Small Black: Moon Killer Mixtape Review
At the beginning of the 2000’s, hip-hop was defined by the mixtape. Though the medium was far from new, with the surge of the Internet and blogsphere, the mixtape was a likely shift: a way to release music faster, with zero manufacturing costs and free of big label hang-ups. Most of all: they were free. And if there was ever a poster child for the mixtape revolution, it’s Lil Wayne, who bombarded the rap world with an absurd amount of free mixtapes – his best being the sample-jacking Da Drought series, especially Da Drought 3 – until he achieved the self-proclaimed echelon of “The Best Rapper Alive. It paid off in the end: the commercial release of the Carter III saw 1 million plus album sales, an unheard of amount for rap albums at a time since, like, Master P or something.
Now, nearly every week there are new mixtapes from both rap veterans and up-in-comers trying to stay relevant and make a name for themselves respectively. Groups like Das Racist, Freddie Gibbs, Wale, Odd Future and the A$AP crew have all used the same formula: release for free, build the buzz and then dish out the commercial money-makers to great success. It’s worked for all of them, and the trend is likely to continue. But it’s not just rappers who are using this tactic to get their music in the hands as quickly as possible. Case in point: the new ‘mixtape’ from the synth-heavy, retro-leaning New York group, Small Black, who quietly released Moon Killer for free online a couple weeks ago.
Using the ‘mixtape’ format to test out new ground, the band branches out and tries a few new sounds and tricks on Moon Killer, and also have Das Racist MC Heems spit a few verses as a tip of the hat to the medium. But while the mixtape format would allow the band to be a bit more experimental with their sound and not worry about pushing a single, this release boasts some of the most poppy, straight-forward songs they’ve ever released. The hook-heavy “Two Rivers” featuring slack-jawed verses from Heems sees the band at probably its most accessible. Same goes for the title track,”Moon Killer,” that mixes super ’80s synths and borderline cheese ball lyrics into a tightly wound pop tune. Heems shows up again for a more tongue-in-cheek-type Das Racist verse on “Sunday Son.” After you break through the fourth or fifth track on the tape, it’s amazing just how seamlessly the album feels when it’s played in full. While each of the track certainly have their own character, the overarching sounds and textures help connect the dots into a more true mixtape experience.
Though there’s about an EPs worth of new material here, there’s also some remix treatment from both the band and outsiders. “Love’s Not Enough” remixes and reimagines Nicki Minaj’s “Your Love” while Star Slinger and Phonetag round out the tape with remixes of tracks from the band’s debut album New Chain. Though this isn’t a complete follow-up to last year’s terrific New Chain, Small Black used this release to push their sound further while also hinting at the sound and influences that may come in future albums. (Personally, I think they should get Heems on some official songs in the future). It would be interesting if more rock bands caught onto the idea of releasing music via the mixtape, but I doubt many could come close to what Small Black were able to capture the consistency found on Moon Killer.