As the internet and music industry continue to collide and grow, it seems more common for artists to choose to put out high quality projects for free. Our generation has grown up in a world where, specifically in the Hip Hop genre, we are blessed with album quality music in the shape of “mixtapes.” The mixtape is a wonderful tool for artists to take advantage of and an enjoyable audio art form for fans alike. It provides artists with a platform in which they can fully display their creativity and also try new things musically.
In 2012 we have seen various artists virtually explode out of nowhere, established ones attempt to stay relevant, and a few who tried to make comebacks. This year has been full of surprises and some extremely quality music. Below I have compiled a list of 25 of the top mixtapes that were dropped this year (…FO FREE, of course), highlighting a few of the standout tracks that can be found on that specific project.
25. Casey Veggies – “Customized Greatly Vol 3″
LA upstart Casey Veggies is not even a year removed from graduating high school and is slowly but surely climbing the ladder that is the rap game. He dropped the third installment of his Customized Greatly mixtape series back in April and proved to be a perfect project to start off the summer. Boasting features and production from Earl Sweatshirt, Tyler The Creator, Woody, Polyester, Jhene Aiko, Uncle Dave, Domo Genesis, Raheem DeVaughn and more helped propel this onto my Top 25 Mixtapes of 2012 list.
Notable Tracks: Get That $, Verified, Toe Tag, Euphoria III.
24. Raven Sorvino – “Playa Del Rey”
In case you were unaware, there a many other female emcees who are arguably more talented than Niki Minaj, case in point Los Angeles native Raven Sorvino. Sorvino is part of the newly budding West Coast hip hop scene and her style is evident on her latest release “Playa Del Rey.” With a unique voice and clever rhyme scheme which are both complimented by the fresh production she delivers a very well put together project and shows that she is one of the top female emcees in the game.
Notable Tracks: Gold Chainz, The Wave, My Life, P.A.P.E.R.
23. Trinidad James – “Don’t be S.A.F.E.”
An artist who seemingly exploded on the scene out of nowhere, Atlanta up and comer Trinidad James has only dropped one project to date and is a perfect example of how free releases can help build a career. His hit single “All Gold Everything” is being played throughout the country, but some of you probably don’t know about the mixtape that the song was featured on, Don’t Be S.A.F.E. The self-proclaimed 10 month rookie to the rap game has already captivated fans of all walks of life with his highly catchy production, clever wordplay, and interesting style of music. It is truly amazing to see an artist to go from unheard of to extremely popular within a few months. The internet is an amazing tool.
Notable Tracks: Females Welcomed, All Gold Everything, $outhside.
22. Chip Tha Ripper – “Tell Ya Friends”
The artist now known as “King Chip” put out a very solid mixtape “Tell Ya Friends” before the name change. Chip is one of the few artists representing for the city of Cleveland and he makes it very evident throughout the tape. This project has a wide array of talent from the producers to the features, including Wale, Boi-1da, Lex Luger, Bun B, Krayzie Bone, Kid Cudi, and Chuck Inglish to name some of the better known participants. Chip’s flow, laidback yet confident style, combined with the production makes for a very well put together project from top to bottom. Notable Tracks: Out Here, 25 Wives, Boomshakalaka. 21. Domo Genesis & Alchemist –No Idols Odd Future member Domo Genesis recruited super-producer Alchemist for his free release “No Idols.” The project has some big name features including, Smoke DZA, Freddie Gibbs, SpaceGhostPurrp, Action Bronson, Vince Staples, Prodigy and of course fellow Odd Future members Earl and Tyler. Alchemist paints an incredible picture with his epic production and allows Domo to capitalize. Domo delivers his always present weed raps (“Me and My Bitch” being entirely about Mary Jane), but also shows off his skills with more raw lyrics and clever wordplay throughout. The often overlooked Odd Future member delivered a great project and solidified himself as an artist to be on the lookout for more of in 2013.
Notable Tracks: Out Here, 25 Wives, Boomshakalaka.
21. Domo Genesis & Alchemist – “No Idols”
Odd Future member Domo Genesis recruited super-producer Alchemist for his free release “No Idols.” The project has some big name features including, Smoke DZA, Freddie Gibbs, SpaceGhostPurrp, Action Bronson, Vince Staples, Prodigy and of course fellow Odd Future members Earl and Tyler. Alchemist paints an incredible picture with his epic production and allows Domo to capitalize. Domo delivers his always present weed raps (“Me and My Bitch” being entirely about Mary Jane), but also shows off his skills with more raw lyrics and clever wordplay throughout. The often overlooked Odd Future member delivered a great project and solidified himself as an artist to be on the lookout for more of in 2013.
