To complement its new book published in 2017, Mixtapes, Fake For Real talks about its favorite mixtapes. Focusing exclusively on US and Canadian hip-hop, and on projects released from 2000 through 2015 - an era when we moved from DJs' to rappers' mixtapes. These 100 records are not the same as those listed in the book. Quality prevailed here, over representativeness.
Not much, after 2010, differentiates a mixtape from a regular album. We relied on the way their authors have labeled these projects. Therefore, some of them, released exactly like mixtapes, but officially heralded as albums, for example Danny Brown's XXX, will not be part of the list.
This selection is currently focusing on the years 2008 through 2015.
# 100. LIL WAYNE - Sorry 4 The Wait (2011)
It took time for Lil Wayne to release the fourth installement of his Tha Carter series. So to apologize for the delay, he delivered this mixtape. In 2011, his best days were behind him. The New Orleans rapper was engaged on a downward slope. Sorry 4 The Wait, though, was a solid project, on par with 2009's No Ceilings. Actually it was, quite probably, the last of his great releases.
# 099. KING LOUIE - Tony (2014)
Drill music never really delivered any great album. It is, substantially, a mixtape genre. And King Louie, a pioneer in that musical style associated with the most dangerous districts of Chicago, properly excels at it. He proved it once more, with his swampy and dark Tony project, and its central piece, the anthological "Live & Die in Chicago". Back then, Louie was really the true king of Chiraq.
# 098. RICH BOY - Bigger Than the Mayor (2008)
The noticeable fact about Bigger Than the Mayor, at a time when the difference between an album and a mixtape was well established, was that it had almost no filler. It was just an appetizer, the Alabama rapper had released to herald his next opus, Break the Pot. And though, with hindsight, this project, released with assistance from the best Southern rappers of his time, might be his strongest.
# 097. FUTURE & DJ ESCO - 56 Nights (2015)
At the end of his crazy ride in 2014 and 2015, Future closed with 56 Nights the mixtapes trilogy that had made him relevant again. Released with the help of DJ Esco, just after his stay in a Dubai prison, and produced in a minimalistic way by Southside from the 808 Mafia, it was the darkest of all, and prefigured the renewed success the Atlanta rapper would meet with his next album, DS2.
# 096. BLUE SKY BLACK DEATH & NACHO PICASSO - Exalted (2012)
This was a strange mixture, only to be found in Seattle. On one side Nacho Picasso, and his druggy flow. And on the other, Blue Sky Black Death, two beatmakers who had collaborated with pretty much everyone, from obscure indie rappers to Wu-Tang affiliates. And though, it worked. On a few mixtapes, the pompous music of the duo fitted well with the mocking voice of the rapper.
# 095. SOSAMANN - Trap'd Out 2 (2015)
The members of The Sauce Factory were, by the middle of the 2010's, the new leaders in a rap stronghold: Houston. The city traditions impregnated their sound, especially the impact of syrup. However, they sounded closer to Atlanta's trap music, and more particularly to bands like Migos. This influence was particularly visible on this mixtape from Sosamann, one of their best.
# 094. THEOPHILUS LONDON - This Charming Mixtape (2009)
Theophilius London was the perfect example of the fashion-oriented kind of rap Kanye West and a few others had just heralded. His second mixtape was its climax, somehow, with its eclectic music - Kraftwerk's electro pop, gospel music, Whitney Houston, Bill Withers, and the African sounds of Amadou & Mariam - this New-Yorker had collected behind a cover art inspired by Elvis Costello.
# 093. MAX B - Public Domain 6: Walking the Plank (2009)
Max B delivered plenty of mixtapes. He released so many of them, that it is hard to decide which one is best. The sixth edition of Public Domain, though, has a special flavor. It was, indeed, delivered just after the sentence that sent him back to prison. And its highlight, "I Never Wanna Go Back", was a heartbreaking lament, where Max B shared his distress about going back to jail.
# 092. JUICY J & LEX LUGER - Rubba Band Business 2 (2011)
Juicy J and his Three 6 Mafia had been marginal in the rap world, before meeting a large success in the naughties. And later on, during his solo career, it was still in the margins that he delivered his very best. More than his albums, his mixtapes deserve to be known, especially that one from the Rubba Band series, he released jointly with the top producer of the era, Lex Luger.
# 091. LIL B - 6 Kiss (2009)
After I'm Thraxx, 6 Kiss was the defining release for Lil B, a.k.a. the BasedGod. An ex-member of hyphy band The Pack, the man from Berkeley rebranded himself into some kind of hip-hop messiah. He was a guru, the leader of a new sect who mixed the excesses of gangsta rap with weird sounds. The actual start of the 2010 decade, somehow, would be this long and very odd mixtape.
