Whether it’s DatPiff, HotNewHipHop, HipHopDX or 2DopeBoyz, if you’re a hip hop bass head, chances are these websites were at once, or still are, in your daily website rotation. Why? Because they gave us some pretty dope mixtape material, an art form that allowed MCs to transform the rap game commercially and creatively.
The “Mixtape Era” has its roots dating back all the way to 2002, and although not as prominent, it continues on today (there’s something about laying dope bars over recycled/bombastic beats that really gets the people going).Without it, there’s a chance many of our beloved artists would never have had an opportunity to be discovered. And beyond that, they’ve provided some pretty freaking dope music to jam to as well.
Here are the most notable mixtapes that deserve Grammy worthy commemoration…
Best Day Ever, Mac Miller
You can make a case that a number of Mac’s tapes are worthy of distinction here (The High Life, K.I.D.S., Macadelic), but Best Day Ever changed the game for Mac, and was revolutionary on its own merits. With hits that are still in many people’s rotations today (Donald Trump, All Around the World) Mac flexed his notorious abstract mind while also proving to pundits that he could achieve mainstream notoriety.
Dreamchasers, Meek Mill
Quick word of admonishment for Dreamchasers 2: It’s also a stellar piece of work, but when you compare it to the original in its entirety, the body of work just doesn’t compare… Dreamchasers MADE Meek Mill with its club and anthemic jams. Tell me you didn’t get hyped AF every time House Party came on at an actual house party in college… Add in other hits such as Ima Boss, Work and Derrick Rose and you’ve got a certifiable career maker.
Kush & Orange Juice, Wiz Khalifa
Even though Wiz first broke through with Burn After Rolling, he cemented his presence with Kush & OJ, making people realize that his stylo had not only hipster appeal, but commercial popularity as well. Wiz combined laudable G-Funk production from DJ Quik with his vintage party one liners to produce his best work to date and create an internet craze as his tape became the top searched topic on google.
The Mixtape About Nothing, Wale
Anytime you’re able to take the greatest sitcom of all time and turn it into the concept for a reocrd you know you’ve got a winner on your hands. Wale has stated in the past that he’s seen every single Seinfeld episode, and it showed in the tape. He hit all the marks and provided some of his most iconic bars. There’s no denying the fact that any hip hop junkie prefers mixtape Wale > album Wale.
Acid Rap, Chance The Rapper
Chance is another dude who owes his burgeoning career to the art known as the mixtape. Without it, he may never have gotten any traction. Chance has become known and loved for his raspy voice and colorful lyricism. But before Acid Rap, his potential mainstream appeal was glum. Chance benefited off the virtues of mixtapes and showed the world how creatively and stylistically talented he really is by dropping some iconic sounds on Acid Rap.
Friday Night Lights, J. Cole
To Cole fanboys such as myself, FNL is the gospel. The gospel picks you up when you’re feeling down and it guides you through the winding road of life. Oh, and it’s eternally in your rotation. Every.Single.Track. is a hit. Cole’s picked up quite a few more fans since his tape days… But FNL remains indisputably his best work to date and launched him into a different stratosphere before the debut of Cole World: The Sideline Story.
So Far Gone, Drake
Before there was “Drizzy” there was “Heartbreak Drake.” And let me tell you, Heartbreak Drake was fucking dope. Back in the day, Drake wasn’t as polarizing among the rap the community as he is today. On So Far Gone he was able to spit some serious bars over notoriously impeccable production to showcase his abilities of creating whip jams, late night thought provoking singles and Prom Night anthems. So Far Gone was such a huge success that it was turned into an EP. There is no denying the fact the Drake literally built his career on mixtapes. If only it had stayed that way…
Diplomats Volumes 1-3, Dipset
We should all be thanking Cam-ron, Jim Jones, Juelez Santana, Freekey Zekey, Hell Rell and JR Writer for their contributions to the rap game because the Diplomats truly set it off for mixtapes. When it debuted in 2003 (well before my passion for hip hop developed) the sound that Dipset was making changed everything and revitalized the New York rap scene in the process. And today they leave behind many of the jams we still play on repeat today.
Get Well Soon, Kanye West
Similar to Drake, before there was “Yeezy” there was simply Kanye. And Kanye was pretty fucking good at spitting bars and producing classic beats back in the day. But it took some time for Kanye and the community to realize this. Enter Get Well Soon, where Ye’ showcased not only his famed production skills, but also his adept ability to lay down some serious heat over the mic. This tape brought us the first glimpse at some very classic Kanye tracks, and its value in the music industry really does go criminally under appreciated.