Notable Tracks: Prophecy, Power Ballad, Daily News, Elimination Chamber, The Feeling.
20. rMell – “NEOGEO”
District of Columbia up and comer rMell has been working on his prized free release of 2012 “NEOGEO” for nearly two years now. We finally got to hear rMell’s entirely self-produced debut and it was very much worth the wait. rMell’s unique style of not only producing but also on the mic is evident throughout and makes for a very interesting listen. You wouldn’t expect this quality of music from someone so young, but rMell certainly delivers. With very few features this project was a great opportunity for him to display his skills. This is a perfect example how a virtually unheard of artist with talent can get their music heard throughout not only the country but the world by delivering a solid piece of work for free.
Notable Tracks: Raybans, Kangaroo Island, Overture, Clap For Em, Untitled.
19. Calez – “Kids With Raps” (Deluxe Edition)
I was first introduced to 19-year-old Chicago artist Calez (of the 2008ighties Crew) from his track “Middle Finger” which is essentially a nice way of saying f*ck you to all the blogs out there. I thought this was an interesting way to introduce oneself and caught the attention of many throughout the music industry. After a plethora of leaks we finally got his highly anticipated debut “Kids With Raps (Deluxe Edition)” and it did not disappoint. With most of the production handled by himself, fellow Chicago natives Thelonious Martin, UG, and Flosstradamus, the project has a very distinct style. At points the tape has a very laidback feel but various instances Calez switches it up and displays his flow and gritty in your face style. While keeping the features limited to a few fellow 2008ighties crew members, Calez is able to put his lyrical and storytelling skills on display.
Notable Tracks: Middle Finger, CAUTION, UltraSound, RapAVeli 2, Rapping Habits.
18. Gilbere Forte – “Year Of The Dragon”
Philadelphia new comer Gilbere Forte dropped a very well put together project that I feel has been overlooked all year. This was most likely due to it being dropped back in January which is ages ago when it comes to music. Whatever the reason may be, you are missing out on some very quality free music if you overlooked this one. The project boasts some very popular names among the Hip Hop community, including Pusha T, Lloyd Banks, Freeway, Jim Jones, Sean Rose, & Don Trip to name a few. Forte rocks over refreshing original production and also hijacks a few well known instrumentals. Forte’s clever wordplay and lyrical prowess is on display throughout.
Notable Tracks: Humble F*cks, Lord Knows (Freestyle), Lets Get It Poppin, Hot In This Bitch (Remix), Now I’m Livin, Sweet (Freestyle).
17. Dom Kennedy – “The Yellow Album”
After the year Dom Kennedy has had, I think it is safe to say he is no longer only well known on the West Coast, but throughout the country. Dom Kennedy’s free release “The Yellow Album” is the main reason for this additional success. Don’t get me wrong, he has had a solid buzz for quite some time now, but that was mainly in the underground community, The Yellow Album helped catapult him to the forefront of the Hip Hop world. I’m sure by now most of you have heard his hit single “My Type Of Party” at some point. Kennedy’s laidback and fun style of music works very well with all the production (handled by THC, DJ Dahi, Fly Union, Chase N Cashe, Polyester & a few others) that can be heard throughout the project. Kennedy also managed to secure some very prominent features as well, including: fellow West Coast natives Kendrick Lamar & Too $hort, Rick Ross, Freddie Gibbs. The production and features combined with Dom Kennedy’s skills all helped to propel “The Yellow Album” to number 17 on the list.
Notable Tracks: My Type Of Party, We Ball, Been Thuggin, Lately, P + H.
16. Tabi Bonney – “Lovejoy Park”
District of Columbia veteran, Tabi Bonney dropped two free projects and an album this year, “Lovejoy Park” being my favorite of the three. The nine track project was dropped towards the end of summer and was a perfect way to culminate every Bro’s favorite time of the year. The feel good nature that is evident from the production, combined with Tabi’s unique style and voice make for a very successful piece of work. The production is piano laden, futuristic, with a hint of DC’s iconic genre that is “Go-Go” and really showcases Tabi’s unique style of music.
