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The Best Hip-Hop Mixtapes of 2010

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Fashawn & DJ Green Lantern

XXL & Orisue present Ode to Illmatic

(US: 11 Jun 2010; UK: 11 Jun 2010)

10


Fashawn
XXL & Orisue present Ode to Illmatic


A little honesty and self-awareness can go a long way. Take California’s Fashawn, fresh from his noteworthy debut, the 2009 Exile-produced Boy Meets World.  Having already been compared to Nas, in terms of flow packed with detailed observations, his next move was to pay tribute to Nas’s Illmatic in a mixtape that covers the original lineup.  That 1994 landmark deserves tribute, for sure, but in rap there’s a line between paying homage and straight up biting, and that line is gossamer thin.  In his intro, though, Fashawn acknowledges the dangers, saying, “I just didn’t want to bite it and rip it like it’s mine—I wanted to pay homage.” And that’s what he does as he keeps the iconic instrumentals of DJ Premier, Large Professor, and Pete Rock mostly intact, while simultaneously navigating and escaping Nas’s bars of internal rhymes and street visuals. There’s a subtle tension between the verses, new versus old, as Fashawn weaves his cover songs in and out of the source material, tagging specific signposts in Nas’s lyrics along the way before making another departure into his own personal narrative.  Talib Kweli snags the one and only guest spot, occupied in the original by AZ. I’m not sure there’s a full-fledged lane for cover albums (imagine scores of albums consisting of rap “standards”—yikes!), but this one is tasteful enough to earn a few moments of your time. Quentin B. Huff


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k-os

The Anchorman Mixtape

(US: 9 Aug 2010; UK: 9 Aug 2010)

9


k-os
The Anchorman Mixtape


Mixtapes often employ television shows and movies as organizing themes. Wale’s Mixtape About Nothing and More About Nothing famously build on Seinfeld.  Canadian rapper-singer-songwriter-musician k-os offers his own mixtape using the Will Ferrell and Christina Applegate movie The Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy.  For years, k-os has been fusing rap with pop, folk, rock, and reggae, and doing it well, I might add, long before it was hipster cool to do so. Here, his special blend is spellbinding, and so natural that it’s not a mash of genres as much as he’s giving his ten tracks whatever they require—a rock star drawl like Hendrix might’ve done, a plucky guitar solo, a fluid and effervescent flow, a synth-laden dance groove for the discotheque.  When he calls himself “the fifth Black Beatle” and “the fourth Fugee”, I almost buy it. But why The Anchorman? Because rap is the Black CNN? Perhaps, but it has more to do with the mixtape’s running theme of male-female relationships and female empowerment, or at least tempering the chauvinism, that acts as a parallel to the movie’s plot of a female anchor holding her own in a 1970s male-dominated news market. Quentin B. Huff


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T.I. (Hosted by DJ Drama & DJ MLK)

Fuck a Mixtape

(Gangsta Grillz; US: 27 May 2010; UK: 27 May 2010)

8


T.I. (Hosted by DJ Drama & DJ MLK)
Fuck a Mixtape


At this point, I think it’s reasonable for fans to start grumbling about whether we’ll ever hear a great T.I. record again. The man just can’t seem to stay out of trouble, and an artist is only going to receive so many chances before the label’s investment just isn’t worth the time their artist spends out of the public eye. Fuck a Mixtape was originally intended as a welcome back sort of release to get the crowd ready for King Uncaged, an album since retitled No Mercy and delayed indefinitely. While it wasn’t the greatest thing ever, being that it’s comprised almost entirely of outtakes from the T.I. vs. T.I.P. and Paper Trail sessions, Fuck a Mixtape did prove that despite the shaky artistic results of those albums, their production did hide some serious gems in T.I.‘s catalog. The outright winner here and main reason we decided to feature this tape is Tip’s collaboration with Rich Kid Shawty, “Get Yo Girl”. The beat is a surprisingly club-ready, street-approved fat burner from Jim Jonsin, over which T.I. delivers his most addictive performance perhaps ever, describing an overbearing friend of another woman that he has no interest in dealing with. The way he sneers at this friend is as audible as the words themselves, and it’s just a fantastically humorous and charismatic take on a club song. But he also gives us a storytelling jawn over Ice Cube’s “Once Upon a Time in the Projects”, a song that feels two years ahead of its time on No I.D. and Killer Mike’s “Ready Set Go”, and introduces us to the illest Timbaland beat we might have never heard on “Here We Go Again”. “Yeah” is also a highly addictive Lil’ Wayne collab, with Wayne claiming “I’m me like a muh-fucka!” The rest of the tape is mainly interchangeable filler (shouts to “Whatcha Sayin’ Tip?” though) with flitting moments of T.I.‘s signature impeccable delivery, but in a year that saw T.I.‘s star slowly fade from one of the brightest out, the seven tracks here worth hearing are incredibly worth hearing. David Amidon


