Rhythm Rewind: The Top 6 Beat Tapes Of 2015
Every new year needs a soundtrack. As the world celebrates the beginning of 2016, we've looked back just one final time to bring together the very best beat tape releases that dropped in the last 12 months. Distinctly different from the top albums of 2015, these records put a premium on rhythm, drums, and bass--ideal head-nod music. Six tapes in all, the list includes West Coast powerhouses like Sango and Knxwledge, plus 20-year-old British phenom Tom Misch and the one-and-only J Dilla. The last 12 months where jam-packed with quality joints; allow us to bring you the best of the very best.
Sango — Da Rocinha 3
Rocinha is a massive favela in Brazil, and you ought to take a nice, long look at it. On his third musical tribute to the gorgeous, hilly, and crowded landscape, Soulection standard-bearer Sango delivers an uber-modern batch of productions that blend jarring, aggressive hi-hats and sub-bass with airy Brazilian sample material. It’s a formula he essentially already perfected on Da Rocinha 2, and so in 2015 the man’s third installment functioned as a victory lap—it was well-earned.
Still, Da Rocinha 3 most definitely does not take it easy. This is a record that hits hard and fast from start to finish, and soft moments like the bridge of “Rather Be With You” and the grating intro of “Bela” are rare. Sango’s tape is the most confident and downright nasty thing he’s ever done. You ain’t never heard Brazil sound quite like this.
Essential Joints: "Rather Be With You," "O Amor," & "Tatuagem (Sadinha)"
Knxwledge — Hud Dreems
2015 will go down as a benchmark year for Stones Throw powerhouse Knxwledge, thanks in huge part to his “Momma” beat, a highlight on Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly. With its woozy, liquor bottle and rhodes rattle, the the track is just standard procedure for Knxwledge, and with Hud Dreems he delivered a 26 track buffet of everything he’s about. It’s a sprawling work that swings from Flying Lotus-esque celestial beams (“onlijournitro,” “rightaftr[THL]”) to minimalist grit a la Madlib (“beleeveibne,” “mydesire[fortwin][vanuys]”), and while it sometimes sounds like too much all at once, there are trademark moves here. Knxwledge loves do sprinkle cocksure vocals over his soul samples and cut out the drums (or sometimes the whole track) whenever he sees fit. The pace on Hud Dreems ebbs and flows just right, and every track-to-track transition feels just right. With over 60 finished projects to his name, Knxwledge has arguably worked harder to hone his craft than any other young producer today, which is part of what makes the effortless power of cuts like “jstowee” and “flyinglizrds” feel so damn great.
Essential Joints: “tkekareofit,” “noflowrs[instrw],” onlijournitro,” “behindme,” flyinglizrds,” & “jstowee"
Iman Omari — High Loops & Higher Loops
The most proper, cut-and-dried beat tape on the list, Iman Omari’s High Loops & Higher Loops is a sum-up compilation of the young producer’s best work, with a few new cuts tossed in for good measure. And just like its smoked-out, pale orange cover art, the album has nothing but relaxation on its mind. These 21 beats gently drift in and out of earshot, often times so soft and echo-heavy that they sound like transmissions from futuristic space colonies. On “Gravy Tho” and “Set It Off,” nostalgia sucks you down into a warm drifting haze, while “Sour Vibes” mixes in some potent latin spice. Oh and that “That Girl” flip might damn well have been the flat-out best jam of last year; if you missed it the first time, be sure to cop High Loops and get fixed up.
Essential Joints: "That Girl," "Gravy Tho," "L.A. Vibe," & "Tummy"
Tom Misch — Beat Tape 2
We’re happy to bend the rules a bit on this one. With his excellent Beat Tape 2, young UK phenomenon Tom Misch blurs the lines between beatwork and mature, lush songcraft, delivering a record that plays just as well in a packed bar as it does a basement bedroom. Cuts like the thumping “Your Love,” sultry SV-ish “Nightgowns,” and effervescent “Wander With Me” all contain creative and varied approaches to production, and benefit from Misch’s own wunderkind guitar skills. The trap trappings of the Soulection school are nowhere to be found; Misch’s drums come across as all-natural and his guitar tone is juicy, compressed and joyful. In many places, Beat Tape 2 sounds like a very young John Mayer sitting in with J Dilla. We can’t wait for the next installment.
Essential Joints: “Nightgowns,” “Wander With Me,” & “Wake Up This Day”
Afromaniac - Twenty(4)Seven
One of the most criminally slept-on producers of 2015, Afromaniac astonished with the release of Twenty(4)Seven. The tape is a tight and understated record, melding astral, whirling synthesizers with dusty drum loops that always find a way to catch your ear off-guard. "High Speeding" skips in an uneven lockstep, while "RushHour Chillin'" explores the koto caper atmosphere that Amon Tobin has been working in for decades. Things crackly--and nearly fall apart--on "Sunrathru," but Afromaniac is so committed to the stony certainty of his beats that there's never a reason to get nervous. Twenty(4)Seven is a top-notch tape from a man who hopefully has many more gems hiding inside his mind.
Essential Joints: "RushHour Chillin'," "Essener II," "Sunshine" & "Free Ticket"
J Dilla - Dillatronic
You were expecting someone else? Getting over 40 new(ish) J Dilla beat sketches helped make 2015 the brilliant music year that it was, and reminded us just how timeless the legendary producer's work always was. Sometimes sounding like rough sketches, sometimes like fully-finished songs, waiting a Soulquarian to get on and rhyme, the beats on Dillatronic showcase the man's versatility and wide, open ears. Many of these had been floating around on archival tapes, getting play from the hardcore heads determined enough to scour forums and old file-sharing networks to find every last scrap of Jay Dee. But now, it's all here in one concise package, ready to be properly played from front to back. Raise it up.
Essentail Joints: All