12 Producers to keep an eye on in 2012
It’s hard being a producer in this day & age; the barrier for entry is low and so are the financial rewards, while competition is high. Many times tracks are mis-tagged or the producer is unidentified. And the need to churn out constant material means that it can be hard to rest on a distinctive style without burning out. There’s been no shortage of talent in the industry, though; for the past 12 months, these 12 beatmakers proved that they had the unique vision to stand out in a saturated market. In no order, these are the SoManyShrimp 12 for 2012.
The Beat Bully
Beat Bully productions are as identifiable and easy to spot as anything from, say, Lex Luger, but there’s a crucial difference in how the beats work. Where Luger beats can often swallow and overwhelm the MC, taking on a life of their own, Beat Bully’s work often drives the song from within – there is a powerful and melodic, if not quite understated, engine. His two signature productions – “House Party” and “Stay Schemin’” – are perfect examples. On the former, Meek Mill is energized by the insistent, excitable beat, and it’s the source of the song’s irresistible energy. On the latter, his ascending keyboard notes give a narcotic, paranoid song an underpinning of triumph. –Jordan Sargent
Cardo first gained name recognition with the rise of Wiz Khalifa, but despite being a key contributor to Wiz’s best material — he produced “Mesmerized” from Kush & OJ — he hasn’t quite had the same meteoric rise, instead working a steady grind for artists like Curren$y, Dom Kennedy and Killa Kyleon. Despite getting his start with Pittsburgh artists — some of his earliest work was for Kev the Hustla — he’s mentioned numerous times that some of his biggest influences were West Coast rap producers; he singled out DJ Quik in particular, even releasing “Cardo’s Groove”, a solo instrumental in the “Quik’s Groove” vein. Perhaps his best work this year was throughout Freddie Gibbs’ Cold Day in Hell, which perfectly exemplified how his style is first and foremost about creating a mood, leaving auteur-like self indulgence that plagues so many other producers as an afterthough. –David Drake
I’ll be the first to admit that the Cool Kids were not for me when they first appeared on the scene. The production had a novel style, but it seemed, lost in the waves of hype, somewhat amateurish and not quite fully developed. It’s been four years in the interim, and while Chuck and Sir Michael Rocks may not have the same shock-of-the-new appeal, it’s become readily apparent that they’re committed musicians with an ear for music. As a producer, Chuck is a particularly unique artist, from his work on Boldy James’ debut to his solo beat tape WRKNG to his highest profile placement to date, “Party Heart” on Rick Ross’ titanic Rich Forever. Chuck has proven himself as a genuinely creative producer with an ear for novelty now matched by craftsmanship. His feel for space and stop-start rhythms give his tracks a unique groove that recalls not just the instrumentation of an earlier era, but a rhythmic style that had been seemingly left behind as well. –David Drake
Lloyd Banks ‘Cold Corner 2’ was an unheralded release in 2011. The production throughout was first-rate, but it’s the middle section (“Make It Stack” through “Jokes On You”) that really pushes the record into stand-out territory. Those four tracks were produced by G-Unit producer/engineer Doe Pesci, and they do a good job showcasing his talents. His staccato’d drum patterns are the first thing you’ll notice; they have a restrained feel that evokes a dirtier version of mid-period Aftermath-era Dr. Dre. He uses keys/synths in a fresh-yet-familiar fashion, with simple menacing riffs that come in and out, lending just the right amount of melody to an otherwise sparse template. He’s definitely a follower of the ‘less is more’ train of thought. Doe’s approach gives the G-Unit sound an eerie quality, while retaining its sonic pallet. –Scott M.
To start 2012 off on an interesting foot, Fki have released a mixtape through Diplo’s label Mad Decent. For those unfamiliar with the duo’s work, the first single “I Think She Ready” — which is produced by FKi, Dereck Allen, Diplo, and Hereos and Villains, and includes a verse with Iggy Azalea — might not inspire too much confidence in the tape. But knowing about the group’s catalog should allay any concerns. FKi has worked primarily with Travis Porter, and are responsible for the Porter Boys biggest hits, “Make It Rain” and “Bring It Back”. These songs are great dance-first minimalist productions, that, even with Lex Luger sounds ruling Atlanta, will always have a home at clubs and dance parties. But if you’re looking for variety, then give a quick listen to the few tracks they produced for Soulja Boy and Young L’s recent mixtape Mario & Domo vs. The World. “Ones” and “Im Good” sound like 8-Bit remixes of the Dem Franchize Boys’ “White Tee”, with a healthy amount of 808 drums thrown in for good measure. –D. Turner
In trying to come up with a way to aptly describe Harry Fraud’s sound and appeal as a producer, one word comes to mind – EPIC. Everything about Fraud’s sound is larger than life. From the anticipation-building “La Music De Harry Fraud” drop to his hard-knocking drums, he is a master of the art of the anthemic rap beat. A lot of this can be credited to his choice in samples – stadium rock tunes, western soundtracks, and classic soul make up the unconventional Harry Fraud sonic palette. One of his best beats so far, French Montana’s “We Run New York,” is a prime example of his aesthetic – the classic NY sample-based sound turned up to 11, with a massive recurring KRS sample, hard rock guitars and walloping drums. His partnership with French Montana is also one of the most exiciting rapper-producer team in rap at the moment. –Tyrone Palmer
