Five for the Price of One

Normally what I do here at A Man and His Mixtape is find a single new album or mixtape and review it in a way that lets me delve into the themes, industry issues and history of hip-hop. I like to take my time with it. But there are a lot of rappers out there — a lot — and I pass by plenty of great, interesting stuff that doesn’t make it into the column. So this week let’s try something different. Instead of one review, I’m going to give you five: a few new releases and a couple that I missed earlier this year. But time is short, and I’ve already wasted a hundred words. So without further ado…

Diggy Simmons, age 15, is best known for being the son of Rev. Run of classic hip-hoppers Run DMC, for his role in the MTV show Run’s House, and for his upcoming clothing line. He also, it turns out, raps. On my list of things I’m dubious of, prepubescent pop stars, celebrity-family-based reality TV, and nepotism are all easily in the top half. But whatever: the kid has chops. On his much anticipated debut mixtape, The First Flight, Diggy shows that it really does…run in the family (groan!). The tracks about girls and relationships make me roll my eyes, of course, and he has (perhaps understandably) skipped right to the “fame and fortune, haters and hoes” themes that most rappers only turn to after achieving some success talking about poverty and social problems. Still, he can rhyme and he can flow — really well actually. And he’s determined to prove that his talent is genuine and not manufactured by legacy connections. So far I believe him. Download Diggy’s The First Flight at http://www.datpiff.com/Dj_Spin_King_Diggy_The_First_Flight.m82094.html.

Theophilus London’s delightfully chill 2009 mixtape This Charming Mixtape was one of my favorite releases of the year, but then he fell off the map, his followup studio album This Charming Man hardly raising a blip. What gives? No idea, but he’s back! His new mixtape I Want You is even more poppy and un-gangster than the last one, but I don’t care: Theophilus London breathily messing around with synthy electronica and soulful funk is about the most fun thing you could listen to while, say, hanging paintings or attending an art gallery opening/wine tasting. Seriously, the album art is a polaroid photo of him holding a cat in a garden. It is that kind of chill. This new mixtape doesn’t grab me in the first few seconds as much as his last outing did, but Theophilus makes up for it in later tracks. And though you might not notice it wrapped in such a weird, low-key and poppy shell, his rap lyrics are up with some of the best of his generation. Check out Theophilus London’s I Want You at http://theophiluslondon.net/, and maybe look up last year’s This Charming Mixtape at http://fiftyonefiftyone.com/2009/02/theophilus-london-charming-mixtape/.

Last week I stumbled across interview audio in which Lupe Fiasco talks about his new “nice guys” super-group, The All City Chess Club. This group is made up of Lupe, J. Cole, B.o.B, Asher Roth, Charles Hamilton, The Cool Kids, Diggy, Wale, Blu and DJ Skateboard P. We don’t know yet what sort of collaborations this Club will produce, but its very existence makes me giddy as a schoolgirl in a candy shop or…or something really giddy. After all, these are all artists that I know well, love, and have even written about here — all, that is, except Blu. In the interview Lupe said that Blu was “probably the only emcee in the game that scares me…like I sit and listen to his raps and I hope that they’re not better than mine.” Obviously, that intrigued me quite a bit, so I looked him up and downloaded his last couple mixtapes: Her Favorite Colo(u)r from 2009 and the more recent Untaped. Blu is moody and underground in both attitude and sound, looping samples of jazz singers crying with rain in the background. His rapping covers probably less than half of Her Favorite Colo(u)r, the rest being audio from obscure old films, or humming. Untaped is less atmospheric and more straightforward beats and rhymes, which is nice, because Blu is obviously an extremely talented lyricist. I’m not convinced that he’s better than Lupe Fiasco, but I sure am glad he’s in Lup’s super group. Keep an eye out for Blu, and check out Her Favorite Colo(u)r at http://www.flawlesshustle.com/music/blu-her-favorite-colour-free-download/ and Untaped at http://aonn.bandcamp.com/album/blu-untaped-mixtape.

This might seem like sacrilege, but I didn’t really like The Blueprint 3. I respect Jay-Z, but these days it seems like all he ever says is “I’m worth a hundred fifty million dollars and married to Beyonce / I don’t give a tish!” and that doesn’t even rhyme. Still, as a businessman and icon of the industry, he’s basically the Sinatra of our time. So re-imagining The Blueprint (original) as a lounge show backed by a jazz band, as Jay-Z and Ritchcraft do in The Big Band Blueprint mashup, well…that’s entirely appropriate, isn’t it? When these songs came out around 2001, they were grim and hard-hitting, but a decade on they are so infused into our cultural consciousness that listening to them is an act of nostalgia more than anything else, the refined appreciation of things that age well — like Picasso or thirty year scotch. The big band style production only compounds this sensation. This is an excellent vintage, so treat yourself to The Big Band Blueprint at http://ritchcraft.bandcamp.com/album/the-big-band-blueprint-2.

I had no idea who Yelawolf was, but his freestyle over Aloe Blacc’s working class anthem “I Need A Dollar” was good enough for me to check him out. The caucasian rapper from Alabama kind of has this whole redneck/trailer trash/white ghetto look about him: tattooed all over, constantly shirtless, rhyming about awful American muscle cars and, uh, catfish. Yeah, I’m not sure what to think either, but I can tell you one thing: white boy can flow. I found his most recent mixtape from early this year, Trunk Muzik, and man, this guy raps really well and really, really fast. Furthermore, the Dirty South style production is finely executed indeed. I guess you really can’t judge a rapper by his…everything. Trunk Muzik is a highly entertaining outing, and I’m looking forward to his upcoming album now that he’s signed with a major label. Download Yelawolf’s Trunk Muzik mixtape at http://www.djbooth.net/index/mixtapes/entry/yelawolf-trunk-muzik/.

If you want to be hip like me to all this new music coming out every week, I highly recommend following websites like http://2dopeboyz.okayplayer.com/, http://www.datpiff.com/ and http://www.thisisrealmusic.com/.

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