The history of rap cannot be told, without a strong focus on mixtapes. Originally compilations of existing songs, recorded and mixed by DJs on audiocassettes, they became over time real albums, distributed on the Internet, sometimes for free. A core component of the hip-hop culture since its very beginnings, they have been, sometimes, more impactful and higher quality than official albums. After relating the surprising journey of the rap mixtape, through its multiple changes, this book reviews a selection of 100 gems, released by well-established rappers like 50 Cent, Cam'Ron, Kanye West, Lil Wayne, or more recent ones like Future, Earl Sweatshirt, Danny Brown, Freddie Gibbs, Action Bronson, Young Thug or Migos.
Jeezy's glory days happened by 2005, no doubt. During that year, indeed, he released his (classic) mixtape Trap or Die, a record from his band, Boyz n da Hood, and also his (classic, again) solo album, Let's Get It: Thug Motivation 101. By then, he was just the most important rapper on Earth, period. But the following years have been good ones as well, especially when, from 2009 through 2012, from Trap or Die Part 2 to It's Tha World, he released some of his best mixtapes. Among those, the two editions of The Real Is Back, released respectively in May and September 2011, and produced essentially by Lil Lody, deserve to be mentioned. Originally aimed at heralding a new album, Hustlerz Ambition, the last of the Thug Motivation trilogy, they proved, over time, to be significantly better.
A close look at the main rappers in the early 2010's, will show that all were not newcomers. The obvious example, of course, was 2 Chainz. Tauheed Epps had to pass his 30th birthday, indeed, to become a hip-hop figurehead. But prior to this, he had a career. He'd been part of Ludacris' label, Disturbing tha Peace, as one half of Playaz Circle, a duo with his friend Dolla Boy. These two even had some success around 2007, with the single "Duffle Bag Boy", featuring a Lil Wayne in his heyday. After two albums, however, their days came to an end, and 2 Chainz had to reinvent himself as a solo artist. And he did it smartly: he chose a new alias, the previous one, Tity Boi, being a bit embarrassing; he used his address book to collaborate with first-class rappers; and he became one of the ambassadors of trap music, displaying a rather generic kind of it, but in a pleasant and goofy way.
To complement its new book published in May 2017, Mixtapes (French only), Fake For Real is sharing its own selection of mixtapes. Focusing exclusively on Northern American hip-hop, and on projects released in the 2000's and 2010's (i.e. not in a time when mixtapes were, well, actual mix-tapes), these 100 records are not the same as those listed in the book. Quality prevailed here, over representativeness.
By the end of the naughties, almost two decades after the beginnings of his own Three 6 Mafia, and after the career apotheosis his Academy Award and the success of "Stay Fly" had been, Juicy J decided to focus on his solo career. He released a few albums, like Hustle Till I Die in 2009, and Stay Trippy in 2013, but also several mixtapes, including both editions of Rubba Band Business, two collaborative works with Lex Luger. By requiring the help of a producer sixteen years younger than he was, the guy behind Waka Flocka's and Rick Ross' latest bangers, the Memphis veteran surely wanted to demonstrate that he was aging well; and indeed, he was.
MikeWiLLBeenTrill was not the first mixtape from Mike Will Made It. In the two years before, he had released all three volumes of his Est. in 1989 series. But in 2013, the Atlanta producer was at the apex of his fame; he was now notorious much beyond the (t)rap universe he had originated from. Around a dozen of that year's hit singles, were produced by him. And a few weeks before this new release, he had executively produced Miley Cyrus' Bangerz album, and signed a large part of its music. While the Disney star collaborated with this beakmaker from Atlanta's trap music scene and turned into a nasty girl, Mike Will expanded his aura to a large audience. As a matter of fact, more than his previous releases, MikeWiLLBeenTrill demonstrated that his collaborators were getting more diverse.
There was a time when, by the end of the naughties, rap music seemed to turn into the new international pop. It was mixing more and more, indeed, with other genres like rock, or electronica. A few notorious rappers were leading the trend, like Kanye West, Kid Cudi, and later on Drake; and of course we could talk about the hit machine Black Eyed Peas, originally a pure hip-hop band, had turned into. Another man went into that direction, though in a more hipster way. With his fashion victim looks, Theophilus London, a New-Yorker of Trinidadian descent who would be actively sponsored by Kanye West, actually looked like a hipster fantasy: as a matter of fact, the 2011 edition of the Cannes Film Festival would love him.
The best time in Alley Boy's career was 2011. Taking place between his first steps as a rapper, in Gucci Mane's shadow – he had featured on Chicken Talk 2 in 2008 – and The Gift of Discernment in 2012 – his most exposed and visible project, at least here in France – that year had been some kind of turning point. In 2011, indeed, the Atlanta rapper had released two great mixtapes: the second edition of Definition of F#ck Sh*t and, a few months before – but much later after it had been heralded – Purgatory: The Story of Judas, a collaboration with DJ Drama.
When people who experienced the beginnings of rap, in the late 70's and early 80's, are asked about them, many confess that they hadn't realized, at first, that this was a brand new kind of music. What they heard sounded like a declination of funk, or disco, not a musical genre per se. And nowadays, it seems that rap itself has reached the same point. Now that it is giving way to sing-song, especially in Atlanta, its current capital city, some wonder if rap should still be called the same. Listening to artists like ILoveMakonnen, indeed, this question sounds legitimate.
Like it or not, but please admit the following: in the 2010s, Nicki Minaj is the number one female rapper. The Trinidadian New-Yorker inherited everything from the ladies who paved her way: she has Lil' Kim, Foxy Brown or Trina's gift of the gab, and the same explicit lyrics or posture; she has Missy Elliott's eccentricity and creativity, both visually and musically. And in addition, she knows how to play with her physique, which is a critical asset, in a world still requiring this from female artists. Last but not least, she knows how to rap, and her ease with the mic puts her on par with – or even above – most of her competitors, either men or women.
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