Various artists: The Mixed Up Tape, Vol. 1

Various artists
The Mixed Up Tape, Vol. 1

After underground hip-hop producer Phingaz moved to the Twin Cities from Utah about a year ago, it didn't take him long to hook up with a wide array of the area's indie-rap clock-punchers. And once he got his foot in the door, he got the notion to assemble a local hip-hop mixtape, something that would provide a showcase for a wide range of artists—and screw with some of the rules of mixtape production in the process. The idea was to create a series of beats, all of which were stylistically linked—in the same key, built on similar structures and chords, with various samples altered and shared across tracks. With the unified subject matter of a dancehall riddim compilation and the sonic elasticity that dance remixers use to reconfigure club tracks for different atmospheres, The Mixed Up Tape, Vol. 1 aims to rework rap mixtapes in a high-concept direction by offering variations on a few musical themes, where reccurring elements are dismantled, recalibrated, and recontextualized by the verses being spit over them.

It sounds great in theory and works fairly well in execution: The track sequencing is staggered enough to make some duplicate beats feel more like cases of déjà vu than outright redundancies, and additional reworking from guest producers Egypto Knuckles, Hater Dave, Katrah-Quey, and Vivid add just enough variety to keep things from sounding too monolithic. (Bonus points for finding a creepy-sounding use for the "Apache" break.) The project works best when you let the contrasting moods sink in—the same tinny guitar riff that sounds dramatic on Capaciti's "Music Sings On" has its tempo tweaked into smart-ass comedy on Try-D's "Dewey Decimal," while Status Reign's "Purpose" boasts an amplified, metallic variation. In general, though, appreciating the production seems contingent on how much you like your underground beats to sound like some twisted amalgam of Massive Attack and BDP's "The Bridge Is Over."

It also helps if you don't mind listening to a bunch of different MCs alternating between moody introspection and battle-rap bravado—though Träma wins out by pulling both modes off simultaneously on "Viet-Tram" ("Minnesota got internet bullies/And stop askin' me if I got beef with Pete Scholtes"). Rising star Mazta I spits like a morbid Common on "Malice" ("A high price for freedom, avoiding several beatings/Federal policemen and medical treatment/Hysterical witness kept screamin' in the middle of the street/Shoutin' like she's seen demons"), and Abstract Pack vet RDM's "Front to the Back" is a necessary dose of anthemic boom-bap, more focused on keeping shit moving than letting himself vent. While there's one indelible mixtape rule Phingaz doesn't break—always include a couple of tracks listeners are going to skip over or delete from their hard drives—there's enough promise here, both for the producers and for the scene, to make a Vol. 2 worth anticipating.