Mixtapes have gotten quite popular over the last few years. They went from being only underground to sites hosting a myriad of mixtapes. It was a good way to promote yourself without the help of radio of MTV. Mixtapes went from rappers free-styling on popular beats to artists making original tracks for mixtapes.
Artists give out a free mixtape to please fans while the album was being finished. Suddenly, the fans liked the mixtape more than the album. This seemed true for a lot of rappers. Their albums weren't up to par with the mixtapes.
Mixtapes are free songs for the fans. You don't have to meet any standards when you make a mixtape. The amount of freedom an artist has on a mixtape is something an album can never match. When you make an album, you have to make songs that are radio friendly. If the radio doesn't like your song, you're album will flop. Artists need a single that is on reply on every station.
The rise of mixtapes isn't a coincidence. Anybody can make a mixtape and that is one of the advantages mixtapes have over albums. A rapper can make a mixtape out of his or her basement. Word-of-mouth is the only promotion it gets and it works. The internet makes it easy for people to listen to mixtapes. A lot of sites host mixtapes which proves the popularity that surrounds mixtapes.
The artist wins because he is getting recognition and the fans win because they are getting free music that the artist has all the control over.