Best of 2013: The Super 8 Mixtapes (Honorable Mention)

Posted: December 23, 2013 in Album, Dyscyplynary Action, Hip-Hop, Mixtape, Music Review
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‘Tis the season for giving and to all a Merry Christmas this week. I hope everyone will be able to enjoy some egg nog and ham while spending time with family unwrapping gifts. 2013 has been quite a year for music including Hip-Hop and I decided to present a few mixtapes that were great, but slightly fell under the radar during the year-end awards. These projects vary in sound, region, and themes, but all are pretty fucking solid cohesive bodies of work. Without further ado, I give to you the Super 8.

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Vic Mensa – INNANETAPE

2013 proved to be the calling card year for Chicago’s Chance The Rapper, whose Acid Rap mixtape reached critical acclaim and instantly shot him at the top of the new faces in Hip-Hop along with TDE’s Kendrick Lamar and Action Bronson. One of the highlights of the tape “Cocoa Butter Kisses”, featured Chance’s right-hand man Vic Mensa, who sounds like him in ways but have a smoother approach to his delivery. Chance’s success left the door open for his SaveMoney compatriots to let loose and Mensa wasted no time in being the next one up. After honing his chops with his brief Kids These Days side project, Vic goes solo with his well put-together full –length, INNANETAPE.

With production from J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League, DJ Dahi, Boi-1da, and Hit-Boy, Vic seems primed for a break out. It is every bit as good as Acid Rap and a little more accessible, as Chance’s voice can come off grainy for some and Vic is a little more playful with his penchant for soul.  There’s an abundance of Slim Shady-esque tendencies early on (“Tweakin’”), melodic jazz vibes (“Orange Soda”), and radio-ready bangers that can sell with the right push (“Time Is Money”). But the main highlight would come on its introspective second half with the gut-wrenching “Holy Holy”. Mensa does great here questioning how life would be if his life ended now, but it is Ab-Soul’s performance mourning his late girlfriend Alori Joh that steals the show (Ain’t no getting over this/I just lost my everything/Meaning that even me breathing would be inhumane).

Highlights: “Orange Soda”, “Magic”, “Time Is Money”, “Hollywood LA”, “Holy Holy”

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Don Trip & Starlito – Step Brothers 2

Don Trip and Starlito have been rapping solo for well over a decade, with the latter having been signed with Cash Money at one point. As good as lyricists they are separately, it was their one-two punch chemistry on the 2011 mixtape Step Brothers which made them a force to be reckon with. Ever since then, their stock increased within the rap internet buzz and it was only a matter of time before a sequel would come into fruition. With Step Brothers 2, they prove that first project wasn’t a fluke and their raps are tighter than before.

Contrary to the predecessor, SB2 is an album and is meticulously structured as such. The songwriting is fleshed-out in storytelling and while many of their tracks aren’t as visceral as “Pray For Me” or “Life”, they hold your attention. The Shakespearean-inspired hood tale “Caesar & Brutus” is what you would picture the id and the ego calmly speaking in your ear to decipher right from wrong. One of rap’s best songs of 2013, it is a story of conflict, betrayal, and deception over the sinister strings and 808s of Yung Ladd’s production. The Tennessee duo also pays homage to legendary southern rap groups UGK and OutKast on “Pimp C 3000” and are technically proficient as they have ever been together. With each door of opportunities Hip-Hop puts up, Don Trip and Starlito continues to knock them down.

Highlights: “Paper, Rock, Scissors”, “Leash On Life”, “Pimp C 3000”, “Cesar & Brutus”, “DNA”

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Rich Kidd – In My Opinion

Ritchie Acheampong is a hidden gem in Toronto’s rap scene. Reigning in a region that bears the essence of Drake (which whom he’s produced for during his Comeback Season days), Rich Kidd has put in work as a producer for k-Os, Busta Rhymes, DMX, and most recently Talib Kweli. He also is a skilled MC and both attributes blend well with his full solo project In My Opinion.

Far from his first rap project, In My Opinion is the first where it is it acted as an introduction to the rest of the rap world. Rich Kidd is completely in tune on his own brining his best material to the forefront. It’s packed heavy with quality tracks, though the length can get exhausting at 77 minutes. It picks up heavy with a bass booming late summer jam “Flow Spitters” and the DJ Dahi-produced “I’d Be Lying”. The latter is his best song to date, ripping into the introspective scale of balancing out the fame he has, the fame he has yet to achieved, and the relationship that has ceased to exist. It quietly went under the radar this year, but hails as one of the best rap projects to come out these past 12 months.

Highlights: “Can I Get A [Bom Bom]”, “SKYE”, “Brick”, “Flow Spitters”, “I’d Be Lying”

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Rich Homie Quan – I Promise I Will Never Stop Going In

It has been a wild year for Atlanta’s hottest new star. While his excellent mixtape Still Goin’ In was overlooked in late 2012, it was his re-release of the tape with the single “Type of Way” that sent him into a new stratosphere. Since then, he has engaged in subliminal quarrels with another crooning ATLien in Future while also doing hook duties for two of the biggest street anthems of the year (“My Nigga” and “I Know”). He has been meticulous in his buildup of momentum, culminating in the long-winded title I Promise I Will Never Stop Going In, completed with DJ Drama drops and all.

