Is there a clear difference between a mixtape and an album? It’s a debate that continues to make waves and though it isn’t exactly like comparing bananas to peaches or Dark Fantasy to Late Registration, it is a subject that needs to be addressed. Hip-hop continues to churn out eclectic visionaries that favor label-less projects and as 2014 showed, they’re also totally okay with dominating a calendar year while rap’s biggest names take a knee. We could have easily offered up 30+ can’t miss tapes – including efforts from Migos, Kevin Gates, and Vince Staples – but it’s only right to serve up a tighter list that doesn’t disappoint. With that, we present to you THE 10 BEST MIXTAPES OF 2014.
A$AP FERG – Ferg Forever
“Trap Lord In Stores” will never get old and neither will Ferg’s charismatic stardom. His DJ Drama-assisted Gangsta Grillz release is solid gold proof as it’s full of highs with YG, M.I.A., Big K.R.I.T., SZA, and Clams Casino. It does have its oddities (see “Bonnaroo”), but as A$AP Rocky told us last year, Ferg’s a “designer”. In his world, he would rather be more interesting than monochrome and that’s why his best has yet to come [Listen: “Reloaded” (ft. M.I.A.)].
DAVINCI & SWEET VALLEY – Ghetto Cuisine
ICYMI: Wavves guy Nathan Williams and his brother Kynan make beats under the psuedonym Sweet Valley and their project with San Francisco’s DaVinci is an underrated gem. The unlikely collaborators just click and queue a track for everyone, whether it’s a 100s-assisted slow rider (“Gourmet”), a headphone-trippin rap number (“Intl Go Girl”), or a warped out hustle anthem (“We Good”). Just pick your flavour, kick back, and zone out [Watch: “I Got That Line”].
KID. STUDIO – God Bless Toronto
With respect to Aubrey, Kid. Studio owned “The 6″ this year. Glenn Michael and Vince Tran’s outlet pushed a new voice across various mediums and one of their most successful projects wound up being God Bless Toronto. The curated effort is stacked with local emcees (Teddy Fantum, Dillan Ponders) and beatmakers (Cristometh, Litewrks), and it’s designed to keep you hooked on an underground that’s ready to break the rotation [Download It Here].
MAC MILLER – Faces
Depending on who you ask, Faces is better than Watching Movies. The broad tape is a trip in the most Mac Millian way as the Pitt-gone-L.Aer isn’t out to win at hip-hop – he’s out to win at music. It’s why “Polo Jeans” feels like a change-up compared to “Angel Dust” (and vice versa) and it’s why Faces is likely the only compilation that will ever feature Earl Sweat, Schoolboy Q, Rick Ross, and Mike Jones on the same bill. Larry Fisherman is still Fisherman too and if you’ve been a Mac fan since the “Kool Aid” days, then you know that’s a scary thought [Watch: “Diablo”].
MICK JENKINS – The Water[s]
Chicago’s Mick Jenkins is committed to honesty and originality, and like the Chances and Mensas, his wordplay is startling. The Water[s] rolls with a pack of avant-garde producers (OnGaud, High Klassified, Statik Selektah) and Jenkins catches every beat like OBJ from 30 yards out – analyzing truths and hardships, and how his “momma at the crib tryna stretch a couple pesos”. His stories aren’t pretty pictures, but at least they’re real [Watch: “Martyrs”].
MIKE WILL MADE IT – Ransom
Remember Mike WiLL? Ransom is only a few days old, but it’s a collaboration-stacked mixtape that’s super hard to dismiss because it does more damage than a DJ Khaled promo video. On Side A, there’s Big Sean, 2 Chainz, Future, Rae Sremmurd, Gucci Mane, Chief Keef, and RiFF RaFF. And on Side B, there’s Juicy J, Lil Wayne, Kendrick Lamar, ILoveMakonnen, Young Thug, Migos, Rich Homie Quan, and Dej Loaf. Need we say more? [Listen: “Buy The World”].
RAURY – Indigo Child
In just under a year, the 18-year-old ATLien has been compared to André 3000, co-signed by SBTRKT and Kanye West, and has made Indigo Child an indie-centric statement. It’s an album cut from “being an outcast” and it revolts against the stereotypical as Raury’s outbursts are every bit of mature, mystic, and explicit. They sometimes take a larger-than-life path (think Mos Def), but it’ll be inspiring to see how far this kid can go [Watch: “Cigarette Song”].
SEAN LEON – narcissus, THE DROWNING OF EGO
It’s simple: Sean Leon’s Narcissus isn’t for the faint of heart. The Toronto MC continues his trend of rapping over heavier beats, but with this new installment, he flips them inside out – spitting bars with a restless energy, as if his thoughts will swallow him whole and throw him into the abyss if he keeps them to himself. It’s deep shit and when Leon says “I need a woman to f*ck/ I need heart, I need life, I need ART”, you believe him [Watch: “Pretty Girls…”].
TRAVI$ SCOTT – Days Before Rodeo
Travi$ Scott’s greatest strength is he never settles for mediocrity. Last year’s Owl Pharaoh mixtape showcased his attention to detail – his fondness for making sure a single recording never stays the same after a few minutes so it doesn’t regurgitate a boring mess – and Days Before Rodeo highlights it even further. He reworks songs with his own brush, pieces together favourites for both the homies and the model chicks (“Backyard”, “Quintana Pt. 2″), and goddammit – is there anything better than “Drugs You Should Try It”? Probably not [Watch: “Mamacita”].
YOUNG THUG & BLOODY JAY – Black Portland
You never know what to expect with Young Thugga. Some are still catching a few feels because they’re fixated on whether or not he’s an rap weirdo or an MC that’s taken trolling to a new level, but you cannot deny Black Portland. Thug’s collabo with Bloody Jay backs his quick switch-ups and throwaway lines (“I bury these hoes like sandals”) and to an extent, proves his anecdotes and pure display of imagination were barely flukes [Watch: “Danny Glover”].