Tag Archives: Mixtapes

Mixtape Review(Mashup edition)-American Godfather by Jay-Z & DJ Skee

Mixtape Review (Mashup edition)-American Godfather by Jay-Z & DJ Skee

by Dan-O

It bothers me that the mixtape revolution which gave us hip hop in its modern form is hard to find traces of. You can still scour datpiff archives but when I throw “Kush and OJ” through my Amazon unlimited search bar it comes back with nothing related to Wiz Khalifa (I have not checked Itunes but Google Play didn’t have it either). The advancements in hip hop mixtapes that caused a need for Freemusicempire came on the backs of brilliant artists who will never end up in anyone’s top five (not because of lack of talent but because they aren’t in the public eye outside of the hip hop base). So I went through my external hard drive for anything with DJ and excitedly came back with DJ Skee’s American Godfather mashup.

2007 wasn’t just important for mixtapes it was important for Jay-z. American Gangster really is the dividing line between two eras. it is the last album by Dopeboy Jay. The album that followed was 2009’s Blueprint 3 which is underrated (in my opinion) but it is  Celebrity Jay on the mic.  His frame of reference was no longer what it was for Blueprint 1. American Gangster has three guest features while Blueprint 3 has TWELVE (Blueprint 1 had one guest and you know who it was). The Jay of 2007 was the same MC spawning new album versions of everything he dropped (example: Grey album & Red album variations of The Black Album) his bars albums charted with the best production and crazy videos at the height of the ROC rosters depth in terms of lyricists beat makers and raw corporate muscle but the mixtape circuit hungered for every written line. Verses felt like commandments.

American Godfather is the single greatest example of that time period in mixtapes. As a piece of classical music The Godfather soundtrack is perfect for incorporation into the hip hop sound. The horn section, the strings all move with a savy Italian grace that had to resemble nostalgia for an era long gone while conveying the shock and loss violence brings. That mournful whimsy in the orchestra sewn into the background adds even more majesty to Jay’s declarations to do it any way he can while taking in the savagery of the dealer landscape. It highlights what he misses by closing himself off emotionally. Since the original soundtrack tells the story of a good man becoming a calculating criminal leader the combination makes a lot of sense.

Listen to Pray go from pristine to gritty until the two mix. That song is a great example of what Skee brings to the table. Listen to the original Pray…he didn’t just weave in clips from The Godfather movie and sample the string section. The bassline on the American Godfather version of Pray is four times as strong.  He not only made it gorgeous with wind instruments but at the same time made it a dirtier head knocker and defiantly hip hop by dropping the beat in as savagely as he could. He made the song better.

The reverence for Jay that I referenced earlier is quite real on this mashup. The “every couplet could be a Tee Shirt” Jay-z pen game is so strong that Skee makes the decision to leave I Know absolutely naked. If you just listen to the story of it unfold in the specific detailed metaphors it signifies a real high point in the characterization within his writing. The only way to get you to focus on that is to rip the Neptunes signature sound out of the song and force you to follow the narrator;  leave you the reverberation of his voice saying “shoppin’s like coppin’ you constantly need it.” Jay is humane enough to paint tragedy onto every participant in the dealerscape because he has empathy for everyone involved. The game eats at him in ways other dealer-rappers never thought of. Jay is at his best when he is on a high level of physical real world details and emotional details at the same time.

Roc Boys being left nude for the world is even more off-putting. That song always functioned as the catchiest party song, the high point single reveling in the fun times of the dealer tale before the falling action.  By pulling out Diddy and the gang on production he leaves it ringing as a hollow moment of celebration that comes off more as a chant the main character is trying to believe but fears the finitude of.

