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Tape Adapter

Tape Adapter: January’s Hip Hop Mixtapes Reviewed By Gary Suarez
Gary Suarez , January 27th, 2015 08:08

Gary Suarez looks over this months most essential rap mix tapes including efforts by Quiana Ree and Future

At a time when bitch might be the most prevalent word in hip hop, the conversation has been alarmingly one-sided and male. Three decades deep, the permissiveness with which media gatekeepers grant access to subpar male spitters with friendly publicists still does not apply to the fairer sex. Take a look at just about any rap writer's Best of 2014 list (including mine, regrettably) and the general dearth of included female emcees should raise red flags. Though arguably more about laziness than sexism, the result is still the same.

It’s not hard to find female rappers. But, of course, you have to look, and in a scene so fixated on the scarce few that make blog headlines, that's typically the first problem. Sure, attention is lavished upon a chosen few like Nikki Minaj, Azealia Banks, and any single-digit number of momentary viral rookies. Veterans like Lil' Kim get more attention for low level TMZ foibles than anything musical, and even Remy Ma's long-awaited release from prison didn't garner her much more than a news cycle. Pandora and Spotify might insist otherwise, but music discovery is largely a passive activity, so if nobody's telling you about it, you're not hearing it.

So this is me, telling you about it. Coming from DC by way of Atlanta (or perhaps vice versa), Quiana Ree exudes sex positivity and boss vibes from the cover of Savage Beauty, where's she's laid as bare as Nikki in the Anaconda single art. Ree even raps over Onika's 'Lookin Ass' and 'Only', though some of her choices are less obvious (Jay-Z's 'Song Cry'). But the original beats from Brandon Lee, Joey Sosa, and Yoga Flame do a better job of matching up with her. The sort of bombastic cut Rick Ross would favor, 'Bad Bitch' has Ree's mind squarely on the money while emphasising she's not just another Lil' Kim clone. The catchiest of the bunch, 'Gas In Da Swisha' is a mélange of drugs, disses, and ego. While she's not about to blow up the world, at 23 she doesn’t need to.

Billz Raw x E Millz - Coke’s Plan

A$AP Yams' untimely passing was a personal loss to loved ones and a cultural loss to hip hop as a whole. (R.I.P.) A co-sign from him should not be taken lightly, and that brings us to Billz Raw and E Millz. Representing Castle Hill in The Bronx, the duo dabbles in Autotune where it suits and steers clear when it doesn't. They're commendably open-minded production-wise, in spite of New York's pesky habit of conservatism. An early standout, 'Hope For A Hustler' plumbs murky depths and pitchy heights. The wavy warbling 'IDGAF' jibes well with Swedish Sad Boy sonics, but they're just as comfortable spitting on Dipset quality block rockers ('The End') and synthy club bangers ('All I Know'). 'Fuck Her All The Time' co-opts Jeremih and Shlomo's bassbin beater of (more-or-less) the same name, while 'Will You Still Love Me' samples hip hop favourite chanteuse Lana Del Rey's 'Young & Beautiful'. While the project could benefit from some uniformity, their chameleonic qualities could perhaps aid them in breaking through.

Future - Beast Mode

In both gamer and sports parlance, "beast mode" refers to a particularly aggressive albeit time-sensitive way of playing. So it's rather curious that Future Hendrix would apply that name to this often sombre and downbeat new project with producer Zaytoven. Contrasting with the vibe of last year's Metro Boomin helmed Monster, the deceptively titled Beast Mode evokes a pensive mood even when he's being downright crude ('Peacoat'). If they're capable of producing more wondrous collaborations like the smoky piano bar ballad 'Where I Came From' or the lite jazz hybrid 'No Basic', the Atlanta pair really ought to team up more often. Having released his own Beast Mode record some four-and-a-half years earlier, Juvenile joins in on the glistening 'Aintchu' in an ouroboros twist. But to be honest, it's Zaytoven that triumphs here. Having changed the rap game dramatically with Migos' 'Versace' beat, he's playing so much against type here that one questions whether he's had some kind of epiphany or if he's always been this incredible.

