Tape Adapter: April’s Hip Hop Mixtapes Reviewed

In his second column, Gary Suarez finds the much-hyped Chance The Rapper's second tape wanting, while better efforts from Big K.R.I.T. and Cassie redeem April's mixtape haul

April showered us with tapes, a clear indication of the crowded hip-hop marketplace we can expect later this year. Conversely, after an an exceptionally slow three months in terms of “proper” album releases, major labels eagerly extended the cold winter like embittered groundhogs, making this fourth month yet another dumping ground for cult collectibles (Kid Cudi’s Indicud, Tyler, The Creator’s Wolf) and dire disposables (LL Cool J’s Authentic, Tyga’s Hotel California). If you factor in the annual December sell-off, we’ve now experienced nearly half a year of this, with rap aesthete A$AP Rocky the apparent winner almost by default.

Fortunately, as I mentioned, we had the tapes. Here are a few of them.

Chance The Rapper – Acid Rap

It’s unclear where exactly the feverish hype ends and legitimate enthusiasm begins for this young Chicago rapper, representative of the current curious glut of barely legal, slightly weird emerging hip-hop artists. Indeed this, Chance’s second tape, was subject to an apparent download frenzy upon release, no doubt fueled in part by a local pubescent fanbase increasingly susceptible to viral marketing campaigns. Like his Brooklyn counterpart Joey Bada$$, Chance has built enough of a following from digital freebies like this to attract the attention of moneyed types like Lyor Cohen. Taking the rectal temperature of the rap music media, he’s on the verge of signing with any major label he damn well chooses, with Acid Rap as catalyst.

So why does it feel like everybody’s tripping except me, man? Lacking the sort of standout mission statement of Joey’s ‘Waves’ or more definitively zonked Flatbush Zombies cut ‘Thug Waffle’, Acid Rap meanders through juvenilia and jazzy pleasantries, all the while boxing shadows and conflating himself into corners. His severe affinity for repetitious singsong nursery rhyming feels less like a signature style than a crutch, overused on ‘NaNa’ yet ideal for ‘Cocoa Butter’ and the Willie Hatch-sampling ‘Lost’.

Unlike his Windy City peer Chief Keef, Chance sounds considerably vexed by his community’s violence, impotently calling out soft newsies Katie Couric and Matt Lauer on ‘Pusha Man’. That sort of misdirected outrage gets muddled on the Ab-Soul assisted ‘Smoke Again’, which features a tasteless line about Trayvon Martin reminiscent of Lil Wayne’s recent Emmett Till stunner. Acid Rap was meant to make an artistic statement, yet ultimately it’s more paraphernalia than manifesto.

Big K.R.I.T. – King Remembered In Time

If the worst criticism one can levy at Big K.R.I.T. is that he’s a one-note wonder, it’s imperative to acknowledge the wondrousness of that violaceous note. Soulfully southern and syrup slick, King Remembered In Time rests comfortably albeit monochromatically next to predecessors Live From The Underground and 4eva N A Day. Fortunately, as with those releases, highlights emerge. Amped-up turn-ups ‘King Without A Crown’ and ‘Good 2getha’ approach the anthemic speaker rattling heights of ‘I Got This’. ‘Mediate’ shifts down deep into funereal pensiveness and introspection, invariably bolstered by K.R.I.T.’s loquacious fluidity. Other rappers benefit from his consistency, with even Trinidad James managing to make his few bars count.

Casino – Ex Drug Dealer

Still sizzling after some sunny spots on Future’s recent compilations F.B.G.: The Movie and Black Woodstock, Casino strikes while the proverbial iron is hot with Ex Drug Dealer. An attempt to differentiate himself from the rest of the Freebandz freshmen, his distinct talent seems to be an innate ability to rap while simultaneously holding his breath. At least that’s how Casino sounds to these ears. Unsurprisingly, a few of those previously-released cuts (‘Keep On Shinin’, ‘Killin It’) are reprised here, well-placed among the other flat declarations of magniloquence characteristic of this crew. Still, his high register yawp syncs well with Future’s robotic wheeze, as evinced on the lively ‘Whip Game’ and the wholly unnecessary ‘Karate Chop’ remix.

Cassie – RockaByeBaby

The game has kept Cassie down, the follow-up to her 2006 eponymous debut mired in label politics and harpooned by a handful of tepidly-received singles. Yet the arrival of her impressive debut mixtape might offer enough of a jolt to properly revive her career. Though it offers nothing on the R&B chart-busting level of ‘Me & U’, RockaByeBaby features an ultramodernity that Cassie’s contemporaries like Amerie and Ciara continue to struggle with. The cloudy detachment of ‘Numb’ suits both her hypnotic repetitive delivery and Rick Ross’ uncontroversial verse, while the title track adroitly echoes a more spirited Drake flow on the verse over some bubbly synth leads. Guests like Meek Mill and Pusha T emphasize how of-the-moment this all is, but they seem almost extraneous.

Fiend – Lil’ Ghetto Boy

The former No Limit soldier has amassed an ample discography since his late nineties acme, with a plethora of mixtapes in recent years. Now part of Curren$y’s clouded Jet Life corps, the twice-gold artist should be applauded for such a work ethic. Yet for an artist who has effectively flooded the marketplace, his latest tape isn’t as unremarkable as it could’ve been, thanks in part to the frequent features. The Smoke DZA assist on ‘The Price Is Right’ adds some vibrancy to Fiend’s mellow drawl, and stablemate Corner Boy P uplifts ‘The Have Nots’. Mostly though, Lil’ Ghetto Boy deals in downtempo vibes that jibe with his style and blur together pleasantly enough.

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