At the start of this month, someone in our office commented that they were “seriously struggling” to find good current hip-hop – Kendrick Lamar and A$AP Rocky aside. They suggested that we should write a piece on the best hip-hop out there right now. And we think they had a point.
There’s plenty of good hip-hop around right now, but as with anything, if you’re not looking you’ll struggle to find it. And with hundreds of mixtures uploaded to websites like DatPiff and LiveMixtapes every week – if not every day – and lists like MTV’s Hottest MCs in the Game doing little beyond reminding you why you don’t watch MTV anymore, that process of looking can feel like tackling a deluge or a desert depending on your perspective. Either one’s intimidating.
If you spend every day on DatPiff, or even on FACT (with special mention of our weekly Mixtape Round-up), then you’ll likely be aware of the producers covered in this article – just as you would have been with last week’s rappers edition. But for those of you who’ve fallen out of love with hip-hop over the years and have retreated to a healthy distance, these are the 13 acts (in alphabetical order) that you should be following if you want to restore your love. We’ve also uploaded a mix from FACT’s Tom Lea that features a track from each of them, which should soundtrack the piece nicely.
Hit Boy feat. Travi$ Scott, Cocaine80s & Kent M$NEY) – ‘Enormous’ [prod. Hit Boy]
Schoolboy Q feat. Jhene Aiko – ‘Sex Drive’ [prod. THC]
Cassie feat. Meek Mill – ‘Turn Up’ [prod. Young Chop]
King Louie – ‘Band Nation’ [prod. Nez & Rio]
Gucci Mane – ‘North Pole’ [prod. Mike Will Made It]
Rome Fortune – ‘Ice Cream Man’ [prod. Childish Major]
A$AP Rocky feat. A$AP Nast – ‘Trilla’ [prod. Beautiful Lou]
Tree – ‘Die’ [prod. Tree]
Action Bronson & Riff Raff – ‘Bird on a Wire’ [prod. Harry Fraud]
Cas – ‘All Hallows’ [prod. Skywlkr]
Spaceghostpurrp – ‘Black Diamonds Pearls’ [prod. Spaceghostpurrp]
Pink Dollaz feat. Sean Mack – ‘Stuntin’ [prod. DJ Mustard]
Clams Casino – ‘Treetop’ [prod. Clams Casino]
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See also: Gila Monsta, suicideyear, Metro Zu
Hailing from Dallas, Beautiful Lou is probably the closest this selection gets to ‘cloud rap’, but a closer look at his beats reveals a lot more than a simple genre tag. He’s been responsible for memorable collaborations with Lil B, Main Attrakionz, Kitty (nee Pride), RiFF RaFF, Left Leberra and Western Tink and his new-wave indebted beats are a breath of fresh air in a scene dominated by 16th note hats and gunshots. This year he waved his wand over the fantastic (and long-delayed) double-header with Western Tink Mobbin’ No Sobbin’, and it shows a clear evolution in his production. Fielding comparisons with Clams Casino and the rest of the post-Lil B set, Lou slows things down to a crawl, and in turn ends up with a sound that owes as much to his Texas home as it does the cloud. The fact that Lou he opts to wade through ’80s electronic pop to dig for samples is enough to get us interested – the fact that he does it better than everyone else is really the icing on the cake.
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See also: DJ Spinz, C4
Childish Major shot to our attention after producing Rocko’s controversial ‘U.O.E.N.O’, but it’s not this breakout track that is the young producer’s biggest achievement this year, it’s his hand in fellow ATLien Rome Fortune’s phenomenal Beautiful Pimp. With a bevvy of peculiar and varied tracks, Childish Major shows that he’s a long way from his contemporaries, who often sound like they’re simply attempting to repeat their own biggest tunes (or someone else’s) again and again. ‘Ice Cream Man’ is a Night Slugs-esque rewiring of a Super Nintendo soundtrack, ‘Balcony’ sounds like a broken Speak & Spell and ‘Small World’ shows that the producer is equally at home with lilting soul as he is with skeletal electronics. If he can continue this year’s ridiculous run then the world is his.
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See also: Friendzone, Keyboard Kid, Ty Beats
In the real world, Mike Volpe is an unassuming 24 year old trainee physical therapist from New Jersey. In the alternative beats scene, though, he’s a Herculean figure – the principal flag bearer for the cloud rap sound, and one of the most distinctive and unique production voices operating in the genre – well, any genre – today. Rising to attention with beats for weirdo rap nobles Lil B and Soulja Boy, Clammy Clams has become synonymous with syrupy, slo-mo beats – creolizations of shoegaze, Tim Hecker-stlye ambient and vintage A-Plus beats. Unlike most of his contemporaries, his beats have gained traction on their own terms – his 2011 Instrumentals tape was FACT’s third favourite album of the year, and his Rainforest EP for Tri Angle saw him trading as a capital-A artist rather than a backroom boy. Major commissions for A$AP Rocky, The Weeknd and Mac Miller have followed; expect more mainstream penetration in 2013.
