With so much uncertainty in the world, music fans are in search of a simpler time. Almost nothing brings back early 2000s nostalgia like the idea of mixtapes. The distinction between albums, mixtapes and EPs seems to get blurred more and with each year that passes. Some artists claim they released a mixtape despite it being a studio LP and others will label a 15-track project an EP. Simply put, there’s not much rhyme or reason anymore.

But whether it’s just a label or artists releasing mixtapes and EPs in the traditional sense, plenty of these projects are still being delivered despite the ambiguity. HipHopDX is compiling the best of the best in an effort to help fans keep track of what drops in 2021.

Best Mixtapes and EPs of 2021 (December – April)

Contributing writers: Trent Clark, Kyle Eustice, Josh Svetz, Dana Scott, David Brake, Devon Jefferson & Jeremy Hecht.

Armani EP – JAHMED

Scary Hours 2 – Drake

In 2021, Drake’s only competition is himself. He’s been at such an elite level of artistry and fame for so long, that few artists are even comparable. Instead, each Drake release must be judged against his own discography: while 2020’s Dark Lane Demo Tapes was not a bad album, it couldn’t hold a flame to the rest of the 6 God’s catalogue, detracting from the overall value. Scary Hours 2, Drake’s latest drop, is rock-solid, even compared to his previous releases. Three songs and two guest features, Scary Hours 2 brought Drake yet another record: he became the first artist in history to debut at all three of Billboard’s Hot 100, an almost unbelievable feat. “What’s Next” places Drake over a dramatic, synth-heavy beat as Drizzy essentially states that he doesn’t know what’s coming next, but he’s sure it won’t let you down. “Wants and Needs,” brings together Lil Baby for the first time since 2018’s “Yes Indeed.” On “Lemon Pepper Freestyle,” Drake digs into his past, delivering emotive lyrics in the Toronto artist’s signature melodic flow with a nostalgic feature from Rick Ross. If this is just Drake’s warm up, the rap game should beware.

ONCE APON A TIME – CHIKA

NOTHING is IDEAL – whiterosemoxie

2020 offerings white ceilings and grae ceilings might have landed whiterosemoxie on new radars, but the Detroit youngster’s latest EP NOTHING is IDEAL places him in a new conversation entirely. One of 300 Entertainment’s rising stars, whiterosemoxie bends the sounds of digital SoundCloud-era rap with a melodic flow. The four tracks featured on NOTHING is IDEAL might only clock-in at eleven minutes but is massive in impact. One could compare whiterosemoxie’s singing to the late XXXTENTACION, but he also shows signs of influence from artists such as Post Malone and Frank Ocean. Though he might share similar tendencies with the popular artists, tracks such as “0006TeslaSpaceForce” and “The Skript” sound uniquely like himself.

Ox – Gabe ‘Nandez

To New York rapper Gabe ‘Nandez, the Ox is a symbol of strength, stability and determination. It also mirrors the style of the iconic Ruff Ryders collective, headed by DMX, Eve and The LOX. As New York’s sound shifts away from the hard-hitting gruff attitude of the Ruff Ryders and settles into Brooklyn Drill and Griselda’s coke rap aesthetic, there’s an open door for a rabid pitbull to pay homage to the the ryde or die lifestyle. Enter the well-traveled ‘Nandez, a student of the game whose favorite era of rap happens to be the Ruff Ryders’ prime. On his latest EP OX, ‘Nandez flexes his lyrical dexterity with an unrelenting flow that sounds like he’s spitting 16s from the stoop. Instead of mimicking DMX’s bark or Jadakiss’ snarl, he combines his poetic flow with their Five Boroughs grit, delivering a project of pure, unfiltered street raps. Whether he’s weaving together references to DragonBall Z, Lyoto Machida and Derek Jeter in rapid succession on the title track, or gritting through his teeth as he dodges questions from the feds on “Sphinx,” ‘Nandez never runs out of metaphors, similes and allusions to narrate his odyssey.

100 Miles & Walk’in – Rx Papi

Rx Papi raps like he’s trapped in a never-ending Adult Swim infomercial at 5 a.m. The first few songs on 100 Miles & Walk’in such as “Rush Hour” and “Yucc” are filled with Papi delivering lines about cooking crack, getting high and walking in this bitch so much his FitBit is scolding him. For a while, it seems like Papi will just continue with these absurdist punchlines without a care. But as the project unfolds, he begins to tell stories about his fractured mental state and past traumatic events, growing more anxious as he delves deeper into his nightmares. He details a night where he was almost shot and killed after performing on “I Got A Show Tonight” and tries to cope with his paranoia on “One Last Dance.” The tension builds as Papi’s raps grow darker and more disturbing, reaching the peak on the jarring account of an unsettling out-of-body experience on “Dead Man’s Letters.” Like Too Many Cooks and Unedited Footage Of A Bear, Papi delivers a disturbing, absurd and morbidly funny ride, leaving the listener unsure if they’re supposed to laugh or cry.