# 090. ALLEY BOY - Purgatory (2011)
People like biblical metaphors in the South. With Purgatory: The Story of Judas, a mixtape released in his heydays with the help of DJ Drama, Alley Boy used it as well. The thug who had been named after the prison alleys, played his own character: he was the unrepentant sinner from the streets of Atlanta, a man full of violence and frustrations, delivering the most visceral kind of trap music.
# 089. FUTURE - Monster (2014)
All of Future's highlights were heralded by a series of great mixtapes. It was the case, for example, by 2014 and 2015. Between a disappointing Honest and a celebrated DS2, just after the painful end of his relationship with Ciara, the Atlanta rapper would launch a remarkable trilogy of free projects, including Monster, the first of them, the longest, and probably the darkest as well.
# 088. YOUNG JEEZY - The Real Is Back 2 (2011)
It is through a mixtape, Trap or Die, that Young Jeezy made a name for himself. And later on, many of his best projects would be released under that format. It was still the case in the early 10's, when he recorded some new ones, with the support from DJ Drama, and some help from Freddie Gibbs, this new protégé. On The Real Is Back 2, he still had the same old fire, the same hunger.
# 087. KODAK BLACK - Heart of the Projects (2014)
At barely 18, the Floridian disciple of Lil Boosie whom Kodak Black was - this could be heard through his peculiar voice, as well as his socially conscious kind of gangsta rap - started to be in the spotlight. The buzz was largely due to his second mixtape, Heart of the Projects. With it, Kodak Black was still the child from Pompano Beach's projects, but he was already a great rapper.
# 086. MIKE WILL MADE IT - #MikeWiLLBeenTrill (2013)
Mike Will has been 2013's star producer. This man from Atlanta, who had started with Gucci Mane, was working by then with Miley Cyrus. He had produced her album and, as a consequence, he was exposed now to a very large audience. And even when he compiled other songs than his commercially successful bangers, he was great, as demonstrated with the many collaborative tracks on this mixtape.
# 085. NICKI MINAJ - Beam Me up Scotty (2009)
Before Nicki Minaj the superstar, was Nicki Minaj the mixtapes rapper. On a series of three projects, the protégée of Lil Wayne demonstrated that she was first and foremost a rapper. Beam Me up Scotty, in 2009, was the most significant of these mixtapes. There, already, her willingness to expand her horizons was very visible. This was Nicki's entry to the mainstream, and her ticket to a successful career.
# 084. KID CUDI - A Kid Named Cudi (2008)
By the end of the noughties, Kanye West found himself a little brother. Like him, and maybe even before him, Kid Cudi was eclectic. He was largely open to other musical influences, be it IDM or indie rock. And he preferred confessions over ego-trips. This was no longer rap music, but some kind of international pop, the one which Drake and a few others would change this genre into, over the next decade.
# 083. 2 CHAINZ - T.R.U. REALigion (2011)
It was late, by the beginning of the 2010's only, that Tity Boi had ultimately become a star. And this new departure, the Atlanta rapper now better known as 2 Chainz, was partly organized through mixtapes. He was often more convincing on such releases, like T.R.U. REALigion, than on regular albums. It was there, that he delivered the best of his pleasant and goofy kind of trap music.
# 082. VINCE STAPLES - Shyne Coldchain Vol 2 (2014)
Shortly after he joined Def Jam, Vince Staples, the ex-Odd Future affiliate, turned into a conscious rapper. Such was the lesson learned from this mixtape, recorded with the assistance of veteran producer No I.D. There, he talked about racism, the ghetto condition, and his criminal father. That way, he also delivered a foretaste of his masterpiece to come, Summertime '06.
# 081. 100s - IVRY (2014)
100s – later known as Kossisko – is a strange one. He never stopped reinventing himself. With this mixtape released on A-Trak's Fool's Gold label, the Californian rapper played the pimp once again. However, instead of the cold and sober music of Ice Cold Perm, his first project, IVRY was full of funky, shiny and colorful sounds. And these fit perfectly well his character: a harsh but magnificent pimp.
# 080. ALLEY BOY - War Cry (2013)
Alley Boy pretends he makes mixtapes like regular albums. Hard to believe, since they don't have the diversity commercial releases typically show. On the opposite, War Cry is only what it says: a martial shout out of the urban jungle, out of a conflict zone where treachery and hypocrisy reign supreme, where all is wicked and black. But such a relentless homogeneity is exactly what is making it so good.