Skee ripped the sample right out of Ignorant Shit and put guitars behind the Black Republicans beat (off Nas- Hip Hop Is Dead because mixtapes have no rules. Black Republicans is a better beat so bring it in.)  DJ Skee like Green Lantern and Don Cannon (Cannon’s redo of Drake’s first album is so much better than Drake’s first album. I didn’t even like Drake before I heard Cannon’s version) had a ceaseless desire to optimize every second of every song.  If you listen to American Godfather in the hopes of hearing everything in the Godfather soundtrack incorporated into Jay’s American Gangster album you messed up. He absolutely turns Success a thousand times better with The Godfather Waltz which binds the venomous distaste of Jay’s verse with the omniscience of Nas. The waltz creates an emotional spectrum that binds those very different emotional places but this isn’t a straight up slap together mixtape (which we see a lot of). Skee makes choices for the better of the project as if he were truly in charge with no red tape in front of him. As if the original album was raw material and he was The Dust Brothers on Paul’s Boutique freakin’ it however he saw fit.

Nino Rota couldn’t have imagined that the thickness and grandeur of his soundtrack would be clipped and repurposed in such a staggering way (even without the movie the soundtrack is an incredible listen). No one will ever convince me that a better version of Fallin’ exists than the one with Nino’s Sicilian Pastorale dialed into the beat making it sharper and meaner and more fun to listen to. It is so epic in the scale of its self-destruction. I think the beginning of The Godfather Finale is what was used for Sweet and it’s another great idea fully realized along with rearranging the order to place Sweet after Fallin’. American Godfather is born from a careful caring vision that guides it.

In 2007 when these kind of well worked visions were available for free I always wondered how many of these Livemixtape gems got to Jay. Did he hear The Billprint or American Godfather?  I never pondered if he would like them. I always hoped someone put it on for him so he could enjoy it. I knew he would love it and be proud of his influence on it.  Jay always thought about what his music would be like if he had been less commercial, he had more than a secret love for Kool G Rap and all the dark regions of hip hop far less flossy and flamboyant than he always was.  How incredible is it that his mark stretches so far people did their best work remaking his music? In my mind Hova hears the shifting going on in Blue Magic as the sample is incorporated and shakes his head like “that was the missing element,”  he heard the title track and got all scrunch faced, bobbing his head, taking nothing away from Just Blaze but DAMN those violins are sharp!

I am not one of these dudes who will write this paragraph about why Skee should have had a larger profile, gotten a bigger chance with bigger artists. Would Skee have given Ross some dope beats? Sure. Art is not sports. What you do is what you achieve; the Grammys is NOT the superbowl.  I love that hip hop has legend levels and if you’re on the bunny slopes you didn’t recognize WC holding the uzi in Friday. You’ve never heard Del Tha Funkee Homosapien rap about bad hygiene.  Whenever a popular rapper does a commercial someone says to me “Isn’t it terrible what they are doing to hip hop?!” and I smile.  That is the hot take from the bunny slopes and I get it. Consumerism has done a number on so much of our art and entertainment but not hip hop.  They don’t know how many levels we have that are protected by how much you care to know it, how much of your time you want to spend following it. Our firewalls can be cracked but pack a lunch.

To be clear this is not a mixtape of its time. It is not something you needed to have been there in the culture of its release to enjoy. This is something you could send to Danny Brown or Yachty or Uzi Vert and they would get it. They would bang their head like you will upon listening. The answer to “who did this?!” is in the same madman who played Ray Manzarek to Game’s post G-Unit Jim Morrison and gave him the canvas to paint all his malevolence on. He was there for Glasses Malone, Crooked I, Bishop Lamont and so many serious West Coast rappers best mixtape.  A solid gold first ballot mixtape hall of famer whose ad-lib created waves of relief for me and American Godfather is important to him. It would have had to be, to be done with this much care. To go seventeen tracks deep instead of a tight nine or ten. It’s careful in its construction and spiritually connected to the work of the original which is how it never seems weird that it is incorporating two movies into the world of a rap album.

I am not making the case that things were better in the era where mixtapes became more than freestyles. I never wanted to see the mixtape take the place of the album (I always liked the street clothes v. business clothes difference). I loved that mixtapes were a playground for everyone involved. Any idea that was off the marketable path, an image gamble, or outside the budget could be explored. Never anticipated that the label as we knew it would die and be washed away and the mixtape would be the only remaining path. The era of forced independence has made me look back on the formative content. Boy am I glad we built a second house before the first one washed out.