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See also: FKi, Ty Dolla $ign
Los Angeles’ DJ Mustard got his start making beats for his hometown’s YG before breaking through with his unmistakable production job for Tyga’s smash ‘Rack City’. Since then, he’s provided the backing for should-be-hits by Dorrough Music (‘After Party’), Pink Dollaz (‘Stuntin’) and more, while also producing YG’s 4 Hunnid Degrees mixtape in full and getting in the studio with bigger names like Young Jeezy and B.o.B. The best bit about Mustard, though? His clap sequences are so fun that they even do damage in clubs where people don’t know the tunes.
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See also: Chuck Strangers, Party Supplies
In certain corners of the mixtape world, “La Musica De Harry Fraud” is as prevalent as “Mike Will made it” is on mainstream radio. The Brooklyn producer is anything but a fraud: his brand of soul-sampling heat goes down easy, owing to the musicality of vintage New York rap but with a contemporary edge that sidesteps the Golden Era fetishism of some of his hometown compatriots (looking at you, Pro Era crew). Fraud broke through with mixtape beats for French Montana, pitchshifting Don Henley on ‘New York Minute’ and sampling the horns popularized by Lords of the Underground’s ‘Funky Child’ on ‘Shot Caller’ — effectively outshining the Max B disciple on his two biggest, non-‘Pop That’ tracks. Last year saw Fraud step up his presence in the nebulous space between the street and the Internet, with Action Bronson and Riff Raff’s mournful ‘Bird On A Wire’ and Main Attrakionz’s West Coast party anthem ‘Do It For The Bay’: two songs with sharp drum programming but absolutely killer basslines and joyous horn samples, which is quickly becoming his favored formula. And while Fraud’s debut mixtape Adrift might have suffered because of less-than-exuberant collaborators, he was still able to pull together a couple dozen of the busiest names in hip-hop, suggesting we’ll be hearing plenty of “La Musica De Harry Fraud” this summer and beyond.
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See also: T-Minus
Where MIKE WiLL is a hit factory, churning out immaculate radio fodder with all the speed and efficiency of a production line, Hit-Boy is a deluxe cottage industry: the work rate is lower, but the strike rate is through the roof. Both his stock and his form are currently sky-high: the Cali native’s CV – Watch The Throne‘s ‘Niggas In Paris’; Kendrick Lamar’s ‘Backseat Freestyle’; G.O.O.D. Music’s ‘Cold’; A$AP Rocky’s ‘Goldie’ – reads like a Best Of 2011 / 2012 primer. Ringtone-friendly earworms and suckerpunch drum programming are the order of the day, and his ear for tension and release is just about unmatched. Collaborations with Beyonce, Mariah Carey and M.I.A. are all on the boil.
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MIKE WiLL MADE IT
See also: Zaytoven, Metro Boomin’
It’s impossible to start discussing rap producers in 2013 without at least mentioning the meteoric rise of Michael Williams, better known as Mike WiLL Made It. Williams cut his teeth slinging beats for Atlanta’s mad genius Gucci Mane, but it was arguably his work with Future that cemented his status as the producer every rapper wants on their album. His versatility in being able to throw down rap beats (Juicy J’s ‘Bands A Make Her Dance’, Lil Wayne’s ‘Love Me’) alongside blissful R&B slow burners (Brandy’s ‘Do You Know What You Have?’, Jeremih’s ‘773 Love’) has made him not only a go-to for 2013’s top tier rappers, but like The-Dream before him it’s had the producer pursued by the pop set too. In 2013 alone Williams is producing for Miley Cyrus, Ciara and Kelly Rowland, and from the sounds of Ciara’s ‘Body Party’ we reckon this direction suits Will very well indeed. The fact that he also crafted the beat for one of 2013’s biggest club tracks, Ace Hood’s seismic ‘Bugatti’? Well that’s just business as usual.
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NEZ & RIO
See also: Joe Wax, Lil Lody
Chicago’s drill scene gets all the heat, but there’s more going on in the Windy than apocalyptic rat-a-tat. Step forward Treated Crew beatmakers Nez & Rio. In contrast to the bare-bones approach of their peers, Nez And Rio specialise in digital dazzle – silver-plated, light-reflecting beat tools that tingle with electricity. Neophytes are advised – nay, ordered – to check out frazzled Drilluminati stand-out ‘Band Nation’, or ScHoolboy Q’s Chicago House-inflected ‘Druggy WitH Hoes Again’. Beats for Chance The Rapper, Freddie Gibbs and YP have also brought them extra attention, and the tail-end of the 2013 augurs very well indeed for the duo.
