There are a lot of reasons to love mixtapes — they're fun, oftentimes free and occasionally fabulous. But more than anything, because of those above characteristics, mixtapes offer artists a chance to introduce themselves to the world through the magic of the internet.
Sometimes an artist or group can go from a virtual unknown to the name you can't stop hearing at bars and parties. This year that name was R&B maestro "the Weeknd." A couple of years ago it might've been Drake, or Kid Cudi, or Theophilus London — all artists who have taken their mixtape success and gathered fans around their fires.
Wired.com put together this list of our favorite mixtapes of 2011 to share some slightly under-the-radar faves and give a hat-tip to those artists who may not have topped the charts, but definitely rocked our worlds.
Click through the gallery above to see who we picked. Most of the mixtapes are free (and the one that isn't is so worth the 5 bucks) and we've included links for all of them. (Special thanks to Matthew Hickey at Turntable Kitchen for helping compile this list.)
If any person or group were given the title of Mixtape Master this year it would be the Weeknd. Mysterious singer Abel Tesfaye made what are probably the two most-talked-about mixtapes of the year with House of Balloons in March and Thursday in August.
They were typically described as mixtapes since they were free, but really they could've easily been full-blown EPs. The HOB track "High for This" found its way to promos for Entourage and Tesfaye found his way onto Drake's album Take Care. A third mixtape — Echoes of Silence — was dropped earlier this month, and at first blush it sounds just as complex, if not more so, than the previous two releases (see: the cover of Michael Jackson's "Dirty Diana" and "Initiation," which speeds and slows the vocals to sound like the mental dialog of the drug binge it's describing). We're generally leery of prequels around here, but if Tesfaye opts to release some prequels to his trilogy of albums next year, we're totally OK with that.