Effectively a free downloadable album untethered by label demands, the phenomenon of the hip-hop mixtape has exploded over the past three years. With at least ten decent quality mixtapes arriving every week, it's hard to keep up (the ever-excellent FACT magazine offer a helpful weekly mixtape round-up) but it's worth it when the music is free and the releases are as impressive as Chance The Rapper’s Acid Rap or Diary of A Trap God from dementedly prolific Alabama parole risk, Gucci Mane. One artist who's established his name through the astonishing high quality of his mix tapes is New York's Khalif Diouf, aka Le1f. Although Diouf has worked as a producer since 2005 – chiefly with postmodern New York rap tricksters Das Racist – it was his multilayered 2012 mixtape Dark York that first really knocked people sideways. The sound, which he tends to describe in buzzwords such as “Bass, fog, slither, purple, black, grit...” is both sweet and slurred, glistening and dark, touching on everything from the electro-rap experiments of proto-NWA alumnus Arabian Prince to the hard-edged street glamour of Jennie Livingston's 1990 documentary about the late ’80s new york drag scene, Paris Is Burning.
“I am gay,” Le1f told Fader in 2012, “and I’m proud to be called a gay rapper, but it’s not gay rap. That’s not a genre. My goal is always to make songs that a gay dude or a straight dude can listen to and just think, ‘This dude has swag. I get guys the way straight rappers get girls. I’m not preachy. The best thing a song can be called is good.”
Plush, from Le1f's third mixtape, Tree House, can certainly be called good. Deep, oiled and ghostly, it crawls with a louche stoned threat, like Pam Grier’s dusted killer hooker in Fort Apache, The Bronx, but with an added proud roll turning the breadline culture of bedroom production – “we out here making trap for the rapture” – into the most deliciously spooked of swag spaceships.