You know those rappers who always have the best production on their songs? Like they studied Nas’ career and learned to never sabotage their rhymes with wack ass beats? (Sorry Esco.) It’s often stunning to hear a producer with an average placement on one album and an incredible beat on another. It’s not always the producers fault – they can’t shoot 100% from the field all the time. The responsibility of selecting beats has traditionally fallen to A&R’s, but since the A&R’s role has been somewhat diminished in recent years, it becomes the artist’s job to pick the best production for their projects. Now, as it has always been, an artist’s beat selection is just as important, if not more so, than their raps.
Below are some rappers with the best ears for beats. Keep in mind, however, that something else might be at play here, something even I can’t quite articulate. Why are these rappers best known for their beat selection and not others? What is it about a rapper that makes their production stick out? I won’t go there today.
No new-gen rapper is better known for his beat selection than Dom Kennedy. He is the quintessential BBQ rapper whose music only needs beats good enough to dance to and lyrics limpid enough to sing along to. The formula has been working for him for years, hence the popular perception that he’s a “summer rapper.” His taste for beats is as much of a draw as what he says over them.
Part of why Curren$y’s monthly mixtape series in 2008 was so successful was because of his beat selection. He was rhyming over undeniably vintage production – Cam’ron’s “What Means The World To You,” Diamond D’s “I Went For Mine,” Snoop Dogg’s “Boss’ Life,” and other left-of-center classics. That curatorial ear bled into his early albums and eventually gave birth to the Pilot Talk series, which guaranteed fully-textured beats from Ski Beatz and his band of Sensei’s. Even Pilot Talk 3, which brought in outside producers like Cool & Dre, never misses on the production tip.
Rick Ross has never been that impressive as a rappity rapper; it’s more his air that leaves an impression, not his bite. The voice, the grunt, etc. His production is always grandiose, thus bolstering his regal approach, and many producers have benefitted from giving Ross their best work – J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League, Lex Luger, and Jake One, to name a few. Ross’ music is essentially a parade on a red carpet, and if that carpet isn’t the coziest fucking rug the emperor has ever felt, the whole event is ruined.
Skyzoo first caught the ears of some listeners via his work with the JUSTUS League, the North Carolina rap collective headed up by 9th Wonder and Cesar Comanche. The crew was known for its backpack aesthetic with producers like 9th and Khrysis shaping the overall sound. Skyzoo started buzzing in his own right after releasing the 9th Wonder-produced Cloud 9 in 2006, and you could argue that choosing the now Jamla Records CEO to produce the whole thing helped Sky boost his profile at a time when 9th was one of the most in-demand hip-hop producers. Ode To Reasonable Doubt is another example of Skyzoo utilizing the right beatmaker, as he put Antman Wonder on the map by hiring the Philly producer to handle the whole LP behind the boards.
If you don’t know the first song that used this sample, you can’t really speak on Lil B’s taste when it comes to beat selection. The Cali rapper’s production triumphs include: being the first rapper to work with Clams Casino, spitting over DJ Paul’s “1,000 Blunts” for a bonus track on his album, and making a “commercial” with a song by Boards Of Canada. Those who listen to his music are well-aware that Lil B’s ear for beats is one of the sharpest in the game. Give his I’m Gay project a chance and see if you don’t agree with us after you hear the Goo Goo Dolls flip.