The sheer volume of mixtapes in Hip-Hop these days is an intimidating quality. Everyday, without fail, some artist - ranging from legitimate superstar to MC Hole-In-The-Wall - presents to the masses their latest compilation of audio potluck. And while it's difficult to truly present an argument to free music, a lot of what passes our car speakers is more weed plate material than not.
However, exceptions are present to every rule, including those in Hip-Hop. 2012 brought forth more than its fair share of quality mixtapes deserved of recognition. From all corners of the rap map - from New York to Los Angeles and everywhere in between - we highlight some of our favorites and ask you to do the same below in the comments. Also use this opportunity to revisit projects which may or may not have been pushed to the back burner over the months. That's normally what happens when Hip-Hop averages more mixtapes a day than Kobe Bryant does points.
Rick Ross - Rich Forever -- We believe if Rick Ross would have released this mixtape as his proper album, he would have rocketed himself into the stratosphere, and commanded the attention of Madison Avenue as well as your local Martin Luther King Avenue. That’s how good Rich Forever was. With huge singles (“Yella Diamonds,” “Fuck ‘Em,” “Party Heart”), street anthems (“Triple Beam Dreams" feat. Nas, “Off The Boat” feat. French Montana), and the verse of the year courtesy of Drake on “Stay Schemin’,” Ross’ best mixtape had all of the qualities of a classic album. (Listen)
Petty - Petty Presley -- Occasionally, an unassuming newcomer creeps onto the your radar that catches you off guard with how well-rounded they already are, despite still being wet behind the ears. Such was the case of this Nashville MC and his impressive breakthrough mixtape, which showed versatility via both heated angst and heartfelt emotion. (Listen)
Jarren Benton - Freebasing With Kevin Bacon -- Jarren Benton became a household name this year. Well, at least in our house. After hearing all the boisterous hooks and rapid-fire lyrical madness displayed throughout this Decatur native’s SMKA-associated project, Beware's lady came home yelling a new track from this boisterous Funk Volume member every day. But, when this hybrid of Eminem & Tech N9ne is making such catchy and off-the-wall tunes, getting them stuck in your head is inevitable. (Listen)
Wiz Khalifa -- Taylor Allderdice -- This project was a prime example of a gift and a curse. A gift because the music flowed so effortlessly and showcased Wiz's propensity to craft superb records (the "Nameless"-"Never Been Pt. II"-"The Cruise" sequence is still money). A curse because we know he can spawn projects such as these but be forced to release whatever it is Atlantic deems Hip-Hop. This should've been his album. (Listen)
Starlito - Mental WARfare -- With so many emotions and experiences wrapped up inside, Star exorcises his demons through the music once again. (Listen)
Stalley - Savage Journey to the American Dream -- The initial concerns surrounding Stalley's MMG signing, and his decision to contract out production duties to beatmakers other than frequent collaborator and fellow Ohian Rashad, turned out to be much ado about nothing. For while Stalley's raps on Savage Journey to the American Dream took on a more cynical tone -- the result of him fighting discomfort as he attempted to actively re-shape his own conception of the American Dream -- underappreciated Huntsville production crew The Block Beattaz anchor the project with a combination of relaxed warmth and stereo-ready thump that has come to define Stalley's sound. (Listen)
Big Sean - Detroit -- With out-of-towers Common, Jeezy and Snoop professing their love for the traditionally tough Midwestern city, Sean paid homage to his stomping grounds with a well-rounded mixtape that was equal parts lavish, inspiring and dark. (Listen)
Freddie Gibbs - Baby Face Killa -- Apparently there isn’t diminishing returns on ferocious, skillfully delivered raps and smartly selected production. That’s been the basis for the album-esque mixtapes that Freddie Gibbs has been pumping out consistently for the past few years, and his latest entry might well have proven that he has little reason to break with the format. Baby Face Killa successfully pulls from all corners of the gangsta rap spectrum, adding variety to the melodic, musical aggression at its core -- its the closest Gibbs has come to re-asserting his sonic sweet spot since 2009’s Midwestgangsta. (Listen)
