Behind the beats | 1800® Tequila


The Hip Hop sounds coming out of three of America’s most celebrated cities — Los Angeles, Chicago and New York — could not be more strikingly different or more intrinsic to their specific culture and surroundings. And when breaking down the evolution of this powerful, celebrated and at times heavily scrutinized musical artform there is barely anytime to look back. The fast-paced, blink-or-you-will-miss-it rap scene doesn’t play well with nostalgia and nowhere else does this reality ring more true than in the world of Hip Hop production.

And yet, these three regions are embracing their musical roots while creating original sounds that go beyond cookie cutting beat mining.

Today such Los Angeles producers as Sounwave, Knxwledge and Drewbryd are reaching back and looking forward, embracing the classic West Coast electro grooves and gangsta funk of the past while incorporating everything from jazz to 808 slaps.

Chicago takes a more blue-collar approach, no doubt a reference to its historical rep as the blues center of the world. There is a restlessness that runs beneath the bulldozing Drill music scene that has taken its place next to the soulful production that made Kanye West a superstar. The sounds of A-Villa, Odd Couple and Stefan Ponce give testimony to Chi-Town’s understated brilliance.

New York? Hip Hop’s birthplace continues to reinvent itself touching on its larger-than-life big beats and boom bap hard knocks lineage with one eye on the southern rap scene. From the wildcard sonics of Baghdaddy to the straight-ahead attitude of Amadeus, NYC continues to adapt and add on to its rich history of boundless rap production.

There are stark differences between the producers who represent these three transformative cities. But these studio visionaries also share a stripped down authenticity.

Follow our journey as 1800® Tequila and VIBE take you "Behind the Beats" in Los Angeles, Chicago and New York to get familiar with beatmakers that are redefining the sounds of their cities with hard work, passion, and honesty. Here you won’t find any smoke and mirrors.

Just that real.

Now we travel from Chicago to the bedrock of rap: New York. Call it the gift and the curse. The jaw-dropping list of producers that have come out of the proverbial Big Apple over the last 30 plus years has been nothing short of remarkable. But when you are following the iconic likes of Larry Smith, Marley Marl, the Bomb Squad, DJ Premier and the RZA, you are always faced with the sobering reality of being measured against the musical legacy of towering studio greats that have set the bar for Hip Hop innovations at ridiculous heights. Certainly such East Coast products as Harry Fraud, Deputy, and Vinylz are up to the challenge.


At the center of a city known for its gritty boom bap and incisive lyrics is New York fixture Harry Fraud. Known for his heavy beats and no-sleep-til-you’re-at-the-top mentality, Fraud has come a long way since his days of recording tracks in his parent’s basement.

“Hard work will beat talent if talent doesn’t work hard,” the Brooklyn-native tells us. For Fraud, having a strong work ethic is the key to raising yourself to the next level.

We met up with Fraud in The City That Never Sleeps to talk about the balance, focus and hard work that goes into making beats that leave a mark on the world.

Our last installment in our series lands at the birthplace of rap. It would be easy for NYC to rest on its reputation as the city that introduced a rebellious, game-changing art form that would evolve from its humble Bronx origins to captivate the globe with such pioneering icons as Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, Run-D.M.C., the Beastie Boys, and Salt-N-Pepa leading the way. Instead, The City That Never Sleeps has been revitalized, embracing the trap music zeitgeist while still staying true to its boom bap past. For a region that has produced such studio stalwarts as Marley Marl, Prince Paul, the RZA, DJ Premier, and Pete Rock, there is indeed a powerful musical legacy to live up to. The current crop of East Coast­-based producers below are certainly up to the task.

If Los Angeles’ burgeoning Hip Hop production scene represents the ambition of a glitzy, ever-evolving city, then Chicago captures the tireless resolve of a working class town. That grittiness is all in the beats — a sound that is as soulful as it is bare bones and relentlessly brutal.


Soaring duo Flosstradamus represent their beloved Windy City with a deft honesty that permeates their work. For J2K (Josh Young) and Autobot (Curt Cameruci), keeping the music interesting is imperative whether they are in the booth with rap wild man Waka Flocka Flame or pop rhymer Iggy Azalea. Forget hype. There’s only hard work and genuine results.

We met up with Flosstradamus in the Windy City to talk about the work ethic that goes into building a ten-plus-year career while keeping everything original in an industry that is ever-evolving.

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.

The West Coast demands its respect. It’s been that way since the 1980’s when New York ruled the Hip Hop landscape boasting a monopoly of rap anthems and cultural touchstones. When it came time for Los Angeles to step up to the plate, the trailblazing electro rap of Uncle Jam’s Army, the Egyptian Lover, and LA Dream Team was oftentimes unfairly stamped as an alien, inauthentic import by East Coast rap elitists. It wasn’t until the seismic shifting gangsta rhyme innovations of supreme O.G. Ice-T that L.A. found its voice, but it still needed to find its sound.

The synth-heavy, Cali G-funk of N.W.A’s Dr. Dre would more than fill that void, kick-starting a new era in L.A. Hip Hop production, taking rap to new commercial and artistic heights.


Decades later, the sounds emanating from L.A. are well represented by our featured roster of producers. Gardena, California’s Derek “MixedByAli” Ali ranks amongst the best of the current crop of beat messiahs. Top Dawg Entertainment’s shining in-house studio engineer has had his hands on some of the most exciting rap releases of the last five-plus years, most notably the one-two majestic punch of Kendrick Lamar’s classic good kid m.A.A.d city (2012) and To Pimp A Butterfly (2015).

In Ali’s world, G’d up gangsta soundtracks co-exist with avant-garde ‘60s jazz flourishes, unfiltered ‘70s funk, and bouncing trap escapades. There is an effortless confidence to MixedByAli’s grooves; an aspirational energy that jumps out of the speakers. It’s Los Angeles to the bone.

We sat down with Derek “MixedByAli” Ali – Top Dawg Entertainment’s resident studio engineer– to talk about the passion and creativity that goes into being an audio magician.

First up in our Hip Hop producers series is L.A. The city has come a long way from its infamous era when rhyme outlaws N.W.A were breaking ground and kicking up dust. Indeed, the West Coast music scene has never been as eclectic as it is today. For decades, the land of gangsta rap, lowriders, and palm trees ruled the music charts with G.O.A.T. production visionary Dr. Dre leading the way. Now, Los Angeles is being paced not only by the funk, but jazz-­inflected soundtracks and beat junkie workouts courtesy of such forward­-thinking talents as Flying Lotus. These Cali producers are taking it to the next level.

The genius of Hip Hop is that it morphs into the image of its host city. Indeed, Los Angeles, Chicago and New York continue to innovate as producers find new ways to give a nod to the past while diving head first into the future. There takes a certain amount of artistic courageousness to enter the spotlight as a rap producer. After all, you are not only judged by your ability to move the musical needle, but stay commercially viable.

But most of the time it comes down to one primal question:

Does the beat in question make heads nod? That’s why it’s important to remember when the magic happens, make sure you give the producer some.