By Rob Markman
Album delays are an inevitable part of the new music cycle, but hip-hop fans have come to depend on mixtapes to provide them with updated tracks until their favorite artists can drop label-backed projects. In recent years, the free online releases — some of which are even made to sound like albums — increasingly help to raise an MC’s stock.
2011 brought on high-profile tapes from veterans like Lil Wayne and Young Jeezy, while newcomers like Future and A$AP Rocky used their tapes to establish their fanbases. While hundreds of tapes were released this year, Mixtape Daily breaks down the 10 Best of 2011, in no particular order.
» 2 Chainz’s Codeine Cowboy
Every good artist knows the art of reinvention and in 2011, no rapper rebranded himself as effectively as 2 Chainz. Once known as Tity Boy from the Atlanta group Playaz Circle, 2 Chainz cleaned up his act with a name change and a tape to go with it. Codeine Cowboy established the underground ATL veteran as a hitmaker thanks to his infectious money ode “Spend It.”
Key Tracks: “Spend It,” “LaLa” (featuring Busta Rhymes) and “Kitchen” (featuring Young Jeezy and Pusha T)
» A$AP Rocky’s LiveLoveA$AP
Before he even dropped his debut mixtape, Harlem MC A$AP Rocky inked a deal worth $3 million with Polo Ground/ RCA. When Rocky released LiveLoveA$AP on Halloween, the N.Y. newcomer with the Southern sensibility had proven that his breakouts “Purple Swag” and “Peso” were no flukes.
Key Tracks: “Peso,” “Trilla” and “Brand New Guy” featuring Schoolboy Q
» Big K.R.I.T.’s Returnof4Eva
Most artists use a combination of original tracks and freestyles over well-known beats on their mixtapes, but producer/MC Big K.R.I.T. has always separated himself from the pack by producing his own material. Following the success of 2010’s breakout K.R.I.T. Wuz Here, the 2011 XXL Freshman delivered once again with Returnof4Eva.
Key Tracks: “Country Sh– (Remix)” (featuring Ludacris and Bun B), “Rotation” and “Dreamin’ ”
» Future’s True Story
Sure, Future dropped a few mixtapes before True Story, but with catchy tracks like “Magic” and “Tony Montana,” how could fans not be checking for the “Racks”-featured rapper?
Key Tracks: “Magic” and “Tony Montana”
» Lil Wayne’s Sorry 4 the Wait
How considerate is Lil Wayne? After his label pushed back the release of his super-hyped Tha Carter IV, Weezy decided to give his fans a little something to make up for the delay. The aptly titled Sorry 4 the Wait found Tunechi reworking songs like Kreayshawn’s “Gucci Gucci” and Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep” over the course of 12 tracks. After a ton of mixtape downloads and double-platinum sales of Tha Carter IV, it’s clear that fans have accepted Wayne’s apology.
Key Tracks: “Sure Thing (Freestyle),” “Gucci Gucci (Freestyle)” and “Tunechi’s Back”
» Ludacris’ 1.21 Gigawatts: Back to the First Time
Ludacris is a rapper’s rapper. Don’t let his new line of Soul headphones, Conjure liquor or Hollywood movie roles fool you: Mr. Lova Lova takes MC’ing very seriously and it shows on 1.21 Gigawatts. Not only does Luda experiment with new flows on “Rich & Flexin’ ” and “Muthaf—a Can U Buy That,” he wages war against Drake and Big Sean on “Bada Boom.”
Key Tracks: “Bada Boom,” “Shake and Fries” (featuring Gucci Mane) and “Rich & Flexin’ ” (featuring Waka Flocka Flame)
»Meek Mill’s Dreamchasers
After making his mark on Maybach Music’s Self Made compilation with standout tracks like “Tupac Back,” and “Ima Boss,” many expected Meek Mill to drop his debut album right away. But rather than rush, Meek held fans over with his Dreamchasers tape. It’s quite the appetizer. Over the course of 19 tracks, the Philly MC gives fans a mix of everything: There are hits, some freestyles and even an intricate story rhyme on “Tony Story.” Well done.
Key Tracks: “House Party” (featuring Young Chris), “Work” (featuring Rick Ross) and “Tony Story”
» Pusha T’s Fear of God
As one-half of the Clipse, Push has always been a highly regarded lyrcist, but stepping out as a soloist can be tricky. On his first work without his brother Malice, Pusha Ton showed and proved, so much so that after Fear of God was released as a free mixtape on the Net, it was re-released at retail.
Key Tracks: “My God,” “Feeling Myself” and “Raid” (featuring 50 Cent and Pharrell)
» Wale’s The Eleven One Eleven Theory
After getting his Twitter following to 1 million, Wale dropped his The Eleven One Eleven Theory mixtape to hype up the release of his sophomore album Ambition. When the tape first dropped online, it crashed a few file-sharing sites. And once listeners were able to download and digest Wale’s work, it quickly became a fan favorite.
Key Tracks: “Bait,” “Chain Music” and “Ambitious Girl 2″
» Young Jeezy’s The Real Is Back
Young Jeezy’s TM 103 (due this month) saw a series of delays, but that doesn’t mean that the Snowman wasn’t working. On his The Real Is Back mixtape, Jeezy squashed the beef with DJ Drama and collaborated on one of the year’s best. Through 21 tracks, Jeezy delivers his unique brand of trap music as only he can.
Key Tracks:”Win Win,” “Rollin” (featuring Fabolous), “Run DMC” (featuring Freddie Gibbs) and “Ballin’ ” featuring Lil Wayne
Think we missed a major mixtape? Sound off in the comments below or tweet us at @MTVRapFix!