Since the last Champion Sound column there has been a lot of great mixtapes released, making the selection of what to include here all the more difficult. Not featured here are good to great tapes from the likes of Young L, Maffew Ragazino and Odd Future’s Domo Genesis, as well as one of the finest releases of the year in the form of Main Attrakionz’s 808s and Dark Grapes II. Such is the output of those guys that I’d probably be writing about them in every column if I didn’t purposely exclude them, but as we've been spoiled with great mixtapes recently there's no shortage of exciting free hip hop.
Before we get into the mixtapes though, we recently caught up with eclectic UK producer Paul White to talk about his new record. While White has long been winning admirers across the globe for his varied, eccentric approach to beatmaking, Rapping with Paul White sees him teaming up with emcees for the first time to create arguably his best record yet. Featured on the album are the likes of Guilty Simpson and Danny Brown from the states, as well as Jehst and Tranquil from here in the UK. The latter, Tranquil, is featured in an exclusive remix for DiS which you can download below, taken from White’s forthcoming remix EP due at the end of the month.
Hey Paul, first of all, thanks for letting us have first dibs on the ‘Rotten Apples’ remix. Could you tell us a bit about the track?
Well a lot of the time I just sit down and do things without a story behind it, not always, but mainly. For that beat I had that main loop going with the African guitar and drums, then I suddenly heard in my head Mogwai from Gremlins humming his theme over it, don't ask me why, but that became the chorus. I thought the Gremlin theme just suited the ‘Rotten Apples’ theme if y’know what I mean?
Yeah, I suppose it does now you mention it! So, Rapping with Paul White is a bit of change for you – what was it like working with rappers?
Amazing, it was a dream. I've always wanted to work with rappers and I want to work with as many people as possible. I've never got up so early to work on a project as I did with this; I was just having too much fun!
Did you have certain rappers in mind for certain beats, or were they given a free reign to pick and choose?
It was a mixture. The Marv Won and Danny Brown beats were beats picked for them, and the rest got sent a load of beats and picked from them. I like the artist being able to pick something they can feel and relate to, and it was an interesting surprise to find out some of the beats they picked.
So has the experience of making Rapping with Paul White made you keen to do more collaborative work in the future?
Yeah, I mean I've always wanted to do more with other people anyway but having this chance to do it has definitely fuelled that hunger even more. I’ve already done some more work with Danny Brown and Homeboy Sandman, and also a guy called Jesse Abraham. I'd definitely like to do more.
Apologies for the standard hip hop producer question here, but if you could choose any one rapper to work with who would it be?
Ghostface would be a dream, obviously. I used to listen to the Ironman album nonstop when I was a kid skateboarding, it used to fuel me up. That would be nuts.
I caught the live show recently and it was cool to see you playing drums alongside all the usual gadgets. Not many people (to my knowledge) are doing live beats like that, how are you enjoying playing live?
Well I am a studio dude mainly, that's my love, but as I've done more shows I've started to enjoy it more and more. I mean when you practice drums at home you gotta be quiet, but on stage is the only chance I get to smack the shit out of the kit. I love it, and we have fun with trying to find new ways to do things. I'm still improving it, but I wanna try a lot more with the live show!
Your records always have a lot of quirky clips and idiosyncrasies that I really like. Do you feel that stuff is important to your sound?
Its massively important to my sanity! I just like to have fun. Music is so expressive and imaginative, I want use as many things as possible to say what I'm feeling I guess, and joking around and having fun is definitely one of those things!
You’ve often used clips from film and television as well, would you agree that your music has a certain cinematic or visual quality to it as well?
Well my dad’s a TV director so I was brought up around film and TV too. I did art and music side by side at college, music can be so visual and vice versa. I love it when music paints a scene in my head and I can visualise a whole story to it, you just want to create a world.
The beat tape seems like a much more accepted format these days, which producers were instrumental in getting you listening to and making beats?
Well obviously people like Kankick, Madlib, Georgia Anne Muldrow, Dilla, but also my mates Tightface, Mo Kolours, Jean Wilder, and Lawrence Warlow, a friend from Uni days.
Would you ever do a Madlib and attempt something like his insane Medicine Show series?
