DJ Drama’s Gangsta Grillz mixtape series has become one of the most historic runs in hip hop history. Drama has hosted mixtapes for a wide range of artists, many widely regarded as classics. Before he would co-found the Generation Now imprint, the Gangsta Grillz mixtapes were integral in hip hop’s mixtape era. The series helped establish mixtapes as an essential building block for a successful rap career in the 2000s and 2010s.
Gangsta Grillz has had its fair share of iconic moments in hip hop, as well as the famous mixtape raid of DJ Drama’s house. Drama’s influence on hip hop with these mixtapes can be seen in today’s hip hop. Artists like Westside Gunn and Tyler, The Creator have involved DJ Drama for Gangsta Grillz-inspired albums. The series is still strong as Drama has announced Gangsta Grillz mixtapes with Pusha T and De La Soul.
Starting in 2001, there have been well over 150 Gangsta Grillz mixtapes, so compiling a list of the best ones is difficult to narrow down. This is a list of the best Gangsta Grillz mixtapes, ranked from 11 to the top spot. Back in 2021, DJ Drama provided his own ranking of his Top 10 Gangsta Grillz mixtapes. Take a look at our list below.
11. Childish Gambino – STN MTN (2014)
Following the legendary Because The Internet album, Childish Gambino’s next ambitious release was a double project. In 2014, he released STN MTN, a rap-heavy Gangsta Grillz mixtape, along with the Kauai EP, which had an R&B/pop sound. STN MTN is named after Childish Gambino’s hometown of Stone Mountain, Georgia. The mixtape’s concept is a dream sequence that pays homage to the mixtape era, heavily inspired by southern rap. STN MTN sees Childish Gambino fully embracing the sound of his home state, rapping over all-time Atlanta classics like “Southern Hospitality” and “Move That Dope.” The Gangsta Grillz mixtape is also an early inspiration for Gambino’s TV show, Atlanta.
10. Pharrell – In My Mind: The Prequel (2006)
Pharrell’s talent is genreless. His production and songwriting credits and his skills as a singer and rapper need no introduction. He is known for being a brilliant collaborator but has few solo projects. His 2006 debut solo album, In My Mind, is now a cult classic and is the only Pharrell album with his rap skills on full display. In My Mind is special because Pharrell raps, sings, and produces the entire album. The mixtape is unique in a different way, as Pharrell showcased his rap skills in a more loose setting, rapping over classic hip hop beats, and the bars are the main focus. Pharrell’s music often focuses on the entire ensemble, from intricate production to vocal arrangement. In My Mind: The Prequel allowed Pharrell to spit bars, making his discography unique and significant as a Gangsta Grillz mixtape.
9. Curren$y – Verde Terrace (2011)
There are not many rappers with more mixtapes than Curren$y. The New Orleans rapper is known for his signature chill sound, often consisting of very laid-back yet skillful rhymes. Curren$y’s Gangsta Grillz, Verde Terrace is a special moment in his extensive catalog as the selected beats he rhymes over encourage him to step his bars up. Curren$y was well established by the time the mixtape was released in 2011, but he was rapped with such hunger on it. Curren$y did not necessarily step out of his comfort zone but showcased that he could still get busy no matter the beat.
8. Jean Grae – Cookies or Comas (2011)
Before she moved on to other forms of media, Jean Grae could rap among the best. Her early rap career consisted of outstanding bars that never failed to impress, later transitioning to comedy and film. Cookies or Comas, her Gangsta Grillz mixtape with DJ Drama, is one of the most impressive displays of her lyrical skills. This mixtape stands out because it was the opposite of the mainstream southern trap that many Gangsta Grillz tapes were at the time. Jean Grae’s entire rap style was the complete opposite, and Cookies or Comas showed the wide range of Gangsta Grillz.
7. Lil Wayne – The Dedication (2005)
The first installment of Lil Wayne’s most iconic mixtape series is also DJ Drama’s most popular Gangsta Grillz series. Lil Wayne had released many mixtapes before 2005, but The Dedication was different. Coming off a classic release with Tha Carter II, Wayne flexed his skills over other artists’ beats, often out rapping the original. Since The Dedication, a Lil Wayne mixtape release, especially The Dedication, was a moment.
