How a Communal Tennessee Project could Ignite a New Mixtape Era
Evan Dale // Nov 5, 2020
There’s so much intrigue in the eclectic, and there’s so much eclecticism in Tennessee. The three – the cultural mosaic, the subsequent innovation, and the state they come from – are permanently intertwined. And in no space is that more defined than in music. At our current moment, a hip-hop centric underground orbiting Nashville, Chattanooga, and longstanding Southern hub, Memphis, is fueling a confluence of creativity grounded in the wide-ranging patchwork of the Volunteer State.
That breadth is on full display with Tenn Toes Down.
The 16-track communal project is many things, but to hip-hop fans, it’s first and foremost a mixtape by the timeless virtue of the mixtape. They don’t make them like this anymore, and if they do, Tennessee is seemingly the only hotbed organizing their inception. At first glance, and by both visual and sonic design, Tenn Toes Down is born of the 2000’s mixtape era, where every artist – underground or mainstream – curated (or had random selections of their work curated without approval) collective insights into the imperfect, honest roots of their music – of the raw roots of hip-hop and rap music at large. They were stamped with simple graphics heroing those featured. They were raw, but often more lyrically immersive than albums; they were creative, often framed by thematic discourse, usually geographic by the tenants of hip-hop’s old-school root war; they were – are – timeless by their inadherence to what was trendy or hot, but defined instead simply by who could really bring game when the parlor tricks, the budgets, and the media that accompany major studio releases were shown the door, and the true fans – the street critics – were ushered in. Mixtapes ran the 2000’s by the hands of the DatPiff orchestrated corner of the early online music era, and played a massive role in hip-hop working its way into a now omnipotent standing as pop music’s most tenuously argued stylistic lane.
But in the process of hip-hop becoming pop music, the mixtape was submerged beneath the floorboards. A Drake-driven era saw a smattering of prolific artists releasing more and more projects that were more and more produced and pop adjacent past the extent of the mixtape blueprint. Born from mixtapes, artists like Wayne, Future, and Young Thug began dropping album after album, more marketable and capable of deriving an income stream in the streaming era, but less organic and homaged to hip-hop’s past than the mixtape. The results? Polarizing.
Hip-hop is more prevalent than it ever has been. Arguably the most popular cornerstone of the modern mainstream, its stars are the rock stars of our day; their sounds, usually a sharp detour from where it all began – from the mixtape aesthetic. But when it’s all said and done, that doesn’t have to be the case. Rappers still rap and thanks to streaming platforms and accessible, affordable technology turning anyone’s bedroom into a fully functioning studio, there are more rappers really rapping than ever before. And most of them in 2020 seem to be coming from Tennessee.
On display and in undeniable homage to both the mixtape era and the many mixtape-oriented moments of an oft Tennessee-led Southern hip-hop spectrum through time, Tenn Toes Down brings into focus the timelessness of the emerging Tennessee underground, with the crass, organic, thematic frame that made – makes – mixtapes such essential stitch work of the hip-hop cloth. Through its sewing, Tenn Toes Down emerges as a mosaic quilt exhibiting the range on display throughout the emboldened hotbeds of the state’s creative communities.
But unlike just about anything we’ve ever seen or experienced in a mixtape release, and per the signature of the modern Tennessee scene, the artists involved achieve mixtape masterpiece through collaboration en masse. Sixteen tracks comprised of many, many more names, Tenn Toes Down is a multi-functioning glimpse into a collection of citywide scenes marking their place as next up in Southern hip-hop at large. There is no standout lane being driven, no one sound achieved. Instead, the mixtape feels like a super project comprised of each artist’s most inherently mixtape raw formulation. Thus, Tenn Toes Down is both the ultimate starter pack for someone new to what is happening in the state’s hip-hop oriented cultural renaissance, and the ultimate gift to those that are already hip to the happening. At the end of the day, it’s insight into one of the brightest mini-renaissances driving the direction of culture from its roots.
Nashville: the underground’s hip-hop centric hotbed that reaches wider and more creatively than anywhere else in music today, represents itself expectedly. Range, creativity, and ferocity delineate auditory appearances from rappers and producers alike: Bizzo World, JosephFiend, Mike Floss, Petty, Tim Gent, Brian Brown, Lo$o, Lul Lion, AB Eastwood, Namir Blade, Fu Stan, Daisha Mcbride, Teddy Rose, and project architect, Gee Slab. Some names – especially if you’ve been paying attention to Nashville’s own renaissance – may be familiar. Others are likely new. But each and every artist is tethered akin by the innate communal scope of lyrically driven, theatrically undeniable Nashville newness in a hip-hop era in desperate need of authenticity.
With the addition of a slew of other Tennessee artists, an even wider ranging, yet geographically and aesthetically tied image of the Volunteer State’s emerging collection of hip-hop names to know take shape. And in doing so, every name listed and unlisted in this writeup and in the project credits, and underneath a banner from fellow Editor in Chief’s, Datwon Thomas (VIBE Magazine) and Concret Capo (Concrete Mag), grant the hip-hop world something it’s never seen: a purely communal glimpse into a statewide phenomenon that could one day soon come to define the leanings of Southern hip-hop music; could come to ignite a new mixtape era.