It’s about time we acknowledge it: hip-hop music is every stitch an American tradition as apple pie and baseball. And it’s not just the genre’s comfortable relationship with materialism and the endless pursuit of wealth (Pitchfork once rightly called Rick Ross the nation’s proudest capitalist). Unlike the rest of the music industry, hip-hop has embraced, and indeed thrived alongside another great, but more recent American pastime: the pursuit of all that is free, in particular our favorite music.
So in the spirit of that freedom, here are six free mixtapes to take along to the cookout tomorrow, and to every backyard thereafter. Save your money for booze.
1. Shad & Skratch Bastid: The Spring Up
It’s Independence Day, but that doesn’t mean I can’t include some hip-hop from Canada, does it? And at any rate, the US vanguard of conscious rap, guys like Talib and Common, has been struggling to regain its touch for a while now. On the other hand, Shad & Skratch Bastid have taken the familiar powerhouse-DJ-meets-powerhouse-lyricist formula and imbued it once more with relevance This EP offers a sunny set of optimistic jams with strong sampling and thoughtful lyrics. Give them some bonus points for dropping a Shuggie Otis snippet on “Outta My Head.”
2. Joey Bada$$: Summer Knights
You can gauge the sort of respect this Brooklyn 18-year-old commands by just glancing at the producers who back him up on Summer Knights: Gang Starr veteran DJ Premier, DOOM, and the Alchemist to name just a few, as well as the tragically underrated Oddisee. Joey raps with a snarl reminiscent of ODB, but with rhymes way more disciplined and wordplay more cerebral. Despite his young age, the tape feels like the the product of some lost, bygone sessions at Rawkus Records, and Joey pays frequent tribute to his golden age predecessors. He carries the mantel well.
3. Chance The Rapper: Acid Rap
Chance The Rapper, whose Save Money clique has single-handedly revitalized Chicago’s spiritless hip-hop scene this year, has had about as good a summer as he could ask. He sold out back-to-back homecoming shows at Chicago’s legendary Metro. Acid Rap, his second mixtape, was greeted with unanimous praise from the music press and at least several nationally trending hashtags. And all for very good reason. “Usually when such hype surrounds a project,” explains Fake Shore Drive, “it turns out to be just that: hype. But Acid Rap delivered.” Chance struck a chord with listeners of all stripes, which bodes well for your barbeque: throw this one on to get all your friends on their feet.
4. Alex Wiley: Club Wiley
Club Wiley is the messy, head-smanging debut of arena rap up-and-comer Alex Wiley. The album’s first two tracks “Own Lane” and “Earfucked” are MDMA-drenched odysseys through swirling chops, screws, and abrasive hooks. This more or less sets the standard, and in this topsy-turvy universe, wacky characters like Action Bronson and Chance The Rapper fit right in. The mood is sufficiently grim for Freddie Gibbs to make an appearance, but make no mistake: this is a party tape to the core. Bring it to the beach and hook it up to your Block Rocker iPod dock. It may piss off the neighbors, but you’ll make Alex proud.
5. Dally Auston: The Wood
Cue up The Wood when things are winding down. Save Money’s Dally Auston, one of Chicago’s talented new-schoolers, lacks the frenzied, howling energy of his counterparts Chance The Rapper and Vic Mensa. But he makes up for it with a mellow and carefree delivery, particulary on the jazzy “Hol’Up” and album single “99cent,” a quasi-Wu-banger of which the RZA would be proud. You’ll keep your head bobbing long after you’ve taken your seat.
6. !llmind: Beats for Kanye West
While we continue to process Yeezus (the Velvet Underground’s Lou Reed is the latest to take to Ye’s defense), I had to throw this one in for the beat junkies out there. The story behind the tape: when !llmind was invited to collaborate with West on 2012’s Kanye West Presents: G.O.O.D. Music Cruel Summer, he set to work on the hardest-hitting batch of beats he could muster.
It’s an excellent collection, and fascinating to watch a producer of !llmind’s abilities as he riffs off a stylist like West, one of the genuine architects of 21st century music, whether you like him or not. You’ll see the imprint of West’s Dark Fantasy-era maximalism on tracks like “He’s Against Me,” and recognize the ‘70’s blaxploitation vibe of “Straight Ahead” from the funkier bits of Watch the Throne. But be warned: if you have any friends who are insufferable freestylists, play at your own risk. You’ll never get them to shut up over this.