Swine flu, Balloon Boy, Michael Jackson, Iran, and Cash for Clunkers.
At least there were some cool beats.
For our end of the year Beat Drop, we asked our friends to pick their favorite beats of 2009. Part 1 featured artists; today we have everyone else.
Today, our contributors include
- Jerry Barrow of The Nod Factor / The Urban Daily
- Devin Chanda of GIANT (Pre-RIP) and The Smoking Section
- Quan of HaterPlayer
- Riggs Morales, A&R at Shady Records
- Khal of rock the dub
- Brandon Soderberg of No Trivia
- Joey of Straight Bangin’
- Sweeney Kovar of the defunct Classic Drug References
- Ian of Different Kitchen
- Joesph of Geek Down
- Travis of Wake Your Daughter Up
- DJ RTC of Ruby Hornet
- Jerome Baker III of Better Than Yours
- Dom of Hold The Throne
- jben.ok of Funkadelic Freestyles
- Young H of Go In Radio
- DJ Franchise of Know The Ledge
- Ivan Rott of Hip Hop Is Read
- Jabari Johnson of IamJabari.com
- BMUSE of Always Hustle
- Morph and SimpleSteve of Hip Hop Gremlins
- Jorge of bang the box
- Justin4Q and Josh of The 4th Quarter
- Enigmatik of Boo Goo Doo Boom
- And of ML’s very own Knobbz, Buhizzle, and Rostam
Note: Due to our massive list of contributors, we had to cut A LOT. We may have a part 3 with the outtakes.
Download: Tanya Morgan – She’s Gone
Jerry: This was by far my favorite track on Brooklynati. Young Guru once told me that the the perfect mix combines the low end of a Tribe Called Quest record with the clarity of a Dr. Dre production and Aeon nailed both requirements with his subsonic bass and beautiful vibes. I’m looking out for more from The Lessondary crew.
Ivan: This hypnotic concoction by The Alchemist is a culmination of the best sounds from Madlib’s Beat Konducta in India with some added bark and bite. The drums and bass reverberate throughout each bar loop as LCN and Bun B crush the building with their threat-filled raps. This is the textbook example of a banger track.
Quan: Three 6 Mafia is perfect for this track because this Alchemist beat is along the same lines of Satanic hip-hop that Three 6 came up on earlier in their career (and the style they went back to this year). The difference being that Three 6 beats sound like gargoyles, church steeples, and bloody goblets and shit. This beat sounds like a record being played backwards, twisting a nice sunny melody into a secret message from Lucifer.
Buhizzle: This sounds like the sort of beat that Alchemist would make for a Mobb Deep record… right before taking a bunch of hard drugs and tweaking out over a drum machine. If you try to nod your head to this, you’ll probably find yourself nodding at several different speeds throughout the song (assuming you can last through the entire song). With the various all-over-the-place sound effects and the moaning female vocals in the chorus, some may say that this beat was executed sloppily… but, I think that was the point. And, in that sense, this beat was executed perfectly.
Download: Raekwon – Surgical Gloves
Khal: From the opening chords, I knew this beat was going to be a problem. ALC has some of the freshest sounds out there, but the excellence behind this instrumental is realizing how he fleshed the sounds out – it’s something like 5 bars then it re-loops? It’s so off-kilter, and I guarantee if you’ve not heard it, you’ll get halfway into the first verse and have to wheel it back – professional shit right there.
Download: Brother Ali – The Travelers
Morph: A decent drum loop but the marimbas definitely make the track and play in an endless loop in your head for the hours to follow. Honestly though, Ant spazzed on this album and all of the beats could go up here but this one’s left field use of the marimbas sets it apart from the rest.
Download: Banana Leaf – Perverts In Love
SimpleSteve: No matter when I give this burn, It never ceases to give me the chills. Co-founder of the underground powerhouse that is the Demigodz, CT native Apathy laces Holly Brook, a talented songstress from Wisconsin, with an eerie yet beautiful arrangement of middle eastern sounding strings and pianos pieced together over a drum track that is although simple, so necessary.
Apple Juice Kid
Download: Wale – My Sweetie
Devin: Apple Juice Kid (best or worst name ever, depending on who you ask) produced this, sampling an African joint, “Let Me Love You” by Bunny Mack. So, Wale hopped on it to give something to “everybody who was ever forced to go to African parties wit they parents in the 80s 90s.” Now, I’m not African but this joint knocks like some soca joint, so cats on both sides of the Atlantic can get down to it. It was originally slated for Attention Deficit and though the beats that did make the album were far from formulaic, this joint would’ve been the most refreshing.
