By now it’s no secret that the best rap music happens outside of the sphere of the industry’s influence. Major label hip-hop albums are few and far between when they do happen they’re frequently little more than hodge podge collections of Bruno Mars collabs determined by a committee. Instead most of the genre’s more creative and compelling efforts — particularly on street level — happen through freebee mixtapes. Here are a few of the finest mixtape efforts so far this year.
1. Future, Astronaut Status
The reigning king of Atlanta filters the city’s trap-rap traditions through a strangely affecting drug haze and passionate gurgle of Autotuned spit-up ballads. features more straightforward rapping than Future’s just released (and similarly excellent) proper full length Pluto, but still manages to bend time and space in much the same fashion.
2. Gunplay, Bogota Rich
Once just the sixth man on Rick Ross’ Maybach Music roster, 2012 is shaping up to be a breakout year for Gunplay. Though nothing on Bogota Rich quite matches the introspective brilliance of his scene stealing verse on Kendrick Lamar’s “Cartoon & Cereal, ” the all-too-short Bogota Rich is a violent catharsis of tightly wound rhyme writing, amplifying the riot-rap formula of Waka Flocka through the craft of traditional lyricism.
3. Tree, Sunday School
While Chicago has produced more visible stars this year — viral video goon turned Kanye collaborator Chief Keef, in particular — it’s Tree who might stand as the city’s greatest rising talent. Sunday School is a quiet collection of spiritually charged, Scarface-esque reality raps set to his self-produced bed of finely chopped and curiously arranged soul samples.
4. Rick Ross, Rich Forever
It may seem redundant to put two Maybach Music Group releases on this list but it’s hard to deny how well they’ve streamlined the process of making great street rap mix tapes. Rick Ross made a Rick Ross tape and it sounds exactly like a Rick Ross tape. He barks about how rich he is in the presence of 808s and other famous people. You don’t stay rich by messing with a good formula.
5. Young Thug
Sleeper from this Atlanta youth who unfortunately possesses the most generic rap name in the history of generic rap names. As a rapper Young Thug proves considerably more creative. He occupies roughly the same terrain as Future — half-sung and half-baked raps about his feelings and how high he gets that bleed into demented but usually catchy autotuned hooks — but he leans more playful in these explorations, joyous even.