Lurking in the black hole of the Internet, behind the thousands of legitimate label releases dominating the charts, are the mixtapes. With the blogosphere an ever-present breeding ground for young artists to share their music for free, we’ve rounded up (and downloaded) the ten best zip files of the year.
10. Lute ‘West1996’
To be honest, we remember downloading this mixtape because the cover bared a blatant resemblance to Nasty Nas’ classic album ‘Illmatic’. Luckily for is judging a book by its cover worked because the MC from Charlotte, North Carolina, is certified dope as he dropped a hidden gem in a stream that’s constantly flooded by throwaway mixtapes. Spitting hot fire bars on classic ’90s hip-hop beats, Lute gets to flex his lyrical dexterity and he finds a balance in applying his witty wordplay with his experiences in the trap of NC. Inspired by his environment but not a product of it, Lute says it best on ‘80 Proof’: “Catch me in these streets but nigga I ain’t got to trap shit /Thank God I got captured by the beat / What mother wanna see they youngest son in a casket”.
9. Dom Kennedy ‘Yellow Album’
It’s always sunny in LA, but here in London we have to rely on things other than the weather to make June through September feel like summer. This is where Leimert Park native Dom Kennedy stepped in with his ‘Yellow Album’. Full of laid-back beats and an effortless flow so relaxed it’s almost void of emotion, this release gets pretty close to capturing the pure essence of summertime California amongst its tracks. Lead single ‘My Type Of Party’ is a typical hip-hop head nodder with easy rhyming couplets and a tried and tested lyrical formula that shines in its simplicity. Another standout track is ‘We Ball’ featuring fellow West Coast dweller Kendrick Lamar - it easily blurs the lines between mixtape and album track, and with guest spots also coming from big guns such as Too $hort and Rick Ross, Kennedy is making friends in all the right places.
HAYLEY LOUISA BROWN
8. Action Bronson And Party Supplies ‘Blue Chips’
On the surface it might come across as another ’90s influenced throwback, but delve below the surface and Blue Chips was one of the most exciting and contemporary mixtapes of 2012. Created around samples grabbed from YouTube sessions conducted by Bronson and Fool’s Gold producer/one-man-band Party Supplies, Blue Chips showcases everything from rapping over percussionless instrumentals to messing up the first verse and starting again (all adding to Bronson’s likeable character) - and that’s only the first track. It’s the fun and easy-going nature of the two collaborators that comes through most, making it a hugely enjoyable listen. Just don’t fucking say his music sounds like Ghost’s shit!
7. Waka Flocka Flame ‘Salute Me Or Shoot Me 4’
Even though Waka Flocka Flame’s sophomore debut ‘Triple F Life: Fans, Friends And Family’ flopped commercially (it failed to even go gold), and lacked the spark that made his now infamous ‘Flockaveli’ debut, he’s pushing ten deep on the mixtape circuit. His most recent delivery, ‘Salute Me Or Shoot Me 4 (Banned From America)’, which dropped in September, is laced with trap beats and a string of guest appearances including Gucci Mane, Wale, Roscoe Dash and Chief Keef. Waka’s people’s champ persona has garnered him a new lesion of followers stretching well past the underground hemisphere. So, consequently, whether or not ‘Salute Me’ has any real substance, he’s been riding on consistency which works in his favour. There isn’t anything profound going on here, a point even Waka will admit about his existence in the game, but the reoccurring molly, money and loyalty themes over infectious 808 drums do resonate. One thing is for sure: hate it or love it, you can’t deny Waka’s unusual charm.
6. Bago ‘Sunday’s Best’
Add a touch of Erykah Badu and Amy Winehouse’s soul and sprinkle it with an essence of Yukimi Nagano from Little Dragon and you get the fantastic Bago wearing her ‘Sunday’s Best’. The beautiful songbird from LA dropped one hell of a smooth mixtape in August and her sultry vocals were the perfect way to close out the summer. The overall theme of this ten-track mixtape divulges into poisonous love relationships and the betrayal that comes with it, or as Bago herself likes to describe it: “music for the screwed, blued and tattooed”. Credit also goes to her longtime producer Alexander Spit, who threw down the monster beats for her to sing over. Where Bago’s career goes in 2013 is a mystery, but if she continues dropping projects like this with bangers like ‘Dr. Lock’, ‘Devil Inside’ and ‘Bad On The Bottle’ then she’s going to go far.