Riggs: As has been the case for the last 5 years, R&B tracks have surpassed hip-hop tracks when it comes to having a fresh and distinct quality to it. The melody and simplicity in this track make it easy for anyone to get on it and sound tolerable. It could have been a rapper’s single, but seems few saw this for the gem it was, expect for Sean Garrett. In another life, this one could have made for bangin’ De La Soul track.
Best Kept Secret
Download: Wale – Pretty Girls
Rostam: I love go-go. So when Best Kept Secret decided to sample one of the greatest bands for a track with the most prominent DC artist, I was all for it. I’ve enjoyed a lot of beats from Best Kept Secret, but the duo have never scored like they did here. You can dance to it and it bumps in the damn trunk. Greatness
Download: BK-One – Philly Boy (ft. Black Thought)
Joey: There were likely years when a slow rap song with a lonely guitar ambling along across an otherwise sparse vacuum would not have registered with me. But time marches forward and tastes change. As a result, “Philly Boy” has resonated. Most basically, the song falls into the general category of head-nod music, a track which one can’t help but bob along to. The steady rhythm, punctuated by that tambourine, is hypnotic. The track grabs you, but you don’t know it until you feel it in your neck and snap out of whatever loose thoughts had invaded your consciousness. That’s another of the understated song’s strengths: I lose myself in thought while listening to this song more than I do with almost any other. The melancholy tone renders Tariq’s vocals just another instrument, a white noise that, somewhat paradoxically, sharpens the guitar. Divorcing the words from their intrinsic power, “Philly Boy” transforms into a blank slate onto which a listener can easily project his mind’s contents. From a lazy day around the house to errands in the car, “Philly Boy” suits almost any activity precisely because it is such an inviting, innocuous beat. Admittedly, the softness and the quietness, the tenderness–these things might skew toward something sad. But really, the beat is one of reflection, warm or cold, and that it can evoke an unwitting, visceral response so regularly is testament to its simple power.
Download: G-Side – In The Rain
Quan: I bet Block Beataz think they’re so damn clever for naming this “In The Rain” and then having all the keys and strings and vocals keep poking in gently, pitter-pattering like raindrops. Well they are. And it just so happens that the production is fucking beautiful, like in a “purify your soul”-type of way.
Download: G-Side – Rising Sun (ft. Kristmas)
Brandon: The music that plays at your town’s Chinese food buffet sent through Auto-Tune. A hard-ass Slim Thug sample underscored by mournful piano. A wave of ghetto-tech “Hey!”s and 808 stutters that grow more desperate each time they rush through the background of the song. Yes, it sounds incredible, but it’s also the only soundscape expansive enough for G-Side’s edifying rhymes.
Joseph: Before 6 Tre’s verse he shouts a “rest in peace” to “Wild Bill,” which seems warmly song-specific. Block Beataz songcraft is so honed and specific to a context I’m not attune to, that when I hear something like “Bill-dubby-bass” in the background-chorus of this song, I assume it’s something personal (as opposed to a sample) referencing the same “Wild Bill.” That nearly all elements of the chorus come from 6 Tre’s verse also speaks to this. Block Beataz all ready have this unique aesthetic that involves heavy synth-layering and gradual speeding/slowing of vocals that when they use a sample from the same song, it comes off spectacular and inhuman. Not to get all pothead, but it’s like hearing a fractal. The layering of this beat is so intense, building upon itself and covering a wide range of the frequency spectrum, creating this warm, inviting environment to inhabit. When I put this song on I hope it lasts forever.
Download: Passion Pit – Sleepyhead
Jabari: This beat was just incredible. Sounded like Timbaland and Mark Ronson got together for a pow wow and created it. The video was was one the best of 2009 as well.
Download: Dam Funk – Come On Outside
Jerome: The double time drums/echo effect/ I don’t know what it is of this song make it beyond dope. Dam is all about synths and when the synth included in my favorite song on his CD kicks in you already know this is going to be quite the fantastic. Everything just works here: keys, drums, etc. My favorite song/beat of 2009.
