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Tape Adapter

Full Clip: January’s Hip Hop Albums & Mixtapes Reviewed By Gary Suarez
Gary Suarez , January 25th, 2016 12:35

Combining his Tape Adapter mixtape round-up with his album roundup for the first time ever, Gary Suarez comes through with a supersized new column stuffed with highly caloric rap reviews

Having ascended to psychotropic rap royalty over the heads of countless staunch stoners, Future owes a great deal to the mixtape circuit for aiding his spectacular albeit circuitous journey to hip hop’s upper echelon. From late 2014’s eye-opener Monster onward, he’s endeared himself to an expanding fanbase while becoming an ubiquitous presence in hip hop. And to that end, he continues to serve the community with his first freebie of 2016, entitled Purple Reign.

As someone who listens to dozens and dozens of rap records every month, the initial excitement of plunging into a fresh new Future tape is both palpable and rare. Last year, producer Metro Boomin effectively took DJ Mustard’s place at the top, and there’s still a substantial serotonin rush to be gained from his bassbin austerity program. The five tracks he’s credited with here fire up the synapses, some more effectively than others (‘Hater Shit’, ‘Wicked’). For ‘Drippin’, Future transforms into a lean-sipping version of Ron Isley’s Mr. Biggs character, presenting a semi-Faustian update of the singer’s R. Kelly-infused ‘What Would You Do’. By the time Metro’s backwards-masked swirl of title track materializes, the desire to play the whole thing again beckons.

Critically, that’s about when the ecstatic effects wear off. As with any good high, there’s the subsequent comedown. After a few listens, the lineage between ‘Inside The Mattress’ and the 56 Nights highlight ‘March Madness’ seems obvious, but truth be told the Actavis activist repeats himself quite a bit here. At risk of becoming perilously predictable, Purple Reign bangs on many of the themes he’s already covered incessantly on prior releases. Setting aside firecrackers like Southside’s ‘Perkys Calling’, the tape packs a considerable number of fizzling fuses. One questions whether the prolific nature of his output is as wise as his preferred choice of potent potables have led him to believe.

Despite his preferential placement on DS2 as well as their equal time bonanza What A Time To Be Alive, Drake’s presence here is limited solely to a couple of promotional drops. In fact, nobody in Future’s circle gets the mic on Purple Reign, not even his Freeband Gang, all of whom could surely use that sort of help. On ‘No Charge’, he brags through his Auto-Tune plug-in about his motley crew of an entourage, plying them with prescription pills perhaps to keep their ambitions in check. Future remains the star of his dope show, and it shows.

There’s nothing subtle about naming a tape Purple Reign. Even apart from the mild cuteness of the pun and the cover art, Future clearly begs for comparisons to Prince, that most singular of soloists. When you’re Prince, every Revolution can be rejiggered into a New Power Generation. When you’re Prince, you’re increasingly adored for your old music even when your new music ceases to matter. When you’re Prince, everybody and everything around you is conveniently replaceable. It’s an enviable position, but try as he might, Future can’t will himself into becoming Prince.

Boosie BadAzz - In My Feelings. (Goin’ Thru It)

True to its title, the Louisiana native’s latest unloads on his listeners, delivering an emotional data dump of disbelief and rage. Boosie has cancer, to be blunt about it, and to his credit he’s one of those rare living artists truly capable of making us all feel some small share of his suffering. In My Feelings is blues in the realest sense, a literal gut-wrenching account of his woes. Coping with serious health and personal issues in the wake of his 2014 release from prison, he grapples with his pain, his pride, and the grimly imminent possibility of death head-on ('Cancer,' 'I Know They Gone Miss Me'). A family man and a hardened hustler, Boosie soldiers through his multifaceted struggles and all its attendant indignities. But admirably he’s also looking outward at a time of deep introspection. Despite its glossy R&B chorus, "Roller Coaster Ride" makes for a chilling State Of The Union, with a notable reference to the departed Mike Brown.

