2012 was a huge year for hip-hop and R&B, as Frank Ocean and Kendrick Lamar took their respective genres to new heights and likely inspired many people (including myself) to take a deeper look into the world of urban music. And while the aforementioned records are prime examples of perfectly executed major-label backed projects, the past year has also offered up a plethora of mixtapes and EPs available for free download, many of which match the quality and innovation often reserved for big-budget LPs. This list will cover some releases that you may not have come across, so make some room on your hard drives for an influx of free tracks and take a listen! Both the links and photos will take you to the page where you can grab each release, so in no particular order, here it is:
Jeremih: Late Nights with Jeremih – One of the catchiest, smoothest, and most interesting R&B releases of the year (and in 2012, that’s saying A LOT). Fantastic production, some of it courtesy of the man himself, and infectious hooks add up to a future classic.
Piff Gang: Plantlife – Don’t go looking for any lyrical stimulation, listen to the London collective’s cloud rap LP for hazy flows and outstanding garage-infected production. Disclaimer: if the word “piff” annoys you at all I would advise you to approach with caution, as you’ll hear it about 500 times per track.
Hot Sugar: MiDi Murder – An awesome EP put out by Scion A/V featuring awesome instrumentals fashioned from unorthodox found-sounds, as well as some of the hottest MCs repping New York right now (you get both rapping members of Das Racist on here, so let your DR thirst be quenched in the wake of their break-up.)
Captain Murphy: Duality – Flying Lotus shows of his rhyming skills as Captain Murphy on a dark, engrossing tape featuring some murky-yet-fantastic production and features from artists like Earl Sweatshirt, Jeremiah Jae, and Just Blaze.
Jay Ant and Iamsu!: Stoopid – Two Bay-area MCs show off, if nothing else, their production chops on a fun, accessible mixtape. While the verses don’t break too much new ground, the project is worth checking out for the trap-influence beats. “On My Mind” is particularly good.
Action Bronson: Rare Chandeliers (with the Alchemist) and Blue Chips (with Party Supplies) – Bronson linked up with two of the most interesting producers in hip-hop and, unsurprisingly, put out two of the most hilarious and generally awesome mixtapes of the year. Anyone who raps about the culinary arts and women in equal measure deserves endless praise.
Joey Bada$$: 1999 – A great tape of boom-bap throwbacks, featuring young rapper Joey Bada$$‘ impressive lyricism. Many of the beats are lifted straight from youtube, including instrumentals from MF DOOM and J Dilla, as well as some great original production from Chuck Strangers. Throw it on at a party.
Tinashe: Reverie – A former girl-band vocalist comes of age (despite the fact that she’s still really young) on a Jeremih-style R&B-meets-trap mixtape. She is currently working with producers including Boi1da, and has been remixed by the prolific and talented Ryan Hemsworth, but this tape is a great place to start. It includes a fantastic remix by XXYYXX as well, even more enticing!
Various Artists: Booty Based Mob, Vol. 1 – You can pick this one up on Bandcamp for the price of your choice (yes, that includes nothing, thus its inclusion in this list), and you won’t be disappointed. The compilation features bangers from Ryan Hemsworth, Tommy Kruise, Kaytranada and Sango, as well as a number of cool edits of artists like Missy Elliott.
Shad: Melancholy and the Infinite Shadness – Admittedly quite a short EP from Shad, but he packs in some of his tightest and most whimsical rhymes to-date over 90s sampling beats. It’s a hugely fun project, grab it over on his Bandcamp page.
Dominic Lord: Fashion Show (Deluxe) – This may not do it for everyone, but former A$AP Mob-er Dominic Lord‘s free EP features some unorthodox flows and a number of fantastic beats, including a couple from one of hip-hop’s most in-demand producers, Hudson Mohawke.
JoJo: Agapé – Yeah I know, it’s JoJo. She’s put out some not-so-great pop/R&B in the past, but her brand new mixtape, Agapé, features a number of really great tracks with a clear Frank Ocean influence. She’s also as talented a vocalist as any singer out there right now.