In various pockets of hip-hop, mixtapes can function as a proving ground, a way for rappers to start building buzz with their bars. Kane Brown, a country-pop superstar already half a decade into his time in the spotlight, does something different with his Mixtape, Vol. 1 EP. On his 2018 album Experiment, he struck an easy balance between traditional country gentility and pop-R&B suaveness; over the course of the seven new tracks on Mixtape, he pushes toward those poles even more emphatically to really map out his musical territory. Brown is a courtly, committed romancer on the ballad “Worship You,” its devotional language hearkening back to ’90s-style expression in both country and R&B. And he heartily reps rural life on “BFE,” a rollicking track with hard-twanging guitars and fiddle and steel licks. But he also displays the sophisticated sensitivity of adult-contemoprary soul-pop when he teams up with John Legend on the repentant “Last Time I Say Sorry,” and matches the slangy, conversational coolness of Khalid and Rae Sremmurd’s Swae Lee on “Be Like That.” Brown’s strategically chosen guests link him more explicitly to Black music-makers currently shaping pop, but during “Worldwide Beautiful,” a topical track originally released on the heels of Blackout Tuesday, he draws on his own biracial identity as a source of prophetic social optimism. "At every show, I see my people," he croons with a touch of vibrato. "They ain’t the same, but they’re all equal."