Stream or download American Godfather below:




Free Album Review-Pilot Talk 3 by Curren$y

Free Album Review-Pilot Talk 3 by Curren$y

by Dan-O

On the Opening Credits (the first track) of Pilot Talk 3 Curren$y references his lost relationship to savagely independent hip hop mogul Dame Dash “then I tried to start a business with Damon…charge that to the game, learned some things…” he implies the money wasn’t right. My initial thought was a wish that it worked out. I like the idea of a loud business dude standing in front of the world shouting about how talented Curren$y Is, because he needs that. He’s so low key and easy going that he can seem unimpressive when he’s making magic. While stylistically muted his gift of imagery is in a special class, listen to how he starts Audio Dope 5 “Bunsen Burners, laboratory beakers pour it in the speakers…” the way his mind works is one of the true draws for Pilot talk 3.

The other draw is the production. Ski Beatz is masterful as ever crafting corridors of tough sonic minimalistic golden age East Coast grime on Audio Dope 5 or warm Bossanova hip hop on Search Party but he’s not the only one doing great work. As rich and soulful and hard-hitting as Ski is, Cool & Dre are able to take that feeling and kick it up ten or fifteen miles an hour. Pot Jar hums and knocks and moves at a pace that pushes Jadakiss (another famously great guest verse) and Curren$y to move out of that summer beach music space into a zone where they can see banger from where they stand. Ski Beatz produces seven songs, Cool & Dre are behind five and the mixture is perfect. The consistency is so thickly layered that other producers like Joey Fatts and Jahlil Beats fit in. Maybe the most profoundly eye opening first listen of a beat is Froze by Harry Fraud. It doesn’t really matter how you feel about Riff Raff, this beat is so damn ugly/attractive full of that lumpy bassy sludge that Fraud traffics so well. It’s exactly what the tape needs, a song that stands way the heck out from the rest.

While you can bang Froze in the car or work out to Pot Jar most of Pilot Talk 3 is meant to be played with your feet up and your head gently nodding or laughing with people at a barbeque. Even his bragging tracks like All I Know are stated so matter of factly that it doesn’t feel like bragging.

This was released last week but I didn’t want to review it at that time. I wanted to listen again and again and again until every inch was a space I knew and loved. You have to give Curren$y that kind of listen to really gauge the staying power of the music. It has so many lines that catch you after they pass like when he writes a million dollar verse on a napkin while waiting for his Baked Alaska (see Get Down). It’s all seamless, fifteen songs with no rough edges. The track sequencing makes it feel like ten and when it finishes you have to do it again. I gave someone Pilot Talk 3 to listen to and they responded back part way through the first song “wow” the only response I had was “It’s good to have this Curren$y back.” If you know what I mean, you know what I mean.

Stream or Download Pilot Talk 3 below:


Song Review-Money Counter by Two-9 produced by Charlie Heat

Song Review-Money Counter by Two-9 produced by Charlie Heat

by Dan-O

This whole who-killed-who-on-the-track way of thinking is post-Eminem v. Jay on Renegade(on The Blueprint). That’s not how we listened to rap music when real groups existed. To be honest my favorite groups were the ones where I never thought about whose verse I was listening too. The song was dope, the album was dope. If you ask yourself why hip hop isn’t filled with important groups today look no further than this difference; every modern collaboration seems judged by a power rankings philosophy of who did what on the track. This is the only way I would consider the new Two-9 mixtape B4FRVR old school.

They sound so good together, just chattering before the song starts, handing off the mic after laying blustering joyful toughguy verses that you sometimes forget this is five guys. This is a group of smaller groups that became a massive group. B4FRVR is rock solid night riding music with fun southern production shaded a little darker than you might be used too. It has multiple Mike Will Made It beats(3 credits total) as well as one from Metro Boomin and features from Wiz Khalifa, Ty Dolla $ign, Swae Lee of Rae Sremmurd so these guys are known.

The chemistry between members is so good it’s not a competition it’s a song. This isn’t sports, its art; functioning under a menacing determined vision. Two-9 music can only get bigger from here and judging from Money Counter they have the foundation to withstand getting much bigger.

