It would be hard to talk about the current state of rap music without talking about the current state of production. After all, we’re living in a time where the vast majority of rappers in the spotlight would have gotten nowhere without the power of their producers.
No hate. There’s just a lot of really talented producers out right now. Every now and then, they’ll outshine the rapper on a track. Most of the time, they’ll carry the rapper on a track.
Luckily, producers are gradually beginning to get more credit and recognition as time goes on. For the first time ever, many producers have damn near become household names thanks to their tags. Producers also now have nearly endless platforms to start their careers from- Soundcloud, Instagram, Traktrain, YouTube. While it can seem like a longshot, it has a decent rate of success. You could make fun of that kid from your hometown making music, but if you and your friends gave him reposts instead, someone out there would find his shit and like it. From there, anything could happen. Anybody has a shot nowadays, and it’s the first time ever that entering the music industry has been so accessible to the general public.
As an aspiring producer and mildly-content college student, I am inspired and relieved by the fact that I have a feasible chance to go somewhere with music if I put in enough work and play my cards right. There’s now been many to do it before me, and with that being said, I have no shortage of inspiration; there’s an abundance of uniquely successful producers that I can take notes from. Not just myself, but any other aspiring producer or artist out there.
There are too many producers to count that are making waves right now, but there’s still levels to it. There’s a big difference between award-winning producers and producers who have had a Soundcloud hit or two.
In this “State of Production” address, I will break down the Top 10 producers at the moment. Keep in mind, this is just my humble opinion. However, I believe I can speak for many other production aficionados.
#10: Tay Keith
The 22-year-old from Memphis recently asserted himself as a force to be reckoned with in the world of production, making an absolutely monstrous splash in 2018. Love him or hate him, he probably had one of the biggest breakout years that a producer has ever had.
Anyone who’s listened to rap music in the past year should be familiar with Keith’s infamous tag. His raunchy and unforgettable tag blessed a number of last year’s biggest chart-toppers: “Sicko Mode”, “Nonstop”, “Look Alive”.
“Sicko Mode” even got the man a Grammy nomination - the icing on the cake that was Keith’s 2018. Not to mention, he also graduated from Middle Tennessee State University with a degree in Media Management (I’m currently pursuing the same degree, so it goes without saying that I look up to him immensely). Tay Keith’s 2018 was literally straight out of a storybook, but he’s just living proof that anyone can do the same if they put in the work.
However, I won’t lie. Tay Keith isn’t exactly the most unique producer; he’s not necessarily doing anything too new or exciting on a sonic level. Despite this, he has definitely found his niche within the trap music scene. Tay Keith and his Memphis counterpart, BlocBoy JB, set a new standard for radio bops last year. Keith’s hard-hitting, 808-heavy beats and JB’s goofy, energetic flow and dancing made for a very lucrative combination together. They effectively brought bopping music back into the spotlight.
Tay Keith’s potential is immense. He obviously has star power, both in his own endeavors and in helping others shine. He has a good head on his shoulders - he’s business savvy and he also serves as a positive role model. As he has only been in the spotlight for a year now, I’m excited to see how he continues to evolve and make a career for himself.
Favorite Tay Keith Beat: “Nonstop” - Drake
#9: Maaly Raw
While he isn’t exactly the biggest name, Maaly Raw has delivered us classics for years now.
Jamaal Henry, a 24-year-old from Philadelphia, has been Lil Uzi’s right-hand producer for most of his career. Even if you have never heard of Maaly Raw, you’ve likely heard plenty of his songs. Some of his most notable credits are “Money Longer”, “Do What I Want”, and Uzi & Carti’s “Shoota”. Aside from Uzi, Maaly Raw has also produced for names such as Meek Mill, A$AP Ferg, G Herbo, and French Montana.
To me, Maaly Raw has always had one of the most unique sounds in the game. It’s kind of hard to describe it, but I’ll try my best.
I find his sound very futuristic. No one is really making beats that sound like his; I personally imagine that his sound is like 5 years ahead of the game. Maaly Raw’s crisp drums are fairly similar to most drums (and patterns) that you’ll hear nowadays, but his melodies are where he really shines. He’s not afraid to use sounds that you’d never really hear anyone else use. A lot of his sounds are reminiscent of what I imagine space sounds like - vast and beautifully warped. Many of his high-energy melodies are almost reminiscent of colorful European dance music. I’m not sure if he’s ever sampled any, but I wouldn’t be surprised. Maaly Raw’s production is genre-ambiguous; I believe it’s why him and Uzi work so well together.
One can only hope that Maaly and Uzi continue to bless us with classics for years to come. That is, if Uzi wants to stop playing with us and drop Eternal Atake. However, I digress. With or without Uzi, Maaly Raw will continue to be one of rap’s most unique and talented producers.
Favorite Maaly Raw Beat: “Dark Queen” - Lil Uzi Vert
#8: Pierre Bourne
Aside from Metro, Pierre Bourne has arguably had the most success with tag promotion.
