Lately it seems hip hop moves faster than the speed of a mouse click. Every week rappers unload hours of material, most of it free, to the greedy denizens of datpiff.com, livemixtapes.com, and hundreds of blogs. Below you can find descriptions of notable mixtapes released over the past few weeks, standout tracks, and download links.
T.I. – Fuck Da City Up
After spending much of the past two years in jail on drug and gun charges, T.I. dropped Fuck Da City Up on New Year’s Day. In comparison with No Mercy, the contrite, popish album T.I. released in 2010, Fuck Da City Up is a snarling, furious, and unapologetic. Fresh out of prison, T.I. raps like someone who’s fresh out of prison: these verses overflow with women, violence, drugs, and partying (don’t tell Tiny). Certifiable bangers abound, but T.I. still hasn’t regained his circa-2007 swagger. All that time in the pen seems to have separated him from hip-hop’s pulse. To wit he doesn’t sound at home on the tape’s trendy, power-synth productions (“Loud Mouth” and “Fuck Da City Up”), and it might not be a good sign that he sounds so comfortable next to faded powers Too $hort (who features along with a posthumous Pimp C verse on “Pimp”), Nelly (“This Time of Night”) and Dr. Dre (“Popped Off”). As T.I. traverses the dangerous passage between rapper-of-the-minute and respected-OG, every step looms with potential embarrassment and artistic disaster. If he asked me, I would suggest T.I. stick as closely as possible to DJ Toomp, the Atlanta producer who gave him “24s,” “What You Know,” and Fuck Da City’s best track, “Who What When?” but Tip has enjoyed enough of pop success that it’s doubtful he’ll ever swear it off completely. Even if Fuck Da City Up reestablishes T.I.’s bona fides as one of ATL’s most beloved hood heroes, we probably haven’t seen the last of his dalliances with pop princesses.
Standout tracks: “Who What When?”; “I’ll Show You”; “Hot Wheels”.
Rick Ross – Rich Forever
Next to T.I’s Fuck Da City Up, Rick Ross’s Rich Forever is the biggest mixtape of the past few weeks, but Ross suffers from none of T.I.’s identify confusion, and he has nothing to prove. As one of the biggest names in hip hop, Ross has called in an all-star list of cameos, and Rich Forever has the feel of a blockbuster album as much as that of free mixtape. No one should be surprised at the way Rich Forever sounds. Ever since “BMF” blew up in the summer of 2010, Rick Ross has doubled down on Lex Luger’s strident productions, and Rich Forever continues that trend, with beats that, like gold-plated automatic weapons, manage to be decadent and menacing at the same time. At this point the debate over Ross’s history as a corrections officer seems decades in the past. He’s buried himself completely in a fantasy world of million-dollar drug deals and Mafioso symbolism, and hearing him rap about keys hidden in mansions and dropping corpses in the ocean is akin to seeing Daniel Day-Lewis as Daniel Plainview or Jeff Bridges as The Dude, an artist glorying in the role of a lifetime. Album highlights “Triple Beam Dreams” and “Keys to the Crib” has Ross going toe to toe with Nas and Styles P, respectively. Elsewhere Ross pulls Pharrell, Drake, 2 Chainz, and Diddy into his lavish orbit; Maybach Music Group affiliates Wale, Meek Mill, and Stalley make frequent appearances.
Standout Tracks: “Triple Beam Dreams”; “Keys to the Crib”; “High Definition”
Lil B – Gold House
If Rick Ross’s new mixtape has the gloss of high filmic art, Lil B’s Gold House is theater of the absurd. Even though Lil B has in reality as little connection to the drug and gun talk in his songs as Ross does, he exaggerates and critiques that distinction where Ross won’t acknowledge that it exists. The first song released from Gold House, “Green Card,” manages to be both head-nodding thug-rap and a winking, self-aware joke. The song’s video, which features Lil B posing with his firearms and grinning like a maniac, bears a description asserting Lil B as a positive soul who doesn’t condone violence. The first handful of songs of Gold House continue in this vein, with emphatic Luger-style production paired against Lil B’s indignant whine: how much you will enjoy this depends on whether you appreciate both the trends from which Lil B is drawing as well as the bizarre way he interprets them. Elsewhere on the album Lil B ascends into familiar realms of stream-of-consciousness cloud-rap (“Banga Luv,” “On God,” “Talking That Based”) but fails to match the weirdo pinnacles found on last year’s I’m Gay (I’m Happy), I Forgive You, and The Silent President. In the end Gold House is notable as another Lil B experiment, this time in gun-totting gangsterisms, and only a partially successful one at that.
Standout tracks: “Green Card”; “I’m Like Killah.”
Squadda B – Back Selling Crack
Last year the Oakland duo Main Attrakionz borrowed some of the key ingredients from Lil B’s aesthetic – a weeded-out worldview, Clams Casino beats -- and became much more successful than the BasedGod, mainly because they rapped like competent professionals, something Lil B refuses to do. A couple of weeks ago, Squadda B, one half of Main Attrakionz, released a solo mixtape, Back Selling Crack, and next to Rich Forever it’s the strongest front-to-back tape to be released recently. Unlike the albums released in 2011 by Main Attrakionz, which offered a singularly hazy aesthetic, the production on Back Selling Crack is all over the place, and Squadda B benefits from the variety. As a rapper Squadda is nothing exceptional, dealing mostly in ebullient drug talk, but listen to the way he fits his voice to straight-ahead synth funk (“Down”), dissonant boombap (“Van Halen”), cartoony riffs (“The Greenova Way”) and left-field experiments (“Cream Soda,” which samples Beach House and Fleetwood Mac), and you’ll start to be impressed. Of course, there are plenty of examples of patented cloud-rap, and Squadda’s Main Attrakionz partner MondreM.A.N. shows up for a handful of tracks.
Standout tracks: “Allstar Shit”; “Down”; “Still Cloudskatin”
Mr. Muthafuckin' eXquire – Merry eX-mas & Suck My Dick
Of all the underground rappers to break out in 2011, Brooklyn’s Mr. Muthafuckin eXquire seems to have the most staying power. eXquire is a rapper’s rapper, who isn’t beholden to aesthetic trends or a specific subject matter or offstage controversies. Rapping in a gutteral growl, eXquire aspires to Biggie’s mantle of vivid storytelling, sophisticated rhyming, and crabby misanthropy (Danny Brown is one person who upholds the comparison). On Merry eX-mas & Suck My Dick, a leftover compilation of sorts featuring cuts that didn’t make it onto this career-making 2011 mixtape Lost in Translation, eXquire plumbs emotional lows (“S.C.U.M.”) and reaches peaks of verbal dexterity (“Two 22s b/w Twenty Two 2s”). There are a lot of songs here that would only fit on a grab-bag album, like “Killah Tofu,” which samples the Doug classic, and “RIP Payso,” a kind of parody of the A$AP Mob, that are enjoyable enough, but listeners would be better served being redirected to Lost in Translation’s nervy set-pieces. In the end Merry eX-mas hardly matches its predecessor, but it makes a strong case for the potency of eXquire’s personality.
Standout tracks: “S.C.U.M.”; “Two 22s b/w Twenty Two 2s”; “Huzzah 2”