TM88 broke out in 2014 after he produced on four songs from Future’s Monster, including the standout anthem “Codeine Crazy.” Building on that momentum, he cranked up the work flow this year (highlights include Young Dolph’s “The Plug Best Friend,” YFN Lucci’s “YFN,” and “Young Thug’s “Oh Lord”) and even produced an entire mixtape for his Sacii crew, helping to keep Atlanta on the bleeding edge of hip-hop.
24. DJ L
Chicago’s own DJ L was nothing if not consistent this year. He started strong with King Louie’s “In Love Wit Canada” before doing “City G.O.D.” and the excellent “Like Louie” on Drilluminati 3. A month later, Lil Durk dropped his album with two more L beats – “Tryna Tryna” and “Higher,” the latter being one of the best, most effervescent beats of the year. And to top it off, DJ L landed six impressive beats on G Herbo’s Ballin Like Kobe, which happens to be Herb’s best project yet. Hear the standout “Eastside” below, plus a bonus treat – Lil Uzi Vert’s “Pressure” with Lil Durk.
23. Terrace Martin
After doing conceptual projects like The Sex EP and Here, My Dear and quietly dropping albums like 3ChordFold for years, Los Angeles producer and horn player Terrace Martin finally leveled up in 2015. He produced on three songs from Kendrick’s To Pimp A Butterfly and co-produced on three more, but his crowning achievement was YG’s return to music with the G-Funk inspired “Twist My Fingaz.” Taking its cue from Ray Parker Jr. and Raydio’s “For Those Who Like To Groove,” the single is a double-edged sword: it proves YG can really breath without DJ Mustard and it showcases Martin’s blossoming sound palette. Don’t miss his co-production on Travis Scott’s “Apple Pie” either.
22. Big Fruit
You could say K Camp owes much of his success to Atlanta producer Big Fruit, as both of his huge songs this year – “Comfortable” and “Lil Bit” – were produced by the Atlanta beatsmith. The former revolves around R&B-ish electric guitar while the latter is a more traditionally slinky strip club joint, but the contrast is a testament to Fruit’s flexibility behind the boards. He ended up producing eight out of 13 songs on K Camp’s debut album Only Way Is Up, plus two seductive cuts on Sy Ari Da Kid’s Heartbreak Kid 3 and a sneaky party song for Juicy J called “All I Need.” Don’t miss the last verse.
Maybe Paul Jefferies would be higher on the list if “Hotline Bling” had gone #1, but he still had an excellent year. That was the biggest rap song of 2015, even if it did remind many of D.R.A.M.’s “Cha Cha,” and the Toronto producer has been making more music with dvsn, a mysterious act with only three songs out that are all gaining attention by the day.
As expected, it’s the oldest one (“With Me”) that’ll probably blow first, but “Too Deep” is softly raunchy and “The Line” is an exceptional bedroom ballad. Nineteen85 is producing it all, though his overall involvement in the group is unknown. We just know they’re batting 100% so far.
Post Malone has cruised to blog stardom with songs like “White Iverson” and “TEAR$,” but back in January he released a couple more songs with the Atlanta production duo behind those hits – 1st Down and Sauce Man Rich, aka FKi. Listening to those tracks shows you how much Post is benefitting from their beats, as they’ve been giving him heat from the beginning. 1st and Sauce themselves have been developing throughout the years and their work paid off with a huge hit this year, the infectious “Watch Out” for 2 Chainz. They landed a placement on Mac Miller’s album and even produced a song with The Heatmakerz:
19. Soul Council
In 2010 9th Wonder introduced the production team under his It’s A Wonderful World Music Group. It included Khrysis, E. Jones, Nottz, Fatin “10” Horton, Ka$h Don’t Make Beats, AMP, Eric G, Hi-Tek and 9th Wonder himself, and this year (almost) all of them chipped in to produce 9th Wonder and Talib Kweli’s Indie 500 project. They had to support a wash of different styles and voices, from Problem to Pharoahe Monch, and the result is a diverse, rewarding listen. Plus, Nottz put his foot into his tape with Big Pooh and 9th is getting really good at layering his songs.
18. Mike Will Made It
Rae Sremmurd might have dropped their debut album the first week of the year, but it was a buoyant collection of hit songs that kept them relevant throughout the year. We always latch on to the idea that one producer dominates any given year, but Mike Will Made It quietly saw songs like “Throw Sum Mo” and “Up Like Trump” blow up for him, not to mention Big Sean’s “Paradise.” He also got his other new act Eearz some push with songs “Work Ya Muscle” and “Ride Shotgun,” both of which feature excellent work from Mike.