Hoodie Allen - Happy Camper

With Macklemore teaching privilege seminars down at The Learning Annex while Iggy Azalea flails like Sandra Bullock in outer space, now’s a perfect time for Hoodie Allen to slide into our DMs and remind just how cringeworthy a white rapper can truly be. Sounding like Slim Shady without the misanthropy or Aubrey Graham sans media training, this suburban slicker finesses the pop plug like it’s nothing on Happy Camper. Allen’s vapid, inherently disposable fare seems designed for recent Radio Disney graduates with weak stomachs and low alcohol tolerances. This is hip hop in the same sense that Chipotle is Mexican cuisine (‘Make You Feel’, ‘Too Invested’). ‘Remind Me Of’ reaches for those classic College Dropout vibes, but that manoeuvre seems downright irrelevant now that Kanye just arrived at the function with ‘No More Parties In LA’ in hand. Following so many egregious preceding examples, Allen’s audacity on the penultimate track ‘25th Hour’ calls out other rappers for doing impressions, which should elicit guffaws and then groans.

Peryon J Kee - Look At A Pimp

This Gunplay associate makes a surprisingly slick turn with Look At A Pimp, a standout tape that’s more Too $hort than Don Logan. While Peryon isn’t as distinctive a vocalist as his Carol City neighbour, he nonetheless holds it down on every track, from rim-spinning soul sides like ‘Lifestyle’ and ‘Purple Lean’ to trap jams like the title track. With an appreciation for throwback sounds, his producers Contraband and Beat Embassy nod to both the G-Funk era and blaxploitation’s heyday without copying either of them. The former’s ‘Bendin Korners’ trembles with bass, as if spilling from Iceberg Slim’s very own souped-up ride, while the latter beatsmith’s absolutely stellar ‘Superstar’ resurrects an Issac Hayes classic cover by way of keen sampling. Amid these quasi-clouded vibes, Maybach Music types Stalley, Tracy T, and Young Breed all get their turn on the mic, but of course Gunplay’s ‘V.I.P’ verse stands out with its boisterous yet simultaneously restrained rasp. We could’ve done without the casual anti-Semitism on ‘Keepin It Playa’ though.

Kid Ink - Summer In The Winter

Commercial rap radio has been mighty good to Kid Ink these past few years, helping him score gold singles stateside for ‘Be Real’, ‘Body Language’, and ‘Main Chick’. Yet despite its unpretentious presentation as a digital-only project presumably for the fans, Summer In The Winter reflects much higher stakes than it lets on. Having DJ Mustard helm this whole affair seems risky business following a year where the now-predictable producer mostly slumped on the new music front. The current king of the pop rap format, Fetty Wap hasn’t done The Kid any favours either with his tepid hook on lead single ‘Promise’. Too often, Summer In The Winter feels like the work of two artists cluelessly spiralling downward. On vaguely diverting cuts like ‘Same Day’ and ‘That’s On You’, the duo participate in a cannibalistic recycling program, chowing down on the cool of their prior hits while paradoxically attempting to somehow preserve it. The lack of Chris Brown’s presence should’ve raised a red flag to the RCA Records brass.

Lizzo - Big Grrrl Small World

Storming the gates with as much lyrical and digital bluster as Run The Jewels ('Ain't I'), Lizzo is here. She brashly reclaims and refreshes old templates, like the spare 80s snap and thump of 'Betcha' or the muted disco funk of 'Ride'. Elsewhere, she channels her inner Bon Iver ('Bother Me') as well as a little Andre 3000 ('B.G.S.W.'). Clearly a lot of ambitious work went into the creation of Big Grrrl Small World, which makes it all the more unfortunate that the record so rarely hits the way the preceding Lizzobangers did. Lizzo's messaging is on point, whether she's speaking on body positivity or the black experience in America. But somewhere amid the proud zingers and humble bars, songcraft gets lost. Furthermore, the ticklish Timbo-esque rhythm behind 'En Love' practically goads music critics into making unfair comparisons to Missy Elliott. To be clear, Lizzo is no Missy, because Missy always understood the value of a good hook.

Murs & 9th Wonder - Brighter Daze

When these two indie rap titans get together, a sort of breezy head-nodding magic is typically made. Yet this latest instalment in their informal series feels strangely slight compared to touchstones 3:16 and The Final Adventure. Sure, in places we get some of that premium Murs quality storytelling over 9th Wonder’s dynamic world-building beats (‘How To Rob With Rob’, ‘Murs SuperStar’). Still, neither artist operates at full capacity here, and given their captivating history it’s bewildering to witness them hand in a project that wasn’t superlative, especially in the wake of recent masterstrokes by lyrical Los Angelenos Kendrick Lamar and Vince Staples. ‘Lover Murs’ finds the emcee oddly coasting through what could’ve otherwise been anthemic. On clunky cuts like ‘Get Naked’, 9th Wonder doesn’t much seem to mind his partner’s excessive scenery chewing. Though Murs’ narrative flow typically requires no assistance, Brighter Daze pulls in some standout features, including Rapsody’s agnostic concern and Propaganda’s faith-based humility on ‘Walk Like A God’.

