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The Blender (#110 of 7)

The Blender: Uptown XO, Exile, Terius Nash, Chevy & Wiz, Domo Genesis, & Plies

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The Blender: Uptown XO, Exile, Terius Nash, Chevy & Wiz, Domo Genesis, & Plies
The Blender: Uptown XO, Exile, Terius Nash, Chevy & Wiz, Domo Genesis, & Plies

[Editor’s Note: “The Blender” is a series dedicated to highlighting notable new releases in the mixtape world.]

I haven’t lived in D.C. for a few years now, but thanks to the Internet I can still vicariously follow its rap scene. And say what you will about D.C.’s rappers, they’re both better and more numerous than the one’s we’ve got in North Carolina’s Raleigh-Durham Metropolitan Area. I’ve taken up for the underrated Diamond District against more than one critic intent on reducing the city to Wale and the rap-ish skits by the Capitol Steps; this month, Diamond District’s Uptown XO drops a solo mixtape called Monumental II, which I can forgive for the ridiculous pun, but not for coming out in September. Because this is exactly the type of mixtape that I love to listen to during the summer, and while I certainly didn’t mind taking Returnof4Eva for its three-dozenth spin, Uptown’s mixtape could’ve at least jostled it for playlist space.

The Blender: J. Cole, Curren$y, Willie the Kid, Chris Brown, & The Weeknd

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The Blender: J. Cole, Curren$y, Willie the Kid, Chris Brown, & The Weeknd
The Blender: J. Cole, Curren$y, Willie the Kid, Chris Brown, & The Weeknd

[Editor’s Note: “The Blender” is a new series dedicated to highlighting notable new releases in the mixtape world.]

Next month, perennial rap-rookie-of-the-year contender J. Cole will finally drop his major label debut, Cole World: The Sideline Story. Cole has some big names in his corner, Jay-Z among them, many of them claiming that the upstart MC from “Fayettenam,” North Carolina is nothing less than the future of rap—unless, of course, the future of rap turns out to be Drake (probable), Curren (less so), or Wale (exceedingly unlikely). All the same, kid’s gone through hell trying to get his album finished and released, though as many times as Watch the Throne and Tha Carter IV got pushed back, you might conclude that a rapper hasn’t made it big until his album’s been delayed three or four times. The early singles from Cole World haven’t exactly been fire, though that’s not the only reason the album’s release will be anticlimactic. Label backing or no, Cole’s provided a generous stream of free music to his fans over the past couple of years, and production values aside, his album will mostly be distinguished from his mixtapes by the extent to which it hues to the rap-radio playbook (the perfunctory cameos from Drake and Trey Songz have already been confirmed).

The Blender: Lil Wayne, Ced Hughes, Phil Ade, & Cory Gunz

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The Blender: Lil Wayne, Ced Hughes, Phil Ade, & Cory Gunz
The Blender: Lil Wayne, Ced Hughes, Phil Ade, & Cory Gunz

[Editor’s Note: “The Blender” is a new series dedicated to highlighting notable new releases in the mixtape world.]

Blockbuster rap albums belong to the summer just as surely as FX-stuffed action flicks. Leaving your retailer of choice with a much-hyped rap release in hand, you scan the back of a jewel case, quickly assess the roster of featured guests, then cue up the CD player and prepare to push both bass and AC to their limits. For cinema-goers, summer ’11 has provided no shortage of spandex-clad warriors and explosive fight scenes, but the rap game’s superheroes have been uncharacteristically coy: Lil Wayne’s fourth Carter album has been delayed for months, the Jay-Z/Kanye collabo finally hits stores next week after a half-year’s worth of bait and switch, and Drake passed on giving the season a high-profile closer when he pushed his Take Care from mid-September to late October. If, in desperate search for a suitable soundtrack, we’ve turned to Khaled-produced posse cuts and Tyler, the Creator singles, who will accuse us?

The mixtape game hasn’t been immune from this unseasonable rap sleepiness, but the month of July did find a few rappers self-releasing long, ambitious, and widely downloaded street albums—certainly nothing on par with the major-label flagships mentioned above, but albums that could qualify as minor events in their own right. Ced Hughes’s One Day We’ll Wake Up earned props across the rap blogosphere: Largely self-produced, but running 25 tracks in all and featuring songs by Röyksopp and the Neptunes’ Chad Hugo, the VA-based rapper’s project splits the difference between DIY charm and blockbuster spectacle. Hughes’s production aesthetic is spare but expressive, a homespun and minimalist variation on the type of blissed-out soul cuts that Kanye West was making for Common circa Be. His flow isn’t showy or technical, but Hughes is still highly engaging on the mic, combining the incisive intelligence of indie rap with a shameless appreciation for pop-culture minutiae. There’s a great track called “Hot Dogs and Toupes” where Hughes boasts that “in this rap race my code name is Centipede/A hundred legs running on you Earthworm Jims” before making an even weirder joke about his ride’s rims and Honey, I Shrunk the Kids.

The Blender: Jean Grae, Rapsody, & CyHi Da Prince

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The Blender: Jean Grae, Rapsody, & CyHi Da Prince
The Blender: Jean Grae, Rapsody, & CyHi Da Prince

[Editor’s Note: “The Blender” is a new series dedicated to highlighting notable new releases in the mixtape world.]

