Eight Hip-Hop Producers You Need to Know Right Now
From Nedarb to VHVL and beyond, these are the beatmakers changing the game from the inside out.
Hip-hop production is an even more mercurial game than rap itself—teenage sensations emerge overnight, catching stars' ears with FL Studio loops made in 10 minutes after school. Then there are the elusive studio rats, cranking out platinum albums for years without ever doing a single interview. In between there's a wide world of talent, from Los Angeles SoundCloud wizards selling beatpacks on Twitter to Atlanta rise-n'-grinders hoping to become the next Metro Boomin.
Keeping up with the best of them is a lifehack for finding amazing new music before your friends, but the sheer quantity can become overwhelming. We understand—we've been there, and we're here to help. Below, we've listed eight rising producers you should become familiar with so that next time you're handed the aux cord you won't need to have an existential crisis and knock the grill over in a blind panic. Just stay calm, follow these talents on social media, and venture out to BBQs this summer with heat on your phone and peace in your mind.
Harlem-based beatmaker VHVL bridges the gap between hip-hop production and plasticine Actress-esque futurescapes with releases like 2016's EVN, her sparse instrumental tape on Matthewdavid's imprint Leaving Records. Stunners like "0006" lacquer vintage hip-hop drum patterns with high-definition futuristic detail, like icicles hanging from a Victorian windowsill. VHVL grabs the beat scene with both hands, yanks it out of its holding pattern of stoner-friendly beats and dusty jazz samples, and forces it to engage with our treacherous, high-definition present. Look out for her next tape ODD coming sometime this year, and don't miss her appearance at MoMA PS1's Warm Up on July 1.
Though not a household name, German duo Cubeatz have left their inventive fingerprints all over some of the biggest releases of the last few years. Their best work to date is "Ronda (Winners)," off Lil Uzi Vert's 2016 mixtape The Perfect Luv Tape. It's a tumbling wisteria vine of a beat, translucent xylophone blooms winding around a delicate twig of bass so fragile you worry it might snap off in a strong breeze.
That same feather-light touch permeates the duo's work on street anthems like "No Heart" by 21 Savage, "Goosebumps" by Travis Scott, and "Tunnel Vision" by Kodak Black. Cubeatz excel at helping rappers fulfill their pop potential by lacing their beats with spectral melodic updrafts. They may never take the spotlight for themselves, but expect their work to keep dominating the radio for the foreseeable future.
Few major rappers have done more to promote underground producer talent than Young Thug. His thirst for experimental sounds means that in addition to boldface names like Metro Boomin and Mike WiLL Made-It, his tapes always come loaded with off-kilter beats from relative unknowns. Take Supah Mario. According to an interview with Mass Appeal, the producer from Columbia, South Carolina was working as a janitor making $400 a month when he managed to get the beat for "2 Cups Stuffed" placed on Thug's breakout 2013 mixtape 1017 Thug.
Though he's never met the enigmatic rapper, he's fed him a steady diet of unorthodox beats since then, including the reggae-tinged standout "Wyclef Jean" from Thug's album Jeffrey last year. His biggest break to date came when Drake happened to hear one of his beats in the studio, which became the bubbly "Ice Melts" on the superstar's 2017 release More Life. According to an interview in Billboard, only at that point did he feel confident enough to quit his day job. With work lined up for rappers like Post Malone, Lil Uzi Vert, and Famous Dex, he probably won't need to get another one anytime soon.
If you're a teenager who prefers rappers with candy-colored dreadlocks, absurd ad-libs, and a Xanax fixation you've probably heard the work of Ronny J—the South Florida producer's credits include production for youth magnets like Xxxtentacion, Lil Pump, Rich Chigga, Denzel Curry, and Keith Ape. So far his defining work is on fellow Floridian Pump and Smokepurrp's 2016 collaboration "Broke My Wrist," which summons mosh-inducing energy from cage-rattling drums, a growling bass line, a dump-truck-backing-up beep sound, and not much else. It sounds like he cranked it out in five minutes, and all the better for it. If you can't get down, you're probably too old.
