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The 20 best mixtapes of 2014

As 2014 comes to a close, we’ve assembled our list of the best mixtapes of the year.

With major labels continuing to have no idea what they’re doing in the 21st century, free mixtapes remain the best — and often only — way to follow the artists making a difference in rap and R&B. All year long, we search everywhere from Datpiff and Livemixtapes to Soundcloud and Audiomack for the best mixtapes the internet has to offer.

It’s been a great year in the mixtape world, and while this list could easily be twice the size, we’ve whittled it down to our favorite 20 mixtapes of the year, from some of the brightest stars in Atlanta, Chicago, Houston and beyond.

Note: This feature excludes a handful of mixtapes that made it onto our overall best albums list. We’ll be running the 50 Best Albums of 2014 next week.

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20. DOUGHBOYZ CASHOUT
WE RUN THE CITY 4

While contemporaries like Bankroll Fresh and Young Moose have nodded plenty to turn-of-the-century Louisiana rap (while residing nowhere near Baton Rouge and New Orleans), no one does it better than Detroit crew Doughboyz Cashout. Soon after linking with Jeezy’s CTE imprint, the Doughboyz dropped We Run The City 4: an epic, 75-minute ode to classic No Limit and Cash Money with touches of West Coast ratchet and a streetwise edge befitting their hometown.

19. MILOH SMITH
PULP FICTION

“You might remember Atlanta’s Miloh Smith from her starry turn on Rome Fortune’s Beautiful Pimp cut ‘Bitches on the Track’ or her appearances with Two-9, but now she’s back with her most substantial statement to date… Smith can effectively straddle the Venn diagram linking Kanye West, Frank Ocean, Tinashe and Erykah Badu without sounding as if she’s trying to squash too much in at once.”

18. BLANCO, HUSALAH & KOKANE
THE TORTOISE AND THE HARE

“Completely produced by über-talented Atlanta producer DJ Burn One, and lacking the usual DJ drops that plague our selections week in and week out, The Tortoise and the Hare is a damn sight more appealing than your average mixtape. It’s a collaboration between Bay Area YG-affiliate Blanco and Cali veterans Husalah and Kokane, and might be the best thing either of the three have been involved with in a while.”

17. GOLDLINK
THE GOD COMPLEX

“DC-area newcomer GoldLink debuts with a decidedly danceable mixtape, The God Complex, organically joining rap and R&B vocals with underground dance styles without veering into gimmick or mash-up territory… Due to its accelerated clip, The God Complex seems shorter than its 25 minutes, and we’re excited to hear more. Clearly in his own lane, GoldLink could be for DMV rap what Chance the Rapper was for Chicago rap last year.”

16. LIL SILK
SON OF A HUSTLER

“With Young Thug finally wrestling free of regional and underground shackles, it seems like it might be just the right time for Thugger protégé Lil Silk to make his move, and Son of a Hustler is an admirable effort. Building on the success of last year’s ‘Rapper’ and ‘I’m Geeked’, Silk whines and squeals over a generous 17 tracks, and for the most part nails it.”

15. THE GUYS
FREE THE GUYS

“Where Chicago so often seems split between the unusual jazziness of Vic Mensa and Chance the Rapper, the teenaged party-loving abandon of bop and the roughneck drill of Chief Keef and King Louie, The Guys have managed to carve out their own niche and we can’t wait to hear where they’ll go from here.”

14. KING LOUIE
TONY

“While others in Chicago might be pulling in the big checks and prompting the awkward, concerned thinkpieces, King Louie seems happy to just keep plodding along at his own pace, thankfully ignoring the blur…He’s not doing a damn thing differently here – the winning mix of unusual, forward-thinking drill production and unmistakably quirky lyricism is still Louie’s draw, but it all seems slightly more refined this time around.”

13. BOOSIE BAD AZZ
LIFE AFTER DEATHROW

“Boosie’s back. The Louisiana legend returns after his long, confusing trip through the justice system with the aptly-titled Life After Deathrow. Boosie’s features have shown flashes of the brilliance that kept his name in the streets during his long prison stay, and the hour-long mixtape is (thankfully) a cohesive effort without the slapdash feel that plagues similar projects.”

12. BOOGIE
THIRST 48

“It’s not often that a debut effort has a voice, a (non-corny) concept and an approach that goes against the grain, but with Thirst 48, Long Beach rapper Boogie has pulled it off… Roughly a meditation on the over-eager, attention-starved nature of the social media age, Thirst 48 is closer to — using West Coast rap’s recent touchstones — Good Kid than Krazy Life. thanks to Boogie’s easy-going storytelling and a collection of muted productions that are kissed with neo-soul grace and smoked-out sleepiness.”

11. KEVIN GATES
BY ANY MEANS

By Any Means follows an impeccable 2013 run, and while it might lack some of the bloodied grit of The Luca Brasi Story and the accomplished lilt of Stranger Than Fiction it is in no way a step backwards. It feels, instead, as if Gates is placing himself directly within spitting distance of rap’s coveted upper ranks… Whether the backpack-clad old guard will take notice, it’s hard to tell, but they can keep their dusty Primo rehashes – Gates is the truth.”

