2014 was a year of versatility and diversity in Hip Hop. No one sound ruled the art form with any kind of an iron fist, leaving a vacuum to be filled by the fantastic work of a multitude of different artists. There’s nothing wrong with this, but for those used to their being an absolute king of things, it may have seemed like a down year. But Hip Hop is winding that particular track at a million miles an hour, and things are changing so rapidly that you may not have noticed that producers are more important than ever. With sales the way they are, having a go-to producer is now more paramount. And with the album now seen as some kind of trophy instead of staple, producers wield more power now than they have in a very long time.
With familiar names bringing some of the year’s best material to the table, our list is a cross-section of both hit-makers and producers with an alternate appeal. Taking full, album length production and singles alike into consideration, we picked five producers who staked their claim on the year. Whether operating in the mainstream or independently, all the producers picked have their own flair behind the boards while backing their feature emcees in the process. With some explanation attached, these are DX’s most important producers of the year.
2014 was the year of DJ Mustard. His sound was everywhere, and everywhere that it was not it was copied to great success (see “Fancy” for details). But there is nowhere he made his presence felt with more ferocity than on YG’s My Krazy Life. That one proved the producer didn’t just have an ear for what would catch the wave of the zeitgeist, but that he could put together an entire project of wound up West Coast minimalism. On that record he both executive produced and has been credited with production on nine of the 14 vignettes. Cementing his place within the culture, despite those lamenting the straightforwardness of his production concepts.
Coming off such enormous success is always tricky, though. And it will be interesting to see DJ Mustard transition into being the go-to producer this year. Either way, his sound knocked around in everyone’s minds this year, and “Mustard on the beat, ho” made it’s way into pop culture in a real way.
Mike WiLL Made-It
Mike Will Made-It has had a superior three year run that has seen him leverage tremendous success into his own imprint (Ear Drummers Records). But that hasn’t stopped him from flooding the airwaves with his own genre of gracious trap-music. Take “Move That Dope” from Future’s Honest, a beat so good it convinced super-producer and “Happy” man Pharrell to drop his best verse of the decade. Or “Buy The World,” a song that saw Weezy, Kendrick and Future come together for a curb-stomped rollick through your eardrums.
But it’s his work on his own label that is, perhaps, most exciting. He kept Rae Sremmurd white hot in 2014, and we’ll be able to hear the fruit of their labor January 6 with the Missouri natives first release. We have a feeling bangers on that record won’t be a problem.
Dahi may not be the biggest name on here but we’re pretty sure you’ve heard his work this year. How about Big Sean’s “IDFWU” or Big K.R.I.T.’s “Cadillactica?” Perhaps you’ve heard ScHoolboy Q’s “Hell Of A Night?” The Los Angeles native has been spreading his wings this year, as well, with forays into R&B with Tinashe and Pop with Madonna.
He also stayed indie, producing SZA’s “Babylon” featuring Kendrick Lamar, Mick Jenkins “Dehydration” and Logic’s down tempo “Never Enough.” So, we’d say the future is as bright for DJ Dahi as he’s willing to make it.
Flying Lotus has reached a level of behind-the-boards dynamism that smells of glowing embers and looks like a comet screeching across the night sky. Such was the sheer skill needed to create his 2014 project You’re Dead!, a fascinating dialectic on the life-after-death experience. We’re not sure if anyone else on earth could have created that album. Something that saw Fly Lo both stretch (creating “Never Catch Me” with Kendrick Lamar), a high speed train ride through the portal from life to death and his first Rap feature on any one of his projects (sans Captain Murphy). And, well compress, allow him to create his most accessible piece of pleasantness in, perhaps, his entire career.
His work this time can only be construed as “future jazz,” a scrawl that only begins to define the careful precision with which this album was created. And, as usual, we have no idea what’s next for the L.A. native, though let’s hope he decides to do some kind of joint project with a emcee who can keep up.
“Fuck you fuckboys forever / Hope I said it politely!” And that may be the creed of Run The Jewels. A pledge pinned to the wall of a bar located on Helios chariot galloping across the stars. Such was the feel of the production on Run The Jewels 2, an album so ridiculously cohesive it felt like a revolution of neo-testosterone: a super Red Bull to give wings to your wariness.
