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 2022. 

2022 has opened the year with some great mixtapes. So far, fans have seen releases from Yung Kayo, Mach-Hommy, $not and more. DX will be narrowing down the endless amount of music released during the course of a year to the essentials, providing readers with a list of the must-listen projects.

Muddymya – Muddyworld V2

There’s a moment on Muddymya’s “Vette Musik” where the head-banging rage synths wind down to a near-finish before winding back up full throttle again. The party commences. Mya is high, having the time of her life with dancing Maseratis and flexing on those that doubted her. Her digitized falsetto sounds as if it were ripped directly out from the Matrix. On Muddyworld V2, she brings the rage with tracks like “Better Den,” “JAKE” featuring SSGKobe, and “Fish N’ Chips.” Mya has a knack for repetitive hooks, and effortless raps with infectious charisma. Muddyworld V2 is a refreshing, versatile project that makes MuddyMya one to keep on your radar. – Anthony Malone

Wakai – Flashbacks

Flashbacks operates as a mental scrapbook for Wakai, the 21-year-old rapper from Boton Rouge. Each track is based on a ruminating mental image Wakai found himself attached to. On “Ain’t Enuff,” he talks about dealing with personal traumas and coping with the ails of envy and broken hearts. He goes on to speak on false posturing and capping over lofi production on “7 Hours.” Flashbacks is Wakai’s second release of the year following To a Dark Boy, an avant-garde jazz-infused project. Wakai is the alternative to the violence-heavy raps his city is known for, weaving in neo-soul and conscious lyricism in hopes of keeping the underground alive. – Anthony Malone

IDK – SIMPLE.

Focus has been a struggle with IDK, a main thorn that’s kept his best material from sticking the landing. But on his latest project, aptly titled Simple., the PG County rapper forgoes existential questions and on the nose large-ranging concepts, instead, leaning into an underrated part of his arsenal – dance music. He’s shown an ability to ride a groove on previous tracks such as the Burna Boy-assisted “December” and Lucky Daye-featuring “Puerto Rico.” However, Simple. enlists the help of KAYTRANADA to create a lush exhibition of rooftop dance parties and sensual summer flings. IDK flaunts his vocal talents and ear for fun and catchy dance tracks, leading to a cohesive and joyous experience. But SIMPLE. is not without purpose, despite the candy-coated beats, the project is named after Simple City, a neighborhood in the Benning Terrace projects of SouthEast DC, deriving its name from the grim outlook that anyone can get killed there for simple reasons. Using the dance music underscores the harsh reality IDK paints throughout the record about the struggle to improve neighborhood safety and wellbeing amid inflation and lack of infrastructural needs. Even if those things were afforded to residents, change doesn’t come overnight…but it would be a start. Using his knack for melody and rhythm to dive into these issues allows IDK to get his point across while making some of his most compelling music to date. – Josh Svetz

Leikeli47 – SHAPE UP

Leikeli47 isn’t too concerned with stepping into the spotlight and sharing every tiny detail of her life like some rappers. The Virginia rapper’s face is typically covered with a bandana or balaclava to conceal her identity. She has social media, but it’s mostly used as a promotional tool to announce a new single or album release. Her age is speculated to be between 20 to 25 years old, but nothing has been confirmed. Most of her song credits have the name Hasben Jones attached to them, but even that’s an alias. Instead of getting caught up in the personal, Leikeli chooses to hold onto her anonymity so listeners focus their attention on her dynamic, adrenaline-inducing music — not the image that comes with it. That elusiveness has worked in her favor with her songs popping up on JAY-Z’s roundup playlist on TIDAL, a NPR Tiny Desk performance that has over 1.3 million YouTube views and song placements on the first three seasons of the HBO hit show Insecure. Her third album, Shape Up, wraps up what Leikeli calls the beauty series trilogy that included 2017’s Wash & Set and 2018’s Acrylic. With bold beat choices and boastful lyrics, Shape Up is a victory lap for Leikeli: one final check in the mirror to make sure all the small details are in place before heading out. – Lauren Floyd