Behind the Music budgets 30 minutes to Missy Elliott’s dire childhood, 10 to her mid-career weight loss, and approximately 10 to that glorious stretch of singles, albums, and videos wherein the rigid logics of sexism and realism were cast off in a hysterical outpouring of galvanizing cartoon libido. The epochal Miss E…So Addictive-Under Construction-This Is Not a Test! run? Cynically consigned to footnote status. Meanwhile, the needlessly prolonged Nicki-Kim spat has cleared up just in time for no less a nobody than Lil Mama to start her own promotional catfight with Ms. Minaj (the alleged beef is, I believe, wig-related). Adding insult to insult, Minaj has been tapped as a tour opener for Britney Spears, a woman who has never exerted much control over her own career, and whose most recent rehabilitation has been brought to you by the charity of, among others, Robyn, Ke, Rihanna, and Minaj herself.

The Blender: Elzhi, T-Pain, Young Jeezy, Trae the Truth, & Starlito

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The Blender: Elzhi, T-Pain, Young Jeezy, Trae the Truth, & Starlito
The Blender: Elzhi, T-Pain, Young Jeezy, Trae the Truth, & Starlito

[Editor’s Note: “The Blender” is a new series dedicated to highlighting notable new releases in the mixtape world.]

Mixtapes are often low-risk, low-reward affairs, but every now and then an MC exploits the format in the name of some rep-making (or rep-breaking) stunt. See, for example, Lil Wayne’s flood of output in the lead-up to Tha Carter III, Clipse’s ruthlessly virtuosic We Got It 4 Cheap series, or even Young Jeezy’s scorching introduction on Trap or Die. Without a doubt the past month’s most audacious mixtape came in the form of Elzi’s Elmatic. Elzhi is best known for his work with Slum Village, the long-running Michigan rap crew that also launched the career of J Dilla, but his 2008 solo LP, The Preface, is his best work, exactly the type of lost classic that diligent cratediggers (or whatever their digital equivalent is called) hope to come across as they pilfer the discographies of the obscure and overlooked. Elzhi’s got chops, no doubt, but even a man who can rhyme with the greatest MCs can’t be cavalier about revising an acknowledged masterpiece. And where hip-hop is concerned, no album occasions fearful treading quite like Nas’s Illmatic. Fortunately, Elzhi and producer Will Sessions aren’t too orthodox in their homage: The whole production is an act of reverence, so, respects paid, the pair apparently felt free to rework the classic Illmatic tracks into an album that’s instantly familiar, but still fascinating and new in its own right. Sessions adds new instrumental passages to a number of the tracks, for example, and his digressions on “Life’s a Bitch” and “It Ain’t Hard to Tell” are every bit as evocative and melodically pleasing as their inspirations.

The Blender: Fabolous, Curren$y, Tyga, Sinatti Pop, & More

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The Blender: Fabolous, Curren$y, Tyga, Sinatti Pop, & More
The Blender: Fabolous, Curren$y, Tyga, Sinatti Pop, & More

[Editor’s Note: “The Blender” is a new series dedicated to highlighting notable new releases in the mixtape world.]

A rhymer no less gifted than T.S. Eliot once said that April is the cruelest month, and the first couple weeks’ worth of rap releases seem to bear him out. Not only did rap fans receive word that Weezy’s latest Carter joint would be shelved for at least another two months, but the mixtape game is looking sadly stagnant after a dynamite run of March offerings. If I wanted to wait for music (or, God forbid, pay for it), I wouldn’t be listening to mixtapes to begin with. I like mixtapes because they’re all about instant gratification: no endlessly pushed back street dates, no pesky copyright lawyers standing between that unsigned MC and the hot Bo1da track he or she was somehow destined to rhyme over.

And in that spirit, we start this edition of “The Blender” by going straight for the “most anticipated”—that is, the most aggressively marketed—mixtape to drop in the last couple weeks. Fabolous landed a surprisingly solid hit with last year’s “You Be Killin’ Em” (from his There Is No Competition 2 EP), but the single’s unexpected ascent on the rap-radio charts came at a bad time for the NYC rapper, who, pursuant to Def Jam’s characteristically sluggish release schedule, wasn’t planning to push an album until late this year. The minor viral offensive launched on behalf of The S.O.U.L. Tape is pretty clearly an attempt to maximize his exposure, and being that the holdover album has been downloaded nearly 200,000 times in the last week, I’d say the campaign has paid off. The mixtape itself? It’s not so clearly a success.

The Blender: March Mixtape Madness

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The Blender: March Mixtape Madness
The Blender: March Mixtape Madness

Duke tanked in the Sweet 16 this year, which meant that my persistence through the schizophrenic weather of North Carolina in the month of March could not be justified vicariously by the accomplishments of younger and more interesting people on the basketball court. Fortunately, younger and more interesting people in the music industry picked up the slack, making last month one of the best I can recall for the mixtape game. So much so that our nation’s attention-hungry rappers couldn’t even keep the spotlight all to themselves: In a crazy twist of fate, I counted not one but two R&B mixtapes among my favorites. And Butler’s in the finals tonight? What planet do I even live on?