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Tape Adapter

Tape Adapter: June's Hip Hop Mixtapes Reviewed By Gary Suarez
Gary Suarez , June 17th, 2015 09:48

Gary Suarez reviews this June's hottest hip hop mixtapes, from Zaytoven, Young Scooter, Chubby Jag, Lil Silk, Lucki Eck$, Manolo Rose

The incarceration of Gucci Mane must’ve struck an existential blow to Zaytoven. One of hip hop’s best producers, Xavier Dotson watched as his closest collaborator and dear friend descended into lean-addled madness, burning bridges with numerous artists, and ultimately a 39-month prison sentence, momentum-killing events that would’ve derailed most rappers’ careers. Around that time, the spunky Atlanta upstarts Migos struck gold with ‘Versace’, which blew up to become his best-known beat. With a bonus tacked-on verse from Drake, the track boomed out of more speakers than anything of Zaytoven’s since Usher’s 'Papers' in 2010.

Following a huge Drizzy-cosigned hit, 2014 should’ve been the ivory-tickling beatsmith’s most high-profile year. Yet it was strangely low-key, especially with DJ Mustard’s ubiquity providing a clear model to follow. He provided beats on tapes for both Gucci and Migos, but nothing that translated to radio. Zaytoven seemed absent from the conversation right at the moment he seemed ready to finally cross over.

This January, it started to make sense. Beast Mode, a holistics mixtape collaboration with Future, radiates waves of emotion. It’s as close to genuine human sadness as trap music has ever conveyed, with a heavily narcotised Nayvadius in post-Ciara lamentations over some of the most devastating beats Zaytoven’s ever conceived. One can’t help but think the ups-and-downs of 2013 led to this thing of exquisite beauty and pain. With new projects just out and more from Gucci and Migos on the way, it will be near impossible not to compare his subsequent work with that unequivocally dynamic release.

The latest in this apparent string of single-artist/single-producer projects, #ZayDidIt pairs him with Trouble, a moderately talented local lost in the shuffle of the Atlanta rappers on deck. Over the course of a dozen tracks, we see Zaytoven in full-on trap mode, all busy snares and keyboard trills (‘Aiight’, ‘Don’t Panic’). From the regal beginnings of ‘Wet’ through the more pensive creep of ‘Rememba Da Time’, he provides plenty of welcoming atmosphere for the spitter/singer to work with. Evidently still looking for that standout track, on ‘Don’t Give Up’ Trouble does both a decent Coke Boys impression (compare with ‘Millionaire Thoughts’) and a decent Future impression (compare with ‘Peacoat'). It disappoints that after all these years he’s still looking for his voice, especially when he can still yield ‘U Don’t Know’ so defiant and hurt amid a betrayal that it comes close to matching Beast Mode’s candour. At the end of the day, while Trouble certainly isn’t the best rapper Zaytoven’s worked with lately, he’s hardly the worst.

That sad distinction goes to Young Scooter, that most unfortunate orphan in the 1017 Brick Squad fallout between Guwop and Waka Flocka Flame. A mixtape fixture, he pretty much peaked on 2013’s Street Lottery and has been more or less floundering since his former mentor got locked up. Scooter’s still shouting FREE GUWOP even after Gucci publicly offered to sell his contract via Twitter at least twice in the past two years, for $500K and $200K, respectively.) One of only two credited guests on Beast Mode, he lands two different features on the Zaytoven-produced Juggathon from Future, whose warbling hooks on ‘Hit It Raw’ and ‘Play With Them Keys’ further highlight Scooter’s inferiority complex. Without that support, he’s a second-rate Gucci even on his best day, dropping largely unimaginative verses over beats that would be better served by Longway or Thugger (‘Intro,’ ‘Dirty Game’). On ‘Irrelevant,’ Scooter audaciously calls out other rappers for being soundalikes in the middle of a laughably interchangeable Auto-tune croon.

