December 14, 2011

BTH Presents: 12 Mixtapes of 2011

As the year comes to a close and today marking only twelve days left until Christmas, we here at Below The Heavens decided to share with you some of our favorite mixtapes of the past year. Not only did each of these artists put out a quality project that stood out among many others, they released them for free. Even though some of them may vary in genre, they all share the label of being one of the best mixtapes of 2011. Hit the jump to see if some of your favorites made our final cut.

Title: Nostalgia, Ultra
Artist: Frank Ocean
Released: March 19th

2011 proved to be coming out year for the west coast crew known as Odd Future. The success of Tyler, The Creator's debut album, Goblin, led him to win the MTV VMA for 'Best NewArtist'. However, it was Frank Ocean, the only non-rapper of the group, that stood out among the real music-heads. Nostalgia, Ultra was led by the radio hit 'Novacane' and current iTunes single, 'Swim Good'. His new style of R&B, along with his ability to sing, write, and produce, got the attention of some of the industry's top artists. He has since helped co-write a song for Beyonce and been a part of two tracks on Jay-Z and Kanye West's album, Watch The Throne.

Frank Ocean - Novacane

Title: House Of Balloons
Artist: The Weeknd
Released: March 23rd

Even after the release of his first mixtape, there were still very few people who knew who The Weeknd was. Not because of his popularity, but because he was a man of mystery. The success of House Of Balloons got many magazines, websites, and blogs searching for more information and before too long, 22-year-old Abel Tesfaye of Toronto was a star. Not long after, a follow-up mixtape was released, called Thursday. The originality of his sound is what helped The Weeknd attract so much attention and eventually landed him a spot on Drake's sophomore album for a track called 'Crew Love'.

The Weeknd - The Knowing

Title: ReturnOf4Eva
Artist: Big K.R.I.T.
Released: March 28th

It may not have been the first mixtape released by him, but ReturnOf4Eva was the one that got Big K.R.I.T. the most recognition. Bringing back the trill sound of the south made famous by Pimp C, Bun B, and others, and his ability to produce his own records made him a hot commodity by other artists that wanted to work with him. K.R.I.T. has now been able to put some popular artists on his resume after producing and rapping with the likes of B.o.B, T.I., The Roots, Big Sean, and more.

Big K.R.I.T. - Dreamin'

Title: Mania!
Artist: Pac Div
Released: April 5th

The release of Mania! by the west coast trio was met with such a great response that it didn't take too long before a "No DJ" version of the mixtape was released (making the project much more enjoyable). Led by the single 'Anti-Freeze', the three artists dropped a number of music videos for multiple stand-out tracks. They still weren't finished for the year, though. Pac Div also released a 12-track album, called The DiV, this past November.

Pac Div - Fallin'

Title: The Never Ending Now
Artist: Spree Wilson
Released: April 13th

Maybe one of the best projects of the year to go mostly unrecognized, singer/songwriter/producer Spree Wilson has a style that nearly all types of music fans can enjoy. Multiple tracks on The Never Ending Now have the kind of feel to it that makes you want to play it on repeat all day. Two of the songs, 'Heartbreak On Fire' and 'No Use In Running', even made the cut for our summer mix, Heatwave, because of their perfect-for-summer sound. It's disappointing to see an artist as diverse as Spree continue to release music that flies under the radar, but it's reassuring to know that he continues to make great music. It's only a matter of time before he catches the big break he deserves.

Spree Wilson - Heartbreak On Fire

Title: Elmatic
Artist: Elzhi
Released: May 10th

Very few can try and succeed, but Detroit rapper Elzhi (of Slum Village) was able to take what is arguably the greatest hip-hop album of all-time, Nas' Illmatic, and turn it into an entirely new, fresh mixtape. Many out there had their doubts when rumors spread about the project being put into work, but he was able to erase many of the doubters when they heard El's rhymes keeping pace with Nas'. Much credit also goes to Will Sessions as well, who re-produced each track for the mixtape and was able to give Elmatic it's own sense of originality that helped make it a classic in itself.

Elzhi - Detroit State Of Mind

Title: The Rose Tint
Artist: David Dallas
Released: May 11th

It's no mistake that New Zealand artist David Dallas is also our "Artist Of The Month" in December. The Rose Tint was originally released as a mixtape back in May, but is now being repackaged with bonus tracks and sold as an album through Duck Down Records. David was one of the few artists on this list to have a track from their project chart on iTunes when 'Take A Picture' was found climbing the singles chart back in his home country.

David Dallas - Caught In A Daze ft. Freddie Gibbs

Title: Foreword
Artist: Cris Cab
Released: June 7th

Only 7-tracks long, the singer/songwriter may have the shortest mixtape on this list, but taking into account that he's still a teenager more than makes up for it. The lead single on Foreword, 'Good Girls' is a feel-good, radio-ready hit whose video has accumulated over half a million views on YouTube. His pop/reggae sound was perfect for our Heatwave summer mix and can certainly be accredited to where he has grown up down in Miami, FL. Since the release, Pharrell has gotten his hands on him, so we're sure we'll be hearing more hits from Cris as his long career is just beginning.

Cris Cab - Better Off Running

Title: XXX
Artist: Danny Brown
Released: August 15th

One of the newest hip-hop oddballs, Danny Brown doesn't look like your typical Detroit rapper when you first see him. However, his haircut, in which one side is shaved and the other is straightened and combed over, certainly fits his unconventional flow that has made him popular. XXX, which represents his age (30), was the second project released by Danny after The Hybrid was released last year. Since it was the first available for free download, more unfamiliar music fans were willing to take a chance. In our opinion, he probably should have charged us because XXX was better then The Hybrid and rates up there with some of the best albums of the year (which includes his collaborative album with Black Milk, titled Black & Brown).

Danny Brown - Blunt After Blunt

Title: LiveLoveA$AP
Artist: A$AP Rocky
Released: October 31st

Our November "Artist Of The Month", the buildup behind A$AP's LiveLoveA$AP mixtape seemingly came out of nowhere just a few short weeks before it was released. His trill, Houston sound seems genuine, but not after finding out that this rapper resides from Harlem, NY. On nearly hype alone, this project helped A$AP ink a $3 million record deal with RCA just before its Halloween release.

A$AP Rocky - Peso

Title: The Layover
Artist: Mike Posner
Released: November 20th

It had been over two years since we had heard a new project from Mike Posner. So, before he dropped his sophomore album, he decided it was only right to hit his fans with a free mixtape called The Layover. Included in this mixtape were a teaser to his new single 'Looks Like Sex', the full version to a previously unreleased song called 'Traveling Man', and a cover of Oasis' classic 'Wonderwall' featuring Big K.R.I.T. Mixed in were a few more originals, a few more covers, and some surprising guest features that got Posner fans hyped for his upcoming album.

Mike Posner - Henny & Purple ft. Slim Thug

Title: EPIC (Every Play Is Crucial)
Artist: B.o.B aka Bobby Ray
Released: November 28th

Also busy working on his sophomore album, Strange Clouds, B.o.B just barely squeezed the release of this one in to make the cut. Fortunately, quality did not have to suffer, as it is made up of a bunch of tracks that you would expect to been on Bobby Ray's upcoming album. After listening to EPIC, it makes you really wonder how Strange Clouds will be able to top it. Then you remember that B.o.B is one of the most all-around talented artists in the industry and that he is fully capable of not only repeating the success of his debut album, but even surpassing it.

B.o.B - Friday Night Star (prod. Jim Jonsin)

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