July wasn't quite the blockbuster month for slept-on mixtape cuts that June seemed, at least at first glance. As always when doing these columns, some of the best stuff might bubble up later on in the year. Despite our ability to instantaneously download any new music the second that it drops, there's clearly a glut in the market now, and the truly good material often takes awhile to surface.
That said, a cursory scan of mixtapes dropping in any given month will yield a handful of gems. Some might end up forgotten, some might become hits down the road. More importantly, they illustrate the depth of hip-hop's current creative surge. There's scads of burgeoning scenes, a multitude of artists making novel music in summer 2013. We've already given you ten must-hear albums for July. Now here are the #DeepCuts.
Chip$ Black "Bars Up"
Mixtape: Original Yangster
The NhT Boyz are one of the most underrated groups on the West Coast. Their debut album Power Triangle, which came out the same year Odd Future mania gripped the press, was widely slept on. The trio's combo of powerful, punchline-heavy rapping and beats with a wiry, elastic bounce are somewhat more accessible than Tyler and co.'s dead-eyed shock raps, albeit without the same appealing packaging. Of course, aesthetically, the approach is radically different: manically energetic with an acrobatic rap style, they are extroverts and crowd-pleasers.
They also seem to have anticipated this moment of Cali rap supremacy—and are better MCs than almost anyone else in the state. Group member Chip$ Blacks' solo tape Original Yangster keeps pretty much the same formula that made NhT's album so entertaining: amped-up raps packed with punchlines. "Bars Up" provides exactly as it advertizes: bars. The song also shared a video with fellow NhT-ian Nikatine's in-your-face banger "Uh-Huh." Which, sadly doesn't make an appearance on Original Yangster (although Nikatine does).
Vandam Bodyslam "Ratanto"
Mixtape: MMTVS (My Moh-Tuh-Vay-Shun)
Producer: Ian J
Vandam Bodyslam's rap moniker is almost as great as his mixtape title isn't—but that's not all he's got going for him. The West Palm Beach rapper also gets some crazy production courtesy Ian J, which loops Rihanna's vocals and sets them to a scattered-snare beat that ratchets up the tension as it makes its way to the chorus. [Via BlackBeans]
Roach Gigz f/ Pac B "Back 2 Cali"
Mixtape: Roachy Balboa 3
Producer: Fresh on the Beat
Roachy Balboa 3 is the first tape since the first Roachy Balboa that feels like a full expression of the San Francisco rapper's abilities. Which isn't to say that it's as exciting as the first. Something about the raw high-wire act he managed on the original still appeals to this id-worshipping hip-hop fan just a little more. But despite adapting to the smoother, svelte bounce of modern-day Cali, Roach's rhymes are on point throughout, and it has a distinct overall sound. This is thanks in part to producer Fresh on the Beat, whose beat on "Back 2 Cali" uses a helium-pitched vocal sample to give this serene Biggie-referencing, Pac-sampling track a dreamy stickiness. Coming near the end of the record, its reiteration of the rapper's m.o. is enough to make you think he could really hit it big.
Yung Simmie "Hella Bud"
Mixtape: Shut Up & Vibe Vol. 1
Yung Simmie is from Raider Klvn, Spaceghostpurrp's Miamian crew of underground rappers who've found internet fame via Tumblr. Spaceghost and cohorts like Rob Bank$ (Shaggy's son! Really) have created some buzz, but much of their aesthetic seems overly reliant on mixing and matching obscure underground rap reference points. Often, this means an even more marginal sound, one that rapidly approaches the vanishing point of meanginglessness. With few strong personalities and an internet-era rootlessness that gives the music a grayscale lack of identity, it's hard to get too excited about. The primacy it gives to vintage Memphis horrorcore, uber alles, is reminiscient of '90s hip-hop breakbeat fetishism.
Simmie started off in this vein; his first major track sounded like a blatant emulation—down to the video's aesthetics—of the Chicago sound that had just blown up nationally. That said, it was a strangely appealing mutation of it, and it was jumping on something new, rather than focusing on obscure Three 6 Mafia tapes. His most recent work on Shut Up & Vibe Vol. 1—like that of some of his Klvn cohorts—is a further step in the right direction. The street talk still feels detached and nonspecific, but he's stepped up the rapping considerably. And his influences have also diversified. "Hella Bud" is perhaps the record's best beat, a super-catchy gem so good (and suspiciously lacking in production credits on the tracklist) that it's easy to worry he's jacked some regional rap classic you should already know.
Propain f/ Rich Homie Quan "Two Rounds"
Mixtape: Ridin Slab
Producer: Gluck Bdon
In our recent interview with Rich Homie Quan, the Atlantian autotune devotee explained—at length—how important to him The-Dream's first album was. "Love/Hate, oh my god man. Honestly, that’s probably one of my biggest musical influences," he said. "That made me want to just step outside the box." His vocals are undeniably similar to Future's, as if refracted through a rap doppelganger-prism. But Quan has a diverse range of influences, and never has his indebtedness to Dream's euphoric melodic sensibility been more evident than on the butterflies-in-your-stomach-inducing hook to Propain's "Ridin' Slab." Propain's delivery, typically, has a momentum that bulldozes through his thick Texas slur, which gives his verses a unique energy. On mixtape standout "Two Rounds," though, Quan's hook is the scene-stealer, much like his appearance on Jeezy's #ItsThaWorld EP.
