10. The Illz, Illzsential
Now, technically, this is a collection of the Dominican-Lebanese, Jersey-based MC's best mixtape songs to date, going back to 2009, but many of its 20 tracks are from 2011. It's also as essential as its title suggests, affording an amazing overview of this rising rapper's powerful and melancholic tone. Lastly, it includes one of the most heartwarming songs we came across all year. Key Track: "Come In"
9. Wiz Khalifa, Cabin Fever
We had mixed feelings about his major label debut, Rolling Papers, and this nine-track mixtape that dropped six weeks earlier might have given us unrealistic expectations. The Pittsburgh pothead gets gloomier here than on the comparatively lightweight Papers, providing more personality than the debut record's one-note weed jokes. Key Track: "WTF"
8. Lil Wayne, Sorry 4 the Wait
Released a month before Tha Carter IV, this freestyle-filled teaser turned out to be better than the main event, with Weezy going ballistic over a smattering of recent hits, including Beyonce's "Run the World (Girls)," Big Sean's "My Last" and, most enjoyably, Kreayshawn's "Gucci Gucci." The stand-out title track finds Wayne rapping non-stop at full-speed for nearly three minutes, working harder than he ever seemed to on Carter IV. Key Track: "Sorry 4 the Wait"
7. Skyzoo, The Great Debater
This Bed-Stuy MC's been on the mixtape circuit for half a decade already, and his early-90s New York sound just keeps getting better. In fact, these 16 tracks might have made a really strong sophomore album (after 2009's The Salvation), especially behind would-be lead single "Written in the Drums." This deep and sonically unified mixtape leaves little room for debate. Key Track: "Written in the Drums"
6. A$AP Rocky, LiveLoveA$AP
And speaking of long-rising New York MCs channeling a typically native sound, A$AP isn't one. A proud promoter of a distinctly Houston-honed branch of Southern rap, his first full-length mixtape—dropped a few days after he inked an unprecedented $3 million deal with Sony—is full of rattling bass and weeded, sing-song rhymes. If A$AP's going to rescue the New York rap scene from obsolescence, as many are predicting, this tape's a promising indicator of things to come. Key Track: "Trilla"