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Tape Adapter

Tape Adapter: October's Hip Hop Mixtapes Reviewed By Gary Suarez
Gary Suarez , October 29th, 2013 09:33

A new set from Chicago's Lil Durk proves to be the highlight of this month's haul, while elsewhere there's Pro Era jetsam from CJ Fly following in Joey Bada$$' wake

Signed to, umm, Def Jam and, erm, Coke Boys, Lil Durk sure picked a funny title for his first mixtape since partnering up with the latter. Nonetheless, the drill scene clearly needed this sort of boost after two consecutive Chief Keef tapes that just sorta… were. Swathed in copious Autotune and gobsmacking production from contemporary kingmakers Young Chop and Zaytoven, Signed To The Streets denotes the current high water mark of Durk’s side of the vibrant Chicago dam separating the city’s drug dealing bangers from the brainy dopeheads.

This is the promise of drill leaping towards fulfillment, balanced between self-serious thug code and pop-adjacent musical levity, with production fitting his sonorously numbing flow like bespoke suiting. Chop’s BandKamp cohort Paris Bueller - the most prevalent of Durk’s chosen beatmakers here - bathes the tape in luminous menace (‘Don’t Understand Me,’ ‘Hittaz’), which won’t surprise anyone familiar with ‘Dis Ain’t What You Want,’ that boldly blasé slam dunk of a single that has come the closest to Keef’s monolithic 2012 hits. Durk works within the formula even as it attempts to stifle him, with ‘Oh My God’ and Chop’s digi-boppin’ ‘One Night’ all vying to follow the path to radio.

A certain aptitude in cryptanalysis would add some further depth to Durk’s lyrics, but for those of us outside of the handful of neighbourhoods where it seems to really matter, it’s not all that necessary in this age of armchair Rap Geniuses. Whether or not neighbours Durk and Keef are squabbling at the moment, that hasn’t stopped ‘I Don’t Like’ co-star Lil Reese from featuring on two of these cuts. Mostly, though, Durk seizes the mic for his damn self, and compared to his sub-labelhead French Montana’s notorious and crippling dependence on guests, we should be grateful for this confidence and strength.

Cam'ron - Ghetto Heaven Vol. 1

Killa Cam stans want to believe this is the second coming of the Dipset dignitary, yet this overdue return surely doesn’t offer much hope for a proper comeback from Harlem’s Greatest beyond the retro set. His strengths remain his strengths, with satisfying verses straight out the time capsule ('Told You Wrong', 'You Know This'). Cam’ron still weaves a good yarn and comes with the realness, adept at making gunplay palatable in one breath and expounding on the hardship of eviction in the next. 'Think You Need Love' sounds like some 'Hey Ma' flipside, and we even get a couple of legitimately funny skits. It’s when he tries to keep up with the times - clumsily beatjacking Meek Mill on ‘Murder Game’ - that suggests he’s not got much new to offer. On 'Instagram Catfish’, an attempt to appeal to millennials more familiar with Eddie Murphy in Shrek than in Boomerang, he makes a Strangé reference that today’s rap fans won’t even get.

CJ Fly - Thee Way Eye See It

Here they come, the unproven cavalry in full effect. Now that Joey Bada$$ has firmly planted his flag smack dab in the middle of charted territory, CJ Fly steps up as the first of his lieutenants to call next. More of the jazzbo infantilism and boom bap baby babble we've come to expect from the overblown Pro Era crew, Thee Way Eye See It suffers from the figurehead’s minor league success. Textures without substance, appropriation without context, this needlessly long set is both surface-level diversion and pantomime routine. Mild puns and punchlines pepper otherwise plain verses with no love for hooks over 90s coastal retreads East ('Still The Motto') and West ('Loco Motive') alike. The A Bronx Tale sampling 'Eyetalian Frenchip' and its platitudinous middle school poetics of puppy love triangles is the stuff of creative writing classes at the Y.

Project Pat - Cheez N Dope 2

The Washington Redskins are being put under pressure to change their name and logo once and for all to something that doesn’t demean Native Americans on a daily basis. Yet in the midst of this, Project Pat exhibits an even greater tone-deafness with the patently offensive 'Chiefin’, spewing smokum peace pipe injun Hiawatha stereotype slander on the hook, Wiz Khalifa goonishly playing along. A sour note towards the middle of a saggy follow-up to a better mixtape, the track is succeeded by the vulgar ‘Dick Eatin Dog’, a sloppy screed which is about as sexy as a wet mop. Otherwise, the 40-year-old Tennessean just sorta plods along, with diminishing returns on ass, cash and grass bars more rote than rachet. Hit the showers.

Shadowrunners - Shadowrunners

You’d be hard pressed to find my hardened outer-borough ass at some pantywaist comic book convention trading snot-nosed anime secrets with overgrown man-babies fixated on kayfabe. And yet, here I am about to praise an exceedingly deserving tape featuring an emcee that freely drops funnybook references and named an entire song after a goddamned Power Rangers equalizer (‘Megazord’). Yet Andre Martel has the chops and the lyrical depth to turn an X-Men-nodding ‘Sentinals’ into a real-world call to arms against organised, institutional forms of oppression. His sci-fidelity suits Froskees’ bleepy throwback beats, from the 80s Nintendo Level 2 edit of Flip Phone through to the warm foamy fuzz of ‘Multipass.’ An undisputed highlight, ‘Dolly Parton’ recalls the Nature Boyz producer’s standout work with Antwon - who incidentally guests on ‘143’ - although Martel has a comparatively sunnier outlook. This duo has got greatness on the brain.

Vic Mensa - Innanetape

Recovering nicely following the Kids These Days breakup last Spring, this Chi-City spitter comes strong with his mixtape debut. Many know Mensa from his features on the two consecutive Chance The Rapper tapes, and the ascendant acid rapper returns the favour to his Save Money crew mate on ‘Tweakin’, a somewhat grating Odd Futuristic diatribe full of violent revenge fantasies and Illuminati conspiracy bunk. Though not as spaced out as his peer, Mensa’s got enough quirk to appeal to that same youthful fanbase. Yet comparisons to Chance tell less than half the story, and Innanetape has a broad view of contemporary hip-hop, from thoughtfully stoned soul (‘Time Is Money’) and clouded romantic vibes (‘Holy Holy’) to more mainstream R&B hookery (‘Magic’) and peppy outsider pop (‘RUN!’).

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