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It's weird that one of the best-connected players in the world of progressive hip-hop lives in Ann Arbor, a city whose native rap scene consists of University of Michigan kids in bad freestyle ciphers and hippies who own the bluegrass version of "Gin and Juice." But DJ Benzi does indeed hail from A-squared, and for his new mix, The New Deal--the follow-up to the Kanye West remix collection Sky High--he's assembled a roster of contributors that looks a lot like a list of most-played rappers in my iTunes. Among the couple dozen Fader profilees on hand are Wale, Kid Sister, Kidz in the Hall, South Rakkas Crew, Izza Kizza, Common, Blaqstarr, and Kid Cudi.
I'm a few months late to Chicago producer Mike Love's Nigerian Gangster mix tape, but I'm trying to make up for it by listening to it pretty much constantly. The concept's dirt simple: Love has set the a cappellas from Jay-Z's American Gangster to Fela Kuti samples, and his execution would be hard to improve on. Other producers have attempted to pair Jay up with reggae, salsa, and a dozen other genres, but this combo works way better--partly because as sample sources go it's hard to beat Fela, partly because funky, blunted-out Afrobeat turns out to be an especially good match for Hova's flow.
I thought Blaqstarr's contribution to the We Make It Good mix-tape series would be a dopey-fun mess of club bangers, not a dark, moody, rock-heavy set, but I'm not sorry to have my expectations upended--following two extra-mopey Nirvana cuts with Madonna's "Fed Up" is as satisfying as it is perverse. And the mix's biggest revelation is that Blaqstarr's rock side project is extremely awesome.