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— Shaheem Reid, with additional reporting by Rahman Dukes

In 2006, we saw power plays between the North and South. We got headlines from thirtysomething vets and twentysomething young lions. Jay-Z came back and even did business with Nas. God's Son said hip-hop was dead. Some said the G-Unit fell off. The magic word of the year was "Bawwwwllllin'!" and a lot of records didn't perform at retail the way record companies had hoped they would. The year was crazy, but here are six acts that had it poppin' so hard that the streets and the mainstream had to pay attention.

Top MCs

  Lil Wayne
Lil Wayne
Hands down, Weezy F was the most consistent and prolific MC on the mic this year. He was inexhaustible, showing versatility and dumbing out on gritty guest appearances from Fat Joe's "The Profit" to "TRL"-caliber hits like Lloyd's "You." Commercially, his album Tha Carter, Vol. 2 (released in late 2005) went platinum — and more importantly was lauded as a classic. On the street level, there was no other MC who had the volume of work Wayne served up. Now, we all know that just because you put out the most freestyles doesn't mean they'll all sound right, but Wayne hasn't spit anything wack in a couple of years.

'Hood Highlights: Mick Boogie's Blow mixtape with Juelz Santana, Dedication 2 with DJ Drama, "All Alone," "Show Me What You Got" freestyle, The W. Carter Collection II with Mick Boogie, "Suck It or Not" with Cam'ron.

The Game
You heard the album, and you still hatin', uh? We'll get to Doctor's Advocate in a sec, but for "One Blood" alone, you have to give it up for Game. He came with all the essentials needed for a street banger: an anthemic hook, a beat hard enough to knock the rims off your 6-4, indignant wordplay and an ingenious mixture of two genres (hip-hop and reggae). The remix was probably the biggest song rework in hip-hop history. Now, onto the album: A lot of people will argue you down that it was the album of 2006 — it's definitely a top choice for album of the year.

'Hood Highlight: "One Blood" remix featuring half of the rap world — Game holds his own in a lyrical war with G-Unit.

For so many MCs, going platinum in 2006 was a pipe dream. Not for the King of the South: The great SoundScan drought had little effect on T.I., as his King LP sold around 2 million and furthered along the mainstream's love affair with him. The clubs and radio were well served with "What You Know" and "Why You Wanna" from Tip himself, and his Grand Hustle label was able to break Yung Dro with "Shoulder Lean." Even with all his success this year (#1 singles and videos with Justin Timberlake, release of his movie debut "ATL," and the filming of another, "American Gangster" with Denzel Washington), he's still one of the streets' most respected lyricists and hip-hop hustlers.

'Hood Highlights: The opening of his club Crucial in Atlanta; helping Justin Timberlake appeal to the urban audience with "My Love"; the "Top Back" remix.

Top DJs

  DJ Drama
DJ Drama
Drama actually took the game over last year, but in '06 he defended his title with great poise and prolific production. At one time considered a Southern artists' DJ, Drama showed this year that all regions have to mess with him to get off: His discography for 2006 literally looks like the release schedule of a major label. From Lil Wayne to Gnarls Barkley to Styles P to even Pharrell Williams, everyone is recognizing that Mr. Thanksgiving has the streets on smash. Let's see what he does next year when he has his own album.

'Hood Highlights: The Leak with T.I.; Dedication II with Lil Wayne; Day One with Yung Dro; The 7 Day Theory with Jim Jones; getting Atlantic to fork over for a big distribution- and solo-album deal.

  Mick Boogie
Mick Boogie
Unquestionably, his breakthrough came this year. Mick rubbed shoulders with everyone from Ghostface to Rick Ross for his mini-epics and was still able to maintain his day job as the DJ for all the Cleveland Cavaliers' home games. Besides getting the most exclusive of exclusives — Lil Wayne and Juelz Santana's I Can't Feel My Face mixtape — he also got his production and blend game up.

'Hood Highlights: Fish-N-Chips and Broiled Salmon with Ghostface; Blow with Lil Wayne and Juelz Santana; Jay-Z & Nas' God's Gift with Joey Fingaz.

