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10 Best Mixtapes of 2013

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

Mixtapes

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. 

BY JORDAN SARGENT

Young Thug, 1017 Thug

Courtesy of Young Thug

5

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

4

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

3

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

2

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

1

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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