The top 15 hip-hop mixtapes of 2011

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10. Lakutis: I'm in the Forest

Das Racist affiliate Lakutis is basically the rap equivalent of a really nerdy kid being unleashed from his mom's basement and introduced to every single psychedelic drug at once. I'm in the Forest is at heart a borderline-Dadaist tape, concerned with science fiction ("What, you don't know about the Seven Spiders of Hip-Hop?"), raps about which animal Lakutis might be at any given moment ("I am a Death Shark. I am a Blood Eagle.") and a general deconstruction of hip-hop convention (there is a song called "Ja Rule" that just consists of Lakutis singing the chorus of a Ja Rule song over and over again). In other words, it's awesome.



9. Juicy J and Lex Luger: Rubba Band Business, Vol. 2

Few mixtapes these days are structured like academic papers. However, 20 seconds into "A Zip and a Double Cup," the first proper song off of Juicy J's collaborative tape with wunderkind aggro-rap producer Lex Luger, the man lays it all on the line: "You say no to drugs. Juicy J can't." He then spends the rest of the tape constructing an empirical argument to back up said thesis, culminating in "What is y'all on?" where Juicy—who as a member of Three 6 Mafia is the recipient of an Academy Award—reminds the listener that they are not, in fact, on the same drugs that he is. He even comes up with a slogan to explain himself: "We trippy mane!" It'd look great on a cover page.



8. Cities Aviv: Digital Lows

Cities Aviv made an oddly sedate mixtape for a guy who used to be in a hardcore band: Digital Lows featured butter-smooth production, sampling the very un-punk likes of Steely Dan, Shirley Bassey and Modest Mouse. However, Cities raps with as much urgency as he can muster, the Memphis rapper lashing out against the government, social stratification, and the general malaise and confusion that is the burden of youth. It's malcontent hip-hop for the 99 percent.



7. A$AP Rocky: LIVELOVEA$AP

When the news came out that A$AP Rocky had signed to RCA for a reported $3 million earlier this year, hip-hop's Monday morning quarterbacks balked—the guy had up to that point released three songs, and Rocky was at the time a New York rapper who rapped like he was from Texas, and was popular only within the confines of the Internet. Some enterprising A&R hit solid gold, however, as Rocky emerged from the deal pushing this tape on the public, offering listeners an insular, sometimes ugly world that conflated wildly different genres and styles, bending them into something that followed an internal logic all its own. Consider the anti-chorus of "Bass," where Rocky simply yells "BASS! UGH! BASS! UGH!" in leiu of a hook, or "Peso," his nearly elegiac single that's little more than sparkly tones, some chants and a few bass knocks. Rocky still has a long way to go as a rapper—he has a Craig Finn-esque tendency to run the same phrases into the ground—but as far as opening salvos go, he could have done a hell of a lot worse.



6. Meek Mill: Dreamchasers

When Rick Ross announced the initial lineup of his Maybach Music label, the roster seemed something of a hip-hop Island of Misfit Toys. Guys like Wale and Pill have been bouncing around the industry for years, clawing tooth and nail for relevance, but it was a little-known rapper from Philadelphia named Meek Mill who quickly stood out as the stud of the Maybach Music stable. Mill merged the emotive thug persona of his hometown's Beanie Sigel with the scream-rap style so in vogue within the South, creating a passionate, aggressive tape that wasn't quite like anything else out. And when he lets the cracks show, such as he does on the Siegel-featuring title track, Mill shows flashes of Tupac-levels of brilliance.

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