Best Rap mixtapes, EPs, and free albums of 2015

Blake Gillespie

Rap is reinvention. Always has been, always will be. In 2015 that truth was at the fore front as mixtapes felt like full conceptual expressions, antiquated formats were redefined and fine-tuned, and the free album made a mild comeback.

Trickle down economics is a big ass white man’s lie. Trickle down rap is the Kendrick effect of brazen artistic expression inspiring the entire rap community to activate beyond their frivolous fancies. Rap was reactionary in 2015. Rap was proletariat music again rather than aspirational one percenter fodder. Or maybe in 2015 the notion of millionaires and billionaire telling us how to live our lives finally reached its expiration date.

Busdriver, Thumbs mixtape

Regan Farquhar can only think differently. With that understood, Thumbs operates beyond traditional mixtape convention. On paper Thumbs is a collection of collaborations boasting Busdriver’s gold-plated rolodex. Anderson Paak, Del the Funkee Homosapien, Hemlock Ernst, milo, Jeremiah Jae, Kool A.D. and Daveed Diggs are all a text message away. Thumbs at the core is quite possibly Busdriver’s bravest offering. The usual hyper-intellectualized inventions are blunted into reactionary protocol for the woke black American. Kendrick’s “Alright” and To Pimp A Butterfly entered the zeitgeist as the acclaimed civil rights hip hop of the 21st century, but Busdriver is the unsung underground ally—arguably an influence—who’s work on “Too Much”, “Ministry of the Torture Couch” and “Species of Property” exists in conscientious proxy.

D.R.A.M., GAHDAMN! EP

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Despite the impulse to go full Trump and declare the “Gahdamn Intro” one of the worst intros ever, all that follows on the Gahdamn! EP reconciles for those wasteful 146 seconds. D.R.A.M. channels the hungover, loose screw blues of Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s “Good Morning Heartache” in “Caretaker”, now extended with SZA in duet, while “$” (featuring Donnie Trumpet) is the right-side-of-the-bed antithetical for hustlers in need of a jump start anthem. Referring to himself as “Big Baby Drama” on “OKden” guides us further towards the ODB-comparison. The GahDamn! EP canvases the strongest moments of N***A  Please and treats it like a template. The discovery is sincere. D.R.A.M. is not out to be O’l Dirty reincarnate, but his style has a father. If the saying rings true that all fathers wish better for their sons, the Gahdamn! EP indicates a brighter future for ODB’s stylistic offspring.

Scallops Hotel, Plain Speaking

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When milo first began depositing demos on an alternate Bandcamp account under the pseudonym Scallops Hotel, the shelf-life seemed fleeting based on it being an inside joke aimed at Clams Casino. This year Scallops Hotel found purpose with Plain Speaking. In it the transition took hold as milo shed his Hellfyre crew, relocated to the Milwaukee home front, and shed his rap nerd skin. The portrait of an artist as a young man befitting. Plain Speaking set the stage for So The Flies Don’t Come and prepared his well-meaning worshipers for a version of milo that was ready to reclaim his identity and launch the Ruby Yacht era.

RATKING, 700 Fill torrent

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So It Goes was a labored work for RATKING, an album that likely had many variations and was ultimately polished and refined by a rap elder statesman in Young Guru. 700 Fill is the expressionistic correction recorded in a flurry as the harsh outdoor elements kept the crew bound to the studio. Cabin fever plays a significant role as Wiki and Hak obsess over their indignation for the cold winter. In the canon of cold world New York records, 700 Fill deserves to be held in the company of Cannibal Ox’s Cold Vein.

Speak & Caleb Stone, Sex Quest II & III EPs

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The quest was real. Ten months of Los Angeles hair god Speak and producer Caleb Stone collaborating with a rotating cast of degenerates like Dream Panther, Rikky Gage of the Memories, and Antwon to produce a three-part series of carnal anthems for sprung thots. The Sex Quest EPs were a fever dream drowning in codeine syrup, each collection more lewd than its predecessor. Sequels are notorious letdowns, but in the case of the Sex Quest EPs each edition unlocks a more depraved door within the duo’s collective erogenous zones.

