Our fourth annual roundup of rap producers includes Young Chop, the point man for Chicago's breakout drill-rap scene (and who probably should have been on the 2013 list … hindsight is 20/20); Childish Major, author of the stunning "UOENO" beat; and Earl Sweatshirt, who produced much of his widely acclaimed Doris himself. The assembled names here aren't as starry as last year's installment, when DJ Mustard and Mike Will Made It went on to dominate 2013. But in an era when nearly anyone can make a decent beat with ProTools software and a laptop computer, it's incredibly difficult to attract widespread industry attention and land major placements. Networking and knowing the right people matter, too, but give these relative newcomers credit for emerging as potential hitmakers in a very crowded field. For them, realizing that potential is the next step.
Key Tracks: Chief Keef, "Love Sosa"; Juicy J, "No Heart No Love"; French Montana, "Ocho Cinco"
Regardless of where you stood on Chief Keef's 2012 run, it's hard not to be impressed with Young Chop, whose backing tracks adorned much of Chicago's "drill rap" output that year. He had a much quieter 2013 as he worked on random tracks for Juicy J ("No Heart No Love"), Kanye West ("Guilt Trip") and Big Sean ("Guap," coproduced with Key Wane). But that's set to change this year. Thanks to a deal with Warner Bros, he's working on a debut album, as well as sundry projects with Wiz Khalifa, Chief Keef and others.
Key Tracks: Rocko, "U.O.E.N.O."; Stalley, "Coupes & Roses"; Young Jeezy, "In My Head"
The Atlanta producer arguably made the single best beat of 2013 in "UEONO." Its synthesized aria, reminiscent of an early '80s Tangerine Dream soundtrack, lent a blissfully cold undertone to Rocko, Future and Rick Ross' riffs on maintaining an omniscience so hidden "you ain't even know it." His other work, like the 8-bit video game flurry and trap drums on Young Jeezy's "In My Head" and the drum-kit percussion and jazzy vibes on "Coupes & Roses," suggests a musician who may not yet have a signature imprint like Mike Will Made It, but is creating interesting sounds as he finds his way in the industry.
Key Tracks: Drake, "Connect"; Pusha T, "Hold On"; Kanye West, "I Am a God"
Why is Hudson Mohawke, a well-known electronic/hip-hop innovator from Scotland, on this list? He wasn't a part of the mainstream rap world until Kanye West recruited him for Kanye's Lifted production team. Hudson has since contributed to the G.O.O.D. Music Cruel Summer comp and Yeezus, and his keyboard programming skills are particularly noticeable on the verse sections of "I Am a God." Drake's "Connect" and Pusha T's "Hold On" suggest that he's finally getting a chance to make rap tracks on his own, and without the crowded, too-many-cooks nature of Kanye's collaborations.
Key Tracks: Mac Miller, "The Star Room"; Earl Sweatshirt, "Hive" and "Chum"
Earl fills a role owned by J Cole on the 2011 list: He's a rapper that produces his beats, and his disquietingly lo-fi bass 'n' drums arrangements were remarkable enough to warrant mention here. Meanwhile, his handful of "randomblackdude" credits on Mac Miller's Watching Movies with the Sound Off prove that he can create similar magic for others, too.
League of Starz
Key Tracks: Problem, "Like Whaaat"; D-Lo, "Get Her Tho"; E-40, "Chitty Bang"
This L.A. seven-man unit has logged dozens of credits over the past two years, including both of Tyga's Young Money albums and E-40's Revenue Retrievin' and The Block Brochure series. They seem adaptable to a given moment. "Like Whaaat" essentially copies Young Bleed's 1998 classic "How Ya Do Dat." D-Lo's "Get Her Tho," which builds from a nondescript beat to an impressive booty-clapping rhythm on the chorus, is more impressive.
Key Tracks: Iamsu!, "100 Grand"; Yo Gotti, "Act Right"; Wiz Khalifa, "Bout Me"
P-Lo of Richmond, Calif.'s HBK Gang is more of a rapper than a producer, but he collected a few impressive credits last year, particularly Yo Gotti's comeback hit "Act Right" and Iamsu!'s club hit "100 Grand." The former's burbling bass slaps were a highlight of the Bay's function music scene. With a solo mixtape due this month, P-Lo will continue to focus on blowing up like his HBK teammate Iamsu!, but he'll also get plenty of chances to make hits as memorable as his 2013 output.
Key Tracks: Drake, "All Me"; Big Sean, "Beware" and "Nothing Is Stopping You"
This Detroit producer has a production contract with Big Sean and worked on several tracks on Sean's recent Hall of Fame, including the urban radio hit "Beware." More impressive is the album cut "Nothing Is Stopping You," which weaves itself around a melancholic piano line and a screwed vocal line. Drake's "All Me" also simmers around a keyboard arrangement and a syrupy vocal sample, which indicates that when it comes to musical inspiration, Key Wane takes his name seriously.