While Dipset and then G-Unit are credited with birthing the “artist/label/crew” mixtape genre, I dare say that that’s exactly what Southern entrepreneurs such as Percy Miller & Tony Draper were doing before they had distribution deals. Regardless of who started it, the South has certainly come to dominate the mixtape game (as well as the charts.) While everyone is aware of Lil Wayne, Gucci Mane, DJ Drama, Young Jeezy, Bun B, and a few select others contributions to the early days of the mixtape game, a lot of projects didn’t get their just due, now or then. Either from staying regional before the internet, disdain from the NYC-centric early hip-hop bloggers, artists who originally failed to grasp the concept, poor promotion, or various other examples of rap fuckery, these projects didn’t get the attention they deserved (in my humble opinion.) Musically the ultimate quality test is staying power and each selection on this list certainly holds up. Some are basically albums, some are a collection of loosies, features, freestyles, & singles, while some are themed compilations, but all are something the discerning southern connoisseur will appreciate & replay.
UGK – Trill Azz Mixez
This was the first Southern mixtape I ever saw pressed up on CD. It was popping up on college campuses and at shows around the turn of the century, which were some of the few ways to get non-label approved material in the unenlightened times before the mass proliferation of the internet. Maurice Garland was one of the earliest (and finest) journalists to cover Southern hip-hop. He once discussed Trill Azz Mixes with Bun B on his fine site: “Trill Azz Mixez was originally conceived by DJ Wiz in Nashville. He begged us to do it. This was back when mixtapes were actually “mixtapes” and was only available in mom and pop stores. Wiz used to do a lot of Cash Money and No Limit mixtapes and he always wanted to do one with us. We’d always just be like “yeah, aight, whatever.” But, when we started having all of the label trouble we said we should do a mixtape and go ahead and put it out with Wiz. After it came out everywhere we went, people wanted it. We’d never have enough copies of it. To this day we still don’t. We’d always talk about bringing it back and re-releasing it. We actually did shows in the Midwest and the majority of the show would be based off the mixtape. It created income and we sold them at shows. Big up to DJ Wiz, he was an undying supporter of UGK. He helped us understand the scope of our spread. Doing that tape with him is the reason why we put the UGK logo big as hell on all of our CDs now.”
This is the only blend tape on the list, the majority of the project consists of UGK’s work over other instrumentals. God damn, it’s well done though. S/O to DJ C-Wiz
P.S. Goodie Mob did release a critical smash, acclaimed, and much better than this
T.I. -Live From Forest City Correctional Facility
Unfortunately, our countries mass incarceration policies befoul everyone, even superstars. Before beginning a prison sentence of 366 days, it appears that Grand Hustle apparently scrapped an almost completed Tip project. Highlights include stellar appearances from Mary J. Blige, Scarface, and “Living” which reminds me of Metallica and is very well done. Certainly, something that demonstrates his diversity as a songwriter.
Why do people get sentenced to a year and a day? To ensure that they become branded as felons of course! The prison industrial complex is ever hungry kids.
8Ball & MJG – Legend Series Vol. 2
8Ball & MJG were already firmly ensconced as legends by the time of this project’s release. They had however been recently reinvigorated after signing to Bad Boy and originally getting quite a promotional push. One result of the said push was this outstanding mixtape. Somewhat overlooked at the time, this release features outstanding production, great features, and Ball & G at their strongest. Give it a listen, it still holds up strong. The first volume in the series featured Bun B, and were two of my favorites from the genre-defining Gangsta Grillz series.
SwishaHouse – The Day Hell Broke Loose
The good old days, when Mike Watts & OG Ron C were originally working with each other. This was released shortly before Slim Thug went on to become a national star, but he showed out on this. It was clear he was destined for bigger things. The entire SwishaHouse roster does shine, but Thug and J-Dawg particularly make their presence felt. Incredibly important in Houston, so, therefore, the South, SwishaHouse would come to define the sound of a whole era of Texas music. This was one of the earliest and most cohesive projects as the movement started to coalesce. Albums like this truly take the listener into an area during a timeframe and it’s mindset, offering understanding and ultimately relatability. Music is the true unifier and we all basically have the same problems.
Yo Gotti – I Told You So
Projects like this are exactly why people fucked with Gangsta Grillz so much. This album/mixtape was much better than most of the shit you could get at the record store at the time. In many ways, it also begins to cement Gotti as a legacy artist who was going places nationwide. No sellout shit here though, this got big love in the trap. I Told You So was definitely a certified dope boy classic. Bohagon has an excellent guest verse as always, and make sure you peep a young Starlito aka All Star on here as well.
Curren$y & Styles P – #The1st28
EPs are cool, although sometimes collab EPs are not. However, this pairing never sounds forced. The duo gives each other proclivities as artists and lyricists room to breathe and grow into something new. I was very intrigued by the thought of them working together in a more formal type partnership. Mayhap there’s some Run the Jewels potential here.
Gnarls Barkley – A Trip to St. Elsewhere
Good musicians like good music. The pairing of Cee-Lo Green with Danger Mouse produced an overabundance of quality material, particularly in relation to their abbreviated time together. While the duo’s releases were clearly influenced by Hip-Hop, none so much as their entry in the Gangsta Grillz series. The mixtape features timeless production & has a ton of great verses. This has a major Dungeon Family feel, especially compared to their other releases.