Damu The Fudgemunk
Travis: Damu The Fudgemunk of Washington D.C. and Y Society fame, took the blueprint of classic 90′s golden age beats and added to it for the beat on “Prosper”, from his Killawatt Vol 1 EP. Sounding like a cross between classic Beatminerz and D.I.T.C. sounds, Damu hooks up fairly familiar samples and breathes new life into them.
Download: Mavado – Sixteen
Enigmatik: You didn’t hear a single MC spit over this fire track because it wasn’t made for rappers. This dancehall riddim was one of my favorite beats of ’09 and for that reason I had to include it in my top 5. I shared this track with khal (Rock The Dub) and he helped me to craft a megamix featuring some of the top deejays doing their best to out-voice the other on the track. My personal favorite version was Mavado’s take on the riddim. Pure madness on this one.
Joseph: This beat is so daringly minimal… with a trashy, deflated bass drum and an 808 kick+clap, DJ Fresh creates the negative space D-LO and his Bay Area compatriots use to detail the pros and cons of tracking girls out on Craigslist. The beat helps paint an absurd and hilarious picture of what “pimping” means in modern-day Californian culture. Where pimping once signified an unironic statement of status and class, we now get puns about Pro Tools and Yoko Ono… There are only two simple melodic lines that accompany the minimalist bounce of “No Hoe”… and the sound, akin to the lovechild of Snap and Hyphy, welcomes everyone to throw their hands up in ecstatic joy regardless of what side of the track they’re on.
Download: The Clipse – Kinda Like a Big Deal
Riggs: This is some B-Boy shit with a modern twist. It’s more bap-boom, than boom-bap. It knocked hard and left space for worthy spitters to kill it with ease. Good to see DJ Khalil get his just due after years of being ahead of curve.
Dom: DJ Khalil has emerged the past couple years as a go-to beatmaker, whether it’s in-house for Aftermath or Fabolous, Talib Kweli or the fellas of Slaughterhouse. His finest moment, though, came in the form of this banger from Clipse’s long-awaited Till The Casket Drops. Signature drums are a staple of the Los Angeles-based producer’s discography, so there’s no surprise that this beat is driven by its progressive kick-snare variations and effective bongo strikes. A menacing guitar riff rides the drums, as synth-y flares and a wild screaming sample pop up occasionally to provide the track with depth. Even ‘Yeezy puts aside his ego to tear up Khalil’s thumping production, best played while cruising in the whip, which is why “KLABD” is the featured single on one of ‘09’s top discs.
Justin4Q: This was unofficially the street anthem of the year. DJ Khalil made the entire beat with no samples only using crazy guitar licks from Chin Injeti, matching percussion and bass, and a little computer effects. When finished, Khalil had a true banger on his hands. Now add the Clipse and Kanye West to the mix and you have got iPods, CD players, and stereos everywhere on repeat. I know I used my repeat button several times over the summer with this track.
Download: Slaughterhouse – The One
RTC: DJ Khalil got everything right on this one, the perfect infusion of rock, a beat that bboys could love, and a vocal that sounded like it was ripped right out of the 90′s Grunge Era. Garbage is eating their hearts out right now.
Download: Blaq Poet – Ain’t Nuttin Changed
Knobbz: Producers, don’t get any ideas. DJ Premier is the only producer who can get away with using an Akon sample. Only Premo would think to do a call and response between Akon’s lightly Auto-Tuned voice and Blaq Poet’s gravelly growl. As much as we praise our left-field underground producers, Premier is still leagues ahead of all of them. Still the greatest of all time.
Download: DJ Quik & Kurupt – 9x’s Outta 10
Knobbz: I loved the warm West Coast jams on BlaQKout, but it was the amelodic “9x’s Outta 10″ with its irregular drums and big empty spaces that really blew me away. Its bold new sound is truly beyond comparison. The best I can muster is “Drop It Like It’s Hot” meets “Grindin.’” You would think DJ Quik’s heyday is long past, but this will be one of the defining songs of his career.
Download: DJ Quik & Kurupt – Hey Playa!
Buhizzle: Like several hyped-up West Coast side projects before it — Helter Skelter (Dr. Dre and Ice Cube) and the N.W.A. reunion (with Snoop in place of Eazy-E) always come to mind — the thought of a Quik-Kurupt collaboration album seemed too good to be true. But, it came true… and, in my opinion, it was too good. Quik has never taken a step backwards in his production, and Kurupt was the perfect type of “MC’s MC” to rhyme over the experiments that Quik cooked up this time around. Honorable mention goes to “Do You Know” and its “Anniversary”-chopping-and-chipmunking, but “Hey Playa!” just has that undeniable nod factor. The female-sung chorus is a well-executed example of the West Coast’s hip hop aesthetic, while Quik adds an international flavor with the Mariachi-sounding instrumentation laid over sampled Moroccan chant-like vocals (which Quik cleverly lifted from an episode of Bizarre Foods).
