Hip-hop is pop culture. Let’s just face it and call it what it is. It’s grown to the point where every facet of the genre is becoming a point of interest to everyone. We literally cannot get enough, obsessed with the genre’s minutiae and the work behind the scenes of the most interesting hip-hop artists.
In the past, we knew of DJ’s and producers but they hadn’t reached the level of star power as the people behind the scenes like they are today.
Producers are coming out with solo projects, DJ’s are valued independently of the artists they work with, and even labels heads like Top Dawg’s Anthony Tiffith have their own personas. Whereas before I couldn’t tell you about anyone other than the person spitting the bars.
I loved Outkast, but until the Art of Organized Noize documentary on Netflix I didn’t understand or appreciate the genius behind their sound.
Similarly, the trap movement that started with T.I, Jeezy and Gucci didn’t really have us clamoring to know who made those beats. But now, Zaytoven, the organist who’s provided the melodies for the Trap God for over a decade, is now a part of a culture that has led him to unveil a debut album.
That’s the beauty of this era — we want to put everyone who’s contributing the culture in the spotlight.
In the past, your Metro Boomin’s, Dj Esco’s and Mike Will’s would not have the platform and public attention they do.
So how about the artists who have their hands in both pots? The dudes who spit bars and produce? Where’s their shine?
In the past, we’ve had the likes of J.Dilla, Pharrell, Swizz Beats, Ryan Leslie and even Diddy who’ve seen some success from being on both sides of the creative process. But in today’s era where accolades and kudos are being handed out for production credits, I think it’s time we take a look at the most amphibious artists in the game. These are my top five.
Yes, you’re seeing correctly. This isn’t a typo. Chief Keef. His cache has been tainted due to his treatment of gun violence, obsessive drug use and his penchant for finding legal trouble, but you cannot talk about influencers without mentioning Sosa’s name.
You know this entire wave coming out of Chicago? The one led by Chance The Rapper, followed by Noname Gypsy, Mick Jenkins, Saba and more? It all started with Keef and his mega 2011 run. (I still think “Love Sosa” should have won a Grammy.)
Apart from his influence on the Chicago scene and his non-stop work ethic, the 21-year-old has also been producing his own work, even dating back to 2012.
Receiving training from arguably the best drill producer in the game and his good friend Young Chop, Keef has been releasing his production over YouTube and Instagram, and has even dropped a complete project of beats.
His latest effort Two Zero One Seven has Lex Luger, Young Chop and of course Keef all producing. You should check out his skills if you doubt him. See just how good of a teacher Young Chop is.
Here’s a taste of what the Chicago southsider sounds like when he’s on the beat machine above.
J.Cole’s has grown to become one of the most distinguishable artists of his generation. While you have to pay close attention to other’s musicality (Wale) and content (Big Sean), it’s clear that Cole’s journey has been one of self-discovery and straight up talent.
From letting Nas down while searching for that major industry single, to bringing in acts like Trey Songz, Jay-Z and Missy Eliott on his projects, Cole has changed his approach he takes to albums, ditching the preconceived notions of his style on each project. His swag now? Well, you can call him Mr. ‘Platinum With No Features’.
But perhaps more impressive than generating compelling lyrics (written entirely by himself) is Cole’s ability to also produce his own work. In fact, some of his biggest hits have been crafted by Cole himself.
Think “Work Out” (2011), “Crooked Smile” (2013) or “G.O.M.D” (2014).
Above he shows his creative process, breaking down how he came across the infectious sound of his classic “Power Trip”.
With an ear for soul beats and a pen game that will go bar to bar with your favorite, one can only wonder why the Mississippi product doesn’t have a bigger name.
His discography is actually pretty flawless, too. All of his bodies of work have substance, diverse and compelling musical elements and a concentrated theme that many rappers dream to add to their bag of tricks.
Besides the gems he’s dropped on his own projects, K.R.I.T. has managed to also produce smooth joints such as DJ Khaled’s “They Ready” that had J.Cole and Kendrick Lamar and “Glass House” on Wiz’s classic Kush and OJ mixtape.
I think this kid has up next when it comes to exceptional talent on both the producer and rapper tip.
Travis Scott, who started off as a producer, first made waves in the industry working on Kanye’s Yeezus , G.O.O.D Music’s compilation album Cruel Summer and even Jay- Z’s Magna Carta Holy Grail.
His unique employment of auto-tune and his signature ad-libs, combined with his stage presence and mix of turn-up emotional ballads make Scott a wildly diverse and exciting artist.
Like his mentors Kid Cudi and Kanye, Travis Scott has an ability to combine the talents and skills of others to make everyone the product greater than the sum of its parts.
Make no fucking mistake about it. When we’re talking about the duality of both spitting lyrics and making beats, Kanye is the GOAT.
Of late, feelings towards the G.O.O.D. music star have soured a little. Between unthinkable prices for what looks like homeless streetwear, to taking photos with Donald Trump, it’s understandable why.
But please, hold your tongue when you try to slander this man.
From making beats in his apartment for ten summers to sampling Chaka Khan, Yeezy has rightfully earned the genius label. His relentless will for greatness equally drives him to the edge of innovation and insanity and when you hear the process behind Ye’s greatest hits, you may understand why.
Who else puts Bon Iver on a track with Chief Keef? Who else can go from using Reason and Logic (both complex producing programs), to an analog beat machine, to live instrumentation? What’s even more incomprehensible (for lack of a better term) is Kanye’s ability to bring diverse talents together.
We’re not only talking sampling, or making a beat from scratch. We’re talking about taking very subtle elements of large bodies of sound, extracting them and compiling them together.
Watch Cyhi The Prince (ex G.O.O.D music signee) try to put into words the magic of “All of the Lights” above. Cyhi straight up reveling in amazement.
If you look at “Ultralight Beam”, the opening track off his latest effort, The Life of Pablo, Kanye shows how he can seamlessly take talent from all over and put it together, seamlessly combining elements of gospel and hip-hop. NO ONE ELSE IS DOING THIS.
I love how the culture continues to grow. We can only hope to see a more composer-type artists like Kanye.