There Is No Competition 2, Fabolous
Fabo makes a veryyyy strong claim for mixtape king, and his claim was crystallized after TINC 2. He flexed his notorious punchline driven flow combined with some heavy hitting beats to produce one of the waviest mixtapes ever created. To this day you’ll hear Body Ya or You Be Killin Em’ at pregames and bars alike. And this just scratches the underrated career of Fabo.
Live.Love.A$AP, A$AP Rocky
Like many before him, Rocky put himself on the map by dropping a stellar mixtape. But, Live.Love.A$AP was more than just a mixtape (just like FNL or Section .80), it was a debut album disguised as a tape. The quality of the lyrics was top notch, the production level was smooth and raucous at the same damn time, and Rocky introduced his “Trilla” stylo to the world for the first time. Wow, what a record.
Trap Or Die, Young Jeezy
Just Like A$AP Rocky, when Jeezy busted onto the scene in early 2005 he brought a new sound. That sound has never been more pronounced than on Trap or Die, which is what I believe to be the pinnacle of Jeezy’s career. Don’t just take it from me, take it from his peers and those rappers that came after him that cite Trap or Die as incredibly influential in their own work. Jeezy set the stage with this record putting his concrete mixer-esque voice on full display. The tape was a cinematic autobiography for empowerment and hope in the streets, and it was a mixtape masterpiece.
Rich Forever, Rick Ross
Say what you will about Ross, but the dude can straight up bring the heat on bangers. While Rich Forever isn’t substantively the greatest piece of work when considered against some of the aforementioned tapes, Ross makes up for it in bravado and commercial success. The mixtape became one of the most downloaded mixes ever when it was released. And let’s be real, crews still roll out for a night on the town to Stay Schemin.
Return of 4Eva, Big K.R.I.T.
In case you haven’t noticed, KRIT is revitalizing the southern rap scene, and it all began with Return of 4Eva (a mixtape which he entirely self produced). He’s one of the must underrated stars in the game today, but if you take one listen to Return of 4eva with its poignant bars and smooth/braggadocios beats I promise you’ll be a fan for life.
1999, Joey Bada$$
Speaking of revitalizing rap scenes… Joey put NY back on the map when he released 1999 with the help of his fellow PRO-Era compatriots Capital Steez (RIP), Kirk Knight, CJ Fly & Co. Although Joey continues to represent himself on an independent label, he’s on the cusp of stardom. And we first got a glimpse of his star power on 1999 as he showcased his relentless flow, introspective rhymes, NY flavor and lyrical flexibility to some dope ass beats all in one tape. You’d do yourself a service to download it immediately.
Covert Coup, Currensy
I’d be remiss if a mixtape from the Hot Spitta’ didn’t earn a spot on this list. You can go in any number of directions when discussing Currensy’s vast and impressive mixtape portfolio. But to me, his best work was on Covert Coup where he got a welcome assist from one of the dopest producers in the game, The Alchemist. Hot Spitta’ combines his typical jazzy lyrics and entendres with some rarely exhibited focus to produce one of the greatest mixtape efforts of all time.
O(verly) D(edicated), Kendrick Lamar
First, a moment of admonishment for Section .80 which is technically considered his debut album, albeit through Top Dawg Entertainment, an indie label. To many, including myself, Section .80 is a tape, and the pinnacle of lyrical/story telling creativity. O.D. on the other hand, was unquestionably he 5th tape for Kendrick, and boy did he put it all together on this one. O.D.’s got a little bit of everything: Anthemic narcissism on Michael Jordan, hope inside the ghetto on Average Joe, smooth melodies on P&P 1.5 and lyrical mastery on Heaven and Hell. Through and through, O.D. is a classic album functioning only aesthetically as a mixtape.
Da Drought 3, Lil’ Wayne
The undisputed mixtape king cemented his status with Da Drought 3. Consider this track listing… Black Republicans, Upgrade, Sky Is The Limit, We Takin’ Over Remix (to name a few) all on a freaking mixtape. Only Weezy F Baby could bring some heat like that. Wayne’s made some stellar tapes in his day, but Da Drought 3 is indisputably the cream of the crop.
50 Cent Is The Future, 50 Cent
And so history was made. The mixtape was recorded after 50 was dropped from his label and blacklisted by the industry following his notorious shooting in the early 2000s. In response, 50 and his G-Unit comrades recorded 50 Cent Is The Future and sparked the “Mixtape Era.” When he was seemingly on his last leg, 50 pioneered a new route to the top of the rap game. While the commercial ingenuity of the tape is historic, 50’s in your face raps and heavy hitting beats were on full display as well. It’s 50 in his purest form, the form that we all love him for, and ultimately a form that couldn’t be ignored by labels any longer.