Chubby Jag - Before The Flat Top

We haven’t heard much from the Los Angeles native since his beef with Meek Mill gave us ‘Worst Nightmare’ a couple years back. Fully cognisant of his absence, Chubby Jag opens his new tape rejuvenated with lyrics on lyrics on lyrics (‘The Greatest Of My Time’). Ever conditioned towards verbosity thanks to his battle rap regimen, he’s inclined to fill the spaces with his voice even it means rationing his oxygen. Production is, regrettably, all over the map, with Chubby dutifully adapting to his ever-changing surroundings. The ensuing lack of any musical cohesion makes for a less-than-thrilling listen more often than not. One minute he’s heavy on a #BlackLivesMatter wave (‘No Justice No Peace’); the next he’s playing at Breezy-meets-Kid-Ink radio pap with Tory Lanez (‘Guilty Of It’). A decade removed from ‘I’m A Hustla’, Cassidy features on ‘Le Cordon Bleu’ and inadvertently reveals his compadre’s comparative weakness when it comes to spitting over trap beats.

Lil Silk - Son Of A Hustler 2

Arriving amid Young Thug’s rise to popularity, last year’s Son Of A Hustler came off as pure opportunism, a get-bricks-quick scheme from an eager soundalike. Yet with Atlanta now bursting with a new wave of eccentrics and freakazoids like Father and OG Maco, Lil Silk’s second installment now has the much-needed Bizarro World context the prior one was missing. Unaffiliated with any of the popular crews, he’s even got better material now than the majority of what’s come out of the Awful Records crew. Tracks like ‘Surfer’ and the Fetty Wap-assisted ‘Money’ balance the drugged out oversexed weirdness with genuine tunefulness. With producers like Mayhem, Proto, and Spaghetti J pushing trap into outer space, the animated emcee excites with unorthodox hooks and zany xanax verses (‘Fucked Up’, ‘Trippy’). Also, to his credit, he’s not quite so squeaky as before, which is a relief to these ears. Making his own way through the Atlanta rap game, Silk deserves a second listen.

Lucki Eck$ - X

The purported psychotropic qualities of Chance’s Acid Rap never quite revealed themselves. His fellow Chicagoan Lucki Eck$, however, has built a discography that could only be described as trippy, mane. Following last year’s Body High, X chronicles Lucki Eck$’ barely legal lifestyle with screwed-up beats by Boathouse, Bulletproof Dolphin, Plu2o Nash, and Eck$ himself. Whether pillaging a Swishahouse anthem for ‘Still Steal’ or haunting the creeping trap of ‘Mac N Cheese’, the young spitter fixates on drugs, girls, and the glorious Venn diagram overlap between them. Its title referencing Pulp Fiction’s femme fatale, ‘Mia Wallace’ is a timeless teenage runaway love story updated for our chemically altered age. On ‘Lil Bitch’, he likens himself to Hendrix - Jimi, not Future - while riding in the Uber like in Robert Pattinson in Cosmopolis. On penultimate cut ‘Stevie Wonder’, Chance drops vision quest allusions in his guest verse in the hopes of catching a contact high.

Manolo Rose - Concrete Rose

Some months back, I caught this Brooklynite’s set at hip hop haven SOBs. Mostly, it sounded like incoherent screaming, which had at least something to do with the twenty or so dudes mobbing on stage with him. Removed from that imperfect setting, Manolo Rose is much clearer yet no less amped up on his booming new tape. A standout from that shouty gig, ‘Run Ricky Run’ references the romantic thuggery of Boyz N The Hood and Juice. Fame School Slim provides the majority of these street beats, including the streamlined ‘GangGangGang’ and ‘Get Like Me.’ Rose balances his banger bonafides with bouts of levity better than most rappers of his boisterous calibre. On ‘Realist', he likens the penalty of crossing him to the final board on the Nintendo classic Contra, while he takes on a sort of jokey affectation for the amusing hook of ‘Theory Doddy’. Holding it down for the five boros, he admirably limits his guests to locals like Dave East, Rowdy Rebel and Vado.

BONUS: One Hitters:

Archibald SLIM & Dexter Dukarus - Don't Call The Cops Two Awful Records insiders team up for a mellow mentholated affair of time-and-a-half delivery over obsidian magmatic beats.

Kevin Gates - Murder For Hire An uncharacteristically truncated tape from the Louisiana native, this EP goes back to the well too many times, especially on the ‘John Gotti’ retread ‘Rican Johnny’.

Sicko Mobb - Mulah Swiftly following up Super Saiyan 2, these lil boppers evidently aim to maximize the summertime vibes with seventeen more street pop gushers.

yuk. - a n a k One of the more abstract souls of the L.A. beat scene, this sometime restaurateur breezes through a captivating half hour cassette of muddled influences and subversive submersibles.