As Noisey’s Skinny Friedman pointed out in his insightful piece, the main difference between an album and a mixtape is the former is designed to move units while the latter generates exposure. Granted, tapes can produce singles and cultivate a massive fan base to tour off of, but they don’t shackle you to the dreaded conundrum that is a label contract. They also don’t come with a long list of expectations that turn emerging artists into middle of the road NBA coaches because to be real, Azealia Banks’ journey to being successful is certainly making her look like Vinny Del Negro right now.
That small ounce of freedom is why 2013 has generated some of the best releases to ever hit DatPiff, LiveMixtapes, and your boo’s gold iPhone. Recent years have seen the likes of A$AP Rocky and Kendrick Lamar embrace the commercial side of hip hop through viral deep cuts but the past 12 months have birthed an underground-stained kind of creativity. They’ve given us reasons to indulge in coke rap sing-a-longs, slanged-out acid soul, NYC-bred rap classics, and R&B throwbacks that are more ’90s than Monica’s “Don’t Take It Personal (Just One Of Dem Days)”. If you don’t believe us, then you just have to check out our list of The Best Mixtapes Of 2013 for yourself as our Hip Hop Editor is still wilin’ out over Acid Rap.
Blue Chips 2
Your friends may not approve of Bam's antics but can you really deny his charm? On his eighth project in three years, the Queens MC sides with Party Supplies and readjusts our familiarity with punchlines - taking on larger-than-life beats and boombox-friendly covers to construct his own form of escapism. Meaning while Bronson may be a rapper, he's certainly getting his Picasso on.
From high school to the head of the class, the 20-year-old Chi-town MC is rewriting the elements to rap. His verbal wit and confidence draws up images of pre-Grammy Weezy/Yeezy and his drive resonates through his rants about politics, putting in work, and everyday observations: "Ya Kna Wha Mean, I got the Chicago Blues / We invented rock before the Stones got through."
Joey B is still trying to find his place as Brooklyn's finest and while his latest tape doesn't recall a transcending leap forward in hip hop, it does resurrect rap's tradition. At the tune of 17 cuts, he blends Beast Coast's nostalgic ways with a variety of producers (Alchemist, DOOM, Statik Selektah) to eloquently show what an 18-year-old rhymesayer can do at the age of 18.
The Luca Brasi Story
Often compared to both Drake and Future, the Louisiana rapper has a gift for narratives. It's a trait YMCMB couldn't use as they slotted him as a benchwarmer but it's one that gives Luca Brasi an In My Lifetime feel as he bodies the thin line between trap and pop to offer up material that runs with integrity and chilling lyricism. Overall, it makes Take Care look like a soap opera.
YRN boasts a telling guest list with Gucci Mane, Future, Trinidad Jame$, RiFF RaFF, and Waka Flocka, but Migos' guide to the coke rap culture is like a thesis on how rap music can have its own booty call with real pop hooks. It's uncontrollably weird but the lyrical rides punch up an addiction that can't be bought as verses and phrases hit the ear like a deceptive sledgehammer.
Wrath Of Caine
Having taken lessons from The Book Of Kanye, Pusha T has formidably inserted himself as a link between generations, pleasing Clipse followers with throttling rap pieces and tapping into the youth with an invulnerable bravado. It takes guts to pull the connection off but it also takes poise to illuminate it through street-groomed tracks that aren't afraid to be grim or blunt.
Tinashe is one of the most compelling singer-songwriters of the R&B scene and that's not an exaggeration, that's a fact. The 20-year-old L.A. via Kentucky voice doesn't lose a step on her latest easing through rap songs ("Vulnerable") and her work with Ryan Hemsworth ("1 For Me") while providing a preview of how enticing vocals can be ("Secret Weapon").
Out of everyone on this list, Houston's Travi$ Scott is an impeccable producer, having groomed G.O.O.D. Music's "The Morning", Jay's "Crown", and a few Yeezus favs ("New Slaves", "Guilt Trip"). His Owl Pharaoh LP doesn't lack depth either as it's layered with head-knocking runs with Toro Y Moi and A$AP Ferg, and admirably illustrates his class-meets-twisted taste.
The little known cohort of Chance The Rapper is cruising on a sickening amount of hype. He's an ace collaborator and set for a North American run with Disclosure in January, and to top it off, his Innanetape is a curb-kicking speck of originality that rocks Pharrell vibes ("Orange Soda"), Thundercat-assisted indie bits ("RUN!"), and immaculate radio joints ("YNSP").
Bastards Of The Party
Any Williamsburg res will give you 36 reasons why NYC doesn't need another mainstream-ready hip hop collective but chances are, they'll likely adore you for mentioning World's Fair. The Queens six-man outfit are brash and adept, and their personalities make their Fool's Gold tape an instant throwback to '90s rap, when hilarious skits, artful rhymes, and John Starks mattered.