January 17, 2013 - 4:32 pm
William E. Ketchum III
Fabolous’ penchant for radio hits doesn’t go unnoticed, but his retail albums rarely end up in year-end lists or conversations about rap classics. His mixtapes, on the other hand, drive the streets and the ‘Net crazy like clockwork. Fab’s roots are in the mixtape scene with DJ Clue, and it seems to be when the Brooklyn emcee tends to be his most focused: his There Is No Competition series sees him relentlessly slaughtering verse after verse, and 2012’s The Soul Tape 2 was revered as one of the year’s strongest mixtapes.
Wale has two solid retail albums with starpower (Lady Gaga, Gucci Mane, and Rick Ross) and hit singles (“Chillin,” “Lotus Flower Bomb”), but the talented DMV lyricist has never recaptured the magic of his Seinfeld-inspired Mixtape About Nothing or More About Nothing. Both include their share of well-executed concept songs (“The Kramer,” “The Eyes of The Tiger”), freestyles/remixes, great cameos (Pusha T, Lil Wayne), and are fully developed artistic presentations. Other tapes like 100 Miles & Running and his latest, Folarin, also hit the mark.
Wiz Khalifa is a superstar, but most of the fan base he enjoys today latched on to his movement based on hearing his mixtapes: whether it’s the early Prince Of The City series, his How Fly collaboration with Curren$y, or his magnum opus free release, Kush & Orange Juice. Though the Pittsburgh rep has insisted that his Atlantic Records debut Rolling Papers was the direction he wanted to go in, many felt that it was a poppy derailment from his relaxed, smoke-hazed collections. Even now, his followers seem to flock to new tapes like Cabin Fever and last year’s Taylor Allerdice.
The major label system doesn’t seem to have fully translated the street success of Gucci Mane, but the Brick Squad founder’s mixtape pedigree is undeniable. Gucci has dropped over two dozen solo and collaborative tapes since 2006, and his fan base’s consumption of them lead to his rep as one of Atlanta’s most revered street artists.
Joe Budden’s dedicated fans tend to rock with him no matter what, but aside from his self-titled Def Jam debut, there’s a clear difference between his mixtapes and his retail work. When he’s left to his own devices on mixtapes, the result is Mood Muzik, a seminal mixtape series of somber, candid recollections of his personal life and dumb out sessions alongside emcees like his Slaughterhouse groupmates, Pusha T and Lloyd Banks. Unfortunately, his later retail discs are plagued with formulaic production. Hopefully, his hot new “She Don’t Put It Down” single with Lil Wayne and Tank is a sign that he’s on the right track for his next project.