Mixtapes are a standard of hip hop—free-to-stream collections consisting of side projects. Often less polished than completed hip hop albums, they nevertheless have the power to make waves in a rapper’s career. These 41 examples are among the best, even sometimes helping launch their creator’s career.
1. Back From The Dead — Chief Keef
Chief Keef’s second mixtape, Back From The Dead, was released on iTunes in 2012. It is one of the best drill rap albums of all time, establishing him as the King of Chicago Rap. It notably includes the single I Don’t Like, a drill rap song that promises to push the subgenre into the mainstream.
2. Beast Mode — Future
Future collaborated with Zaytoven on his 2015 mixtape, the second of three that he released between 2014 and 2015. It features only nine tracks, but there is no downtime; Beast Mode simply rolls out hit after hit in a series of songs that just don’t miss, from Layup to Real Sisters.
3. Da Drought 3 — Lil Wayne
Lil Wayne is obviously a major player in hip hop, but his mixtapes have given him the opportunity to explore his artistry in a totally unique way. The third installment in his Da Drought mixtape series, the 2007 release gained attention not just for his epic rap skills, but also for his intricate, almost poetic lyrics.
4. Friday Night Lights — J. Cole
J. Cole’s third mixtape, Friday Night Lights, was released in 2010 and featured much of the material that his record label did not want to include on his first studio album, released the following year. It was an excellent final step for him before breaking into the mainstream rap scene, winning Best Mixtape of The Year at the BET Hip Hop Awards.
5. Drilluminati — King Louie
Drilluminati was far from King Louie’s first mixtape, but the 2012 project nevertheless remains one of his most enduring. It is often called the mixtape that not only put the Chicago rapper on the map but also helped spread the influence of his hometown street rap style, cementing him as the King of Drill.
Recommended: Top drill rappers of all time
6. T.R.U. REALigion — 2 Chainz
Rapper 2 Chainz released his seventh mixtape in 2011, catching the attention of both critics and consumers. It was a smashing success on the charts, assuring that his career—which had lagged shortly before—would continue strong throughout the decade. Critics praised the album’s lyrics and humor, sometimes easy to overlook while hypnotized by the beats.
7. The Purple Mixtape — Cam’ron
Between his second and third albums, Cam’ron dropped The Purple Mixtape. The release showed a shift in his style, emphasizing a strangeness and quirkiness that would characterize the rest of his career. Released during a time when he was switching record labels, it has become overshadowed by his other accomplishments but remains an essential part of his artistic journey.
8. The Street Album — The Jacka
The Jacka was far from a mainstream player in the West Coast rap scene of the 2000s; in fact, he wasn’t well-known, with a distinct style that didn’t satisfy either the Bay Area or the mainstream rap critics. But that all changed with his release of The Street Album, the 2008 mixtape that showed him truly coming into his style—lyrically sparse, musically complex, and utterly thought-provoking.
9. Down With The King: Gangsta Grillz — DJ Drama And T.I.
Beefs between rappers are a tale as old as hip hop, and it’s common to air all the dirty laundry in music form. This is exactly what happened on 2006’s Down With The King: Gangsta Grillz, a no-holds-barred callout of rapper Lil Flip. The mixtape was impossible to overlook and remains one of T.I.’s essential projects of the 2000s.
10. 1999 — Joey Bada$$
Joey Bada$$ emerged on the scene in 2012 with his debut mixtape, 1999. It was a swift success, featuring his unique style that remained resolutely his own, unresponsive to changing trends in hip hop. It also turned heads thanks to its intricate lyrics, a stellar debut that shows his determination to be a rapper unlike any other.
11. If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late — Drake
Drake was already a giant of hip hop when he dropped the 2015 mixtape If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late. The rapper hadn’t done any hype leading up to its release, but the unexpected drop didn’t keep the mixtape from earning plenty of attention. It wasn’t his most polished work, but it was his most emotionally raw.
12. Y.R.N. — Migos
Not every mixtape gains mainstream attention, but Migos made waves with 2014’s Y.R.N. The single Versace hit the Billboard Hot 100 as well as the hip hop, rap, and Heatseekers charts. It also featured other successful tracks like Jumping Out The Gym and Hannah Montana.
13. Kush & Orange Juice — Wiz Khalifa
It seems strange to pinpoint a mixtape as one of the greatest works of a majorly successful rapper like Wiz Khalifa. It’s true that he has released countless projects that earned more accolades, but fans consistently return to 2010’s Kush & Orange Juice, a mixtape that set the stage for the unfolding of his future work.
