Top 10 Rap Mixtapes of 2012

Top 10 Rap Mixtapes of 2012
As first-week sales become less and less of a priority in a dwindling music industry, rappers have embraced the mixtape more than ever as a way to test out singles, unleash bonus material and keep their profile up in between projects. This year was another great one for the hip-hop freebie, and it was hard to pin down our favourites. Obviously, you should bring up what you think we missed in the comments section. First, read and stream along to our list of the year's best rap mixtapes.

Top 10 Rap Mixtapes of 2012:

10. Mykki Blanco
Cosmic Angel: The Illuminati Prince/ss

Gender-bending femme fatale Mykki Blanco (aka performance artist Michael Quattlebaum) kind of sat somewhere on the outer reaches of hip-hop and industrial for her earlier mix Mykki Blanco & the Mutant Angels (remember that freaky AutoTune parody "Join My Militia"), but the MC tweaked her rap game for the still totally out-there Cosmic Angel: The Illuminati Prince/ss. For instance, she spits hard on the twerked-out club jam "Wavvy" and the vicious "YungRhymeAssassin" ("Mind fuck a bitch / And call my dick Magneto"), and gets all sorts of freaky on the pitch-shifted, wood-stroking a cappella "TeenageDream." In case you figured Blanco to be a flash in the pan, she sets us straight real quick on the dungeon-bound creeper "Haze.Boogie.Life": "It's a war out here, the real vs. the gimmicks / They all wanna be stars, but they hearts ain't in it." (G.A.)

9. 50 Cent
5 (Murder by Numbers)

There are two 50 Cents out there — the Chelsea Handler-dating pseudo pop star who hawks bullshit on QVC, and the New York vet who holds his own as a likeable, charismatic rapper. It's been a while since we heard from the latter, as the former is usually Fiddy's go-to persona on his boring albums. Thankfully, this year saw 50 Cent avoid much of the pop garbage, instead focusing his energy into two mixtapes. They're both pretty decent, but the better of the two is 5 (Murder by Numbers). Released on his 37th birthday, the 10-track affair sees the rapper having fun while he delivers solid bars over a collection of fake Dre beats. It's a return to form for 50, and one that we hope carries over to next year's Street King Immortal. (J.H.)

8. Kitty Pryde
Haha, I'm Sorry

The fact that Kitty Pryde is a redheaded Floridian working at a Claire's may have overshadowed just how weird and catchy her debut mixtape Haha, I'm Sorry actually is. Her coy and sleepy stream of conscious lyrics on "OK Cupid" — jumping anywhere from tolerating her crush's drug use, to scribbling love notes, to singing along to Frank Ocean — are seemingly shushed and slurred into a MacBook mic (remember, the track starts off with the just plain awkward teenage gripe: "GET OUT OF MY ROOM"). The twisted Beautiful Lou beats intoxicate throughout, with the hazy plunk of "Orion's Belt" scoring a bizarrely perfect back-and-forth between Pryde and ridiculous rap figure Riff Raff. Self-deprecation may run throughout Kitty's lyrics, but it's quite possible she's not the rap game pest she passes herself off to be. (G.A.)

7. Big Sean

Big Sean's love letter to the D is another big-name mixtape that caused DatPiff to crash, and with good reason. The G.O.O.D. Music dude's solo follow-up to some Cruel Summer verses is a vast and versatile collection that had him taking women to his penthouse on the soul-sampling bass boomer "How It Feel," giving it up for to hard-working pole dancers with Tyga on the frantic "Do What I Gotta Do" and dreaming big on "24K of Gold." It's a brag-heavy set, but there's something about Sean's goofy, grinning drawl that makes you want to root for the guy more than, say, G.O.O.D. leader Kanye. Outside of the tunes, there are some heartwarming Detroit-related spoken word memories from Common, Snoop Lion and Young Jeezy that serve to further endear the set. (G.A.)

