Zuriick is proud to present Prefix’s 10 Best Mixtapes Of 2011, a list that wasn’t exactly the easiest to make this year. Actually, as hip-hop heads know, choosing the best mixtapes and free albums has become increasingly difficult these past few years. In the past 12 months, we have heard superb projects from Danny Brown, Juicy J, Main Attrakionz, and Big K.R.I.T. that have all been ours for the cost of a mouse click and, sometimes, an e-mail address. In other words, we weren’t exactly throwing loads of money at rap releases this year and the rappers and producers on our top 10 list made it clear that we didn’t have to. Let’s get to it, shall we?
10. Juicy J: Rubba Band Business 2
Rapping about getting drunk, high, and all that jazz is as old as hip-hop itself. But every so often, an MC comes along to breathe new life into the fucked-up-beyond-belief subgenre. Over the past few years, it’s been Southern stalwart Juicy J, whose odes to getting wasted to the point you can barely walk have been nothing short of memorable. Even when he fills the Rubba Band Business 2 mixtape with 28 (!) tracks of similar in-a-daze material, Juicy remains gut-bustingly hilarious and quote-worthy. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that a majority of the tape is produced by wunderkind Lex Luger, who provided Juicy with some of his finest trunk-smashing trap beats.–Andrew Martin
9. 2 Chainz: T.R.U. REALigion
As far as “breakout” moments go, it’d be hard for any rapper this year to top 2 Chainz’: After a few years on the trap muzik periphery as Tity Boi, he changed his name, and delivered a ridiculously entertaining verse at the BET Awards, just a few weeks before his strongest mixtape yet, T.R.U. REALigion, came out. T.R.U. features all of the same charms that made the BET Cypher impossible to ignore—hilarious punchlines, unconventional flows, and contagious confidence—along with earworm singles like “Slangin’ Birds” and “Spend It.”–Andrew Winistorfer
8. Clams Casino: Instrumental Mixtape
Without New Jersey basement-producer Clams Casino, a lot of the mixtapes on this list probably wouldn’t exist. OK, they would, but they wouldn’t have hit quite as hard as they did without his ethereal soundscapes, minimalist drums, and dreamy vocal samples. Along with like-minded producers Keyboard Kid and Silky Johnson, among others, Clammy Clams helped start the cloud rap movement. And, for many, it began this past March when he randomly dropped his Instrumental Mixtape featuring beats he supplied for Lil B, Soulja Boy, Main Attrakionz, and others.–AM
7. Freddie Gibbs: Cold Day In Hell
Freddie Gibbs’ 2011 is bigger than any free mixtape/album, even if Cold Day In Hell is one of his finest efforts to date. This past year marked his return to major-label territory. The one-time Interscope signee inked a deal with Young Jeezy’s Corporate Thugz Entertainment, which falls under the umbrella of Def Jam. As such, Gangsta Gibbs’ reach has gone beyond his adoring blogosphere/underground and into the fickle eye of the mainstream. While we wait to see how this move pans out for the Gary, Ind. native, we’re more than excited about the fact that his hunger is yet to fade. This is evident throughout Cold Day In Hell, a stunningly cohesive affair that toes the line between Gibbs’ harshest street rhymes (“187 Proof” and “Let ‘Em Burn”) and most introspective narratives (“Barely M.A.D.E. It” and “My Dawgz”).–AM
6. A$AP Rocky: LIVELOVEA$AP
It’s the mixtape that helped land seven figures ($3 million, to be exact), so it’s easy to lose context when it comes to A$AP Rocky and his mega mixtape hit LIVELOVEA$AP. Sure, it represents what RCA imagines is the new “sound” and “face” of hip-hop, but really, it’s the culmination of a year of these kind of sounds. Guys like Main Attrakionz, Spaceghostpurp, Clams Casino, parts of the Odd Future posse, have made hazy, doom-bip, rap like this for a while, but it took A$AP’s pretty motherfucker attitude to take it mainstream. And for that, LIVELOVA$AP is a true achievement.–AW
5. Mr. Muthafuckin’ eXquire: Lost in Translation
It only took five words for Mr. Muthafuckin’ eXquire to establish his uniquely warped worldview: “Drunk driving on a Wednesday,” he bellows on “Huzzah,” and its delirious posse cut remix, “The Last Huzzah.” eXquire’s stellar Lost In Translation plays like an old school New York tape viewed through a funhouse mirror, where instead of hard talk about his neighborhood, eXquire talks about peeing on trains, drinking hooch vodka, compares himself to Pepe LePew, and says stuff that is more lascivious than that cover. eXquire might not be the most traditionally sound rapper, but he’s definitely one of the funniest.—AW
4. G-Side: Island & The ONE…Cohesive
Before the Internet leveled the playing field, it would have been impossible for two blue collar hustlers like G-Side to rise up from their hometown of Huntsville, Ala. But here we are in 2011, dealing with the fact that no rap group, or rapper, delivered two releases as consistently thrilling as G-Side’s Island & The One…Cohesive. The consistent production of hometown heroes Block Beataz probably helped, but it’s important to remember: A year ago these guys were selling weed out of a gas station and cutting hair, and now they’re on this list, and on national tours.-–AW
3. Main Attrakionz: 808s & Dark Grapes II
While the mainstream was busy messing with monolithic trap beats, portions of the underground were founding an entirely new subgenre of hazy, fog-thick hip-hop: cloud rap. And leading the way was 808s & Dark Grapes II by Main Attrakionz, the Bay Area duo of Squadda B and MondreM.A.N who blend blue collar aspirations, blunted bravado, and day-to-day ruminations. Their heady raps might take a few listens to sink in, but that’s no gripe. If nothing else, said repeated spins allow you to fully appreciate the meticulously crafted beats swirling around their rhymes. If you ever needed an album to encompass what it’s like to smoke weed and stare at the sky with big dreams, 808s & Dark Grapes II is it.–AM
2. Big K.R.I.T: Return of 4Eva
This is where the modern definition of a “mixtape” seems awfully quaint: Few rappers made a more complete, album-length artistic achievement than Big K.R.I.T. did on his free mixtape, Return of 4eva. Recreating the mood of late ‘90s OutKast (particularly Aquemini) while creating a new mold of southern hip-hop, Big K.R.I.T. has carved out his own lane, one that leads from Meridian, Miss., to the environs of Def Jam, which is promising to make K.R.I.T. a big star when it releases his debut LP next year. Will his album be a hit? It doesn’t have to be. He already reached the mountaintop with two free mixtapes (including last year’s K.R.I.T. Wuz Here) already.—AW
1. Danny Brown: XXX
After releasing a criminally under-appreciated free album in The Hybrid last year, Detroit’s Danny Brown was due for bigger things in 2011. And to say that dude broke all the way through would be a massive understatement. Prior to releasing yet another free album, he owned SXSW, signed a deal with Fool’s Gold, and garnered the attention his sharper-than-sharp wit deserved. Then, he dropped XXX and made good on any expectations we ever could have had for him.
To simply label XXX the best “mixtape” would be misleading, because, really, it’s one of the best releases of the year. At first listen, you could hear its 19 tracks and assume it’s just another project dedicated to popping pills, smoking blunts, fucking random women, and drinking ’til you black out. But like the work of most tortured geniuses — yeah, I said it — Brown music is much deeper than its surface qualities — his rewind-worthy punch lines — let on. This is a dude who turned 30 years old, found himself at a crossroads, and still found humor in even his darkest thoughts.–AM
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Prefix’s Top 10 Mixtapes Of 2011: http://bit.ly/st7HpS