(Photo: Courtesy Warner Bros.)
What exactly is a mixtape anyway? Popular Culture, the latest offering from Wichita, Kansas, rapper XV, is as good an argument as any that in the wake of the Internet-fueled breakthroughs of 2 Chainz, Drake and others, the distinction between albums and mixtapes is practically meaningless.
Just a few years ago, some of the best mixtapes were still often just random collections of rough, unmastered freestyles over familiar, plagiarized beats. Popular Culture, on the other hand, is so well mixed, well produced and well thought out that you’ll almost feel bad you got it for free. Culture’s self-explanatory concept helps the project cohere beautifully, from the hilarious cover art to songs like “Wonkavator” and “Breaking Bad,” which turn unlikely samples from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and the hit AMC show of the same name into bouncy standouts. That Warner Bros., who signed XV in 2010, allowed him to release songs like “Her Favorite Song” and “Be There, Be Square” au gratis hopefully speaks to the rapper’s potential for even bigger and better things — with their melodic, anthemic (albeit borderline corny) hooks and stadium-size, pop-rap production (courtesy of the Awesome Sound, Xaphoon Jones, TNHGT, D. Good and Odd Couple), they belong on radio playlists somewhere between Wiz Khalifa and Graduation-era Kanye West.
But XV can go a lot deeper than these aspirational tracks suggest: the swelling “The Kick,” about the importance of timing, and “Go on Without Me,” which remembers a friend who committed suicide, show refreshing humility and relatibility that counterbalance the more lightweight moments. And the left-field, razor-blade wit XV wielded at last year's BET Hip Hop Awards Cypher is as sharp as ever — see "Mary Kate & Ashley," which turns its namesakes' old Full House catchphrase into an unforgettable hook.
If XV can save some of this so-called album quality for his actual album, the long-delayed The Kid With the Green Backpack, listeners will be all too happy to pay this time.
Rating: 4 out of 5
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