20 Hip-Hop Producers Forging The Sound Of Tomorrow
As part of Black Future Month, we take a look at the producers who are shaping hip-hop sound and culture as we know it.
If there’s one universal truth about hip-hop, it’s that its sound is ever-evolving.
From new flows and cadences to slang, the genre thrives off of disavowing the past and boldly adopting fresh perspectives. However, vocal delivery only accounts for one piece of this eternally metamorphosing puzzle. When it comes down to it, new rhyming styles or inflections can only capture the public’s imagination if they are married with production that’ll compliment them. In a lot of cases, it can even be make-or-break as to what kind of ceiling is imposed on the track’s success.
Courtesy of the ongoing commercial dominance of hip-hop in the chart realm and the advent of the “producer tag” as industry standard, the men and women that sit behind the boards are now household names in a way that used to be reserved for the biggest beatmakers in the game such as DJ Premier, Dr Dre or RZA.
Nowadays, everyone from The Alchemist to Hit-Boy, Metro Boomin, Madlib and Kenny Beats can share top billing on a project right alongside their MC of choice. But rather than these prestigious producers holding a vice-like grip over the biggest artists and most lucrative placements, what we’re seeing in this era is a more democratized landscape in which new, pivotally important talents are soundtracking the future before our eyes.
Across every discernible nook and cranny of the game and globe, producers are emerging with sounds that are redefining the scope of what hip-hop can and should sound like. In celebration of these bold visionaries and sonic provocateurs, we’re shining a spotlight on an array of the instrumental architects who exhibit all the signs of leaving a mark akin to that of a Preemo, Zaytoven or J Dilla in the years to come.
Image provided to HNHH by Bandplay
If any one producer has been given the responsibility of stewarding the sound of Tennessee into the new era, it’s Krishon Gaines, better known as Bandplay.
Armed with his instantly recognizable tags and a knack for crafting robust, uncompromising beats that can carry a serious weight behind them, the self-proclaimed super-producer from Columbia, TN has become a lynchpin in the Paper Route Empire movement. After helming the lion’s share of the production on Young Dolph and Key Glock’s Dum and Dummer, word of Bandplay’s adept craftsmanship began to spread and by the time that he oversaw Glock’s now revered debut album Yellow Tape in its entirety, his position as one of the finest producers that the south has to offer was all but solidified.
Indebted to the region’s heritage but undaunted by the prospect of switching lanes, the use of Pimp C-style organ flourishes on “Juicemane” from Key Glock’s Yellow Tape 2 created one of the lauded record’s defining anthems. From linking up with Pooh Shiesty for “See Me Comin” to making further inroads with the new breed of 1017 with his work on the So Icy Boyz compilation, Bandplay is already building a dirty south-oriented legacy and has no plans of stopping anytime soon.
“I’m trying to get a Grammy man, that’s my main goal”, he told AllHipHop last year. https://www.youtube.com/embed/xs4JfuTbsio
Although he’s been plying his trade for the better part of a decade at this point, Mississippi’s Wheezy isn’t looking to take his foot off the gas anytime soon. Not content with Billboard-charting singles in double figures and a distinctive, minimalist approach to trap that allows for some of the most engrossingly woozy productions of the past 10 years, the 32-year-old has only firmly stamped his presence on 2022 with his work across many of the most high-profile tracks from Gunna’s DS4. Not least of all, the ubiquitous “Pushin’ P” and “Too Easy.”
A go-to in the phonebook of everyone from Nav– most notably on 2019’s Emergency Tsunami– to Thugger and Future, Wheezy has come a long way from his early work with Shad Da God but he has never sacrificed those subtle nuances that make his records so endlessly replayable.
Within the melodic realm of modern hip-hop, there are few men who’ve proven themselves to be as adaptable and consistent as Trauma Tone. Hailing from VA, this producer has left an indelible mark on the construction and execution of the sound that reigns supreme over both the charts and underground alike. Among the go-to producers of Money Man– the pair released the collaborative TraumaMan tape back in 2018–, Tone has credits with everyone from Youngboy (“Crossroads”) and Rich Homie Quan to Migos (Roadrunner) and Yo Gotti. Each time, lending his own captivating, bass-heavy style to proceedings.