El-P’s production on this is so super-retro-future that the album swallowed you whole, and somehow lit a candle to the absurdity that was 2014. A year we saw a plane disappear without a trace like so much Lost. A year in which we saw the U.S. Government shutdown as our political babes got their diapers changed and their campaigns funded. All of that was pissed on in the maelstrom that was El-Ps mind, and it translated damn near perfectly on to this fantastic piece of work.
Nicki Minaj saw a return to form on her third solo offering The Pinkprint. Album highlight “Want Some More” had the Ms. Onika talking a level of shit not seen since her star stealing verse on Kanye West’s “Monster.” Playing an instrumental role in the track’s production is non other than St. Louis based beat maker Metroboomin’.
Considering the YMCMB first lady’s late 2014 release, his placement on two singles from Future’s Honest album showed his ability for consistent material despite his relatively young age of 21. Even YG, Rick Ross and Migos saw themselves attacking his rhymes. Technically the least seasoned as many on the list, with more time, there’s a chance Leland Wayne could be considered top billing for next year’s end-of list for producer of the year if he continues this type of output.
As many consider 2014 the year of the producer/MC albums, a sure winner for the most underrated joint project this year Ras Kass and Apollo Brown’s Blasphemy. While the more popular production featured on DJ Premier’s PRhyme has a “Golden Era” sheen, the Grand Rapids, Michigan beatsmith goes for a suitably darker vibe to great effect. For the varied amount of samples on display throughout the 15 track album, there’s a streamlined cohesiveness.
Brown serves up a nutritious meal of beats for the Watts spitter to consume and the end results are fierce. Sometimes that buffett of beats gets passed around with some dope features cuts in “H20” featuring Pharoahe Monch and Rakaa Iriscience & Indjnous along with guest verses from Xzibit, Royce Da 5’9 and Bishop Lamont on “Giraffe Pussy.”
There was a moment in time where Zaytoven felt like a flavor of the year producer more known for cultivating Atlanta mainstays ranging from Gucci Mane to Waka Flocka. Hell, he essentially took the blueprint Drumma Boy took for the modern trap sound and elevated past the stratosphere. Almost forgotten the past few years due to the rise of the DJ Mustard’s and Mike WiLL Made-It’s of the world, he made a resurgence due in part to three Gwinnett County, Georgia residence with an affinity for one luxury brand.
That’s right, Migos’ “Versace” lead Xavier Dotson into a better 2014 where he continued to churn out some of the trio’s best non-single tracks from their No Label 2 and Rich Nigga Timeline projects. Though far from the center of attention, Zaytoven reminded many of his production prowess within one of Hip Hop’s megacenters.
There’s an extra layer of craftsmanship in PRhyme that isn’t seen in any Hip Hop album released in 2014. HipHopDX’s Album of The Year involved a producer whose history outclasses anyone on this list. The fact that DJ Premier is still able to pump out albums at this quality of production is almost unbelievable. Then again, he’s no stranger to working with top tier lyricists. Premo brings out the best of not only Royce Da 5’9, but also those fantastic guest appearances from Killer Mike, Ab-Soul, Jay Electronica and more. Then there’s the best assist of DJ Premier’s production; Adrian Younge.
If Adrian Younge’s instrumentals are a luxurious bottle of Louis XIII, the Gangstarr member delivers a transformation nearing the level of that special Black Pearl edition. There’s a taste of perfection that oozes throughout the project’s 34-minute run-time and certainly a nice majority of that is brought upon by non other than the Houston-native himself.
March 2014 served as the tenth anniversary of Madlib’s classic collaborative project with MF Doom, Madvillainy. To this day, the pairing of the California native and British MC will forever be seen as divine. Since then Madlib has put some quality joint projects with everyone from Talib Kweli to Guilty Simpson but non reaching the quality of the album that gave Hip Hop fans “Accordion.” Mr. Quasimoto laid the perfect foundation for unparalleled spitting. This is what makes his musical union with Freddie Gibbs in Cocaine Pinata so ingenious.
If Madvillainy is a slick cerebral journey through the English language, Cocaine Pinata finds Madlib laying down the soundtrack to Gangsta Gibb’s gritty street tales with a specific level of class. Interestingly enough, Madlib’s production carefully caters to the multiple flows from the sped up double-time of the Danny Brown assisted “High” to that particular diss track “Real.”