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— by Shaheem Reid

Every year around this time we bring you the Mixtape Monday mid-season report, our take on the move-makers in the mixtape industry. This year, we're switching it up some. Instead of just naming who's been making an impact, we're going to list, in order, who's bringing the heat. These rankings could very well change, of course, when we bring out our year-end report in December. ...

Jay-Z: The Reign Remains

Let's just hope the boardrooms up in Def Jam have enough room to fit a throne. Who cares if he's retired or not? Jay is still the nicest on the mic right now. His verses on tracks like the "Go Crazy" remix, "Diamonds (From Sierra Leone)" remix and the "Back Then" freestyle made the Earth stop revolving. He may not want to flood the streets like some of his peers, but still, no one can come close to Hova's impact. His freestyle on Funkmaster Flex's radio show a few months ago was quickly ciphered to mixtapes and was the most rotated construction of bars so far this year.

Swisha House: Homegrown Heat

We told you last year these guys were going to blow up. We told you last year these guys were going to blow up. I said ... Well, you get the picture. Mike Watts is keeping the chopped-and-screwed legacy alive and nobody is saying "who" when you mention Mike Jones' name nowadays. His repetitive style of rapping his name or a punch line several times in a row could have been taken as being near obnoxious by fans and critics — well, it was by some, but you can't front, "Still Tippin' " was quite possibly the biggest song on the mixtapes this year, and nobody is sitting down in the clubs when "Back Then" comes on.

While a platinum plaque seems inevitable for the already gold Jones, Paul Wall's success is practically a foregone conclusion. The self-proclaimed "chick magnet" is smattering his endearing flow all over the place with guest appearances coming up with the likes of Kanye West and Juelz Santana. Wall's The People's Champ is one of the most anticipated of the next few months.

Game: King Of Kontroversy

A hurricane indeed. It's been a stormy year for Game: He got kicked out of the G-Unit, one of his homies got shot at Hot 97, he got tangled in a beef with members of the Roc as well as with Yukmouth and Joe Budden. So why is Game one of the biggest success stories of 2005 so far? His mixtape buzz translated into more than 600,000 in sales the first week for his album The Documentary (also an early favorite for album of the year) and at the same time, he proved that he was not just a spitter. Game is truly a special talent. Although 50 Cent will take credit for masterminding much of The Documentary, songs that Fif had no dealings with, like "Dreams," are undeniable. But just in case you forgot how he did get down on mixtapes, Game unleashed a full 300-bar freestyle to remind you.

Young Jeezy: Ice And Inspiration

When you think of Da Snowman, you think of respect, that's riiiiiight! The fans have given Jeezy an astounding endorsement after his classic mixtape, Trap or Die, hit the circuit, and you can't find too many of his peers who are hating, yeeeaaaahhh! Who besides Memphis Bleek can get Jay-Z to rap 32 bars on a song with him? Not to mention that MCs from Beanie Sigel and Fat Joe to T.I. and Trick Daddy have publicly said Jeezy is the new best thing in rap. When he wasn't killing things on the solo tip, Jeezy connected thoughts with Boyz N Da Hood on mixtapes as well as on a full-length LP.

D-Block: Bars Open

The most lyrically inclined collective in hip-hop did what it always does — grind hard and deliver potent content. There's not a week that goes by when we don't hear a new freestyle or two by Sheek Louch, J-Hood, Styles or "LL Cool Kiss," a.k.a. Jada. Underground records like "Kiss Your Ass Goodbye," "We Gon' Win" and "1 Cup, 2, Cup" kept their buzz in the clubs, but the streets talked most about dem D-Block boys' beef with the G-Unit. They've been coming out on the winning end of the back-and-forth (thanks to freestyles like "Clikety Clank," "Checkmate" and "Problem Child"); now all they have to do is win on the charts. Styles' Time Is Money has been pushed back several times and looks to finally see the light of day in October. Jadakiss' next album is still in production and Sheek's After Taxes doesn't come till late September (that album is so fire, don't sleep).

G-Unit: It's Good To Be Bad

50 and company did the impossible. Who would have thought that the G-Unit would beef with Game, Fat Joe, Cassidy, Nas and the whole D-Block and not only stay viable in the streets, but survive these battles without Young Buck or Lloyd Banks even making a peep? The G-Unit may have been pounded with a hailstorm of disses, but they kept feeding the streets with hits like "So Seductive" and the "Outta Control" remix, making it hard for fans to hate them — especially when some of those fans were in the club dancing to the G-Unit the night before. With Mobb Deep and M.O.P. now signed to his label, 50's machine looks unstoppable for the rest of the year.

Mobb Deep: Loyal To The Streets

The always reliable Mobb made the most of the mixtape mayhem this year, dropping records like "Hey Baby," "Hurtin' Nothing," "Tight," "We Got This" and "Stuck to You," making people forget that their solid effort Amerikaz Nightmare came and went with meager sales and they were dropped from Jive. 50 Cent liked what he heard from Havoc and Prodigy on the mixtapes so much that he invested a boatload of cash into the duo to secure their services for G-Unit Records. Havoc's production seems like it's at its apex (reference "Cobra" if you don't think so), and Prodigy has shown he's still capable of taking his lyrical marauding back to his '90s heyday. And let's not forget that they always have beats from extended family member Alchemist cocked and loaded.

The Diplomats: Dip-pendable Alliance

There wasn't a record that banged harder in the streets this year than Cam'ron's "Down and Out." The Kanye West track for that record was remarkable. Although Cam's Purple Haze album got slept on by record-store shoppers, Killa had more than enough street hits to keep him viable on every block while he landed a new partnership with Asylum Records. Meanwhile, Jim Jones came with a variety of flavors ("Baby Girl," "Summer With Miami") and Juelz Santana continues to prove that he is one of the most exciting MCs on the mic. Just ask the legendary Rakim, who showed love to Santana in the video for one of our favorite records, "Mic Check." The Dips' lower-tier members, like Hell Rell and J.R. Writer, still have a ways to go before they prove themselves, but they have shown flashes of potential.

Bun B: Pocket Full Of Hits

Bun may have been the most-heard MC on the streets this year. His LP doesn't come out until later this year, but he's already amassed an album's worth of hits with all his guest appearances. It seemed like every MC was calling on Bun, from Slim Thug to T.I. to Jeezy, but his biggest song was probably with Webbie, "Gimme That."



Papoose: A New Hope

Just when you hear some garbage on the mixtapes or on the radio and start to lose your faith in rap, here comes Papoose to resuscitate the game. First off, some people may scream foul play: How does an artist not signed to a major label who just so happens to be under the wing of DJ Kay Slay get so much airplay for songs like "Charades"? Well, Kay may have been the first to blast the song off, but Pap's music is something that the game has sorely been missing. Just like Raekwon said on Outkast's album Aquemini, "You gotta come provocative." Papoose's concepts really make you think, he has a sense of humor and he has the blood-boiling battle lines. Somebody please give up the money and sign this kid to a major label.


NEXT: Green Lantern, Whoo Kid and Envy, plus instant collectors' items
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Photo: MTV News

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