Is it a mixtape or is it an album? That is the question.
In a time when terms like retail mixtape, street tape, EP, and free project are thrown around so loosely, it’s hard to categorize when a project is a mixtape or truly an album. Despite artists’ decisions to sell their short projects on iTunes for $7.99, we’re sorry to tell you, it’s not an album, it’s a mixtape…that’s not free.
Traditionally, mixtapes were recorded and released to keep the streets excited about a forthcoming LP, but in 2015, mixtapes are earning artists GRAMMY nominations. Take Oakland songstress Kehlani for example, her acclaimed mixtape You Should Be Here got her a nod for “Best Urban Contemporary Album.”
In 2015, mixtapes are the wave. So get on it and check out the 15 Best Mixtapes of 2015.
15. Earl Sweatshirt – Solace
Released: April 28, 2015
“Find your solace in yourself.”
It’s no secret Earl Sweatshirt’s been through a lot. After releasing his antisocial project I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside, Earl dropped a short 10-minute project addressing his issues with his mother and battling the heavy emotions that come with it. It’s melodic and mumbly, but if you’ve hit rock bottom, you’ll find something to hold onto with this project.
14. Kali Uchis – Por Vida
Released: February 4, 2015
Colombian-born singer Kali Uchis brings her infectious charisma and old Hollywood meets teenage Chola-inspired style to her debut project Por Vida. The 22-year-old singer/songwriter caught the attention of Tyler, the Creator, who produced two of the nine records on the project. It’s hard to put a finger on Kali’s complete musical style, but it’s clear she pulls from ’50s doo-wop, classic pop, R&B, and a splash of reggae vibes on songs like “Ridin Round.” Por Vida is sweet, sassy, and pretty indicative of a young woman victimized by little boy games.
13. Fabolous – Summertime Shootout
Released: November 26, 2015
Ever since Fabolous released Summertime Shootout, it’s been 60 degrees in New York City. You always know what you’re going to get from Fabolous, especially when he’s given the opportunity to remix old beats. Summertime Shootout is about a “summertime story” and features bar after bar of Fab’s witty relentless rhymes. From remixing The Fugees’ “Killing Me Softly” on “Real Ones,” to going H.A.M. on LL Cool J’s “Doin’ It,” none of Fab’s peers do traditional mixtapes better than he does. Summertime Shootout is an old school mixtape-styled project with contemporary remixes and features from Nicki Minaj, Trey Songz, and Rich Homie Quan.
12. Towkio – .Wav Theory
Released: April 28, 2015
Chicago has a lot of dope new artists and Save Money Crew’s Towkio is one of them. The 12-track project features guest appearances by his family Chance The Rapper, Vic Mensa, Donnie Trumpet, and singer Eryn Allen Kane. While Towkio could work more on his lyricism, his knack for creating and choosing great production is undeniable and also part of the reason why his .Wav Theory makes our list.
11. Father – Who’s Gonna Get F*cked First?
Released: March 17, 2015
Father is so much fun. In the words of Father himself, Who’s Gonna Get F*cked First? is “32 minutes of pure, unfiltered debauchery” and he’s not lying. With the exception of three songs, the entire project is produced by the Awful Records rapper himself. As long as you know that this 12-track mixtape is all about partying, drugs, sex, and women, you’ll listen to this blissfully without judgment.
10. Puff Daddy – MMM
Released: November 4, 2015
Puff Daddy can’t stop, won’t stop. Serving as the prequel to his last album (at least that’s what he claims), MMM is proof that Puffy’s probably one of the best hip-hop producers of our generation. As a fictional tale of a Harlem hustler named “Money Making Mitch,” the tape features Ty Dolla $ign, Jadakiss, French Montana, Swizz Beatz, Styles P, Pusha T, Big Sean, and Travi$ Scott. The 13-song release also features hilarious skits and legendary rants from Puffy himself. MMM’s production is A-1, the rhymes are just right, and Puffy’s Harlem swag is tight.
9. Young Thug – Slime Season 2
Released: October 31, 2015
After much anticipation and a few delays, Young Thug released his Slime Season 2 mixtape on Halloween. Thugga, who’s dropped multiple projects this year, proves that even though he has some misses, he always comes back out on top. The 22-track mixtape mainly features production by Thugga’s frequent collaborator LondonOnTheTrack. Although there’s been a language barrier between Thugga and the public, the Atlanta native makes it loud and clear that he’s a force to be reckoned with, whether you understand his mumbling and jibberish, or not.
