DJ S&S, Old School Part 2 (1992)
DJ Drama: “That was the first mixtape that I ever listened to. My sister took me to 125th when they used sell mixtapes in Harlem. I had just started DJing and a lot of the records he had on that tape, I didn’t have the vinyl of it because I had just started buying records.
“I really wanted that so I could get those records. I had remembered them from my youth. That was when tapes were just straight through. It sounded like he was just in his crib, studio, or however he made his tapes.
“He ran it through and his mic game was incredible. He was running through the records and I was just blown away. That was my first time ever really just sitting there listening to a mixtape like, ‘Man, this shit is fucking amazing. This is what I wanna do.’ That tape means a lot to me and my career.”
DJ Clue, Back To School Pt. 1 (1994)
DJ Drama: Clue is a person that it’s hard to pick one project for because of what he means to the game. Personally, Back To School Pt. 1 made me feel better than everybody else that didn’t have it because Clue changed the game when it came to exclusives. Before him, the mixtape game was about a mixtape in the sense of straight through mixing records and who’s the hottest DJ.
“Clue came and said, ‘I got shit that you don’t got, you don’t know where I got this from, and you can’t get this if you tried. This is what they want to hear.’ That era was all about who had the new music. I felt ahead of the game because I used to go and cop my Clue tapes and have things that the other people didn’t have.
“He was the first DJ to go on to have a Platinum album and get a deal with Rocafella Records, the hottest label at the time. That just came from his changing the game. Clue definitely was the game changer in the mixtape world.”
DJ Screw, The Grey Tapes (1994–1999)
DJ Drama: “DJ Screw is another guy who’s super influential in the mixtape game and the culture. The Grey Tapes was just a phenomenal series that transcended over the culture and a whole generation who grew up on Screw tapes. Even now, the guy’s collection of music is studied in universities and on display in museums. The Grey Tapes were phenomenal in the screw culture as well as Southern Hip-Hop.”
DJ Spinbad, Rock The Casbah (The ’80s Megamix) (1995)
DJ Drama: “Just a classic tape. With Rock The Casbah, DJ Spinbad took some of the best music of the ’80s and put his spin on it.”
Best of Biggie
Mister Cee, Best Of Biggie Smalls (1995)
DJ Drama: “Mister Cee was really heavy with the Best ofs—he did The Best of Biggie, The Best of Jay-Z, and The Best of Red & Meth. [When this dropped], Biggie had Ready To Die out but Biggie was doing so many songs that were just floating around. Before they put ‘Who Shot Ya?’ on the album, that song was on this mixtape. So was the joint he had with Akinyele and all of his collaborations were all on one tape.
“Up until that point, Best ofs were some shit you bought at Sam Goody. Mister Cee put it in the form of a mixtape and put everybody’s favorite artists at that moment all on one tape. It was a straight classic ride-out tape. Everybody had to have The Best of Biggie.”
Doo Wop, 95 Live (1995)
DJ Drama: “That’s where the game changed. Doo Wop had his Bounce Squad as well as some of the biggest artists in the game, from Q-Tip to Busta Rhymes, giving him freestyles. I remember he broke ‘Shook Ones’ on that tape. I remember Group Home’s ‘Supa Star’ was on that tape.
When I first started making mixtapes, one of the first tapes I made I pretty much copied Doo Wop. Anybody in hip-hop that came up in the ‘90s, you know about 95 Live. There’s no way you can’t because it was a phenomenal tape.
Tony Touch, Power Cipha: 50 MC’s (1996)
DJ Drama: “That was groundbreaking in a lot of ways. It was like a mini-album. Just the fact that Tony Touch got 50 prominent MCs in hip-hop to give him freestyles for a mixtape was a phenomenal feat. It was definitely ahead of its time. It changed the game.”
Green Lantern, Best Of 2Way-Thousand (2001)
DJ Drama: "Green is probably my favorite mixtape DJ of all time. He’s been the most persistent, the most creative, and the most innovative DJ through the years. What Green did on that tape, he just expanded the creativity from a DJ aspect. It was the best songs of 2000 and he took the 2Way ringtones and incorporated it into the tape.
