Tape Adapter: May's Hip Hop Mixtapes Reviewed
, June 14th, 2013 05:34
Ignoring the impending drop of big albums by Kanye and J. Cole, Gary Suarez finds some golden offerings from Travi$ Scott and Bryant Dope in his monthly mixtape round-up
Rap seems to be lurching towards June 18 with trepidation. On that date, at least three contenders - J. Cole, Mac Miller and Kanye West - will enter the ring to see if their respective levels of hype will lead to that evasive commodity known as record sales. Labels too hope to see some pickup after five months of throwaways and faceplanting flops.
The mixtape marketplace, however, still thrives, with the 2013 XXL magazine freshmen class picks offering a new crop of talented rappers to build up (and, if history repeats, mercilessly tear down) and sparking some anticipated new music from the likes of Logic and Travi$ Scott. Both of these guys appear in this round-up of last month’s notable tapes, as does R&B crooner August Alsina, former Das Racist figure Kool A.D. and Queens spitter Bryant Dope.
Travi$ Scott - Owl Pharoah
If 'New Slaves' and 'Black Skinhead' are any indication, even Kanye West doesn't want to be Kanye West anymore. Fortunately for him, younger, hungrier artists who’ve grown up during his colossal come-up seem all too eager to take his place. Travi$ Scott, a Houston rapper/producer signed to both T.I.’s Grand Hustle imprint and the G.O.O.D. Music juggernaut, at times recalls another protege of Mr. West’s: Kid Cudi. A handful of moments ('Bad Mood Shit On You', 'Dance On The Moon') on Owl Pharoah, a long-delayed and frequently reconfigured debut, sound like outtakes from that sprawling confounding mess known as Indicud, right down to a shared lunar fetish.
Yet Travi$ Scott is neither Cudi relief pitcher nor Yeezy mime. His contributions to last year’s Cruel Summer compilation are surpassed by this mixtape mosaic. 'Blocka La Flame' recycles the same sturdy Young Chop beat he appeared on from Pusha T’s recent mixtape, swapping out the Clipse kingpin’s raw drug dealer verses for effervescent boasts and the honorary pseudonym of 'Ferragamo Hussein'. Conversely, 'Hell Of A Night' simmers like an 808s And Heartbreak deep cut.
A soaring surging banger that might make DJ Khaled blush, 'Upper Echelon' demonstrates that Scott can play well with others in the rap sandbox, in this case T.I. and 2 Chainz. Even Paul Wall comes out of hiding for 'Dance On The Moon'. It won’t be long before Scott gives up something truly radio-ready and classic, provided he doesn’t give in to the sort of reckless tuneless indulgences that confined Cudi to the cult rap ghetto.
August Alsina - The Product 2
With a hardscrabble backstory of hardship and heartbreak behind him, Southern transient August Alsina parlayed his viral blip into a Def Jam contract and one wonders if they even know what the hell to do with him over there now. Throwing Trinidad Jame$ at the problem ('I Luv This Shit') didn’t yield the type of single that both artists could use right now, and nothing else on The Product 2 comes remotely close. Stylized street-level R&B is so dime-a-dozen right now, and limp noodles like 'Get Ya Money' and 'Hell Yea' lack the necessary choruses that could land him on the hip-hop charts. One wonders if signings like Alsina serve as contingency plans for cheap labour or replacement parts for big ticket R&B artists. This product’s a knockoff.
Bryant Dope - New New York
Producer Hannibal King brings out the best in one of Queens’ most promising players in the burgeoning 'New New York' scene. Though this easy, breezy, beautiful tape co-opts the name of the movement, Bryant Dope ought not be carelessly clustered with A$AP this or Pro Era that. On jazzy boom bap winners like 'QB' and 'Talking Shit', the spirit of A Tribe Called Quest returns with summery vibrations and a mellifluous flow. Yet neither Dope nor King appear content to simply salute Phife Dawg and Q-Tip, and this is why New New York makes for one of the best tapes in recent memory. From the weird warbly cloud business of 'Raw From The Soul' to the slick skittering soul of 'Silk', the most underestimated rap borough seems well represented and in good hands.
Kool & Kass - Peaceful Solutions
With two tapes already under his belt in 2013, Victor 'Kool A.D.' Vasquez is downright hyperactive now that Das Racist is kaput. Tag-teaming with Greedhead familiar Kassa Overall, Peaceful Solutions consists of a playful, often sympathetically sloppy assortment. Consistency exists, to the extent that the participants seem perpetually and proudly disinterested, Kool’s catatonically chill menthol monotone jibing fairly well with Kass’ inoffensive indie flow. 'Pleasance' takes a lackadaisical Sunday afternoon approach to swag bragging, accented with a weirdly appropriate Tupac sample from Juice. Big boom bappers like the hard funk of 'PDA' rarely feature, the duo instead favouring slack and outright weirdness, such as a particularly goofy cut called 'Fresh Prince' that, yes, includes a hastily muttered version of the TV show’s theme. Also: a 13 minute Bizzy Bone interview, for no conceivable reason.
Logic - Young Sinatra: Welcome To Forever
Wasting little time, Logic’s breathless opener Welcome To Forever beseeches that he be judged on his work and not by the colour of his skin. It’s reasonable for the Def Jam signee to get a bit defensive with the dreaded Macklemore mysteriously topping the rap charts. Then again, Logic, you’re the one that brought it up in the first place. By track two he’s sampling Richard Pryor’s “white guy” impression and now one has to wonder who’s really hung up about race here. Logic’s real problem, however, is his unwavering single speed approach, with a one-note flow that finds the scarce good songs ('The Come Up') blending into a slurry of forgettably adequate ones ('5AM', 'Just A Man', 'Walk On By'), making for a backpack full of Drake-aping tapioca.