2012 has been an incredible year for music. From rock, to pop, hip hop, and the world’s obsession with “Gangnam Style,” there have been many great offerings for fans of any genre of music. Hip hop, however, has been especially fortunate thanks to the rise of artists working harder than ever to ensure their mixtapes flow like albums. More than any other realm of music, hip hop is built on artists establishing relationships with the listener through the release of free material, and you could not throw a metaphorical rock through the blogosphere this year without finding a young voice with a vision they were willing to share for free. Some of these names later delivered albums that marked high, or in some cases low points in their careers, but today we’re focusing on the material that everyone is welcome to enjoy for free (legally).
We talked (and fought) for hours about the releases that we should highlight, and at the end of the day there were eight artists whom we thought truly outdid themselves with mixtapes in 2012. After we had our names, the staff of UTG proceeded to hurl sarcastic insults and expletives at one another until everyone agreed on their ranking on our list. What follows is what we feel are the eight most notable mixtures of 2012, as well as download links and song streams for each release. Please take some time to read about our reasoning for each selection, stream the songs we’ve selected, and who knows? You might just discover a gem you overlooked earlier in the year.
If you disagree with anything on our list, or feel we perhaps overlooked some critical albums, please comment and let us know. We will be releasing additional “Best Of” lists throughout the week.
1. Big Sean – Detroit (Download)
When the UTG staff met to discuss who would be making our essential mixtape list, it took roughly thirty seconds to discover we were all already on the same page. Though many great tapes hit the streets over the last twelve months, not a single release comes within a country mile of topping Big Sean’s latest, Detroit. These seventeen tracks capture the life of a twenty-something on the rise from one of America’s roughest cities with the clarity only Kodak could hope to top, and the guest features only further its impact. It’s hard to pick a single must-hear track, but stream “How It Feel” below and get a taste for Detroit:
2. Trinidad James – Don’t Be S.A.F.E. (Download)
Had we released this list a week ago it is likely many of you would have been caught off guard by our number two choice. However, as many of you are already aware, James just signed a multi-million dollar deal with Def Jam, so it is a bit hard to cash in on his obscurity at this point. Regardless, we have been spinning Don’t Be S.A.F.E. since mid-October and show no signs of slowing in the new year. “All Gold Everything” may be the breakthrough track, but “Givin No Fucks” is our favorite. Stream it below:
3. Meek Mill – Dreamchasers 2 (Download)
Maybach Musc Group may very well have been the most active hip hop label of 2012. Nearly every artist on their ever-growing roster released at least one mixtape this year, with some putting out two or more, and that doesn’t even begin to cover the number of chart-topping studio releases they put on shelves. Meek Mill was one of the label’s highlights throughout the year, but it was his late Spring mixture release that really got us talking. Dreamchasers 2 packs a quick-tongued punch and deserves to have a permanent home in your collection. Stream “Burn” below and enjoy:
4. Chip Tha Ripper (King Chip) – Tell Ya Friends (Download)
While some emcees break into the hip hop world with a never-before-seen fury of press that catapults them into stardom, most artists still go the old fashioned root of cutting their teeth on each and every rung of the success ladder. Chip Tha Ripper, otherwise known as King Chip, is the type of artist that falls into the latter group, and his early 2012 release, Tell Ya Friends, is all the proof you need to see what the rewards of hard work in hip hop sound like. Chip doesn’t create music for Season or a mood, he create music to live by, and Tell Ya Friends offers the kind of accompaniment that you cannot find on just any mixtape. Stream “Out Here” below and hear what we mean:
Perhaps the first mixtape of 2012 to really turn heads is now the fifth must-hear free release of the year. MMG boss Rick Ross released Rich Forever in January and, unbeknownst to the public, set in motion the events that would lead to his most successful year to date. Multiple tracks on this release found their way to being singles, and I think one could argue every rhyme that remains unused for promotional purposes could be released now and still take the scene by storm. Ross is a force to reckon with, and in 2012 nothing he released (including God Forgives I Don’t compared to the ferocity found on Rich Forever. Stream “Yella Diamonds” below:
Taking the complete opposite approach to getting attention for his release, Captain Murphy made his public debut as an unknown name alongside Earl Sweatshirt on the Adult Swim Singles Series track, “Between Friends.” His identity was not revealed at the time, and the majority of people likely didn’t think twice about it, but then November rolled around and the same seemingly new emcee released a short film via mixture entitled Duality, and suddenly the rap community could no longer look past the faceless lyricist. Many thought Captain Murphy was a brainchild of Odd Future, which would probably make sense given his debut with Earl, but it wasn’t until Murphy himself decided to become unmasked that the world learned hip hip heavyweight Flying Lotus was the man behind the magic. Stream “Shake Weight” below:
Many of the artists topping this year’s list have taken gigantic steps forward in the career, or at least delivered something different than their usual offerings, but every now and then it’s good to find that truly talented artists are able to simply continue making great music without the need to constantly push the envelope in one direction or another. B.o.B accomplishes this in a way only he can with Fuck Em We Ball. Though he offers little in the form of long-lasting material that will go down amongst his strongest efforts, Bobby Ray has delivered a could-be album as a free release, and every track oozes with his signature blend of bass-heavy urban and harmless mainstream pop styles. Stream “Still In This Bitch” and get your next party started right:
Coming off a strong 2011, we were pretty surprised to learn Childish Gambino would be releasing new material by the halfway point of the new year. Camp had found the young star venting about his hard journey through life and the entertainment industry, and it seemed at least for the time being that he’d said all he could on life up to this point, but like every great artist there was still another side of Gambino waiting to be exposed. On July 4 of this year that side found its way to spotlight by way of Royalty, an eighteen track exploration through the world of urban music left off Camp. Instead of simply addressing the pressures of life, Gambino introduced audiences to the life he’s able to live now that he’s overcome the hurdles in his path, and the results broadened his appeal more than ever. We’re unsure if any other artist in hip hop is more well positioned to take on the genre in 2013 than Childish Gambino, and Royalty serves as the perfect appetizer for his forthcoming efforts. Stream “We Ain’t Them” below:
Written by: James Shotwell (Twitter)