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Tape Adapter

Tape Adapter: December's Hip Hop Mixtapes Reviewed By Gary Suarez
Gary Suarez , January 8th, 2014 05:39

First you check his intellect, then you inspect his thighs - the muscular Gary Suarez is back with more mixtape reviews...

Though not the most sonically diverse regional scene or subgenre in contemporary hip hop, Chicago drill is arguably one of the most important. So it’s rather noteworthy that one of the key players, Glory Boyz Entertainment co-founder Fredo Santana, appears to be staging a not particularly subtle coup, albeit one obfuscated by social media noise and a dearth of professional publicists. Recent events make it increasingly difficult not to see the ascent of his Savage Squad Records as a direct threat to GBE, which currently exists as an Interscope vanity imprint for drill’s MVP Chief Keef. Poaching Gino Marley (who scrubbed the GBE suffix from his Twitter username to mark the change) and SD were big moves, but the late December signing announcements of non-GBE spitters Boss Top and Cdai suggest Santana has bigger aspirations that don’t include the continually troubled Keef. It’s almost too tempting not to make a The Godfather Part II reference here.

After no less than four releases, including this summer’s joint Street Shit tape with Marley, Santana caps his prolific and provocative year with It’s A Scary Site 2. Thematically more appropriate for Halloween than Christmas, the cover artwork portrays its star with a ghoulish visage, calling to mind a juggalo more than a thug. Producers like CashMoneyAP, Dirty Vans, and G5 Kid Murph bring the John Carpenter vibes to tracks that highlight his Fangoria flow (‘I Might Just,’ ‘Shit Real’). Admittedly, Santana's more about real life horrors than supernatural ones, spitting about trap shit as opposed to trap doors. Vicious and menacing, 'Kill You' opens to eerie notes not unlike A$AP Ferg's ‘Work,’ while ‘Bird Talk’ repeats its cocaine refrain around something similar to Michael Myers’ theme.

Fortunately it isn't all torture porn and suffocating grimness. Bright and triumphant, ‘I’m On Top’ and 'So Long' wouldn't sound out of place on the latest Rich Homie Quan tape. Over a sparkling Cardo beat, Santana nearly loses himself to the Auto-Tune aether. Decidedly more grounded, posse cut 'Who The Shit' unites nearly every GBE affiliate past and present, excepting Keef. Whatever his reasons or intentions, Santana’s forging his own path and the results are at least as interesting as the drama.

Action Bronson - Blue Chips 2

Like so many sequels, this one from the unique Queens vulgarian falters by comparison. It's not that Bam Bam Bronson has necessarily lost anything since his prior collaboration with Party Supplies; it's that we've come to expect more from him. Saaab Stories, a drum tight EP-length partnership with Harry Fraud from a few months back, took his creeper schtick to a new level, so Blue Chips 2 comes across regressive and shallow by comparison. It’s hard to fault Bronsolino for pandering to his base again on cuts like ‘It’s Me,’ ‘Rolling Thunder,’ and the 80s radio medley freestyle ‘Contemporary Man.’ Hasn’t he spent enough time on food and wrestling references over the last three years? Similarly, Big Body Bes proves you can have too much of a good thing. Guests like Ab Soul, Mayhem Lauren, Retchy P, break the monotony, but only to a point.

Da Mafia 6ix - 6ix Commandments

Something was missing from Juicy J’s otherwise excellent Stay Trippy album, a fearsome quality he once had in spades. Record label nonsense prevents this formidable, improbable reunion of DJ Paul, Crunchy Black, Gangsta Boo, Koopsta Knicca, and Lord Infamous (R.I.P.) from relinquishing the Three 6 Mafia moniker. Steeped in Paul’s dank, bleak production, 6ix Commandments is a dark trip, one frequently on par with the group’s most tenebrous gloom. It’s amazing how he can evoke Carpenter-esque doom (‘Beacon N Blender,’ ‘Break Da Law’) with just piano loops, spare synths, and skittish, skittering hi-hats. With a rich history that both predates and spawned many of today’s hip hop trends, Da Mafia 6ix make trap that feels like being ensnared by one, claustrophobic and devoid of hope. Speaking of which, any long standing prior beef with Bone Thugs appears thankfully quashed with Bizzy and Krayzie Bone’s appearances on ‘Murder On My Mind.’ When Juicy J shows up unannounced on the nine minute long Saw sequel posse cut ‘Body Parts,’ the ground shatters to reveal the open gates of Hell.

Lil Bibby - Free Crack

Right off the bat, it's hard to make a nickname like Bibby sound tough. Adding 'Lil' to the front only conjures up images of swaddled newborns in hospital nurseries. (To his credit, DJ Scream at least tries in his interspersed introductions.) Chicago's getting a bit too crowded with barely legal talent for a rapper like him to coast on an unremarkable facsimile of his superior peers. 'Bibby Story' starts with an unexpectedly Dipset-like vibe, but soon enough he succumbs to second-rate drill. On 'Stressing' he gallingly calls himself the next Kanye with neither humility nor irony, having nothing to show for it. Even the Young Chop beat ('Tired Of Talkin') just doesn’t bang. If anything, the potential breakout candidate here is producer Don Robb, whose oft somber contributions on the second half almost convince that Bibby's got something to offer. The engaging 'Unlike You' and 'When The Money Come' beats infuse the early Naughties' sped-up vox template with heavy grey Chiraqi dread.

Casey Veggies & Rockie Fresh - Fresh Veggies,br>

Though some understandably bristle at the corporate sponsorships running amok, it would be fruitless to look Puma’s gift horse in the mouth. Uniting former Odd Futurian Veggies with Maybach Music misfit Fresh, this obviously titled tape builds on the evident strengths of the millennials’ respective 2013 offerings. Unlike more lopsided pairings, both emcees come evenly matched and leave pretty much the same, their integrities intact. Girls seem to be the focus here (‘Fresh Veggies,’ ‘Sacrifice’), but lush, bubbly beats from Hit-Boy, Ray Reel, and Lunice make this seem more of a clouded affair. That sense heightens when Juicy J and Ty Dolla $ign show up to turn up ‘All That’, conveniently tying all the threads together. Surprise guest Rick Ross lends his pronounced gruff wheeze to the tail end of ‘I Been Workin’ like a papal blessing, further a reminder to anyone foolish enough to dismiss these two young bucks.

Mike Zombie - The End Of The Beginning

Though this OVO Sound in-house producer only had one credit on bossman Drake’s Nothing Was The Same, it sure counted for a lot. You can periodically spot the multi-platinum ‘Started From The Bottom’ chemtrails (‘Nowhere Fast, ’Young Angel’) throughout this, his first mixtape outing as an emcee. Commendably, Zombie favors a fairly rapid flow (‘A OK’) but when it comes time for a hook, there’s hardly a worthwhile one to be found. Though he’s primarily responsible for the production here, the chameleonic tape lacks consistency or character. “616” and the perpetually echoing ‘JOI’ stay clouded and ethereal, but clash with the Cash Money clatter of ‘Show Me Something’ or the Southern synth swagger of ‘Like Me.’ One can’t help but assume these are passed-over beats, eschewed in favor of Noah “40” Shebib’s lilting-whilst-wilting productions. Like so others many in Drizzy’s orbit, Zombie’s a lesser talent, a jack of dual trades and a master of neither.