“Yo, Pierre! You wanna come out here?” absolutely dominated the culture in 2017. Everybody and their mom was saying it. Pierre’s contributions to Playboi Carti helped both himself and Carti get the recognition they’d been working for, basically turning both of them into modern-day household names. Ever since, the Queens bred rapper and producer has been making himself into one of rap’s most respected names on both sides- the mic & the keys.
Pierre Bourne absolutely infiltrated the game in 2017, blessing us with a multitude of classics while establishing his own unique spot in the music world. Bourne’s production is very ear-grabbing; I’ll never forget how stunned I was my first time hearing “Wokeuplikethis” on Carti’s debut. The piercing, yet wavy guitar melody and thunderous bass & kicks instantly caught my ear as something that I’d never heard before.
Those thunderous kicks, claps, and bass have continued to serve as the lifeblood of Pierre’s production. You know a Pierre beat as soon as you hear it - the often lo-fi and playful melodies; the pleasantly aggressive 808’s. Pierre’s beats bump noticeably harder than the vast majority of mainstream producers. Yet, Pierre’s beats are rarely ever obnoxious. Thanks to his formal education in sound engineering, Bourne has a knack for ear-pleasing. He has his own secret sauce, if you will. His extensive knowledge of engineering grants him a definite one-up against most other producers.
Pierre has also quietly built an impressive discography of his own, with 3 mixtapes, 2 EP’s, and a handful of singles under his belt. He is currently letting the anticipation rise for The Life of Pierre 4, which will be his first solo project in over 2 years. If it’s anything like the music he’s already blessed us with, we’re in for a treat.
Favorite Pierre Beat: “Right Now” - Playboi Carti
#7: Murda Beatz
Ah, Murda Beatz. The “White Mamba” of production.
The 25-year-old hailing from Ontario, Canada has spent the past five years steadily establishing himself as one of the best in the business. Now, it’s hard to deny his dominance. He has produced hit songs for many of music’s biggest chart-toppers: Drake, Migos, Travis Scott. For better or worse, it appears as if he is just beginning; the Canadian all-star has only tightened his grip on the music industry.
Murda Beatz is literally a beat machine. The man seems to crank out hit after hit with ease; his list of credits could be a scroll. One thing I’ve always appreciated about Murda is the versatility of his sound. Unlike many mainstream producers, Murda has never stuck with the same sound for too long. He can provide simple trap anthem beats; he can provide wavy, laidback beats; he can provide nostalgic R&B beats. He is truly a jack-of-all-trades in the production world.
Fun Fact: When Murda first sent beats to Migos, they didn’t believe he made them. They flew him out and made him sit down to make a beat in front of them.
Favorite Murda Beat: “123” - Smokepurpp, or “Portland” - Drake
Boi-1da - another Canadian legend. The OVO in-house producer has had a long and successful career; he has basically spent his entire career thus far producing for Drake. He and Drake first linked on Drake’s first ever mixtape Room for Improvement in 2006 (I had no clue that tape even existed until now). Ever since, Drizzy and Boi-1da have been quite the dynamic duo - bringing many trophies home to the OVO empire. Boi-1da is behind such classics as “Best I Ever Had”, “Over”, “Headlines”, “0 to 100”, and “God’s Plan”.
Aside from Drake and other OVO-imprint artists, the 32-year-old producer hailing from Toronto has also produced hit tracks for Eminem, Rihanna, Kendrick Lamar, and Jay-Z.
Boi-1da has a knack for incorporating his personal influences into his beats, fusing new and old styles alike. Being of Jamaican descent, boi-1da has a personal enamorment with dancehall music. This dancehall influence shines through on tracks such as Rihanna’s “Work” and Drake’s “Controlla”. While these tracks were very commercialized, they are beautiful displays of genre fusion in action. In my eyes, it is undeniable that boi-1da has been an important backbone of Drake’s stylistic evolution - especially the “tropical” Drake we’ve seen often since Views.
Boi-1da is well on his way to becoming a true veteran in the world of production. He has supplied us with over a decade’s worth of versatile classics, and he shows no signs of slowing down any time soon.
Favorite Boi-1da Beat: “0 to 100” - Drake
Southside - the head honcho of the infamous 808 Mafia.
808 Mafia’s talented (and deep) crew has brought us many gems over the past decade. Southside has been at the helm of it all. The 30-year-old producer magnate hails from Atlanta’s southside, where he adopts his name from. While Southside has collaborated with a wide range of artists, he has arguably made the biggest impact working with Future and Young Thug - two other Atlanta GOATs. Southside was a major contributor to projects such as Monster, 56 Nights, Rich Gang, Dirty Sprite 2, and Future & Drake’s What a Time to Be Alive. These projects all arguably changed the current landscape of rap music, and Southside has undoubtedly changed the current landscape of production.