Song Review-If Skillz Sold featuring Siebz produced by Purp Dogg

Song Review-If Skillz Sold featuring Siebz produced by Purp Dogg

by Dan-O

Moss Da Beast did not release his #IfSkillzSold mixtape to shame the hip hop community for listening to the radio. The title is a way to get the discussion out of the way: Moss might never become popular by comparison to lesser rappers because the 40 year old suburban white internet tastemakers don’t deem him turnt up enough. From the safety of a warm fireplace they decide who is street enough and who isn’t…but if it was ever really about the music and not the machine that emits it…we might care more about dudes like Moss Da Beast.

While Moss would consider his product health food rap it’s not save your soul music. If Skillz Sold doesn’t represent another throwback project raising consciousness and throwing subliminal shots at the Southern sound. On this song he stews in grizzly imagery “When I unleash the beast that just mean the best out. Lyrics flying like a bullet that will blow your chest out,” and the mixtape is full of songs like Homicide, Earthquake, Pussy Niggas, and Surfing In The Air (great weed song) that represent tough talk quite well.

What puts it in the health food section is the intrepid attention to detail. I’ve never heard of Siebz before but he murders the first verse and you know what? Every feature kills on If Skillz Sold names like Jigi Dinero, Coruroy Clemens, and Chino Dollaz all rap like this is their one chance. Purp Dogg holds the world still with wind instruments on this beat while every word hits hard and it’s the quintessential title track for the project. It’s not asking for a world where skills come first, it’s creating it.

Song Review-Bab​y Come Around by IZA produced by Snoop Dogg

Song Review-Bab​y Come Around by IZA produced by Snoop Dogg

by Dan-O

I could probably get you interested in the mixtape Flower In The Jungle by IZA with a simple tagline. Polish singer does a DJ Skee mixtape produced entirely by Snoop Dogg. Those components alone would make a lot of rap fans press play just to hear what comes out.

It’s weird to think about but few rappers know R&B, Soul, or Funk as well as Snoop does. I know that Snoop collaborates across most musical genres; reggae with Snoop Lion and country collabs with Willie Nelson but this is a dude that name dropped Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes on an interlude on his first album (and worked with The Dramatics on the same album). So he produces this under the thesis that by powering up his time machine for 1977 and taking his hip hop knowledge back to disco the outcome will fit.

The Lean On Me cover is weird the Let’s Wait Awhile is even weirder but I like it. Snoop never tries to produce outside of his capabilities. He keeps it funky while her vocals remain clean and crisp and warm. Lyrically the songs have mobility and can talk about love at an upbeat hit-the-dancefloor pace without seeming awkward.

Flower In The Jungle seems like it was fun to make. You can imagine Snoops mostly closed eyes and silly smile, bobbing his head, as this track plays back for the first time in the studio. That fun is infectious and makes this collaboration one of 2014’s real gems.

Song Review-Rollin’ by The Bobby Effect produced by Ade Cruse

Song Review-Rollin’ by The Bobby Effect produced by Ade Cruse

If you’ve never heard The Bobby Effect your first reaction could be the teeth sucking realization that this is another one of those people influenced by Nicki Minaj. The problem with the who-influenced-who game is it always ends with me yelling about how much Jay borrowed from Big Daddy Kane or Drake’s sneaky chameleon producer Noah “40” shebib appropriating other production styles the way vampires take souls. You get so deep into it that you end up wrinkly faced and sour.

When listening to Rollin’ my first recommendation would be to loosen up and turn up the volume. If you let go of everything but the music you’ll enjoy it. Its total bay area bounce with superb sexual braggadocio (sometimes female sexual braggadocio in hip hop gets badly over analyzed by panelists in tweed jackets, bottom line, this is hip hop everyone gets to brag about their genitals) a booming tunnel of ratchet claps and an excellent hook. Rollin’ is a song moving at a sprinters pace that will probably get you a speeding ticket.

