In 2014, the world is inundated with music. Deep Cuts is here to help you sort the trash from the treasure. Taking a closer look at mixtapes, loosies, and obscurities, we comb the genre to find tracks that you may have missed. Great songs on terrible tapes, rappers who haven't received the shine they should, or underrated tracks from recognized names, we dig through the detritus so you don't have to.
For 2013, Deep Cuts was a monthly column, but it's become apparent that the demand for more and newer, unheard music is still out there, so we've decided to make it a weekly post. In addition, many of these songs will be posted ahead of time, throughout the week, as we discover them, rather than waiting to compile them for the column. If you want to keep up with what we're posting, just follow along here. And make sure to check back every Friday for a new column covering the previous week.
T.R.E. "Sounds Good"
Mixtape: On My Own
Producer: Jordan For UnDer KonStruction LLc
A longstanding tradition in hip-hop is the song that attacks the status quo—especially if that status quo is the flashy, materialistic side of hip-hop's aspirational status seekers. In a genre that uncritically celebrates the impulses of teenagers flaunting wads of cash, an over-correction in the name of 'balance' often ends up inspiring schoolmarm-ish paens to authority, "seriousness," and a general hypocrisy. (They also rarely "Sound Good.") By veering into the critical, T.R.E. risks coming across like your dad catching you with an N.W.A. tape. The song underlines that familiar passive attitude in contemporary rap listeners—the willingness to put up with toxic messages purely because a track sounds hot. (It may have been a minor song from an aesthetic point of view, but it's time we recognize that Trinidad James' "All Gold Everything" really did have a major impact, even if it was a reactionary one.) This isn't a new critique, but he's also not wrong, and it isn't a bad thing to be mindful of. But there's a deep irony to this song, and not just because his attitude towards "boys kissing boys" is toxic itself. The way the drums drop out and then pop back in for the chorus gives the song a sudden rush that is undeniable—whatever its content. —David Drake
Horseshoe Gang "We Them Mufuckas"
Mixtape: Mixtape Monthly Vol. 3
The first thing most people know about Horseshoe Gang is that they're four guys who are also Crooked I's brothers. Well, if they are up on them in the first place. On "We Them Mufuckas," they go straight into the 8-bit production, which can make you apprehensive about what’s about to go down. But then it drops out and transitions to some straight rapping-ass drums. Each of these guys just goes in on some rapping about being the "motherfuckers in this motherfucker" and you need to "get the motherfuck out the way" because they "ain’t worried about a motherfucking thing." The whole crew has pretty much learned to rap from Crooked I, and the influence comes through in each of their styles, but all of them are capable rappers on their own. This is the most aggressively-rapped song on the tape, and, as it turns out, the highlight. —Sergio Ornelas
Stacks f/ Young Thug and Peewee Longway "36"
Mixtape: Blockbuster Two
Stacks starts this off with your standard trap raps about illegal activities with a touch of autotune, the requisite adlibs, and catchy hook about drugs, laying the foundation for an acceptable rap song in 2014. Then Young Thug comes in to lace it with his taqueria Spanish and repetitions. The match up of Thug and Peewee Longway is reliable. Longway is like a more subdued version of Thug, less spazzy with his raps, but he doesn’t play it too safe with his voice either. On "36," Thug does his raps with stretches and sprints. It’s like words get stretched out, repeated, cut off, sped up, pitched as needed, based on how ever he feels in the moment. Pee Wee’s verse is more like bursts, broken up with moments to catch a breath, but really it’s to hit you with fake karate adlibs and his own voice through a loudspeaker, hyping himself up. The two of them are doing whatever the hell they want, to the point that Stacks sounds like he’s doing a hook the entire time, providing a backdrop for these guys. —Sergio Ornelas
Rittz, Jackie Chain, Scotty ATL, and RaRa "Pimpin' Mane (Remix)"
Mixtape: Kato's Revenge (unreleased)
Producer: Chris "Kato" Ju of SMKA
Jackie Chain's entire 2013 wasn't a write-off, since both "Trippin'" with Rittz and the Atlanta producer collective SMKA's posse cut "Pimpin Mane" (featuring Scotty ATL and RaRa) were both stellar. Perhaps realizing that these were Jackie's two strongest songs of the year, SMKA's lead-producer SMKA's lead-producer Chris "Kato" Ju has given us a best-of-both-worlds situation by inviting Rittz to hop onto the remix of Jackie Chain's "Pimpin' Mane". Over a bouillon of 808s, Chicago House piano, and regal synthesizer parps, Kato's expanded cast of "Chads in the flesh" all explain the crucial differences between pimpin' and simpin', with Jackie and Rittz stealing the track by fiddling while Huntsville burns and giving it some real life relatability, respectively. Here's hoping 2014 gives us more songs pairing the both of them. —Marty Macready
Adrian Marcel "2AM"
Mixtape: The Weak After Next (Unreleased)
Oakland singer and Raphael Saadiq protege Adrian Marcel's latest single hasn't made much noise yet, but you don't have to squint to see its potential. "2AM" is built upon the smooth Cali "ratchet"/"function" axis that has everyone from the Bay to L.A. riding a distinct, slumping West Coast groove. That slightly delayed snap provides consistency to the club-friendly beats, letting songs shift while the mix retains a similar rhythmic bed. Because of the dry, aseptic feel of the "typical" DJ Mustard or IamSu beat, R&B's foregrounded, lush emotionalism is a perfect match and contrast: witness "2AM," which even teases the hook's delirious stomach butterflies in its opening seconds to ensure the listener waits around during the sparse, minimal verses for the chorus' sugary reward. A cocktail of cockiness balanced by Marcel's earnest yearning, the song captures that ambiguous zone between crushing and confidence. —David Drake
DJ Kay Slay f/ Sheek Louch, Styles P, and Uncle Murda "When We Ride"
Mixtape: The Rise Of A City 3
Another year, another DJ Kay Slay mixtape made up of hoarse bellowing, Papoose cameo verses, and posse cuts of rappers who have no business ever being on the same song as each other. The main draws on The Rise Of A City seem to be the mammoth throwback posse cut "90s Flow" and "Free," which unites former enemies 50 Cent and Fat Joe. But the tape's highlight is its foulest song, the 2pac-sampling "When We Ride." It's been almost 20 years since The Lox made their official Bad Boy debut with "You'll See," and Sheek and Styles still haven't run out of ways to talk flagrantly disrespectful, violent shit. Jadakiss was presumably too busy recording his contribution to another recent Deep Cut to appear here, so fresh off the best song of his entire career, Uncle Murda deputizes for him with an insanely trife verse where he orders the pistol whipping and purse snatching of his enemy's mother before having his daughter shot. "When We Ride" is the sort of morally bankrupt rap song which would give Bill O'Reilly a strong case of heart palpitations. —Marty Macready
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