DAR Hip Hop: 7 Classic Gangsta Grillz Mixtapes
The mixtape era made stars. Years ago, before mixtapes were treated as pre albums for artists personally, they were spearheaded by the mixtape DJs who seemed focused on making a name for themselves and a name for the artist they would feature on their tapes. One DJ who took the game to newer heights would be the legend DJ Drama, who would become hugely popular in the streets with his Gangsta Grillz mixtape series. With the southern centered mixtape series showcasing some of the best artists in the south and beyond, Drama became a popular name and the series would take off and give the spotlight to some artists who needed it and some who already had plenty of it. So, today, we thought it would be interesting to look back at 7 Gangsta Grillz classics, the mixtapes that helped shape the series in what it is and some mixtapes that surprised us all. Which tapes make the list? Let's take a look.
*Pharrell & DJ Drama- In My Mind: The Prequel (2006)
-I always look at this mixtape and think that Pharrell was at the top of his game artistry wise during this time period. As a solo artist, Pharrell has never had many highs, but this time period was something special IMO. This mixtape was a shocker for me, as I never expected it to be as good as it was, and it was almost BETTER than his solo debut. Some would say this was better and to me, it showcased how Drama was branching out to different artists. Pharrell shined on tracks like "When Skateboard Came", "Fortified", "Music For The Gangstas", "This Is The Life", and more, but the most shocking part about this tape is that while Pharrell isn't anything close to a great rapper, he seems comfortable over every beat they put in front of him. Using some classic instrumentals, Pharrell steps up and delivers a mixtape worth listening to multiple times, which says a lot.
*Lil' Boosie and DJ Drama- Streetz Iz Mine (2006)
-While I've never been the biggest fan, I definitely recognize the contributions of Boosie to the game and southern hip hop. This mixtape was special, showcasing the straight forward lyricism and style of Boosie while continuing the tradition of the Gangsta Grillz series. The music here is some of his most infamous, with booming production and attention catching rhymes being the focal point of the project and Boosie is in his element throughout. Highlights on the mixtape include the well known "Set It Off", the classic "They Dykin", "Sexy Lady", "What About Me", and others. Boosie would become even more popular following the release of this project, using the Gangsta Grillz support to take his career to another level.
*Little Brother & DJ Drama- Separate But Equal (2006)
-This was one of the biggest surprises in Gangsta Grillz history and I still believe this might be the actual best of the entire series. After a low point commercially but a high point critically and creatively, Little Brother found themselves looking for a new challenge and a new audience. Enter Gangsta Grillz. After working with mostly street artists from the south, Drama would expand his clientele list and bring Little Brother aboard for a mixtape full of heavy lyricism, soulful boom bap production, and all around greatness. Phonte and Pooh are both at their best, and this mixtape boasts a number of guests, from Mos Def to Joe Scudda to Bun B and more, providing a little extra to the mixtape outside of what they bring to the table. There are a number of gems on this mixtape from "Candy" to "Let It Go" to "Can't Let Her" to "Knock Knock" to my personal favorite "Boondock Saints", which might be one of the best verses Phonte has ever spit. All in all, Separate But Equal is a classic Gangsta Grillz and a classic mixtape in general.
*Gucci Mane & DJ Drama- The Burrprint: The Movie 3D (2009)
-Of all the legendary mixtapes from Gucci, this remains one of my favorites, if not the favorite overall. Gucci was at his best on this mixtape, and this is one of the more entertaining times of his career and for Drama. Drama had gone through a number of things with the legal situation and the shutting down of the mixtape game briefly, but he would see a nice resurgence with Gucci by his side, as they released a few mixtapes that would be labeled classic. To me, this is their best work together, as Gucci coasts over excellent tracks like the Brick Squad featured "Flexin", "My Shadow", "Trap Goin' Crazy", "Yelp I Got All Of That", and my personal favorite "Think I Want Her". Gucci has an impressive mixtape resume, but this one that truly showcased just how great he was during his rise and ascension to mainstream notoriety, which was just about at the pinnacle when this tape released.
*Lil Wayne & DJ Drama- Dedication 2 (2006)
-Of all the Wayne mixtapes in the universe, this remains his best work overall. Wayne was in his prime and in that transition period from when he was inspired by East Coast music to the artist that he has become since about 2007-2008. He showed so many flashes of brilliance on this mixtape, and Wayne seemed to be in his prime here. Whether he was rapping over booming instrumentals like on "Sportscenter", "They Still Like Me", and "Poppin Them Bottles", or just going on a lyrical frenzy like on the excellent opener "Get Em" and the classic "Cannon Remix", Wayne is in rare form and at his absolute best. Dedication 2 is his best mixtape IMO, and it is quite possibly the greatest Gangsta Grillz ever. In terms of quality, I couldn't rank any Gangsta Grillz higher than this one besides maybe the Little Brother tape. Still, in terms of importance, this is the start of a huge run for Wayne that put him at the top of the rap game and put more eyes on Drama, for better or worse.
*Young Jeezy & DJ Drama- Trap Or Die (2005)
-This one was way too obvious and a definite classic. Gangsta Grillz had always been a popular series in the mixtape world, but this was perhaps the ONE that truly took it to the next level. Mixtapes were intended to aid an artist's career and no mixtape did that quite like Trap Or Die did for Jeezy. Jeezy was known somewhat in the south, but it was this tape that really put him on the map. The tape showcases the charismatic style of Jeezy, along with trunk rattling anthems, hilarious adlibs, and much more. The features are of course Slick Pulla and Bun B, along with Yo Gotti, Fabolous, Jody Breeze, Gucci Mane (in retrospect, things were once so simple weren't they), and more. The highlights on this tape include "Ether Freestyle", "Do Da Damn Thing", "Street Niggaz", "Get Em Jeezy", and two of my favorites "Miss Me With That Rap Shit" and "Keep Fuckin Around". Jeezy became a star with this mixtape and Drama advanced his profile, so this was another win for the Gangsta Grillz brand.
*T.I. & DJ Drama- Down With The King (2004)
-If you ask someone about the greatest T.I. Gangsta Grillz tape, someone might say The Leak or Fuck A Mixtape, but neither one of those were the best. The greatest moment in the mixtape career of T.I. came during his beef with Texas rapper Lil' Flip, as he would dissect Flip at every turn and stake his claim as the King Of The South. I remember thinking that this tape is the one that really put T.I. in position to become a star, because the anticipation for his music felt different shortly after it dropped. Whether it was the phone convo with Scarface, the Flip diss over "99 Problems", the collab with Jim Jones and Bun B titled "End Of The Road", the P$C track "Final Four", or any other diss to Flip, this was an entire mixtape dedicated to taking apart a rapper who apparently barked up the wrong tree. While I was never the biggest supporter of T.I. during this strange beef, the importance of this mixtape and what it meant to both Drama and T.I's careers is undeniable. Gangsta Grillz was such a classic mixtape series and all of these editions are huge pieces in that.