Jeremih & DJ Drama - Late Nights With Jeremih -- His "Go To The 'Mo" video is nominated for an AVN award (not really, but it should). And Jeremih's DJ Drama-assisted project more than helps set the mood and seal the deal. What more could you ask for? (Listen)
Meek Mill - Dreamchasers 2 -- Come to see Meek tear through some inspired bars. Stay for “Burn” where Mill and Big Sean put together one of the best rap duets of 2012. If only his album were this impactful. (Listen)
Childish Gambino - ROYALTY -- After the positive reaction of Camp, Gambino returned with a feature-heavy mixtape that showed he can mix it up with the best MCs in the game. Plus we get an extra track from Ghostface, which is Win City. (Listen)
Joey Bada$$ - 1999 -- In case you haven’t heard, Joey is the future. The young gun put New York on his back and took us all back to 1999 when rap was much different. Now, he’s destined to be great through 2012 and beyond. (Listen)
Rockwell Knuckles - Take Me To Your Leader -- Why isn’t Rockwell Knuckles famous yet? Someone answer this question right now. He knocks another project out of the park. From “Helmet” to “Blur” to “Wonderful Face,” we have Rocky’s most complete project to date. (Listen)
3D Na’Tee - The Coronation -- 3D Na’Tee is easily one of the most ferocious spitters in the game and she really made the country take notice with her latest project. From clever barbs to heart-wrenching stories, Na’Tee really crowned herself as an artist to watch going forward. (Listen)
Dom Kennedy - The Yellow Album -- Not many artists period make finer music encompassing the vibe of summer more superior Brother Dom. The Yellow Album became the soundtrack for many a nights over the warmer months and truthfully still manages to do the same as temperature continues to drop. We're still unsure why it's called an album, but released as a mixtape though. This was definitely deserving of a few pennies. (Listen)
Gucci Mane - I’m Up -- Before he ran out of f*cks toward the end of the year and started taking shots at legends, frequent collaborators, long time enemies, Gucci made a damn good mixtape. With Mike Will Made It sliding into the lead production role (see “Plain Jane” featuring T.I. and Rocko for the best example) handled by Zaytoven on Guwop’s best tapes, the Brick Squad general sounded like his old oddball, non-sequitir dropping, drug dealing self. (Listen)
Big K.R.I.T. - 4EvaNaDay -- In another unfortunate instance where the mixtape outdoes the official album, it’s clear that Big K.R.I.T. operated without outside pressure from label executives or self-induced anxiety to improve on his already outstanding discography. The mixtape forms a cohesive narrative of one day in the life of a young man experiencing the pitfalls and victories we’ve all experienced throughout our lives. Standouts include “Me N My Old School,” “Package Store,” and “Temptation." (Listen)
Grande Marshall - 800 -- Grande is barely legal, but he weaves tales well beyond his years. If you didn’t know his age, you’d think he was a weary veteran to the game. Whatever the case, Grande made a strong case for ROY with this project. (Listen)
T.I. - F*ck Da City Up -- While everyone else spent the first day of 2012 recovering, T.I. had trouble on the mind and instead dropped F*ck Da City Up to kick off the new year. If some people were hesitant about Clifford's comeback, the project foreshadowed what would be a strong year for Clifford. A couple highlights were "Hot Wheels" and "Harry Potter," two seemingly family-friendly tracks that the Kang trapped out for our listening pleasure. (Listen)
Trouble - 431 Days -- Free for 431 days, Trouble's tape is full of raw, unapologetic stories. His intensity is second to none, and 431 Days was one of our favorite tapes to ride around to, with the seven and a half minute DTE posse cut "F*ck Sh*t Crew" being one of the many highlights. (Listen)
Dee-1 - The Focus Tape -- Dee-1 made waves as a socially-conscious MC but some still questioned if he could put it all together for a series of bangers. And, with some help from Mr. Mannie Fresh, Dee completed his best project to date. (Listen)
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