There's no ranking here. Instead, David Brothers dug up sixteen mixtapes from this year that you should listen to. It's real rap, no gimmicks, across a variety of styles and from cities all over the country.
Common didn't have a new release this year, though Universal Mind Control dropped late last year. He's had a long career, though, with a number of full blown bangers in his catalogue. Beatnick and K. Salaam took ten of his best and went back to basics on them. Completely new beats laid over the original lyrics. It's an ambitious move, but they manage to pull it off. The 6th Sense was a classic Primo beat, but the remix version actually works. STORY stands in the shadow of some very, very beloved songs, but this is straight.
Drake's So Far Gone is the elephant in the room. It was basically the tape of the year, catapulted Drake into rap stardom, and got him tons of radio play. While Drake isn't blazing any new ground, So Far Gone was dope. What's better is this chopped and screwed version of it. Turns out if you slow the tunes down, the album gains something. It's still clearly Drake, but his deeper voice and the repetition makes for a great listening experience. It's a warped mirror of the album, perfect for bumping in the car, and November 18th v2, a joint that was already screw inspired, turns into something magical. I've listened to this more than I have the actual So Far Gone. It's music to chill out to.
Remember Big L? A super dope lyricist who kicked street tales with insane punchlines? "Ask Beavis, I get nothing but head?" "Honey had me harder than a Spanish test?" He's who Freddie Gibbs reminds me of the most. Freddie isn't rhyming about rhyming, like a lot of lyrical cats do. Instead, he's talking about Gary, Indiana, pushing drugs, and, you know, how sometimes you just gotta put a bullet in somebody's head. Murda On My Mind has a disgusting beat and Gibbs's slow flow makes it sound extra sinister.
Psyche. That title is hard body, though. And how has OJ da Juiceman not sampled Andre 3000's "White man, black man, Jew man ain't no joke" line from Spaghetti Junction yet? Dude is slipping. Or I dunno, maybe he isn't?
Thirty-eight tracks, just under an hour and a half of music, and a full career represented. At this point, Ice Cube is an elder statesman of hip-hop. He's been around forever, people who are on top now grew up on him, and several rappers hijacked his blueprint. No Sleep Til Compton is like watching his life in fast forward, from a young nigga with attitude into the guy who made "Gangsta Rap Made Me Do It." It's good music, but it's interesting music, too.
Joe Budden, after scoring a big hit with Pump-pu-pump It Up! forever ago, flipped styles entirely, going into full-on introspection and an exhibitionist's sense of honesty in his rhymes. This collection puts Joey on display, from his angel dust habit to his depression to his crap luck with women. He's heavy on the pop culture, heavier on the personal issues, and eager to go in on a song. As far as I'm concerned, All of Me is a certified classic.
Forty minutes of spitting. Joell goes in on thirty-four of your favorite rap joints, from Know the Ledge to Renee to Ebonics, and does his thing. Most of the tracks are just a verse or two long (though Renee's Revenge is a full three minutes), giving Joell just enough time to get in and demolish it before moving on the to next. It's ill to hear a talented emcee on classic beats. Ortiz is funny, more than willing to poke fun at himself, and that makes this joint fun.
For a long while, when OutKast was on hiatus, Goodie MOb had broken up, and it looked like the Dungeon Family was going through a trial separation, Killer Mike kept that Dungeon mix of ill lyrics, conscious thought, Dirty South flavor, and ignant content visible. OutKast was always the Pimp and the Poet. Killer Mike is a blend of both, though heavy on the Pimp side. With Bobby Ray being heavy on the Poet side, Grand Hustle may have inadvertently signed OutKast 2.0. TI is fond of shouting "UGK alumni!" on his songs, showing respect to the people who inspired and sired him. Killer Mike is OutKast alumni, and you can hear it on this career retrospective.
Michael Jackson is undeniable. The 2000s were not kind to him, but before then, he'd already released more hits than most people do in their entire career. After his death, DJ Jazzy Jeff took tracks from the Jackson 5-era and on and created this long blend. It's the kind of album you put on and play in a row, properly sequenced, because it's a trip. It has songs you loved, songs you forgot about, and some remixes you never heard. I can guarantee that this is a better tribute than whatever BET did that time.
