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Wiz Khalifa

Kush & Orange Juice

(US: 14 Apr 2010; UK: 14 Apr 2010)

5


Wiz Khalifa
Kush & Orange Juice


You may have noticed that “weed rappers” have consistently found placement on our lists. The phenomenon of rappers who rap nearly exclusively about weed and women has been mostly a product of Internet distribution, as these artists likely would never be seen as diverse enough to earn major label backing otherwise. But Wiz Khalifa has been able to parlay his poppy, laid back sing-alongs into a deal with Atlantic, and to celebrate Khalifa turned out his first front-to-back solid mixtape. The tape was the first place most people could find “Glass House”, meaning it was the first introduction to Big K.R.I.T. for most of the world, while songs like the Chrono Trigger-sampling “Never Been”, euphoric “Pedal to the Medal”, and “Spotlight” simply drip with undeniable swagger and good times vibes. But Khalifa proves he isn’t afraid to experiment a little, playfully rapping over a Demi Lovato sample on “We’re Done” and whipping up a pseudo-cover of Alborosie’s “Still Blazin’”. There are even a couple of tracks that perfectly capture the atmosphere of ‘70s and ‘80s soul, “The Kid Frankie” and “Slim Skit”. Kush & Orange Juice is certainly a one note album, and as such it’s somewhat reliant on your stomach for weed smoke and woman stealing. But small barriers aside, Kush & Orange Juice is the most satisfying pop release of the year from an artist whose momentum seemed more mercurial than any other in 2010. If you didn’t get this before the summer subsided, perhaps you should wait until it returns for the full windows-down effect, but in any season Kush & Orange Juice would be yet another album-like mixtape that could easily enter a Best Of discussion in either category. David Amidon


 

 



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Don Cannon & Young Jeezy

Trap or Die II: By Any Means Necessary

(US: 4 May 2010; UK: 4 May 2010)

4


Don Cannon & Young Jeezy
Trap or Die, Pt. 2: By Any Means Necessary


Young Jeezy feels like an artist who, by default, should be one of the most resilient in the game. His voice is so titanically unique as to be inimitable, and his angle to trapping so uniquely angled it seems almost impossible for him to be anywhere but on top as long as trap music remains relevant. Yet fall from the top is exactly what Jeezy’s been doing in the years since Trap or Die and Thug Motivation 101 hit the streets in 2005. While 2008’s The Recession could be lauded for its new, more political take on Jeezy’s hood politics, it could just as easily be knocked for its stale production and a fair handful of songs that just felt like we’d been there, done that with Jeezy. As such, rival Gucci Mane’s momentum began to spiral out of control, mainly on the strength of increasingly acceptable mixtape rather than album work. With that in mind, and his upcoming TM103 mired in label drama, Jeezy decided to return to his roots mixtape-wise as well. In the process, he nearly crafted the release of his career. Most notable is how hungry Jeezy feels. He rarely invites guests to join him for Trap or Die II, relying on two Bun B features, Scarface, Trick Daddy, Clipse, Plies, and Birdman to help diversify the 22 tracks offered here, but even more surprising is how rarely he needs the help. “Time” is a shockingly jazzy storytelling trap house joint, one of the coolest songs of the year. “Trap or Die Reloaded”‘s production is equally surprising, backboned by the most thunderous drum programming of the year. And then there are huge, monstrous street singles like “Lose My Mind” and “Trap or Die 2”, which not only feature the finest performances from Jeezy, Plies, and Bun B in perhaps years, but two of the freshest, illest beats this year’s trap scene could deliver. The status of TM103 is still very much up in the air many months later, but Trap or Die II may as well have been the album anyway. It’s hard to imagine Jeezy doing much better. David Amidon


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J. Cole

Friday Night Lights

(US: 12 Nov 2010; UK: 12 Nov 2010)

Review [28.Feb.2011]