10. LIL HERB
WELCOME TO FAZOLAND

“Lil Herb adapts the theme [of Chicago street life] possibly even more successfully with Welcome to Fazoland and builds confidently on ’s impressive groundwork… Herb’s lyrical dexterity is imposing, and even when offering his interpretation of a street banger on ‘On The Corner’ he manages to pack more into a few bars than most of his peers manage on an entire tape. It’s an admirable feat, and Welcome to Fazoland sets an impressively high bar for Chicago rap in 2014.”

09. ARCHIBALD SLIM
HE’S DRUNK!

“[Awful Records’] collaborative spirit resulted in his stylistic breakthrough: September’s He’s Drunk!, a tight, 30-minute effort produced entirely by crewmember KeithCharles Spacebar. With just a few tweaks to Slim’s old-school formula, the mixtape is his most vital work yet — alternately spooky, soulful, funky and forceful.”

08. GANGSTA BOO & BEATKING
UNDERGROUND CASSETTE TAPE MUSIC

“If you’ve been put off in the past by BeatKing’s “club god” stylings, you’ll be pleased to know that it’s Gangsta Boo that manages to sit at the center of the tape, softening BeatKing’s edges a little and adding a much needed female voice. BeatKing is clearly in awe, and while the two never actually met, there’s more heart in Underground Cassette Tape Music than in the majority of tapes that pass through the FACT offices each week.”

07. TRAVI$ SCOTT
DAYS BEFORE RODEO

“It’s hard to deny young Houston rapper/producer’s innovative skill behind the boards… but on the mic he’s always been a less reliable presence… This time around however, things are noticeably different… He’s a weird kid, and it sounds like in accepting that, his persona has moved forward in leaps and bounds – his rapping is not only more confident but it’s less reliant on mimicry. He’s started to sound like Travi$ Scott, and that was a rapper we hadn’t really heard before.”

06. MAKONNEN
I LOVE MAKONNEN

“One of this year’s underappreciated developments is Atlanta rappers going all emo-rap in a way that is more Fueled By Ramen than fueled by Anticon… On his latest effort, Atlanta newcomer Makonnen is carrying that torch, with wonderfully weird results. Mostly produced by Metro Boomin and Sonny Digital with a handful of fellow Atlanta hitmakers along for the ride, I Love Makonnen sees the beatmakers indulging their stranger impulses with a rapper/singer that is certainly in his own lane.”

05. ZMONEY
THE MOBB TAPE

“There’s a damn good reason why we featured Chicago’s ZMoney in our recent list of rappers to watch in 2014 – the young rapper is one of his city’s most impressive recent breakouts…Thankfully it manages to hit just as hard as either of last year’s solo drops, and while ZMoney appears on the majority of the cuts, it shines a light on plenty of the rapper’s lesser-known associates.”

04. K9
MAD IN THE CUT

“Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference between mixtapes and albums and Mad in the Cut illustrates that perfectly. It’s a well-trimmed 11 tracks long, produced impeccably (overseen by FACT man-of-the-year Dark0, no less) and features some of the most urgent bars we’ve heard from West London in a minute. And it’s absolutely free.”

03. ZUSE
BULLET

“Rapper Zuse has a voice unlike anything in hip-hop, fusing the dancehall flow (and patois) of his Kingston hometown with the pugilistic cadences of his Atlanta base of operations… With production by Atlanta regulars like DJ Spinz, Metro Boomin, 808 Mafia, and Zuse’s Zooly Gang compatriots FKi, Bullet revels in trap menace, with touches of the bleakness found on A$AP Ferg’s Trap Lord and Travis Scott’s Owl Pharoah.”

02. TINK
WINTER’S DIARY 2

“On her 2012 debut Winter’s Diary, Tink established herself as a talent to watch, a voice equally adept at both R&B and rap. A steady stream of tapes has followed, but perhaps none with the songwriting chops demonstrated on her first effort. Thankfully, Winter’s Diary 2 follows its precedent in mood, style, and quality…

Still only 18-years-old, Tink is as impressive as ever on Winter’s Diary 2, her most confident and self-assured offering yet. It doesn’t matter if she’s singing or rapping (over a barebones production or one awash in synth), or if she’s celebrating a relationship or ending it — Tink demands respect as an artist and a woman.”

01. YOUNG THUG, RICH HOMIE QUAN & BIRDMAN
RICH GANG: THE TOUR, PART 1

“Cash Money boss Birdman proves why he’s been one of the driving forces in rap for years, bringing together Atlanta stars Young Thug and Rich Homie Quan for his latest Rich Gang effort. Even if this was released to promote a tour, and even if it’s under the whatever-Birdman-says-it-is Rich Gang moniker, this is among both rappers’ strongest efforts yet…

As they proved on this summer’s smash ‘Lifestyle’, Thugger and Quan are a perfect pair, their sing-song styles and experimental streaks complementing and reinforcing each other… Yet even though the pair know they’re running the rap game, there’s still a mournful streak throughout the tape… Cheer up guys and enjoy the view from the top.”

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