Mach-Hommy – DUMP GAWD: TRIZ NATHAN

Coming off a stratospheric 2021, Mach-Hommy is cementing a legacy. Mach’s latest project, Dump Gawd: Triz Nathan, is the newest entry in an apparent series of one-producer four packs. Its predecessor, March’s similarly titled Dump Gawd: Triz Nathaniel, was handled entirely by Griselda’s Conductor Williams. That EP saw Mach and Dump affiliates Your Old Droog, Tha God Fahim, and Big Cheeko unspooling deep-brain philosophical musings and absurd flexes over Conductor’s signature warped-cassette jazz. On Triz Nathan, things get a little meaner. Sadhugold shares Conductor William’s penchant for warbling lo fi sounds, but infuses his production with a bit more menace. Standout track “The Astronomical Weight Of Massive Intellect” features creeping sci-fi synths punctured by a serrated hi-hat pattern, while the motorik drum pattern of “Supercharged Carbon” drives a tense string progression forward. Every element seems to be teetering on the brink of collapse, the grooves just shy of implosion. Mach, joined again by Droog and Fahim, gets a little more pointed in his assertions of rap dominance. Other emcees are simply “hypebeast children” in comparison and those still sleeping are encouraged to “die woke.” His ability to find syncopated, rapid-fire pockets in the strangest production seems sharper than ever. – Dash Lewis

https://www.mach-hommy.com/new/triznathaniel

Lex Lucent – THIS IS FOR MY PRETTY BITCHES

At a local night hub, a packed-out crowd sways under the soft glows of pink and red during the Lex Lucent This Is For My Pretty Bitches listening party. Lucent stands at the center, anticipating listeners all around her. Their expectations were in no time exceeded by alluring hums, jazzy features and lucid beats that sway between past nostalgia and now. It seemed This Is For My Pretty Bitches had something for everybody to enjoy. Adore clever sampling? “Pretty Lil Bish’’ falls into a low-pitched version of Beyoncé’s “Signs” before clicking over to Lucent and fellow Virginia artist MACK’s teeming performance of the 2003 bop. “Signs” is a refreshing modern twist featuring shuffling drums and vexed bars able to heat up any dancefloor. She elivers Playboi Carti rage anthems on “So What!?” over looming keys and claps. Her last project, In Case You Forgotsparked an inner child again with smooth house beats that fueled last summer’s cookouts and backyard shows. This Is For My Pretty Bitches is a roll call to the bold and confident sisters through rage, trap and R&B and a testament to Lucent’s strong writing abilities. – Lauren Floyd

MESSIAH! – PERFECT 7

Deep in Charlotte, North Carolina, a rap collective is building buzz by rapping introspective bars about coming of age during the fall of late stage capitalism, post-woke Black Lives Matter protests and the push for true equality and equity for the Black American. KILLSWITCH, a group of free thinking revolutionary wordsmiths inspired by the rebellious mysticism of Earl Sweatshirt, the detached flow of Roc Marciano and the pioneering ethos of MF DOOM, toil away, confidently delivering creeping lyrical assaults layered over dusty soul samples. The collective sports some of the brightest young intellectuals in rap. KILLSWITCH staple MESSIAH! flaunts these qualities on his new EP Perfect 7, an odyssey that conjures backyard kickbacks, hot summer days and pulled back perspective about the present moment. Whether he’s ruminating on going for his dreams and facing internal hardships (“It’s Ours”) speaking on the haters alongside HipHopDX Rising Star Mavi (“So Much Hate”) or pushing through the good and bad of life (“SHINE!”) MESSIAH! raps with authority and a wealth of knowledge accumulated from never taking no for an answer. Seven tracks is all MESSIAH! needs to assert himself as one of the best lyricists coming from Charlotte. – Josh Svetz

