After an incredible year for rap mixtapes, January 2017 offered another month of genre-defining hip-hop and R&B for the small price of nothing. From the fiercely independent (Bones) and the mainstream outcast (Chief Keef) to the shockingly talented (Eric Bellinger) and the rising star (Kodie Shane), this month's tapes had much to offer for everyone.
Check out January 2017's best mixtapes below.
7. Bones, "Disgrace"
In a time when mixtapes are being swooped up by Apple Music and released instead as albums, it's nice to see artists fiercely promote independence. Count Bones among them. The Muir Beach, California, rapper and producer has released an unrelenting stream of music through his TeamSESH collective and his latest, "Disgrace," is one of the best. Dark, ominous and wholly enveloping, the 12 songs on the tape are every bit as dramatic and heavy as his other releases, teeming with trunk-rattling bass, twinkling synth keys and Bones's trademark lethargy. It's not an easy listen, but that's partly the point: this was meant for the underground, not the masses.
Listen: Bones, "Disgrace"
6. Chief Keef, "Two Zero One Seven"
Perhaps this is a rebirth? After staying curiously quiet for most of 2016, Chief Keef started 2017 with a new mixtape, his first since 2015's "Finally Rollin 2." The tape has only two features — from Kash and longtime collaborator Tadoe — with Sosa taking up the rest of the runtime experimenting (as he always does) with a curiously hushed delivery through 17 tracks, produced primarily by himself and Lex Luger. The results are predictably flaky and uneven, but Chief Keef has never been about perfection. The rough, gritty aspects of this now mainstream outcast have always been his most alluring, a seductive mixture of imbalance and imprecision that will occasionally find an incredible new flow among its murky waters. Might be a fleeting moment, but nothing about the Almighty has been permanent.
Listen: Chief Keef, "Two Zero One Seven"
5. Eric Bellinger, "Eric B For President: Term 1 (Acoustic)"
Frank Ocean made the acoustic R&B guitar cool again with last year's "Blonde," so it's especially nice to hear Eric Bellinger's acoustic rendition of his mini album from last year, "Eric B For President: Term 1." In contrast to the full studio release, the acoustic versions here strip things down to a compelling nakedness, something we'd be tempted to call raw if Bellinger's vocals and production weren't so damn flawless. In other words, it still sounds impossibly slick. But with the bells and whistles now non-existent, we can hear Bellinger's vocals for what they truly are: weaponized utterances that could topple most of his contemporaries with sensual ease.
4. MadeinTYO & 24hrs, "24hrs In Tokyo"
After a solid 2016 for 24hrs, the enigmatic rapper and singer capped off 2016 with a four-track solo mixtape and this one, titled "24hrs in Tokyo." The succinct tape, also four tracks long, found 24hrs and partner-in-crime (and brother) MadeinTYO firmly entrenched in the school of Jeremih, with vocal acrobatics that cut through the dense, minimal production with a sultry yet exacting precision. There's a little Canadian flavor here too — particularly on the Drizzy and Weeknd tip — but with producers like K Swisha, Izze and James Royo in tow, their sound can't be pinpointed geographically, only felt emotionally.
3. Thouxanbandfauni, "Heavy Weight Champ"
Thouxanbandfauni may not be the most refined rapper out there, but that's part of his charm. The Atlanta artist might sound superficially like Cousin Stizz, but his lackadaisical cadence is more like Chief Keef: garbled, slightly monotone and consistently off rhythm. Dropping "Heavy Weight Champ" on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Thouxanbandfauni doubles down on his unique style with a hypnotic delivery that finds its most comfortable home in the bolder works on the tape (like standout track "Keep My Head Up"). You can tell he just can't wait to deliver his next line, which unintentionally results in an internal pressure offsetting the otherwise laid-back, magnetic flow, creating a push-pull tension that keeps the energy in perpetual motion.
2. Kodie Shane, "Big Trouble Little Jupiter"
Kodie Shane is poised to have a breakthrough year. After hitting us with the "Zero Gravity" EP late last year, the Atlanta rapper returned with "Big Trouble Little Jupiter," a taut, 10-track mixtape that flies in the face of what you might expect from a member of Lil Yachty's Sailing Team crew. Unlike the oddball pop of Yachty and others in Sailing Team, "Big Trouble Little Jupiter" is a moody affair full of hooks that would sound straight-up cribbed if not for Shane's masterful blending and idiosyncrasies. While her aesthetic shoulder-rubbing with Young Thug ("NOLA") and DeJ Loaf ("Be With Or Without") might not go unnoticed, it's tracks like "Just In" and "So Throwed" that showcase just how much potential this 18-year-old artist has.
1. bedwetter (Lil Ugly Mane), "volume 1: flick your tongue against your teeth and describe the present"
Lil Ugly Mane returned this month with "volume 1," a fiery nine-track album released as bedwetter. It plays as an impassioned documentation of the Virginian rapper's current mindstate, couched brilliantly in searing frustration, naked honesty and downright vitriol, with all the urgency and fervor you'd expect from him. But Travis Miller came back with more than just new music. Alongside the noisy rap experiments, he posted a scathing rebuke of the American healthcare industry in the context of his own experiences seeking mental assistance. "volume 1," then, feels important, not only for Travis himself, but for our contemporary situation, a dread tempered only by zooming out as far as possible. As he puts it on "branch," "I've got the feeling that this life is just a tangent."