10 Of The Best Mixtapes Of All Time

Updated: Apr 18, 2021

The culture of mixtapes started back in the 80s with DJs like Ron G and Kid Capri, who took exclusive tracks, remixes, or new records and sold them for consumption. Before mixtapes, music consumers either bought the album of their favorite artist or a top hits that were more like a compilation of that artist's discography or the year as a whole: examples "Best Of Prince" or "Top Hits of 1991". Mixtapes allowed DJs to take a blank audio disc, whether it be an actual Tape or CD, and burn records to it without the restrictions of sticking to one artist, year, or even genre. The king of the mixtape era and the man who stood at the forefront of the movement was New York's very own DJ Clue.


DJ Clue transitioned the tradition of mixtapes being seen as just o playlist of good songs from various artists and started taking up-and-coming rappers and having them spit on beats that were already popular. The rest of the song would be the same but a verse or two would be different. Obviously, these weren't made for public consumption due to legal issues, but if you went down to Canal Street in the 90s you'd find DJ Clue mixtapes everywhere. From DJ Clue on, this became a formula for rappers to get signed in the music industry.

Now, for anybody who doesn't know there's the pre-50 Cent era of mixtapes and the post-50 Cent era of mixtapes. In the early 2000s, 50 literally changed the mixtape game by not only doing verses on other people's records but by changing the whole song. He did the hook, verses, bridge, he basically made other people's songs his own. Sometimes, 50 Cents versions were so good that DJs would play his tracks in the club instead of the originals.

Guess Who's Back (2002)

To backtrack, 50 was already known around the industry for his hit record "How To Rob"(1999), where he literally dissed every popular rapper during the time and described how he would rob them for their riches. But as many know, 50 Cent was shot 9 times during his first taste of fame, so he literally used mixtapes as a way to come back into the music scene. In 2002 alone, 50 released 4 classic mixtapes: Guess Who's Back, 50 Cent Is The Future, No Mercy No Fear, and God's Plan. Through his mixtapes, 50 became an icon in New York's underground music scene, and eventually reached the ears of Eminem who signed him. The rest is history.

From this point on, mixtapes replaced the demos that record execs would usually ask for, and also allowed artists to build their fan bases independently. The blogging era only enhanced this trend, where you literally had artists like Drake, J. Cole, and Kendrick Lamar, using outlets like MySpace, Youtube, Limewire, and DatPiff, to build their own buzz and showcase their talents through mixtapes. For example, Meek Mill was literally signed to Maybach Music 3 years before he dropped his debut album because his mixtapes did so well. Contrary to popular belief, many artists don't actually make money through album sales, a good chunk of the money artists see are from touring so it didn't impact Meek in the long run.

In the late 2000s and early 2010s, kids would go home and hop online just to see what new mixtape was hot. It was free. It was fun. And there was a sense of exclusivity to hearing music that wasn't on the radio and downloading it to your MP3 to show friends in school the next day.

In homage to that era, here are the Top 10 Mixtapes Of All Time!

10. Mac Miller, Macadelic

Mac... We miss you. We love you. And we will forever hold in you our hearts.

Macadelic released in March of 2012, marked a shift in Mac Miller's career from being just another "white rapper", to gaining the respect of the black community and solidified legends in the industry. With features from Cam'ron, Lil Wayne, Kendrick Lamar (before he was famous), and Juicy J, it was clear that this was a different Mac Miller than the one on Kids. It was as if everybody in the industry said "yeah he's gonna be here for a long time".

From the first song, "Desperado", Mac literally rips apart the beat spewing lyrics at a rapid pace with imagery reminiscent of 97' Eminem. Even on the hit song "Loud", it wasn't poppy or typical. There was a hard bass, fast hi-hats, and eery sounds in the background, and Mac was going off. Though this was before Mac really dug deep into his own production skills, this mixtape was the foundation of the sound that Mac Miller would go on to perfect throughout the rest of his career and that fans all over feel in love with. Long Live The Legend!


9. Joey Badass, 1999

Way beyond his years, 17-year-old Joey Bada$$ stormed into the music scene with all of Brooklyn behind him, with the classic mixtape that is 1999 (2012). Joey caught everyone by surprise. He had a smooth rhythm in his flow with clever lyrics that hit you immediately, and early comparisons to Nas. It was very reminiscent of the 90s, and ironically the tape was called 1999. The most popular song, “Waves”, has a smooth boom-bap style and a light piano to compliment Joey’s semi-biographical soliloquy. He’s also accompanied by a Tupac clip, paying homage to one of his idols and showing his ambition.

Not only was this our first introduction to Joey, but to the rest of Pro Era, including the legendary Capital Steez. Cap was the leader of Pro Era and started the group, but due to depression from lack of recognition, he committed suicide. This death loomed over Joey during his early years in the spotlight but motivated him to work even harder.

R.I.P. Cap Steez

Long story short, this tape started Joey's career and brought another NYC rap group to the scene. We'll talk about the other one later on!


8. Travis Scott, Days Before Rodeo