I think I have to do this occasionally: review five mixtapes at once just to clear out a backlog of opinion that builds up while I work on critiquing one single album in a review that has pretensions towards being an essay. So if you want to listen to a ton of awesome hip-hop this week, start with these.
To kick us off, let me point you to the record I’ve been kicking at every opportunity over the last couple weeks: XV’s “best of” mixtape V for Vizzy, presented by Evil Empire (who added annoying DJ tags aplenty). XV gives us a collection of just…really catchy tracks. Beats to bounce too, hooks that worm into your brain. And yet the polished production isn’t a way to help us swallow lyrics that are shallow and materialistic. There is real intelligence here, in a mix of storytelling and touchingly honest autobiography related in a shocking variety of surprisingly original narrative forms. I really can’t say enough about this album, or about XV’s prodigious skills as a rapper and writer. Just get it. You can find it at http://www.2dopeboyz.com/2010/08/04/xv-v-is-for-vizzy-mixtape/.
I’m going to be perfectly honest here: I’m mostly including Aleon Craft’s new mixtape, The Stargazing Soundtrack, because I want to comment on the the bubbling of space-themed hip-hop songs that is turning into a positive trend. B.o.B., Kid Cudi, Jay-Z and even Eminem have had “spacey” tracks in their most recent outings, with more looking to show up as the twenteens wear on. Is there something in the zeitgeist, some yearning for science-fictional escape and exaltation? In a way, though, it worries me, because the tone of these tracks usually suggest that outer space, rocket ships, other planets, et al are dream states more than graspable reality. I want civilization to make space development a real priority. I don’t want to see it slip into some cultural neverwhere of fantastical alternative future divorced from serious politics. But that doesn’t have much to do with this mixtape, really, and this mixtape is quite good. So just check it out at http://aleoncraft.com/2010/08/the-stargazing-soundtrack-aleon-craft-smka/. And vote for space.
Probably the most significant mixtape to drop recently is the G.O.O.D. Ass Mixtape, presented by Perajok. What we have here is a collection of recently released new tracks by artists on Kanye West’s G.O.O.D. Music label, plus a few associated acts. (In case you were wondering, G.O.O.D. stands for “get out our dreams.”) The whole thing comes as excitement is building about the release of Ye’s fifth studio album, which was originally going to be called Good Ass Job (completing the quartet of albums begun by College Dropout, Late Registration, Graduation). We’ve got, among others, Big Sean, Consequence, GLC, Tony Williams, John Legend, Kid Cudi and of course Yeezy. To be perfectly honest, I mostly copped this to get the new Kid Cudi tracks, plus Kanye’s new “See Me Now” single and a live version of the stunning “Power.” But the whole thing is seriously good. Great even. Grab it at http://www.2dopeboyz.com/2010/08/16/perajok-presents-g-o-o-d-ass-mixtape-mixape/.
We have established by now that I have a deep, unshakeable love for the delightful novelty of mashups — music that artfully combines parts of two often very different musical works into a new, mutant whole. So of course I was pleased to find the recently dropped Dub Kweli by Max Tannone, which puts Talib Kweli’s vocals over dub reggae. I wish I knew more about the reggae source material used here, to better appreciate everything going on with this album — it is one of those, so good that it demands more from the listener. The reggae is a good match to Kweli’s particular vocal patterns, and his lyrics are fascinating as ever. There are a few unexpected gems here, including yet another attempt at remixing Kanye West’s “Get Em’ High” — an impossible feat, of course, since the original track is so perfectly produced, but an enjoyable attempt nonetheless. Snag it at http://www.dubkweli.com.
While on the mashup ride, I found a similar project from last year by the same guy: Jaydiohead, Jay-Z over Radiohead. I have started saying lately that Jay-Z mashups are more fun to listen to than in his original songs. Maybe this is because Hov’s unique and, of course, compelling rap style always has a certain dissonance with the beat that stands out on studio albums but is par for the course — preferable even — when mashed up with something unintended. This is kind of a “have my cake and eat it too” situation for me, as I have, on occasion, been forced to defend hip-hop’s artistic worth against comparisons with the paragon of moody and “deep” alternative rock, Radiohead. Give it a download at http://www.jaydiohead.com/.