OG Maco - The Lord Of Rage

With an abundance of already released music, OG Maco has put himself in a difficult position coming into 2016. Having gone well over a year since his sole hit ‘U Guessed It’ peaked on the Billboard charts, the Atlanta rapper once again tries to find his place in the crowded marketplace with The Lord Of Rage. As the title suggests, Maco still has those trademark yells in his arsenal, though their impact has lessened considerably (‘Sound The Trumpet’, ‘Talk To Em’). But, understandably, he doesn’t want to be a perpetually shouting rap personality, something he demonstrated with better tapes like Live Life 2. Maco first broke out as a seemingly unique figure, but here he inexplicably does a Gucci Mane impression on the comparatively mellow Dolan Beats production ‘Often’. An unsubtle attempt to steal some of Future’s anticipated mixtape’s thunder, ‘Ape Shit’ feels like a mistake, to say nothing of the times he more or less cops Nayvadius’ DS2 flows (‘Northface’).

Rich The Kid - Dabbin Fever

The dab is the countercultural revolution we've all been waiting for, a symbolic gesture that transforms the body and challenges conventional wisdom of what can be achieved from the human experience. Either that or it's a cool little gimmick. One of the move's earliest promoters, Rich The Kid takes his partial credit in thematic mixtape form, giving us his best project yet. When Migos or Skippa Da Flippa show up, that reliable Atlanta trap flavour comes shining through ('Dab Flu', 'Who Dab Is That'). But he's grown artistically in the last year, becoming more than a third verse foil to the rappers he associates with. The producer Murda, for instance, gives Rich multiple bangers to shine over, revealing a more discernible range from the underrated kid. Of these, 'That Bag' arrives as a more-or-less complete hooky single, something he's not exactly been known for. While "Feel It" somewhat resembles Bobby Shmurda's flow, Rich does so much more with the space.

Vic Spencer & Chris Crack - Who The Fuck Is Chris Spencer?

Whether we’re talking Captain and Tenille, Mos Def and Talib Kweli, or Peaches and Herb, a vocal duo is always closer to success when its respective voices are distinct from one another. That almost tactile contrast enhances the interplay, and in this case there’s a veritable gulf between these two Chicago-based spitters. Chris Crack’s higher register and Vic Spencer’s grimier growl make for some fine trade offs. Admittedly, the former has better projects under his belt, namely 2014’s elegantly lit Kickin’ It With TW tape, but this one nonetheless has its moments thanks to consistently tight production. ‘The New Information’ slows the tempo to a druggy crawl, while the peppier single ‘No Biggie’ barely contains how much fun they’re having together. On ‘Cue Ball’, Spencer channels some Dipset-level delivery on his verse, while Crack plays whack-a-mole through the crevices of his own. A late highlight, ‘Wanna See A Dead Body??’ gets Tree in the heady mix of lyrical acrobatics and melting sonics.

BONUS: One Hitters:

Dreezy - From Now On Buoyed by some solid beats from the upwardly mobile likes of Metro Boomin and Southside, this Chicagoan talent consistently comes through on this taut EP of hitters.

Jadakiss - Top 5 Dead Or Alive Slowly morphing into the Tom Waits of the rap game, the gravel-throated Yonkers, NY native gives his production a gentle albeit necessary shove towards modernity without losing his veteran’s edge.

Pusha T - King Push – Darkest Before Dawn: The Prelude It’s not even fair how effectively the recently christened G.O.O.D. Music executive and career spitter manages to best entire generations of lyricists with his unorthodox metaphors and icy punchlines.

Rick Ross - Black Market While better than it has any right to be, Rozay’s latest relies far too heavily on the tropes and presets of his past at a most inopportune time, one when contemporary hip hop fans seem perfectly happy to hustle right past him.

Bryson Tiller - Trapsoul The only Bryson I trust is Peabo.

Young Roddy - The Kenner Loop More like Kendrick than like Curren$y, Jet Life’s most valuable player takes listeners on a riveting and in-depth tour of the community served by the titular New Orleans bus line.

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