Rapping in short bursts is what you make of it.
Once upon a time, the typical rap mixtape was an odyssey. Jacking for beats, a few skits, a ton of filler attached with many hangers-on and subpar rappers who ultimately became weed carriers. Out of 26 tracks, say, maybe only six were memorable. The most explosive thing about some tapes happened to be the cover art, which could be crude, funny or just straightforward. Lil Kim once sold a mixtape on PayPal whose cover depicted a cartoon Nicki Minaj getting decapitated. OJ Da Juiceman may have been a terrible rapper, but his mixtape cover art and comedic appeal as a trap star paid dividends. Waka Flocka Flame has one memorable series, DuFlocka Rant, in which his head is superimposed on the body of now-Warriors forward Kevin Durant. It all worked out.
Somewhere around the beginning of the streaming wars, all of this changed. Mixtapes started being counted as projects or, in some cases, full-blown albums. Artists such as Big K.R.I.T. and Danny Brown have essentially made album material with original production and more, and sold it for a price — or, in some cases, free. Online magazines have begun publishing “best mixtape” lists for the past week or so, and the line is as blurred as it's ever been. There are projects we consider albums on that list, albums we consider mixtapes, and so on and so forth. As we’ve condensed their look, the appeal has risen. Rappers used to get signed and pushed to the moon off of freestyles and mixtape prowess. Now it’s a matter of one song emerging from the horde that exists on SoundCloud to change someone’s life. The economics of the rap mixtape have effectively changed, maybe for the better and maybe for the worse.
The appeal has even reached its little brother, the EP, in some ways. Some artists couldn’t figure out what the best possible length was (anywhere from four to nine tracks, to be honest). Others just attached the idea of an EP to a project in order to make it seem avant-garde. It made zero sense in reality, but it worked for a lot of people. Shorter projects tend to help rappers out in the long run anyway. You get to centralize on certain sounds, certain lines and particular songs. There’s very little clutter and, for a few artists — such as Wes Blanco, OneHunnidt, Ingrid and hasHBrown — the effort within an EP or a condensed project makes their strengths shine brighter than their faults.
Take Ingrid and her Trill Feels EP, for example. It’s slotted at just seven tracks and presented in a rather fun and traditional sort of way. How did fans initially get it? At a release party that doubled as a crawfish boil. Third Ward flexing is what got Ingrid in the room; penning one of the more beloved songs on Beyoncé’s Lemonade, "Love Drought," kept her there. The “Flex” single with Sevyn Streeter is the crux of the EP, of course, but it’s wrapped around a ton of music based around love coming and going, the coos and pleas of sex, and individuality. Rap-wise, there are cosigns from Kirko Bangz and Devin Tha Dude on “Comin’ Dine” and a six-minute back-and-forth on “Thing Called Love/Love Me." “F.A.D” (Fuck All Day) is a record in tune with the Missy Elliott practitioners of sex that defined her career, a record about sleeping with her even if you may not find Ingrid attractive. There’s ownership there, something many a woman can relate to, even if you think otherwise. The EP’s best track, however, comes at the very end, depending on what platform you're listening to. James Fauntleroy, easily one of R&B’s strongest pens and warmer voices, lends a hand to “Change Things." Here, Ingrid takes the same kind of anger she delivered in writing about the industry under the guise of Beyoncé’s emotions toward her husband (possibly) and turns her attention toward the world at large. Backed by quixotic drums and guitar strings, Ingrid wonders what is really the devil if everybody is chasing money and seeking facsimiles of happiness as opposed to the real thing. It’s a conversation you usually have while either high or trapped in your own head. Luckily, Ingrid allows both things to mean the same thing.
The EP’s best track, however, comes at the very end, depending on what platform you're listening to. James Fauntleroy, easily one of R&B’s strongest pens and warmer voices, lends a hand to “Change Things." Here, Ingrid takes the same kind of anger she delivered in writing about the industry under the guise of Beyoncé’s emotions toward her husband (possibly) and turns her attention toward the world at large. Backed by quixotic drums and guitar strings, Ingrid wonders what is really the devil if everybody is chasing money and seeking facsimiles of happiness as opposed to the real thing. It’s a conversation you usually have while either high or trapped in your own head. Luckily, Ingrid allows both things to mean the same thing.
You’d believe that being high and within your own head with a lot of ideas would be a OneHunnidt thing and a OneHunnidt thing alone. He and, in equal parts, producer Chris Rockaway are cerebral enough. Getting both of them in a room to crank out an EP is a literal rap mindfuck between takes. Take Graffiti Vibes, for example, the joint EP Hunnidt just did with Rockaway. The Numbers Committee leader is essentially pushing himself to become a better rapper by looking up to these appeal-to-every-sonic and regional-hotbed beats and tackling them. “Salute the Connect” elevates beyond plinking chimes and keys to a plateau where drums crash like the Earth breaking up during a Goku/Frieza Dragonball Z fight. Hunnidt calls the duo Basquiat and Warhol, which is funny on both an art and a racial level, but it’s clever to think about.