Kool A.D., O.K. mixtape

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Studies show binge-watching is psychologically damaging and linked to depression and loneliness. While I don’t recommend binge-listening to Kool A.D.’s 100-song mixtape, O.K., without interruption or recess, it won’t harm you. Impose conducted its own study—which in no way resembled a certain A Clockwork Orange scene—on our intern to test for potential harmful effects. His health remains satisfactory.

A second study exploring Kool A.D.’s multi-faceted, meta-medium manipulation remains unresolved. The hyper-referential style has reached a level that’s best understood as Burroughs’ cut-paste technique on steroids. For O.K. each track corresponds to one chapter of Kool A.D.’s forthcoming book of the same title. And somehow, having been given the cliff notes, errata, and end notes as preliminary fodder, the massive mixtape feels like reading Infinite Jest in reverse. Which I suppose means I’ll remain perplexed even after reading O.K. the novel.

Angel Haze, Back To The Woods mixtape

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Ambitious does not feel like strong enough a word in examining Angel Haze’s Back To The Woods mixtape. Haze and producer Tk Kayembe burrowed into the wilderness with Kanye West’s Yeezus as a guiding torch. The two envisioned a record seeks a moonlit mood, industrial experimentation, and cavernous voids that taunt the imagination to fill in the darkness. So what’s stronger than ambition? Whatever it may be, Back To The Woods is a daring body of work by an artist that seems to only know how to live on the precipice. Many times her mixtape braves the ledge, and while its maximalism tends to overwhelm, her conviction is dead serious—even with those Zevonian howls.

Remy Banks, higher. mixtape

Remy Banks Higher

Titling your mixtape higher. means we have to put your greenery knowledge to the test. Remy proved his expertise in our Pipe-Check series. The higher. mixtape raised the stakes for the Queens native and offered a rooftop vision of a life beyond the Bridge. When the tape dropped Derek Evers noted “cuts like ‘the function.’ and ‘higher.’ will have West Coast heads nodding” and in that expansion Banks chipped away at that Jay Z eclipse that’s blacked out New York City for a near- decade.

They Hate Change, Cycles

They Hate Change Cycles

The Tampa duo known as They Hate Change is likely unaware that they’ve released an acid jazz rap ode to post-adolescence in Cycles. The album explores cryptic instrumental suites that recall With The Jet Age of Tomorrow’s work before Matt Martians formed The Internet with Syd the Kyd and at times an early Ummah vibe when J Dilla was in the Tribe camp. Whether they see themselves as jazzy is neither here nor there. Cycles is a series of meditations and They Hate Change are finding their footing across its duration. By “Bryam’s Trip” the duo have vented their apathy for a confident series of instrumentals leading into “Renew”, which grounds Cycles in healthy distrust of the system.

Open Mike Eagle, A Special Episode Of EP

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It seemed as though just as Open Mike Eagle had secured the “Dark Comedy Morning Show”, he was out to self-sabotage in a celebrity tirade that became the Exile remix known as “Dark Comedy Late Show”. His depressing take on the crapshoot of entertainment makes it seem as though he’s given in: “I gave up and became a Spotifier / paying myself a fraction of a penny playing ‘Qualifiers’/ I’m looking up and I’m stuck in a Chucky movie / saying yucky shit to chuckles like it’s Lucky Louie.” Instead he airs all grievances without apology in a manner that unravels like the greatest cancelation episode to ever be cut from the air. A Special Episode Of… might seem like a dismal affair, it kinda is, but Open Mike Eagle is simply to brilliant to let us down. A title like “Raps For When It’s Just You & The Abyss” doesn’t hint of an alternative to the bleak outlook, but in its Broken Social Scene hook and virtuosic wordplay are cookie crumbs to Open Mike’s inner monologue and admiration for Neil Young.

Your Old Droog, Kinison EP

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Sam Kinison’s punishment for speaking ill of rap music has been the canonization on wax of his stand-up throughout generations. It began in 1988 with Run DMC sampling the Kinison sound byte “dick in your mouth all day” for “Beats to the Rhyme”. Many have utilized it since. Your Old Droog’s Kinison EP revives the deceased comedian’s rap legacy in a peculiar tribute that finds the Coney Island enigma restoring rap’s ties to rock roots. Siding with Kinison not weird enough? Skip ahead to “Gentrify My Hood” to hear Droog invite bougie colonizers in to his district simply for better coffee options. Go ahead and try to dispute whether Your Old Droog keeps it real. Honesty of that caliber is non existent from his fellow New Yorkers and for even more sincerity “Rage Against The Machine” waxes nostalgia for the political punks with no airs of cool. Your Old Droog admits to buying the Godzilla soundtrack.

