The Ten Best Hip-Hop Mixtapes of 2007

This wasn't the year mixtapes broke — it was the year they were nearly broken. The surprise January arrest of DJ Drama, one of the most respected and successful makers of the underground rap discs, nearly brought the shadow industry to a screeching halt. Few releases demonstrated the gusto and vision of classics like Lil Wayne’s Dedication 2 and Clipse’s We Got It 4 Cheap. But there was still superb pirate material to be had — and too little critical coverage of it. Here Vulture's list of the Top Ten Mixtapes of 2007. —Chris Ryan


10. Lost Ones

DJ Noodles and Jay-Z

American Gangster made up for some of the damage Hov inflicted on his rep with the yacht-hop of Kingdom Come, but it still pales in comparison to his past triumphs. Lost Ones collects rarities and B-sides along with some exclusive remixes, most of which kick sand in the face of even his best AARP-era rhymes. [DJ Noodles]


9. Legends Never Die

D.J. Clue and Stack Bundles

Over the course of his tragically short life, Stack Bundles — who was gunned down in Far Rockaway in June — pumped out consistent contraband while the industry was catching Z’s. With a voice that sounded like he gargled with gravel, Stack spit acidic punch lines over other people’s beats (O.P.B. for short). D.J. Clue’s disc is a fitting tribute to the consummate mixtape artist. [The Mexican Taint]


8. Geek’d Up Music

Fabo and Young Dro

Geek’d is the soundtrack to a delirious night out in Atlanta. Following the diagonal logic of Young Dro’s lyrics (“This ain’t a movie … BUT I SHOT FOUR BROTHERS!”) is a lot easier when they’re being poured over beats that sound like snap music on Ecstasy.


7. A Tribute to James Brown: The Foundation of Hip-Hop

DJ Premier

Rap was born on the late-seventies Bronx party scene, but James Brown, of course, godfathered the shit. Here a very meta Premier splices together a collection of tracks built on Brown samples (KRS-1’s “Sound of Da Police,” “Kool G Rap’s “Poison”) to awe-inspiring effect. [Max Albums]


6. Da Drought 3

Lil Wayne

Weezy’s signal-to-noise ratio went down the pipes in ’07: Dozens of tapes of varying levels of legitimacy and quality flooded mixtape outlets. By far the best of them, Da Drought 3 is something like his equivalent of Dylan's Basement Tapes, a double-disc notebook of songs, some unfinished, some recycled. Weezy raps over former tracks-of-the-moment like “Upgrade U” and “Walk It Out” so confidently it's like he's tossing loaded dice. [Get Right Music]


5. The Moral of the Story

Saigon

This year Saigon appeared on Entourage, did some blogging, punched Prodigy in the face, and then retired from the music biz. What he didn't do was secure the release of his official (and aptly named) debut, The Greatest Story Never Told. This mix, however, features tracks recorded for the album, and it presents an inspired Sai as a kind of updated Ice Cube, straight outta Brooklyn — and backed up by beats from Just Blaze, who spent the rest of 2007 in hiding. [Sit Down Stand Up]

4. March 9th

Notorious B.I.G.

Few rappers actually create catalogs big enough, and good enough, to warrant bootlegs. Being big enough was never a problem for the man sometimes known as Frank White. This collection of remixes and demos practically demands an entire box set. Check out the “Brooklyn” remix of “Kick in the Door” especially. [Respiration]



3. Live Free or Die Hard

Don Cannon and Freeway

2. Do the Right Thing

Clinton Sparks and Kardinal Offishal

One thing we have in common with Canadian ragga-rapper Kardinal Offishal and Philly Roc star Freeway is an undying affection for the blunted beats of the early- to mid-nineties. On these tapes, Free and Kardi basically do hip-hop karaoke — ripping tracks by Gang Starr, Biggie, O.C., etc. — to make some of the most joyous rap released all year. [Kardinal Offishal — Get Right Music]; [Freeway — Trippy Files]


1. Warlordz

Dirty Harry

You think a mash-up is that “Devandra El Father (Beardo Boricua Freaketon Re-Up!)” MP3 that just popped up on your RSS? In DJ Dirty Harry’s hands, the mash-up — which is just a cute way of saying “the remixes hip-hop D.J.'s have been making for twenty years” — is a snapshot of musical Utopia. While too many MC’s acted like the chicks from Heathers, Harry gave peace a chance. His blend of Just Blaze’s uptown–Carl Orff beat from Nike’s AF1 commercial with verses from T.I. and Lil Wayne could make cats and dogs get along. [Get Right Music]