Retrospective: The Mixtape Era Vol. 2 (2008-2014)

By @TrueGodImmortal 

The mixtape is in many ways the strongest form of promotion in hip hop. In some aspects, it has become over saturated, mostly due to the fact that everyone now raps. With the cracking down of selling tapes illegally and profiting, there was now emphasis on utilizing the Internet and sites such as Dat Piff, Live Mixtapes, and others would begin to be where you downloaded the newest releases. Mixtapes would go through a change conceptually as well, as they now became more like free albums with all original content(in most cases) instead of just a ton of freestyles and remixes over already known beats. As 2008 began, the next mixtape era would essentially start.

We left off the first edition by talking G-Unit and their impact, and funny enough, they would kick off 2008 with two big mixtapes, going back to their original formula. After a few losses in the mainstream and sales wise, 50 gathered Banks, Yayo, and periodically Buck for some original tracks and a few classic G-Unit remixes to restore that old "50 Cent Is The Future" feel. The result of that would be a classic tape in "Return of The Body Snatchers", as well as the follow up in "Elephant In The Sand", which was a tape structured around dissing Fat Joe (he gets dissed on the cover). 50 and the crew gave the streets what they wanted to hear and it would start G-Unit back on the right path.... until they kicked Young Buck out the group, which killed all their momentum. As the years rolled on, G-Unit would still prove viable as 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012 would see 50 active in the game again on mixtapes with his dope War Angel LP, Forever King, 5(Murder In Numbers), The Big 10, and his first ever Gangsta Grillz, The Lost Tape. Though he didn't lead this era of mixtapes, he still had a very strong presence through those years.

Now, for some rappers, mixtapes provided an opportunity to gain the streets back if they had lost some of their appeal during mainstream albums. No one benefited from this I believe as much as Fabolous. After years of pop singles and R&B singers assisting him, his street edge had waned some. As the era began, we were watching Fab come off of a successful run on his 2007 release, and he decided to link up with DJ Drama for a Gangsta Grillz series of his own titled "There Is No Competition". That would end up being the first of two tapes, as a second one was released in 2010, but that wouldn't be where Fab shined the most on mixtapes. Fab would see his most successful mixtape run and his most respected releases come in 2011, when he started a classic series.

For Fab, he knew that he needed something to give him that extra push, and there's no doubt at all that The Soul Tape series did just that. With production at the highest we had ever seen in Fab's career, The Soul Tape series gave us his best moments. Lyrically, Fab had gone into a different direction from his start in many ways, as over the years he had simplified his rhymes a bit (not that he was a lyrical genius, he was just a bit more clever in the beginning). Now, the soulful production backed by street tales and relatable topics helped Fab to garner more respect as an MC and in general as an artist. With each volume that released, it seemed as if he improved on something from before, and I think they get stronger with each release. The first Soul Tape was strong, though it left a bit to be desired, while the 2nd edition was a tad more polished and precise, then the 3rd edition would carry it home, seeing Fab at what could be his most poignant overall. I also think the production on Soul Tape 3 was the strongest out of the series. The Soul Tape series is one of the best mixtape series in history and it is definitely one of the top 3 series of this era.

One thing that's always been interesting to see is when legends decide to try their hand at mixtapes. It becomes a big event so to speak. We saw Jay do it, we saw 50 come back to it, we saw a few others make an attempt, but the strongest attempt by a legend on a mixtape came during 2008, when Nas decided to release the controversial "The Ni**er Tape". Hosted by DJ Green Lantern, the tape was solid, with some leftovers from his upcoming "Untitled" album, most of which should have made the actual album. Nas gave us a lot of controversial lyrics and some tracks that fit that description in general on this tape. While it isn't one of the strongest releases to come out of this entire era, it is one of the best tapes to release during the year 2008, and it was dope to see Nas in the mixtape lane for once.