  Green Lantern
DJ Green Lantern
The Evil Genius can't lose. He parted ways with Eminem last year only to get the call from Jay-Z this year to be his concert DJ, and it's been all G5 and G4 flights ever since. He spun during Jay's world tour in the fall, and with talk of Hov hitting the States in early 2007, expect to see Green on board there as well. This year, his true gem of a mixtape was the Internet Invasion with Ghostface. And among all the DJs, Lantern is still one of the tops when it comes to making beats and blending.

'Hood Highlights: Visiting the place he and Jay-Z call "the real 'hood": some of the most destitute villages in Africa. Lantern has said Jay-Z's Water for Life Tour was an eye-opening, life-altering experience.

Honorable Mentions: MCs

  The Diplomats
The Diplomats
Who would've thought Jim Jones would be the most popular of the Dip Set in 2006? "We Fly High" was hands-down one of the year's favorites. Even with Cam having an off year, the number-one squad in New York beefed with Jay-Z, got love from all regions and balled their way to the top.

  Lupe Fiasco
Lupe Fiasco
Lu had kids in the ghetto skateboarding this year. His album may not have monster sales, but the Chicago native established himself as one of the game's deep thinkers and witty wordsmiths.

  The Clipse
The Clipse
They were getting shows off their We Got It 4 Cheap mixtapes at the top of the year, but unfortunately their strong following on the mixtape circuit haven't translated into sales. If you haven't heard their LP, Hell Hath No Fury, you've been cheating yourself out of some of the rawest hip-hop to drop this year. It's going to be real interesting to see how their tension with Lil Wayne plays out in 2007.

  Rick Ross
Rick Ross
After a decade of trying to be heard, everyone finally got it this year: Ricky Ross is nice! He started the year off telling the world his slinging dreams and fish-scale wishes with an undeniable calling card for the 'hood, "Hustlin'," and followed with a blistering story of rising to the top, "Push It." Between putting out his critically acclaimed debut Port of Miami and touring the world yelling "Rawwwss!", Rick still managed to kill just about all his guest appearances alongside people like Nelly Furtado and Timbaland, DJ Khaled and the Game. Whip it, whip it real hard!

Honorable Mentions: DJs

  Whoo Kid
Whoo Kid
The Kid stayed in the green this year, touring the world with 50 Cent, eating dinners with Michael Jackson and of course dropping the G-Unit mixtapes: Young Buck's Chronic 2006 was the best from their crop this year.

  J. Period
J. Period
His Best of ... series is so serious: the Roots and the Isley Brothers, and next year he has one with Mary J. Blige. He also got the chance to spin as Lauryn Hill's personal DJ for a few shows this year.

  Clinton Sparks
Clinton Sparks
DJing for Diddy at NFL events, playing for capacity crowds at clubs across the globe and making mixtapes with the Clipse and Eminem: Sparks stayed on top of the game this year, and his "SmashTime Radio" show is one of the best on satellite radio.

  Dirty Harry
Dirty Harry
Numbers don't lie, and neither do skills: You can't argue Harry's dexterity in the studio. The veteran kept his blend game on point with releases like Living Legends Chapter 1 with Nas.

'06: Beats We Love

"What You Know" - T.I. (produced by DJ Toomp)
"It's Okay (One Blood)" - Game (produced by Reefa)
"Wet Wipes" - Cam'ron (produced by the Alchemist)
"Wamp, Wamp" - the Clipse (produced by the Neptunes)
"Kingdom Come" - Jay-Z (produced by Just Blaze)
"State of Grace" - Raekwon (produced by the RZA)