5. Childish Gambino ‘Royalty’
Having given it a little thought, it’s clear that the title of this mixtape can only be referring to one thing: the sheer volume of legendary hip-hop royalty (and some bright young things waiting on a crown) who’ve thrown down a verse for it. Opening up and progressing from the one-man-band production of ‘Camp’, Gambino welcomes others into the fold for ‘Royalty’ to create something both recognizably him and yet distinctly curious. ‘American Royalty’ is one of the stars, opening with a marching band beat (provided by Hypnotic Brass Orchestra) huskily drawled over by RZA and slowly swallowed up by the electro noise Childish has become known for - and call him greedy but RZA isn’t the only Wu-Tang member on the roster; he saved a little room for Ghostface Killah too.
HAYLEY LOUISA BROWN
4. Joey Bada$$ ‘1999’
New York rap kids have a particularly tough list of forefathers to act as heir to. Patrons like Nas, Biggie and Wu Tang all hailed the Big Apple as their stomping ground and what a footprint they left. Seventeen-year-old Joey Bada$$ from Brooklyn was next up and with ‘1999’ planted a noticeable bedrock for his career. The beats were Nas-esque; toting plenty of boom bap steez and a revitalised East Coast bounce that flaunted his skill for nit-picking instrumentals. Cue jazzy, chilled numbers from the likes of MF DOOM, J Dilla, Statik Selektah and Freddie Joachim. Sure, it probably didn’t win many points for originality - nothing content-wise was especially fresh - but its strengths lied elsewhere. Joey’s style of lyricism married each of the beats to perfection and tracks like ‘Waves’ and ‘Fromdatomb$’ make MTV Raps flutter through the memory. With ‘1999’, Joey Bada$$ went and made those golden era hip-hop years revitalisingly tangible.
3. Flatbush Zombies ‘D.R.U.G.S’
After cleverly drip-feeding the blogosphere with videos like ‘Thug Waffle’ and ‘S.C.O.S.A’ there was a lot of hype surrounding the release of Brooklynites Meechy Darko and Zombie Juice’s debut mixtape ‘D.R.U.G.S’ when it dropped in July. Clashing together modern blog-rap with classic NY boom bap tendencies and laying it all down over ’90s Southern rap drum patterns, Erick Arc Elliot provides the backdrop to Meech and Juice’s back and forth rants. They rely just as heavily on their outlandish characters and insanity tinged vocals as their wordplay and rebirth-via-drug abuse subject matter - but don’t file them away under any ‘drug-rap’ sub-genres just yet though, this is only the beginning.
2. Children Of The Night ‘Queens…Revisited’
With co-signs from Large Professor and Young Guru, you’d forgive Children Of The Night for being a little cocky. But even a journalist’s claim that they’re “the new Tribe Called Quest” didn’t swell their egos much. They remain the fun-loving rap crew that incites girls moshing at their shows. COTN’s sound is ’90s with a 2012 twist; most production is courtesy of their in-house producer, Detroit’s Black Noise. But ‘Queens…Revisited’ also boasts beats by Odd Future’s Left Brain and Matt Martians, Hannibal King and Thelonious Martin, plus Danny Brown’s beat-supplier, Skywlkr, responsible for the bass-heavy party track ‘Ilyas’. Their fourth release, ‘Queens…Revisited’ put them on a platform for the world to see. Fueling the buzz were features from Roc Marciano, Flatbush Zombies’ Meechy Darko, Marz Lovejoy, Gita, Lakutis, Big Baby Gandhi and T-shirt plus the six-man collective COTN is a part of, World’s Fair.
1. Haleek Maul And Supreme Cuts ‘Chrome Lips’
Supreme Cuts hadn’t heard shit about Barbados-based Haleek Maul, then known as KIDGNS, when he called them up and began freestyling down the phone. Yet, his spontaneous credentials were enough to convince them to set about a mixtape. This mixtape; ‘Chrome Lips’. From the outset, Haleek breathes the dark imagery that haunted the narcotic melodics of his ‘Oxyconteen EP’; morbid and succinct. The mixtape artwork channels the eerie, as a blue stained Marie Antoinette, now a masculine corpse, hovers in the Palace of Versailles. Haleek’s lyrics follow the macabre, nodding subtly to distant precursors; Memphis rap, Horrorcore, Esham, Brotha Lynch Hung and Gravediggaz, but at a lethargic and codeine-soaked pace. Supreme Cuts’ production haunts the background with space and texture, making ‘Chrome Lips’ “a cloud of weed smoke, twisting shapes that animate your nightmares”. The duo combine loose snippets from Whispers In The Dark with cherry-picked samples, from King Crimson to Brian Eno. Add to that guest appearances from Deniro Ferrar, Kool A.D., Main Attraktionz and more. It all provides the vault for Haleek... only sixteen years old. Bright talent, dark troubles and an album on the horizon. Here’s looking at you, kid.