In celebration of his birthday and the fact that we’re chest-deep in pisces szn, Berkeley-based beatmaker Ellis Newton, aka Versâam, released a concise, heavily sample-based beat tape last week on February 28.

Named after the wateriest of water signs, Pisces Tape II (2019) makes use of heavy filtering, sparse drums, and deep bass lines that allow the vocal samples to shine through the murk of the instrumentals, highlighting some very intentional choices in source material. This tape is remarkably potent at plucking deep nuggets of nostalgia from the millennial brain — Fox has nearly his whole moveset from the iconic GameCube release Super Smash Bros: Melee sampled on “Shine,” and the residents of Bikini Bottom make numerous appearances throughout the tape. All these aspects — the quirky vocal samples, the gloominess of the underlying instrumentals, and the minimalist drums — contribute to an entrancing dichotomy of melancholy and goofiness.

One of the standout tracks on this album is “Crush,” which does a good job of showcasing Versâam’s versatility. The track starts out ambient, slow, and dreamy but, a little more than halfway through, rises to the surface and gains a much more defined groove. The final seconds on this song poke fun at the tape itself. I love when artists use samples to speak directly to the listener, and this track is no exception: “Look at this place, I mean, what is the theme here? Underwater? It's boring!”

If you’re into Donuts (2006) era J Dilla or Madlib, give this tape a shot. You won’t be disappointed.

Stay up to date with Versâam by following him on Instagram, Spotify, and Bandcamp.