Our Mixtapes

26 In 06: Commercially Released Singles

1. "What You Know" - T.I.
2. "We Fly High" - Jim Jones
3. "It's Okay (One Blood)" - Game
4. "Hustlin' " - Rick Ross
5. "It's Goin' Down" - Yung Joc
6. "Touch It" remixes - Busta Rhymes
7. "Why You Wanna" - T.I.
8. "Kryptonite" - Purple Ribbon All-Stars
9. "Ridin' Dirty" - Chamillionaire (featuring Krayzie Bone)
10. "Pullin' Me Back" - Chingy (featuring Tyrese)
11. "Hustler Music" - Lil Wayne
12. "U and Dat" - E-40 (featuring T. Pain and Kandi Girl)
13. "Back Like That" - Ghostface (featuring Ne-Yo)
14. "That's That" - Snoop Dogg (featuring R. Kelly)
15. "Oh Yes" - Juelz Santana
16. "Conceited" - Remy Ma
17. "Runaway Love" - Ludacris (featuring Mary J. Blige)
18. "I Know You See It" - Yung Joc
19. "Shoulder Lean" - Young Dro
20. "Come To Me" - Diddy (featuring Nicole Scherzinger)
21. "Moneymaker" - Ludacris
22. "Push It" - Rick Ross
23. "Snap Your Fingers" - Lil Jon (featuring E-40 and Sean Paul of the YoungBloodz)
24. "Lean Wit It, Rock Wit It" - Dem Franchize Boys
25. "Kick, Push" - Lupe Fiasco
26. "Make It Rain" - Fat Joe (featuring Lil Wayne)

26 In 06: Album Cuts Or Strictly Underground

1. "Black Republican" - Nas (featuring Jay-Z)
2. "Hustlers" - Nas (featuring Game)
3. "Holla at Me" - DJ Khaled
4. "Kingdom Come" - Jay-Z
5. "Getting Some" remix - Shawnna
6. "State of Grace" remix - Raekwon (featuring Busta Rhymes)
7. "Hollywood Divorce" - Outkast (featuring Lil Wayne and Snoop Dogg)
8. "Suck It or Not" - Cam'ron (featuring Lil Wayne)
9. "Walk it Out" remix - DJ Unk (featuring Outkast and Jim Jones)
10. "Feels So Good" - Remy Ma (featuring Ne-Yo)
11. "Cake" - Lloyd Banks (featuring 50 Cent)
12. "Keep Bouncin' " - Too Short (featuring Snoop Dogg and Will.I.Am)
13. "My Ghetto Story" remix - Cham (featuring Alicia Keys and Akon)
14. "It's Okay (One Blood)" remix - Game
15. "Why You Hate the Game" - Game (featuring Nas)
16. "Grammy Family" - DJ Khaled (featuring Kanye West, John Legend and Consequence)
17. "Bury Me a G" - Young Jeezy
18. "Imagine" - Snoop Dogg (featuring Dr. Dre and D'Angelo)
19. "Don't Feel Right" - the Roots
20. "Go Getta" - Young Jeezy (featuring R. Kelly)
21. "Menace II Society" - Papoose
22. "You Can't Hold the Torch" - Busta Rhymes (featuring Q-Tip)
23. "It's Alright" - Mobb Deep (featuring 50 Cent and Mary J. Blige)
24. "Damn" - Fat Joe
25. "Impossible" - Kanye West (featuring Twista, Keyshia Cole and BJ)
26. "Public Enemy #1" - Eminem

26 In '06: R&B

1. "SexyBack" - Justin Timberlake
2. "Entourage" - Omarion
3. "You"/"You" remix - Lloyd
4. "Crazy" - Gnarls Barkley
5. "Irreplaceable" - Beyoncé
6. "I Wanna Love You" - Akon (featuring Snoop Dogg)
7. "Promiscuous" remix - Nelly Furtado (featuring Timbaland and Rick Ross)
8. "My Love" - Justin Timberlake (featuring T.I.)
9. "Upgrade U" - Beyoncé (featuring Jay-Z)
10. "Promise" - Ciara
11. "Love" - Keyshia Cole
12. "Shake It Off" - Mariah Carey
13. "Sexy Love" - Ne-Yo
14. "Bossy" - Kelis (featuring Too Short)
15. "Smack That" - Akon featuring Eminem
16. "I Need a Boss" - Shareefa (featuring Ludacris)
17. "Enough Crying" - Mary J. Blige
18. "Me & U" - Cassie
19. "Last Night" - Diddy (featuring Keyshia Cole)
20. "I Love You" remix - Cherri Dennis (featuring Black Rob and Jim Jones)
21. "The One You Need" - Megan Rochell (featuring Fabolous)
22. "Deja Vu" - Beyoncé (featuring Jay-Z)
23. "Do It to It" - Cherish (featuring Sean Paul of the YoungBloodz)
24. "When You're Mad" - Ne-Yo
25. "Gimme That" - Chris Brown (featuring Lil Wayne)
26. "Wanna Love U Girl" - Robin Thicke (featuring Pharrell)


