Photo courtesy of A$AP Rocky

Earlier this year, Vox wrote a story about hip-hop’s mixtape culture. And as the year draws to a close, I figured it would be appropriate to do an end of year Best Mixtapes of 2011 list. The following mixtapes are in no particular order.

A$AP Rocky
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What do Harlem, Houston and Memphis all have in common? Well, nothing really. But A$AP Rocky found a way to draw inspiration from all three music cities with this year’s best mixtape, LiveLoveA$AP. Harlem-native A$AP Rocky is this year’s feel-good hip-hop story. This time last year, the guy had nothing. Fast forward 12 months and he has a recording deal with Sony worth a reported $3 million, a New York Times feature under his belt and countless sold-out performances around the country. Perhaps the most fascinating part of A$AP Rocky’s seemingly overnight rise to fame was his way of going about it. He released two music videos this summer and an unofficial mixtape was put out by someone online. Sony caught wind of the rappers unique Harlem/Houston/Memphis hybrid flow and signed him immediately. His debut release is flawless from start to finish. His favorite subject: purple drank. The rapper loves to sip the promethazine/codeine cough syrup made famous by rappers such as Pimp C and Lil’ Wayne. The result is a astoundingly cohesive release with stellar production from Clams Casino and a host of other collaborators. This is one mixtape you can’t skip.

Kendrick Lamar
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Kendrick Lamar tiptoed the fine line between an album and mixtape with Section.80, his first major release. Released digitally via iTunes, the release lacked the “free” part mixtapes are known for. That said, this is one mixtape on the list that is definitely worth $7.99. Talking about everything from politics, ADHD and marijuana, Kendrick Lamar flows effortlessly on each and every track. The Compton-born emcee has had an enormously successful year and is posed to do big things in 2012. He was dubbed by Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg and The Game as the “New Prince of the West Coast” back in August and had a featured verse on Drake’s critically acclaimed Take Care.

Curren$y & The Alchemist
Covert Coupe
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New Orleans hero Curren$y linked up with legendary producer The Alchemist for this project, titled Covert Coupe. It was appropriately released on 4/20 this year. Curren$y is known for his love of marijuana, and this project is no different, albeit a bit altered. Instead of rapping over blissed out beats with a variety of production, Curren$y adapts to The Alchemist’s crunchier, raw style and does so with ease. The great thing about Curren$y is that he can collaborate with just about anyone and sound great. This project, although a bit short, is evidence that Curren$y can switch the style up at any point and still shine.

Dom Kennedy
The Original Dom Kennedy
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Dom Kennedy is one of those rappers that you believe in. Not “believe in” in the sense that you think they’ll make it big one day. When you listen to Dom Kennedy, it’s hard to not believe every word you hear come out of the dude’s mouth. The Los Angeles native is one of hip-hop’s best-kept secrets, and he sort of likes it that way. He released his debut album this summer without a record label, but it was his mixtape The Original Dom Kennedy that really showed what Dom Kennedy is capable of. He’s a guy that likes living life to the fullest. He raps about fast cars, good champagne and beautiful women. And the way he does it makes it sound so believable. There is nothing corny here. It’s 90s inspired West Coast rap music at its finest.

Big K.R.I.T.
Return of 4Eva
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There’s a new king of the south, and no, it’s not still T.I. Not many rappers come out of rural Mississippi, but Big K.R.I.T.’s trademark southern drawl and down to earth sensibility put his mixtape Return of 4Eva on a lot of people’s radar this year. After all, the critically acclaimed mixtape was produced and written entirely by him. The producer/rapper has been around for a while, but 2011 is the year that he has finally started to get big. A remixed version of his song “Country Shit” was a mainstay on pop radio this summer and featured fellow southerner Ludacris. Perhaps the most interesting part of Big K.R.I.T.’s mixtape is when he is vulnerable and releasing emotional baggage pent up inside of him. Whatever the subject matter is, Big K.R.I.T. has a way of controlling your emotions for the entirety of Return of 4Eva.

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3 Responses to Best hip-hop mixtapes of 2011

  1. Nick Williams says:

    Jeezy’s The Real Is Back- Most albums don’t have as many singles as that joint did.

    Pusha’s Fear Of God- “My God” is one of the year’s best rap songs alone.

    If we’re playing favorites * Dom Kennedy* then I would throw Meek Mill’s Dreamchasers in there as well.

  2. Tom says:

    Thanks for the comment. It’s appreciated.

    Meek Mill and Jeezy do the yelling thing too much. Never been able to get into it. And as for Pusha – well – I didn’t enjoy the tape as much as other people. “My God” is definitely a dope song, but I just didn’t get into the whole release that much.

    Thanks again for the comment.

  3. You could definitely see your expertise in the work you write. The sector hopes for more passionate writers like you who aren’t afraid to mention how they believe. Always follow your heart.

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