But there’s also “Pacifier,” which deserves its own essay in another format. The song might not have been the best choice to push as a single, especially at the height of Thug’s tiff with Wayne and the police, but the song itself is so incredibly brave, fun, and unexpected from both Thug and Mike Will. The garage rock feel of the beat isn’t your typical Mike Will fare and the song probably won’t appeal to people who already can’t stand Thug, but it is an excellent example of what two artists can achieve when they take risks together.
2015 has seen the following artists go over P-Lo beats: Young Thug, Boosie, Chris Brown. Just the other day, YG released a new song called “City Mad” featuring Mozzy, one of the best rappers coming out of California right now, that P-Lo killed too. And his Moovie! album with Kool John is one of our favorites this year. The Heartbreak Gang producer has been putting in work for a couple years now and his beats have some of the best bass in the business right now. Play his stuff in the car for best impact.
Chicago rapper/producer Tree has been working his ass off for a minute, only to see Bryson Tiller boldly steal a term he coined and take off with it. His Sunday School series is well-respected and he’s improved throughout the years with songs like “Probably Nu It” and “Like Whoa,” but he’s yet to get much shine outside of his own city.
This year he produced his own full project Trap Genius, a further exploration of his slow, bottom-heavy beats and raspy raps. He also produced VicTree, a collaboration with another special Chicago rapper named Vic Spencer. We’re lucky to have Tree making this much music for us, especially when he works with Chris Crack.
15. London on Da Track
Young Thug’s April album Barter 6 spawned two legitimate hits – “Check” and “With That,” both produced by his trusty sidekick London on Da Track. Though Thug seems to find the best chemistry in everyone from Dun Deal to Honorable C. Note, London is probably his most reliable partner.
Their magic has been consistent, as leaks like “Hey I” and “Power” stand up to singles like “Again,” all of which have found homes on Slime Season 1 and 2. While Thug is versatile enough to go off in any direction at any given time, London is nearly essential to Thug’s formula at this moment in time. Don’t sleep on his work with other artists either; his soft tones mesh well with Kevin Gates’ harsh voice on Jeezy’s “Black On Black.”
14. DJ Dahi
Dahi has been a golden child producer since “Money Trees,” and this year he worked with an array of artists from Travis Scott to Tinashe. He produced four songs on Lupe’s Tetsuo & Youth and five songs on Vince’s Summertime ’06. He’s credited on five songs from Madonna’s new album and three songs from Dr. Dre’s Compton. In short, he’s everywhere.
Dahi brings an atmospheric element to his production, especially around his drums, so it makes sense that he worked with No I.D.’s thick sound design for Summertime ’06. Hear him work alongside Frank Dukes for Little Simz’s “Mist” below.
It’s been a long time coming for Toronto producer and go-to Drake collaborator Boi-1da. The guy who started out producing for Kardinal Offishall and the like is responsible for one of Drake’s most recognizable anthem, “Know Yourself.” He also might have the most diverse resume of 2015 rap collabs on this list. He did “Fuck Up The Count” for Freddie Gibbs, a little taste of hyphy for G-Eazy’s “Of All Things,” and Kendrick’s militant “The Blacker The Berry.” He also produced for Joe Budden, Jamie Foxx, and Yo Gotti, making him one of the hardest working producers out right now.
Thundercat is another member of the production hive that collected around Kendrick’s TPAB, and perhaps the most singular of them all. Traditionally a bassist, he began working with Flying Lotus in 2010 around the time FlyLo was working on Cosmogramma and getting jazzier with his beats. They wound up forming a tight working relationship, and this year Thundercat released a surprise mini-album on Brainfeeder called The Beyond / Where The Giants Roam. Braised with gold and soaking in funk, it was rightly met with a roar of critical praise.
When Zaytoven is long gone, he’ll be known as one of the most prolific producers in hip-hop history. This year he produced entire mixtapes for Future, Young Scooter, OG Maco, Trouble, and Shy Glizzy while essentially working with every other imaginable rapper in the industry. Most impressive is how he keeps elements of his style intact despite constantly evolving. That’s a master at work.
10. Apollo Brown
Staying true can take its toll, but Apollo Brown has weathered the storm and come out the other side as a hero of the underground. He’s committed to refining his formula instead of changing it, chiseling away at the details that hypnotize you. His Grandeur compilation dusts off ’90s vets like M.O.P. and Ras Kass to make them sound brand new next to fresh talent like Your Old Droog and Westside Gunn. His beats often have a slight emotional tug, as if mourning a lost time. More New York rappers should seek him out for beats.
If you said the words Booty Bakery to an average Kaytranada fan in 2015, they might not get it. He’s been hot for years up in Montreal but 2015 saw him bust onto the rap scene, whether in a big way (with Vic Mensa on “Drive Me Crazy”) or a little way (doing two tracks for Wiki’s Lil Me album). In fact, everything Kaytra touched turned to gold this year, whether it was “Your Love” and “P’s & Q’s” for Mick Jenkins or “Girl” for The Internet. His flavor is exactly what rappers could use these days.