“I feel like a lot of people may say that DJ Drama birthed a generation of mixtape DJ’s in the last few years. But I look at it like I come from the Green Lantern school. There’s a lot in the game that goes on that I give him credit for. I can honestly say I don’t know if the Gangsta Grillz drop would have existed if it wasn’t for me listening to Green Lantern tapes and studying the things he was doing.”
G-Unit, G-Unit Radio Series (2003–2007)
DJ Drama: “I look at the mixtape game like ‘Before 50 Cent’ and ‘After 50 Cent.’ Before 50 Cent, the mixtape game was the freestyle era when Doo Wop, Tony Touch, and Clue had the hottest artists in the game come through and spit 16s and put it on the tape. After 50 Cent, nothing has been the same since.
“50 Cent pretty much revolutionized the mixtape game. He made it into a whole other genre. He changed the whole format from people just spitting freestyles to taking somebody else’s song and making it his. That didn’t exist before him.
"When he started taking those records, redoing the hooks, and putting his own words in there—not just spitting freestyles—it became a whole new format. His buzz was [grew] off those tapes and so did G-Unit as a movement.
“When Whoo Kid made it into the game he was one of the most revolutionary things to happen to the mixtape game. He took it from just being a DJ to doing the marketing and promotion of the tape.
“I’ll never forget when I got one of the G-Unit Radio mixtapes and it was like an eight page fold-out with MTV logos, huge sponsors, and it was all glossy and colorful. I was blown away at how he was turning them into albums and making them things you really wanted to keep and hold on to. It was a long way from the Maxell tape with the little sticker on it and someone writing what number tape this is.”
Dipset, The Diplomats Series (2001–2005)
DJ Drama: “At the same time that G-Unit was changing the mixtape game, Dipset was doing the same thing with the movement they were doing. Those tapes had the East Coast in a fucking frenzy and really took that movement to a whole another level.”
Kanye West, I’m Good (2003)
DJ Drama: “Another early indication of a ‘No DJ’ tape with just an artist who took his music and made a mini-album. I remember how I felt when I first heard Kanye West’s ‘I’m Good.’ I knew he was destined for greatness. When people were thinking about his production, Kanye West made his mixtape and pushed it to where he is now—to greatness.”
We Got It For Cheap
The Re-Up Gang, We Got It 4 Cheap Series (2004–2008)
DJ Drama: “I feel like the We Got It 4 Cheap series was bigger than their first album in a lot of ways. It’s almost like they did their first album, got a cult following, then got quiet. Then they came back for their fans with We Got It 4 Cheap and showed the strength of the Clipse. It’s definitely a great series. You have a lot of people that hold We Got It 4 Cheap in their highest regards.”
T.I., Down With The King (2004)
DJ Drama: “I got three tapes for my 3Peat for ’04, ’05, and ’06. Down With The King was my first championship ring in the mixtape game. I think that tape was part of the coming-out party for T.I. as a king in the hip-hop game. We all know hip-hop is a competitive sport and that tape definitely put a dent in [Lil Flip’s] career.
“Conceptually, lyrically, creativity, and musically from beginning to end that was a very potent and powerful project. Working with Tip gave me the opportunity to do the things that I always wanted to do. I always knew [how powerful] a DJ and artist combination was. Tip was my first Prince—that tape that broke my career out. Before Dedication and before Trap Or Die, it was Down With The King.”
Young Jeezy, Trap Or Die (2005)
DJ Drama: “Trap Or Diechanged my life. Majority of people can honestly say that the first time they ever heard Young Jeezy was on a DJ Drama mixtape. Gangsta Grillz broke an artist—my brand broke an artist, as well as creating a frenzy all across the country. I didn’t go anywhere and not hear that mixtape. It was like an album.
“My favorite rappers come up and show me ultra respect off what that mixtape was. It was a period of time that meant a lot to people in the rap game. I think it really comes to represent Atlanta, the South, and hip-hop that year. This whole generation that came up tell me that between Trap Or Die and Dedication, those were some of the first mixtapes they ever listened to."
Lil Wayne, Dedication 2 (2006)
DJ Drama: “We did the first Dedication maybe a month and a half after Trap Or Die. We were on the Urban Legends tour and Tip was on the bus with Wayne. I was like, ‘Yo, let me talk to him real quick.’ It was actually my first time speaking to Wayne and I was like, ‘Yo, we should do a tape,’ and he was like ‘Cool.’