Last year, J-Green released two mixtapes (Codeine Dreams & Da Caper 2) that slipped under a lot of rap blogger radars, despite the revival of Memphis rap sounds. As a producer, J-Green certainly wouldn’t exist without old Memphis tapes. He heavily samples from classic Three 6 Mafia songs and rebuilds them into scary Franken-songs encompassing about 2 decades of a city’s rap music, often in just one track. Green has expressed interest in working with Waka Flocka Flame, and while it would be great to hear Waka over songs like “Weed, Pills, and Promethazine” or “Smokin’ Blunts,” Green has another approach that is even more promising. “Cocky” by DJ Paul is a far more interesting side for J-Green, one that DJ Paul has named “Dub-Hop”. It’s a fusion of dubstep and classic Memphis fight music that sounds weird on paper, but makes for a strangely logical combination of hyper-aggressive musics, and is a very promising movement for J-Green to attach his name to. –D. Turner
In Mike Will’s take on the trap rap sound, the difference is in the details. While everyone else chased Lex Luger, Mike Will took his cues from Drumma Boy, crafting atmospheric, multi-layered trap bangers. Take, for instance, his beat for Rick Ross’ “King Of Diamonds.” On the surface, it sounds like your average post-Luger trap beat, with blaring horns and drum rolls. Underneath that, though, there’s a propulsive, atonal symphony going on that acts as a counterpoint to the trap horns. It’s these small sonic details that really set him apart. It is telling that his recent mixtape Mike Will Made It Est 1989 contains verses from all of the hottest rappers right now – 2Chainz, Future, Jeezy, Gucci, etc. – yet Will outshines all of them. And at just 22 years old, there’s still room for growth and improvement. Clearly, he is going to be one of the defining producers of the next few years. –Tyrone Palmer
Stalley’s Lincoln Way Nights didn’t strike me immediately; if it wasn’t for the understated production work of Columbus, Ohio native Rashad, I’m not sure I would have come back to it. Stalley is a serviceable rapper who is coming into his own, but it was the mid-tempo boom and sheen of the beats that really elevated the record. Rashad, a self-proclaimed kid prodigy, signed a record deal as an R&B singer at a young age (he even contributes vocals on a few Lincoln Way Nights tracks). Lincoln Way Nights was easily one of the best *sounding* releases in 2011; the bass was perfectly clear and refined, he’ll often add a tuba stab to the bass kick, an unusual twist. As a producer, he cites DJ Quik, Premier and Organized Noize as a few of his influences, and it’s easy to see the subtle mixture of those artists alongside his R&B roots. He has a knack for strong melody like Quik, a penchant for perfectly-timed horn stabs over dusty breaks like Premier, and the overall vision of Organized Noize. Most importantly, he has the attention to detail common to all three. For this reason, you’d have a hard time pinning his style to any zip code; it lives in a world of its own. –Scott M.
Rich Boy may still be looking for that next hit after the classic “Throw Some Ds,” as Polow Da Don continues to work with the upper crust of Rap and R&B. But luckily, he found a more-than-acceptable replacement in Supa Villain, whose dreamy trunk-rattling production has resulted in some of Rich Boy’s best work. “All I Know” slows up the usual production elements, allowing the listener to better appreciate the powerful keyboard melody and subtle drum programming; “Gwap (Remix)” evokes a similar late-night mood, with a solo guitar line that perfectly soundtracks a long solo ride home at night. Earlier this year, with DJ Burn One, Supa Villain released a new mixtape entitled 40 Acres and a Muller, which continued his string of strong-quality mixtapes. Last year, Juvenile hopped on “Stop Traffic,” and through Twitter Supa Villain has made some cross country connection with Cousin Fik, so hopefully his production can start to spread beyond small regional rap blogs and Gulfport, Mississippi. –D. Turner
Tree may seem to have risen from nowhere, but he has in fact been creating music with Project Mayhem for several years. The Cabrini Green-raised rapper/producer considers himself a rapper first and foremost, and thus far has taken one of the more unconventional paths into the rap industry; he’s worked with rappers from Illinois to Florida, releasing EPs with friends and solo that offer just hints of what his organic, lo-fi masterpieces can really do. Everything from his rap style to his hustle to his methodology to his sample sources seem to go against the grain. It’s hard to argue that Tree is anything other than a genuine original, as adept at channeling emotion as creating truly unique art with a highly personalized sensibility. –David Drake
The Black Hippy crew have got a good thing going. All four members had solid-to-great releases in 2011 and they are quickly building a loyal, deep-rooted fan base. They seem to be wrangling fans from all sides of hip-hop. They have engulfed themselves in a unique aesthetic by hiring a stellar in-house production team. These producers all have their own varied stylistic lanes, but when the tracks are placed next to each other in an album format, there is a comforting uniformity to their sound. Producer Willie B is one of the standout beatmakers on the team. A few of his best tracks include Kendrick Lamar’s “Rigamortous” and “Ignorance Is Bliss,” Jay Rock’s “No Joke” and “I’m Thuggin,” and ScHoolboy Q’s “Kamikaze.” The wide variation within that sample set of songs alone shows his extensive range; he can go from a beat fit for a mid-90s Westside Connection record to a melancholy, jazz-sampling soulquarians-esque slow jam, and anything in between. His beats seem to rise and fall, to swing rather than dip. –Scott M.