“Me and my collaborators mix that pain with the party vibes, which I feel like creates a whole ‘nother feel”, he said of his unique vibe to DJBooth in 2020. “Our style is partying pain, and I think that’s why all the artists we work with gravitate towards our beats.”
Chloe x Halle
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When you’re looking to achieve an artistic vision, it pays to keep things in-house. For Chloe and Halle Bailey, this proved itself in dividends on their remarkable 2020 album Ungodly Hour. Multi-layered and just as conceptually rich, this record espoused a grandiose new take on R&B that quickly lifted them out of the shadow of their Parkwood mentor Beyonce and made them stars in their own right.
Despite some discouraging claims by overly cautious industry execs that’d told them that their music may be “too complex” for the average listener, the innovative quality of Ungodly Hour and the success that it yielded proved why they were right to stick to their guns and push the boundaries in a world which, as they told The Guardian, “where everything’s so manufactured exactly the same.”
A stalwart of Future’s Free Band Gang, ATL Jacob has kept ratcheting it up a notch in recent years. After famously transitioning from selling beats for $90 to creating several high profile songs on THE WZRD, Jacob’s career remains largely intertwined with that of Pluto to this day and he was very much at the control center of 2021’s High Off Life. That said, his services have also been acquired by a litany of other major stars. From overseeing Future and Thug’s hypnotic, anglicized meeting of the minds on “Sup Mate” to delving into his menacing side with Kodak Black’s “Super Gremlin”, Jacob’s recent work means that he’s sure to become an increasingly inescapable presence in the years to come.
If ever a producer should wonder if they’re on the right track, getting headhunted by the curator of all things cool, A$AP Rocky, is likely a good sign. But when he recruits you from the other side of the Atlantic, it seems conclusive that you’ve struck gold with your sound. Bombastic yet hallucinogenic all at once, the work of West London’s Kelvin Krash came into sharp focus in his contributions to A$AP Rocky’s Testing. Most notably, on the daring, synth-heavy “Buckshots.” Now, after his extensive work on fellow AWGE recruit and countryman Slowthai’s Tyron LP, Kelvin has formally announced his arrival on the scene with the blissful “Sandman” on Rocky’s re-released, 10 year anniversary edition of Live.Love.ASAP.
Having documented the process of flipping the original Clams Casino sample into something sonically striking on YouTube, it seems that wherever Flacko goes next, Kelvin is going with him and that’s a very exciting prospect.
Over the years, plenty of labels have had their own stable of patented musical wizards on staff, and over the past decade, few have done so with the prolificity of Top Dawg Entertainment. The home of esteemed figures such as MixedByAli, Sounwave and, until recently, Dave Free, Anthony Tiffith’s refuge for creativity has no shortage of iconic producers on their books. And now, it seems like Kal Banx may be the next man to become world-renowned for an unmistakable brand of beatmaking.
An alumni of the fabled Revenge Of The Dreamers III sessions that saw him provide his personal flair to “Lambo Truck” and “Run It Back… Rembrandt”, Kal’s return to the TDE camp led the Texan to become the driving force of Isaiah Rashad’s long-awaited return to the field with The House Is Burning and if their chemistry is anything to go by, this won’t be the last time they link up.
For further evidence of the versatility and production acumen that he is at his disposal, look no further than his 2021 Keep It In The Family tape in which he flips everything from iconic Kendrick verses to Carpenters classics into his own lo-fi sonic brew.
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Upon vaulting into the public consciousness via an illustrious 2013 in which she not only guided much of Travis Scott’sOwl Pharaoh but landed a track on Jay Z’s Magna Carta Holy Grail on “Crown”, Toronto’s WondaGurl has been gradually building a resume that would leave anyone awestruck. Capable of rubbing shoulders with Thug, Big Sean and Kid Cudi one minute before switching it up to oversee a Yung Bans project or fine-tune Masego’s Mystery Lady in the next, there is quite simply nothing that Ebony Naomi Oshunrinde– who also worked with the UK’s Headie One on 2020’s Edna – can’t turn her hand to. Consequently, you can bet that she’ll be at the forefront of the game for years & years to come.