Southside has a gift of making beats that are gritty and smooth simultaneously. A lot of his beats are almost eerie; many of them are horror movie esque. He has especially channeled this sound with common collaborators such as 21 Savage and Kodak Black, fitting both of their normally gritty aesthetics with beats to match. However, Southside can also cook up more upbeat and playful beats, such as with his newfound right-hand G Herbo. He has also cooked up energetic beats for Playboi Carti, Gucci Mane, and 2 Chainz, among many others.
Southside knows the game well. He sees the potential of stars before they blow up; he knows how to tailor fit a beat to an artist; he knows how to make certified hits time after time. These are just a few of the things that have allowed Southside to dominate the game, and he seems to only add more tools to his belt over time. Southside and the 808 Mafia are only going to continue to dominate the game more than they already have. (Shoutout to TM-88)
Favorite Southside Beat: “Kelly K” - Playboi Carti, or “Frat Rules” - A$AP Mob
Wheezy can be added to the ever-growing list of producers who have benefited from their tag. “Wheezy outta here!”
Wheezy can also be added to the list of Atlanta’s heavy-hitters. The 26-year-old has been on an absolute tear the past few years, cranking out endless hits for fellow Atlantans such as Young Thug, Future, Migos, Lil Baby, Gunna, and 21 Savage (even though he’s really a UK Lad).
His collaborations with Thugger are perhaps the best display of his production. Wheezy has produced a sizeable chunk of Young Thug’s discography; he has multiple credits across Barter 6, Slime Season 2, I’m Up, Jeffery, Beautiful Thugger Girls, and YSL’s Slime Language. Wheezy and Thug work together in beautiful fashion; they truly shine through each other. In my humble opinion, Wheezy and Thug together have played a large role in shaping the current sound and standard of rap music. Artists such as Baby and Gunna would’ve been canned without the trail that Wheezy and Thug blazed for them.
My Favorite Wheezy Beat: “Pull Up on a Kid” - Young Thug
As far as I’m concerned, there would be no Drake without 40.
In fact, the two go all the way back to 2005. Drake was still on Degrassi at the time. They began working on music together in 2005, and 40 & Drake both recall saying “they would take over the world together”.
14 years later, it’s safe to say that they did just that. Drake is undeniably one of the world’s biggest artists, and 40 has been his right-hand for the whole ride. From So Far Gone to Scorpion, 40 has served as the curator of Drake’s sound. From elegant displays of piano and strings, to island-inspired vibes, to bouncy club hits, 40 has served as a modern-day maestro.
Aside from his dutiful service to Drake’s discography, 40 has worked with artists such as The Weeknd, Action Bronson, A$AP Rocky, and Alicia Keys. He has also provided production for many OVO artists, including P Reign, PARTYNEXTDOOR, and Majid Jordan.
40 is arguably one of the most talented and versatile producers in today’s music industry. He has the ability to add a true musical splash to basic contemporary music. Not discrediting Drake’s talent, but 40’s talent has propelled to Drake to the heights he has reached as an artist. Drake will be looked back on as one of the most influential artists of our time; I’m sure he has already influenced plenty of new artists. With that being said, much credit is due to the man behind Drake’s storied career - Noah “40” Shebib.
Favorite 40 Beat: “30 for 30 Freestyle” - Drake
#2: Metro Boomin
Metro Boomin is arguably the most dominant producer in the game right now, as well as the most widely-known. Thanks to his multiple memorable tags, he has truly established himself as a household name. Metro is also a chart-topping monster, having over a dozen Top 20 hits to his name. “Jumpman”, “Bank Account”, “Mask Off”, “Congratulations”, “X”, and “Bad and Boujee” are just a few of the extremely successful tracks he has been the mastermind behind.
The 25-year-old from St. Louis began working with artists such as Gucci Mane while still he was still in high school. Since, he has worked with virtually every big name in current rap. In addition to his contributions to many others’ projects, he has made collab albums with 21 Savage, Offset, Big Sean, and Nav. His debut solo album, NOT ALL HEROES WEAR CAPES, hit number one on the Billboard 200.
Metro has also undeniably served as a leader and tastemaker of current trap music production. He has definitely set standards in the current world of production, especially as far drums and bass. Metro’s slapping drums and bass have clearly inspired many of rap’s upcoming producers. Aside from influencing producers, Metro has influenced many artists. Really, he’s influenced the current rap industry as a whole. He crafted a sound that sells; everyone wants to follow suit. However, no one can do it like Metro and his close collaborators. Metro Boomin has a music monopoly, if you will.
Favorite Metro Beat: “Father Stretch My Hands, Pt. 1” - Kanye West
#1: Kanye West
I could go on for hours about what makes Kanye the best producer alive, but I won’t. I might as well save that for a totally different article; this article has already been long enough. Shoutout to you if you’re even still reading this, you’re a trooper.
If you disagree with my claim that Kanye is the best producer alive, I’m not sure what I could even really say to you (besides referring you to an ear doctor). Production would be absolutely nothing like we know it today without the lifelong contributions of Mr. Kanye West. Contemporary music in general would be entirely different if Kanye had never graced it with his unlimited artistic potential.