The ten best mixtape rappers of all time

Categories: Hip-Hop, Lists

Eric Gruneisen
Chance the Rapper is one of the ten best mixtape rappers

Supposedly, albums are where it's at. That's when the artist is supposed to bring their A-game, convert the doubters, all that good stuff. So why is it that a lot of the time it's the mixtapes that are the most enjoyable? Maybe it's because so many mixtapes are when artists are still building their reputation, and they're hungry as hell. Maybe it's because there's less pressure, no worries about first week sales, and the artist feels more free to take chances. It's probably all of these things, but whatever the reason, some rappers just shine when money's not involved. Keep reading for the ten best mixtape rappers of all time.

See also: The ten best mixtape DJs of all time

10. J. Cole
J. Cole's a funny artist because even though he's a Gold-selling artist, he still hasn't released an album as good as either of his Roc Nation mixtapes, The Warm Up and especially Friday Night Lights. On the latter, with tracks like "Too Deep For the Intro," Cole proved that he had a raw, emotional honesty not often seen in hip-hop. The mixtape format also allowed Cole to go hard over already popular beats like Kanye's "Devil in a New Dress" on "Villematic."

9. Chance the Rapper
Chance the rapper is one of the hottest up-and-coming rappers out right now, and he has yet to release an official album. As such, he's emblematic of the new model for gaining popularity through mixtapes. Last year's 10 Day put him on the radar of hip-hop heads across the country, but he's absolutely blown up after this year's Acid Rap. Chance's mixtape game is so strong, a bootlegged version of it landed at 63 on Billboard's Hip-hop/R&B chart after selling 1,000 copies on iTunes and Amazon in a week.

8. Young Jeezy
Before he was a Platinum-selling artist, Young Jeezy was a drug dealer, plain and simple. He makes no reservations talking about that life in his breakout mixtape Trap or Die, calling out studio rappers. Not only did Trap or Die blow Jeezy up, it took what T.I. Started with Trap Muzik and made it more real, much closer to the streets. For T.I., it was a mode of expression, but for Jeezy, death was in the equation. You can hear the urgency in his music.

7. Joe Budden
After being nominated for a Grammy in 2003 for "Pump It Up," Budden fell almost completely off the map for several years, sustained mostly by solid, underhyped mixtapes, most notably his Mood Muzik series. Mixtapes have suited Budden as he seems to be more comfortable as the underdog, clawing his way out of whatever corner he's been backed into, than the superstar on top of the game. "Whatever It Takes," a breathtaking epic of misery from Kill Yourself, Part 1, a DJ Kay Slay and Clinton Sparks mixtape, tells a bit about Budden's proclivity for melancholy.

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Best mixtape rappers of all time? This list largely focuses on rappers that have come up in the past five years or less. Lupe Fiasco is another notable absence, particularly mixtapes Fahrenheit 1/15 parts 1 and 2.


You left Curren$y completely off the list? He has put out sooo much quality free music. I don't think peeps with 2 mixtapes should make it onto any best of list. Jet Life

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