Promise turns out to be his most complete project yet, growing in versatility and songwriting that bounces from brisk club bangers (“Walk Thru”), to grandiose trap orchestra (“CASH Money”), and the absolute weird (“Reloaded” has a fucking Toto “Africa” sample). Still this serves to be Quan’s calling card in telling the audience that he’s here to stay, running so smoothly in a cohesive listen and leaving little room for error. He even aims at the hearts of ride-or-die chicks in his “Can’t Judge Her” sequel “I Fuck Wit You Girl”, which will be great for a Decatur street film. The sky is the limit for Quan in 2014 and there’s plenty left in the tank for his talent to shine through.

Highlights: “They Don’t Know”, “CASH Money”, “I Fuck Wit You Girl”, “Walk Thru”, “Party”

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Curtis Williams – Half Forgotten Daydreams

Two-9 will forever be Atlanta’s best kept secret to me. Ever since the release of their #Two9Forever mixtape and the accompanied video “Scottie 2 Hottie”, I have been singing their praises of their simple, yet effective delivery over post-Aquemini production. The de facto ringleader Curtis Williams made a mark late in the summer with his most recent outing Half Forgotten Daydreams.

Along with Key!’s Fathers Are The Curse (which I’ll discuss in further detail later), HFDD serves as the re-introduction of the Two-9 sound to the masses. Under lush and spacey production from Childish Major, Curtis Williams is in his zone with weed-burning anthems (“Face It”, “Bare Essentials”), introspection (“Paradise”), and solid posse cuts (“Get It”). He may not be as versatile as his fellow founding member, but Curtis proves that he can make some quality music that listeners can chill, smoke, and ride to.

Highlights: “Automatic”, “Face It”, “Philmore Slim”, “Get It”, “1000 More Blunts”

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Key! – Fathers Are The Curse

Fellow Two-9 founder turned solo artist Key! left the group on good terms to focus more on his progress. Still, their core sound remains with him as they continue to collaborate. The end result of those booth adventures led to his latest mixtape.  In a sequel to Mothers Are The Blame, Fathers sounds like a super-complete album for free. With the seamless mixing and high-ranked production from Sonny Digital, Trap Money Benny, and FKi, this was love at first listen. Key’s sing-song flow tip-toes gracefully on “Don’t Believe It”, “Free Waffles”, and “I Like”, as Trap Money Benny’s chemistry continue to improve with each release.  And it wouldn’t have been right if I didn’t spoke on one of the more infectious rap songs of the year with “Guess Who”. The hook alone is power move rap in its highest form, making boyfriends all over the world slip into paranoia.

Highlights: “Don’t Believe It”, “Fabo”, “Trap Money”, “Guess Who”, “All Of That (Interlude)”, “I Like”

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Problem – The Separation

Problem had one of the more surprising 2013s out of rap, being featured on the soundtrack of Grand Theft Auto V and preserving hook duties on Childish Gambino’s Because The Internet. He also released a couple of projects early in the year with HBK Gang’s Iamsu! (who also had a great year) and frequently collaborating with Wiz Khalifa. He really began to make waves with his single “Like Whaaat?”, a West Coast party anthem that broke through as one of rap’s best earworms. At a time where Los Angeles rap has seen a great deal of attention (thanks Kendrick Lamar), a lot of people are taking advantage of the opportunity.  From Ty Dolla Sign, Audio Push, and Sage The Gemini, Problem ranks up the annuls with his sleeper mixtape The Separation.

Served as another edition of the Gangsta Grillz series hosted by DJ Drama, Problem shows off his chops and LA aesthetic over excellent production from the collective League Of Starz and Tha Invasion. Certified club jams such as “Like Whaaat”, “Get Naked”, and “Do It” are present, but one of the major highlights is the sensual “Lay Your Head Back”. Sampling a favorite in Usher’s “Can U Handle It?”, Terrace Martin’s saxophone swarms through with a sexy touch with Tank’s crushing vocals adding the icing on the cake. Many big names make their presence here such as T.I., Snoop Dogg, Tyga, Wale, and Chris Brown, ensuring that this is a major red carpet party for the LA-native. I’m even sure that Kendrick Lamar’s adlibs are present on “Roll Up” or Problem does a great K. Dot impression there.

Highlights: “The Separation (Intro)”, “Understand Me”, “Lay Your Head Back”, “Roll Up”, “Like Whaaat”

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Zooly Gvng – Zooly Gvng

Zooly Gvng is a compilation mixtape consisting of rapping/production duo FKi (1st & SauceLordRich), Natasha Mosley, Mike Fresh, and Jamaican-born, Atlanta-raised Zuse. Released during Thanksgiving weekend, it is very easy for something like this to slip through the cracks. Yet, it is very hard for me to pass up considering that FKi has been making some of the best music this year (if Young Dro’s “FDB” wasn’t enough, then I suggest you check out their Transformers N The Hood 2 tape). It’s packed with a ton of their beats and raps, Natasha whispering seductively, and Mike Fresh bouncing from hook-duty to swag raps. But the main star throughout is Zuse, poised to become a 2014 breakout in Atlanta’s current rap scene.

With the bombastic opener “Red” and the triumphant horns that blare on “Okay”, Zuse’s thick accent and croaky voice is not to be denied. There’s also a sick flip of “Fu-Gee-La” hidden on one of the tapes’ deep cuts that’s worth checking out. It’s plenty of material here to peek through and enjoy as it showcases the group’s strengths and doesn’t trap itself with redundancy.

Highlights: “Red”, “Sick”, “Trade”, “Head To Toe”, “In Here”, “Okay”

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