Hip-hop is ever evolving — a shifting, twisting, force of nature that never stops. Over the last 30-plus years, the Bronx, New York-born art form has become the most influential genre within the pop landscape. But like other popular music styles, if hip-hop slows down and becomes stagnant for just a minute, it ceases to inspire, to move bodies and minds. Right now, the center of the rap and R&B universe is Atlanta, the leader of the Dirty South, which for much of the ’90s battled for respect against the scene’s powerful gatekeepers. But while the Dirty South continues to flex its trendsetting muscles, the once dominant strongholds of New York and Los Angeles have seemingly found their mojo again. Joining the two influential hip-hop power bases is Chicago, which is currently enjoying a recording renaissance.
It’s an intriguing trio of cities to be sure. Sunshine-drenched L.A. has become perhaps the most risk-taking rap scene around mixing everything from experimental ‘60s jazz to Bay Area and Southern infused 808 beats to create the ultimate curve pitch. Derek “MixedByAli” Ali, Top Dawg Entertainment’s resident studio engineer, is at the center of it all. The audio magician, who is often cited as Kendrick Lamar’s right-hand-man, is a Los Angeles original.
In Chicago, it’s all about the streets. Kids coming up in neighborhoods on the Southside and the West have built on the homegrown stamped drill music style (think bass-heavy trap but with even more sneering attitude) while hitting more soulful pockets that at times echo The Chi’s old school rhythm and blues sensibilities and house music obsessions. It’s a merging of styles that can be heard in the dynamic production of established duo Flosstradamus (Travis Porter, Kid Sister, Diplo, and Three 6 Mafia’s Juicy J).
And New York? New York has steadily regained its bigger-is-better, concrete jungle swagger by embracing its storied past and mammoth sound (at the moment, Fat Joe’s and Remy Ma’s soaring, horn-paced “All The Way Up” has completely taken over dance clubs in the Tri-State area with a heavy nod to East Coast hip-hop’s hook-driven sampling goodness). Producer powerhouses like Harry Fraud hold it down in NYC booking studio time with hip-hop heavy hitters like Action Bronson and Joey Badass.
You want more? VIBE is taking a deeper look with a three-part series spotlighting five producers from each city that are redefining their region with a distinctive, rebellious sound. Some of these ambitious beatmakers are rising studio visionaries, others are respected vets, and some stand at the cusp of superstardom. But they are all worthy of the hype. Turn it up.
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.
Sounds Like: Introspective soulful excursions that manage to keep it original beyond slight nods to adventurous, electronic beat man Flying Lotus and the late, great J Dilla.
The Run Down: While Glen “Knxwledge” Boothe now calls L.A. home, the prolific studio rat (between 2009 and 2012 alone, he released 117 tracks via Bandcamp and Leaving Records) originally hails from New Jersey. Knxwledge has since seen his stock rise after producing the poignant standout “Momma” featured on Kendrick Lamar’s Grammy-winning, critically-acclaimed 2015 opus To Pimp A Butterfly. Want more? Check out NxWorries’ hiphop/R&B mashup Link Up & Suede, Knxwledge’s lively EP collaboration with Dr. Dre protégé Anderson .Paak.
Sounds Like: Parliament Funkadelic’s iconic George Clinton jamming with the Neptunes.
The Run Down: Arguably the most well known studio visionary of our L.A. list of noisemakers, Sounwave, born Mark Spears, serves as one of the acclaimed house producers for Top Dawg Entertainment, home of Jay Rock, Schoolboy Q, AbSoul, and the aforementioned ubiquitous Kendrick Lamar. In fact, you could put a greatest hits package together just from Sounwave’s work with KDot: “Bitch Don’t Kill My Vibe,” “M.A.A.D. City,” “King Kunta,” and the Black Lives Matter protest anthem “Alright.” Cut the check.
Sounds Like: Atmospheric grooves turned up to 11.
The Run Down: Our lone female representative doesn’t take a backseat to any producer, displaying a skill set equally adept at dropping futuristic hiphop and DJ formed instrumentals as she is conducting new age rhythm and blues. The first woman to sign to Flying Lotus’ Brainfeeder record label, Jennifer “TOKiMONSTA” Lee has twisted knobs and turned in remixes for the diverse likes of Kool Keith, MNDR, Jodeci, and Justin Timberlake. With several EP’s and four albums under her belt (including this year’s Fovere, anchored by the sultry Anderson .Paak featured single “Realla”), TOKiMONSTA won’t be slowing down anytime soon.
Sounds Like: Throwback goodness straight from a ‘90s hiphop recording session.
The Run Down: When Pittsburg emcee Mac Miller wants some straightnochaser, sampleheavy joints he hits up Drewbyrd. Case in point: “Break The Law” could easily be mistaken for a Bside of a single from Jay Z’s 1996 landmark Reasonable Doubt. West Coasters Dom Kennedy, Nipsey Hussle, and Odd Future alum Domo Genesis have also benefited from the man’s grandiose productions.
Bongo The Drum Ghad
Sounds Like: Modern day bangers.
The Run Down: The Game’s go-to producer is responsible for some of the finest moments on the Compton lyricist’s criminally underrated 2015 set The Documentary 2. The Nigerian-born Bongo The Drum Ghad (Uforo Ebong) started as one half of the production duo L&F. After working on a string of R&B joints (Musiq Soulchild’s “Radio,” Trey Songz’ “Y.A.S.,” Omarion’s “Bos$$”) and more rhyme tailored workouts (Big Sean’s “Jit/Juke” and “Stay Down”), the cousins split, leaving Bongo to finally pursue his own impressive trek.