Rap is alive and well, thanks in big part to its producers. Here are 10 beat makers who are some of the best around right now, leading the way and taking hip-hop in exciting new directions.
Formerly one half of prolific production duo Blue Sky Black Death, Televangel is now a solo producer based in Portland, Oregon. As a beat maker, he makes room for both lush ambient soundscapes and intricate, deeply textured beats. His tracks are well-paced excursions which explore mood as much as they do structure. Televangel is uniquely gifted with a sense of sound that can be both hard and soft at the same time, full yet reserved, detailed and beautifully lush. With his latest album, Metatron’s Cube, Televangel linked with rising Seattle rapper AJ Suede to craft one of the best records of the year so far, an album of intricate lines, memorable stories and imagery all matched perfectly with hazy beats that weave head-bobbing drums with a touch of noir.
Sitting in the shadow of California’s hip-hop hotbeds like Los Angeles and Oakland, Sacramento isn’t an area known for its beats scene. But that’s slowly changing thanks in part to local mainstay Mon$rock. He not only co-manages the beat-centric label Coldtwelvers, but also co-hosts Flip A Beat Club (with Dibia$e), a monthly open session where beat makers can create, network and share their music with each other. FABC has helped lay the foundation for what’s becoming a flourishing local production scene in the Sacramento area. “We’re organizing the efforts of beat makers in the community and it’s really becoming something special,” Mon$rock says. In addition to being a pivotal linchpin in the local scene, Mon$rock is also a prolific producer in his own right who specializes in mixing hard-hitting drums with nostalgic boom-bap flair, using samples from old records that your mom probably partied to. Case in point: Nomad, Mon$rock’s collaboration with Sacramento rapper Paini, and Versions, a three part beat tape featuring production from Mon$rock, Bap Notes and Dirty Mumbles.
Since releasing his first solo production project in 2011, Brooklyn-based producer maticulous has made beats for underground legends like MF Doom, R.A. The Rugged Man, and Your Old Droog, to name a few. Along the way, he’s garnered a loyal following from hip-hop heads in the know (DJ Premier counts himself as a fan) and slowly become one of the best rap producers in the game. He creates beats that are reminiscent of rap’s golden era, combining east coast boom bap elements with soul-inflected and emotive textures to create some of the lushest beats around. After producing for others over the past several years, maticulous put the spotlight on his gifts as a producer with his 2021 compilation no caps. Showcasing his signature sound, no caps is a cohesive listen that features guest spots from some of the best east coast (J-Scienide, Kev Brown, Skyzoo, Ill Conscious and midwest (Guilty Simpson) rappers around. Up next, maticulous is readying a third collaborative album with Justo The MC for release in late summer 2022.
North Carolina-based producer L’Orange has been around for more than a decade creating a truly unique sound and becoming one of the best rap producers out. While he initially gained recognition as part of the “beat scene,” he quickly moved beyond the strict definition of the moniker. He represents a new generation of producers, who don’t see genre constraints or concrete definitions, but instead see themselves as artists in a broad sense. They don’t look at the music industry with a view to simply service hungry ears, but instead invite you to join them in experiencing new sounds and embarking on a sonic journey. As a producer, L’Orange’s sound blurs the lines between organic and electronic, psychedelia and hip-hop, conscious and abstract. The concept of “found sounds”—static-laden loops and abstract samples—is very much at play in his music. In between his brilliant instrumental projects (see last year’s The World Is Still Chaos, But I Feel Better), L’Orange has worked alongside forward-thinking rappers like Nashville’s Namir Blade and fellow NC native Solemn Brigham, who together form the duo Marlow.
Ol’ Burger Beats
Norwegian beat-maker Ol’ Burger Beats is a fervent crate digger with an ear for dusty jazz grooves that form the backbone of a distinctive sound that’s all his own. With extensive use of loops from old jazz and soul records heard throughout his tracks, Ol’ Burger Beats has caught the attention of listeners around the world with a unique sound and genuine feel for sample-heavy hip-hop production. His love for the soulful sounds of the past extends beyond just records, however, as evidenced by his occasional explorations into the world of jazz instrumentation and production. His latest release, Loft, is a beat-driven instrumental album inspired by the free and spiritual jazz played by artist of the New York loft movement of the 1960s and 1970s. Jazz leanings aside, Ol’ Burger Beats also works with rappers, including fellow Norwegian Vuyo, who teamed up for the blissful 2021 conversation starter titled Dialogue.
