[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.