15. Kevin Gates - 'The Luca Brasi Story'
The Louisiana rapper Kevin Gates has been working the mixtape circuit since the mid-2000s. Now he is managed by Lil Wayne's Young Money Entertainment and he is signed to Atlantic and he released his official debut album, 'Stranger Than Fiction,' this year. But his best work yet has been 'The Luca Brasi Story.' The mixtape was named after the loyal Corleone enforcer from 'The Godfather' whose behind-the-scenes status somewhat mirrors Gates slow, quiet ascension up the rap ranks (without the sleep and the fishes, of course).
Download: 'The Luca Brasi Story'
14. Tree - 'Sunday School 2: When Church Lets Out'
Of the rappers to emerge from Chicago in recent years, Chief Keef and Chance The Rapper have received the most love. But Tree, who is sort of like a less reckless and more sophisticated big brother to those two, deserves your ears, too. The Red Bull Sound Select artist's mostly self-produced 'Sunday School 2' mixtape, which featured appearances by the wacky Danny Brown and the always-mean Roc Marciano, showed him continuing to hone his self-coined and frequently compelling "soul trap" sound.
Download: 'Sunday School 2'
13. Travi$ Scott - 'Owl Pharoah'
This Houston-born, L.A.-based rapper spent some time with Kanye's production team, Very G.O.O.D. Beats, and he appeared on last year's G.O.O.D. compilation, 'Cruel Summer,' as well as Pusha T's 'Wrath Of Caine' mixtape. This year, along with Joey Bada$$, Schoolboy Q, and Action Bronson, he was selected for XXL's Freshman Class. Scott is now signed to T.I.'s Grand Hustle and, in May, he released his first project, 'Owl Pharoah.' It boasted guest spots by Meek Mill, A$AP Ferg, Toro y Moi, Wale, Paul Wall, and Theophilus London. Like Kanye's 'Yeezus,' it took pride in noisy, jagged edges.
Download: 'Owl Pharoah'
12. Rich Kidz - 'A Westside Story'
The Rich Kidz are RKaelub and Skateboard Skooly, two Atlanta rappers who have been around for a bit. On this mixtape, they proved how much they like to have fun and how good they are at crafting hot hooks. Also, how much they dig Tupac: They shouted him out a few times here, namely on 'Rider' and 'Westside Love,' which referenced 'Ambitionz Az A Ridah' and 'California Love,' respectively. Not to mention 'Gangsta Party,' which captured the party vibes thumping through this playful tape quite well.
Download: 'A Westside Story'
11. DJ Mustard - 'Ketchup'
On his 'Ketchup' tape, Mustard, the DJ/producer responsible for big and space-y hits like Tyga's 'Rack City' and 2 Chainz's 'I'm Different,' assembled a bunch of pals to rap on his minimal, deconstructed, and often gorgeous productions. E-40. Ty Dolla $ign. Casey Veggies. YG. Royce The Choice, to name just a few. The chorus on '4 Gs' (below) will stick in your brain forever, and E-40 was born to rap on that beat, right?
10. Vic Mensa - 'INNANETAPE'
Chance The Rapper popped up once on this tape by his Chicago buddy Vic Mensa, a former member of Kids These Days. So did Rockie Fresh, Eliza Doolittle, Ab-Soul, Thundercat, and Jesse Boykins III. It was a well-rounded effort, showcasing Mensa's diversity as both a smart rapper and a talented singer who is willing to be himself, which is sometimes a strange, nerdy self. In 2014, Mensa will tour with J. Cole and Wale, two rappers it should not be much of a challenge for him to outshine, so get to know him sooner rather than later.
9. Rich Homie Quan - 'I Promise I Will Never Stop Going In'
Rich Homie Quan has a fan named Drake. The Toronto rapper called 'Type Of Way,' a hot single by the young ATL rapper, and former high school baseball star, "the song of the summer." Not bad, right? His latest tape, delivered by DJ Drama and DJ Lil Keem, found Quan popping out more hits and stepping out from the shadow of Future, to whom he has been correctly compared. You could hear Quan's perfect combination of melancholy and confidence on 'They Don't Know' below.
