Itâ€™s been a great year for people who enjoy not paying for their rap music, as despite the music industryâ€™s surprisingly effectual second wind on the anti-piracy front, the free mixtape remains the primary unit of hip-hop consumption. Weâ€™ve seen a string of reliably solid releases from places like Chicago and the Bay Area, though Atlanta remains at the center of the conversation, the trap-rap mecca responsible for any number of notable tapes from the first half of year, from Futureâ€™s Astronaut Status to Gucci Maneâ€™s Iâ€™m Up. In 2012, Atlanta is to hip-hop what Nashville is to country, for better and for worse.
As the sheer glut can be tough to navigate, here is the first installment in a Flagpole series highlighting the standouts from the past couple months.
1. Young Thug: I Came From Nothing 3
The latest entry in Young Thugâ€™s breakout mixtape cycle, I Came From Nothing 3 is a spazzed-out collection of left-field punchlines and exuberant Fruity Loops horn section bursts. â€œMy pinky ring came from Venusâ€ is a representative boast, and the terminally jittery drum programming on tracks like â€œCreepy Crawlinâ€™â€ makes for strip club anthems that would require a Cirque du Soleil-level of acrobatic proficiency to strip to. If you like spacey thug motivation and auto-tuned sing-rapping, this thing is a lot of fun, as well as a compelling argument for the abiding influence of Lil Wayneâ€™s nasally drawl.
2. Shawty Lo: Million Dollar Man
â€œIt ainâ€™t all about the fame, itâ€™s about who lasts,â€ says Shawty Lo, the Bankhead-born snap pioneer from D4L, on â€œWe On Dis Year.â€ Itâ€™s a revealing sentiment from a guy best known for his peripheral involvement in a (great) song called â€œLaffy Taffy,â€ and I basically understand what he means. Heâ€™s a veteran at this point, having earned the imposing lineup of producers (e.g. Zaytoven, DJ Toomp, Mike Will) and guest verses that help make Million Dollar Man better than we expected. Admittedly, having more than one 2 Chainz feature seems desperateâ€”crass, evenâ€”but â€œMVPâ€ is a hit, the pop turn on â€œNo Secretsâ€ is infectious, and when heâ€™s not comparing himself to Criss Angel, he sounds like heâ€™s aging into a kind of likeability.
3. Chiefi: The Chief Supremacy
East Atlanta MC Chiefi, along with the rest of his colleagues in the Billion Dollar Circle, makes haunted fight-rap with a versatility and post-crunk intensity that the SpaceGhostPurrps of the world only wish they could conjure with retro affect. The sub-par microphones and lo-fi MIDI presets make it feel ragged, spontaneous, and occasionally terrifying. Chiefi chants until his voice cracks over made-for-TV horror score synths, sounding like the Mystikal & John Carpenter collaboration of my dreams.
4. Young Scooter & Cartel MGM: Plug Brothers
Young Scooter and Carter MGM, second stringers from FreeBandz and Brick Squad, respectively, here reach across the aisles and step up to fill the void left by their bosses Future and Waka Flocka, who are busy making their pop crossover moves. Highlights include the sinister snarl of â€œItâ€™s a Damn Shameâ€ and the slow-burning ballad â€œIn My Shoes,â€ which features a guest verse from Lil Phat, the 19-year-old rapper shot and killed in an Atlanta hospital parking lot last month. The omnipresent air horn blasts, gunshots, and Lex Luger swells are acquired tastes, but you may as well go ahead and start acquiring them.
5. Jose Guapo: Cash Talk 2
Formerly of the group Rich Kidz, Jose Guapo is a vestige of Atlantaâ€™s Futuristic/Swag movement, which found teen acts like Travis Porter, Roscoe Dash, and Yung LA vying for ringtone-rap glory. I guess the idea here is that heâ€™s â€˜all grown up,â€™ but Cash Talk 2â€™s best moments are its most unserious. Standouts â€œ10 Freaky Girlsâ€ and â€œIt Was All a Dreamâ€ are equally catchy but opposite ends of a spectrum, the former a goofy minimal dance track, the latter a stab at soulful street narrative.
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