Best of 2013: The Best Mixtapes of 2013

These days, I’m not even sure what the difference between a mixtape and an album are, but I do know that it was a hell of a year for mixtapes. Here are my picks of a very healthy litter. Be on the look-out for my singles and albums lists. They should be dropping before the end of the year.

10. Caleb James
The Jones
Chicago, IL

Hottest Jams: “Ride With Me,” “24s”

While his associate Chance the Rapper rightfully lapped up the plaudits this year, to my ears, Caleb James’ outstanding The Jones was the real showstopper. Taking cues from the golden sound of the 90’s, the rapper/producer/singer weaves a rare sound that feels simultaneously current and classic. Effortlessly transitioning from a slick tenor to a bouncy flow, his sound is pure 2013 G-Funk, with one man playing both the Warren G and Nate Dogg roles with consummate ease. This is window-down, drive slow music at its finest.

Stream/Download, via Live Mixtapes.

9. Rich Homie Quan
Still Goin In (Reloaded)
Atlanta, GA

Hottest Jams: “Type of Way,” “Differences”

At this point, no one needs to hear 21 tracks of anybody, even an artist as magnetic as the 24 year-old ATLien. Though it could probably be about 10 songs shorter, the high points of Dequantes Lamar’s breakthrough mixtape goes toe-to-toe with nearly anything released this year. While understandable, the Future comparisons are mostly lazy, as the disc establishes RHQ as very much his own man — armed with a ravenous flow, a dogged work ethic, and an fresh perspective. More than anything, Still Goin In (Reloaded) is just so much fun to listen to — as much as any other album released this year — and that has to count for something.

Stream/Download, via DatPiff.

8. 18+
Los Angeles, CA

Hottest Jams: “Crow,” “Trunks”

Doubtlessly one of the strangest releases of the year, the anonymous LA duo’s seductively spectacular LP feels unlike anything else released this year. The subtle, nebulous collection of sparse, bizzaro boner jams were released almost context-free. Coming off a bit like the weirder, nastier cousins of The XX, their work is simultaneously alluring and unsettling. Whoever these sickos are, they absolutely deserve to be heard.

Stream/Download, via Soundcloud.

7. Arca
Brooklyn, NY via Caracas, VZ
Hottest Jams: They all blend together, but I especially love the ones that start at 6:30 and 19:25.

Alejandro “Arca” Ghersi’s first effort since contributing to two of the most interesting sounding records of the year — Yeezus and FKA Twigs’ EP2 — is a deep, drony dive into the sonic ether of the young producer’s psyche. Disorienting, fragmented, and enthralling, &&&&& toes the line between experimentation and listenability — at first coming off as dense and unwelcoming, but slowly revealing itself as a coherent, engaging statement. While words are few and far between on this album, it doesn’t take a mindreader to realize that Ghersi has something very powerful to say.

Stream/Download below.

6. Lil Snupe
Winnfield, Louisiana
Hottest Jams: “In Tha Air,” “Nobody”

The Lousiana native’s devastating breakthrough mixtape is a crushing testament to the speed of life in the margins of America. By the time he was in his teens, Addaren “Lil Snupe” Ross was already selling drugs. By the time he was 17, he had made it big, getting signed to Meek Mill’s Dreamchasers Imprint. By the time he was 18, he was dead — killed in a senseless, heartbreaking murder in the notoriously bleak central part of Louisiana.

R.N.I.C. will likely stand as the young man’s most enduring statement, and it’s a powerful one. Blessed with an easy flow, a natural loquaciousness, and a disarming personality, there was so much to like and so much potential to be filled. Ultimately, it will go down as just another tragic story of one more dream deferred. RIP.

Stream/Download, via DatPiff.