# 079. GUNPLAY - Bogota Rich: The Prequel (2012)
In those years, Gunplay was literally possessed. A sacred fire inhabited him. After the release of Inglorious Bastard and Off Safety, his great 2011 mixtapes, he had delivered another strong one, Bogota Rich. And it was only supposed to be an appetizer, predating an album he would finally release in 2015. But it was by then, a few years earlier, that Gunplay's barbaric and devastating rap was at its best.
# 078. MEYHEM LAUREN - Respect the Fly Shit (2012)
This remarkable mixtape from Meyhem Lauren, Respect the Fly Shit, is also a good overview of New-York's rap scene in the 2010's. It is its state of the art, thanks to the contribution of the city's best talents - Action Bronson, AG Da Coroner, Sean Price, Roc Marciano, Heems, Smoke DZA, Thirstin Howl III, and the producer Harry Fraud - conveniently gathered into the same hotel during Austin's SxSW festival.
# 077. SHY GLIZZY - Fxck Rap (2012)
Fxck Rap was one of the mixtapes revealing to the world the most special, constant and endearing rapper in Washington D.C. In the subsequent years, Shy Glizzy would continue delivering such outstanding projects. Like here, with a strange mix of self-pity and boasting, he would leverage perfectly well the contrast between his weird voice, his frail aspect, and his little hoodlum braggadocio.
# 076. GUCCI MANE - The BurrPrint: The Movie 3D (2009)
Innovation is overrated. What really matters to people is to enjoy again, again, and again, the very same experience, with just a few variations so that it doesn't get too boring. Gucci Mane had understood that in 2009, one of his best years, with a handful of classic mixtapes, including that one, where he excelled more than ever at his catchy trap music tunes and his ludicrous materialism.
# 075. LIL BOOSIE - Da Beginning (2008)
Da Beginning had a misleading title. That mixtape, indeed, was not at all the start of Lil Boosie. By 2008, he was already a star in Baton Rouge. However, with the quieter, swampy and organic music delivered by BJ, Trill Entertainment's main producer, and with its bitter stance and its disenchanted lyrics reminiscing of blues music, this was another highlight in the influential career of the rapper.
# 074. GUNPLAY - Inglorious Bastard (2011)
Thanks to the heavy music, the menacing looks, and the Nazi imageries Gunplay was fond of, Inglorious Bastard would be one of his manifestos. In 2011, this Rick Ross protégé used his brutish and inflamed voice to devastate everything in rap music. It might have been a blitzkrieg with no consequence. But in that precise year, rap music fully belonged to Richard Morales Jr.
# 073. GUCCI MANE - Mr. Zone 6 (2010)
2009 had been Gucci Mane's year, both qualitatively and quantitatively speaking. And in 2010, after another a few months in prison, he made it once again, with another great mixtape supported by DJ Drama. This time, no-one could escape him. It was no longer possible to ignore the catchy nature of his nursery rhymes, his absurd take on trap music, and even his verbal dexterity.
# 072. ICE BURGANDY - Progress Involves Risk Unfortunately (2012)
Not all people, in the 1017 Brick Squad, were from Atlanta. Among them was a resident of Inglewood discovered by Wake Flocka Flame. His third release, Progress Involves Risk Unfortunately, would be one of many anthological mixtapes released by the collective, thanks to the production work of Purps, and a different style of rap: a more laid-back, habile and Californian one.
# 071. GUCCI MANE - The Movie (2008)
In 2008, the archetypal mixtapes rapper collaborated with the archetypal mixtapes DJ. The Movie, indeed, was Gucci Mane’s first collaboration with DJ Drama. And of course, it was an outstanding one. Dedicated to drug dealing, luxury and his sexual prowess, delivered with an absurd sense of humor, this was Guwop at his best, plus a few guests showing that his status was changing.
# 070. LIL DURK - Signed to the Streets (2013)
With this mixtape, he released with DJ Drama, Lil Durk finally benefited from all the buzz around Chicago’s drill music, after some legal problems had hampered him. One year after the craze, he offered a new classic to this subgenre. And at the same time, he transformed this violent and nihilistic style into something more emotional and melodic, thanks to his ingenious usage of Auto-Tune.
# 069. GUCCI MANE - Trap Back (2012)
Trap Back, such was the name of this mixtape released between two jail sentences, as to signify that Gucci Mane would go back to the very basics of his excessive kind of trap music. And it was a success. Just when his art was declining, just when he engaged into a rap decade that would be more influenced than marked by him, he released one of his very best projects.
To be continued...