... And just when you thought awards season was over, leave it to us to throw a monkey wrench into the game! Well, these aren't really awards, just our picks of some cats who deserve some more shine.

  • Lyricist Of The Year

  • Shaheem Reid's pick: Lil Wayne
    Rahman Dukes' pick: Nas

  • Team Of The Year

  • Shaheem Reid's pick: the Diplomats
    Rahman Dukes' pick: the Aphiliates

  • Radio And/Or Satellite DJ Of The Year

  • Shaheem Reid's Pick: DJ Enuff
    Rahman Dukes' Pick: Clinton Sparks

  • Mixtape Of The Year

  • Shaheem Reid's pick: Lil Wayne and DJ Drama - Dedication 2
    Rahman Dukes' pick: Dirty Harry - Unforgiven

  • Most Slept-On Album Of The Year

  • Shaheem Reid's pick: The Clipse - Hell Hath No Fury
    Rahman Dukes' pick: Ghostface - More Fish

  • Album Of The Year

  • Unanimous Tie: Nas - Hip Hop Is Dead; Game - Doctor's Advocate

  • Party Of The Year

  • Unanimous pick: Nas' birthday party, Canal Room, New York; September 13

  • Commercial Single Of The Year

  • Shaheem Reid's pick: "What You Know" - T.I.
    Rahman Dukes' pick: "It's Okay (One Blood)" - Game

  • Underground Record Of The Year

  • Shaheem Reid's pick: "Black Republican" - Nas (featuring Jay-Z)
    Rahman Dukes' pick: "Why You Hate The Game" Game (featuring Nas and Marsha from Floetry)

  • Producer Of The Year

  • Shaheem Reid's pick: (tie) Timbaland; Danjahands Rahman Dukes' pick: Swizz Beatz

  • Topic Of The Year

  • Shaheem Reid's pick: Is hip-hop dead?
    Rahman Dukes pick: Game leaving Aftermath

  • Freestyle Of The Year

  • Shaheem Reid's pick: "Show Me What You Got" - Lil Wayne
    Rahman Dukes' pick: "Hot 97" freestyle - Jay-Z

  • Breakthrough Of The Year (DJ)

  • Shaheem Reid's pick: Mick Boogie
    Rahman Dukes' pick: Superstar Jay

  • Breakthrough Of The Year (MC)

  • Shaheem Reid's pick: Rick Ross
    Rahman Dukes' pick: Lil Wayne

    Breakthrough Of The Year (Producer)
    Shaheem Reid's pick: J.R. Rotem
    Rahman Dukes pick: Will.I.Am

  • Boardroom Gangsta

  • Shaheem Reid's pick: Jay-Z
    Rahman Dukes pick: Jim Jones

  • Craziest Collaboration
  • Shaheem Reid's pick: Cee-Lo and Danger Mouse as Gnarls Barkley
    Rahman Dukes' pick: "Black Republican" - Nas (featuring Jay-Z)

  • Check For In '07

  • Shaheem Reid: Quan's debut album, new 50 Cent album, Papoose's debut LP, the return of Joe Budden and Murder Inc., and Andre 3000 to keep spitting like he has on the last few remixes.

    Rahman Dukes: Saigon's The Greatest Story Never Told and Papoose's Nacirema Dream

For other artists featured in Mixtape Mondays, check out Mixtape Mondays Headlines.

For a full-length feature on the role of mixtapes in the music industry, check out "Mixtapes: The Other Music Industry."

For other artists featured in Mixtape Mondays, check out Mixtape Mondays Headlines

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Photo: MTV News

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