Caleb James f/ Joey Purp "That's Wave"
Mixtape: The Jones
Producer: Nez & Rio
While national attention focuses on Chance The Rapper and Vic Mensa takes the next-up title, another young Chicagoan, the Save Money crew's Caleb James is aiming for something completely different. Caleb's The Jones album is a consistent distillation of late-'90s popular rap, like a DJ Arson mix chewed up and spit out in a blend of jiggy vibes. It also echoes that era's radio balance of hip-hop ("Mr. Jones" sounds like a forgotten Trackmasters joint, and there's a remake of "The Message" that is really quite obviously more a remake of "Can't Nobody Hold Me Down") and R&B ("Ride With Me" and "R. Caleb's Interlude").
Caleb's delivery has an youthful cockiness with Ma$e-style "Who, me?" punchlines: "Call me Wavy Jones, baby girl, I'm a baller/Standing on my wallet, don't it make me look taller?" A highlight of the tape, "That's Wave" eschews the explicit references to history in favor of production from still-underrated beatmakers Nez & Rio, whose spare aesthetic should demand higher prices.
Spenzo "Get Money"
Mixtape: In Spenzo We Trust
Spenzo first emerged with the cosign of DGainz, the cinematographer who ushered in many of the Chicago acts that broke out nationally last year. Spenzo was initially the first anti-Chief Keef act, a formal stylist whose raps had acrobatic fluency. He gained popularity with the Rocky Theme-sampling "Windy City" and a hungry, show-stopping "Go In" freestyle. Shortly thereafter, he was scooped up by the LEP Bogus Boys, who recently gave him an extremely high-profile cameo on the "Commas" remix—a pretty hefty boost for such a young artist (especially considering that T.I. used the track as an opportunity to diss Gucci Mane).
Spenzo's lyrics now are surprisingly tough for a rapper who came up offering a positive alternative to other street rap from Chicago's Englewood neighborhood, and this contradiction continues on In Spenzo We Trust. Which is to say, Spenzo is an exceptionally talented rapper who hasn't quite found his lane yet. While Chop's "Wife Her" beat is arguably the best production on the record, for whatever reason, it had a lot more emotional resonance when it was Chief Keef's "Rollin," now sadly lost to YouTube obscurity. But a major highlight is the Dahi-produced "Get Money," which epitomizes the record's at-all-costs ambition while coasting on one of the prettier beats released this year.
KD "All Day Long"
Mixtape: Diary of a Trill Nigga
Rocking an Aaliyah sample in the 2010s is about as rare as rocking camo. (That is to say, not very rare at all.) But it's inspiring how well Birmingham, Alabama rapper KD pulls it off. On "All Day Long," producer BFlattrax not only uses Baby Girl's vocals, but swipes them from the climactic moment of her unimpeachably perfect ballad "One in a Million." Completely recontextualizing Aaliyah for a song about how KD bends corners in a Chevy Suburban and carries a .9 in case you catch him slipping threatens sacrilege—but it works. This is probably in part because meat-and-potatoes southern hip-hop is at a low point of cool-kid catchet, so KD can get away with sampling a '90s icon without even hinting at trend-hopping.
Mixtape: Life of a Savage 3
Producer: Southside on the Track and TM88
This is for those who've found Keef's recent syrup-addled output to be a moment of autotune-snake-eating-its-own-tail. Because the rest of the GBE crew hasn't much shifted from its initial cement-brick-hard positioning. True whether you're talking about Blood Money's bludgeoning double-tape assault (highlighted here) or Lil Reese, Fredo, and Lil Durk's triumphant "Beef" follow-up "Wassup." Or maybe "triumphant" is the wrong word. This stuff is, in some sense, mercilessly bleak (as has been reiterated ad infinitum) but its testosterone surge is also incredibly empowering, crafting a sense of total control through effortless aggression. SD's Life of a Savage 3 continues in this vein, and with 808 Mafia members Southside and TM88 behind the boards on "Re-Up," you pretty much know what you're getting: brutal, hypnotic street rap that will make you want to lift a Chevy.
Teeflii f/ Dom Kennedy "You Betta Know"
Producer: DJ Mustard
Teeflii's AnnieRUO'TAY and AnnieRUO'TAY 2 mixtapes took a simple formula (West Coast "ratchet" beats plus raunchy R&B singing) and attempted to stand out in a lane that had already been pretty well-covered by Ty Dolla $ign—but without Ty's gift for a distinctive melody or clever turns of phrase. But Teeflii's Fireworks tape finds the singer carving out a distinct identity. DJ Mustard puts on quite a show here, sticking to a few formal elements—minimalist ratchet drums that drop out often to build tension, with texture provided largely by some talented, unnamed guitarist. These beats place Teeflii in a much more flattering light.
Despite these simple tools, Mustard and Teeflii manage to craft a pretty damn listenable record that finds new ways of approaching songwriting on each track. Opener "You Betta Know" pretty much sums up the record's distinct appeal, withholding the beat drop, making great use of negative space. Also of note: This is the third track on this month's #DeepCuts to make reference to R. Kelly. See if you can find the first two.