Download: Eminem – Taking My Ball
Riggs: Dre’s use of Bob James’ “Mardi Gras” on this joint could have made this track a club smash for the ages, but my boss chose to “shove a Tonka truck up a little kid’s butthole” and got sick with the flow from an MCing stand point. Fly joint…but the stuff on Detox is flyer.
Download: Raekwon – Catlaina
Dom: Aight, hear me out right quick. As much as OB4CLII is a modern classic compliments of the Chef’s verbal tenacity, it should also be recognized as a musical masterpiece on the production tip. I honestly could have picked any number of tracks for this Beat Drop, so this was not an easy decision. The reason I’m highlighting Dre’s effort and not RZA, J Dilla, Alchemist or even Necro is because “Catalina” possesses a distinctly different sound on an album crammed with coarse, brutal beats. As a sparkling piano melody floats over a rumbling bassline, it invokes a festive mood that starkly contrasts the Mafioso plots and street storylines that fill the album. Dre shows that he’s aware that every tale of hardship or violence needs its happy ending, to reflect on what’s in the rearview. I could easily picture Rae and Lyfe Jennings as passengers on Dre’s yacht, dictating that surviving is reason enough to rejoice.
Download: Duck Sauce – aNYway
Jerome: Duck Sauce is the pairing of A-Trak & Armand Van Helden, and by joining forces they combined to make the best dance song of the year. By using a SWEEEEET Final Edition sample, fist pumpers throughout the nation joined forces w/disco house heads and did it anyway they wanted all night long.
Download: Exile – Love Line
BMUSE: This beat just brings back everything I love about music. It’s a blend of classic sounds and futuristic sounding effects. Perfect samples, perfect tempo, its just a very good listen. I could vibe out or freestyle to this all day. My head is still bobbing. Still bobbing….
Download: Fashawn – Samsonite Man
jben.ok: The standout track off Fashawn’s Boy Meets World features a terrific sample – Billy Paul’s rendition of “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” – and just happens to include some of the best drums I’ve heard all year. “Samsonite Man” is a driving, forceful soundscape that invokes nostalgic memories – and I’m JUST talking about the beat.
Download: Fashawn – Hey Young World
Devin: I heard the album back in June, so I had to wait until September for the watermark to arrive. As soon as it did, I told the editor with the loudest speakers to pop the disc in and skip to track three (this one). I was fiendin’, to say the least. One of the fashion editors overheard the track and asked if it was some vintage Nas joint. In a sense, she wasn’t far off.
Download: Gucci Mane – Hurry
Joseph: I remember “Hurry” most as the fist track on Writing on the Wall (the first mixtape when I really started paying attention to Gucci). The urgency Fatboi creates here has to do with the falling melody of the verses… it’s like listening to something constantly collapsing and trying to correct itself to a standing position. Gucci’s awesome, post-jail rhymes have a lot to do with building the constant momentum of “Hurry,” but Fatboi does a lot with the broken-Casiotone melodies that fold in and out of the track. The synth lines awkwardly ride the wave of Southern stereotype and rave-ish ecstasy binges… it’s a brilliant sound that never finds a balance amidst the nervous energy of “Hurry.”
Flying Lotus – Cat Leaf (unreleased)
Sweeney: I have to admit, I always had a great deal of respect for Lotus but I wasn’t necessarily his biggest fan. The stuff I’ve heard in the past 6 months of living in LA has definitely changed that. He has been growing at an incredible rate in the past few years and is finally, in my opinion, started to congeal into the type of legendary artist he will ultimately be.
Download: Rick Ross – Mafia Music
Joey: A song for doing work. Am I wrong? That opening piano note strikes, the strings and organ start to build, then the Lamont Dozier sample hits and it’s on. This beat is straight cinema, and it’s unfortunate that Ricky’s video did it such a disservice. Real mafia music–like this track–demands a tinted-window whip riding through the night, on some Michael Mann cinema-verite shit. Or maybe I just think this song could have found a home in Heat. It isn’t about handicam shots of a fat guy eating himself to death. Regardless, the steady, engrossing track plays out with malevolent intentions. This is not a track that you take lightly. You throw it on with a sense of purpose. “Mafia Music” also stands as a welcomed divergence from the cheap, electronic sounds and frenetic drum programs which tend to characterize Miami’s prominent hip-hop. Rather, the Inkredibles tapped into the sort of dark, bleak, angry mood that appears to fester in parts of Virginia (see: the Clipse). It’s a legitimately gripping soundscape, and it has stayed in heavy rotation as a result.
