Mixtapes were great ways to discover new rappers, with lineups designed to convince fans they were getting value for money. It’s why DJ Clue? and Funkmaster Flex shifted hundreds of thousands of CDs in the late 1990s despite a lot of those tracks being completely forgotten in subsequent years. If you only had enough funds to grab one record, a mix CD containing twenty of the hottest emcees was usually a decent compromise. Many of the mixes haven’t aged well, as a lot of the production sounds hollow and throwaway but they did cough up some gems along the way. Snoop blessing east coast classics like “Who Shot Ya?”, “Juicy” and “One More Chance” remains a highlight and then there’s mixtapes like DJ Muggs & Chace Infinite’s “The Last Assassin” which put me on to Self Scientific, Krondon and subsequently Strong Arm Steady through their Dilated Steady mixtapes. Sure they were CDs, but they were key to finding more artists – plus they were mostly dope and you didn’t have to worry about skipping tracks.
The tracklisting here is a little different, as there are no song names as such. It’s refreshing, knowing that all fans want to hear is a selection of emcees getting busy over some straightforward instrumentals – it’s not masked as an artificial collaboration or dumb ass song name like “Thug S***”. Ill Bill ripping it up over Gang Starr’s “So Wassup?” blended into a rare appearance from original Demigodz member Rise, is the type of moment set to satisfy a certain type of rap fan. And I’m here for it.
Released in 2016, when mixtapes had long stopped meaning they were either on tape or that they were mixed, this actually accomplished both feats. Granted, the cassette was a limited release, but just hearing a DJ cutting and scratching between tracks is disappointingly rare in this day and age. The original tracklisting is thirty-six moments for underground emcees, mostly established and decade-long veterans to showcase their brand of hip hop over a blend of classic beats and obscure productions. The mixing between tracks is superb, highlighting how a DJ that knows their craft can take a bunch of freestyles and combine them into one effortless stretch of pure hip hop radio. The lost feeling of hearing twenty emcees crammed into a studio (a la Stretch & Bobbito or Sway and Tech) just sparring with each other has been replicated to a degree, but #Sleezbagmekalektape is equal part hardcore fan service, part Welcome to Underground Hip Hop. These artists are a great starting point.
King Magnetic gets busy over Edo G’s “Sayin’ Somethin'” and Big Daddy Kane’s “Any Type of Way”. I didn’t expect to hear CZARFACE given their success and collaborations with MF Doom and Ghostface Killah, but they come through with one of the best appearances. M.O.P. gift us a full-blown song while heavyweight names like Apathy and Chino XL blow away the other emcees featured – I can see why they were put together as they highlight how that “monster emcee” isn’t really a thing now outside of battle rap. Hearing Wordsworth promoting his UK tour in his verse is a nice touch and a part of me believes the radio show theme could have been the actual premise as many of the artists featured flirt with the idea.
It was also nice to hear the likes of Pretty Ugly, Rise and Jojo Pellegrino – names that have largely been forgotten (and two of them were on Grand Theft Auto 3). One of the few names I wasn’t familiar with is A.L. (All Lyrics) and he kills his slot – dude has an ill flow. Lord Digga (of Masta Ace Incorporated) ensures his punchlines are straight from the 90s, Punchline (of Punch ‘n’ Words) is in his element dropping some nice one-liners, and even J-Zone admits he isn’t a fan of the 90s revivalist movement citing how New York isn’t the same place now:
Such a wide array of emcees means there are some conflicting stances and clash of styles. The weaker moments tend to come from the lesser-known names – God Sunz’ offbeat approach to a Premier beat, Genovese’s lack of any unique qualities and Jesse Calico’s track just drains the second side of the tape’s momentum at a key time.
The version available on streaming services includes 2017’s “The Bonus Tape”, featuring more freestyles from the artists involved. Compared to the likes of “Soundbombing”, there’s a certain lack of identity given there are no songs as such, but it’s not intended to be compared to a full-blown project. It is what it is, and if you have any interest in emcees expressing themselves over some freestyle beats, tied together by some swift scratching (and why wouldn’t you?), “#MekalekTape” is as hip hop as it gets.