Posts Tagged ‘Enigma Theory’

The distinction between albums, LPs, EPs, and mixtapes was at it’s cloudiest point to date in 2012, and there is relatively no chance that any of those distinctions crystallize into something meaningful ever again.  The reality is that these days most rappers put together “projects,” and those projects either get released for free or they get released for a fee.  Among the projects that get released for free are those where a rapper raps over other people’s instrumentals or samples he or she has no intention of trying to clear.  There are also projects labeled as mixtapes or given away for free, that have entirely original production that get released for free and some of those projects ended up on Hardwood Blacktop’s Best 15 Albums of 2012 list.  To be honest, I’m not overly concerned with those distinctions anymore other than the fact that those of us who like to write about rap like to have a way to differentiate between certain types of releases for the purpose of end of the year lists and things like that.  So here are my picks for best mixtapes of 2012, by my own current loosely defined understanding of that term, which does not necessarily take into account whether a rapper deemed something a mixtape or not (but it might).  In general these projects are not of nearly as high quality as the top albums of 2012, otherwise they would’ve made that list, as you can see from that list there are a couple of “albums” that made the cut that most would classify as mixtapes (Sunday School, ParaphernaliaGod of Black EP, MMM Season).  If you’re keeping score at home, those projects would have been at the top of this list.

Meek Mill featuring Big Sean – “Burn”

1. Meek Mill – Dreamchasers 2 – Download

Sometimes a rapper’s (Jadakiss, Fabolous, and Joe Budden just to name a few) game just translates a little bit better to the mixtape circuit than it does to album making.  Whether that has to do with them being better situated to making “street singles” than it does to them making tracks for the club or radio, or whether it has to do with the lack of record label oversight in the mixtape process, or whether the DJs they work with in the mixtape process are actually better A&R’s than their record label A&R’s, the end result is a consistently better free product vs. fee product. It’s too early to say that Meek Mill will always fall into that category as his major label debut Dreams & Nightmares certainly showed promise and contained some great individual songs (“Dreams & Nightmares (Intro)” and “Traumatized”).  There is no doubt though that in 2012, Meek dropped another mixtape (he’s done this a few times before) that was better than a vast majority of the albums that came out in the same year.  Perhaps the most interesting part of Meek as a mixtape artist is that he’s not just someone who drops a flurry of battle-ready sixteens over a bunch of other people’s instrumentals. In fact, some of his best radio singles have been the result of his mixtape work over the last couple of years, hits like last year’s “House Party,” “Tupac Back” and “I’m A Boss” and this year’s “Burn,” “Amen,” and “Flexing” all came from his mixtapes or from the MMG compilations.  By contrast  only  from the first MMG compilation (a mixtape-like project) has really garnered the same buzz.  And while his label has pushed the hell out of “Young and Gettin’ It,” there’s just no way that’s a better direction for Meek than any of the aforementioned tracks.  Dreamchasers 2 was Meek’s most complete offering to date, bringing tracks suitable to almost every type of rap listener and packing plenty of that V-12 energy we’ve come to expect from Philly’s brightest star. While it does drag on a bit as songs begin to run together a little bit after the first nine or ten tracks on the mixtape, there may not have been a better example of hungry street-oriented rapping in 2012.

Choice Cuts: “Burn,” “Amen,” “Ready Or Not,” “A1 Everything


From the opening left to right fading vocal sample followed by mischievous laughter, and humming bass and finally crashing into the peaceful singing of Sea of Bees, on “Automated Oceans,” it’s clear that Young L has not brought his listeners the traditional rap mixtape.  Conceptually, Enigma Theory primarily revolves around themes of struggle, depression, pain, and perseverance.   In contrast the production is airy, lighthearted, and ethereal, often driven by bassed-up vocal samples and synths.  With the exception of a handful of tracks, the drums on the album are sparse timekeepers, occasionally non-factors in the equation, bringing more emphasis on bass, vocals, and fading effects to accentuate the rhythm and tempo of the music.

While the production on the mixtape has already drawn comparisons to the work of Clams Casino, and there are similarities, it’s important to notice that the work of the two is distinct in a few ways, and has developed in a similar time frame.  Clams has become known, due to his work with Lil’ B on songs like “I’m God,” and “Motivation,” A$ap Rocky’s “Wassup,” “Demons,” and “Palace,” as someone ushering in a new phase of airy vocal sampling.  While Young L may be more noted for his more hyphy relevant work with artists from the Bay, including his group The Pack, Young L has encorporated elements of this approach for a few years as well, Mike Dash’s “Sides,” Lil’ B & Young L’s “Randy Moss,” Freeway’s “HAM Extreme,” Mac Miller’s “Diamonds & Gold,” Steezy Steve’s “Shit You Read About,” (which flips the same Enya sample as The Fugees’ “Ready or Not“) all showcased his interest and adeptness at executing music in this vein.  However, here Young L takes his approach to the next level, and rather than bringing in a guest emcee to benefit from his skills behind the boards, he uses the mixtape as a billboard for his own notoriety, much in the same way that some of the great producers with mic skills have done in the past (eg Jay Dee, Madlib, Pete Rock, Alchemist, Oh No, Diamond D).