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For those of us who witnessed the rise of DaBaby in real time, it felt as though two stars were emerging simultaneously. While the Carolinian’s lyrical barrage had plenty of upside potential, so too did the punishing beats that soundtracked many of Baby On Baby’s standout moments. Armed with one of the most instantly recognizable producer tags in the game, Jetsonmade quickly became a veritable force in the production world in short order. Soon, he was recruited by a who’s who of hip-hop stars and whether it was J. Cole (“Lion King On Ice”), Jack Harlow (“What’s Poppin’”) or Playboi Carti (“@Meh”), he came through and delivered something which was not only inventive, but perfectly tailored to the artist in question. With that ability at his disposal, there’s not telling who else will call on Jetson in the years to come.
Back in 2017, Jonathan Demario Priester, better known to the world as “Supah Mario” was working as a janitor and producing on the side. But after he caught Thugger’s attention with “Wyclef Jean” and doubled down on the buzz with “Ice Melts” from Drake’s More Life, this duo of Caribbean-tinged numbers made him a hot commodity. Since then, Mario has moved far beyond this early sound, and as tracks such as Lil Uzi’s “Myron” demonstrate, he’s now operating in an intergalactic realm of his own. Heralded by practically all of the game’s biggest names and called upon for repeated visits to their discographies, Mario is a pillar of modern hip-hop that exhibits all signs of standing tall.
Since the world first caught wind of him with the harmonious, flute-adorned sound of 2 Chainz’s “Big Amount” with Drake, Buddha has been blessing beats left and right for some of the industry’s most acclaimed artists. The proponent of a diverse and adaptable palette that allows his productions to find a home on a project by Megan Thee Stallion as easily as they would on Summer Walker’s work, Buddha has one of the broadest ranges in the game today. A favorite of Migos, 2Chainz, Little Yachty and many, many others, it’s very seldom if ever that a rapper stops at just one Buddha Bless production in their discography.
Among the hardest working duos in music today, Denzel Baptiste and David Biral have come a long, long way since their formative days. Initially brought into the game through work with artists such as Raury and 6LACK, the team collectively known as TakeADayTip took a seismic step in the right direction when they took on Sheck Wes’ “Mo Bamba” with 16YrOld.
The first of many platinum plaques for the duo, their fruitful relationships with Kid Cudi and Lil Nas X across Man On The Moon III and Montero respectively has meant that they have not only been able to exhibit their innate eclecticism but stand at the vanguard of popular culture as we know it.
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While some producers chase what’s en vogue in order to maximize the bag, others do it for the love of the art. A sampling wizard in the vein of a Dilla or Madlib, LA’s Knxwledge has truly put in the hours and is now a veritable master of his craft. From his legendary series of tapes that reimagine Meek Mill’s old freestyles and the NxWorries record with Anderson .Paak to his work on To Pimp A Butterfly’s “Momma”, the LA-based producer possesses one of the richest sounds in modern hip-hop and if 2020’s 1988 proved anything, he’s still got plenty of evolution left in the tank.
After beginning his musical journey in his native London, 808Melo soon found himself remotely morphing into the toast of the New York drill scene. Upon famously communicating with Pop Smoke via YouTube and becoming one of the core producers on 2020’s Meet The Woo and its sequel, Melo found himself being formally welcomed into the Victor Victor camp. Although his main muse was sadly taken from us much too young, Melo has remained at the forefront of the drill movement, and with his first instrumental tape on the way, his pedigree and accolades are sure to only grow from here.
In the ecosystem of Philly hip-hop, few, if any producers have ever arrived with the colossal impact of Maaly Raw. By just 27 years of age, he has eked out a legacy that has allowed him to not only be integral to the journeys of homegrown talent but allowed for his services to be called upon by the industry’s elite. Responsible for some of the most iconic tracks of Lil Uzi Vert’s discography including “Money Longer”, “Hi Roller”, “Do What I Want” and “Shoota” from Playboi Carti’s Die Lit, Maaly has also nurtured a prosperous relationship with ASAP Mob, French Montana, Young Nudy and others. Fresh from bringing Coi LeRay to the masses with “No More Parties”, 2022 is sure to be another bumper year for the young vet.