8. Anderson .Paak – The Anderson .Paak EP
Released: September 25, 2015
Anderson .Paak is just one of those artists you have to listen to. It doesn’t matter if you’re months late, Anderson is the future. It’s been three years since he released his debut project under the moniker Breezy Lovejoy, and Anderson’s steadily finding his voice in a game filled with a lot of white noise. His 4-song EP is a very quick listen that’ll leave you yearning for more, and thankfully, Anderson gave his fans more with the recent release Link Up & Suede with Knxledge. The Anderson .Paak EP is an exhibition of the Cali artist’s ability to be a great storyteller over L.A.-based duo Blended Babies’ almost perfect production.
7. Mick Jenkins – Wave(s)
Released: August 21, 2015
Wish people would talk more about Chicago artists like Mick Jenkins and Saba than Chief Keef and Lil Durk. No diss to drill-inspired rappers like Keef and Durk (because we enjoy them), but Chicago’s hip-hop scene is much more diverse than gun-riddled raps. Mick impressed us thoroughly with the release of his The Water(s) project, and delivered an equally as solid project with Wave(s). While The Water(s) is our personal fave, Wave(s) made us recognize Mick’s fearlessness and ability to take risks as a new artist.
6. Thundercat – The Beyond / Where The Giants Roam
Released: June 21, 2015
Thundercat’s your favorite artist’s favorite artist. With his contributions to Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly album, as well as his constant collaborations with Flying Lotus, Thundercat’s proven himself time and time again to be a musical prodigy. His six-track project is 16 minutes of sonic heaven. The EP’s heavy funk-filled instrumentation allows the listener’s mind to roam free and dream about the possibilities as Thundercat’s airy vocals completely ease all anxiety.
5. Erykah Badu – But You Cain’t Use My Phone
Released: November 27, 2015
Miss Badu will always tell you the truth, and the truth’s not spared on her latest mixtape But You Cain’t Use My Phone. The 11-track mixtape is an obvious ode to her cult classic smash “Tyrone (Live),” but it’s also a reference to our technology obsessed society fueled by countless frequencies and heavy static. The project’s also a mixtape true to its genetic makeup. Instead of providing completely new material, the illustrious soul singer “Baduizes” cuts like Drake’s “Hotline Bling,” Usher’s “U Don’t Have To Call,” New Edition’s 1984 “Mr. Telephone Man,” and her own classics. All you need to know about this project is that even though Erykah’s an “analog girl in a digital world,” she still has the juice.
4. Kelela – Hallucinogen
Released: October 9, 2015
Get ready to take a ride. D.C. native/L.A.-based singer Kelela impressed us with her debut mixtape Cut 4 Me back in 2013, and followed up with an even stronger EP. Staying true to her electro-heavy production and soulful vocals, Hallucinogen is a vibe-filled project riddled with dynamic textures and sensual lyrics. With breakout songs like “Rewind” and “All The Way Down” leading the EP’s essence, we can only imagine what Kelela will deliver on a full length project.
3. FKA Twigs – M3LL155X
Released: August 13, 2015
FKA Twigs never ceases to amaze us. After changing the title of her five-track EP, now known as M3LL155X (pronounced “Melissa”), Twigs delivers a bolder, more refined exhibition of her “personal female energy.” M3LL155X is a dark drama-filled body of work that’ll leave you exhausted, but wanting more. Between FKA Twigs’ airy falsetto vocals, ambient synth pops, and heavy bass drums, M3LL155X will find you in a state of sonic hypnosis. But who ever said reaching another state of consciousness was a bad thing?
2. Kehlani – You Should Be Here
Released: April 28, 2015
For a young woman who’s been through so much in her short 19 years, Kehlani’s the breath of fresh air R&B lovers have been yearning for. Following her revered debut Cloud 19, Kehlani managed to upstage herself by curating a 15-track project of soulfully diverse and honest records. Indicative of the Oakland native’s brazen determination to navigate life’s trials and tribulations, You Should Be Here is a testament to Kehlani’s intrepidity to discover unequivocal happiness.
1. Future – 56 Nights
Released: March 21, 2015
What can’t we say about this tape? Not only did Future release two crazy mixtapes, Monster and Beast Mode, just months before 56 Nights, but his DJ Esco-inspired tape set the precedent for the rest of Future’s 2015. The 10-track project features production by Atlanta favorites Southside and Tarentino, as well as breakout records like “March Madness” and “Trap N*ggas.”