Download: 'I Promise I Will Never Stop Going In'
8. Le1f - 'Fly Zone'
Le1f, the New York rapper who performed this year as part of the Red Bull Music Academy, dropped two mixtapes this year: 'Fly Zone' and 'Tree House.' Both are solid, but the former hit harder. The beats, made by new and unknown producers, were cloudy and bent and ideal for Le1f's precise, cheeky, outlandish raps. 'Spa Day' was fire.
Download: 'Fly Zone'
7. Mac Miller - 'Delusional Thomas'
Mac Miller is such a goofball, right? He had a big year with his official album 'Watching Movies With The Sound Off,' but then he dropped this ridiculous, alter-ego project under the name Delusional Thomas. Mac's voice was appropriately warped and he let his sick id flip and flop around. Earl Sweatshirt made an appearance. So did, uh, Mac Miller...
Download: 'Delusional Thomas'
6. Migos - 'YRN'
The Rich Homie Quan fan Drake is also really into Migos, the ATL trio responsible for the bonkers Zaytoven produced tune 'Versace,' which the Canadian rapper remixed. Justin Bieber is also a fan, for whatever that is worth. 'YRN' was filled with bizzaro comic book sounds and avant-trap schizoid bangers, like 'China Town' and 'Hannah Montana,' which may or may not have been about China Town or Hannah Montana, or anything at all. But they were a ton of fun.
5. Starlito - 'Fried Turkey'
Nashville rapper Starlito dropped 'Fried Turkey,' the follow-up to 'Cold Turkey,' on Thanksgiving. But Starlito is not all jokes. He is not all anything, really. Comedian. Absurdist. Melancholic. Warrior. Activist. Great rapper. In addition to these two tapes, Lito also dropped a collaborative album, 'Step Brothers 2,' with Don Trip. It has been a slow grind for him -- he has been around since 2005 -- but pretty much everything Starlito touches continues to be gold.
Download: 'Fried Turkey'
4. Death Grips - 'Government Plates'
This Sacramento hardcore/experimental rap duo loves to make people (you?) mad. For whatever reason, Epic signed them last year, released 'The Money Store,' and then the label dropped them after the duo leaked its second 2012 album, 'No Love Deep Web,' and they basically told Epic to go die. Along the way, they cancelled some tour dates. This year, they booked a show and then did not show up. Then their set at Lollapalooza was cancelled. Then they dropped this bonkers mixtape. Who knows what is next, assuming anything is next.
Download: 'Government Plates'
3. Young Thug - 'Thug 1017'
Zonked, dizzy, Dada, fun, ludicrous, surreal, inventive, skillful Atlanta rap. Young Thug, a Brick Squad affiliate, might be doing it better than anyone else is and 'Thug 1017' was his magnum opus. Earlier this year, in an interview with Fader, Young Thug dropped a great quote that summed up his game nicely: “I can rap about anything. I can make a song about the floor. Could have an eight-bar hook and a 12-bar verse in eight minutes. Anything.” It's true. Young Thug could make a floor sound like the coolest thing ever, and the way he said it would be the coolest way ever.
Download: '1017 Thug'
2. The Underachievers - 'Indigoism'
This Brooklyn duo of Issa Dash and AK is making some of the most magical New York City rap right now. 'Indigoism' was their debut mixtape and it was filled with trippy spiritual ruminations, mean hooks, and stunning technique. Brainfeeder, the label run by Flying Lotus, is planning to drop their official debut album, 'The Cellar Door,' next year. In the meantime: The Underachievers played the Brainfeeder Session at this year's Red Bull Music Academy and you can listen to it right here.
1. Chance The Rapper - 'Acid Rap'
This young Chicagoan and Red Bull Sound Select performer had a year so huge that we just named him one of the 20 Breakthrough Artists of 2013. He played some huge shows, including Lollapalooza, and went on his first big tour -- the Social Experiment Tour -- across North America. He opened for Eminem and Kendrick in Europe, and also toured the continent with Macklemore and Ryan Lewis. He collaborated with James Blake and Childish Gambino and he will supposedly drop something soon with Justin Bieber. And it all started with 'Acid Rap,' a wild, joyful, thoughtful mixtape we can't stop listening to.
Download: 'Acid Rap'