When Spectacular Diagnostics’ beats hit just right, they’re like hearing a new spectrum of sound. The Chicago-based producer has carved out a unique niche that fuses vintage vibes with modern sensibilities, creating one-of-a-kind beats that are as satisfyingly soulful as they are futuristic. His signature “moon bap” sound is a joyously fractured, brilliantly mixed constellation of sounds and samples — psych-fusion, sci-fi movie dialogue, cut-up jazz keys, bits of Bollywood soundtracks, and a whole lot more. His albums Ancient Methods and Natural Mechanics, both released in 2021, received widespread praise for their creative production and brilliant guest features from some of underground rap’s finest emcees, including billy woods, lojii, Elucid, and Jeremiah Jae. 2022 also saw the release of Spectacular Diagnostics’ brilliant collaborative beat tape The Conqueror / Pelēks (with Galaktic Rogue) and he has also been trickling out a slew of laid-back, lo-fi-oriented beats under his toast.hawaii alias.
Preservation has been crafting an arsenal of classic hip-hop for well over 20 years. As tour DJ for Yasiin Bey (fka Mos Def), he’s seen the world from stage in front of thousands of fans, while his production work includes music with Ka, Mach-Hommy, GZA, Raekwon, Quelle Chris, Navy Blue, Nickelus F, MF Doom, Sean Price, Roc Marciano and many more. As a producer, Preservation relies on the power of patience and restraint in his instrumentals, employing idiosyncratic, non-linear arrangements. Sidestepping hip-hop convention, Preservation’s instrumentals skid between genres and time periods to create a style that draws from a variety of cultures. Prime example: his 2020 compilation Eastern Medicine, Western Illness was built entirely from samples from music he found in Hong Kong record stores. Preservation’s latest album with fellow iconoclast billy woods, titled Aethiopes, is one of the best of 2022 so far—a genre-bending collaboration that pushes both artists’ work into uncharted territory and establishes Preservation as one of the top rap producers around.
There are few rap producers that operate with as much smoothness as Nicholas Craven. Craven has been on a rapid rise over the last few years while steadily amassing a sonically moving body of work. His sound is a fresh take on the lo-fi, sample-heavy sound pioneered by Roc Marciano and currently favored by the east coast underground, but with his own cinematic twist. Resembling an homage to the crime films of the 1970s, Craven crafts epic, sprawling beats without sacrificing any of the gritty detail or feel we’ve come to expect from modern-day street rap. Like The Alchemist, Craven’s output is staggering: in the past year alone, he’s released two albums with French rapper Akhenation and a compilation of his own beats, Craven N3, which features a who’s who of underground rap’s finest emcees, including Navy Blue, Boldy James, Stove God Cooks, and Elucid, among others.
Philly producer Small Professor made his name in tribute to the great Large Professor (of Main Source fame), and has lived up to the ambitious title with raw talent and smooth, rugged beats. His drums are hard-hitting and imaginative, often using piano or strings as a foundation for his work. As he built his reputation, Small Pro began working with some of the most respected names in rap like Sean Price, Armand Hammer and Guilty Simpson. His songs pulsate with a menacing and grandiose bounce, underpinned by hard drums, brooding, emotive melodies and plaintive synths. Small Pro’s latest album finds him teaming up with the great AJ Suede to craft one of the best rap releases of the year in Hundred Year Darkness. Hiding away from the sun in a dystopian world, the album is a striking and memorable body of work that is eerie, captivating, and slightly off-kilter, produced entirely by Small Pro and featuring the vivid imagery we’ve come to expect from AJ Suede.
“Eclectic” is the first word that comes to mind when listening to Irish producer The Expert. Crafting interstellar experiments, The Expert’s production style melds 90s boom bap and 60s psychedelia. His beats hit as hard as anything in modern day hip-hop, but have more of an acid rock vibe. With his latest album, a collaboration with rapper Jermiside titled The Overview Effect, The Expert delivers a sci-fi journey through space, with styles ranging from psych-folk and space rock to classic punk, soul and new wave. Thick drum loops ricochet off your neck like a satellite left in space to float freely, accompanied by thick guitar tones, ethereal sitars and trippy synths. It’s and exciting release and an excellent introduction to one of the most unique rap producers around.