Mike Dimes – IN DIMES WE TRUST

Mike Dimes was one of the most exciting breakout acts of 2021. Propelled through a cult-like following on TikTok, his singles “HOME,” “NO TRENDS” and “BACKROOM” surged into the mainstream. Raw and pumped full of an untethered energy, Dimes’s raps scorch across Southern-influenced production on his latest album IN DIMES WE TRUST. Dimes raps with the confidence of someone with twice his experience. Hailing from Texas, the sounds of classic Lone Star MCs such as Pimp C, Bun B and Lil Flip course through the 21-year-old artist’s music, transformed into something which can be appreciated by old and young listeners alike. From the Crunk-esque anthem of “JIGGALO” which finds him spitting over relentless drums to the strings-backed “WISS,” Dimes is impossible to look away from. With so many artists launched into the industry through apps like TikTok quickly losing momentum and falling by the wayside, IN DIMES WE TRUST is evidence of Dimes’s path to becoming a fixture of the genre. From his lead singles to the album’s deep cuts, Dimes’s sophomore album is an explosive statement from Texas’s most exciting rookie. – David Brake

Babytron – MEGATRON

Listening to Megatron, the debut album by Babytron, is a lot like picking up a cranberry Everfresh at the gas station: it does exactly what it says on the label. This is just another Babytron mixtape — except the beats are a little fuller and more polished, slowed down a smidge. Trying to decide if this album is “better” than his other records feels like picking a favorite child: they’re all good! The minor key strings of “Manute Bol;”t he Eternal Atake-style techno of “MainStream Tron;” the relentless waterfall of piano keys on “Chess Players;” Babytron struts through it all with the louche smirk of a prince who will be king, a student who already memorized the answer key, a scammer paying for steak and lobster with someone else’s debit card. “Teamwork makes the dream work,” Babytron scoffs on “Stupid,” and here it’s especially true. Forgoing the brand name guest verses (Lil Yachty) and hometown star collaborations (Krispylife Kidd, RTB Mike) of October’s Bin Reaper 2, the features here shine especially bright. Babytron sounds good when he’s relaxing in the pocket, but he sounds spectacular locked into a bar-for-bar competition with GTP Daidoe on “Huge Lifestyle 2,” or trading boasts with DaBoiii on “Chess Players.” And on “Stupid,” Glockboyz Teejaee completely steals the show from the very first half bar, warning “you don’t want to get me started, I can go for days.” Listening to Babytron rap, it’s easy to tell he could do this for weeks, years, forever. – Vivian Medithi

Yung Kayo – DFTK

DFTK, the debut album by 18 year old YSL signee Young Kayo, feels like freefalling through the PlayStation loading screen and down the rabbit hole. For 35 minutes Kayo, cloaked in Kiko and Loewe, sings, raps, yowls, mutters, croons and yells, sounding at once superhuman and totally alien. He does this over beats that sound like swimming through a coral reef (“who you gon call”), a Fortnite battle royale (“YEET”), a halftime performance by a demonic marching band (“freak”). What makes Kayo’s music so special is how little connective tissue he needs to stitch together these disparate ideas. The music’s hyperactivity brings to mind the unfettered chaos of digicore star dltzk or hyperpop icons 100 gecs. But unlike those artists, Kayo is more than happy to make rap music. In some ways, his closest analog might be Charli XCX, whose obsession with cutting-edge sonics always loops back to making elevated pop songs. Taken as a whole, careening from woozy synths to rage beats to autotuned exorcisms, it’s hard not to get the same electric feeling about DFTK as early Thug or Carti: “Wait… rap can sound like this? All the time?” – Vivian Medithi

WiFiGawd – CHAIN OF COMMAND

WiFiGawd sounds trapped in another dimension with his distinct, warped vocals. The Washington D.C-native has built a prolific career since the mid 2010s with hectic and chaotic raps over DIY lofi production. CHAIN OF COMMAND is WiFi’s latest offering — an 11 track opus that covers everything from COVID-19’s criminal advantages, celebrity crushes and the Draco he stores in his closet. On “Fuck What Ya Heard,” the looped electric strings act as the beat’s jazzy backbone, while WiFi maneuvers the streets, surprising opps with a hundred rounds. – Anthony Malone