Notable Tracks: TOHL, She Parties, Need A Girl, One More Time, Breaker.
15. A$AP Mob – “Lord$ Never Worry”
A$AP Rocky and his mob of various different A$AP members came together to drop a compilation mixtape entitled “Lord$ Never Worry.” The mob is made up of A$AP Rocky, A$AP Ferg, A$AP Ant, A$AP Nast, A$AP Twelvyy and in-house producer A$AP Ty Beats. Each artist has their own unique style that they contribute, making a solid unit of artists with different lyrics, flows, and sounds. What these young artists lack in lyrical content is made up for by their always present high energy. They make their love for drugs, money, woman, and high fashion evident throughout the free release. There is a track entitled “Coke and White Bitches: Chapter 2.” It often times feels a bit excessive but that is their style of music which they have seemingly perfected and have garnered avid supporters throughout the world. Artists with less substance often times find themselves relying heavily on good production to carry their records. This concept is put on display for most of the tape. The great production really helps make the tape an enjoyable listening experience. The choice of the features found on the project also helps compliment the mob.
Notable Tracks: Full Metal Jacket, Coke And White Bitches, Persian Wine, Work, Choppas On Deck, Gotham City.
14. Nacho Picasso – “Black Narcissus”
A Seattle upstart, the self-proclaimed “Master like Shredder,” Nacho Picasso caught my attention with his first release of 2012, an album entitled Exalted. After being instantly converted to a fan from this I patiently waited for more content from him. This came in the form of a free release “Black Narcissus” which was even more enjoyable than Exalted. Nacho Picasso is a new breed of artist that has captivated fans throughout the country with his epic twitter rants, extensive movie references, hilariously creative and often provocative lyrics and his ear for great production. “Black Narcissus” puts all that and more on display throughout the free project. Nacho’s unique and often times nasally voice works with the dope, yet not overpowering production that is used. With a slow but steady flow and lines like “A mean drug assortment with Natalie Portman, cover me in gold till I feel I’m important”…”she give me big head, Easter Island” and various other creative yet funny lines (those two were tame compared to a lot of other lines found on the tape), “Black Narcisuss” is an interesting and entertaining project. Notable
Tracks: American Literature, Cover Me In Gold, Galactic, Master Shredder, Rat Race (Screw A Rat Remix)
13. Phil Ade – “Phil Ade Friday 2″
2012 has been a very productive year for Maryland artist Phil Ade. He has put out various remixes, videos, and a very successful mixtape in “Phil Ade Friday 2.” The project is a collection of records that he put out throughout the year on, you guessed it right, Friday. The project is a successful marriage of popular instrumentals and original production. With most of the original production being handled by fellow DC area folk, in Mark Henry, The Official (in-house producer for Logic), and DJ Money; one track (arguably the most popular song from the tape) was produced by Taylor Gang’s in-house producer Cardo. In my personal opinion Phil Ade is one of the most skilled artists that you may have not heard of, and that is evident throughout the tape. His use of various flows combined with the catchy and fun lyrics but also his often times gritty lyrics will have you thinking, “Why is this first I am hearing of Phil Ade??”
Notable Tracks: Gone!, Let It Shine, Not Enough, P.O.P Music, Nightmares, Throne Talk, Ballin, Where You From.
12. Mac Miller – “Macadellic”
Pittsburgh kid, Mac Miller has had one of the most successful years out of all Hip Hop artists who are trying to advance in the always tough music industry. While touring the nation, working with Pharrell and many others, Miller found the time to release a very well put together mixtape in the form of Macadellic, which served as his only release of the year. Miller has grown a cult like following among the youth throughout the world, with the release of his debut album Blue Slide Park he showed that he could not only garner millions of listeners via the internet but that people would actually purchase his music. Macadellic served somewhat as a thank you to all of his fans for the ridiculous amount of support that was put on display for much of 2011. If you have listened to his music you would know what to expect from this free tape; his cocky, carefree attitude is very apparent in his often drug laden rhymes that are ever present on Macadellic. He is often not taken seriously for this style of music (I’m guilty), but on Macadellic it is different; he impresses me on this with some deeper tracks, all while keeping true to his party, fun music style. The production and features he managed to acquire boast some real heavy hitters, including: Kendrick Lamar, Joey Bada$$, Casey Veggies, Juicy J, Lex Luger, Sir Michael Rocks, ID Labs, Sap, Cam’ron, Clams Casino, Hannibal King, and more! Mac Miller surprisingly holds his own and is not outshined by this epic lineup of guests.
