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Tape Adapter

Tape Adapter: September's Hip Hop Mixtapes Reviewed By Gary Suarez
Gary Suarez , September 25th, 2013 05:06

Gary Suarez casts his eye over last month's most notable mixtapes... both good and bad

With Jay and Kanye still dominating the conversation and major August releases from A$AP Ferg, Big Sean, Earl Sweatshirt, and Juicy J taking up the rear, the dog days of summer might not be most opportune time to release a mixtape. Yet that didn't stop the likes of Chief Keef, Gucci Mane (who dropped three simultaneously), and Lil Wayne, among others with comparative lower profiles like Fat Trel and Young Scooter from doing so.

Yet, despite the yelps of its most ignorant detractors, hip hop remains a broad genre both deep and wide, and those rappers operating in their cozy niches know this. Indeed, the Beast Coast decided to bombard us in these waning weeks before autumn officially chills us into our cardigans and light jackets. The young druggy crews of Flatbush Zombies and The Underachievers dropped two tapes - one a veritable cluster bombing, the other a targeted drone strike - that devotees of the New New York movement have been eagerly anticipating.

The undead former’s BetterOffDEAD follows last year’s monochromatic D.R.U.G.S. with more narco/necro offerings, with the grimy and crusty trio further defining, - but also defying - their sound. Naturally, these misanthropic punk rock snot rocketeers revel in macabre re-imaginings of hood life ('LiveFromHell') and extreme narcotization ('Drug Parade') that often teeter towards the perilous cemetery grounds of horrorcore. A modern day Gravedigga, Meech remains the group's most distinct voice, spitting gravel-throated love poems to sour diesel, serial murder and utter nihilism.

What BetterOffDEAD reveals, however, is a Bada$$-esque affinity for the old school, with anthemic albeit unfiltered throwbacks to the days of Das EFX and Onyx ('Bliss', 'Thugnificense'). Compared to the doom and gloom of the last tape, 'Regular And Complex' and the silken standout (with a somewhat unnecessary Action Bronson-assist) 'Club Soda' seem sensible and lucid, suggesting the Zombies can dial down the gimmick when it suits them. Though unnecessarily overlong at nineteen tracks, with a presumptuous preponderance of Erick Arc Elliott's in-house productions, the tape proves their career ought to extend beyond an early slot at next year’s Gathering Of The Juggalos.

A sort of Ken Kesey contrast to the Zombies' Manson Family values, The Lords Of Flatbush makes for a rather different trip. Stamped with the Brainfeeder seal of approval on February’s Indigoism tape, Flying Lotus’ blessing must just be implied on The Underachievers’ leaner successor, one that looks more at what’s happening now as opposed to craning its neck backwards in Pro Era fashion. (The shout out to the departed Capital STEEZ on 'Flexin’ is a nice touch.) More verbose and lyrically dexterous than A$AP Rocky while still rocking a fairly similar production vibe, the duo thrive on cuts like 'Midnight Augusto', telling tawdry tales of hallucinogenics and snatching up other people's women.

There’s a welcome consistency to their work, and this tape starts on point and stays there. It’s nearly radio-ready but still largely hookless, a problem The Underachievers haven’t quite figured a way out of. Exhibiting trap tendencies, 'Cold Crush' could be the gateway or bridge to bigger things, though so too could the West Coast vibin’ of 'Melody Of The Free' or the shimmering 'Still Shining'. Leary enlightenment still feels quite a ways off, but at least there’s some evidence of growing up in public going on here.

Fat Joe - The Darkside 3

Dogged by the taxman and downright underappreciated by the game, Fat Joe could use a kind word or a hit single right now. Mired in his past, this tepid third installment of The Darkside series won’t bring him either. Having just begun a very real four-month prison stint for tax evasion, it’s painful at times to listen to the Terror Squad mastermind recycle his schtick again. On 'MGM Grand', he wags his finger at young whippersnappers while boasting the same street reminiscences we grew understandably weary of years ago. Joe senselessly squanders a tight 9th Wonder beat on the unimaginatively titled '9th Wonder'. Come to pay his respects, the dexterous Action Bronson - hip torchbearer for New York’s obese emcee tradition - stomps all over the beleaguered elder on the DJ Premier-produced 'Your Honor'.

T-Shyne & Hefna Gwap - Sloppy Tuna

You’ve got to admire the Hamptons hedonism espoused by this dynamic duo, neither of whom will likely be invited back east next summer once people catch wind of this. Sloppy Tuna, apparently an unkind reference to loose women with melanin deficiencies, burns and bangs through New York’s elitist warm weather getaway in a hurricane of 'Dutch Guts' and 'Foreign Bitches'. Populist paeans to strong weed and uninhibited rich girls are draped in deep, bassy production that suits both topics. Yet the comedown from the party becomes evident on this criminally short offering’s second half. 'Before I’m Gone' brings T-Shyne and Hefna Gwap back to life, with the latter deep in thought about providing for his two kids. It’s that realness that makes the tape more than meets the eye.

Trinidad Jame$ - 10pc. Mild

Wait a minute, Trinidad Jame$ is still here? 'All Gold Everything' contained all the trappings of one-hit wonder-dom, raising overwhelming doubts that the outlandish Atlanta novice could convert his lucrative Def Jam deal into future success. Yet 10pc. Mild suggests he might be shrewder than we were led to believe. Trinidad cozies up to GOOD Music types (Cyhi The

Prynce, Travis $cott), exchanges pounds with ATL locals (Gucci Mane, Rich Homie Quan, Young Scooter) and adorns multiple expansive Young Chop beats. 10pc. Mild steamrolls over our low expectations with carefree trap abandon on cuts like 'East$ide' and 'Hip$ter $trip Club'. On 'Ro$enberg$', he addresses his smug critics with a gold-toothed grin, but mostly he’s too busy party rocking to care.

Willie The Kid - Aquamarine

Blessed and cursed by coming up with the support of key people like DJ Drama and Lil Wayne, this Michigan emcee naturally seems keen to break out and establish a voice of his own. Moody and lush, Aquamarine looks and sounds so different from his forgettable 2008 major label debut Absolute Greatness that Willie The Kid appears to have pulled off his desired grown-up reinvention. His breathless, complex flows shine and juxtapose for laid back cuts like 'Marina', though regrettably the beats and vibes sorta just bleed all over each other. He’s not lost a sense of humor in all this maturing chill, spitting quirky lines like “liver and onions, my schlong come between cousins” on 'The Pleasantries' and swiping a Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air sample for 'Glasses Of Water'.