10 Essential Hip-Hop Mixtapes

Giving away music online is nothing new, but as usual, the States have supersized the method. Rappers across the pond don’t just give away individual tracks, but whole mixtapes, often up to twenty tracks long.


The quality varies from album-worthy gems to cutting room floor rubbish, and with so many released each week it’s often hard to know where to start. Check out our top 5 releases so far this year and our top five classic mixtapes to help you sort the wheat from the chaff. Who can say no to free music?

Five Best Mixtapes Of 2012 So Far

5XV – ‘The Yellow Brick Road to SXSW’

XV is a veteran of the mixtape, and “The Yellow Brick…” is his 17th release since 2006. This tribute to Austin showcases XV’s creative and eclectic approach. Everything from Chaka Khan & Jai Paul to Skrillex, and even the Inception soundtrack, are sampled. If you’re curious to hear a rap version of Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites, XV is your man.

4Hodgy Beats – ‘Untitled’ EP

Odd Future’s Hodgy Beats’ second ever solo release shows he can stand alone from his Wolf Gang partners. Sparse production lets Hodgy’s tight verses shine on this 8 track EP, a showcase of what he can do. A short and sweet release from a name to watch.

3Big K.R.I.T – ‘4eva N A Day’

While Ross is overflowing with confidence, Mississippi’s Big K.R.I.T is full of introspective anxiety. 4eva N A Day, the follow up to last year’s celebrated Return of 4eva, sees K.R.I.T worrying if he’s “really given my all” and musing “what happened to us?/maybe I’m rapping too much.” Coupled with melancholic backing tracks, K.R.I.T sounds like the Marvin Gaye of hip-hop. What’s going on?

2Rick Ross – ‘Rich Forever’

As the title suggest, Ross is rich. So rich in fact that he can afford to give away this 19-track epic featuring guest appearances from superstars like John Legend, Pharrell, Nas, Kelly Rowland and Drake. Despite the stellar line-up Ross dominates every track, rapping about mansions and Maybachs in his characteristic deep drawl. It’s easy to see why MTV named Ross 2012’s “Hottest MC in the Game.”


1Action Bronson x Party Supplies – ‘Blue Chips’

Despite being a 260-pound, Albanian with a ginger beard, Action Bronson is actually one of rap’s brightest rising stars. Bronson’s favourite topic is food – he’s a former gourmet chef – and his style has been compared to Wu Tang Clan’s Ghostface Killah. Not bad for someone who raps about tuna. ‘Blue Chips’ is Bronson at his best, rhyming about eating lamb’s brains and the price of red snapper fish over soul-infused samples.

And Here Are Five Classic Mixtapes

5Tinie Tempah – ‘Foreign Object’

UK Ambassador Tine Tempah has even had a go at the mixtape, in a bid to crack America. Hosted by Russell Brand – yes, mixtapes have hosts apparently – Foreign Object features guest appearances from US superstars such as Lil Wayne, Nicki Minaj and Katy Perry. Tempah does his best gangster rapper impression, even having a go on the autotune, bless him.



4Clams Casino – ‘Instrumentals’

How about a mixtape without the rap? Producer Clams Casino, who’s responsible for some of A$AP Rocky and Lil B’s best tracks, let the beats do the talking on this instrumental release. And after listening to his hazy Burial and Four Tet influenced jams we’re glad he did.

3The Weeknd – ‘House of Balloons’

Canadian crooner Abel Tesfaye wowed critics last year when he released this dark debut. House of Balloons sounds like an R’n’B star on a bad coke trip at 3am. In a good way.


2Frank Ocean – ‘Nostalgia, Ultra’

Another artist tipped for big things in 2012 and another Odd Future affiliate, Ocean’s smooth-as-velvet debut is sure to leave many women weak at the knees. Nostaliga, Ultra even caught the attention of Chris Martin & co.; Ocean is scheduled to support Coldplay on part of their European tour later this year, although not in the UK unfortunately.


1A$AP Rocky – ‘LiveLoveA$AP’

Last year’s best mixtape from one of this year’s hottest acts, A$AP Rocky’s LiveLoveA$AP is already a classic. Chillwave inspired backing tracks contrast perfectly with Brooklynite A$AP’s crisp delivery. You won’t know whether to lie down or start moshing.