Notable Tracks: Fight The Feeling, Lucky Ass Bitch, Thoughts From A Balcony, 1 Threw 8, Ignorant, America, Angels
11. Uno Hype – “FXCK THE HYPE”
Maryland bro Uno Hype took the “game” by storm this year with his collaborative project “FXCK THE HYPE,” with DJ/producer Black Diamond. The production makes for a very cohesive project from top to bottom. The nine track project starts off with the ever refreshing “Train Of Thought,” in which Hype goes in about various aspects of his career that were currently on his mind. The next three tracks are arguably even more smooth and give us our first glimpse of features, which include Pro Era crew members Joey Bada$$ & CJ Fly, Hassani Kwess, and Mansions On The Moon. I love the work Black Diamond did on “We Were Kings,” the soulful feel to it is very relaxing and allows each artist to speak their mind. We are then hit over the head with the heavy synth & bass masterpiece that is “Chips Ahoy.” We hear the “Kushed God” aka New York City’s resident stoner, Smoke DZA and another verse from Hassani Kwess. The remaining tracks on the project follow this pattern of smooth and refreshing production, combined with a few additional features, including Philadelphia up and comer Tayyib Ali. Production and features aside, Uno Hype has an intriguing and often times, old school feeling style of music that can easily stand on its own. He is definitely not outshined by any of the features and shows high levels of maturity throughout despite being 17 years young! This is a very unique listening experience that unlike most mainstream music lets the lyrics shine, so make sure to listen closely.
Notable Tracks: Train Of Thought, Aromatherapy, We Were Kings, Chips Ahoy, Smooth Flows, Attack Of The Clones.
10. Grande Marshall – “800″
Philadelphia upstart GrandeMarshall first caught my attention back in August when I caught his set at DC’s first ever Hip Hop and Electronic music event “Trillectro.” Being a Philly native myself, I instantly wanted to hear more. This additional music came in the form of a slew of singles leading up to his only release of the year “800” which dropped a few weeks after I had the chance to see him perform live. The 14 track project has no features and boasts many self-produced tracks, which allows Grande a platform to display his gritty style on not only the mic but also the boards. Grande’s lyrics are heavily drug influenced and full of stories about various encounters with female counterparts, the often harsh world that is Philadelphia, the often cliché “haters,” the drug industry, every Bro’s worst nightmare the cops, and other more personal subjects. The marriage of smooth piano and brass laden production with the more gritty production is flawless. The 18 year old has a very unique and entertaining style for being so young; you can really hear the emotion in his voice in many of the songs found on the project.
Notable Songs: Dearly Beloved, Ellie Fox, Comas, RFTPSTE215, SEC580, NP Shidd, Jeezy Voice, GODBPM, 2-3 Shidd, Fuel & Fire.
9. Smoke DZA – “K.O.N.Y”
New York City’s resident smoker the “Kushed God” also known as Smoke DZA has had yet another productive year. He put out a collaborative album with Harry Fraud, numerous videos and singles, was part of the Smokers Club nationwide tour, and dropped two free projects, “K.O.N.Y.” being the more successful of the two. DZA’s laidback yet methodical flow seems to always work. His use of clever metaphors combined with his always present weed raps, sports & movie references works well throughout the project. For being called “The Kushed God” DZA doesn’t hit us over the head with so many weed rhymes to where it gets to the point of being obnoxious but he does make it evident that he enjoys a doobie (or 5) from time to time. It’s not all fun and games though; DZA at times discusses his distrust for the government and police and touches on various other deeper topics. For being a mixtape there is some very quality music on displayed; some of the most prominent and talented producers in the Hip Hop industry are present on “K.O.N.Y.” Harry Fraud, Ski Beatz, J Dilla, Lee Bannon, DJ Dahi, 183rd, and Kenny Beats all bless him with some incredible production. He also manages to recruit some very talented artists to contribute. Found on the tape are verses from the likes of Ab-Soul, Joey Bada$$, King Chip, Big K.R.I.T., Fat Trel and more.
