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Tape Adapter

Tape Adapter: April’s Hip-Hop Mixtapes Reviewed By Gary Suarez
Gary Suarez , May 1st, 2014 04:40

It's Gary Suarez's birthday, but we love him so much that we're going to refrain from adapting 50 Cent lyrics for the standfirst of his monthly mixtape round up - this edition featuring DonChristian, Fat Trel, Jimmy Johnson and more

It was only a matter of time before Drake's success begat a new wave of moody singing spitters. Rap and R&B have coexisted and tolerated one another for long enough that eventually an artist would emerge and provide a paradigm shift subtle enough that nobody would notice until it was too late. However, before completely surrendering to the Canadian android's singular path, let's consider a Nikola Tesla alternative in DonChristian, whose Renzo Piano is already one of the year's best releases in both genres.

His voice takes on a seductive urban rumble, recalling Maxi Jazz's poetic basso mutter in a slightly unsettling way. Yet unlike Faithless' persistent and downright pesky new age clarity, DonChristian makes himself hard to follow, perhaps deliberately, making his less inscrutable moments feel somehow magical and meaningful even when they're lyrically banal. But even exceedingly ordinary modern concerns like keeping one's mother off Twitter ('Clerk') and navigating dress codes ('Liu Kang') give insight into his world, the mundane imbued with power because it's just so honest. Reasonably wary, the Philadelphia native provides a frosted glass glimpse, and truthfully it's a stimulating contrast with the yellowing blueprints too many contemporary rap artists continue to follow so blindly.

Much of Renzo Piano's potency comes from the producers, whose work ranges from ethereal quiet storms ('Odysseus') to jazzbo tropicalia ('SS14'). DonChristian's impeccable choices in Jeremiah Meech and a talented handful of others allow him to apply the lessons of PBR&B to hip hop. 'Designed II Work' shatters the slash that perennially divides the two forms, as he croons and broods over skittering DSP trickles and stark digi-dub stabs. Crying and Isdxoxo, respectively, are producers with existential roots in what Rhythm & Sound laid the gorgeous groundwork for years ago. A collaboration with Californian dark lord Antwon, Boody's 'Navigator' marks this astounding, breathtaking record's zenith, a spine-tingling druggy reinvention of the rapper-meets-singer template. The game ain't ready for this.

Fat Trel - Gleesh

It takes courage to cop a Wiz Khalifa flow when everyone else in hip hop is pantomiming Migos. But Fat Trel's not so much fearless as he is brazen, evidenced on his first mixtape since signing with Maybach Music. The original Gleesh artwork defaces actress Lea Michele's smiling face with globs of semen and running mascara, transforming the 'gleek' into something you'd find, much to your horror, in your co-worker's internet history. It's important to understand that Fat Trel does not give a fuck, having shared even more graphic personal photos online. Still, his latest is a step down in quality from last year's battering ram hymen-buster SDMG. Trel's still an unabashed hedonist ('She Fell In Love', 'Thot Street') but he's not living up to the shock value shown on the tin. 'Fresh' featuring suffering sophomore Rockie Fresh elevates both artists, while Rozay and Young Chop pad Trel's thug credentials on 'Shoot'.

Jimmy Johnson - In God We Trust

At first ('Northern Kings'), OVO's newest recruit resembles Kid Cudi enough to inspire some late-90s-Aphex-Twin-pseudonym conspiracy theories. Wait a few tracks though and he starts to sound a bit like Drake. Oh, and here comes the Auto-Tune! Though Johnson hasn't found his voice, he's definitely found a great producer. Eric Dingus - is that really your name, sir? I'm so sorry! - unspools austere trap beats for the emcee to tangle himself up in. Johnson's lyrics don't always live up to the hefty promise of the music. 'My Kinda Freaks' professes a superficial love for the live-fast-die-young ladies who are up for anything and into Margiela. His aloofness and boilerplate arrogance creep through even when attempting depth ('Rollin Deep'). If you can block out Johnson's words as little more than syllabic noise, In God We Trust feels less like the grave mismatch it is, building instead on Dingus' solid prior work with Raider Klansman Grandmilly.

Young Roddy - Route The Ruler

The helium toned Jet Life affiliate has had next for a while now, paired with Curren$y and Trademark Da Skydiver on more than a few occasions. Given his distinctive Quasimoto-esque voice and outstanding selection of beats, it's downright disappointing to see him perpetually sidelined. Roddy says about as much on 'Chain Smoke,' positing that his style is just too real for radio play. It may just be that he came up a few years too late, with weed rappers now marginalised. Though not technically a third installment of the Good Sense series of tapes, Route The Ruler bears enough of a resemblance to act as one, just as soulful and hot boxed. Kush rules everything around him ('Light That Shit') and that's not about to change. Fittingly, Harlem's own Smoke DZA makes a hazy appearance on 'Money', while labelmate Fiend maintains the cloud rap aesthetic for '100'.

Young Thug & Gucci Mane - Young Thugga Mane La Flare

2013 gifted us with so many Gucci verses that many believed the well couldn't run dry. Compared to his other collaborative mixtapes over the years with the likes of Future and Young Dolph, Guwop is regrettably scarce here, his incarceration putting the kibosh on things. Despite some solid appearances ('Need'), in several places he sounds more or less slotted in, an unfortunate state of affairs for a tape that bears his name. Still, Young Thug is the big draw, riding high on the ubiquity of 'Stoner' and, accordingly, people hungered for this release regardless. Unfortunately, it's not much of a showing for the pitchy spitter either. Bog standard trap like 'Bricks' and 'Out My Biz' won't supplant the diabolically infectious 'Danny Glover' or the freshly streaming oddity 'Eww'. To his credit, Thugga channels Weezy on the hook for 'Ride Around The City' while 'Siblings', an undeniable yet uncommercial standout, takes lechery to the incestuous borderline.

BONUS: One Hitters:

Ana Baby - The Evil Queen

Practically buried alive by her own DJ, the self-monikered First Lady of Coke Boys proves that female rappers can be weed carriers too.

Kevin Gates - By Any Means

If this tape is any indication, Luca Brasi has given up his misguided Future ambitions. No auto-tune; just the raps, ma'am.

Vince Staples - Shyne Coldchain II

A cut above most of the Odd Futurians he consorts with, this Long Beach spitter has better executed ideas for the West Coast than TDE.

Waka Flocka Flame - Re-Up

A Brick Squad Monopoly stopgap, these reliable eleven cuts tap Gucci graduates and Too $hort (!!!) for more carefree superthuggery.

Young Dolph - Cross Country Trappin

Don't be fooled; DJ Holiday's enthusiasm here is entirely unfounded.