“I listened to Wayne and of course we were all familiar with the hits. When we started working on Dedicationand he gave me the music, I I could hear the progression and the difference in his music.
“As I was moving that tape to parts outside of the South, I remember the impact that the tape had on New York and how people were really paying attention to Wayne’s lyrics and his bars outside of looking at him like ‘Bling Bling’ and ‘Wobble Dee Wobble Dee.’
“That was definitely a changing point for him. I was excited to be a part of it. One thing I did with that tape was, outside of the music, I almost did it like an interview. I sent him things that I wanted him to talk about and sprinkled it throughout the tape to really get people to get to know him in that light.
“I’ll never forget going home to Philly and being on my mom’s block, sitting on the steps and hearing cars drive by playing Dedication 2. That’s where I started DJ’ing and now I’m hearing the hottest rapper in the game with a mixtape that I did, on those steps. It was crazy.”
Pharrell, In My Mind: The Prequel (2006)
DJ Drama: Pharrell’s first and only mixtape. It was a great moment for me because it took Gangsta Grillz outside of the box of what people may have thought it was. Just a great tape from beginning to end.”
DJ Green Lantern, Invasion Series (2007)
DJ Drama: That was a phenomenal series. Shady Records was some of the biggest and best in the business. When Green and Em hooked up, it was uncontrollable. You got the biggest artist in the game with one of the most innovative mixtape DJs ever.
“For where Shady Records was with Em, D12, and G-Unit, and the skill level that Green brought to that series was just incredible. When it comes to mixtapes and DJs, Green Lantern is in a league of his own.”
Yo Gotti, Cocaine Muzik Series (2008-2011)
DJ Drama: “This is another artist who clearly did not have one of the biggest albums. But he created a mixtape that enabled him to be as relevant as any other artist in the South. He can tour, do features, visuals, and so forth off his mixtape.”
Gucci Mane, The Movie (2008)/The Burrrprint: 3D (2009)
DJ Drama: “The Movie is the first time me and Gucci did a tape, and The Burrrprint is probably one of my favorites with Gucci. He’s another artist that when it comes to the mixtape game and to the South, [his mixtapes set off a] frenzy. Gucci had it on smash. He’s definitely a mixtape king.
“With The Movie, it was long overdue for us to work. It’s almost like he went to jail right when we finished that tape. The tape really didn’t hit right away like I was used to with tapes. But then, as time started passing, I really started to see the impact that it was having.
“Gucci had a strong fan base. I think when we hooked up and did that tape, and he was on a DJ Drama Gangsta Grillz mixtape, anybody who hadn’t checked for him was like, ‘OK, I need to really listen to this.’ I was really proud to see the heights that he got to in his career.”
Lil Wayne, No Ceilings (2009)
DJ Drama: “Hands down, the boy is just a problem. I don’t know what else to say. You can argue a lot of Lil Wayne’s mixtapes outside of Dedication, from The Droughts and so forth [as being great]. But No Ceilings—to quote Jay-Z—is the Mixtape Weezy. Bar after Bar, he just shows that you gotta be scared.
“Wayne rapping on your song is a gift and a curse. You got Lil Wayne on your song, but at the same time Lil Wayne is gonna fucking rape your beat. Just be prepared to have to go to court and say that your beat was assaulted.”
Drake, So Far Gone (2009)
DJ Drama: “So Far Gonewas part of the resurgence of the mixtape game. And it made people remember how someone can create a movement. Just to have a project like that be so organic, then produce #1 records off of it, and then go on to sell 500,000, gain him a million-dollar deal, and be Grammy nominated—that’s an amazing feat for a mixtape.
“When you listen to the tape, you can really hear where he was supposed to be in the game. I think that was [a second] coming of a new generation of artists putting out projects and making movements for themselves.
“Drake put that out for free but then fans going to stores [to buy it], that set a whole new trend. Also, they didn’t have a DJ on it. Now, the whole concept of ‘No DJ’s on mixtapes’ and artists deciding whether they want a DJ or not on a project comes from So Far Gone.