Despite his origins lying in Missouri, Chopsquad DJ has become one of the key tenets of Chicago hip-hop in recent years. After proving himself to be instrumental in the artistic growth of Lil Durk, the multi-platinum selling producer’s maudlin, piano-led productions has become a signature sound that is often imitated but never equalled.
Alongside working with Juice WRLD, Tee Grizzley, Meek Mill and Chief Keef, Chop has the unique distinction of producing the vast majority of the music from the late King Von. Known for his willingness to take an artist under his wing and build them to unforeseen heights, Chopsquad is always on the lookout for the next artist that he can help to ascend without ever leaving his day one’s behind.
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When it comes to crafting a debut album, there are some key criteria that all artists should wish to hit upon. But above all, it should be original and unlike anything else fans have heard previously. In this regard, it’s near impossible to see Baby Keem’s The Melodic Blue as anything other than a resounding success. What’s more, he had a hand in the production of each of one of its inventive and enigmatic tracks, bar the closer.
No stranger to brazen decision-making and a vocal advocate of a beat switch, Baby Keem’s musical world is one where each track could fork off in any number of abstract directions at any moment and is all the better for it. After all, there’s not a single person in the hip-hop world who doesn’t remember the awe they felt when they first heard “Family Ties” in full and at just 21 years of age, it’s safe to say that there’s a lot more where that came from.
From the moment that he formally fired the starting pistol on his career in 2014, Samuel “30 Roc” Gloade has been serving up seemingly endless streams of hits that have shook the very fabric of the genre. After early successes with the likes of Yo Gotti and Nicki Minaj’s “Rake It Up,” 30– alongside his label boss Mike Will Made It– have been remolding the sound of commercial hip-hop at will, across “Bartier Carti”, “King’s Dead”, “Stargazing” and the global phenomenon of Roddy Ricch’s “The Box” which, if reports are to be believed, was cooked up in just 15 minutes, 30 has proven himself to have a Midas touch that will serve him in good stead with the hyper competitive landscape of today, especially considering his versatility in sound.
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In the words of Adele, who recruited the elusive Inflo to work with her on her latest album, 30, she has no idea how she “got through life all these years without knowing” him.
Said to have gotten things out of her that she “didn’t even know” were there, this tale depicts why the services of this London-based artist have become so sought-after of late.
A childhood friend of Little Simz, Inflo took the reins of production on not only the now borderline UK hip-hop classic of Grey Area-– which famously contains zero samples and is built from live instrumentation– but on its equally mesmerizing follow-up of Sometimes I Might Be Introvert. Along the way, he’s also spearheaded the work of Michael Kiwanuka, overseen the criminally underrated discography of Cleo Sol and been the public face of the shadowy but critically-lauded collective known as Sault. Based on the global appeal that Little Simz’ latest project garnered and how broadly his fingerprints are felt across the album, it seems like it’s only a matter of time until stateside artists come knocking in much the same vein as Adele did.
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Technically speaking, D’Mile could fit on any rundown of producers that pertains to the past, present or future. A veteran of the hot seat since the mid 2000’s, Dernst Emile II first cut his teeth with work on Rihanna’s debut album, Music Of The Sun. Before long, his evident skills in the realm of songcraft resulted in his services being acquired by the likes of Mary J Blige and Janet Jackson.
The son of a famed jazz musician and a former student of the revered Rodney “Darkchild” Jerkins, his early tutelage, combined with D’Mile’s own natural aptitude for seamlessly pairing sounds and artists together– has meant that by the early 2010s, he was a central figure in the rebirth of contemporary R&B. A preferred producer of modern critical and commercial powerhouses such as Ty Dolla Sign and H.E.R– with whom he won an academy award with “Fight For You” from Judas & The Black Messiah— D’Mile’s capacity to juggle both R&B’s proud traditions and its current axis made him the perfect fit for the retro-futuristic world of Silk Sonic. From musical royalty such as The Carters to rising stars such as Pink $weats, everyone wants a little of what D’Mile brings to the table, and between his track record of success and the multi-faceted expertise that he provides, it comes as no surprise.
“Music is a journey that everyone is taking a ride on,” he believes. “I just want to take my seat and paint my own picture and let the world interpret what they want from it. R&B, Hip-Hop, Jazz, Pop, Rock, Classical, I want to do it all!”