This week’s been particularly big for hip-hop releases, especially on the mixtape front, so don’t expect too much variety with the reviews I’m afraid. Young Thug dropped another mixtape out of no where, OVO Sound signees Majid Jordan released their self-titled long player and Kevin Gates finally dropped his debut Islah, but it’s Future’s EVOL that comes out on top.
Kevin Gates: Islah
Kevin Gates has been releasing mixtapes of varying quality over the past 10 years, building a loyal and dedicated fan base that will surely expand with the release of his long awaited debut studio album Islah. Named after his daughter, the album is a comprehensive collection of songs featuring the Southern street rapper’s introspective lyrics over thumping beats that conveys the best elements of the talented Louisiana rapper.
Gates’ greatest strength as an artist is his chameleon rap style that’s plastered all over Islah. There are trap bangers (La Familia, Thought I Heard), personal tales (Pride), experimental rock tunes (Hard For) and Drake-like pop numbers (Time For That, Really Really), all infused with Gates’ lyrical honesty and “don’t give a fuck” attitude. The lack of big name producers or rappers might hinder similar artists, but it has the opposite effect on Gates, allowing his personality to shine through.
Verdict: Not only is Islah the album we’ve been waiting for Gates to deliver, but it’s one of the best hip-hop releases of the year so far.
Young Thug – I’m Up
While he promises Slime Season 3 is still coming, Young Thug has gifted fans I’m Up in the meantime. As you’d expect from Thugger, the tape is all over the shop stylistically and contains a varied list of producers and artists, but above all, is entertaining.
Short at just nine tracks, including the previously released F Cancer (Thugger at his best over a bouncy Mike WiLL Made It beat) and Hercules, I’m Up is full of positive vibes. Thug appears to be in a good space that’s reflected in his lyrics throughout the tape. “I feel special” he raps on the hook to the piano laced Special, while Family, featuring his sisters Dora and Dolly, has Thug letting us know “Only thing more important than money is family.”
The roll call of rappers is varied, with Lil Durk, Offset and Quavo just a handful of contributors. While they all add something to the tapes overall feel, you can look past Thug and Lil Durk’s Ridin, a track that cements the two’s chemistry as they trade verses over booming beat.
Verdict: He might be raps weirdo but I’m Up only furthers Young Thug claim as heir to Lil Wayne crumbling throne.
Majid Jordan – Majid Jordan
Drake continues to build his OVO Sound empire with the release of smooth R&B pop duo Majid Jordan’s self-titled debut. Like their mentor, singer/songwriter Majid Al Maskati and producer Jordan Ullman ply their trade in soothing, emotional songs laden with R&B melodies and catchy hooks.
Ullman keeps the production minimal and tight with flashes of extravagance, allowing Majid’s sensual vocals room to explore the futuristic R&B soundscapes carved out. The majority of tracks are uplifting R&B pop numbers centred around big choruses, such as Something About You, Make It Work and Shake Shake Shake, but the two also show their softer side on the likes of Small Talk and Every Step Every Way. Drake makes his presence felt on the club hit My Love, but it’s the soaring King City, where Majid shows off his incredible falsetto, that’s easily the albums highlight.
Verdict: Majid Jordan have delivered an album that fits in well with their mentors sound without feeling restrained or too similar.
Future – EVOL
No hip-hop artist is on a bigger roll than Atlanta’s Future. After 2014’s Honest failed to live up to the hype and his engagement to Ciara ended badly, things looked bleak for the self-proclaimed Future Hendrix. Then he dropped DS2 (Dirty Sprite 2) and all was forgiven. The sequel to his debut mixtape Dirty Sprite, Future laid bare his emotional pain over menacing beats with his familiar auto-tuned vocal delivery that became the first in a succession of successful releases (What A Time To Be Alive with Drake and last months absorbing Purple Reign mixtape).
Much like his project with Drake (were he overshadowed the 6 God), EVOL blurs the line between album and mixtape, being available to purchase on iTunes but more in the vein of a Purple Reign. Whatever its classification, the one word that will be associated with EVOL is fire. This is everything you’d expect from a guy who’s spent the past few years tweaking and refining his moody, drug-trap sonics, with Maybach, Fly Shit Only and Seven Rings offering the classic Future vibe. Once again he takes shots at former beau Ciara and current boyfriend Russell Wilson on the savage Photo Copied while lobbing subliminals at Young Thug on Lie To Me.
When not addressing his personal life, Future keeps things simple. Xanny Family, Lil Haiti Baby and Program all reference Future’s three favourite subjects; sex, drugs and his lavish lifestyle. The Weekend crops up as the only featured artists on the drug-sex themed Low Life, while beat makers Metro Boomin and Southside must take credit for cultivating the majority of EVOL’s dark and gritty 808’s heavy production.
Verdict: At just 11 tracks (including bonus cut Fly Shit Only), EVOL is on the short side but further solidifies Future’s trademark sound and position as a hip-hop heavyweight.