On the Download -- Ridin' the wi-fi

Lil Wayne and Chamillionaire give the gift of mix
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ON THE DOWNLOAD Don't doubt it: southern hospitality is real, and it's especially so in the rap game now that Lil Wayne and Chamillionaire have released free downloadable mixtapes of their latest rhymes on their Web sites. As mixtapes so often incorporate other rappers' beats without written permission, the circuit, despite its hype and promotional benefits, has become a sizable source of controversy in the recording industry following the Jan. 16 arrests of DJ Drama and Don Cannon in Atlanta. In a Jan. 21 Reuters-Billboard article, Young Jeezy, a rapper who's collaborated with Drama and other mixtape DJs, is quoted as saying he was "getting booked for shows in Detroit, D.C., places [he'd] never been" because of his mixtapes, which have each sold thousands. According to the same article, the Recording Industry Association of America is behind these arrests, apparently intending to target "illegal CDs" by way of "anti-piracy activity" — problematic designations at a time when artists and major labels monetarily support their proliferation. Luckily, legalities aren't trapping Chamillionaire's and Wayne's new tapes, which both showcase major steps forward in their talent.

Chamillionaire, hailing from Houston and best known for megahit "Ridin'," posted Mixtape Messiah Pt. 2 on his relaunched site for free download on Christmas Eve. It's a bitchin' present, to be sure. This guy's mixes are anticipated for a reason: his flow's got such a malleable step that even the simplest rhymes smack of brilliance, plus the man can sing his own choruses. No Akon necessary! (It is, however, a terrific bonus that he appears on "Ridin' Overseas.") Despite the title, Chamillionaire is disarmingly charming in his sentiments throughout — he comes across as a genuinely nice guy, pledging an end to dis tracks on the skit following his take on Nas's "Hip Hop Is Dead," a remix that's considerably more thrilling than what Nas himself committed to record.

As if topping Nas on his own beat wasn't enough, "Roll Call Reloaded" shows Koopa convincingly imitating several friends, including Lil' Flip, Slim Thug, and Bun B and Pimp-C of UGK. The gee-whiz factor doesn't stop there: "I Run It" would be single material if it weren't all about the biz, and "Get Ya Umbrellas Out" lays down a swaggering, believable promise of continued greatness over an AZ beat: "I'm about to bring the rain so they know how the thunder sound / Get ya umbrellas out."

Umbrellas are also advised as Lil Wayne continues to "make it rain on them" with his own playfully warped flow on Lil Weezyana the Mixtape Vol. 1. Credited to Lil Wayne and Young Money, it's mixed by Raj Smoove and features MCs from the Young Money label, Wayne's own imprint alongside Cash Money. The other MCs — including Curren$y and a secret weapon known only as Elle — don't quite shine like Wayne, who blazes over Jay-Z's "Show Me What You Got" in a way that leaves one feeling pretty uneasy about Jigga's supposedly tight rein over the scene. Wayne's rhymes are always intriguing, including such clever quips as "In the game, I'm manning up like Eli" and "Coupe blue like the do on Marge."

Smoove's beats constantly switch up their style, allowing Wayne to exhibit his ability to kill just about any beat: "Secretary" employs a scratch-based hip-hop track, while "Vans" is finger snaps and an 808 behind a whispering Weezy. There are more serious moments, as on "Amen" and "I Like Dat," and the sincerity on these tracks is as compelling as the surreal wordplay elsewhere.

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