14. Revenge — XXXTentacion
XXXTentacion released his second mixtape, Revenge, in 2017, an aggressive, no-holds-barred tape that put him solidly in the limelight. The mixtape was praised for its incredible creativity, and its title track hit the Billboard Hot 100 at number 77. Sadly, it was a success that the rapper wouldn’t enjoy for long, as he was killed the following year.
15. Yellow Album — Dom Kennedy
Some mixtapes don’t feel much like mixtapes at all, and Dom Kennedy’s Yellow Album is a perfect example. It shows polish and completeness that is rare in projects like these, featuring collaborations with Rick Ross and Kendrick Lamar—to name just a few. If this is what a rough draft looks like for him, then we’re impressed.
16. The Mixtape About Nothing — Wale
It’s a pretty bold move to base an entire project around Seinfeld, of all things, but Wale’s 2008 mixtape somehow works. Wale, an ardent Seinfeld fan, based the entire mixtape on references to the show and even featured actress Julia Louis-Dreyfus on one track. It’s bizarre but also creative and utterly unique.
17. Warning Shots — Saigon
Saigon was one of the most open and in-your-face rappers of the 2000s, and his mixtape Warning Shots, released in 2004, was the perfect example. Delivering all the aggression and violence of classic gangsta rap, he sprinkled in poignant commentary on social issues and how much he loved his mother.
18. Coke Wave — Max B And French Montana
Max B had a short but intense career through the late 2000s, characterized by his uniquely charming form of gangsta rap. He managed to make an imprint on the hip hop industry as a whole, most notably with one of his final mixtapes, Coke Wave, released just seven months before he was sentenced to 75 years in prison for murder conspiracy.
19. 808s & Dark Grapes II — Main Attrakionz
Rap duo Main Attrakionz gained attention in 2011 with the release of 808s & Dark Grapes II. Though it wasn’t their first effort, it was the one that brought them to mainstream attention and popularized the subgenre that would come to be known as cloud rap. It was a brand-new sound and one that they delivered effortlessly.
20. A Kid Named Cudi — Kid Cudi
The 2008 release, A Kid Named Cudi, marked the start of success for the titular rapper, nabbing the attention of Kanye West and producing a single, Day ‘N’ Nite, that would peak at number three on the Billboard Hot 100.
He hit the scene with a style that fused rock and hip hop, setting the direction for rap throughout the 2010s.
21. Back Like Cooked Crack 2: More Crack — Juelz Santana
Santana was largely known as Cam’ron’s sideman when he released his mixtape Back Like Cooked Crack, followed by Back Like Cooked Crack 2: More Crack in 2005.
It showed him coming into his own as a solo artist, with a versatility and energy that few can match—though Santana wouldn’t release another solo effort until 2012’s God Will’n.
22. Black Hystori Project — CyHi The Prynce
CyHi The Prynce might not be widely known in mainstream music, but his 2014 mixtape Black Hystori Project deserves accolades it never received. The concept album is a complex, philosophical conversation about race and the black experience, with tracks that simply don’t hold back.
23. Detroit — Big Sean
After Big Sean released his debut album in 2011, he returned to the hip hop scene with a mixtape in honor of his hometown. Detroit has long been called his best work and features collaborations with some stellar rappers, including French Montana and Kendrick Lamar.
24. K.I.D.S. — Mac Miller
At first, Mac Miller’s 2010 mixtape K.I.D.S. might seem a bit precious for the hip hop scene. With regular references to the 1995 film of the same name, it is a nostalgia tour of the 1990s, featuring tracks such as Nikes On My Feet and Kool Aid And Frozen Pizza.
25. The S. Carter Collection — Jay-Z
Releasing a mixtape to promote your line of Reebok shoes might seem a bit desperate, yet Jay-Z didn’t skimp on the quality. The S. Carter Collection, released in 2003, features a track list of the rapper performing freestyle over popular samples, and every song stands the test of time.
26. The Drive In Theatre — Curren$y
Curren$y’s 2014 mixtape The Drive In Theatre turned heads for its rich instrumentals with a heavy retro feel, featuring plenty of saxophone and synth backing. It is a sensational and slightly boastful journey interspersed with plenty of wit and introspection.
27. Finally Famous — Big Sean
Big Sean’s mixtape Finally Famous made a bold prophecy about his own future, an attitude that carries through the entire tracklist. In the intro, the rapper recalls meeting Kanye West, who would become his music industry mentor. A bit boastful, but we have to give it to him: he was right.
28. Dreamchasers — Meek Mill
Meek Mill released several mixtapes throughout the 2000s, but it wasn’t until 2011’s Dreamchasers that he made a major impression. Fused with the flavors of Philadelphia hip hop, the mixtape provided a jumping-off point for him to make it into the big leagues.
