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Whoever said that the best things in life are free must've been jamming to a mixtape. The joy of trying to save cassette tape from being eaten up by a 1988 stereo may have passed us by, but digital mixtapes still have the best components of their predecessors: free samples of new music from our favorite artists. There’s only a few months left of the year and artists releasing new mixtapes will have a lot to live up to, since 2013 saw the release of tons of great new music in the hip hop world. The latest mixtape to hit the web waves is Lil Wayne’s Dedication 5, finally released on September 1 after a 36-hour delay. Though it’s too soon to say how well Lil Wayne’s newest effort will hold up against other releases slated to come out this year, here’s a rundown of some of 2013’s best mixtapes thus far.
Yelawolf: Trunk Muzik Returns After his 2011 debut album Radioactive, Yelawolf came back with a vengeance (and a killer beard). Produced entirely by WillPower, Trunk Muzik Returns features Yelawolf’s trademark polished, 100mph flow set against some of the most refreshing beats that have been heard in rap lately. With contributions from A$AP Rocky, Raekwon, Paul Wall, and more, it’s safe to say Trunk Muzik has most definitely made its return.
Standouts: “Firestarter,” “F.A.S.T. Ride,” “Catfish Billy”
Harry Fraud: Adrift After working with French Montana for the infectious “New York Minute,” wonderboy producer Harry Fraud quickly rose to become one of the most sought-after producers in the hip hop scene. He released Adrift in March 2013 as a prequel to his High Tide EP, which was released a month later. The mixtape is a diverse compilation of songs that Fraud produced over the last year, showing his prowess as a producer and his knack for putting a NYC stamp on everything he does. Adrift features unreleased tracks from numerous rappers, including Chinx Drugz, Danny Brown, Action Bronson, and tons more.
Standouts: French Montana – “Lay Low,” Young Roddy – “4 The Money,” Adrian Lau – “Sunday”
Big K.R.I.T.: King Remembered In Time Who knew electric guitars and crying babies could make for a kickass album intro? Big K.R.I.T., that’s who. The Southern rapper dropped King Remembered In Time earlier this year to rave reviews and is continuing to carve out place for himself in the rap world. Big K.R.I.T. has already proven that he’s rather ambitious when it comes to sampling and King Remembered In Time is no different: the mixtape has samples from everyone from James Blake to Cody ChestnuTT working seamlessly against his skillful spits. King Remembered In Time features the likes of Wiz Khalifa, Trinidad Jame$, Ashton Jones, and Future.
Standouts: “REM,” “Serve This Royalty,” “Life Is A Gamble”
Chance the Rapper: Acid Rap At only 20 years old, Chance the Rapper has already made an impressive mark in the rap world. The former suspended-from-high-school student turned Chi-town rapper has a uniquely chameleon vocal delivery that changes as quickly as a teenager’s mood. Chance sounds like a nervous first-timer at open mic night, a Tiny Toons character with an overabundant helium supply, and a matter-of-fact raconteur all within the thirteen-song mixtape. Including kickass collabs with Action Bronson, Nate Fox, and Noname Gypsy, Acid Rap is definitely one of the mixtapes of the year.
Standouts: “Juice,” “Acid Rain”
The Underachievers: Indigoism Repping the Beast Coast movement strong is Issa Dash and AK, aka The Underachievers. The Brooklyn duo started to drop tracks in 2012 on YouTube and signed with Flying Lotus’ Brainfeeder record label not too long after. Their debut mixtape, Indigoism, was released in February of this year and firmly put The Underachievers on map of new NYC talent to look out for. The lauded Indigoism is full of conscious, spiritual, and hard rhymes, all spat out at 500 words per minute (because really, who needs breathing?).
Standouts: “So Devilish,” “Herb Shuttles,” “Land of Lords”
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While Steven Spielberg's Saving Private Ryan helped define the style of a modern day war film it was his HBO mini-series Band of Brothers that truly captured the World War II experience. The multi-part saga dealt with every nook and cranny of the US military's involvement in the war from large scale battles to intimate character details. The new movie Red Tails developed and produced by Spielberg's Indiana Jones collaborator and Star Wars mastermind George Lucas attempts to cover the same ground for the sprawling tale of the Tuskegee Airmen—albeit in a two hour compressed form. The result is a messy handling of a powerful story of heroism. The good intentions make it on to the screen...but the drama never gets off the runway.
Red Tails assembles a talented cast of young actors to portray the brave men of the 332nd Fighter Group a faction of the Tuskegee Airmen. The ensemble is reduced to a jumble of simplistic one-note characterizations: Easy (Nate Parker) the do-gooder with a dark past; Lightning (David Oyelowo) the suave rebel who never listens to orders; Junior (Tristan Wilds) the fresh-faced newbie ready for a good fight; and the rest a nameless group of underwritten yes men all with just enough backstory to make you interested but never satisfied. Thankfully with the little material they have to work with the gentlemen excel. Rapper-turned-actor Ne-Yo is a standout as the quick-witted Smokey overshadowing vets Terrence Howard and Cuba Gooding Jr. (who spends most of the movie chomping on a corn cob pipe and grinning).
With the plethora of characters comes too many plot threads and Red Tails stuffs its runtime with everything from epic flyboy dog fights romantic interludes (Lightning finds himself infatuated with a local Italian woman) office politics alcoholism and even a POW camp escape. If there was a true lead character the movie may have succeeded in stringing the events together in a coherent narrative but instead Red Tails is choppy and uneven. The aerial battles for all their CG special effects nastiness are incredibly exhilarating but when the movie's not tackling the intensity of a battle (which it does often) it comes to a near halt. That mostly comes down to history standing in the way—the crux of the story focuses on how segregation caused the military's higher ups to avoid utilizing the Red Tails in true battle. Meaning there's a lot of talk on how the team should be fighting as opposed to actually doing it.Director Anthony Hemingway tries to do this important historical milestone justice but the execution flies too low even under made-for-TV movie standards. Red Tails is a dull history lesson occasionally spruced up with Lucas' eye for action. The charisma of the the main set of actors goes a long way in keeping the film tolerable but they can't fill the gaping hole where the emotional hook belongs. This is a movie about heroes yet not once are the filmmakers able to pull off a moment that feels remotely brave. Which is unfortunate—as it's a story of the utmost importance.