Definitely, I like hearing prolific people like him. I heard stories of Joe Zawinul writing like 6 songs a day around the time of working with Miles, that's a massive drive to work hard like these people did, so I wouldn't say no to anything. I mean, I like to just do spontaneous stuff that isn't thought out most of the time so whatever comes out comes out, but I also want to do specific projects too. I’ve really started to try and study old records a lot more recently. Music is so vast and there's so much to explore that there are endless things that you can try.
Mr. Muthafuckin’ eXquire – Lost in Translation
With a name like Mr. Muthafuckin’ eXquire and an album cover that looks like this, it’s safe to say that this up and coming Brooklyn rapper is doing things his own way. His unique, inward look at the world is refreshing at a time when so many of the young rappers coming out of New York shouting about ‘real hip hop’ fall down from lack of ambition, strangled by the ghost of an East Coast sound they’re so desperate to revive. Thank god then, eXquire doesn’t go in for any of that and emerges from this mixtape as a breath of fresh air
My first introduction was the Necro produced ‘Huzzah’, his liquor induced breakthrough anthem notable for its joyfully irresponsible refrain ”Drunk driving on a Wednesdaaay / With three bitches in the MPV”. It’s this kind of juxtaposition which makes eXquire such a compelling character, to an extent living this reckless rockstar lifestyle, but doing so from his more relatable position as a drunk looking to escape his boredom rather than a star with money to burn. Elsewhere he shows off his range, the likes of ‘Maltese Falcon Pt.1 and P.2’, for instance, tells a surreal tale involving John Woo, a car chase and various WWE wrestlers. The mixtape is also given a helping hand by its terrific beat selection, most notably borrowing several instrumentals from El-P who gives the tape the feel of a forgotten gem hidden somewhere in the Def Jux back catalogue. Although Lost in Translation is not without the odd dud moment (the blowjob skit on ‘Cockmeat sandwich’ is nothing if not excessive), the highs are strong enough to make this one of the best rap releases of 2011.
The Jealous Guys – Audiobook EP
San Francisco rap duo The Jealous Guys caught my attention in a big way with their debut offering The Love Mixtape, and this four song EP continues to impress. Although brief, Audiobook is entirely produced by Jeremy ‘Zodiac’ Rose who is perhaps best known for contributing standout tracks from The Weeknd’s House of Balloons tape. In theory this is a mouth watering prospect, as the hit and miss production (although the hits were very strong) of The Love Mixtape had been the only thing holding the pair back.
While the beats on Audiobook are sadly not quite as slick as I’d hoped for, they’re mostly a good match for rappers Casa and Ayinde. Particularly ‘Miss San Franciscio’ with its smoky R&B styling feels like a natural fit for the group’s head in the clouds introspection. Elsewhere the at-times bizarre sampling from The Love Mixtape returns, as EP closer ‘Walkin Around’ opens with a lengthy snippet from Billy Corgan’s cover of the Bee Gee’s ‘To Love Somebody’. Fortunately, this doesn’t clang as hard as the worst moments from the last tape, and The Jealous Guys are able to grab the spotlight. Even at such an early stage in their career the duo possess an almost Clipse like chemistry, as opener ‘Genesis’ is transformed in an instant by a change of pace between the two emcees. Although The Jealous Guys are yet to find and grow into their sound, the signs are still here that when they do, the results will be sensational.
Danny Brown – XXX
Whatever you make of Danny Brown, his voice is one of those that when he appears on a song, you know about it. At 30 years old it’s not that his distinctive, cartoonish yelp hasn’t got him noticed over the years, but for one reason or another (infamously his penchant for skinny jeans cost him a deal with G-unit) it hasn’t quite worked out. It’s a shame it’s taken him this long to get it together because at his best he’s explosive, outshining almost anyone who dares include him on a guest verse. Finally, then, the future is starting to look bright for Brown, with a newly signed deal at Fools Gold his XXX mixtape has deservedly been gaining attention from all corners of the rap community.
