Published Dec 14, 2011There's so much to love about rap mixtapes. For one thing, they're free, so you can download them without spending a penny or costing your soul. They're also not tied to commercial sales, so they often showcase rappers and producers messing around with good ideas. The downside, of course, is that there are so many releases coming out all the time that it's a time-sucking black hole if you fall into the trap. With that in mind, we thought we'd highlight ten of our favourite rap mixtapes from the year. Undoubtedly, there were way more than ten worthy of mention, so feel free to point out what we missed in the comments section.
Click to the next page to begin Exclaim!'s Top 10 Rap Mixtapes of 2011: 10. Young Dro
Outside of the amazing alphabet soup-adorned cover, Drocabulary showcases Young Dro's ability to compete with the best of Southern rap. DJ Smallz, T.I. and others round out the tracklisting, but the main focus is Dro, whose lyrical playfulness is often hilarious and always worth a listen.
9. Lil Wayne
Sorry 4 the Wait
Lil Wayne's summer mixtape corrected everything that ended up being wrong with Tha Carter IV. Instead of trying to cram someone else's big ideas into the tired production and pop aspirations of a long, overblown album, Sorry 4 the Wait simply saw Weezy having fun and goofing off over other people's already-proven beats. The fact that the mix saw the rap great teaming up with Lil B over a Waka Flocka track was just the icing on the cake. Sorry 4 the Wait is far from perfect, but it showcases an out-of-jail Weezy at his most endearing.
8. 2 Chainz
Formerly known as Tity Boi, the Atlanta-based rapper 2 Chainz is no stranger to the mixtape circuit. With T.R.U. REALigion, however, he completely outdid himself. Appearances from Lex Luger, Gucci Mane and DJ Drama (who hosts the mix) might give off the impression that this is a run-of-the-mill mix, but everyone does such a good job that it's impossible to overlook. Add features from Kreayshawn, Big Sean and Raekwon, and this is a well-rounded listen that competes with the best mixtapes of the year.
7. Big K.R.I.T.
Return of 4eva
In 2010, Mississippi rapper Big K.R.I.T. broke through with the heart-on-sleeve rapping of K.R.I.T. Wuz Here. Having signed with Def Jam since then, it was more than possible that K.R.I.T. could have gone soft or reached B.o.B levels of pop pandering. Instead, with Return of 4eva, he kept his winning streak going with more incredibly soulful hip-hop. The 23-track mixtape features all kinds of highlights, from the title track through wistful tracks like "Time Machine." The real highlight, however, is runaway single "Country Shit," thanks in no small part to strong guest verses from Ludacris and Bun B on the remix.
6. Lil B
Illusions of Grandeur
One could argue that every year has been Lil B's year since the Based God decided to start recording every single ridiculous idea that ever crossed his mind, but 2011 saw some particularly strong work coming from the Bay Area rapper. Aside from the controversial but entirely strong efforts of his I'm Gay (I'm Happy) digital album, fans were also treated to countless mixtapes at least once a month. But Illusions of Grandeur stands above the rest thanks to its solid title track, along with standouts like "What It Feel Like." Really, though, the 9th Wonder collaboration "Based 4 Ya Face" is one of the best Lil B songs ever.
5. Danny Brown
Detroit rapper Danny Brown has been around the block a few times, collaborating with J Dilla and Guilty Simpson, among many others. Aside from his excellent Black and Brown EP with Black Milk released earlier this year, he also celebrated his signing to A-Trak's Fool's Gold imprint with the release of XXX. As the title would suggest, this mixtape has no shortage of filthy sex talk, but it's also crammed with other creative lyricism over just as creative production. An up-and-comer with the skills of a hard-working veteran, XXX shows Brown in top form.
Danny Brown "XXX" by foolsgoldrecs
4. Death Grips
This doesn't just sound like the future, it sounds like the end of the world. Sacramento-based rap collective Death Grips get pissed off and vaguely culty over some insanely fucked beats, and the result is both terrifying and impossible to turn off. With Zach Hill involved with the production, the music is ridiculous and all over the place, and there are samples from Charles Manson and others peppered throughout. If there was a way to market this kind of pissed-off weirdo rap, these guys would be huge. Regardless, Exmilitary demands repeat listens.
Death Grips - Exmilitary by deathgrips 3. Mr. Muthafuckin' eXquire
Lost in Translation
Mr. Muthafuckin' eXquire comes across more like a rapper from a bygone era on this release. That's thanks to the rapper spewing bad-assery about drunk driving and being a fuck-up with so much venom and aggression that he doesn't fit in with the sensitive thugs and/or self-referential goofs that occupy so much of the rap game. It's a breath of fresh air that's strengthened by some A-game guest material from El-P, Despot, Danny Brown and Das Racist. It's a welcome feeling to throw on a new rap release and be a little bit scared.
2. Don Trip and Starlito
Kanye West and Jay-Z's WTF-worthy sampling of Will Ferrell in Blades of Glory on "Niggas in Paris" stole all the attention away from this project, but rising rappers Don Trip and Starlito chose a better Will Ferrell movie and made more with it. The result is the Step Brothers mixtape, which makes the most of Ferrell's eternally quote-worthy slacker comedy. Gimmicks aside, though, the music and rapping stand on their own as both rappers make the most of some excellent Southern-influenced beats. Closing with "Out Takes," a 15-minute batch of freestyles over Lex Luger beats and other hits, this somewhat slept-on release is the ultimate no-brainer.
1. A$AP Rocky
Far from a throwaway project, LiveLoveA$AP was one of those rare mixtapes that also made a convincing case for one of the best rap albums of the year. Serving as the debut release from Harlem-born newcomer A$AP Rocky, the mix dropped shortly after a wave of hype surrounding the rapper's multimillion dollar deal with Polo Grounds/RCA. Thankfully, the record met and possibly even exceeded the hype, introducing the world to Rocky and his crew, and shining more light on the impossibly great rap production of Clams Casino. Like many great rap mixtapes, this one is said to be getting a proper commercial release next year. Don't wait any longer, though.