Building up momentum as a rapper takes a lot of effort, which means plenty of nights in the studio and on the road performing. As with any art, having the space to grow and flex the skills learned along the way is monumental to success. The way albums work and what goes into making them can be a lot of pressure and be taxing on your favorite rapper’s creative expression—who wants to worry about budgets? With mixtapes, rappers have more freedom to do and say what they want, when they want. Most of the bigger rappers today have a come up that took them through the mixtape circuit. Sometimes, their storied journey with those tapes can be forgotten as they become more famous by the day and gain new fans. Here, XXL highlights the best quality mixtape tracks from established artists, all displaying why these rappers are so beloved today.
By the time Young Thug‘s Jeffery mixtape released in 2016, his star was beginning to shine bright, but one of the undersung songs on the mixtape is “Future Swag,” on which Thugger seamlessly pays homage to the Freebandz leader. “A solid foundation, a nation/Believe this shit started in the basement/My uncle that died is amazin’/You see all the looks on my faces/I see all them racks on ya’ cases/We send ’em to a better place/We send ’em boys to meet their maker/I’m goin’ up, skyscraper,” Thug rhymes. The song displays Thug’s chameleon-like ability to bend his style to anyone else’s, and serves as a canvas for him to deliver his signature rhymes.
Freddie Gibbs has as much popularity as he ever has these days, but when he dropped “B.A.N.ned,” featured on his Cold Day in Hell mixtape in 2011, he was still on the come up. His storytelling abilities bring the listener right to a time when the Gary, Ind. rhymer recalls a show moment that almost went left. “We booked this ho for a show, gave him the cash in advance/He saw GI 100 deep, was scared to hop out his van/Said, ‘Gangsta Gibbs, we cool with you, but, yo, what’s up with your fam?’/Once this ho nigga hit the stage, I bet he pissed in his pants,” Freddie raps. Even with the song being almost a decade old, his dexterity on this track and command of the mic feeds right into the rapper he’s grown to become today.
Bangers from Thugger, Gangsta Gibbs, Spitta Andretti, Drizzy, Future Hendrix, Big K.R.I.T., Tity Boi and more, here are the best mixtape songs from your favorite rappers.