List is not ranked.
The North Carolina bar-slinger had the only non-Kendrick rap verse on To Pimp a Butterfly, and we've been waiting extra hard for her to follow up 2014's Beauty and the Beast EP ever since. She knew it, opening this one with the powerful, "Hey, hey, you there—where's your crown? / You didn't leave the house without your crown, did you? / Just as sure as the Earth is round / We bounce back up when they throw us down / So...so don't forget your crown." The tape serves us vintage soul and hip-hop waves, appearances from Anderson .Paak, Raphael Saadiq and Ab-Soul, and a brand of insistent, relevant lyricism you can't find anywhere else. –Zach Dionne
It's not likely anyone murdered anyone else's beats as thoroughly as the Mississippi rapper/producer/god did on this one-track-per-hour celebration of his departure from Def Jam. He sliced and diced Rae Sremmurd's "By Chance," Kanye West's "Real Friends," Schoolboy Q's "THat Part," Future's "Wicked" and Drake's "Hype" and "4PM in Calabasas," often making us forget whose tracks they were in the first place. We've got plenty here to occupy us till K.R.I.T. celebrates his independence with a proper follow-up to Cadillactica. –Zach Dionne
The 16-track bop opens with “I’m On” immediately locking your interest with a bouncy beat that samples the classic “Who Do You Love?” The first song serves as the proper intro to a soundtrack for A Good Night in the Ghetto as Kamaiyah reminisces about tougher times. The young Oakland-bred rapper dropped her debut G-funk mixtape just in time to knock while cruisin’ on a summer day. DJ Official (R.I.P.), Trackademicks, 1-O.A.K. and more lay down synth beats and clean productions over the Cali-smooth, feel-good lyrics.
“l want to promote living but also make it known that it's OK to have problems. It's not what you go through, it's how you get through it,” Kamaiyah told The Fader earlier this year. And she did just that with rap tunes from “Fuck It Up,” featuring YG, to closing with “For My Dawg," an emotional tribute for two loved ones who recently passed. From the bottom to the top, this compilation is definitely one of our favorites. –Amissa Pitter
Music has always been a form of expression and rebellion. The CrossRhodes continue that tradition with their two-part project The Great Debate. Comprised of Grammy Award–winning artist Raheem Devaughn and emcee Wes Felton, The CrossRhodes’ socially charged lyrics continue to give voices to the voiceless. Coupled with their own unique spins on classic beats, the mixtape comes at a time when people are confused and looking for avenues of release. –Malikah Shabazz
As soon as Noname delivered her verse on Chance the Rapper's 2013 Acid Rap track "Lost"—"Fuck me into open caskets, I wanna die with this / I wanna stop seeing my psychiatrist / She said, 'Pill pop, baby girl, 'cause I promise you, you tweaked / The empty bottled loneliness, this happiness you seek'"—we were ready for something that was all her. We got it with Telefone, the Chicago poet/rapper's debut, a woke, hall-of-fame performance set exclusively to inventive beats by Saba, Cam O'bi and Phoelix. The tracks frequently scream, "How the fuck do you rap like that over this?" Telefone's a flawless document that once again has us desperately ready for what's next. –Zach Dionne
On his 22nd birthday, the Saint Paul, Minn. resident heard on Kanye's "All Day" turned in a sparkling, emotionally vast project that showed his specific excellence in full HD. "The album sounds like the shirt I was wearing on the cover," he told Fuse right after the release. Dead-on. –Zach Dionne
If New Chapter hadn't already been available the day we saw South Londoner Ms Banks shred the shit out of Kanye West's "30 Hours" on her BBC Radio 1 Fire in the Booth freestyle, we would've quit listening to music. Fortunately the eight tracks were there for us, all showing the young, one-day rap god as a student of the game, an essential contributor to the grime scene, and a rhymer of total confidence and control. (Quick tip: "Hallelujah" is unspeakably nasty.) –Zach Dionne
Metro Boomin has a stunning ability to bring out the best in rappers, and he created something special just for 21 Savage. The rising ATL star’s gravelly flow atop the producer’s gnarly beats on Savage Mode made for one of this year’s most exciting collaborations. Unlike most rappers who like to front on their gangster capabilities, 21 truly isn’t someone to fuck with—and he makes it very clear on the mixtape. No wonder his menacing tone led to the first platinum single of his career, the Future-featuring "X." –Bianca Gracie
After a few tries, the young Philly rapper finally broke into the mainstream with his fourth mixtape. Uzi showcased his wacky-as-fuck flow over vibrant beats that were just as cartoonish as his technicolor dreads. The party wasn’t a real party if songs like “Money Longer” and “Ps & Qs” weren’t blasting on the speakers.