If truth be told this 19 song tape is no easy listen, and if you weren’t concentrating on what he was saying Brown’s vocals can sound grating over a full length. Lyrically, though, is where the Detroit rapper really shines, as his perverse punch lines and cutting insights are consistently strong throughout. He’s also quite aware that XXX can be somewhat awkward, justifying his leftfield style on ‘Radio Song’, “He made Black and Yellow, I’ma make black and emo / That’s why these wack rappers, they never last long / don’t care about music, just radio songs.” It’s true that once you get past the abrasiveness of the mixtape, the many highly quotable lines begin to crop up everywhere. In his own words, Brown offers “Rhymes that would make the Pope want to get his dick sucked / have Virgin Mary doing lines in the pickup / make Sarah Palin deep throat till she hiccup.” What he said, and XXX is a mixtape that continues to deliver more with every listen.
Nacho Picasso – For the Glory
As somebody with only a very limited knowledge of comic books, it says a lot that I’m completely captivated by a song like Nacho Picasso’s ‘Marvel’. One of the highlights from his recent mixtape For The Glory, the entire song is strung together with goofy superhero quips that somehow manage to feel not in the slightest bit forced. This is partly due to Nacho’s effortless sounding drawl, as he breezes through strikingly clever punchlines without taking the time to let them sink in. His extensive knowledge and enjoyment of comics certainly helps too, the song almost like a window into the bedroom where he reads, surrounded by dirty clothes and marijuana fog.
Production duties are mostly handled by Seattle duo Blue Sky Black Death, who give the mixtape a kind of cloudy synth aesthetic being used successfully by the likes of ASAP Rocky and Green Ova Undergroundz. Nacho Picasso shouldn’t necessarily be aligned with these guys, his wordplay is sharper, and his reference points nerdier. Even so, it’s a sound that suits him well, and it’s not difficult to imagine him sounding incredible over a Clams Casino beat. For now we’ve got For the Glory, but on this evidence, I’ve got a feeling Nacho Picasso will be sticking around for a while.
DaVinci – Feast or Famine
At a time when rappers have been increasingly pushing themselves to extremes in order to stand out, DaVinci’s simple, but effective new mixtape Feast or Famine is to be admired. All swaggering basslines and dusty beats, there’s nothing here in the production that you haven’t heard before, but the execution is rarely this enjoyable. Similarly DaVinci’s lyrics hardly break any new ground, but his thoughtful street rap rides over the beats nicely.
Some of the mixtape’s best moments are those with an almost wistful tone, both lyrically and sonically. Standout track ‘Paying for My Past’, for instance, paints a gritty and unflattering picture of drug dealing culture over its delicate blend of pianos and muted trumpets. ‘Boomerang Principle’ is similar, filled with the regrets of playing around in a relationship, nicely offset by an impressive guest verse from female emcee Ginger. It’s not all misery and introspection though by any means, as you can probably guess by the song titles ‘Beer, Bitches & Bullshit’ and ‘Smoke the Night Away’ that live up to party rap and stoner rap expectations respectively. While it might not be the most adventurous mixtape you’ll hear this year, Feast or Famine is brilliantly uncomplicated and instantly rewarding.
Will Sessions – Real Sessions
Detroit’s eight-piece soul-funk ensemble Will Sessions have been growing from local to global sensation recently, embracing the city’s rich hip hop heritage in their own interpretations of rap classics. Having recently been lauded for their production on Elzhi’s mixtape homage to the great Illmatic, the group now revisit a series of big band live shows they did with a selection of Detroit’s finest emcees. Real Sessions is the end product of those performances, a collection of recordings taken from two live performances in May of 2009 and 2010.
Of course this kind of thing has been done before, but the results are rarely this convincing. Like with Elmatic, the new versions here stay true to their originals, adapting the Detroit sound for a live band without losing the rawness that is so essential to it. As well as tracks borrowed from the catalogues of the featured emcees, there are also J Dilla beats (of course) in the shape of ‘Take Notice’ and ‘Front Street’ which are handled with care and precision. The performance aspect of the tape also adds to its charm, as the emcees seem to relish playing with the band. The Guilty Simpson tracks are particularly impressive, as the new versions of Madlib’s OJ Simpson beats sound rejuvenated by Will Sessions. While Real Sessions is perhaps not something you’ll find yourself revisiting again and again, it’s brilliant fun and a mixtape that feels full of warmth for Detroit hip hop.
Kyle is on Twitter, here. He will mostly be using the words 'this is the best album of the year', an opinion which will change on a monthly basis.