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Top 10 ITR (In Terms of Rawness)As music becomes increasingly free, and artists find new media to release it, the lines between "studio album," "mixtape," and "bootleg" are becoming blurred. Still, the majority of good artists do make an effort to put their best foot forward for their real albums. Album delays, sample clearance, timing, and other factors can push a lot of great songs off the retail CDs, but as long as they reach the fans, they still "count."
Joe Budden - Mood Musik 3ARE YOU IN THAT MOOD YET?!? The year's most anticipated mixtape is easily one of its best. Budden has experienced a lot since the last installment, has a lot to be bitter about, a lot to look forward to, and shares it all with us on Mood Musik 3. Over all original production, Budden puts the pen to work on lyrically stellar tracks like "Invisible Man" and "Thou Shall Not Fall," and shows off his hungry flow on "Roll Call" and "Warfare." MM3's song-writing seems a bit lazier than its predecessor, with long redundant verses, obnoxiously loud adlibs, and cheap punchlines taking the place of classic songs. The back to back 3-5 minute verses make this project drag on at times, taking away from some of his outstanding performances. Still, the formula works for "All of Me," a 7 minute testimony that touches on his current relationship, meeting an artist with a brain tumor, his beef with Ransom, and depression. Classic Budden.
Standouts: "All of Me," "Roll Call," "Thou Shall Not Fall"
Royce the 5'9" - The Bar ExamAs far as rap goes, there isn't much Royce da 5'9" isn't good at. He's mastered flowing over every type of production, his mic presence is virtually unmatched, and his hubris is surprisingly believable for a rapper with no real commercial success. The skill and cocky demeanor are in full effect on The Bar Exam, one of the best examples of spitting you'll hear from 2007. The DJ Premier produced "Ding" is an obvious highlight, a worthy follow-up to their epic "Boom" single from years back. Although it features several original songs, this mixtape mainly features Royce blacking out over beats from Nas and Jay to Juvenile and Young Jeezy, showcasing his versatility and hunger. Despite the mix of different production styles, Royce's flow and Statik Selektah's mixing give the project a relatively cohesive feel. You can play this like an album and not have to skip around.
Standouts: "Ding," "Street Hop," "The Dream"
Lil Wayne - Da LeakIn the last week of 2006, Lil Wayne dropped one of my favorite mixtapes of the year with Lil Weezyana Vol.1. Things seemed to be heading in a good direction, but someone introduced the nigga to syrup and life changed. After a year of hit and miss performances and seemingly hundreds of random tracks released, he returns in the last week of 2007. The Leak is a mastered collection of various songs he dropped throughout the year, with no DJ drops or freestyles. Fan favorites like "I'm Me" and "Love Me or Hate Me" show up in terrific quality, while others like "Scarface" and "One Night Only" are suspiciously absent. Regardless, this mixtape proves hip-hop's most prolific rapper can easily make a good record whenever quality control is exercised.
Standouts: "I'm Me," "Love Me or Hate Me," "Gossip"
G-Side - 80'z BabyThis year, the young Huntsville duo G-Side released a solid album and bootleg/mixtape. Both the album, Sumthin 2 Hate, and the bootleg, 80'z Baby, are great listens, but they contain many of the same tracks. 80'z Baby features the exclusive "Shift Change," a CP produced guitar heavy single, and "Real Good," the Mali Boi produced collabo with B.O.S.S. Both tracks are fan-favorites from the Slo Motion/Paper Route camp. Album standout "Alpines Tickin" also shows up here, along with the sequel to Hood Headlinaz "Kisses." Yung Clova is one of the more distinguishable rappers from the click, but the 21 year old S.T. 2 Lettaz was one of the best new artists of last year. His drawl, strong delivery, and natural writing sound great over Block Beataz, as well as Lupe Fiasco's "Kick Push" instrumental. Whether you check out G-Side's bootleg or album first, there's enough material between them for fans to easily create a perfect one-disc version.
Standouts: "Shift Change," "Alpines Tickin," "Kisses Pt. 2"
Young Chris - NewprintIn an inspiring attempt to become a top priority on his label, Young Chris (of State Property's Young Gunz) released four mixtapes this year. Murder Capitol with his partner Neef, Politically Incorrect, and Young Chrismas all have solid music, but the most interesting effort was a birthday gift to "Big Homie." Newprint is a mixtape of freestyles and songs all using Jay-Z instrumentals, with the exception of his "Big Brother" remake. Jay "borrowed" Young Chris' whisper flow after spending time in the studio with State Property, but never quite delivered it as well as the raspy-voiced Philly native. With everyone biting Jay, it's weird hearing Chris use his own style sometimes, but he's a solid enough rapper to make use of the already-classic production.