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See also: Ryan Hemsworth, Paul White
Detroit’s SKYWLKR is the resident producer for Danny Brown’s Bruiser Brigade crew, and a favourite of North London masked man Cas. The man behind a third of the beats on Brown’s stellar XXX, SKYWLKR’s offerings paired dusty boom-bap with the sonic terror of a horror score; even weed raps like ‘Blunt After Blunt’ turn spooky in the producer’s hands. Recently, SKYWLKR has mined the fertile ground between trap-rap and grime, namely trunk-rattling bass and whacked-out synth work. Whether force-feeding helium to his synths on Brown’s ‘WitIt’, sampling psychopathic strings on Bruiser Brigade’s ‘Jookie’ or machine-gunning Brown’s ‘Kush Coma’, embracing the most outsized traditions of rap and grime has only made SKYWLKR more exciting. Plus, he has enough of a sense of humor to pair the mosh-pit menace of his tracks with a sample of something like Britney Spears’ ‘Toxic’, as he did for Childish Gambino. SKYWLKR is working on Danny Brown’s Old (due later this year), and the symbiotic relationship between the live-wire talents is sure to turn heads.
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See also: Ethelwulf
Miami’s SpaceGhostPurrp has been churning out Memphis-meets-Houston gloom and doom for a few years now: the type of gnawing, claustrophobic beats favored by ’90s heroes Triple 6 Mafia. The leader of the Raider Klan collective, his sound and Goth-rap aesthetic is the template for a handful of similarly youthful and downcast rappers, including Amber London, Yung Simmie, and Key Nyata. As a rapper, his rudimentary flow and anxious, violent, and often misogynistic lyrics are somewhat lacking — even if they match the tenor of the music underneath — which is why he’s appearing in our round-up of producers rather than rappers; even 4AD had the sense to release his debut LP, Mysterious Phonk, with an accompanying instrumental set. Last year’s B.M.W. EP confirmed that Purrp could still cast spells with the best of them, as he chopped-and-screwed SWV on the twisted sex romp ‘Cum & Git Yuh Some’ and out-menaced the whole trap-rap game with tracks like ‘Po’up’ and ‘Wholelatta Ice’. While there are a slate of electronic producers that share influences with him, SpaceGhostPurrp is the only one doing it from within hip-hop, and we’re looking forward to where he takes the Raider Klan in 2013.
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See also: The Purist
THC stands for The Hit Creators – a somewhat premature title, considering the LA duo are yet to notch up a ‘Niggas In Paris’ or ‘Bandz A Make Her Dance’. What they do have, however, is a charmed relationship with the Black Hippy crew and a seriously impressive back catalogue. A THC production credit is normally shorthand for “album standout”: see ‘Fuck Your Ethnicity’, the giddy high-point of Kendrick Lamar’s Section.80, or ScHoolboy Q’s cosmic Tron trip ‘Sex Drive’. And don’t forget ‘Cartoon & Cereal’ – the good kid, m.A.A.d city highlight than never was, and a remarkable double-nod to T-Minus and Hextstatic.
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“Soultrap” specialist Tree’s a pretty damn distinctive rapper, with an eccentric growl that’s more Tom Waits than T.I., but he makes this list on the strength of his productions – his love for crunchy drums, crackly strings and chopped up soul samples (yes, he sounds a lot like Just Blaze on a budget at times, and no, we don’t mind that one bit) stands out a mile from the suffocating greyscale of Lex Lugar and Shawty Redd’s countless disciples. Check last year’s Summer School mixtape for proof.
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See also: DJ Kenn
If there could be one single representative of Chicago’s drill sound it would probably be 19 year-old producer Young Chop. Chop started making beats at a startling 11 years of age and got his breakthrough throwing his characteristic blend of rolling snares and gunshots at high school mate and Chicago scene breakout Chief Keef. It was 2012’s ‘I Don’t Like’ that put Chop on most rappers’ radars (when you’re calling out Kanye West for fucking with your beats you’ve probably made it), and since then Chop has gone on to produce for a host of national names (Big Sean, Soulja Boy, Ace Hood, French Montana), while still keeping one eye on the Chicago scene. His output has slowed down a little in 2013, but with a track for ex-Clipse man Pusha T on his Wrath of Caine tape, and a truly standout cut on Cassie’s RockaByeBaby showing his potential scope as a producer, it proves that it’s quality not quantity that matters in the end.
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