Summer gets associated with shine. Sun, sand, all that good stuff. But images evoking nostalgia and memory aren’t a reflection of reality. Summer is a measure of time for warm ass months, nothing more, nothing less. From good to bad, anything can happen, and in Chicago it’s not all fun and games. Producer extraordinaire Mulatto Beats' .22 Summers project understands this.
Mulatto's debut solo project is a look at growing up in the city, told from multiple perspectives, directed by him. It’s Mulatto’s time to shine after years of providing the backbone for various collectives - his beats have been the skeleton reliably supporting lyrical muscle throughout the city. Now the star attraction, karma sees local Chicagoans backing Mulatto up. For the man who’s spent years trying to sell beats about as hot as they come, it’s a well-deserved change of pace.
“I always wanted to put together a project, but I never liked dropping beat tapes. This is always my goal, type shit. Waiting on people’s projects, sending beats out and not getting them rapped on, it just made me want to actually get a bunch of songs and people I actually fuck with to rap on my beats and drop this project.”
A 10 track mixtape with 8 features, all extremely talented (Qari, Lucki Trapo, Warhol, King L, Alex Wiley, Mick Jenkins, yeesh!) Recruiting a crew like this, Mulatto was successful in avoiding his stated fear, the beat tape. There are some incredible projects out there, but for an artist wanting to debut with a lasting impression, a lack of identity or personality in the music is a serious risk. For .22 Summers, the combination of diverse voices, vocal charisma, and lyricism ranging from lit to woke and in between, made it far from forgettable.
“I think everybody was down, everybody in Chicago fucks with each other so everyone was willing to actually get on the track. For the main purpose of the tape, I didn’t want anyone to feel forced to rap on a song with someone else, that’s why each individual track is one person. I like that it’s collaborative...all a lot of Chicago people that know each other, but at the same time everyone has their own track and I think they rap on it in their own way.”
.22 Summers is composed entirely by Chicago artists, other than Atlanta rapper Thouxanbanfauni and Madison's Trapo. Only two artists, Qari and Lucki, have multiple tracks. The effect is a jungle of different sounds and perspectives. The album is eclectic, but that shared experience makes for a consistent vibe. When Mulatto Beats tells us about how he perceives the summer time, his features are on the same page, ups and downs.
“I was trying to put my first project out there to actually make a statement. It reflects being a kid, growing up in Chicago in the summer, just how hectic it is. A lot of people on the tape are from Chicago, and what they’re saying reflects what it is.”
In that sense, .22 Summers bears witness to trials and tribulations that many, myself included, never had to experience. You hear it in the music, as Mulatto Beats puts on an atmospheric master class. Summer it may be, but shadows lurk in every corner, and Mulatto gives every track space, booming into the void. Some of these tracks are hype, but I'm not sure you'd call it party music. There's a ton of detail in each instrumental, as Mulatto's beat making process begins with the melody and ends with the drums. The album art is an accurate visual representation of the project’s sound, and at the end of the day Mulatto Beats is painting a picture of a true Chicago summer, the good, the bad and the ugly.
"The general theme and idea of the project is being in Chicago and growing up, 22 summers, every year something critical happens...It's shedding a little light on that, not on a super message-y way or anything, I'm not talking about police violence or anything like that. It's just literally, I'm living here and it's my 22nd summer here. I like Chicago, but it's critical and I would like to get out every now and then."
Ironically, to create the quintessential Chicago project he had to leave the state - almost half of .22 was created in NYC. Getting out of Chicago, away from a playful studio environment to one more focused on the grind, gave Mulatto Beats the focus he needed to finish the project. Staying at a friends' places with day jobs, he had nothing to do from 9-6 but make beats in solitude, all day, every day. No distractions, and the end product speaks for itself. As he puts it, "I definitely prefer working alone, and New York gave me that escape to sit there and make beats for fuckin' 10 hours a day by myself."
From here, the hope for Mulatto Beats is to spread his name, increase his access, get credit where credit is due. He's got a website and merch on the way, and expects more blog placements on the national scene. We already know his beats are fire, and the faster the word spreads the quicker Mulatto Beats' stock will rise. In fact, the hope is that he begin doing tapes like these across the country - a New York tape, an Atlanta tape, an LA tape. "I want to keep doing this frequently...region based."
I wouldn't bet against Mulatto Beats going national with future albums, but for now we've got what may be the Chicago project of the summer. .22 Summers is the definition of bittersweet, and can be well summarized by an exchange between King Louie and a reporter off a sample on "Long Live The Kings", Mulatto's favorite song of the project. "Long Live The Kings" is quiet and solemn, nothing but plucked strings and a gracious King L. At the end of the track, a news clip is used as a sample. The newscaster asks King L about his 2015 shooting, shortly after his release from the hospital.
"Thank you for joining us. This was just last week, and you were just released from the hospital yesterday, on your birthday. How do you feel?"
King Louie responds, "I feel blessed."