Only The Generals II – Kevin Gates

More than two-years removed from Kevin Gates’ I’m Him effort, the Bread Winners Association bossman makes his long-awaited return with his regal Only The Generals II mixtape. Gates expands the silhouette of the project, which he laid out the blueprint for in 2019 on the six tracks embedded in Only The Generals Gon Understand, with six additional tracks featuring a surprisingly worldly perspective and a vernacular that is more vulgar than ever. Led by the melodic audio-fantasy “Plug Daughter 2,” Gates takes his BWA fans on a dense sonic journey  littered with playlist-ready gems such as “Wishing In Morocco” and “Puerto Rico Love.” More than ever, the Only The Generals II mixtape proves Gates is still as entertaining and filled with outlandish bars as he always has been.

Unfuckwitable – Babyface Ray

Nothing bothers Babyface Ray. The Detroit-bred rapper shrugs at making $100,000 in a day, women throwing themselves at him and receiving death threats. From being trailed by the cops to sleeping on air mattresses to survive, Babyface Ray remains unfazed in every situation, good or bad. It’s this apathy that makes his latest EP — aptly titled Unfuckwitable — tick. On the surface, Unfuckwitable is the typical project every rapper that blows up the year before releases. It’s the tape where the rapper goes over his come up and reacts to his newfound wealth and fame. But it’s Babyface Ray’s ability to narrate these circumstances with a calm indifference that keeps Unfuckwitbale from falling into the common trope. Whether he’s blowing Empire Records earnings on “Like Daisy Lane” or stealing a hater’s girl on “If You Know You Know,” Ray raps without concern. The one time he does peel back the veil on “Change You,” he remains unshaken even as he details losing his friend to jail and how a former lover didn’t believe in his talent. At any moment during the EP, you get the feeling Ray could cash out his label advance and never pick up the mic again. And even though that’s not going to happen, the image of a rap star who doesn’t care about being a rap star is one of the reasons Ray is so compelling.   

Lyrics to GO, Vol. 2  Kota the Friend

Since 2018’s Anything, Brooklyn rapper Kota the Friend has been a vital component of New York’s Lo-Fi underground, pumping reimagined boom bap through the five boroughs and beyond. Born Avery Jones, the 28-year-old MC has become a fan favorite for his DIY aesthetic and crisp, narrative-based bars. On his latest mixtape, Lyrics to GO, Vol. 2, Kota makes his way through a lush soundscape of rolling piano loops and airy hi-hats. Clocking in at only fifteen minutes, Lyrics to GO, Vol. 2, is a refreshing EP, that evokes the warm air of spring in Brooklyn a much needed escape from the frozen city landscape in which everyone is currently stuck.

Almost Home — AKTHESAVIOR

AKTHESAVIOR, one half of underground New York rap duo The Underachievers, had a productive 2020, releasing both FLATBU$H ¥EN and Almost Home, a diverse collection of songs that marks a departure from the sounds of his previous solo releases. Fans are presented with moody, ethereal tracks, which the Brooklyn-based rapper glides over with ease. Featured on the record is a familiar assembly of Brooklyn’s underground rap scene, with appearances from The Flatbush Zombies, Pro Era’s Chuck Strangers and burgeoning artist Kenneth Cash. Of course, there’s still the running themes of spirituality and anime which have permeated many of his previous tracks. Almost Home is an excellent example of a rapper’s ability to adapt with the times and push their personal craft into unforeseen places.

The World Is Lucki’s — LUCKI

Nobody quite sounds like LUCKI, the 24-year-old rapper from Chicago. Even at his young age, he’s been remarkably prolific, steadily releasing mixtapes since the age of seventeen. So the confidence he exhibits on The World Is Lucki’s is understandable. His latest clocks in at only three tracks but contains not a single skip-able moment. The “Nashcar Dashcar” rapper raps over a cohesive bunch of beats from Wavywess, Okami202, BrentRambo, ggedgar and TheCrazyPart. Lilting behind the cinematic beats, LUCKI spits in a stream-of-consciousness that’s reminiscent of drill rap with a West Coast sonic palette. As fans digest The World Is Lucki’s, the wait begins for Flawless Like Me, LUCKI’s forthcoming full-length album.

After The Rain — Yung Baby Tate

Atlanta’s Yung Baby Tate has been dropping glammed-up bangers since 2018’s BOYS, but she’s never sounded more confident in her sound than on After The Rain, which dropped midway through last December. The lead single, “I Am” featuring Flo Millli dominated on TikTok and has amassed nearly eight million streams on Spotify alone. With her legions of Gen Z fans (who self-identify as ‘tots’) YBT enters 2021 with an unbridled momentum. All eyes are on the 24-year-old as she continues to push further into stardom.

The Alpha Jerk — KEY! & Tony Seltzer

Atlanta rapper KEY! and Brooklyn-based producer Tony Seltzer make for one of the most exciting duos currently in rap. Where many single-producer albums let the beatmaker fall by the wayside for the rapper’s gain, The Alpha Jerk is a true collaboration. KEY! and Seltzer continuously push each other to new boundaries — and the result is the best music of both of their respective careers. KEY! has always operated just outside of mainstream Atlanta sounds, taking bits and pieces and reimagining them through his own eclectic vision. While “Like That” and “My Puppy” are surely highlights, the entire 40-minute listen is a remarkably enjoyable experience.