29. Cloud 9 — B.o.B.
B.o.B. released Cloud 9 in 2007, just as he was on the verge of calling it quits on his aspirations of being a rapper. The mixtape showcased his intense creativity and hip hop skills communicated in Southern style. He’s had many successes since then, but this remains the start of his career—deservedly so.
30. Acid Rap — Chance The Rapper
In 2013, Chance The Rapper dropped his second mixtape—the first that brought him to mainstream attention. Joining forces with rappers such as Action Bronson and Childish Gambino, he produced a mixtape that was pure psychedelic hip hop. Acid Rap undeniably put him among the decade’s most influential rappers.
31. Bastard — Tyler, The Creator
Tyler, The Creator hit the music scene with his 2009 mixtape, Bastard. A mix of emo rap and horrorcore, the dark, grungy tracks struck a core with listeners used to a more peppy, upbeat form of music. It cemented him as a fixture of a darker, more brooding scene within hip hop.
32. Crenshaw — Nipsey Hussle
Nipsey Hussle generated a huge amount of marketing before the release of 2013’s Crenshaw. He followed it up with this mixtape that truly lived up to the hype, with track after track of hits featuring collaborations with Rick Ross, Dom Kennedy, Slim Thug, and other giants of the hip hop scene.
33. Beam Me Up Scotty — Nicki Minaj
Nicki Minaj’s third mixtape—but undoubtedly the one that propelled her to stardom—showcased all the ego and eccentricity that she would later become known for. It featured the hit single I Get Crazy, a collaboration with Lil Wayne, and became the most successful mixtape by a female rapper in history.
34. Live. Love. A$AP. — A$AP Rocky
The rapper who would become A$AP Rocky experienced an enormous lifestyle change in 2011—and so did the rap scene. At the start of the year, he was selling drugs to get by; by October, he had dropped his debut mixtape, a dynamic project that fused the sounds of Southern rap with those of the rapper’s native Harlem.
35. Trap Or Die — Jeezy
Where did trap music first originate? There are some who say that Jeezy’s 2005 mixtape Trap Or Die. While that’s debatable, there is no denying that this played a huge role in popularizing the subgenre. It was the first of three tapes in his Trap Or Die series, proving that he knows his strengths.
36. Rubba Band Business 2 — Juicy J And Lex Luger
With the extensive second installment of Rubba Band Business, Juicy J set his solo career in motion. The mixtape, consisting of an astonishing 25 tracks, wasn’t him at his chart-topping best—rather, it is a fascinating study of the ways that his craft was developing as he stepped into his own style.
37. K.R.I.T. Wuz Here — Big K.R.I.T.
Big K.R.I.T. released a series of mixtapes throughout the 2000s, but it was his sixth one, released in 2010, that drew attention. K.R.I.T. Wuz Here was self-produced, allowing the rapper full creative control—an opportunity that he explored to the fullest, treating it as an autobiographical venture. It featured collaborations with several major names including Curren$y and Wiz Khalifa.
38. The Movie (Gangsta Grillz) — Gucci Mane
When it comes to Gucci Mane, it’s hard to choose a “best” mixtape, as he has dropped at least 70. A standout is his mixtape The Movie (Gangsta Grillz), which came out in 2008. It established him as one of the leaders of the emerging trap subgenre.
39. True Story — Future
Future released two mixtapes in 2011, the first being Dirty Sprite. Six months later, he dropped True Story, the tape that seemed to seal the deal in terms of deciding his success. It featured hits such as Magic and Tony Montana, the former of which was his first break into the Billboard Hot 100.
40. Ashes To Ashes — Rick Ross
Rick Ross’s debut mixtape was a star-studded affair, featuring collaborations with Drake, Meek Miller, T.I., Ludacris, Wiz Khalifa, and others. Critics praised his powerful delivery—even on lyrics that prompted confusion about their meaning. As it turns out, when your performance is that good, you can say whatever words you want.
41. Days Before Rodeo — Travis Scott
Travis Scott’s second album, Days Before Rodeo, was marked by intention. Every track was careful and deliberate, with the result being a carefully-curated mixtape that achieved both commercial and critical acclaim. He was at his ad-libbing, layering best, proving that he is an essential part of hip hop’s newest generation.
As the Head Editor and Writer at Music Grotto, Liam helps write and edit content produced from professional music/media journalists and other contributing writers. He works closely with journalists and other staff to format and publish music content for the Music Grotto website. Liam is also the founding member of Music Grotto and is passionate in disseminating editorial content to its readers.
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