Once upon a time, mixtapes in hip hop were very unofficial releases, without much in the ways of traditional singles. You’d have to listen to the tape all the way through to catch some great verses, but nothing would really stand apart on it’s own. These days, mixtapes serve a different purpose. Calling something a mixtape versus announcing it as an official album allows for freedom to give a home for stuff like remixes and live recordings, but in an age where digital recording has allowed artists more freedom to record quality tracks without dropping a lot of money and time in a studio, the chances of a powerful single finding a home on a mixtape are greater than ever. With B. Dolan’s House of Bees Vol. 2, we experience all of this. The mixtape gives him freedom to expose listeners to some different material that didn’t have a home, from remixes to live tracks, but it also features some great songs that easily could have been singles on an official album. The result is an exciting collection of varied material, all which reinforces the notion that B. Dolan is on top of his game right now.

Apparently, while working on the song “Which Side Are You On?” B. Dolan had a tour date with Buck 65, and Dolan expressed concern that the song had turned out so well, it felt like it should be an album track. Buck 65 replied that he thought all of an artist’s work should be held to a high standard, and it’s with that attitude that Dolan proceeded to finish the mixtape. With help by deejay Buddy Peace, Dolan manages to piece together a lot of different material, from remixes to live tracks to original songs. It fits together really well when listening to it all in one sitting, but you can also pick it apart and listen to individual tracks, which stand up on their individual merits.

In terms of original songs, I’d be remiss if I didn’t spend a lot time discussing “Which Side Are You On?” Using an old union song composed by Florence Reece for the coal miners of Harlan County in 1931, Buddy Peace makes great use of a banjo sample to connect the new song to the past, while also managing to make it sound contemporary, which is no small feat. With this setting, Dolan spells out his stance on some divisive issues very clearly. The song becomes really powerful when Dolan calls out emcees who parade around under the guise of being progressive, only to casually use homophobic punch lines in their raps or exploit women at their shows. The optimist in me wants to believe we’re making progress in these areas, when someone like Jay-Z can come out in support of gay marriage, but at the same time I’ve come across artists in the last year or so who have proven that we’ve still got a long ways to go. These are artists that would appear to be much more progressive than Jay-Z, but they’ve run the gamut from casual use of the word “faggot” as an insult, to blatantly explaining their ignorant hatred of the LBGT community. Right now, the queer hip hop community operates largely in its own space, but hopefully the work of artists like B. Dolan as an ally can help create a safe space where the crossover of audiences can happen. With a forthcoming video filmed in Minneapolis at a protest to free Cece McDonald, a transgender woman of color currently serving time in a men’s prison facility for surviving a hate crime and killing her attacker, I’ve got high hopes that we’ll be having some much needed discussions within the hip hop community about these issues.

With all that said, House of Bees Vol. 2 is much more than just one song. We also get a home for “Film the Police,” the powerful reworking of “Fuck the Police” with Toki Wright, Jasiri X, and Buddy Peace that dropped as a video single last December. Placed back to back against “Which Side Are You On?” it becomes clear that B. Dolan is one of the most relevant politically active hip hop artists today, and that’s before we add in the biting criticism of the military on “Tin Soldiers.”

Lest you think that B. Dolan doesn’t have a sense of humor or know how to have some fun, rest assured that the mixtape isn’t all downers. “King Bee” is a great self-effacing swagger track with nice appropriation of The Stone Foxes’ psych-rock version of the Muddy Waters classic, opening with the line, “What up! I invented ugly, I keep it all to myself, nobody touch me.” The pairing with Sage Francis as Epic Beard Men on “2BAD” allows for some funky shit talking, and “100 Bars for SFR” takes us back to the old school mixtape feel, as Dolan spits some cipher-style rhymes while hopping from beat to beat of Strange Famous songs. “Graceland,” by Boston Poet Kwesi Davis is a great addition to the mix, a track that sounds like what I imagine it would have sounded like if Gil Scott-Heron collaborated with Alias or Odd Nosdam. The two tracks that appear as bonus tracks work extremely well. First we get a live recording of “Leaving NY” that really captures the energy and urgency of the song. Things then close on a remix of “The Hunter” by Mux Mool of Ghostly International. It’s dark and eerie, which fits the tone of the lyrics perfectly.

B. Dolan isn’t just another emcee, and House of Bees Vol. 2 isn’t just another mixtape. There are powerful singles on here that need to be listened to over and over and absorbed and then acted upon. Dolan has fun and enjoys what he does, to be sure, but he also realizes the potential of hip hop as a political tool, and few artists working today use it as well as he does. Do yourself a favor and listen to House of Bees Vol. 2 already.