If you remember, last edition, we talked about some of the most prevalent mixtape artists in Joe Budden, Young Jeezy, and of course Lil Wayne. Wayne dominated the mixtape circuit during 2005-2007, and while he didn't dominate as heavily during this period, he would still have some prominent releases. Wayne continued the Dedication series during this era, but honestly none of those tapes were noteworthy, if I'm being honest. It seemed as if Wayne started his decline during this era and only gave us flashes of brilliance. For those of us in our mid to late 20s and older, we think of Wayne's greatest works as Dedication 1 or 2 and Da Drought 3. That's his mixtape prime without a doubt. However, the generation that truly got more familiar with Wayne more so on the Carter 3 wave identify with his 2009 release No Ceilings as his best mixtape, and some would say that's his best tape period. No Ceilings is a good mixtape no doubt, but pales in comparison to his other releases. I've never thought it was a classic, I just think it was seen that way because it was a return to form for Wayne, and the last of his big moments mixtape wise. He would come back with another significant release in 2011 with Sorry 4 The Wait, but by then, Wayne had began his true decline and nothing really hit as hard as it used to. Plus, Wayne had two stars on his brand that were dominating the game. Oddly enough, they would both get their starts via popular mixtapes as well. Of course, I'm talking about Drake and Nicki Minaj.

Now, with Nicki Minaj, she was featured on Waka Flocka, Gucci Mane, and Wayne mixtapes, but her biggest moment on mixtapes came in 2009 with her Beam Me Up Scotty tape. It showed Nicki in control, lyrically at her best so to speak, and her sex appeal helped too. Nicki first got her true taste of stardom via Beam Me Up Scotty and she would turn that into a career that still goes strong. Her Young Money/Cash Money label mate Drake would see a rise of his own as well. Drake, after two mixtapes that didn't really garner attention, released his 2009 release So Far Gone, and while this mixtape is groundbreaking in some ways, it really is just your average mixtape when you break it down. Interludes, freestyles and verbal sparring over popular beats, remixes, with a few original tracks. What made it so different was that it felt structured like an album. So Far Gone has the label of a classic mixtape and it is more so due to the altering in music during this time. The post 808s and Heartbreak generation didn't have a mixtape that defined the generation and though I personally can't understand it, So Far Gone definitely is a mixtape that could define the era and this change. Drake raps and sings of course, and here is where he put it together the best, and the result was a big moment in hip hop and oddly enough, the instant making of a star. We hadn't witnessed someone become an instant star off mixtapes since 50, and Drake's journey was way different from 50's, but both provided the biggest impact mixtape wise that translated to mainstream for their respective generation. While Drake was making his own impact via mixtape, there were a few releases from the usual suspects that captured our attention through this era.

Joe Budden would release two prominent tapes in this era, and no, one of them isn't the horrid Gangsta Grillz from Slaughterhouse. Mood Muzik 4 released in 2010 and though it doesn't hold a candle to the 2nd edition, I would give it the slight edge over the 1st and possibly the 3rd editions. There are some of Joe's realest lyrics in this tape and some of his most emotional songs, which is where he shines the most. In 2012, Joe would release the A Loose Quarter mixtape, which wouldn't garner the fanfare that a Mood Muzik tape would, but he would still capture some ears with a mix of the emotional side of Budden we were used to combined with a bit of a more aggressive Budden, which hadn't been seen since his early freestyle days. Budden was going through changes on A Loose Quarter, and you could hear it. It wasn't the precise sound or classic feel of Mood Muzik, but the music was still good overall.

Another mixtape staple, The Clipse, would have some releases, including their Road to the Casket Drops tape, but after they separated, it would be on Pusha T to take the reigns during this era, and essentially that's what he did. In 2011, he released the solid "Fear of God" tape and in 2013, he released the "Wrath of Caine" tape to help prepare the world for his debut solo album. Pusha would become popular via his coke tales and just top tier lyricism, in terms of talking drugs. There aren't many people who can do drug dealer rap as well as Pusha T and that's not even debatable. He brings that old school drug dealer feel to his music with vivid tales and identifiable verses for anyone who's ever been around that type of atmosphere. While trap rap was becoming popular, Pusha was still keeping that original drug dealer rap alive. Speaking of trap rap, one of the big artists from the last mixtape era came with it in this era as well.

Young Jeezy released a series of dope mixtapes during this era, the best being the sequel to his classic Trap or Die tape. Trap or Die 2 showed Jeezy improving in some instances as an artist, and was one of his strongest showings period and one of my favorite projects from him. Now, Jeezy didn't really stop there as he would release The Real is Back and It's Tha World during this period as well, both of which are pretty dope, but It's Tha World is extremely slept on. Hands down. The intro to It's Tha World still knocks in the speakers and is one of my favorite songs that Jeezy released. Jeezy managed to keep his name buzzing and maintain a level of success on the mixtape circuit even after going platinum multiple times and having certified success in the mainstream. Jeezy never strayed too far from his roots.