Download: Fat Joe – Hey Joe
Ian: Joey Crack gets clowned all the time by the internet contingent of the hip-hop peanut gallery. He has never gotten his due as an artist despite having not only survived but endured and been a force in the game for damn near 20 years now, dropping solid album after solid album. Whatever you might think of his MC skills, his beat selection ear has usually been pretty on-point and this beat is no exception. The production and sound are both epic: a massive Hendrix loop that is built upon with layers and layers of drums, effects and others sounds to create a gigantic, anthemic banger that is nothing but a pure hip hop wall of sound!
Download: J Dilla – Blood Sport (ft. Lil Fame)
Khal: Another “instant screw face” track, this has been my ringtone for a good part of the year. I remember hearing “Code Of The Streets” from the Dillagence mixtape, and lovin’ how Dilla could manipulate the rage that niggas like MOP and Busta Rhymes has, and to realize how ill that combo is, whether posthumous or not, is excellent. The 2nd beat is dope, but doesn’t hold a candle to the wicked first beat.
Jerry: This is my pick for best beat of the year for both practical and sentimental reasons. I haven’t heard the Wu sound this amped since Triumph and Dilla managed to do what Bink! did on GZA’s “Animal Planet”: run with RZA’s style but leaving your own footprints on the track.
Download: Mos Def – History
jben.ok: Mos Def’s The Ecstatic was a bit of letdown for hip-hop fans (but which post-2000 Mos Def album wasn’t?), but surely enough, there were some shining moments. While most of the posthumous releases from the late producer Jay Dee aka J Dilla can’t be deemed “extraordinary,” his sample of Mary Wells “Two Lover’s History” on “History” certainly is. The brilliance of “Dilla time signatures” was perhaps best exemplified by a live performance with The Roots on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon, which included The Dirty Projectors singing the Wells sample along with the beat.
Josh: The J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League had a number of hot tracks in 2009. This time they took an Angela Bofill sample that had been used a few times in years past and turned it into a track that has you feeling like you’re riding shotgun with a mafia kingpin who’s swimming in women. These were the kinds of songs that made people forget or not care about the whole CO scandal. My favorite mainstream beat of the year.
Ian: The DJ Khaled school of anthem rap is kind of like musical comfort food: it tastes good, goes down easy and fills you up. But like bad fast food, it can also tend towards the generic. And on a casual listen, this track could be dismissed as more of the same but a closer listen reveals it to be something more: live instrumentation that sounds like they had an entire orchestra, led by a mad conductor, on a giant soundstage laying down these sounds. But its not a conductor here, but the production trio, J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League acting as the Hip Hop Gil Evans to Rick Ross’ Miles Davis creating this masterpiece. Yeah, I know I just compared corny-ass Rick Ross to Miles Davis but as far as this beat goes, the instrumentation and arrangements on this track are verging on cinematic music score levels, much like the music on Evans and Davis’ Sketches of Spain, in terms of their scope and sophistication. Say what you want about the MC but this was easily one of the standout beats of the year.
Dom: For every thing about this jawn that is wrong (starting with Officer Ricky), J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League diverts my attention long enough to enjoy all that is blissfully right.The lush opening sequence, the jazzy Miles Davis-esque trumpet blares, the Friends of Distinction sample, the crisp drum pattern, the crescendo to a vibrant chorus, and the larger-than-life atmosphere interconnect for a platform on which the trio of MCs brag away. Often times I block out the rhymes and Teddy PenderAss hook to vibe free from vocal interference. A line-up like this called for a grandiose instrumental, and Rook, Colione & Barto delivered one as elegant and stylish as the luxury vehicle referenced in the title.
Download: Rick Ross – Rich Off Cocaine
Jerry: This song was the definition of guilty pleasure for me. If not for the hook I’d have been playing this a lot more. Their use of WIllie Hutch’s “Color Her Sunshine” was nothing short of amazing, in both choice and execution and Avery storm’s voice complements this so well I wish he’d pull an Alicia Keys and do his own version without Ross.