In their 18-month recording career, Das Racist released two mixtapes and an album. In the last year, Kool A.D. hit us with 10—T-E-N!!—mixtapes. O.K., Peyote Karaoke and Zig Zag Zig have 100 songs apiece, and those last two came only two months apart.
Putting Paradiza Infiniti here is partially an admission that it's impossible to canvas Victor Vazquez's body of solo work, even in the span of a year. It's a representative for all the work—but it's also very possibly the right one. When I headed to Kool A.D.'s Bandcamp to figure out his No. 1 from 2016, I found out he'd dropped this one the day before, and...like...mixtape streaks shouldn't sound this electric this far in. These 77 minutes are the most I've ever heard The Second Latin Rapper to Like the Beatles sound like he's openly enjoying and emphasizing the hugeness of his talent, unselfconsciously tickled by his absurdist humor and word-wizardry. You absolutely shouldn't be able to work Gene Wilder, Richard Pryor, Pat Sajak, the California Raisins, police brutality, lynching, Breyers ice cream, David Lynch, Wes Craven, Edgar Allan Poe, Beverly Cleary, Paul Dano, There Will Be Blood and Snoop Dogg into a single stream, like he does on "Stir Crazy." Kool A.D.'s blasé side was due for a time-out. –Zach Dionne
After waiting over a year for the fourth installment of rapper-slash-singer Tink’s fan-favorite Winter’s Diary mixtape series, our girl delivered. In hip-hop today it’s become commonplace for rappers to sing their own hooks, with varying degrees of actual singing talent. When it comes to Tink, however, this young woman can actually sing and rap really well. The soul her high-pitched, sweet-yet-haunting voice brings to her songs is uniquely Tink. That signature sound is found throughout Winter’s Diary 4 which is why we’re still listening to it as we head into 2017. –Mark Sundstrom
Ty Dolla $ign consistently drops some of the best mixtapes in the rap game, and September’s Campaign (his ninth one!) is no different. The rapper/singer/charmer brings his suave Cali vibes to every cut on the record, from the title track that gets us ladies twerking for ladies to the politically charged “No Justice,” featuring his incarcerated brother Big TC. –Bianca Gracie
Chance the Rapper bars over more than 20 of the choicest Kanye West beats in Kanye West history. This would be a best-of-year-lister in any year, but it's particularly vital in 2016, when we listened to The Life of Pablo and Coloring Book—and both dudes' back catalogs—till the albums turned sentient just to beg us for some rest. The antidote? "Summer Friends" vocals over Late Registration's "Slow Jamz"! "Everybody's Something" over "Wolves"! And not that it even needed to be, but Chance the Dropout's perfectly sequenced and peppered with bars from other friends of the fam. –Zach Dionne
Fans of Tinashe were getting increasingly frustrated with the constant Joyride album delays, and the singer finally blessed us with a project we were craving. Nightride plays as the darker, erotic sister to the pending Joyride, from the spine-chilling “C’est La Vie” to the bedroom romp “Sacrifices." It finds Tinashe owning control of her sexuality, career and life—no matter what games the record label wants to play. –Bianca Gracie
In their three years together, the members of BTS have broken away from the squeaky-safe K-pop world with mixtapes that allow them a totally free avenue to explore new topics and sounds. The band's aggressive rapper Suga did this by adopting an entirely new persona, Agust D, through a tape that featured topics like his struggles with fame and depression. Not only is Suga exploring new subject matter, but the music itself is ambitious, with the Agust D's title track including a brilliant sample of James Brown's "It's a Man's Man's Man's World" that would likely be super-expensive to clear for a regular album track. Call it unhinged K-pop. –Jeff Benjamin
As soon as Thugger unveiled the extravagant, gender-bending cover for Jeffery—originally called No, My Name Is Jeffery—we knew we were in for something special. Just like his fashion, the rapper pushed his musical boundaries to go beyond the typical trap. From the carnival melodies of opener “Wyclef Jean” to the subtle rumblings of “Kanye West,” Young Thug showcased his uncanny knack to create dynamic tunes.
Whether it’s his collab with Eminem, or the supergroup Slaughterhouse or PRhyme, Royce Da 5’9” has made his way into your speakers one way or the other. While we fans were anxiously awaiting the release of his sixth—yes, sixth—studio release Layers, Nickel Nine decided to bless the world with 12 tracks of pure unfiltered, untainted lyrics. With guest features such as Styles P of The Lox and Black Thought from The Legendary Roots Crew, Trust the Shooter is a perfect example of Royce as a lyricist able to jump on any track and absolutely murder the beat. –Malikah Shabazz
Rap's biggest villain makes great music. Music only she can make. And her increasingly deplorable declarations couldn't do anything to diminish the (topless cover art–featuring) follow-up to 2014's debut album Broke with Expensive Taste. Her stew of house, EDM, pop and straight, Biggie-sampling hip-hop is still—if possible for you—worth a project-length listen. –Zach Dionne