Rich Gang Tha Tour, Part 1

Rich Gang Tha Tour, Part 1
Rich Gang's Tha Tour, Part 1, the new mixtape from YMCMB boss Birdman starring Rich Homie Quan and Young Thug, is the best rap mixtape of 2014. Riding the massive, expensive-sounding and fashionably attractive summer smash "Lifestyle," the two young Atlanta stars come together like old friends, declaring across 20 tracks of southern party rap outrageousness that they're kings of the new school.

Young Thug straddles the line between absurdity and brilliance throughout, like a weirdo rapper straight out of a Dr. Seuss book. He can deliver a hook like "Baby girl spoiled, she spoiled-er than milk" with resonance, as on the excellent "Tell Em (Lies)," and make you want to also (mis)pronounce "Givenchy," as he does on the opening track. Despite all the tantalizing unorthodoxy Thugger seems ready to dispense at will, Rich Homie Quan is able to consistently stake out his presence, demonstrating impressive adaptability on standout track "I Know It." His is a more reserved type of ratchet, with a clearer command of flow, and a more easily decipherable southern drawl to Young Thug's sometimes hieroglyphic raps. Both offer enough curves to justify an entire playthrough, but at 20 tracks, missed marks are inevitable.

Birdman wisely blesses this mixtape every chance he gets, infectiously soliloquizing about luxury (like gold toilets), and chanting "Rich Gang!" in nearly every free air pocket between the machine gunshot lyrics and almost synthetic, inhuman vocal exchanges of Quan and Thugger. In-house producer London on da Track contributes a variety of late-night, mixed-up Southern trap beats, and Quan makes an excellent case for rap career longevity, but it's Young Thug's ice that shines brightest.

Whether it was Kanye turning up in Paris to his breakout track "Danny Glover" in January, or the social media firestorm stoked by his loud, peacock-style of dress and wilful, almost instigative twist on questions about his own sexuality, mainstream rap was dominated, defined even, by Young Thug this year. Depending on who you talk to, his impact is either building a new wing in the house of hip-hop, or tearing it down from inside out. That perceptive duality, the youthful optimism and enjoyment in playing with audience (and industry) expectations make Thugger a very compelling and original artist. For now, this invitation to live (or turn up) like Rich Gang, extravagant, cartoonish opulence and all, makes Tha Tour, Part 1 the most compelling rap mixtape of 2014. (Independent)