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Tape Adapter

Tape Adapter: November’s Hip Hop Mixtapes Reviewed By Gary Suarez
Gary Suarez , November 25th, 2014 11:55

Gary Suarez muses on the rise of Atlanta as a key city in US rap as he reviews new tapes from Dej Loaf, Future, OG Maco & Cardo, Migos and Mr. Marcelo

We were fools to believe that A$AP Rocky's rise heralded the end of rap regionalism.

Like a rap game Francis Fukuyama copping pleas over The End Of History, I too must concede my declaration's prematurity and acknowledge that, despite national and global examples to the contrary, hip hop has once again pivoted back to its vestigial sense of place. Atlanta's ubiquitous dominance and continual saturation of the genre undermines arguments rejecting the importance of location the way Islamist terrorism did liberal democracy.

Historians ought now to accept ATL as a fully accredited cultural centre of hip hop on par with New York City and Los Angeles at their respective peaks. Sure, those latter cities continue to offer up fresh blood like Bobby Shmurda and Vincent Staples, but they're outnumbered if not outgunned by the rising stars and new recruits pouring out of Georgia. Try and imagine 2014 without iLoveMakonnen, Migos, Rich Homie Quan, or Young Thug. Not possible. Don't even try; you could hurt yourself.

But here's where I must attempt to save hairy face and defend my deeply held ideologies. Just because the conversation has become so heavily weighted towards Atlanta doesn't necessarily mean it's because the best stuff is coming out of there. Never underestimate a lazy music press' dependence on narrative. Despite the web's democratic capabilities, we succumb again and again to pernicious narrowcasting through a social media bullhorn. As more young artists like Dej Loaf, O.T. Genasis, and Rae Sremmurd continue to break free from regional constraints at dizzying speeds, Atlanta by comparison seems to be running low on new above-average talent. While it would be naive to brand the city over-hyped it's nonetheless beginning to seem like the myopic focus on Atlanta is becoming untenable.

Seeing how much of this month's mixtape column covers ATL-based artists, let's talk about Dej Loaf. Those still trying to unravel the Michigan mystery ought to know that 'Try Me'- the thematically independent breakout single you probably first heard last month - was first recorded and released some two years ago. The self-described National Socialist's recent signing to Columbia screams false flag, especially given the calibre of guests (Birdman, Ty Dolla $ign, Young Thug) on her suspiciously well-timed new tape.

Still, none of this tinfoil theorizing detracts from the fact that Sell Sole just goes. In the hands of producer DDS Loaf knows how to Febreeze the trap house, with refreshing sung/rapped verses cutting through the mustiness ('Ayo', 'I Don't Know'). Amid a constant aura of paternal loss ('Grinding'), her post-Tinashe vocal processing on 'Me U Hennessey' blends humanity amid the Bjorkish android love, while 'Easy Love' floats like Tycho's best. A tendency towards singsong styles could prove a dead end for her next project, but for now it serves her remarkably well. The closing 'Try Me' remix gives recently freed Remy Ma a chance to touch the next generation.

Future - Monster

While Future Hendrix started 2014 as a hero, he intends to finish as a villain. He's gone from the Harvey Dent of 'I Won' to a vengeful Two Face on 'Pussy Overrated.' Or maybe on this new tape he's more of a Mr. Glass, albeit on a steady diet of lean (‘Radical'). What's most shocking is the lack of cognitive dissonance sonically. Little off of Monster would've sounded out of place on Honest. It's the cynical and self-centered way Future approaches these new tracks that make this tape the antithetical sequel to that pop album from mere months ago. Nihilistic Gucci-esque cadences ('Monster') mesh with melodramatic trap beats ('2 Pac') again and again. He seems especially vindictive and jaded on 'Throw Away,' a two-part track that vacillates between bragging and grousing. Executive producer Metro Boomin brought out the best in Future this summer with 'Chanel Vintage' but cuts like 'Fetti' fall flat. Saving the best for last, TM-88's 'Codeine Crazy' gets ominous and, well, real.

OG Maco & Cardo - Live Life 2

At first, this ATL rapper's vocal style sounds so familiar you'd swear you've heard him before. It's easy to mistake his yelps and escalating screams for the dozen other artists doing the same damn thing right now. Yet somehow Maco makes it his own, his restless fury bursting through Cardo's ominous A-lister beats. Like Young Thug on PCP, he's unhinged and uninhibited, liable to blow up in more ways than one. While 'Churches' and 'Unleash The Kraken' showcase Maco in beastmode, he also knows how to keep that anger in check, as evidenced by the 808 R&B speedbump 'Sheesh 2' and the triumphal Autotune banger 'Let's Get It'. A personal and pensive highlight, 'Broke Or Rich 2' balances both gratifying sides of his vocal personality. Not surprising given that Cardo's on the boards, everything here comes off so much stronger than 'U Guessed It', the Vine-fueled track that introduced him to a wider audience.

Migos - Rich N*gga Timeline

For many rap artists, mixtapes serve as promising precursors that hopefully lead to album release dates. Migos, however, have essentially shifted the paradigm, dropping tape after tape after tape of sizeable length without a conventional endgame. Like their neighbour Gucci Mane, the Atlanta trio are post-album. However, such unfiltered profligacy has turned the sharpness of their Y.R.N. breakout to a dull hammer thud. At 81 minutes long, this is rap game feederism, a perverse McDonalds-style gluttony where our bodies beg for moderation but instead receives another fistful of Filet-O-Fish. Despite a fresh start ('Cross The Country') and a dozen credited producers, it takes less than halfway through for trap fatigue to set in. Bugatti, Versace, whatever - the words all stop making sense when you've got french fries coming out of your damn ears. It's not until 15 tracks in ('All Good') that the beat changes discernibly enough to breathe again. Nice cow impression tho, fellas ('Move').

Mr. Marcelo - OG Luv Dat OG

Jet Life has given a second life to this former No Limit soldier. Nevermind the familial connection between Curren$y and Marcelo and face facts: Master P wrecked more rap careers than he created. Taking full advantage of the cloud team's approachable aesthetic, the experienced NOLA emcee sounds and fluid over characteristic cuts 'Boss Shit' and 'We Livin'. But OG Luv Dat OG honors the vet's timeline with some deserved diversity in the production, like the Roc-A-Fella-esque 'Another Day' and 'Down'. It's somewhat refreshing to hear a more wizened throat tackle the Jets' smoker's soul. When Marcelo raps on 'Thanx U' about what he's been through, he's more believable than some twentysomething stoner. Expected crew features from Cornerboy P, Street Wiz, and Spitta Andretti himself aside, standout Young Roddy drops a solid verse on 'Grindin' that reminds why he's the team's strongest player. Wait, is that Rich Boy (of 'Throw Some Ds' fame) on 'Push-Ups' or nah?

BONUS: One Hitters:

Gucci Mane - Big Gucci Sosa It comes as no surprise that these masters of the inconsistent mixtape would join forces to produce something this middling.

Kyle Rapps & Hefna Gwap - European Tic Tacs This infrequently diverting collab tape weirdly utilizes dated viral samples like Charlie Bit Me and Christian Bale Freaks Out On Set as if trying to bring back meme ebola.

Jaden Smith - Cool Tape Vol. 2 Mildish Gambino meaningfully whines about his parents and hollers at girls.

Young Roddy - Legal Dealing Jet Life's resident Lord Quas kicks back like Guru circa Jazzmatazz Vol. 1 with nine nice spliff companions.