Standouts: "Allure," "Threats," "Dead Presidents"
Saigon - Moral of the StoryAfter an extremely wild year filled with violence, drunken rants, threats, and blogs, Saigon's become visibly affected by a crumbling industry not ready for an artist of his caliber. In the fourth quarter, he dropped Moral of the Story, a "mixtape" full of completely original songs. "What a Life" and "In a Mess" are vintage Sai tracks, street story-telling with a moral. "Homegirl" is an unexpected hilarious remake of the Al B. Sure classic, and "Saigon Meets Just Blaze" and "Who Can Get Busy" are evidence he's still a beast on the mic. While the music doesn't quite live up to his revered Yardfather series, it does an excellent job of showcasing Sai's song-writing, skill as an emcee, and much-needed presence in New York hip-hop. Atlantic Records, the ball's in your court now.
Standouts: "What a Life," "Saigon Meets Just Blaze," "Anybody Can Get It"
Sean Price - Master PWhen artists drop a mixtape the same year as an album, you can usually expect one of two things: 1) throwaway material that wasn't good enough to make the official album, or 2) solid material that was left off for sample clearance and other politics. In the case of Master P, it doesn't even matter. This is another CD of Sean P's hilarious, well-written ignorance over grimy production, no more no less. It's nice to hear Ruck spit over harder beats than 9th Wonder's been giving him. The BCC veteran sounds at home over Ghostface Killah's "Fish," and Biggie's "Long Kiss Goodnight," so much so, I'd almost rather hear another Sean P mixtape than an original album. If you're a fan of either Ruck solo, this mixtape is an obvious must-hear.
Standouts: "Legbreakers," "One Question," "Long Fifth Goodnight"
Brother Ali and BK-One - Off the RecordAfter a brief hiatus, the Rhymesayers emcee returned with another great solo album, packaged with a mixtape of recordings from the past couple years. Off the Record is a collection of solid songs, some over original production, others over instrumentals from The Roots, Pharoahe Monch, and a live band. The song-writing and rapping are consistent with Ali's official Rhymesayers albums, with story telling, introspection, and detailed portraits of urban living conditions. Several tracks even manage to stand out more than the best records on The Undisputed Truth. Although Ant's held him down for years, it's a nice change of pace to hear Ali over some different production.
Standouts: "Operation Push," "The Trap," "Live From The Chippie-Bun Club"
DJ Burn One and KD - The Last Man StandingApparently Alabama is gearing up to join Texas, Louisiana, Tennessee, and Georgia as a premiere state in Southern hip-hop. Hailing from Birmingham, KD is the first artist I've heard from the state who isn't part of the massive Paper Route/Slo Motion collective, but his mixtape The Last Man Standing is one of the strongest mixtapes to come out of the region. KD is cool on the mic, no glaring weaknesses or amazing lyrics, but he's naturally gifted at making highly enjoyable music. He's comfortable in the booth, and the production certainly doesn't hurt. This mixtape has 15 original songs, and if not for the drops and skits, it would be a damn solid album to play front to back. Fans of the Betta Half album, or Southern production in general, should definitely check this out.
Standouts: "Drop My Top," "Magic City Livin," "Talk My Sh*t"
DJ Green Lattern and Aasim - The Departed MixtapeAbout 10 years ago, before the "mp3," I had a tiny harddrive full of real audio files...... and porn. One of the first mysterious "mp3" files I downloaded was a freestyle by some kid "Aasim D'Explicit." Back then, it took about a half hour to download a 4 meg file, so a song damn well better be good, and this one was crazy. The Queens lyricists was signed to Loud Records at 17 years old, and flowed like a young Kool G. Making his way to Bad Boy as a ghostwriter, Aasim finally releases some new music in 2007. Over classic beats like Pete Rock's "The Game" and original production from Grind Music's Sean C and LV (of American Gangster fame), Aasim spits rapid fire rhyme schemes. His flow's a bit remicincent of mixtape star Grafh (where's he, by the way), but it's more suited for songs. If Puffy actually releases this guy's album with beats by Grind Music, Bad Boy might finally have a new artist to be proud of.
Standouts: "U Say NYC," "Go," "Customer"
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