6. Nipsey Hussle – Crenshaw (2013)
In the 2010s, mixtapes started to consist of more original material rather than remixes. Mixtapes were free and more easily accessible. Nipsey Hussle’s bold strategy to release his Gangsta Grillz mixtape, Crenshaw, both for free and $100 a piece, proved successful. The fact that fans were willing to pay a hefty price tag for a free mixtape speaks to Nipsey’s talent and the quality of Crenshaw. The now-classic Gangsta Grillz mixtape helped shape a sound for the new generation of west coast hip hop and built Nipsey his cult fanbase. He had already proved himself with his Marathon series, but Crenshaw took things to the next level for Nipsey Hussle.
5. Little Brother – Separate But Equal (2006)
One of the most respectful qualities of DJ Drama and the Gangsta Grillz mixtapes is that he could do a tape with Gucci Mane and Jean Grae, which would make sense. It is not as much a sound but more a stamp of approval for what makes a great mixtape. Little Brother’s 2006 mixtape was one of those projects that proved that DJ Drama and Gangsta Grillz could capture both mainstream and underground audiences. Separate But Equal was one of their last projects to feature 9th Wonder as a main member. In terms of rapping and production, this project ranks high among the best Gangsta Grillz mixtapes and one of Little Brother’s best projects.
4. Slaughterhouse – On The House (2012)
Releasing a Gangsta Grillz was one of the best ways to promote an album release, which many rappers did. Before disappointing fans with their major label debut, Slaughterhouse released the On The House mixtape with DJ Drama, including original and preexisting beats. On The House was everything that Welcome To: Our House lacked, which was hard bars, tight chemistry, and sound production. While it is not perfect, On The House is the Slaughterhouse that fans longed for.
They got ahead of their album’s overwhelmingly negative reception by releasing this mixtape. Royce Da 5’9”, KXNG Crooked, Joe Budden, and Joell Ortiz spit killer bars on “Weight Scale” and “Juggernauts.” They also poured their hearts out on the stunningly emotional “Truth Or Truth, Pt. 1.” DJ Drama brought the best of Slaughterhouse with On The House, displaying the potential of one of hip hop’s most promising supergroups.
3. Nipsey Hussle – Mailbox Money (2014)
Crenshaw may have introduced Nipsey Hussle to the masses, but Mailbox Money was the one that solidified his position as one of the west coast’s best artists. Everything promising about Crenshaw was improved on Mailbox Money, from its polished production to its features. One of the most underrated mixtapes, Mailbox Money deserves to be mentioned among Nipsey’s best works and DJ Drama’s best Gangsta Grillz mixtapes.
2. Big K.R.I.T. – It’s Better This Way (2015)
Big K.R.I.T. is one of hip hop’s most consistent artists, and his mixtape catalog can prove it. His 2015 Gangsta Grillz with DJ Drama stuck to K.R.I.T.’s unique southern and soulful sound. It was his final release under Def Jam. As the cover and title suggest, Big K.R.I.T. followed the road less traveled, going independent. The mixtape features both hard-hitting southern bangers and soulful songs of contemplation. The mixtape’s rapping, production, and replay value make it deserving of its placement this high on the list.
1. Lil Wayne – Dedication 2 (2006)
When making his own list, DJ Drama placed Lil Wayne’s Dedication 2 at No. 1, which is deserving of that placement for many reasons. Wayne had already crowned himself the “best rapper alive.” He proved he could take charge of other rappers’ beats on The Dedication. On its sequel, Lil Wayne made other rappers’ beats his own. With Dedication 2, “Mixtape Wayne” built his cult following completely separate from his albums. Lil Wayne effortlessly put his unique take on popular instrumentals during this era.
“Cannon (Remix)” is the ultimate “Mixtape Wayne” moment. Lil Wayne even speaks to the current state of the country by calling out the president’s poor handling of victims of Hurricane Katrina on “Georgia… Bush.” Dedication 2 was the project that made “Mixtape Wayne” a force to be reckoned with.