CarterVance
Carter Vance
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Last Active 01-20-12 9:25 am
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 Lists
12.26.11 My Top Five Mixtapes Of 201112.17.11 My Top Ten Albums Of 2011

My Top Five Mixtapes Of 2011

Separated from my longer albums list on the basis of these being released legitimately for free.
5A$AP Rocky
LiveLoveA$AP


The main hype around Rocky this year concerned the huge sum ($3 million) that was ponied up to secure him to a record label contract; in retrospect, it was a strange move, especially in the current record sales climate, but was it worth it? Well, Rocky is a classic all-form, no-content rapper, he says nothing of real substance on LiveLoveA$AP and he doesn't even really say what little he does (Cliff Notes: he reps Harlem, is a cool guy, possibly imports drugs, and will likely steal your girlfriend) in a particularly new or clever way. The reason this tape is on here is essentially down to two things: Rocky's swaggering delivery and utter confidence, and the murderer's row of beatmakers he assembled for this project. On the first, Rocky has a great rap voice even if he isn't a particularly technically adept MC, he projects laid-back cool at all opportunities, like nothing much phases him, and that's a great voice for hooks and rhymes. Much like the early records of Snoop Dogg, he manages to make saying nothing into an art form. Secondly, the beats here are from a kind of alternate universe version of Jay-Z's Black Album, with current internet favourites from DJ Burn One to Clams Casino to SpaceGhostPurp providing ample backing. Though the beats do vary in some ways, in particular that Burn One's drums hit harder than the other tracks, they mostly project a sort of spaced-out melodicism that combines perfectly with Rocky's seen-it-all low-key form. This isn't anything thought provoking or particularly clever, but it's solid head-knock music.
4 Mr. Muthafuckin' eXquire
Lost in Translation


Exquire's the kind of rapper who sort of went out of fashion in the late 90's: a Wu-Tang style shit-disturber who's both funny and menacing in equal measure and whose image cultivation is more black hoodie than blinged-out. There's boundless sociopathic behaviour explored and evinced on this tape from "drunk-driving on a Wednesday" to "drop-kicking your ass like Michael Dudickoff", but it's to Exquire's credit that this stuff remains entertaining as opposed to draining. He's witty and possesses a perverse charm at points, from his dated references (80's wrestlers and John Woo films appear a lot) to his New York-specific slang (he even shouts out a favourite local fried chicken restaurant and his stop on the NY Subway system), and his bullish flow remains an impressive instrument throughout. Though his voice can get tiring given the tape's lack of guest rappers, he deserves a lot of credit for confidently navigating the off-kilter, minefield-esque beats he's given here. Overall, this is like a Def Jux release colliding head-on with a Wu-Tang side-project, and that's a very good thing.
3Danny Brown
XXX


The title to this one is kind of a guide to figuring it out; of course, it instantly evokes both pornography and cheap alcohol, but more subtlety, it's a reference to Brown's age (he's 30), and that's the overall image he creates throughout the course of the tape: a old-but-not-necessarily-wise veteran who's seen a lot of stuff and isn't necessarily willing to give up his hard-living lifestyle, even if on some level he knows he won't last long in it. Brown has a voice that could best be described as "unique", or if one were less charitable, "annoying" and I'll admit it took me a few listens to really appreciate this tape. At first, his yelping, hyperactive flow can be deeply irritating, and you may wish that he'd slow it down more (as he does on the Young Jeezy flip "Scrap or Die"), but after a while your brain readjusts slightly and you get what he's going for. That flow expertly mimics the high achieved via the cheap synthetic narcotics he consistently reps, and really adds to his outsider persona. Most of the time, the tape is just shock-value shit-talk or manic joking around, but there's a real sense of both danger and knowledge behind all of it, as well as flashes of a deeper recognition of the bad living situation he's in. In this way, the tape serves as something of a corrective to both the Odd Future style of consequence-free horror-show images and the no-strings-attached drugs and sex so commonly rapped about in mainstream hip-hop. The tape's beats are somewhat on the basic end, but their high-pitched, constantly-moving synth-based character perfectly compliments Brown's raps.
2Nacho Picasso
For the Glory


For all the hype that Odd Future received this year, I really only liked a few of their songs, and their shock-act stuff didn't really amuse me all that much; for my money, Nacho Picasso is what many people think OF are: a seriously funny, mildly nerdy guy who makes low-key, somewhat button- pushing music that shares some musical DNA with early Eminem but features much more interesting production work. Picasso's raps are consistently engaging and delivered in a slightly-pinched, nasal tone that somehow evokes Steve Urkel without descending into parody, along with a just-messing-around, ultimately-fun-loving attitude that sees him reference Ninja Turtles and the Human Torch in the same breath as puking in a car or packing a suitcase full of nukes on an airplane. Even when he does slip into violent imagery, which is fairly often, he immediately couches it with some silly joke or another (ex. "I stick your hand in a blender/call me Master Shredder"). It helps that he's really given his own voice here aside from a few brief cameos by others, because he's got an interesting perspective that's half-way between nerdcore and "serious" hip-hop that manages to pull that difficult trick off; what's more, though his delivery is somewhat off-kilter, Nacho is a really good rapper, with an ability to switch flows quickly to meet the demands of a beat and a talent for delivering his puns and gags at just the right moment for maximum impact. The beats here, by producers Blue Sky Black Death and Raised By Wolves, are evocative and spacey and use surprisingly minimal percussive elements, sounding somewhat like trance or electronica, albeit with more drive.
1Big K.R.I.T.
ReturnOf4eva


Big K.R.I.T. is an interesting guy in that he's that fairly-rare combination producer-MC combo that generally produces tepid results (Kanye West notwithstanding), and though he's, at least at this juncture, a better producer than a rapper, he's at worst an above-average MC and his beats are often things of beauty. 4eva has a generosity of spirit that puts it at the top of this list, and by that I don't mean that it's particularly a work designed with an explicitly uplifting or empowering message (though the tape's final run of politically-aware material may qualify), but more simply that the songs here proceed from a positive and optimistic place for the most part. Even when K.R.I.T. is just talking about his car or how hard he hustles, his voice retains a warm tone and his lyrics (though not particularly clever excepting a few places) refuse to indulge in outright materialism or negativity. In other words, it's less like he's bragging and more like he's simply glad to have this and share it with the listener. What's more, his skills as a beatsmith are even greater, with a perfect awareness of tempo and texture being maintained throughout, despite a fairly wide sonic breadth being on display here. Whether he's working with live instrumentation, classic soul samples or skeletal 808-and-synth booms, K.R.I.T. knows how to work this stuff for maximum impact. A late-tape run of more socio-political material is an unexpected but entirely welcome surprise, as the MC turns his eye towards social problems within his community, but rather than coming off as condescending or preachy, he retains his warmly humanist spirit by crafting careful mosaics and character sketches to illustrate his points. Many are claiming K.R.I.T. as the heir to the Goodie Mob/Outkast legacy of warmly-crafted Southern hip-hop; I'm not so sure yet, but this tape is definitely provides some damn good evidence for that theory.
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