If major labels are the pros of the hip-hop world then mixtapes are the college ranks. But there’s nothing amateur about some of the mixtapes XXL’s finest freshmen have offered up throughout the years. Whether they use them to break into the game or to channel their most abstract creativity, it seems like today’s freshmen count on mixtapes more than albums. Considering both artistry and impact, XXL chose to acknowledge the best tapes in celebration of the fifth anniversary of our the XXL Freshmen class. Here are the Top 10 Best Mixtapes by an XXL Freshman.—XXL Staff
10. Yelawolf, Trunk Muzik (2010)
The Shady Records signee took listeners on a trip through his native Alabama with Trunk Muzik. Drawing on influences that range from Beanie Sigel to Lynyrd Skynyrd, Yela pioneered his own sound and created his own lane to zoom threw bumping his system as loud as he wants. Appearances from Bun, Raekwon and Juelz Santana only went to solidify that young Yela is the truth.
9. Danny Brown, XXX (2011)
His hairstyle and look may be hard to digest at first, but just hearing XXX’s dizzying opener is enough to make doubters respect Danny’s eclectic tastes. Whether the Detroit MC is channeling Frankie Lymon on “Die Like a Rock Star” or challenging the status quo on “Radio Song,” Danny is clearly in his element on his breakout mixtape, which earned him recognition leading up to his selection on XXL2012 Freshman list.
7. Kid Cudi, A Kid Named Cudi (2008)
The 2009 freshman teamed up with streetwear brand 10Deep and DJ Plain Pat for his breakout mixtape. Released in summer, 2008, A Kid Named Cudi was the first time the public heard “Day N Nite,” which went on to be a Billboard smash and the lead single for Cudi’s debut album Man on the Moon: The Legend of Mr. Rager.
8. B.o.B, B.o.B Vs. Bobby Ray (2009)
While some may consider B.o.B.’s commercial-friendly hits to be too mainstream, Bobby Ray kept it all the way real on this 2009 mixtape, B.o.B. vs. Bobby Ray. Whether he was trading bars with mentor Tip on “I’m That Nigga” or crooning on “My Sweet Baby,” this ATLien announced his arrival in grand fashion with this standout tape released on the heels of his appearance on the second annual Freshman Class.
6. Meek Mill, Dreamchasers (2011)
MMG's youngest gun proved to be one of Ricky Rozay's most lethal secret weapons on this well received tape. Besides spawning a certified hit in “House Party,” Dreamchasers also showcased Meek’s vivid storytelling skills on songs like “Tony Story.” Now the only question is if he has what it takes to make an equally impressive debut album.
5. Kendrick Lamar, (O)verly (D)edicated (2010)
After bubbling underground on the West Coast, Kendrick announced his arrival with this striking mixtape that established him as one of the game’s premier lyricists. Dropping heavy thoughts via liquid flows, Kendrick’s unique sound caught the attention of Dr. Dre when OD dropped in 2010.
4. Wale, The Mixtape About Nothing (2008)
Borrowing the concept from his favorite sitcom, Seinfeld, Wale wove together one of the most creative mixtapes of all time. Touching on topics ranging from racism (“The Kramer”) to “Artistic Intergrity,” Mr. Folarin began branding himself as one of the most promising young lyricists in the game.
3. J. Cole, The Warm Up (2009)
Not much was known about Cole when The Warm Up dropped,except that he was Jay-Z’s first Roc Nation signee. From the moment hehad that cosign, the pressure was on for Jermaine to deliver. Thanks to the soulful vibes of standouts like “Lights Please” and lyrical showcases like his “Dead Presidents” freestyle, Cole silenced critics and warned skeptics that young Simba was ready for the world.
2. Big K.R.I.T., K.R.I.T. Wuz Here (2010)
Many MCs get their deals off of buzz but K.R.I.T. proved that good music prevails over gimmicks on this stellar offering. The complex and soulful soundscape he painted on K.R.I.T. Wuz Here showed him worthy of his Def Jam deal and also made him a no-brainer for our 2011 Freshman class cover.
1. Wiz Khalifa, Kush & Orange Juice (2010)
When Twitter was still in its formative stages, young Wiz announced his arrival when his much anticipated tape became a treading topic. The resulting buzz around the Pittsburgh MC culminated in a deal with Atlantic Records and he’s since continued his rise, scoring multiple Billboard smashes (Including the No.1 “Black & Yellow”) on his major label debut, Rolling Papers.