 

 



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Pac Div

Don’t Mention It

(US: 27 Apr 2010; UK: 27 Apr 2010)

7


Pac Div
Don’t Mention It


Pacific Division, or Pac Div, is a California trio with an inordinate amount of talent.  They don’t display this talent through a wide range of topics. Except for songs like “Overcome”, they could go on and on about their smokes. If not their smokes, then their women. Or their women who smoke. Or the women they’ve met while smoking. Or the smoking they’ve done while meeting women who smoke. Their womanizing is like How I Met Your Mother‘s Barney Stinson in rhyme, and then in triplicate, set to (mostly) minimalist and trap beats. The fact that they can make songs with such well worn material that anybody would even remotely care about is a pretty big deal. When they tell you girls follow them “like echoes”, there’s a chance of believing them, thinking it’s funny even. Pac Div won’t wow you with verbal gymnastics, but they’re convincing in their everyman lamentations about the usual boy-meets-girl routine, and strangely nonthreatening when they get all “love ‘em and leave ‘em”.  Dope things about this mixtape: An interlude of a Martin episode, bird calls used as a production trick, a song about the fly-ness of waves in one’s hair, and a hook from ultra-hot guest Marz Lovejoy. Not-so-dope things: some unrealistic hyperbole that offsets the everyday-dude styling, a couple of sung hooks that shouldn’t have been sung, and relatively simple rhyme schemes. Quentin B. Huff


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Yelawolf (Hosted by DJ Burn One)

Trunk Muzik

(Ghet-O-Vision; US: 23 Jan 2010; UK: 23 Jan 2010)

6


Yelawolf (Hosted by DJ Burn One)
Trunk Muzik


One thing’s for sure—you’ll never forget the first time you heard Yelawolf. His voice is one of the most vitriolic to arrive in a while, all pent up white trash anger and fleet-footed rhyme schemes. His tempo is a constantly malleable beast, flitting between normal, double, and slowed rhythms almost like an expert stick shift operator. Basically, think his star-turning verse on Big Boi’s “You Ain’t No DJ” for an entire album. Almost equally as notable as Yela’s vocals is the production handled mainly by Will Power. True to the tape’s name, songs like “Lick the Cat”, “Speak Her Sex”, and “Trunk Muzik” are so overbearingly bass-oriented that proper sound systems practically drown the vocals out, washed away in an endless torrent of 808 bass. But when you can dig beneath the thunder, you’ll find quite a strong new voice in the south. “Pop the Trunk” is a strong, strong contender for single of the year, matching grim horrorcore atmospherics with a tense tale of poor white violence. “Love Is Not Enough” examines the loneliness of poor southern life over an interpolation of Devin the Dude’s “Anything”, capturing the essence of that song’s message while twisting it into something personal to Yelawolf. “I Wish”, featuring the suddenly inescapable Raekwon, details Yela’s disgust with hip-hop media and fans that demand rap artists, particular of Yelawolf’s style, be black artists. He visits New York again with a Juelz Santana duet, slyly flipping an old Bob Dylan lyric (“Subterranean Homesick Blues”) into an ode to all manners of drug production. Trunk Muzik is simply one of the more unique releases on the mixtape circuit, and as we’ve done time and again, it feels worth mentioning Trunk Muzik is essentially a free album. In fact, Interscope quickly scooped up the rights and put the tape in stores in late November, with a new first half that’s a little more polished if not quite as enjoyable as Yelawolf’s original vision. David Amidon


 
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