroom meanderings about philosophy and politics, sexual desire quickly bleeding into sexual desperation, ADD-affected leaps from one subject to another, an instinct to measure up to great emcees past and present. The most common referent people give when hearing Big Baby Gandhi’s nasally flow is Danny Brown, but in addition to Brown’s manic energy I hear MF Doom’s nerdistry, Ghostface’s NYC panoramas, Lil B’s emo gushes. The beats on No 1 2 Look Up 2 mostly mirror Gandhi’s scatterbrained personality with tin-pot percussion, Garageband effects, lumpy beats and off-key synths. The album is kind of a mess, but in the best way possible.