The word "mixtape" — the hip-hop equivalent to the bootleg concert tape — now refers to mixes of songs burned to CD or offered as a digital download, sold on street corners and swapped on message boards. They represent hip-hop artists taking back the power over their music from label politics, mainstream media and the tyranny of copyright law (and FCC language restrictions). In this purely democratic world unsigned rappers build a fan base, past-their-prime artists re-connect with an audience, and major-label commodities show their adventurous side on records that overprotective label reps would never authorize and commercial radio could never pick up. Here are some of this year's finest tapes.
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Advisory: Explicit language and subject matter not suitable for all ages.