Behind The Beats: Chicago

Next up in our three-part Behind the Beats hip-hop producers series, we travel 1746 miles from Los Angeles to the Windy City. Perhaps the most vibrant, risk­-taking music is taking place in Chicago. Alongside the ‘hood stamped drill music scene, Kanye West’s turbulent but hopeful hometown has taken a throw-­it­-all-­against­-the­-wall­-and­-see­-what­-sticks approach to production. Here are some of the Midwest movers that are making noise.


Sounds Like: ?Trap music with heart.
The Run Down: ?While the gravelly­-voiced Tree is known more for his frenetic solo pursuits like his 2011 debut The 3rd Floor and the highly-praised Sunday School mixtape series, industry insiders continue to be blown away by his potent production prowess. It’s a sound that mixes soul, gospel and street rap without ever being dragged down by gimmicky theatrics. Tree’s imprint is all over Young Giftz’ heavy leaning “Nino” and Brian Fresco’s “Bae,” a left­-of­-center concoction that interpolates the early ‘80s pop sing­along “99 Luftballons.” Only a matter of time before the rest of the world catches up to the rising Windy City dynamo.


Sounds Like: ?Drill, baby, drill…and a lot more.
The Run Down: ?If you are familiar with Chicago’s drill music godfather King Louie, then you know his beat juggling accomplice Charles Dumazer a.k.a. C­Sick. In fact, most of Chicago’s elite hitters like Lil Herb, Chief Keef, Lil Durk, and Lil Bibby have rocked over his eerie throwdowns as well as headliners beyond the borders of Illinois — including Philadelphia’s own Meek Mill (“4/4”).


Sounds Like: ?Hip­-hop’s golden age.
The Run Down: ?Adrian Villagomez walked away from a buttoned-up corporate job for a go in the unpredictable world of rap. The hip-hop fanatic simply had enough of the static office grind. He wanted to showcase his production skills. Brilliant move. The Mexican-­American head­knocker, who has made a name for himself as A-­Villa, pulled one of 2014’s seamless musical coups by bringing together a virtual hip­hop dream team for his compilation album Carry On Tradition. So how did Villagomez recruit the likes of AZ, Killer Mike, the Wu­Tang Clan’s Inspectah Deck, Rapsody, Guilty Simpson, and buzz heavy Chicago hometown hero Chance The Rapper for his bold celebration of late ‘80s and early ‘90s hip­-hop? Easy…the man has heat.


Odd Couple
Sounds Like: ?Inventive crate digging with a futuristic, synthesized twist.
The Run Down: ?There’s something wonderfully trippy about the non­conforming (yet familiar) brew of Odd Couple. The Milwaukee­-raised beat­miner — the producer made Chicago home after attending DePaul University — is arguably the city’s most inventive sound machine. Odd Couple’s startling 2015 album Chatterbox has many high points, none more triumphant than “What Kings Do,” featuring charismatic lyricists Saba, Carl and Taylor Bennett. It’s the kind of brazen proclamation that flips the trap sound on its head.


Stefan Ponce
Sounds Like: ?If Chicago dance deity Frankie Knuckles broke the hip­hop cheat code.
The Run Down: ?The Grammy­-nominated Ponce (in 2015 he was cited for his work on Childish Gambino’s “3005”) can switch from lush house music grooves (Vic Mensa’s excellent “Down On My Luck”) and sonic rap overtures (the Mick Jenkins burner “Get Up Get Down”) to mosh pit-inciting, turn-­up anthems (“U Mad,” Mensa’s rowdy team ­up with Kanye West) as if it were an afterthought.

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