5. Kevin Gates
Stranger Than Fiction
Baton Rouge, LA
Hottest Jams: “4 Legs and A Biscuit,” “4:30am” 

The second Louisiana native on the list, the ravenous 27 year-old’s second mixtape of the year is as harrowing a ride as your likely to take. Gates is the kind of rapper who you can literally feel sweating through his verses, and you’ll be hard pressed to find a more versatile, unique MC right now — effortlessly weaving graphic street tales and broken-winged heartache together (sometimes in the same song).  Boosie might be locked up, but Kevin Gates continues to give Baton Rouge something to be proud of.

Stream/Download, via DatPiff.

4. Zebra Katz
Brooklyn, NY
Hottest Jams: “Pulla Stunt,” “W2tds” 

The term “queer rap” is a tricky one. Depending on your perspective, it’s either a superfluous, meaningless modifier, which is used to lump disparate artists together based soley on their sexuality. This of course implicitly further removes them from the norm. On the other hand, its pure existence can be viewed as a sign of progression — a hope for those interested in dragging a nutritiously homophobic genre out of the dark ages. I don’t know quite where I stand on the issue, but I do know that Zebra Katz’s scintillating DRKLNG is an astonishing, singular statement from a powerful artist who refuses to be confined by any genre. Riding the success of the unarguable “Ima Read,” the lean 8-song set pulls us deeper into the abyss — taking us on a journey that is equal parts thrilling, seductive, and unsettling.

Stream, via Soundcloud.

3. Young Thug
1017 Thug
Atlanta, GA
Hottest Jams: “Picacho” (f. Maceo), “Nigeria” (f/ Gucci Mane + PeeWee Longway)

Saying that Jeffrey “Young Thug” Williams’ debut LP “isn’t for everyone” is like calling Miley Cyrus’ VMA performance “eventful” (read: the understatement of the century). You are either going to fucking hate 1017 Thug or you are going to fucking love it. Williams’ delivery is as erratic as a Gucci Mane Twitter feed, but his voice is totally unshakable and sounds like nobody else. He’s probably always going to be too strange to break into mainstream rap — even in a Future/Rich Homie Quan type of way (sorry, had to) — but it’s been great to see 1017 Thug lap up the critical plaudits it rightfully deserves.

Download/Stream, via DatPiff.

2. Lil Durk
Signed to the Streets
Chicago, IL
Hottest Jams: “Dis Ain’t What U Want,” “100 Rounds”

If Chief Keef is early Springsteen — young, dumb and full of cum, sharing his unfiltered American experience with the world — Lil Durk is a ghetto Tom Waits, searching for meaning in the vast urban sprawl of a country that forgot about him and everybody he knows. While I doubt VH1 will be running their induction into the Rock N Roll Hall of Fame in 40 years, their work says just as much about what it means to live in their America than either artist did; unfortunately for Durk and Keef, their America is one that very few Americans with a voice (or much cash) give two shits about. Though Dirk isn’t a particularly artful MC, his vivid portraits of the grim realities of life in Southside Chicago provide an important foil to Chief Keef’s signature thought-provoking thoughtlessness. It may not be crafted or packaged as digestibly as you’re used to, but Signed to the Streets saying a hell of a lot; all you have to do is listen closely.

Download/Stream, via DatPiff.

1. Kelela
Los Angeles, CA
Hottest Jams: “Bankhead,” “Send Me Out”

The overarching takeaway from the 30 year-old’s stunning debut is power. She’s spoken about how heartbreak drove the creation of this album, and over the disc’s razor-sharp 13 tracks, she chronicles her struggle to rediscover her strength in the midst of the self-doubt, anxiety, and pain that heartbreak brings. This isn’t some Beyonce, “BOW DOWN BISH!” empty posturing; this is a real person going through the type of experience that makes you question everything about yourself and coming out the other side — stronger, wiser and more fearless than ever before. It’s something everybody who has ever loved and lost can relate to, and it is very rarely articulated with this much depth, craft, and pure motherfucking freshness. Brilliant, just brilliant.

Stream/Download, via Soundcloud.

Posted on by TP1.COM in Best Of '13, Featured

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