6. Alley Boy

Atlanta rapper Alley Boy recently issued his trunk-rattling stunner The Gift of Discernment, which featured the unforgettable Pusha T-assisted single "Your Favorite Rapper." Still, that wasn't his best mixtape of the year. That distinction belongs to January's Nigganati, featuring at once playful and deadly serious Southern rap anthems built on skittering hi-hats and grave piano runs. From repetitive bangers like "Dry" to the reflective "Guilty," there are no real gimmicks to Nigganati. It's just a top-tier collection of Southern rap that'll blow your speakers and potentially your mind. (J.H.)

5. Joey Bada$$

While much of the world was obsessed with a cold-hearted teenage rapper from Chicago, youngster Joey Bada$$ was busy carving out his own lane in Brooklyn. Along with his crew the Progressive Era (or Pro Era for short), the 17-year-old offered up an antidote to the bratty hi-jinx of Odd Future and Chief Keef by focusing in on "golden age" New York hip-hop. Lifting beats from J Dilla and DOOM alongside some Pro Era producers, 1999 marked Joey Bada$$'s arrival to rap culture at large. At the end of the day, it's both presumptuous and pretentious to call this "real hip-hop" as a slight to Joey's trap-house peers, but 1999 still offers a taste of the mid-'90s college hip-hop that was missing from many contemporary playlists. (J.H.)

4. Captain Murphy

Captain Murphy has all the makings of a new rap hero: a slick visual presentation, a penchant for joke telling, friends in high places (his debut mixtape features beats from Madlib, Clams Casino and Just Blaze, among others) and, best of all, a baffling secret identity — at least until recently. After much speculation (some birdbrains had hoped he was a Tyler, the Creator side-project), he recently took the stage at a Los Angeles club and revealed himself as a Flying Lotus alter ego. While that silenced the arguing about Captain Murphy's identity, it doesn't really matter. Even without the gimmicks, this is one of the weirdest and most engaging mixtapes to come out all year. Combining a confusing, mysterious back story and an ability to make forward-thinking, disjointed, addictive hip-hop, Captain Murphy is working on a level that rivals top-of-his-game DOOM. Well played, FlyLo, well played. (J.H.)

3. Chief Keef
Back from the Dead

Without a doubt, Chicago teen Chief Keef's springtime mixtape Back from the Dead is one of the year's hardest-hitting efforts. It's a violent outing buoyed by Young Chop's Lex Luger-indebted arsenal of slow-drip, synth-and-gun-turret-blasting beats, almost always complemented by Keef's go-to vocal tick "bang, bang." Keef delivers a steady stream of icily delivered threats on "Winnin," "3hunna" and "Sosa," but it's the snitch-hating "I Don't Like" that brought both Chop and Keef to the big time. Kanye West's G.O.O.D. Music crew cleaned up the eerie banger right proper, but the original is the current Chicago scene at its rawest. (G.A.)

2. Rick Ross
Rich Forever

Rotund rap king Rick Ross put out his own weight in new material this year, but little of it came close to rivalling his New Year's opus Rich Forever. Dropping in the first week of January, the mammoth 19-track banger featured strong turns from Diddy, 2 Chainz, Wale, Nas, Diddy, Pharrell, Meek Mill and many more. It also kicked off Drake and Common's hilarious beef with the street anthem "Stay Schemin.'" Most importantly, it was packed with enormous beats and enough Rick Ross grunts to last a lifetime. Had this been the only thing Rozay put out in 2012, we'd still be talking about him just as much. (J.H.)

1. Meek Mill
Dreamchasers 2

Following years on the mixtape circuit, Meek Mill took his career into overdrive in 2012. But even though his full-length studio debut Dreams & Nightmares was a deftly crafted collection, let's not forget that the Maybach Music Group member's Dreamchasers 2 really signified his entrance to the big show. Via the gospel-tinged, Drake- and Jeremih-assisted sex romp "Amen," the earnest stay-true-to-your-roots vibe of "Big Dreams," and the hard and haughty Kendrick Lamar team-up "A1 Everything," the tape nabbed a mighty 2.5 million download within 24 hours, crashing DatPiff in the process. (G.A.)