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Tape Adapter: August’s Hip Hop Mixtapes Reviewed By Gary Suarez
Gary Suarez , August 25th, 2015 08:00

Master of Ceremonies, Mr Gary Suarez has reviews of all of August's hip hop mix tapes that are fit to hear, and a couple that aren't

2 Chainz was never destined to save rap music, but for awhile he seemed an indispensable part of pushing it forward. Rarely the most talented rapper in the room, the boisterous spitter made his mark in a few years back with punchy verses and hooks on hits with A$AP Rocky, Juicy J, Kanye West and Nicki Minaj, among others. Shortly after his Drake collaboration ‘No Lie’ blew up, his debut album dropped in the summer of 2012, spawning a number of memorable follow-up singles including ‘I’m Different’ and ‘I Luv Dem Strippers’. A little bit of Tity Boy went a long way, and, for a time an appearance from him on your album or mixtape meant a great deal.

I’m writing in the past tense for a reason. It’s now been almost two years since B.O.A.T.S. II: Me Time and it doesn’t take a T.R.U. detective to figure out why. The 2013 album sold less than half as many copies in the U.S. in its first week than its predecessor, and none of its singles have gone RIAA gold. 2 Chainz himself has expressed disappointment in the record’s sales in subsequent interviews, and 2015 hasn’t given him much hope, unless helming the third verse of a Travi$ Scott single is somehow more imbued with cachet than it appears.

In no way oblivious to this reality, 2 Chainz has rightly returned to the mixtape circuit to serve the base, and hopefully rally it too. Trap-A-Velli Tre benefits from album-quality production values and beats by the likes of Honorable C.N.O.T.E. and Zaytoven, not to mention a handful of vocal features. A layered Kevin Gates hook emboldens the cinematic ‘I Feel Like’, a standout cut that shows 2 Chainz can play well with the Louisianan’s aesthetic. After the past few months of ‘See You Again’ inundation, it’s refreshing to hear Wiz Khalifa rapping the way he used to on ‘A Milli Billi Trilli.’ Overall, it sounds more like another B.O.A.T.S. installment than a mixtape.

But Trap-A-Velli Tre is hardly his ticket back to the land of release dates and major tours. Most of the time, 2 Chainz sounds out of ideas if not out of gas. Once one of his best assets as a rapper, his flow has stymied to the point where listeners might experience a pervasive feeling of deja vu. Playing to rap’s casual interest in Mexican druglord Joaquín Guzmán following his prison break, ‘El Chapo Jr’ lacks any real menace or bold threats. He invokes the phrase trap house enough times that it starts to lose any meaning, as on the tedious ‘Lapdance In The Trap House’. Is he lost? Does he even know where he is anymore?

Dougie F - Block Party

EDM rarely gets credit for its role in contemporary hip hop, with dancefloor-focused takes on trap reflecting the present reality of the American dance club experience. This New Jersey spitter has ties to Mad Decent and was a featured spitter on one of the best electronic releases of the year (Brenmar’s Award EP for Fool’s Gold). Yet Dougie F’s Block Party tape distances him from that scene, opting instead for the sounds of modern rap radio and ATL-based SoundClouds. He’s as adept at OVO-esque chillers (‘Diamonds Dancing’, ‘That Was Back Then’) as turn-up jams (‘Billions’, ‘It’s On’). Still, he could stand to ease off the Drake and Partynextdoor flow a bit, which both come out when he gets a bit too excited on ‘Last Night’. But those comparisons are more complementary than not. Always tuneful, Dougie does this style better than most out there. Hell, he even makes the ‘Birthday’ song a banger.

MPA Duke - Lil Duke

When Young Thug’s Barter 6 dropped a few months back, Birdman’s features became a focal point. Those who spent more time with the record familiarized themselves with another guest by the name of Duke, who appeared on ‘Dome’ and ‘With That’ off that project along with performances on other tapes in the 1017 multiverse. Capitalizing on this build up, Lil Duke provides a more substantive introduction, one well worth listening to. He’s got a good handle on his Auto-Tune plug-in settings, sing-rapping with mellow ease on multiple cuts (‘Like Me’, ‘Pictures’). Thugger joins in on the deep trap of ‘Pass Me The Lighter’ and ‘Stay Focused’, two Wheezy productions that would have fitted in nicely among his multiple productions on Barter 6. Admittedly, extrovert Travi$ Scott upstages him a bit during ‘On My Vibe’. Still, should he feature on Hy!£UN35 or Rodeo, there’s a lot of potential for him to stand out on his own going forward.

Ras G - Raw Fruit Vol. 4

An enduring figure in the L.A. beat scene, Ras G remains committed to the cassette format even as so many of his peers appear to have pivoted towards album projects. While his 2013 Brainfeeder full-length Back On The Planet faltered, the loose and funky Raw Fruit series produced high after glorious high. So it comes as a real bummer to learn that this fourth volume will be the last of this particular bunch. Naturally, Ras wants to finish strong, and he definitely accomplishes that with these breezy, blunted, and sometimes lewd productions. From the synth jazz of ‘ShiroFaceKillah’ to the very adult situations of ‘Biscuit Tease’, this is a swift plunderphonic journey through blaxploitation reels and soul remnants. His diverse reference points include James Brown’s discography, vegan cuisine, and the comedy stylings of Paul Mooney. Rapper Kahil Sadiq features on two tracks, including chilled-out closer ‘The Green One’. Yet it’s Jeremiah Jae’s mumbly dope bars on the Wu-reminiscent ‘Black Daffi’s Revenge’ that suggest a way forward for Ras.

T.Y. - Son Of A Gangsta Vol. 2

Judging from the Chopper City In The Ghetto homage of his cover art to the opening Mannie Fresh beat, B.G.’s son clearly appreciates the old Cash Money aesthetic. ‘What It Is’ sounds straight outta 1999, lyrically as well as musically. One of Jet Life’s minor talents, his latest tape will no doubt please those who romanticize the land before trap. Producers like Shop With Ken and Vintage Rippha seem plenty eager to indulge T.Y., and even the slightly more current feels of Woosky beats like ‘Hit That Block’ still have a throwback vibe. But as much as ‘Fool Like That’ and ‘Hard Times’ promote a certain type of head nod, Birdman moved on from that sound years ago for a damn good reason. Hip hop’s backwards glance is currently transfixed by G-Funk, which makes T.Y.’s retro trip either ahead of its time or hopelessly behind the times. The worn out Scarface Pacino sample on ‘Plug’ suggests the latter.

BONUS: One Hitters:

Chief Keef - Bang 3 While ‘Yes’ demonstrates his continuing ability to build epics via restraint and might be his best song of the year, the rest of the Glo Gang leader’s tepid tape lags considerably behind it.

DonMonique - Thirst Trap Best known for his work with A$AP Ferg, Stelios Phili applies his glistening production technique to this up-and-coming artist’s boss bitch rhymes and thinly veiled lyrical threats.

Haze X Harry Fraud - Visionary Buoyed by his Brooklyn producer’s polished beats, the London boy makes his somewhat convincing case by sounding more like French Montana than Skepta.

Nessacary - By Any Means Nessacary Reloaded Even with a Paul Wall guest verse, there’s not much to latch onto while listening to this Houston rapper/singer’s deeply generic impersonations of urban radio’s current rotation.

Young Dro - Hell Cat The Grand Hustle spitter behind “Shoulder Lean” and, more recently, “FDB” gets the Zaytoven treatment and tries his darndest to catch that elusive Future Hendrix wave.

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