2012 was a chaotic year for rap music. Just as important as ever were mixtapes, the free semi-albums that rappers put out online. Ultimately, the mixtape catalogue of 2012 provides an eclectic mix of thought-provoking, speaker-breaking, strip-club-shaking free music. Without further ado, I give you the top eight mixtapes of 2012.

8. Gucci Mane — Trap Back (DJ Holiday) Gucci Mane has made so many mixtapes that, at this point, it seems impossible he’d have anything left to say. Wrong. Complemented by production and guest spots from Southside, Lex Luger, Waka Flocka, 2 Chainz and more, Gucci uses his usual half-decipherable drawl to weave together a more-than-enjoyable tape full of nonsensical similes, eerie synths and obscure drug references that should satisfy diehard fans. Brrrr.

7. Juicy J — Blue Dream & Lean (DJ Scream) Let me say this: If you have the chance, and are in decent health, go see Juicy J live. It’ll change your life. And maybe kill you. Since splitting from Three 6 Mafia, Juicy has re-invented himself as a solo artist — at the age of 38. BD&L is a never-ending barrage of trap beats, pre-school-level rhyme schemes and X-rated content and, though horrifically long at 28 tracks, Juicy’s energy carries the tape along. Turn up.

6. Wale — Folarin (DJ Clark Kent) Wale rose to fame through his incredible Seinfeld-inspired debut mixtape, so it only makes sense that in preparation for his upcoming third album he’d release a tape to hold his fans over. Folarin finds Wale trading bars with Rick Ross, 2 Chainz, Trinidad James and others, while also displaying his usual blend of witty and pensive lyrics. Though the tape is fun, let’s hope the new album is a little more experimental.

5. Fabolous —The Soul Tap Vol. 2 (No DJ)The first The Soul Tape was a refreshing attempt by a rapper who has been around for a little too long: an entire mixtape using only soul-inspired beats. Fabolous’s sequel sticks to the original formula, blending New York street lingo and ’70s soul music with the help of J. Cole, Pusha T, Trey Songz and more, creating the perfect late-night-cruising-through-the-city soundtrack.

4. Meek Mill — Dreamchasers 2 (DJ Drama) Here’s a number for you: 3,858,845. That’s the number of times this project was downloaded from mixtape giant Datpiff, setting a record and actually crashing the site. The tape featured huge single “Amen” with Drake, and loads of head-splitting trap music, double-time rapping and tales of life on the streets. Coupled with his mostly well-received debut, Meek Mill had a huge 2012, and will most likely have a bigger 2013.

3. Big Sean — Detroit (No DJ) For his first mixtape in two years, Big Sean sounded hungry again. Boasting features from J. Cole, Kendrick Lamar and Chris Brown, among others, Sean put together a project that simultaneously was fun to listen to and demonstrative of his tremendous growth over the last two years. No longer Kanye’s side-act, Sean has staying power, and Detroit is more than enough proof.

2. Rick Ross — Rich Forever (DJ Scream) The Bo$$ cannot be stopped, and he wants the world to know. Every song on Rich Forever affirms in its own way that Ross will indeed be, well, rich forever. Spitting as confident as ever over a landscape of menacing instrumentals and with the help of Diddy, 2 Chainz, Nas and Drake, to name a few, Rozay absolutely suffocated any doubt as to whether he was indeed the “Biggest Artist in the Game,” as proclaimed on his Twitter. Not only is he, maybe, the biggest physically, but Rich Forever reaffirmed emphatically that Rick Ross was the biggest artist in the game in 2012.

1. Joey Bada$$ — 1999 (No DJ) Joey Bada$$ was 17 years old when he released 1999 last summer, but listening to the tape, you could’ve sworn it was released 20 years ago. Joey, without any major label help, released a project that channeled Golden Era hip hop for a new generation. Flowing over beats from MF DOOM (“World Domination”), Lord Finesse (“Funky Ho’$”) and J Dilla (“Snakes”), Joey and his Pro Era crew managed to bring back the heyday of rap with a mix of lyrical dexterity, wit, introspectiveness and swagger. It may be the 21st century, but for 15 songs, Joey Bada$$ is happy to take you back to ’92, even if he wasn’t born yet.

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