Atlanta dominated the industry during this era it seemed and the circuit. However, I have to take a brief moment to talk about one of my personal favorite mixtapes to happen during this era. This one might actually surprise you. So, one day I was getting ready for work, in 2012, and I saw in the morning on MTV Jams, that there was this hilarious video and song and the hook went "Don't Believe Me, Just Watch", and I was hooked instantly. I went on to download the mixtape from this artist, who turned out to be Trinidad James. I thought he was a joke and that his whole tape would be utter comedy and garbage. I actually really liked this tape. Lyrically, it isn't the greatest, but production is solid and all the songs are truly catchy with a different flavor to it. It isn't a classic by definition traditionally, but it's a personal favorite for me. It would be the only Trinidad James release I would ever listen to, but periodically I still play it.

While on the subject of Atlanta, I feel like we would have to discuss the rise of three huge artists in this current day and age: 2 Chainz, Future, and the God of Mixtapes himself, Gucci Mane. 2 Chainz went through an image change after his run as Tity Boi via DTP didn't spawn any solo success. With his 2011 mixtape T.R.U. REALigion, Chainz ended up garnering some of the biggest love from the streets and worked his way into becoming a star. He's released a number of tapes over the years, but that one stands out easily over the others. It was Chainz as his best, talking shit over some booming production, with the most outrageous and outlandish lyrics that have been heard. That was his strong suit. His verses didn't really make sense or rhyme half the time, but he was just fun to listen to and his lyrics were crazy, not in the traditional sense of "Yo this verse is fire, this verse is CRAZY!", but "oh shit HAHA, what did this nigga just say??" crazy. Whether that's good or bad truly is up to the listener, but regardless Chainz gained popularity and won over the fans who had shunned him prior. He deserves a salute for that.

Now, if you're not familiar with Future, you might only know him for "Move That Dope", and this recent run of mixtapes and albums he has been on. Well, sure, he's on a great run right now, but his roots are all in the mixtapes. His first tape, "1000", wasn't necessarily a BIG hit, but it gained him attention. He got much more love for "Dirty Sprite", "True Story", "Streetz Calling", and the "Freebricks" tape with Gucci Mane, all released within 2011. To those of you saying Future is releasing too much music now, you weren't really aware of what he did during his start. He's used to this type of run and his run in 2015 mirrors his 2011 run. He would release his 2012 mixtape "Astronaut Status", and then the 2013 release from the Freeband Gang "F.B.G.: The Movie", which is still slept on to this day, as well as "Black Woodstock". He would finish off this era with the 2014 ending release "Monster", which is the start of this great run he's been on. Future is one of the premier mixtape artists during this era and he's maintained a level of consistency through the years without a doubt.

Gucci Mane is responsible in many ways for the rise of the new Atlanta mixtape scene. When you talk Young Thug, Migos, and other known ATL rappers via mixtapes, you can point to Gucci as the architect of it all in a way. Gucci himself has been the most consistent mixtape rapper over that era, with tons of releases. His mixtapes are endless, from Gangsta Grillz: The Movie to The Burrrprint to Writing On The Wall to Trap God to many more releases, Gucci is the essential mixtape artist. His albums leave much more to be desired, but he always delivers on mixtapes with tons of street anthems and bangers for the trap. Gucci became the face of trap rap during this era of mixtapes and with his release from prison soon, there's no doubt in my mind that he will continue to make more and more tapes to further (or hurt) his mixtape legacy. He paved the way for the newer trap artists from Atlanta and he continues to see his influence grow.

Despite the Atlanta influence and focus during the mixtape era, we saw a ton of other artists begin rising during this time. New Orleans own Curren$y experienced a resurgence of his own with multiple mixtapes and after many years of trying to get on, Wiz Khalifa finally found his lane as well. Wiz would release "Kush and OJ", which is known as his biggest mixtape and most popular in many ways, and from there, it was almost like his career took off and never looked back. He would put out more tapes including Cabin Fever, Taylor Allderdice, and such. Wiz made his name on the mixtape circuit, as did Curren$y, as they went directly into the stoner lane and won big time. Backed by smooth production and lyrics that appealed to that crowd, their styles were one in the same in a lot of ways, though Wiz may have borrowed a bit in his path to success. Wiz had gone through many changes and that stoner lane was Curren$y all the way at the time, so there's obvious influence. Both took different paths as far as mainstream goes, but with the mixtapes, they were in the same lane.