3


J. Cole
Friday Night Lights


Stakes are high for J. Cole’s debut album, although he’s already treated us to two mixtapes. Friday Night Lights, his third, takes stock of himself, his career, and his chances to maximize his potential. “I know my debut will ship, but is it gon’ sell?” the Fayetteville, North Carolina, native rhymes over Kanye West’s “Devil in a New Dress” instrumental.  That’s from “Villematic”, a tip of the cap to Nas.  J. Cole is an interesting figure in the new class of rap talent, partly because the mere mention of his name gets people talking about “classic” lyricism, but also because he’s so mindful of his musical forebears, passionate about contextualizing himself within the rap continuum. He’ll acknowledge Nas with a song title, nod to Tupac Shakur by echoing his isolation and paranoia, pay homage to the Notorious B.I.G. (and Tupac too) by borrowing a line and reworking it for his own purposes.  Producing the majority of the mixtape himself, his ear for beats will often lean toward his favorites—Erykah Badu, Janelle Monáe, Aaliyah, Stevie Wonder, and Billy Joel.  Mo’ skills, mo’ problems, I suppose, but what I really dig about Cole—aside from the enormous talent, slick one-liners, and dope delivery—is his voice. Especially when he adds a little bit of Tupac (think “Pain”) and Scarface’s world weary gruff to it. “Your shoes too big to fill?” he taunts in the bonus from the G.O.O.D. Friday series, “I can barely squeeze my toes in them.” Quentin B. Huff


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Starlito (Hosted by DJ Burn One)

Renaissance Gangster

(Bleu; US: 2 Mar 2010; UK: 2 Mar 2010)

2


Starlito (Hosted by DJ Burn One)
Renaissance Gangster


Like Curren$y, Starlito festered for years in the dark crevices of the Cash Money camp, feverishly trying to find that one hit record that would break him out of the shadows. Unlike Curren$y, however, Starlito hasn’t made the move out from under the label. Instead, he’s become one of the most consistent artists on the mixtape scene, managing two congruent series, Tenn-a-Keyan and Starlito’s Way, that each have three massive volumes within their ranks. But a lot of these releases have been mired by so-so beats and Starlito letting his worst tendencies get the better of him. Not so with Renaissance Gangster. Like many mixtapes in 2010, it’d be hard to argue with anyone claiming Renaissance Gangster was an album, albeit a short one. At only 11 tracks and 42 minutes, the album is exceptionally compact by hip-hop standards. Which works to Lito’s advantage exceptionally, as he often eschews straight up choruses for more minor key refrains that often feel like they are just a familiar end to each verse. His slow, heavily affected drawl is perfectly suited for the stoned, glistening atmosphere provided by DJ Burn One, especially on tracks like “January Wrist 2.0”, wherein he borrows a hook from an old collaboration of his: “I got a January neck, a December wrist, and keep a bitch hot as summer swangin’ on my dick”. The tape’s effortless charisma is akin to Curren$y’s dominant Pilot Talk. Unless incessant weed talk just isn’t your thing, it’s also equally essential. David Amidon


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Freddie Gibbs

Str8 Killa EP / Str8 Killa No Filla

(Decon; Mixtape: 29 Jul 2010; UK: 29 Jul 2010 (Mixtape))

1


Freddie Gibbs
Str8 Killa EP / Str8 Killa No Filla


There are still some problems that most mixtapes inherit just by their nature. Incoherent styles of production, songs that end before their time, DJs hyping themselves endlessly. MCs spitting filler bars they’d never use on their album. But with the rise of Internet distributors like Live Mixtapes and the New Music Cartel, the past two years have seen artists making a conscious effort to improve the mixtape experience. And nowhere was this more evident than last year’s Midwestgangstaboxframecadillacmuzik from Freddie Gibbs. The tape was better than most albums last year, and the Str8 Killa duo arrives as a similar gift from the gods. Arriving in DJ, No DJ, and an EP version available in stores (think Drake’s So Far Gone), Gibbs once again makes a disgustingly strong argument for being the greatest rapper out there. The EP contains the fantastic weed anthem “Personal OG” and classic Bun B collaboration “Rock Bottom”, while the mixtape contains a “Born 2 Roll” freestyle and some of the best tracks he’s ever cut, like “Crushin’ Feelin’s”, “The Ghetto”, and “Serve or Get Served”. What makes the guy so appealing is that he approaches the mic with the sort of gangsta bravado required of most hip-hop artists, but he deftly balances it with an extremely warm heart and a desire to make life better for himself and his peers. His approach to rap is something that is endearing to nearly all fans of the music, and with the fact that his free releases continue to be stronger than most official efforts from his competition, it’s hard to do anything other than declare Gibbs one of the most essential upcoming MCs hip-hop has had in a long, long time. David Amidon


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