Knxwledge. - 2PK.4TRK_ / WrapTaypes.Prt.7_

Too prolific for even the cozy confines of his Stones Throw home, Knxwledge sneaks out the window and takes to Bandcamp. An uncanny remixer, the L.A. producer harnesses the soul power of Tupac Shakur on 2PK.4TRK, a four song series of radical reworks. 'Hollaif[TWRK][BOWNSS]' turns the dated original into rolling kickdrum jazzmatazz, while 'fakea$$bitches[TWRK]' goes totally Eighties with the electro funk. WrapTaypes.Prt.7 widens the net a bit, with unusual results involving reanimated verses from spitters as distant and distinct as Eazy-E and Travis Scott. Knxwledge attempts to break the Internet by frying Bobby Shmurda's hat-flipping hit into the glitchy gold of 'haveitall[TWRK][HTNHGA]'. He even flips 'Lose Your Life' off The Alchemist’s Chemical Warfare showcase, letting Jadakiss, Pusha, and Snoop slide through the synthy grooves. The closer smashes Ernie Isley type guitar noodling into Onyx's street classic 'All We Got Iz Us' and leaves no witnesses. Imagine what Knxwledge could do if these rappers willingly put themselves in his busy hands!

Rome Fortune x OG Maco - YEP

Hip hop is too often concerned with who's got next, a contrived phenomenon that's more the domain of high powered publicists than crystal ball mystics. Even still, it's pretty damn obvious that Rome Fortune and OG Maco are going places in 2015, even despite the former's current incarceration in a Georgia prison. Their respective 2014 joints hit sweet spot after sweet spot, and this formal collaboration mostly does as well. There's a yin yang thing going on between these toxic twins, Fortune's round edges smoothing Maco’s spikes. Unafraid of bold beats, the duo employ trap weirdness from the likes of Cubby, Suicide Year, and 808 Mafia’s TM 88. Featuring both emcees at their most versatile, opener 'Jungle' feels like The Neptunes being bizarre. On 'Riot', LC On The Traxx swipes from the Prometheus score before introducing Maco's shoutiest verses of the entire tape, bellowing hot breath over the Twitter trending topic du jour of cultural appropriation. Featuring a truly unsexy Street Fighter arcade game reference, the faulty 'Sex' hammers its theme into tedium.

Street Wiz - AMF 2

When you rep a crew as fruitful as Jet Life, it might seem impossible to stand out from the bunch. Following 2013's Air Max Fluid, this second installment won’t elevate NOLA's Street Wiz's standing even though it perhaps should. It's a moderate delight to hear him mostly on his own, as opposed to battling for attention amid feature after upstaging feature. a A guest-free streak, the tape's first half makes an argument for his promotion. Stuffing each beat with maximum rhyming, Wiz's unpretentious lyricism carries his storied city's reputation for unblinking realness and under-the-influence living. Even his hooky freestyle on 'Check Me Out' feels more like a fully formed song. On the virtual flipside, Wiz gets jazzy with Loui V ('Day In The Life') and rides off into the ether with Corner Boy P ('Untitled') and Young Roddy ('My Zone'). The sometimes jarring production differences from track to track is offset by his solid flows and aesthetic consistency. This is some feel-good-but-stay-schemin Sunday drive music, soulful and streetwise and devoid of overreaching radio singles.

BONUS: One Hitters:

Chief Keef - Nobody With underrated Glo Gang producer 12 Million (née 12 Hunna) on the boards, a refreshed post-Interscope Keef continues his reign of terror with tight, shiny bangers and one seriously underwhelming Yeezy collabo.

J Rocc - Beats On Tap(e) From his opening prank to the machine funk closer, the Beat Junkies co-founder re-teaches us that the mixtape can be as much a work of sound art as it can a promotional tool.

Katie Got Bandz - Coolin' In Chiraq Having hardly progressed since 2013's disappointing Drillary Clinton, the Chicago rapper shouts each line in a steady monotone in the hopes that something different might happen.

Relax Rekords - Relax Gang Vol. 1 Should the recent arrests of Bobby Shmurda and associates put GS9's progress on pause, rest assured that there are crews across America ready to pick up where they left off.

Stalin Majesty - Death After Dusk Awful Records' Gloomiest Gus and biggest Drowning Pool fan drops four moody cuts straight from the ATL hellmouth.

Young Breed - Rotation 101 The least known member of Rozay's Triple C's, the MMG spitter reminds us of his existence.