Rap's Most Slept-On Releases of 2013's First Quarter

The mixtapes and albums you very likely missed, so far

Rome Fortune
Rome Fortune
Brandon Soderberg WRITTEN BY
Brandon Soderberg

Abdu Ali, Invictos
Highlights: "Banjee Musick," "I'mma Leaf," "360"
RIYL: Baltimore Club; Death Comet Crew; Le1f
A bit of a cheat because Invictos was actually released towards the end of 2012. However, this debut from a quivering, confident Baltimore poet/vocalist/rapper (in that order) takes a little time to stick in your craw. Produced by frequent Issue collaborator Schwarz, it's a bugged-out blur of vogue beats, Waka Flocka ad-libs, Lyn Collins “Think” break contortions, and art-rap interludes (hear Quentin Crisp and Nina Simone weigh in on being an outsider). Mindblowing, cleverly curated stuff.

Download Abdu Ali's Invictos here.

Mindless Behavior, All Around the World
Highlights: "Keep Her on the Low," "I'm Falling," "Forever"
RIYL: Chris Brown minus the listener guilt; Pretty Ricky; When boy bands ruled
Yeah, they are a boy band. But Mindless Behavior embrace the oft-silly specificity of hip-hop, and that goes a long way: Their knowing comparison to Menudo on "Keep Her on the Low" is a throat-clearing shout-out and a mission statement intent on moving them away from the "urban" tag; rap-dude "real talk" tempers their hook-packed, EDM-tinged pop of simple, gooey sentiment. They are also very good at in-the-midst-of-some-drama ballads. Even the usual underdogging poptimists aren't celebrating these guys. What's the deal?

Ola Playa, Slime Life
Highlights: "S.L.I.M.E.," "Lo Life," "I Be"
RIYL: Melody; Soulja Boy; Young Thug
Friend to Young Thug, Ola Playa provides some of the same post-snap, circus trap-beat rewards. However, Ola also nods to the self-loathing dope-boy frustration that used to be a crucial part of southern crack-rap. That makes him a stand-out right now. The main appeal is hearing Thug's almost pop-punk screech of a voice, and Ola's blunt, crackling frustration, on tracks together. This is very fun music about topics that aren't very much fun.  

Download Ola Playa's Slime Life here.

Rome Fortune, Beautiful Pimp
Highlights: "Ice Cream Man," "Balcony," "Help Wanted"
RIYL: Boards of Canada; Brian Eno; Dungeon Family
Before "UOENO" was at the forefront of a rare debate about hip-hop and rape, it was best known for the stunningly ambient beat from producer Childish Major. New ATL searcher Rome Fortune rides Major's synth-squeakers for most of an album here, along with contributions from similarly cloud-rap-in-the-shake-club producers C4, DJ Spinz, and others. “Ice Cream Man” fades in like Nicki's "Moment 4 Life" and then contorts into a trap waltz. A Telepopmusik sample on "Never Stray" lets Rome get halfway desperate for tried-and-true romance.

Download Rome Fortune's Beautiful Pimp here.

Slim Thug & Paul Wall, Welcome 2 Texas v. 2
Highlights: "I Come From Texas," "Holy Water Flow," "Steak N Shrimp G-Mix"
RIYL: 2004; DJ Screw; Old heads
Texas veterans still big enough to move all the rap music of the moment (Chief Keef, Drake, Trinidad Jame$) into their Swishahouse wheelhouse and hammer it into Houston slow-crawl. Slim Thug's cavernous drawl remains unmmatched, while Paul Wall, more reedy than usual because he's lost some weight — imagine grown up Bobby Hill as dope boy — casually hugs the corner of every beat put in front of his face. This is just a whole lot of fun. Low-stakes in all the right ways.

Download Slim Thug & Paul Wall's Welcome 2 Texas v. 2 here.

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