Mixtape Wrapup (2008 Edition)

posted January 05, 2009 12:00:00 AM CST | 40 comments

In 2008, mixtapes mattered more than ever before in Hip Hop, with rappers big and small coveting the kind of buzz, success and fame that artists like 50 Cent, Chamillionaire and Lil Wayne built for themselves in years past through the culture of free music.

HipHopDX remains the premier site to listen to the most relevant, talked about and often exclusive tapes in the game. Our monthly Mixtape Wrapup took a break to re-evaluate last year's hard, and outstanding work. As artists like Nas said what they weren't supposed to, Sha Stimuli seemed unstoppable for his monthly, dead-on consistent tapes, and newer faces like Curren$y and Kid Cudi brought the art back into commerce, these tapes, led by Royce Da 5'9"s Bar Exam 2 with Green Lantern, that the over 40 writers, editors and tastemakers behind HipHopDX voted on as best in our 2008 Awards [click to read].

With all tapes ready to listen to, here's what we'll never forget from '08...

A listen to Royce Da 59s catalog lets you know that hes definitely got the skill level to be one of Hip Hops elite emcees. And hes consistently rubbed shoulders with some of the industrys heaviest hitters: he rhymed alongside Eminem before he became the superstar he is today, and hes made timeless records with revered producer DJ Premier. he ghostwrote Dr. Dres verses on The Message [click to read] from his seminal 2001 album, and last year, he penned Diddys Christina Aguilera-featured Tell Me, which broke the Billboards Pop 100. Unfortunately, circumstance hasnt been as friendly, as behind-the-scenes politics, industry fuckery and jail time have held him up from being the star he should be.

But as Royce would say, Im the shit, fool! He used The Bar Exam mixtape reestablished his foundation as one of the most talented emcees in rap. And that November, he began leaking track after track to prep listeners for its sequel: a freestyle to Lil Waynes Gossip, a remake of Jay-Z and Nas Success alongside former foe Obie Trice. And once Bar Exam 2 [click to download] [click to listen] hit the net as a HipHopDX exclusive in September after delays that had fans up in arms, it proved worth the wait. With a busy new year that will include his DJ Premier-executive produced album Street Hop; more material from the Slaughterhouse supergroup of himself, former rival Joe Budden [click to read], Crooked I and Joell Ortiz [click to read]; and prayerfully, a record with him and reconciled friend Eminem; Bar Exam 2 will be remembered as a to more relevance, and sleepers last warning before Royces career popped off the way it was supposed to years ago.

Even though the mixtapes intro claims that Royce doesnt give a fuck, this writer doesnt believe him. He may not give a fuck about whom he offends, hence the potshots and sucker punches to other emcees and tastemakers. But he does care about making an impression, and thats the fuel behind what makes Bar Exam 2 so engaging. Theoretically, it showcases the same technical skills that Royce has always displayed: interesting rhyme schemes and strong lines are still here ("I turn a nigga to stone, send out a blast like an email to shoot ya, v-mail Medusa/it wasn't me like Shaggy, Denaun did it like a fag was snitchin' on D12's producer," he rhymes on Happy Bar Exam 2). Solid conceptual material like Been Shot Down, which sees him talking about victims of gunfire, both popular ones and people that he knew, makes an appearance as well. But whats so apparent on Bar Exam 2 that isnt as clearly familiar is his tenacity; as the summary for DXs Mixtape Of The Year Award said, Royce is spitting like he has beef with every beat he raps on. Hes not just showing his hunger by showing off his talents in the best way possible, but hes also showing it by the manner in which he does it: long-winded tirades are preferred over structured 16-bar verses, and Royce lets momentum take him where it wants to, as verses regularly escalate from a normal voice to scowling, bellowing assertions of authority. Hearing such an unsatisfied approach from a veteran who has the skill to back it up makes Bar Exam 2 engaging from beginning to end.

Though Royce does give a fuck about the impression hes making, he doesnt give a fuck about who he knocks down on the way there. On Its The New, he claims that hes the new best rapper alive, not the dreadlocked New Orleans emcee who was ubiquitous last year: This aint Wayne, its more pain/and I aint talkin T-dash in front, Im more like needin rehab for months/hock and spew lyrics on Dr. Drews spirit until he has the mumps. Wayne isnt the only one who catches shots, though: everyone from Jesse Jackson and George Bush to Yung Berg and Raz-B get got throughout the duration of this tape, with comical, asshole-by-nature punchlines that take note of current events and their involvement in them. And Royce is just as notably not-sorry, does it unapologetically, too: on Im Me Freestyle, he scoffs, Niggas say, When Royce gon stop beefin wit rappers? When hell freeze over, and Wayne sobers up. He admits on the outro that hes usually just joking around when he name-drops people in his lines, but its clear that here, no one is safe from Royces wrathpresumably, a metaphor for how unaware rap listeners and success dont have anywhere to hide, either.

