10 Best Mixtapes of 2013 - Rolling Stone
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10 Best Mixtapes of 2013

The absolute cream of the non-label hip-hop crop


Courtesy of Rich Homie Quan; Courtesy of Chance the Rapper; Courtesy of Vic Mensa; Courtesy of Migos

In 2013, as has been true for the past few years, much of the best rap music came via free mixtapes posted to the various aggregating web sites (DatPiff, LiveMixtapes) that have sprouted up in response to what has become a booming cottage industry. Mixtapes are now where hit singles and real careers are birthed, and where established rappers return to prove they still have it. Here are our 10 favorites from this year. 


Vic Mensa, Innanetape

Courtesy of Vic Mensa


Vic Mensa, ‘Innanetape’

While his friend Chance the Rapper pulls from the soul music of his parents' record collection,Vic Mensa revives the energetic funk of N.E.R.D., even going so far as to call in long lost Star Trak singer Kenna for the introspective "Fear and Doubt." Though he and Chance share a delirious flow and a keen eye for both self and society, Mensa's Innanetape is a bright blast of summertime sunshine highlighted by paeans to orange soda ("Orange Soda"), drugs ("Tweakin"), and, well, life ("Lovely Day").

Meek Mill, Dreamchasers 3

COurtesy of Maybach Music Group


Meek Mill, ‘Dreamchasers 3’

Meek Mill's Dreamchasers mixtape series has proved to have such strong brand equity that the Philly rapper adopted the name for his new imprint. The third Dreamchasers collection isn't as groundbreaking, but it nonetheless features a heaping handful of Meek's best tracks. The sinister drawling of "Make Me" finds him easily sliding into French Montana's lane, and on "Lil Nigga Snupe," Meek offers a touching tribute to his murdered protege Lil Snupe that wrestles with the societal injustices that too often result in the deaths of young black men. 

Young Thug, 1017 Thug

Courtesy of Young Thug


Young Thug, ‘1017 Thug’

On his first mixtape for Gucci Mane's 1017 Brick Squad crew, Atlanta's Young Thug often comes off as rap's evolutionary endpoint. He raps, yes, but mostly he sings wildly through Autotune. He's part Future, part Lil Wayne, part modern dancehall imp, all ATLien. But the wailing of "Nigeria" or the bonkers "Picacho" (as in the Pokemon character) could only be the work of Young Thug. And he knows it, too. On "Shooting Star" he sings, "I'm a shooting star / just wish away."

DJ Mustard & TeeFlii, Fireworks

Courtesy of DJ Mustard & TeeFlii


DJ Mustard & TeeFlii, ‘Fireworks’

Los Angeles producer DJ Mustard has redefined the West Coast with instantly identifiable beats that blend the tempo and rubbery bass of classic California hip-hop with the sound and space of Atlanta snap. He released his own mixtape, the aptly and arrogantly titled Ketchup (get it?) this year, but his best effort was Fireworks, a collaboration with the singer TeeFlii, who looks like a lost Debarge sibling and sings like The-Dream's bratty younger brother. Where Mustard’s beats normally evoke a strip club's booty-whomp, here he pushes himself, brilliantly, towards R&B smoothness. 

Migos, Young Rich Niggas

Courtesy of Migos


Migos, ‘Young Rich Niggas’

Drake helped pushed Migos' "Versace" to new heights when he dropped his own remix, but the Atlanta trio's subsequent June mixtape was proof they didn't need his co-sign. Armed with bubbly beats that leave plenty of empty space for hyper-catchy ad-libs, Migos scribbled an entire full-length's worth of triple-time anthems ("Hannah Montana," "Bando") fixated on the drug trade and its attendant spoils. Of course, with hooks this good Migos' will soon be able to rap about raking it in via more legitimate means.

Action Bronson, Blue Chips 2

Courtesy of Action Bronson


Action Bronson, ‘Blue Chips 2’

Queens' best ever ex-chef rapper of Albanian descent broke through with last year's Blue Chips and though its sequel could never be quite as revelatory, it did affirm the singularity of the music created by Action Bronson and his production partner, Party Supplies. On Blue Chips 2, they use segments of hits by Tracy Chapman, the Champs, Phil Collins and a host of similarly counterintuitive others as the foundations for Bronson's madcap adventure plots. This is a mixtape as vivid as your favorite cable drama.

Chance the Rapper, Acid Rap

Courtesy of Chance The Rapper


Chance The Rapper, ‘Acid Rap’

Chicago's Chance the Rapper established himself in 2013 as the strongest new voice in hip-hop: cool enough for the teens, thoughtful enough for the old heads, pop enough to open for Lil Wayne, and with his street bona fides established by virtue of his coming out of Chicago's rap scene. On Acid Rap he recalls a number of the greats — young Kanye in lush sonics, Slim Shady in spastic flow, Kendrick in inquisitive worldview — but the full-length is precocious enough to make those comparisons feel like positive premonitions rather than millstones. Acid Rap’s scope is stunning both musically (the blending of soul and juke encapsulates his hometown) and lyrically — he deftly bounces from rapping about Chicago's murder rate to recalling hugging his grandma. Acid Rap is the start of something special. 

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