Lil Ugly Mane, Third Side of Tape mixtape

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The reclusive, occultist Lil Ugly Mane has allegedly been making deranged rap records for as long as some of his fans have been on this earth. In fact, he’s well aware. The liner notes for Third Side Of The Tape include, “alot of it might be older than you and not as cool as you.” It’s an audio dumb clocking in around two hours that’s as overwhelming for the listener and Lil Ugly Mane equally. No tracklisting, no sequencing, and no concept. Just hours of rough sketches, demos, and forgotten gems that he purged into six long playing segments. It’s underground raps version of the Pet Sounds Sessions boxset without all the persnickety banter.

Perfecto, You Can’t Run From The Rhythm EP

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Anders Holm of Workaholics and David Cohen, aka Serengeti, originally teamed up for the Kenny Dennis LP. Holm narrated the backstory of Kenny like Nick Carraway. Their encounters including run-ins at a Sharper Image store and hanging out with Bo Jackson’s wife. As Perfecto Holm has gone from young admirer of the mustachioed Chicagoan to launching a 90s power pop revival group with Kenny Dennis. It’s the kitschy dance equivalent of Jack Nicholson recruiting an impressionable Matt Damon from the neighborhood to do his bidding in The Departed. Naturally, there’s an origin story which can be heard as a 17-part video series on Youtube.

Gangsta Boo, Candy, Diamonds, Pills mixtape

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Gangsta Boo puts her Three 6 status to rest on “Meet The Devil” and while Candy, Diamonds, & Pills includes no collaborations with Juicy J behind the boards, it purports that Three 6 is a mentality, a lifestyle. Much of Candy, Diamonds, & Pills finds Gangsta Boo exploring a sound that combines her Three 6 legacy with recent collaborations with clipping. The appearance on their Sub Pop debut left an indelible impression and while it’s a bit disheartening that she opted for facsimiles rather than enlisting the clipping producers, the influence benefits the mixtape.

Mr. Muthafuckin’ eXquire, Live Forever

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Mr. Muthafuckin’ eXquire turned his back on the industry following the dissolution of his record deal with Universal Republic Records. He’s been an ally and griot to his displaced generation of born and bred New Yorkers ever since. With halal and St. Ides on his breadth, “Ice Cups” observes the gentrification of Brooklyn as the chicken spot becomes bike shop. Live Forever is a mellow defiance.

TyM, Samantha mixtape

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Chaz Bundick shed that chillwave skin early. Long removed from the Scarlet Letter, he’s pivoted into a disco savant over the course of Underneath The Pine and Anything In Return. These things don’t happen by accident. The Samantha mixtape collects sketches and false starts that indirectly led to the current sate of Toro Y Moi. This is the Chaz we didn’t get, but exists off the records and within the liner notes of his rap production for Antwon and Kool A.d.

Shirt, Nike Adidas Records mixtape

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Shirt trolls. Exhibit A is his former website shirtfuckedrihanna.com. In the same breadth, Shirt is misunderstood. He’s not the type of troll that’s throwing vitriol at the wall to see what sticks. He doesn’t spray it. There’s method and while its yet to find the proper audience, at the heart of Nike Adidas Records is a raw rap record. Being a foul-mouthed jerk is the least fashionable look in 2015. His old school machismo is the type millennials bemoan, but any who do so are missing the “performance”.

The Outfit, Deep Ellum EP

The Dallas rap scene has been referred to as the Bay Area of Texas, a diverse, multicultural scene that’s defining its own style of aggression rap. Enter The Outfit. The Deep Ellum EP is named after a historic arts district in Dallas, ground zero for underground parties that keep the scene thriving. Having done the interplanetary thing with past mixtapes, the Deep Ellum EP grounds the Dalls trio in their neighborhood, on their blocks, and among their people.

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