Mixtapes aren’t even mixtapes anymore, they are full fledged projects with all the bells and whistles (high end production, mastering) of “real” records. If you want to hear an artist in a genuine creative space, it’s the place to do it. Here’s the roundup of mixtapes that never left our boom boxes during the entirety of 2013.
10) Zebra Katz – DRKLNG. Zebra Katz easily had the best song of 2012 but it was such a left field hit with a singular sound you would figure he would have faded away in 2013. Katz wisely stayed away fro the dirty house sound that gave him his first hit and ramped up on experimenting and vibe. Just like the title alludes to, it’s a dark trip, but a worthwhile one.
9) Young Thug – 1017 Thug. Easily the worst name in the world where I thought it was a parody. As you can guess, the album is filled with the shoot em up, bang bang that all the kids love nowadays. However, I can’t stress just how weird this thing is. He’s cut from the same cloth as the legion of singer/rapper’s that popped out of the woodwork since Drake became famous and autotune became popular. But he’s got songs named after Pokemon, his rapping style is more like a ten year old yelping, and he warbles over tracks like a pre-pubescent Old Dirty Bastard. On paper it should be horrible but it’s an addicting listen.
8) Action Bronson & Party Supplies – Blue Chips 2. The original Blue Chips was Action Bronson’s breakthrough mixtape, and the sequel is pretty lazy in comparison. The samples sound like they were taken wholesale from a ‘This Is 80’s Pop” compilation, Bronson, normally a gifted storyteller, can’t even keep on subject even through a bar. But it’s the funniest thing I have heart this year, from the Phil Collins sample tribute that is “Contemporary Man” to lines like “I trained a dolphin to let the slammer off like Dolph Lundgren”. The fun they had making this record is infectious and makes me smile every time I put it on..
7) Kelela – Cut For Me. While Aaliyah was never the strongest singer her vocal style and innovative dance focused production (thanks to Timbaland) has influenced generations of pop r&b scarlet’s since her death. While have been plenty of singers who made careers biting the R&B side of her career but not many were able to pull off the dance side. Kelela’s traffics in that lane and spins it to weird places where tracks “Do It Again” sounds like the aliens have landed.
6) The Underachievers – Indigoism. 90’s revivalism is popular across the board from geriatric alternative rock reunions to the snooze fest that is Joey Bada$$’s current career. It’s apparent the Underachivers are big fans of the era also but they aren’t beholden to it. They twist the sounds into something their own…an unusual mix of hippie mysticism meets NYC boom bap. Plus it helps that its very apparent they love rapping rapping with the way they cram as much words as they can within their bars.
5) Da Mafia 6ix – 6ix Commandments. At one time Three 6 Mafia rivaled the Wu-Tang’s numbers as far as members and affiliates were concerned until the mid aughts. A reunion album like this shouldn’t work considering it’s been over a decade since some of them worked together but DJ Paul wisely kept the sound to the sinister devil rap that made them famous in the 90’s. While some members of the old guard are content just to release old shit, Da Mafia 6ix showed they are still masters at the angry tap sound they created.
4) Arca – &&&&&. He helped out Kanye on Yeezus, he produced 2013 breakout star FKA Twig’s EP, and he even staged a piece of performance art with NYC’s Museum of Modern Art. The piece he performed there was his mixtape &&&&&, which is a place where Snoop Dogg samples crash against beats so loud, urgent and smart they feel sentient.
3) Chance The Rapper – Acid Rap. Chance became best friends with James Blake, played a guitar solo on Donald Glover’s Childish Gambino album and sold out pretty much every show he played in 2013. There’s a reason why people like this guy and Acid Rap showcases why: underneath his unusual off beat sing/song flow, soulful beat selection, and tales of Chicago street woes is a 20 year old just trying to sort shit out and get by just like the rest of us.
2) Run The Jewels – Run The Jewels. El-P and Killer Mike turned built on their 2012 collaborations into a full fledged rap group in 2013. Killer Mike’s vocals hit you like Muhammed Ali punches with effortlessly smooth violence and El-P’s aggressive production comes in and cleans up the mess afterwards along with his snark-filled commentary. It’s hip-hop that knocks.
1) Tree – Sunday School II: When Church Lets Out. Tree calls his music, “Soul Trap” but really it’s cutting it short trying to give it a label. Tree’s got a raspy voice that sounds like someone’s old southern Uncle and he uses it to great effect; it lends his stories a gravitas even when he’s joking around. You can here the desperation to tell his story in his voice; Tree raps not because he wants to but because he has to.