Now, I'm not a fan of MMG, but how could I talk mixtapes without mentioning Wale and his output into the mixtape game and Meek Mill with his Dreamchasers series. Meek rose to prominence via his mixtapes and Wale kept his name buzzing via mixtapes after his debut album didn't do well sales wise. However, one can't talk mixtapes and MMG without discussing what could be the best mixtape to come from that camp, Rich Forever by Rick Ross. I've never been a big Rick Ross fan and I don't think this mixtape was THAT great, but to many it is a classic and a noteworthy release mixtape wise. Ross would go on a hot streak album wise, garnering acclaim and attention for his albums, which were either mediocre or just solid, but Rich Forever sounds better than just about any Rick Ross album. Despite their knack for bullshit and images outside of the music, MMG had a solid run mixtape wise during this era. That can't be denied.

The rise of ASAP Rocky and Joey Badass brought attention to NY again, although some would say ASAP doesn't come off like he is from NY, he's Harlem all day. Joey would end up releasing his critically acclaimed 1999 mixtape and instantly set the Hip hop world on fire. He would possess lyricism and ability that for his young age, seemed out of place in this generation. Inspired by the old NY sound and the classic hip hop feel, Joey would take 1999 and use it as a springboard to the mainstream in some ways. While his buzz didn't grow too high, it still managed to put him in the limelight a bit. For ASAP, his Live. Love. ASAP. mixtape was huge for him and helped put in the driver's seat for the leaders of the new school in hip hop. I wasn't a big fan of his when he first dropped, but over time I've grown to appreciate the mixtape and the fans still hold it as a classic for this era. The dope part about this era is that we saw hip hop legends join the game, the mixtape legends stayed afloat, some stars brought themselves back to the forefront, and new artists were made off this platform. We even saw Nipsey Hussle sell a mixtape for 1,000 dollars and cash out in a big way. This was groundbreaking and also an effective way to promote yourself as an artist and make money. However, most artists still released their mixtapes the free way and it paid off for them in the long run.

There are three true leaders of this hip hop genre that got their starts in the mixtape lane, like most new artists. Those artists are Kendrick Lamar, J.Cole and Big KRIT. J. Cole is not my personal favorite rapper of the new school, and while I'm not the biggest fan of him, it's impossible to not discuss his two biggest mixtapes, "The Warm-Up" and the classic mixtape "Friday Night Lights". FNL is truly Cole at his best and raw, as he managed to make almost every song dope and lyrically showcased his strongest verses over his career from the intro to the final song. If you want to get into Cole and his music, FNL is where you should start. Now, with Kendrick, it is different. He released Overly Dedicated, which I wasn't a huge fan of, but it's definitely recognized as dope. Now, depending on who you talk to, they might consider Section.80 as a mixtape and it was released as such, since GKMC is considered his debut album. Section.80 is a classic to me and Overly Dedicated has dope moments and these helped push Kendrick into the spot he is in now in many ways. However, when I think of someone who really staked his claim via mixtapes as a leader of the new school minus the cosign or the big push, it is Big KRIT.

KRIT is the best artist of today in my opinion and each tape he released shows why. KRIT Wuz Here was the beginning, but from Return of 4Eva to 4Eva In A Day to the King Remembered In Time mixtape, KRIT gave us nothing but consistency and classic tapes and tracks to bump. I'm partial to Return of 4Eva and King Remembered In Time, as I feel they both represent an evolution in the sound of KRIT. KRIT gave us mixtapes like they were truly albums and each one represents a different time for KRIT in life and perspective. KRIT might be the most slept on artist of this era, because he has the best music in it, but not the most attention or acclaim. Regardless, for this era, while there are others who definitely did their thing, KRIT to me is the best artist and most prolific from this time.

This mixtape era saw more stars made, more classics, more consistency and a mix of every type of artist in hip hop. I neglected to talk the R&B mixtapes that released during this era because outside of one or two, nothing was really noteworthy. Regardless, for hip hop, this era is special. The whole era of mixtapes is special. It changed the business and hip hop forever, for better or worse.



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