21. Juelz Santana, Back Like Cooked Crack (2004)
From the onset of his career, it was apparent that Juelz Santana had the potential to be more than a member of Dipset, and more than just one of Cam'ron's pals. The first installment of Back Like Cooked Crack saw that potential fulfilled. The beat selection, the cornerstone of any mixtape's success, is strong, and a bit left-field. Contemporary instrumentals like Jay-Z's "What More Can I Say" are rhymed over, but Juelz also takes to rapping over hits of his adolescence (Kriss Kross' "Jump"), and records completely out of his wheelhouse (The Rolling Stones' "Can't You Hear Me Knockin'").
All of the approaches to production work for one notable reason: Juelz Santana is rapping his ass off the entire time. One of the finest examples of that comes on one of the three tracks on the mixtape simply titled "Freestyle." He raps, in a multi-syllabic rhyme scheme: "We gorillas, you can't fight that with a mice trap/Chump, you can't bite back with a light stack/This is war, this ain't an ice pack for a light scratch/But when the Mac tackle your block/All you hear is 'snap, crackle, and pop,' your back axle'll drop." From the free association metaphors to the colorful boasts, the raps are like this from beginning to end, and make the entire project a particularly entertaining listen.
Juelz Santana's career is somewhat stalled at the moment, but Back Like Cooked Crack is a reminder that, at one point, he was the most promising young spitter in the game. He had it all: impeccable style, an ear for beats, and brash lyrics that somehow felt unconventional and completely familiar at the same time. You can never take that moment away from him. â€”Ernest Baker