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Tape Adapter

Tape Adapter: April's Hip Hop Mixtapes Reviewed by Gary Suarez
Gary Suarez , April 10th, 2015 07:48

From ILoveMakonnen to Dae Jones, Gary Suarez brings us the best of this month's hip hop mixtapes

Do we still love ILoveMakonnen? When Drake bestowed his blessing and vocals on 'Tuesday' last August, it sure as hell felt like love. But any of us who've actually been in the club on a Tuesday knows that after enough Hennessey we tend to see the beauty in everything, sometimes even the beasts. And that particular track, which merged Sonny Digital and Metro Boomin's warbly outlier with the singer/rapper's undeniably odd style and perspective, sure seemed purty.

Bobby Shmurda, O.T. Genasis, and, most recently, Fetty Wap have been giving us these kinds of viral one-off hits that excite but don't necessarily offer much hope for future successes on the same scale. Conversely, both OG Maco, Rae Sremmurd, and Young Thug all appear to have demonstrably moved toward continuing rap careers off their breakout singles, albeit to differing degrees. There's no crystal ball to predict whether Makonnen will ever live up to his OVO moment, though it's clear his placement on 'Look At Wrist' has done wonders for Father. Still, he's kept busy growing up in public, dropping tracks of varying quality with artists and producers including Carnage, Mike Will Made It, and Rome Fortune. So for Drink More Water 5, his first mixtape of 2015, we have an opportunity to gauge which track he's on or if he's going off the rails.

The belligerence of the tape's opening titular freestyle reflects a harder Makonnen than casual listeners may be used to, though his druggy lifestyle professing tempers some of that. An overnight celebrity, he's defensive towards those who want a piece of him, whether that be the media or his Atlanta acquaintances. It's an odd note to start on given his propensity for weirdo pop. The power of 'Tuesday' was the simplicity of its (im)perfect hook, and though he's clearly interested in that lightning striking twice he doesn't have much luck with it. On 'Super Clean' he slurs like a promising hybrid of Bushwick Bill and P.M. Dawn's Prince Be, though he squanders the glinting beat with a throwaway chorus of dull vulgarity. He's willing to pivot towards being a millennial Rick James ('Get Loose With Me,' 'Other Guys') but it's important to recall that while Makonnen' singing voice is unique, it's not necessarily, you know,good.

If nothing else, Drink More Water 5 gives us a solid example of the porous borders within and outside Atlanta's burgeoning hip hop factions. Makonnen benefits from such support, and the best tracks here are those where he graciously shares the mic. Beautiful pimp Rome Fortune and Migos' postulant Rich The Kid feature on the well-done 'No Ma'am,' all plink plonk melody and minimalist 808 bump. For 'Dodging 12,' drill capo Fredo Santana and D.C. stunner Yung Gleesh spit alongside Makonnen's best hook of the entire tape.

Ballout & Tadoe - Rise Of The Glo Gang Empire

The drill scene's Left Coast colonization has helped further differentiate those chilly Midwest Chiraqi sonics from trap. Already making some rather impressive music on their own, two of Chief Keef's Glo Gang comrades pair up for what is arguably the best example of this ORD-LAX frequent flyer program to date. With beats more John Carpenter than Zaytoven, the duo revel in the grimness and often sexualized horror of their True Hollywood Stories ('Beef,' 'California'). Ballout's smoother and occasionally sing-song flow blends well with Tadoe's intense bark, the two balancing one another out fairly well, as on highlight 'Kill Me' which transcends banger status to become a certified slasher. 'Glo Gang Posse' is like some wondrous trap remix of one of Aphex Twin's selected ambient works. On the bouncing 'Beverly Hills,' Ballout drops into third person narrative to profess his antisocial tendencies, though that seems a bit redundant given that every song here is more or less about the same three topics: drugs, sex, violence. But it's the juxtaposition of the bright synthy production against these grimy tales that makes Rise Of The Glo Gang Empire such a hugely satisfying listen ('On Me').

Bryant Dope - Raw Dope 2

The Queens native got some deserved love and attention back in 2013 with pair of boro-repping tapes. The sequel to the latter of these, Raw Dope 2 expands the rapper's production base as he continues to find his footing in the crowded marketplace of young guns enamored with the old school. It's tough spot to be in, especially in light of well-received recent releases from New New York's graduating classmates Action Bronson and Joey Bada$$, respectively. But there is hope in Dope, and from the 14 tracks here he's got no reason to give that up. 'Where It At' basks in the kush groove, while 'Vibrant Soul' subtly nods toward a certain, erm, vivrant thing. Tom Misch helps him stay on that Q-Tip tip with 'Piano,' a track that's jazzy in the Tribe sense of the word not the Kendrick sense. Hannibal King's criminally brief 'Sit Back' at least gets a little weird and acidic. The selected single by way of music video, 'The Manifesto' lifts a most lyrical Dope over a modernized boom bap beat by Mike Device and SXMPLELIFE.

Future - 56 Nights

While the title refers to DJ Esco's time served in an Abu Dhabi prison for marijuana possession, that's about as much breath as Future Hendrix lends to his DJ's predicament. Undoubtedly happy to have his boy home, 56 Nights is instead 808 Mafia producer Southside's showcase, albeit in the chilly shadow of Zaytoven's revelatory Beast Mode. So it's particularly embarrassing that everyone's talking about the one track produced by his pal Tarentino. Bleepy and ethereal, 'March Madness' hits all the right notes without leaving the trap house. The vapid title track carries none of the expected heft, another series of increasingly rote bars about casual drug abuse. Indeed, there are multiple genuine letdowns here, a regrettable state of affairs for a tape lasting just 10 tracks / 31 minutes. On 'No Compadre,' Future sloppily spits that Spanglish on the hook so badly one wonders if he meant comprende instead. Instagram blather on the interstitials and standalone skit 'Da Fam On Da Gram' aims for viral comedy but ends up virulent, further poisoning the vibe. Welcome home, Esco; you deserved better than this.

Dae Jones - Any Given SunDae

Future Brown's recent album touched on a lot of cities, but Chicago may have narrowly edged out the rest in volume alone. While I have no indication of her connection (if any) to the likes of Sicko Mobb or Tink, Dae Jones has a solid grasp of her hometown sound. Sasha Go Hard features with two others on a bonus version on the supremely catchy 'Alright,' but the guest-free original trumps the crowded remix. She's as comfortable on Chiraqi bubblers/burners ('I Can Take You There,' 'Trip Through The City') as she is on earnest R&B ballads ('Not ToDae,' 'Uber Music'). Above average beats and production values on that latter tip give Jones a certain radio-ready gloss, but Jones has the range to pull it off. If she doesn't breakout on the blogs this year it'll be a damn shame. Male voices, specifically those of Jones' DJs, crowd her out way too often, which is especially ironic amid the emotional pleading of 'Be Mines.' Sure, mixtape economics require this sort of promotional babble, but at times it gets downright #problematic, if you know what I mean.

BONUS: One Hitters:

Gucci Mane - Dessert A fourth course for his recent bout of mixtape gluttony, Guwop's output has become rather hard to digest.

Kahmone - Double Cup I suppose it's only a matter of time before Nicki Minaj impersonators outnumber Young Thug impersonators.

Ratking - 700 Fill Following the reliably weird So It Goes, the NYC straphangers link up with fellow alt-rap commuters and explore a few more tunnels on their own.

Smoke DZA & 183rd - Ringside 3 Two of uptown's finest Hulkamaniacs have some good clean fun sampling and spitting about the semisweet science known as pro wrestling.