Here's our fitting conclusion to Summer Break, as these have been the must have mixtapes/albums to employ inside of your vehicle or headphones at all times. A few more are still on the horizon, so of course this list will have more context come December.
But as far as 2013 so far is concerned...
10. BeatKing, Astroworld As far as BeatKing tapes go from this year, his massive Astroworld undertaking ranks as the far better version of Club God vs. Club Devil. Mainly because it's BeatKing not necessarily having to defer the spotlight. It's him, tried and true, running through whatever stream of banality arrives in his consciousness.
9. DoubleBe, 2FangaShyt To date, the Headwreckas train all leans on whether or not Doughbeezy takes everything running when his Footprints On the Moon drops. But DoubleBe's debut 2FangaShyt might be the third best Headwrecka-produced product since their emergence on the scene in 2010; Blue Magic sits on that throne, by the way. A ready mix of club joints to go along with some personal mementos from the man whose rap name is his real name makes 2FangaShyt pretty formidable. "Fetish" and "Ball" are easily among the summer's best guilty pleasures.
8. Mike Red, Smoke & Soul Meet your sneaky but good album of the year so far. Mike Red doesn't get nearly enough credit for scoring some pretty great Houston rap, but when he chooses to step inside of his own skin, we get Smoke & Soul -- a careful, manicured release where every horn, drum and other points of jazzy instrumentation shine through. Hell, Ray Lewis opens up the album. Ray "No Weapon" Lewis.
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7. Travis $cott, Owl Pharaoh Scott's brooding mixture of MBDTF-style Kanye tropes with his own growth as a Houston rapper gone abroad makes for a welcome touch in 2013. Owl Pharaoh felt like it took forever to get here but $cott's unhinged version of trap beats ("Upper Echelon") and ability to get the best out of his guests smooth out all of the rough edges.
6. Express, Higher Learning Thematically, only one other album on this list follows everything down to a tee more than Express' Higher Learning. Each track is a homage to the 1995 John Singleton film and ably guides the rappers' hubris toward being a revolutionary unafraid to poke and prod the human psyche. The haunting pianos of "Ruckus" from Chris Rockaway and the electric swath of guitars are easy reminders that yes, you can make a socially conscious rap effort on a grand scale. Sorry, Yeezus.
5. Roosh Williams, deja Roo: Times Have Changed Somewhere around SXSW time, Roosh Williams took all of his dexterous flows from his hyperactive machine-gun double-time to his subdued conversational one and his metered AB style and made a big-time rap album. Title aside, deja Roo: Times Have Changed manages to pull in Scarface, of all folks, in for "Bets On Me," relives the glory days of the Rockets on "Dream Shake" and kicks a few teeth in with "Introduction."
4. DeLorean, Grace There's no real merit to grading Grace, DeLorean's fourth project in as many years, up against Hood Politics 2 and Hood Politics 3. 2 may be more personal and nuanced, 3 smoother and polished, but Grace is its own monster. From track length (a beefy 19) to guest features (a Southern caveat from Bun B to Trae Tha Truth to Slim Thug and Big K.R.I.T.), its lead star is fully engrossed in being comfortable and relaxed inside his own skin.
3. Le$, E36 I've already remarked on how E36 is the purest definition of weed rap turned up a couple notches. Le$ finds a muse in Freddie Joachim's production and glides on for the duration of the tape, poking his head out of his own insular thought patterns to serve up groovy riding anthems like "Racing" and "Autobahn" with Smoke DZA.
2. Killa Kyleon, Lean On Me Now here's the question. Why is Killa Kyleon's latest work so drenched in Texas solidarity and bravado that it comes to the penultimate spot in the city so far this year? Because everything finally clicks for Kyleon: his metonyms digg into old-school flow patterns and metrics, his boy-on-the-corner blues stretch wide and far ("Street Life") and his continuous tip towards Houston's at-times bruising nature, whether glitzy ("Cadillac") or determined ("My City").
1. Propain, Ridin' Slab No. 1. The king.
My personal gripe with Propain, musically, always stemmed from the idea that even when he gave you some insight into his personal life, he was holding back. The Donnie Houston-produced "Father's Day" rips that idea to shreds, and so does the rest of Ridin' Slab.
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Here, Pro manifests every demon buried within him, from the loss of friends he once considered loyal to the ultimate goal of pleasing his mother. Even his take on failing relationships and encounters, "You On You," doesn't sit on the "corny" and typical edge. Pro finds that balance between being introspectively pained and outwardly joyful. And nothing has topped Ridin' Slab so far this year.