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10 Best Hip-hop Mix Tapes of 2008

After a harrowing 2007 — a year that started with the arrest of leading mix-tape maker DJ Drama — hip-hop mix tapes played it cool in 2008. Collections co-signed by top-level talent were scarce, possibly owing to legal fears; the remaining releases largely served as promotional tools. And the wide-scale proliferation of rap-mix-tape blogs meant you didn’t even need to put five on the latest in remixes, freestyles, and exclusives. There was still worthwhile stuff to savor, and you could get it for free (not just cheap); you just had to go digging in your RSS feeder to find it. Or wait for our second annual list of the year’s Ten Best Mix Tapes, with download links.

Of all the new crop of blog-rap debutantes (Asher Roth, Charles Hamilton, Mickey Factz, etc.), Cudi might be the one worth digging. This weed-friendly Cleveland native caught the ear of Kanye West (he appears on 808’s & Heartbreak) with his casual, singing-with-rapping flow and ear for off-kilter beats. [Get Right Music]
Rich Boy’s “Chevy Is a Monsta” could’ve been the fish that saved Detroit, if only it were played enough. If there was ever a track that deserved to be blasted out of an Avalanche at public-disturbance levels, it was this unheralded gem from the Alabama D-thrower. [Get Right Music]
Rap nerds have spent much of the year citing Weezy’s increasingly incoherent non-Carter III material (i.e., the Auto-Tuned and auto-piloted Dedication 3 mix tape) as evidence of his rumored affection for the devil’s other nectar (sizzurp). We have no idea when exactly Drought Is Over 6 was recorded, but it sounds like Wayne’s doing it clean (for now). See especially 50 Cent dis track “Louisianimal.” [Get Right Music]
A sentimental pick, perhaps. (Lord knows the title isn’t doing them any favors.) Road to Till the Casket Drops is basically this Virginia coke-rap duo treading water until their new major-label album, but they still churn up some waves. Pusha’s emotion-free delivery is still unmatched, even when comparing MC’s to Alicia Silverstone. [Get Right Music]
Though they can be thankful to have escaped with their lives, Travis Barker and DJ AM’s September plane crash will likely make 2008 a year to forget. They do have this fine mix to hold on to, however: a super collection of records scratched and cut together by AM and pounded into submission by Barker’s Run-DMC/AC/DC-style drumming. [Get Right Music]
With this warm-up mix, Nas (a) had the stones to name it what he wanted to name his album and (b) put together a collection of songs more vital and incendiary than its retail counterpart. Check out the Queensbridge poet laureate taking advice from a ghost formed out of incense smoke on “Esco Let’s Go.” [Get Right Music]
An MC so strangely charismatic he can reference the Macarena (see Yung LA’s “Ain’t I” remix) in 2008 and still sound fresh. I Am Legend covers all the Grand Hustler’s favorite themes: ecstasy, women, car stereos, etc. His intoxicated slur of the chorus to “Trunk Rattle” will get you rolling. [Get Right Music]
The former Lil Wayne associate flooded the market this year with a series of mixes that cut New Orleans street raps with a sense of humor and a lazy way with a classic beat (i.e., “Still That N*gg*” over Dr. Dre’s “Still D.R.E.” track). [Get Right Music]
This is what mix tapes are supposed to sound like: abbreviated tracks of dubious sound quality, drowned out by Big Mike yelling, “GOT DAMN” every ten seconds. Jadakiss swallows the worm on a “Pop Champagne” freestyle (“We do the Cuervo thing, too / We Jose it”), and Big Mike and Neptune pour Patron Silver exclusives from Eminem, Lil Wayne, and Jay-Z. The highlight is the punch-drunk Public Enemy sound-alike “Where U From,” featuring Game and Fabolous. [Get Right Music]
Fab quietly owned 2008. He had the best turn on Lil Wayne’s Carter III (with his Red Lobster-referencing verse on “Can’t Tell Me Nuthin’”) and collaborated with DJ Drama on this stellar collection. As the first New Yorker to get his own Gangster Grillz, Fab brought Yankee punch lines, like “I’m in the building / Like a Cory Lidle flight,” down South. An honest contender for best rapper alive – or at least best rapper working. [Get Right Music]
10 Best Hip-hop Mix Tapes of 2008