If you choose to listen to this mixtape (Sugar) you better be ready for it. If you think this boyfriend stealing anthem is nasty get ready for her huge vagina brags. I’m giving warnings because I’m one of those dudes that love to be grossed out (within a comfortable creative space) and this fits that need for me (big silly gross fun) like a glove. The tape isn’t all cold hearted bravado however, she always remains a likeable narrator(the song Cold Sh#t does a lot for that) The beats slap and the persona is as in your face as it can get. I can’t wait to bang this song again and again. I just hope the people in my work elevator can’t hear her through my headphones. I’ll be able to tell from the look on their faces.

the full Sugar mixtape is available below


Young Moe-Humble Hustle 2 mixtape review

Young Moe-Humble Hustle 2 mixtape review

by Dan-O

Free Music Empire contributor D.L. aptly characterized the goals of Humble Hustle 1 in the last sentence of his review from April of last year (https://freemusicempire.com/2012/04/16/young-moe-humble-hustle-2012/), “Here is a bizarro gangster Trap Rap mixtape that fills in the gaps left by caricature, and shows a real person’s struggle and strife in a very conflicted, shady world.” While Humble Hustle is all about filling in those gaps and articulating that struggle, Humble Hustle 2 revolves around taking that struggle to cinematic heights while maintaining the pre-existing levels of heartfelt realism at the core of the listening experience.

Its nineteen tracks long culminating in the most engaging outro of the year. Within it he goes from talking about how he grew up using candles cause the light bills weren’t paid and living hungry to showing his Egyptian side by rapping in a different language (Arabic?), speaking about the importance of planning and wanting to be a good father; all of it taking place over a thumping cooing masterpiece by Basshead Music Group. The reason I highlight the outro is how often is it a throw away? Most of the time it’s a rambling post it note tacked onto the work, or if it is rapping its a few bars and a wave goodbye, this is a real song and its dope.

Careful craftsmanship smoothes out every contour of Humble Hustle 2. Rich Lou alley oops the duo of Fat Trel and Young Moe a twinkling cinematic gem of a beat on Million Dollar Dreams and it does not go to waste. No one works better with Trel, Moe is all grizzled determination and scratchy voice as he spits “waking up with nothing make you dream about a lot of sh#t, you need your proper sense if you’ll be making every dollar flip,” while Trel croaks a joyously confident chorus about bricks of gold and million dollar clothes. Young Moe can spit Trap squared, so paranoid world-weary and driven that it seems multiplied in its potency. He can also switch gears and leave tire marks all over what you expected to hear.

The intro track is a post-cloud rap cloud beat by JRB that Young Moe digests with skilled bravado, talking about snitching, police, haters, and the basics. The first real track on the tape and the one that follows the intro nearly got me quivery lipped on the first listen. A Letter 2 Amarie is a slow powerfully authentic song to his son not filled with platitudes but warm facts. He holds him while he does the dirty dishes, driving for hours just to see him for thirty minutes. He wants to be alive for his son and wants his son to assume greater responsibilities, the way he broaches being around for his son in contrast to his father is jarring in its sincerity, to quote “but to leave you I can’t imagine, so I’m guessing I love you more than he loved me.” It’s really special and not the only example of Young Moe showing gifted levels of introspection and empathy.

This is not a perfect musical experience by any means. I could certainly do without Bus Driver, where Moe sells female listeners on an extraordinarily short term sexual paradise, but that song isn’t meant for me anyway. The special moments are undeniable in the sense that no other new emcee can replicate the sympathetic hardcore he brings to the table. Listen to how personal Freeway gets in his impressive verse on Dreamin’ and know that’s just what happens when you are on a track with Young Moe. You step up your levels. I Don’t Trust A Smile is a perfect example of the level Moe is on. Basshead Music Group use strings and strong drums to set the stage for Moe who laces a tremendous four minute warning about sexual relationships. This is not a don’t trust women song, all characters fail and the results are felt “Mama told her farewell, now she use a jacket as a pillow in the stairwell.” The way he says it, the image of the jacket as a pillow is exactly what makes the Humble Hustle series amongst the very best series of mixtapes. Young Moe is creating characters and feeling their mistakes, feeling their soreness and giving it to us. When he achieves he does the same, those powers of projection are carried over 100% from the original to the sequel and the beats are better. So it’s a massive win.

stream or download Humble Hustle 2 below: