An often overlooked undercurrent of contemporary rap production is centered around a singular phrase: "Type Beat." Aspiring producers self-consciously emulate the styles of a singular rapper or producer in the hopes that the artist's fans like it, and more importantly the artist themselves might enjoy it. Then they upload it to YouTube with that simple tag "type beat." Searching for productions on video streaming services will inevitably lead back to moody instrumentals described as "Drake Type Beats" or more involved compositions titled "Lil Uzi Vert Type Beat." The pieces themselves are often simple, but the degree to which they nail the sound of the artists they're attempting to mimic is striking. Artists as successful as A$AP Rocky, Chief Keef, and Joey Badass have all admitted to searching for their own names as a way of sourcing new beats on YouTube.
Most "Type Beat" producers credit the invention of the phrase to Soundclick—an early music social media platform that became the standard for selling and buying beats online. The service became crucial to aspiring producers and rappers—so much so that it was later shouted out on a platinum-selling R&B record by Bryson Tiller. For the producers we spoke to for this piece, "Type Beats" have come to offer a steady source of income over time, when the beats they really enjoy making aren't exactly paying the bills.
While producers are waiting for to hear back from bigger artists, they can sell "Type Beats" easily to smaller rappers and singers who want to sound like their idols. Kids looking for beats head to YouTube, search for their favorite artist, then track down the producers. "I think their search algorithm is the best one to get found," says Menace, a producer responsible for the beat on produced Desiigner's "Panda," which originally was uploaded to YouTube as a "Meek Mill — Ace Hood Type Beat."
Then they work out a deal, selling the instrumentals for a small fee. It's a modest, but easy way to make the career choice sustainable, when young producers are still attempting to break into the music industry. The struggle for these producers is that the beats that sell often aren't the most personally fulfilling or musically interesting. For example, something like Galassia Beats' "Migos x Young Type Beat 'Boujee'" makes it clear—even in its name—that it's a direct knock off of the Atlanta trio's "Bad and Boujee."
The end goal for these up-and-coming producers is ultimately artistic expression, not making a quick buck churning out characterless beats. "You can go riding around in your car listening to beats," says the producer Dez Wright, who's working with the Houston rapper Dice Soho and veteran producer Mike Dean in hopes to expand beyond the "Type Beat" market. "But it's way more fun listening to a song that you made."
Over the past couple of weeks, THUMP caught up with a few working "type beat" producers—including Wright, an up-and-coming producer with over 20,000 YouTube subscribers; Menace; Johnny Juliano, a veteran producer who's worked with The Game, Nicki Minaj, Ty Dolla $ign, and Wiz Khalifa; and S.I.K., who produced A$AP Rocky's "Fine Whine." They dive into the history of the digital-only form, discuss the creative walls that you can hit while working in this framework, as well as the unexpected successes that it's brought them.
THUMP: How did Soundclick first become the go-to home for online producers?
Dez Wright: Back then, Soundclick was the biggest website and there were a couple main producers—Superstar O [who's worked with Wiz Khalifa and T-Pain] and Johnny Juliano—who were really the frontrunners of it. YouTube wasn't the cool thing yet.
Menace: On Soundclick it was tag-based, there was no real naming convention. I'd come up with a random name like "Future" and if I was trying to convey a certain artist for that beat, I'd put "Future," "Smooth," "Vibe" or "Smooth Vibe" or "Smooth Type Beat" in the tag.
Johnny Juliano: Honestly Soundclick was something that I used to get instrumentals that I'd rap on back in the day. Then I realized that how much people were profiting off beats. A lot of people that were putting up good content and what really drove people was the free download, cause for a long time we'd have free instrumentals available with the tags still on them and basically it'd be you can listen to his beat, but you don't own it or you don't have any type of rights to it.
Who invented the term "Type Beat"?
Menace: It started with someone that used Soundclick, so you would start to see in actual titles: "Drake Type Beat" and people started seeing that, brought it over to YouTube and found real success with it.