Notable Tracks: Diamond, Fish Tank, K!NG, JFK, Butta Rice, Best Seller, G.otham F.*ckin City, Livin
8. Chance The Rapper – “10 Day”
It seems as if 2012 was the year that many up and coming artists from Chicago were able to break onto the mainstream blogosphere, one artist who did just that was Chance The Rapper. His only release of the year, “10 Day” received praise from bloggers and fans alike. This recognition was well deserved and caught my attention enough to give the free project some serious play throughout the year. His unique voice combined with his steady flow and intriguing lyrics have captivated music fans since the project dropped. I also commend him for his choice on the production that is found on the tape. It really compliments Chance’s style and makes for a nearly flawless debut! Also the way he changes up his voice and flow for different songs is truly amazing, it’s as if he had the mindset of performing these songs while recording this. Chance seems to have a wide array of styles that he can use when the song calls for it. You can really hear the emotion in his voice throughout the project. To the slower, reggae feeling tracks to the boom bap and brass laden sounds, to the more gritty heavy bass oriented, this project has something for everyone. The execution displayed on “22 Offs” alone is simply impressive and should give you a good idea of the talent that the young Chicago upstart possesses.
Notable Tracks: 14,400 Minutes, Missing You, 22 Offs, Long Time, Juke Juke, F*ck You Tahm Bout, Long Time II, Hey Ma.
7. Wiz Khalifa – “Taylor Alderdice”
No matter your opinion of Pittsburgh’s Wiz Khalifa, you cannot question his work ethic. He’s constantly touring, creating new tracks & videos, guest features, appearances, and more. With that being said many of his fans have questioned the quality of the music he has been putting out as of late. I personally think this tape (named after his high school) and his album O.N.I.F.C. have silenced a majority of the doubters and showed that the Taylor Gang general still has it. This tape includes everyone we have come to expect from a Wiz Khalifa project, production from the likes of Cardo, Big Jerm, ID Labs, and Sledgren; verses from fellow Taylor Gang members Juicy J, Chevy Woods, and Lola Monroe. Also found on the tape are some very pleasant surprises in the form of Harry Fraud and SpaceGhostPurrp production, and a feature from Smoke DZA. The substance is what we have come to expect and have to accept, the excessively mentioned good weed, money, drinking, and overall fame that comes with being a successful young rapper. This lack of substance, however, does not hold back “Taylor Alderdice,” in fact it works well for Wiz. I know there are still some of us who enjoy dope lyrical content and substance but that is no longer the majority of people who listen to Hip Hop. Wiz is simply delivering a solid project of what the people want to hear and what he enjoys creating now. One thing I will say in that regard is “Never Been Part II” is not even close to as good as the original. The combination of Wiz, Juicy J and SpaceGhostPurrp production however, is quite enjoyable. From top to bottom there are some very entertaining tracks and should be enjoyed by most. I’m sure if you dabble in the world of marijuana you will be thoroughly pleased.
Notable Tracks: The Grinder, Brainstorm, Number 16, California, Blindfolds, Guilty Conscience, Rowland, T.A.P.
6. Logic – “Young Sinatra: Undeniable”
The hardest working artist across all genres is hands down, Maryland upstart Logic. This man eats, sleeps, and breathes music. Whether he is touring, writing, recording, shooting videos, he is constantly working, often times late into the night when most others are counting sheep. The only way to build a name in this industry is to put in copious amounts of work on a consistent basis. Logic has shown that it is entirely possible to go from an unheard kid out of a state that is not very well known for good Hip Hop music, to an artist that is listened to throughout the world and adored by his fans. After a slew of incredible visuals and singles, Logic finally dropped off his third free release and first of 2012, “Young Sinatra: Undeniable.” This project has the feeling of how Logic is so close to his ultimate goal of being a successful artist who can share his music with the masses. It seems as if he has decided that he will not be denied this dream, therefore he is “Undeniable.” With a lone feature, Logic is really able to display his undeniable lyrical skills along with his various flows. The use of a few popular instrumentals and some refreshing original production allows you to hear him showcase his talents in different instances. The project has a track for everyone, and does not disappoint. The substance is there for those who enjoy deeper listening, there are also more fun, mainstream songs for those who are a fan of that. Many of you may feel number 6 is a high placement for an artist you may have never heard, but give the tape a listen and then tell me it is not deserving!
Notable Tracks: Inception, Set The Tone, Disgusting, No Biggie, The Spotlight, We Get High, Life Of A Don, Numbers, Do Ya Like