Even acts like Gucci Mane and Lil Boosie, whose catalogs are dominated by mixtape releases, had more success releasing official albums than Max B, who was sentenced to a 75-year prison bid in 2009. That was only a few years after he first emerged, as a scene-stealing hookman for Cam'ron's Jay-Z diss "You Got to Love It," after an eight-year armed robbery bid.

But he made those few years count, ghostwriting for Jim Jones (including, allegedly, smash hit "We Fly High (Ballin')") and playing a key role in Jones' Byrd Gang supergroup. And of course, there was The Wave: a series of incredible mixtapes that propelled him to (near) stardom. With the slurred, sing-song style and slick, casual delivery of a drunken street poet, Max's distinctive persona obscured his significant songwriting gifts. Alongside producer Dame Grease, he established a grungy melodic sound that was at once firmly underground yet resolutely pop.

Although many of his tapes, from Quarantine to Public Domain 6, are arguably good enough to qualify for this list, Coke Wave was perhaps the definitive record of Max's brief, meteoric impact on the rap game. It touched every base of what made Max's tapes great: there was the anthemic opener "Stake Sause" and the dynamic melancholia of "It Gotta Be." Like a reggae artist, the history of pop music was putty that he re-purposed and completely reinvented. There was his transformation of a signature Marvin Gaye track into the untouchable nonchalance of "I Warnd You," and his complete reinvention of West Coast rap classic "Can't C Me." And of course, the ballsiest choice, "NY": Dame Grease's reinvention of Sting's "Englishman in New York," where Branford Marsalis' smooth saxophone somehow becomes the soundtrack to one of the grittiest, catchiest New York street anthems in recent memory.

Max's wave broke against his prison bid, but the remaining ripples were strong enough to even propel sidekick French Montana to the next level. —David Drake