Wright: Back then, it wasn't a "Type Beat" thing, you labeled it like "Club Banger" or "R&B Smash." I don't know who started that, but [it happened] back then in Soundclick days and I remember people doing that on YouTube, but it wasn't a crazy like it is now. But I guess people realized that specifically naming an artist was helping. So when artists are looking for beats and they have a specific vision in mind, they can type in a certain artist they're trying to draw influence from and I guess it works for everyone.
Menace: Even when my friends would search for beats on YouTube, they'd put "X Artist Type Beat" and so obviously that what people are using to find beats. So I [thought], "Better get on that if I want to get found."
S.I.K.: People were trying to sell more and they knew rappers were trying to be like those artists and would try to find that [kind of production], so you'd get vague title of or description of a beat and I think that created that shift.
Menace: Sometimes [when an artist] goes to buy a beat, they end up contacting me first to get information about how the process works. I'll ask them, "How did you find me?" and usually it's on YouTube looking up "Type Beats."
What pushed the migration to YouTube?
Menace: Soundclick was oversaturated with a lot of people doing it and you couldn't really be found on Soundclick unless you spent a lot of money on advertising. I figured I'm not going to do that, because YouTube has a better algorithm for searching for type beats. It's easier to find them and easier for artists to find the sound that they're looking for through just searching.
Wright: YouTube's popularity was increasing and just cause there's way more traffic to those social media sites than just a site for selling beats. There are millions of people are on YouTube and people started seeing how successful they can be using YouTube.
Menace: YouTube gives a little bit more room to play with because the algorithm uses: the search bar, the title of your beat, and the tag you use, so you could use Google advertisements to get more views. It just has a lot of different ways to get found, so the people who clicked on your music [could] possibly be Future.
Wright: Taz Taylor [a fellow "Type Beat" producer] just came to me one day—probably three years ago and he was like we gotta go on YouTube—YouTube was the move. He was like "There are people killing it on YouTube, so we need to do it." I was and I was never fully committed to the online thing and I didn't really jump on it, but he did and it's really paid off for him.
Do you find that there are any creative limitations in the "type beats" world?
Wright: If I make a "Type Beat," I make something that I could send to that artist and he would like. Typically if I do make a beat like that it's drawn from the influences of that artist and it's something I think his fans or people that like that type of music might be drawn to.
S.I.K.: Most times you want to kind of underproduce and if you sell it that artist can be in the position to make it into what they really want. That's better than if they have to come to you and be like 'Can you take this part out, can you fix this right here,' It's better if you underproduce it and let them have with it.
Wright: I've learned over the years how to refine my beats and make room for artists and simplify everything and just know what people are gonna like a little bit more.With internet stuff you kind of have to pull back a little bit and make stuff that people are already comfortable with. I remember I used to be a little bit more experimental and it didn't work as far as selling stuff. I try challenge people who buy my beats I want them to do more work on it. I want them to like buy the track and to really work on the stuff on their own terms.
S.I.K.: In the beginning, I [was] inspired and making these really dope beats and they were so intricate and so artistic, there was no place for the rapper to rap on them. Over this whole period I've learned how to make beats that can really be rapped on or bang and and have more places for the artists to stand out and to learn how to really make a song.
Juliano: I want young producers to be able to make money and to be able to support themselves especially in this day and age that is very difficult, but I don't know it's kind of a rock and hard place? Whenever people use the moniker "Type Beat" I understand it's absolutely great for your traffic and great for making sales, but at the same time you're capitalizing on somebody else's name and sound, so it's a bit like "Who do I want to do this for?"
What's the next step for you beyond "type beats"?
S.I.K.: I really want to establish myself as a producer in the industry. I've had success, I've been a part of a successful album and I got a placement, [but] I haven't had that superstar step. My goal is to get of getting off the internet.
Wright: I've used the internet and YouTube to bridge myself into the industry and it's nice that I get to upload these beats and they sell really well and it frees up my time to work on music for the industry and work on ideas. It's cool I get to have YouTube to free up my time and it's a good income, [but I want to] fully work for the industry. This year I'm really want to get some number one records, I want to work with more upcoming artists, and make some big Billboard records this year.
The interview above has been edited and condensed.
David Turner is a writer. He's on Twitter.