“They say bullets ain’t got a name but when you in close range, you ain’t gotta aim,” he slices on “Salute The Connect.” Every other moment outside of “Tesla” with Rocky Banks and “IIWII” with Bee Honey clocks in at below three minutes, and “Small Talk” barely even touches its full two-minute-and-50-second allotment. “Traded the noose for vices, cell phones might be the slave ship,” he alludes on the record, and it’s a metaphor with weight to it. Bee Honey shows up to smooth out Hunnidt’s constantly emerging thoughts, Rocky Banks bookends the rapper’s thoughts on not blaming the rap class for being obsessed with themselves. On “Medicinal," he even beats himself up over losing his brother after all these years and still being seen as an underdog. The only clear spots for Hunnidt on Graffiti Vibes are when Rockaway does the talking for him. Two lush, downright tranquil productions, “John Fante” and “Adderall,” serve as the middle and end to the project; everything else shows Hunnidt’s angst and even anxiousness on wax. Even if he spent almost a month in Europe living like a soccer player, Rockaway wouldn’t want any clear thoughts to land on a project. To him, a combative, even perplexed OneHunnidt is the best Hunnidt.
Far too caught up in his own thoughts is hasHBrown, but that’s not just with raps, it’s with everything. Considering how the Rockets struck out in free agency with Ryan Anderson and Eric Gordon, the Rap Mayor was willing to trade in his viewership for a year. When the Warriors grabbed Kevin Durant, he almost tossed in his five-panel hat and called it a day. There’s rationality to hasHBrown; his alter ego as a producer is restless and his rap brain probably hasn’t slept in months. New EP The Power Nap stretches these thoughts and fears over eight tracks, but it comes from a rapper who's seen eras of the indie scene come and go. He’s still digging into his crates, picking through soul samples to court his drums and bass lines, before a marriage ultimately occurs. “Responsibility” is a decree of making it until you can’t do anything with it anymore; in matters of love, he’s willing to cut his way out if he can see the writing on the wall. “I readily applaud the way your smile stops my heart,” he raps, obviously still caring about his woman even though all they do now is fuck and fight. Packing in co-production from Chris Rockaway allows drums and strings to hit harder, while voices from the likes of Rob Jay, NTheClouds, Suraiye, Dustin-Prestige, Kidd The Great and John Dew offer a bit of distance from hasH. It’s all a group effort with hasH, and it works to such a stirring degree that The Power Nap is closer to riding music and Saturday-morning clean-up jams than anything else on the scene. For a child of the ‘80s, it's essentially become his production ethos: create the hip-hop everyone can respect and curate the sounds everyone can appreciate.
OTHER PROJECTS OF THE WEEK
Wes Blanco has moved from pushing his body out of a jail cell for some years to shining on records with Curren$y and Skooly. This past Saturday, he released a quick tape in Real Quick, a seven-track project that essentially groups up every major cut he’s released in the past two months. It’s effortless, and Blanco can quickly rap with a laid-back, calm demeanor before pressing a button and zipping into a double-time flow right out of mid-'90s NYC hip-hop.
Chantz Alexander (formerly Hoodstar Chantz) and DJ Auditory used June 27 to craft the third edition of their Bart Pimpson series. All slowed down, all screwed up, it’s Chantz’s reintroduction to the world after a dogged period in 2014 and '15 when he was inked to FaceMob Music, then left, and then found himself involved in minor spats with Doughbeezy, among others. On Bart Pimpson 3, he’s back to talking cash-money shit and finding comfort in it. His street favorite “Real Recognize Real,” with Rizzoo Rizzoo, closes things out, but the other 13 tracks crank. “I’m outta yo budget,” he raps on “H-Town Hot Boy” as a minor tribute to Atlanta’s Bankroll Fresh, and he may be right. There may be no Houston rapper out who believes in himself more than Chantz Alexander, and that’s no hyperbole.
TRACKS OF THE WEEK
CHARGE IT TO THE GAME, “Bite Me”
We’ve slightly covered how ’90s it is for Fat Tony and Kyle Mabson to release a whole project on cassette tape. But Tony is still rapping as hard as ever and “Bite Me” gets a fun, creative video to match its energy.
SLIM THUG, “Peaceful”
It’s not often Slim Thug goes half a year being relatively quiet, but it's happened in 2016. That stops with “Peaceful,” where Slim is far more in tune with being Joel Osteen than your stereotypical trap star. On top of some smooth Donnie Houston soul chops, Slim is back to being a motivational speaker. Because that’s become his fast lane now.