$not – ETHEREAL

New York rapper $NOT falls into the same category of post-SoundCloud ragers like Yeat, Ken Car$on and of course Travis Scott, but his approach to rap is entirely unique. Originally launched into Hip Hop’s spotlight with tracks such as 2018’s “Pull Up” and “Stamina,” though his vision was fully realized with the release of Ethereal. With Ethereal, $NOT has found himself transitioning from a viral sensation on TikTok to a true heavy hitter in rap’s mainstream. From the blood-pumping thrill of “Doja,” Ethereal’s lead single featuring Harlem’s A$AP Rocky to the glittering instrumentals of penultimate track “high IQ,” $NOT sound ravenous and inspired. Expanding on the work begun with 2020’s Tragedy and Beautiful Havoc, $NOT’s latest is his most polished album to date. But don’t fear: the edge is just as sharp as ever. With a diverse range of features from Kevin Abstract and Joey Bada$$ to Juicy J and Trippie Redd, Ethereal stands as a true breakout project from one of the leaders of rap’s next generation. – David Brake

Hook – RENT FREE

Hook dropped her new album From, Hook just eight days after she released a rough six-song mixtape. The album is more melodic and fully produced, but the studio scraps on RENT FREE MIXTAPE showcase her ferocious raps far better. Hook’s raps flow and freeze, her staccato bursts lurching in and out of the pocket. Aside from “FOUR,” every song here was genetically bred in a lab to rattle car trunks, blow out subwoofers and generate neighborly noise complaints. Yet Hook is never overshadowed by these titanic beats. She icily spits “when you see me/you see the word hope/MLK/I had a dream/that I wrote” on “THREE” in a hypnotically undulating cadence. The “work-in-progress” energy of the tape brings to mind the urgency of The Life of Pablo, music so immediate and vital it connected with people despite its visible seams. And for people who still aren’t on board the Hook hype express, here’s a line from “ONE” just for you: “Oh my god/Booooooooooooo!/Throw tomatoes!/Tomato or tomato.” – Vivian Medithi

NLE Choppa – ME VS ME

NLE Choppa’s beef with Baton Rouge rapper NBA YoungBoy has been swirling around Twitter for most of January, a sharp distraction from YoungBoy’s Colors project and now Me vs. Me, the latest project from Choppa. Choppa is only 19 years old, but his rap career has already gone down a multitude of different pathways. He started as a hard-hitting rapper with savage bars before transitioning into a peaceful and meditative lane. Me vs. Me straddles the middle of these two extremes: plenty of introspection is present, but OG Choppa fans will be thrilled to hear the explosiveness is still present in his music. – David Brake

Paper Route Empire – LONG LIVE YOUNG DOLPH

Young Dolph was the hallmark of independent success and building generational wealth through music. A beloved figure in his hometown of Memphis and abroad, the rap world is still processing his tragic murder in November 2021. Long Live Young Dolph from Paper Route Empire is a fitting tribute to an artist gone way too soon. From Key Glock’s “Proud” to Kenny Muney’s “Role Model,” the PRE rappers show Young Dolph’s undeniable influence and promise to continue pushing forward in his honor. RIP Dolph. – David Brake

NBA YoungBoy & Birdman – FROM THE BAYOU

Dusty Locane – UNTAMED

EBK Young Joc – NIGHTINGALE LEGEND

TM88 & Pierre Bourne – YO!88

Tierra Whack – RAP?

FAVORITE MIXTAPES FROM NOVEMBER 2021

  • Bet Against Me – SG Ali
  • Happy Halloween C4 – CEO Trayle
  • Problem Child 3 – Dee Watkins

FAVORITE MIXTAPES FROM OCTOBER 2021

  • mr.siLLyfLow – TisaKorean
  • This Thing Of Ours 2 – Alchemist
  • Web The World – TEC

FAVORITE MIXTAPES FROM SEPTEMBER 2021

  • Hey Tony! – Tony Seltzer
  • HIM, Not Them – Co Cash

FAVORITE MIXTAPES FROM AUGUST 2021

  • 03 Inna Key – 03 Greedo
  • Dum n Dummer 3 – RMC Mike & Rio Da Yung OG

FAVORITE MIXTAPES FROM JULY 2021

  • It’s Remble – Remble
  • Sergio Summer – WiFiGawd
  • They Think We Ghetto – Quadry
  • Bigger Than Life Or Death – EST Gee