It’s been a vintage year for mixtapes – but which were the best? Our countdown of the top fifteen begins with Death Grips, whose brutal, brilliant ‘Government Plates’ was a dark assault on the senses led by the trademark barked raps of frontman MC Ride.
Arca became a household name among hip-hops heads after providing beats for Kanye West earlier this year. Released on the back of his ‘Yeezus’ cameo, the producer’s sprawling 25-minute mix ‘&&&&&’ is an ambient trap triumph.
Fresh from a cameo on Chance the Rapper’s all-conquering ‘Acid Rap’ mixtape (more on that later), 19-year-old Chicago scene newcomer Vic Mensa impressed critics with his sleeker, poppier ‘Innanetape’ – as NME’s Lucy Jones put it, “imaginative hip-hop with booster jabs of funk, soul and electronic swizzles.”
MPC wizard AraabMuzik, real name Abraham Orellan, forged a trap rave epic in the shape of February’s ‘For Professional Use Only’ that put beyond dispute his reputation as one of rap’s premier beatmakers.
Another Chicago prodigy, emcee/producer Tree’s follow-up to 2012’s ‘Sunday School’ was as electric as its predecessor. Mining memories of life growing up in Chicago’s Salem Missionary Baptist Church, its mangled soul loops were a throwback to Kanye’s breezy early work.
Borrowing a sample from indie favourites Grizzly Bear on its gauzy title track, Oddisee’s ‘Tangible Dream’ is one you never want to wake from when you listen to it. One of hip-hop’s most overlooked emcees, on this form it can only be a matter of time till the city-hopping rhyme-slinger, real name Amir Mohamed el Khalifa, graduates to rap’s big leagues.
Despite no label backing and zero marketing budget, UK rap duo Krept and Konan’s ‘Young Kingz’ scaled the UK Top 20 Albums Chart on release via word of mouth alone. Haunted by a gang attack on Konan’s home in 2011 that left his stepfather dead and mother injured, the pair’s rhymes are both sharp and insightful.
Before ‘My Name Is My Name’, one of the hip-hop albums of the year, Pusha T release ‘Wrath Of Caine’, a free-to-download mixtape. Full of steely beats and free-flowing rhymes grappling with the concept of fame, the Virginia emcee’s tutorship at the hand of mentor Kanye West was truly beginning to show.
Le1f’s ‘Fly Zone’ wasn’t the most discussed or most downloaded mixtape of the year, but it was perhaps the most progressive, smashing gender stereotypes in rap with his honest rhymes about life as a young gay black male over trippy beats.
Teaming up again with producer Party Supplies, Action Bronson’s ‘Blue Chips 2’ found the Queens MC playful with his rhymes as ever, on ‘It’s Me’ declaring himself rap’s answer to French football master Zinedine Zidane. Bronson shoots, he scores.
Raised in Maryland by an Ethiopian single mother, Kelela is a supreme talent whose ‘Cut 4 Me’ tape sounds like the future rushing in. Ashanti-style R&B grinds against the rumble of UK bass while the soundtrack to a sci-fi horror movie plays out in the background. It was like walking on the moon with ‘Now 34’ on your iPod.
A scrappy jumble of no-fi sounds and wonky synths stitched together by weird field recordings, ‘K+’ made Florida-born art school graduate Kilo Kish one of the year’s most intriguing breakout stars: a female emcee with hypnotic flow and avant-garde edge. With Earl Sweatshirt, Childish Gambino and SBTRKT among the guests, it was a loose, addictive space-rap trip.
After producing Killer Mike’s ‘R.A.P Music’ last year, Brooklyn beatmaker El-P was promoted to the mic on ‘Run the Jewels’. The pair swapped razor-tongued rhymes about slavery, single parenting and everything in between over heavy boom-bap beats. Outkast’s Big Boi cameod on ‘Banana Clipper’, and just like the tape as a whole he was fast, loud and unstoppable.
Hip hop fans were waiting for on Joey Bada$$ to blow up in 2013, but it was his Beast Coast accomplices Ak and Issa Dash – aka The Underachievers – signed to Flying Lotus’ Brainfeeder imprint, who truly wowed. The New York duo’s ‘Indigoism’ mixtape honed the home-baked psychedelic sonics of 2012 breakout single ‘Herb Shuttles’ to stoned perfection.
This time last year, 20-year-old Chancellor Bennett was living an inconspicuous existence in his native Chicago, riding the buzz from his 2012 mixtape ’10 Day’ in smoky sinkhole venues across the city between internships on political campaigns. ‘Acid Rap’ changed all that. A sumptuous, soul-soaked hip-hop marvel, it turned Chance the Rapper into rap’s next megastar.