Last month Ronny announced a forthcoming mixtape featuring exclusively South Florida rappers, boasting, "BIGGEST TAPE ON THE INTERNET OTW!" Judging by the hype around his region's trademark sound, he might just be right.
Playboi Carti spent so long teasing his self-titled debut mixtape that some of his fans started wondering if it could live up to their sky-high expectations. Finally, in March, two new songs emerged that assuaged all their worries—"Magnolia" and "#Wokeuplikethis," both produced by someone named Pi'erre Bourne who was, at that point, largely unknown outside of Atlanta. They're two of the most infectious songs Carti's ever released, due in part to Bourne's production. His flute loops and richly detailed synths cast the rapper's machine-gun bursts in a sublime, golden light, like he's rapping while walking around a calm pool in the Versaille sculpture gardens. In the last ten seconds of "Magnolia" Bourne cuts the drums, revealing a gorgeous synth loop that's been lurking in the wings—it sounds more like a detail you'd notice on a subdued track from Yaeji, Galcher Lustwerk or even Moodymann than an Atlanta street record.
When the tape dropped in full last month, Bourne had credits on more than half of its fifteen songs. This exposure has catapulted him into the upper echelons of rap's new generation—in an interview with XXL, he says he's been hit up by the likes of Lil Yachty, Lil Uzi Vert, 21 Savage, and Rich the Kid for beats. Expect to hear his catchy producer tag—"Pierre, you wanna come out here?"—booming out of car speakers all summer long.
Despite its rich history, present-day Memphis sometimes finds itself outshone by modern rap meccas like Atlanta and Houston. Enter H!tkidd, who's keeping his city on the map with a versatile sound that blends cloud rap and local gothic influences into something all his own. He has an adventurous taste in collaborators—this year's #WHATITDOMANE tape featured everyone from Sweden's Yung Lean and Bladee to prolific Memphis rapper Chris Travis and Chicago upstart Nina Tech. H!tkidd's even worked with London's elusive Bala Club crew, lending several vaporous beats for Uli K to croon over last year. His crowning achievement, though, is his production on the stunning "Ballin Like Messi," by Chicago's Adamn Killa and Killavesi. Trance arpeggios and neon pads seem to suspend the rappers' slurred melodies in amber, like a Top 40 jam heard through a narcotic fog.
Bonus points for his ruthless T.A.T.U flip on Killa's "My Stance."
Jaegen burst on to the scene back in 2015 as the go-to producer for Ramriddlz, outfitting the Toronto sensation's lilting rhymes with gentle tropical beats. In the years since, dancehall-lite completed a friendly takeover of the pop charts, and Jaegen has been perfectly positioned to ride the wave. Case in point, last month French Montana tapped him for "Unforgettable," which features Swae Lee. It's his biggest look to date, and he doesn't disappoint—Jaegen has a knack for blending sad and sweet elements, and here he expertly undercuts the drums' hip-swiveling thrust with soft pads and contemplative filter sweeps. Sure, Montana is no Popcaan, but with a beat this breezy it all just falls into place. With the "song of the summer" sweepstakes right around the corner, expect Jaegen to become a secret weapon for stars hoping to boost their singles with a Caribbean power-up.
If you've spent a long time in the seedy corners of the rap internet ruled by the likes of $UICIDEBOY$, Black Kray, Xavier Wulf, and Slug Christ, you probably encountered Nedarb's lo-fi, sample-heavy beats years ago. But the Los Angeles producer reached a whole new stratosphere of success when he hitched his wagon to Lil Peep's unlikely shooting star, producing all of the Long Island emo rapper's 2016 mixtape California Girls. Peep blew up shortly after, and many songs on that tape now boast millions of plays online. Highlight "Beamerboy" demonstrates Nedarb's omnivorous taste in sample material, as he flips The Microphones' "Headless Horseman" into a cavernous amphitheatre for Peep's morose croon.
Always prolific, success hasn't slowed down Nedarb one bit—his SoundCloud is a faucet of new music, usually featuring obscure rappers who bought his beats over Twitter, where he regularly offers deals like "$500 FOR A 10 TRACK COLLAB ALBUM W/ ME + PROMO." Don't knock his hustle. Nedarb's unexpected success is a testament to the power of throwing everything at the wall until something sticks.