What even is a mixtape these days? Something that can be bought for free? Chance The Rapper asked, “Am I the only n*gga still care about mixtapes,” on a song called “Mixtape” that happened to feature two artists who obviously still care about the medium. Chance’s “mixtape” -- which was only available on streaming platforms -- ended up earning a Grammy nod, the first of its kind to do so. But us rap fans don’t need any reminding of the importance of mixtapes, however they might be defined these days. Where would artists like Future, Young Thug, 2 Chainz, and, yes, Chance, be without them?

Though rappers are figuring out ways to commercialize their mixtapes, they’re still finding that non-album projects can be put out more quickly and with less label intrusion. Oftentimes, mixtapes serve as a more direct representation of an artist’s mindstate at a given time, rather than a conceptual project that’s been labored over for several months or more. Mixtapes are thus hugely responsible for the quickly shifting trends in hip-hop music and culture. 2016 was a fantastic year for mixtapes and were we considering all projects together -- as the Grammys are realizing this might be the inevitable way forward -- then some of these projects would rank nearby LemonadeThe Life of Pablo, and Blonde at the top of the list.

Most of the following 20 tapes are available for streaming and/or downloading. Without further adieu, here are HNHH’s Hottest Mixtapes of the Year.