Also, in true Michigan/Detroit Hip Hop fashion, Royce uses Bar Exam 2 as a forum to put on for his city. Despite the aforementioned insults at so many other emcees and newsmakers, he shows tons of love to his Motown neighbors. Some of them have already made their name on a national scale: Slum Villages Elzhi teams up with Royce and a resurrected Canibus to murder the instrumental to OutKasts Royal Flush, and producer Denaun Porter lends the knocking beat for We Deep. But lesser-known city icons also get the opportunity to shine here, and none of them disappoint: MarvWons gruff wit with lines like cockier than the nigga that made Flashing Lights serves as a perfect contrast to Royce on Happy Bar Exam 2, and Trick Trick contributes his baritoned bars to the aforementioned We Deep. Stretch Money, whos made a name for himself in the citys street circuit, also serves up a solid verse on Rebuild, on which he and Royce represent over Lil Waynes Let The Beat Build. Royce protg Kid Vishis also has memorable moments on Bar Exam 2, especially his venomous verses on Kill Em and on mixtape opener Heat To The Streets. The Michigan Hip Hop scene has already made substantial steps with the success of quality albums from its leaders like Black Milk, Guilty Simpson, and Elzhi, but here, Royce is making sure that he does his part in making sure that others get their chance as well.

As said earlier, Royce Da 59 has a busy year ahead of him. The album that could make or break his career, Street Hop, hits stores in April. Rhyming alongside his Slaughterhouse crew members could expand his fanbase even more. And with Michigans rap community becoming increasingly global, things are only getting better. Ideally, a post-Bar Exam 2 Royce should be a lot calmer when these all come into fruitionbut hopefully, that tranquility only lasts in between sessions in the booth. - William E. Ketchum, III

Skillz - Design Of A Decade
(J. Period & Don Cannon) [click to listen]

Besides the yearly summaries, Skillz [click to read] has been kind of silent throughout the years. "Mr. Wrap-Up (Insert Year Here)" aka "The Ghostwriter" gave us a mixtape in the middle of May, which is considerably left field in itself. Million Dollar Backpack [click to read] was almost ready to be released to the masses though, and Design Of A Decade was the pre-cursor to the album. Now, we all know with mixtapes... anything goes and DOAD shows Skillz showcasing his skills over classic '90s throwbacks. Tracks some might have forgotten, but definitely mark something classic in Hip Hop in an era where the music quality was pouring out in overflowing amounts. Everything from classic Alkaholiks [click to read], Snoop Dogg, Organized Konfusion [click to read], Geto Boys [click to read] and so on, Skillz covers the 2008 versions of some of our favorite hood classics, over re-made production, not standard instrumentals. He definitely spread the love around (as far as '90s classics are concerned) covering all bases from every coast, every tempo, every vibe. From the sounds of it, Volume 2 should be around the corner. - Legend

Wale - A Mixtape About Nothing (Mixed by Nick Catchdubs) [click to listen]

Wale [click to read] been kept the DMV in peoples mouths for 2008. Everything from his numerous collaborations, mixtapes placements and his off the wall Hip Hop interpretations of Seinfeld on A Mixtape About Nothing. To even manage to get a couple Seinfeld characters to co-sign (Elaine) was a feat in itself while intertwining certain episodes to correlate what he was trying to say on the tracks. Wale started the year, most notably with "Nike Boots" [click to view] and the phenomenon of Weezy F. Baby blessing the remix. Then he appeared on The Roots' Rising Down [click to read] album alongside Chrisette Michelle on the track "Rising Up." A Mixtape About Nothing showcased Wale and his range. As much as he could hang with veterans like The Roots, he also showed he could kick it with Lindsay Lohan, while still keeping your ear to his "Perfect Plan." "The Kramer" shows Wale speaking about a subject most notably challenged by Nas on Untitled [click to read]. "The Crazy" shows Wale asking himself why he is not understood or over peoples heads."Artistic Integrity" even caught the eye of Rik Cordero [click to read] who proceeded to bring a video to him. Now while, Wale displays and embodies the portrait of the future of Hip Hop, he also has a wide range that spans from the Mark Ronson cosign, to him jumping on beats not normal to your usual hip-hop rapper (see: Duffy). A Mixtape About Nothing did a good job of reaching fans outside of Hip Hop while still maintaining the core element that keeps fans wanting more. The bigger the range your music spans, the more chances for success, and Wale is definitely on his way. - Legend

Re-Up Gang - We Got It For Cheap Vol. 3

Like with everything, all good things must come to an end. In the last installment of We Got It 4 Cheap (as far as Re-Up Gang [click to read] is concerned), the boys signed DJ Drama [click to read] up for the ride as opposed to the Clinton Sparks-driven [click to read] first and second volumes. Sticking to the same formula that has always worked, expect that grimy coke flow and witty punchlines locked and loaded from all angles. The full clip is loaded ready to unload on anyone coming within parameters. "Show You How To Hustle" has to be the underlying tone of their whole style that keeps them in rotation time and time again. Even their rendition of "Roc Boyz" was one of the better ones put down by anyone other than Jay-Z. They sell it, you buy it... "Dey Know Yayo." DJ Drama added a nice element and probably brought in fans not familiar with the We Got It 4 Cheap series, but with their consistency in the bars, Re-Up Gang retained their thrones as reigning kings of dope rap. If we don't see another Re-Up Gang mixtape again (with Sandman [click to read]), this should be able to hold people over until each member releases their solo joints, or until we see another Clipse album. We Got It 4 Cheap is one of those classic mixtape series that span better than peoples album catalogues, and this was no different. It was made from the streets for the streets. They sell it, you buy it. - Legend

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