Killer Mike co-signing Pill got me to check him out, and Trap Goin' Ham delivered, big time. In a word, Pill is dope. He's putting out trap star music that's catchy, clever, and authentic. It's not just about pitching rocks, either. Pill talks about life, love, and everything in between. 4075 has some jacking for beats, too, and hearing Pill go rapid fire on Nas's Got Yourself a Gun is a highlight, not to mention the tributes to Pac and Biggie.
Want to know the moment I started to believe that Cuban Linx II might actually be a good record? It was when the last song on this mixtape played and I immediately started it over again. After a dry spell, Rae came out with the classic and relentless style that we've all come to expect from him. I doubted, and then I believed, and I enjoyed Cuban Linx II even more because of this one. It's very complementary, feeling almost like a prelude to Cuban Linx II instead of just a free mixtape. Plus, the title- remember on Hellz Wind Staff when Ghostface Killah said "Next album, Blood on Chef's Apron?" This was prophesied, son.
Trackstar is running this year with these retrospective joints, yeah? This time around, Royce da 5'9", one of the few cats who can hang with Eminem at his own level, gets the treatment. It goes back to Scary Movies, the song that introduced me to both Royce and Em years upon years ago, and follows his career up to now. Listen to Been Shot Down or Shake This or Renegades or Beef or 52 Bars and tell me that Royce isn't nicer than the next man. The only thing this tape is missing is the song that Royce and DJ Premier made about his dick.
Wale's Mixtape About Nothing was 2008's So Far Gone. Back to the Feature doesn't quite rise to those heights, but Wale has a lot of friends and they all showed up to play. Peedi Crakk, Black Thought, Royce da 5'9", K'Naan Jean Grae, Memphis Bleek, Talib Kweli, Joell Ortiz, Skyzoo... Lady Gaga. There's somebody here you like, I'm pretty sure.
Hey, this one? This one's essentially an album. There are 21 songs here, and I think that all of them are pretty good. Fall Out The Sky and Mirror's Edge are easily the best, but Star A War is fairly swift. XV is working in that kinda nerdy lane that's become the in thing, but his talent shines through. This tape jumps from style to style, showing off a surprising range of content and flows.
Things Young Dro does well: comedy, punchlines, hilarious comparisons, insane similies. Things Young Dro does poorly (on occasion): enunciate. Despite that, RIP Mixtape is insane. It's a classic, almost entirely jacking for beats, and Dro puts his best foot forward on amost all of them. He spends a lot of time talking and laughing, but that's Dro. He's known for being a fool on the mic and dressing like an old rich white guy, and it works. He's entertaining, and his version of Kid Cudi's Day and Night is like classic, distilled, vitamin-enhanced Dro.
Take everything I said about Dro's RIP record and double it. Adding Yung LA into the mix takes Dro's fashion-oriented swagger talk and throws in a healthy dose of space age rap. The Black Boy White Boy in the title refers to Dro and LA's black boy swag and white boy tags-- enforcing stereotypes, sure, but listen to this thing and tell me it won't make you smile. They go in over Soulja Boy's She Got A Donk, turning it into Who Got Strong, and their Ralph Lauren meets Elroy Jetson style is amazingly appealing. It's rap for people who take rap seriously, but not so seriously that they can't have some fun with it. Plus, Take Off is something serious, not to mention last year's Ain't I remix. So yeah, you might find yourself going blackboywhiteboy, blackboywhiteboy, BOW along with these cats.
Jeezy is good at one thing: being a trap star. Last year's The Recession was dope, and had an edge of conscious thought, but Jeezy Hamilton's at his best when he's kicking raspy rhymes about dealing that stuff. Trappin' Ain't Dead is ignorant from jump, but crazy listenable. He stays on subject throughout, delivering something that's straight out of an obsolete era, but still sounding something like 2009. You won't find anything uplifting here, just raw rhymes and a lot of ad-libs (ha haaaaaaaaaa).
-David Brothers, 2009