Every fucking year, we have to hold a slot for this guy. He casually stole the show on Bronson’s Mr. Wonderful with “Galactic Love,” finally gave 50 something soulful on “Body Bags,” and threw Game a heatrock for “Like Father Like Son 2.” Then he dropped not one, but two incredibly cohesive beat tapes, one of which used only Israeli samples, and topped off the year by rapping and producing on a couple beats for his You Disgust Me album with Oh No. Alchemist makes being a genius seem effortless.
7. Dr. Dre
Dre’s Compton might be the least pivotal album of his career in retrospective, but that’s hardly an insult when you listen to it. You can tell it’s meticulously arranged and orchestrated in a way that’s so over the top, it’s grandiose. Dre’s vision is completely operatic, driving and dripping at all the right moments so it feels more like a theatrical production than a rap album. Hearing the product of so many years of secrecy is inspiring for anyone in the creative field. Dre even brought in about 17 different musicians to flesh out the sound he wanted. We don’t have many maestros like that left in hip-hop.
6. Mike Dean
Southern production legend Mike Dean has quietly helped shape the modern rap scene in the past couple years, first partnering with Kanye and then getting behind Travis Scott for Rodeo. Dean, who’s an executive producer on Rodeo, produced on 12 of the album’s 16 tracks, engineered every session, and mixed the entire LP as well. But that wasn’t enough for Dean, who also co-produced on two songs from 2 Chainz’s Trapavelli Tre and worked on beats for Freddie Gibbs and Justin Bieber while playing keys, drums, and guitar on Weeknd’s “Where You Belong.” The God stays busy.
D.C. rapper/producer Oddisee has been fighting the good fight his whole career and his latest album is probably his best solo work yet. The album teems with life under songs of hardship and the struggles of being an artist. Bongos, organs, horns – they’re all here to soundtrack Oddisee’s beautiful growth as a human being. “It’s a meditation on our capacity to love and the bonds binding us together,” reads his Bandcamp. “It’s our ambition and greed warring with our sense of propriety – a list of paradoxes we all face when living and striving.”
4. Sporting Life
I hear stories about Eric Adiele, the producer better known as Sporting Life. He’s the producer for NYC trio Ratking, so his spare, booming sound is a natural guiding light for the group, but I hear he actually got the group their deal with XL. Nonetheless, it makes a lot of sense to think of Sport as the leader of the pack. His production burns the influence of The Heatmakerz to a thin crisp before dropping it into a tub of bass, and his sound has become so pronounced that he released his own instrumental project this year called 55 5’s. That beat tape, one of the best by far this year, is a melting pot of sounds that finds early ’00s rap clashing with Baltimore Club. Between his work on 700 Fill, his excellent production on Lil Me, his own solo album, and a couple key placements, Sporting Life is by far one of the leading producers in rap right now.
There’s been a lot of chatter about the production team behind To Pimp A Butterfly, as they’ve drawn comparisons to The Soulquarians for their jaw-dropping work on Kendrick’s magnum opus. Yet out of all the moving parts, it’s TDE’s in-house producer Sounwave who is the core of the album’s lean, producing on nine of the LP’s 16 tracks. The L.A.-based beatmaker born Mark Spears has been providing Soul, Q, and K. Dot with sonic beds for almost 10 years now, but he finally got ahold of the reins for a full-length album and helped funnel the influence of acts like Parliament and DJ Quik into a modern day classic.
Give Knxwledge his props already. The guy who bounced around New Jersey and Philly before landing in L.A. seemed to have an infinite number of beat tapes on his Bandcamp throughout the years, but his work ethic belied his creative mind, which has in turn spawned some of the best music we’ve heard this year. He started the year by dropping four beat tapes (don’t try to outwork him -you’ll die first) before releasing his official debut album Hud Dreems on Stones Throw, an instrumental project so sweet and complete that it begs comparisons to Dilla’s Donuts. Then he dropped three more beat tapes, and as if that wasn’t enough, he just released a stupidly funky EP with burgeoning star Anderson Paak called Link Up & Suede. So yes, Knxwledge gets all the awards this year.
1. Metro Boomin
You’d be kidding yourself if you thought any other producer in hip-hop had a year like Metro Boomin. In the span of 12 months, the 22-year-old went from being a Southern staple to becoming the most in-demand producer on the planet. You name ’em, he’s produced for ’em – Future, Meek, Drake, Ty Dolla Sign, Young Thug, Chief Keef. He’s even got New York rap crews reaching out for beats.
Most importantly, he’s become something of a muse for Future, executive producing both DS2 and What A Time To Be Alive. As the architect behind the sound of the hottest rapper in the world, Metro has leveraged his position of power to become the leader of Atlanta’s new movement. We’ll pour out some dirty Sprite to that.