“Do you know the feeling that Drake probably got from the response [to this tape] after being left off the XXL Freshman cover? Its retribution.”
Chris Brown, In My Zone (Rhythm & Streets) (2010)
DJ Drama: “When me and Chris Brown did that tape it was right after his first album back [Graffiti], which wasn’t super-successful on the charts or with the critics. When we went in to do that tape and started with the title of it, I knew what he was capable of with his creativity and talent.
He just sent me the songs and I started listening like, ‘Yo, you got a little bars!’ I was hearing some Kanye in there.
“It was a new lane for R&B mixtapes at a time when they weren’t as popular as they are now. I remember that tape being a Trending Topic on Twitter [when it dropped]. That tape was very influential in his comeback to the top of R&B.
“I remember listening to him on that tape and listening to those lyrics like, ‘Yo, you hear this guy?!’ He just sent me the songs and I started listening like, ‘Yo, you got a little bars!’ I was hearing some Kanye in there.
“[Despite the bad press about the Rihanna thing] I was hyped to work with him. I like being in the underdog position. It was an opportunity for me because it opened me up to a lot of his fan base. I’m sure there was an enormous Chris Brown fan base that never listened to a DJ Drama mixtape before.”
Fabolous, There Is No Competition 2: The Funeral Service (2010)
DJ Drama: “That tape was dope because Fab broke the mold with that tape. When a lot of people were using tapes to jump-start right before their albums, Fab did that tape in between almost to say, ‘Yo, I’m gonna give y’all something to hold y’all over in between.’
I remember VIBE’s 20 Questions said, ‘Is the fact that Fab’s There Is No Competitionis so good yet so underrated mean that Gangsta Grillz isn’t relevant anymore?’ That shit touched me, I ain’t gonna front.
“That tape was very innovative when it came to viral videos, visuals, and treating a mixtape like an album. The impact, especially on social networking, was really personal with the fans. Fab showed how important he is to rap music even after being in the game so long and still keeping up with the youngsters.
“On a personal side, when the first tape came out I remember VIBE’s 20 Questions said, ‘Is the fact that Fab’s There Is No Competition is so good yet so underrated mean that Gangsta Grillz isn’t relevant anymore?’ That shit touched me, I ain’t gonna front.
“But I’m thankful that they did that. It was more like a vengeance for me on the second tape with how powerful and potent that was because of that comment. Two years later when we came back with that tape it was like, ‘Nigga, I’m hot as ever!’”
Rick Ross, The Albert Anastasia EP (2010)
DJ Drama: “Big tape with the success of ‘BMF’ and ‘MC Hammer.’ Plain and simple, this was just another new classic.”
Wiz Khalifa, Kush & Orange Juice (2010)
DJ Drama: “That’s another tape from the new era where there was no DJ on it, but you can’t deny the importance it had on his career and what it meant for music. Wiz dropped the tape on his Twitter and it became a trending topic. That shit really sounds like an album from beginning to end.
“He probably goes all around the world performing all of those songs on that project. It was really his coming-out party. His fan base had been strong. I predicted it early that he would be Rookie of The Year the year after that tape came out. Kush & OJis definitely a new classic.
Some people argue that it’s not a mixtape because there’s no DJ on it, but you can’t tell me that Drake or Wiz Khalifa weren’t pushing it and saying, ‘Yo, you need to check out my mixtape.’
“I just look at it like this: If they call it a mixtape it’s a mixtape. Some people argue that it’s not a mixtape because there’s no DJ on it, but you can’t tell me that Drake or Wiz Khalifa weren’t pushing it and saying, ‘Yo, you need to check out my mixtape.’ That was their mixtape. That wasn’t their album. Wiz’s Atlantic debut is his album. Kush & OJ was his mixtape.”
“When you put those out, you’re not looking at your first week. You’re not thinking about SoundScan or Billboard. You’re thinking about getting your music to the people. It’s a mixtape mentality. It’s the 50 Cent mentality like, ‘Fuck y’all. Y’all not paying attention to me. Y’all don’t think I’m gonna sell no records? This is my mixtape. Watch what it does to the streets. They fuck with me. They love me. You don’t see it? Watch this.’ It’s that whole mentality.”