Years before streaming giants like Spotify, Tidal and Apple Music made mixtapes available to the masses, rappers were pushing their DIY projects independently. Often without a major-label backing, artists would peddle their projects however they could, relying on DatPiff links and posts from music blogs and local mixtape retailers to get their music heard. In Southside Jamaica, Queens, a young Onika Maraj was proving why, in time, she would be considered a Queen in the game. Over on the West coast, Tyler, The Creator was dropping jaws and garnering a cult-like fan base with his indecorous bars. And in flyover localities, artists like Curren$y and Wale were busy creating their own waves.

In 2009, many of today's biggest hip-hop acts were kickstarting their careers via mixtapes and extended plays. Kendrick Lamar's storytelling abilities were not only apparent, but applauded, thanks to The Kendrick Lamar EP. Waka Flocka Flame's newfound drill sound on Salute Me or Shoot Me inspired teens in Chicago and beyond. Meanwhile Wiz Khalifa made himself an integral part of hip-hop's stoner culture with tapes like Flight School and Burned After Rolling.

Ten years ago, the generals of the Young Money militia had made themselves an unstoppable force with their most iconic mixtapes: Lil Wayne provided heat with his remakes on No Ceilings; Drake delivered hit after hit on his breakout tape, So Far Gone; and Nicki Minaj proved her undeniable staying power on her classic release, Beam Me Up Scotty.

“There’s so many people that kind of shut you down as a female before you even get your foot in the door,” Nicki told XXL when she signed to the label that year. “So when you get moments like this it’s like, 'Yes, finally.'”

One full decade later, the veteran rap artists continue to be celebrated for their early efforts, all of which have a replay value like none other—yes, "Sweatpants, hair tied, chillin' with no makeup on" is still a big mood, word to Drizzy.

Freddie Gibbs, J. Cole, B.o.B and Smoke DZA also dropped their best works in 2009. Take a look at 33 projects that were impossible to ignore that year.

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