Download: Rick Ross – Yacht Club ft. Magazeen)
Buhizzle: Nelly (remember him?) may act trife when he hears producers sell the same beat twice, but I don’t think J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League is to blame for this one — rather, the production team sold the beat to Def Jam, who must have thought that no one would notice the same beat appearing on two of the label’s ’09 album releases. It would be easier to be mad at Def Jam if it weren’t for both tracks being dope — I’d like both Deeper Than Rap (which I liked a lot) and Ghostdini: Wizard Of Poetry In Emerald City (which wasn’t really my cup of henny, but respectable) each a little less if these respective tracks were removed. The fact that the beat was used so differently by each artist goes to show how great the beat is — while it’s smooth enough to serve as background music for Officer Ricky to eat fried fish and make out with like eight broads to (hope he chewed some gum in between, for the girls’ sake), those same horns that sound playful behind Magazeen’s rasta hook also build up suspense as Ghost vividly narrates yet another adventure (here, walking in on his wife getting an after-hours cable installation from Fios-Fab).
Jeff Bhasker, Plain Pat
Download: Kid Cudi – My World
Rostam: This track is a mix between Three 6 Mafia and Gnarls Barkley. The synth heavy hook makes it seem like something that was held off 808′s and Heartbreak because it was TOO epic. Jeff Bhasker and Plain Pat produced this track. It seems like Bhasker uses the synth heavily in a lot of his songs, but I can’t blame the guy.
Download: Jay-Z – When The Money Goes
Devin: The story goes this was an American Gangster leftover that “Fallin’” probably took the place of, given the lyrics. To me, “Fallin’” relied too heavily on the vocal sample to bring those emotions of insecurity and weakness, while the strings on this did a better job at that. The joint was too ill to be left on the cutting room floor so Fab had to reuse it for his own AG retread, thus reminding us that when he isn’t mismanaging Janet’s career, Jermaine can make a dope beat, word to Daddy Mac.
Quan: A beat made up primarily of incessant chanting (seriously, the chanting is the melody or something), pulsating bass, and some excellent drum programming (especially that tinny drum fill leading into the hook that’s so rapid, it blurs together). And then Gorilla Zoe raps with all this bass in his voice, like the opposite of Auto-Tune or something. And then this gothic-ass church music fades in for no reason during Project Pat’s verse. This is gangster as hell and I love it.
Joesph: Hypnotize Minds had the greatest 2009. Count among their successes: brilliant solo albums from Juicy J, DJ Paul, Project Pat and Lil Wyte, and a handful of excellent mixtape releases. This is my favorite beat of the year period, let alone from the Hypnotize Minds Camp Posse. Another minimal beat of only drums and vocal samples, its catchiness is like a worm that digs itself deep into the subconscious. This is the version that came out on Juicy J’s Realest Nigga Alive mixtape (the official version on Hustle Till I Die has an extra piano part that comes on during Project Patta’s verse that sort of kills the mood).
Jay Electronica – Exhibit C
Rostam: Did I say Put Me In The Game was the anthem for victory? Fuck that. This is the anthem. On the surface it seems like the sample makes this song, but the piano is what makes this great. It’s a late entry, but this is easily one of the best beats of the year
Sweeney: Jay Electronica is the best rapper out right now, period. Only Blu can hang with him as far as current quality of output (not releases, sorry, I know y’all get mad when I start talking about shit I cant let people hear). This beat reminds me of Just’s Blueprint era beats, only better. Jay of course murders it. Best rap song of ’09, easy.
jben.ok: Just like the Oscar season, the best projects tend to be released at the end of the year. Lucky for you, Jay Electronica and Just Blaze happen to LOVE suspense – they premiered this musical masterpiece in the last month of 2009. It’s true that Jay can spit – and lyrically, he murdered everyone on this track – but what makes the “Exhibit C” beat one of the best of the year? Perhaps it’s the spacey overdrive sound at the beginning and end of each verse, the epic sample, or the bar lounge keys at the song’s conclusion. Overall, this song just has it all – and has restored my hope for truly unique compositions in hip-hop.
Franchise: I know this will be on everyone’s list but I would like to add my opinion on it. I think we can all agree that Jay Electronica’s flow murders the track but Just Blaze’s beat stands alone w/o Jay’s verses. The Billy Stewart sample and banging drums is the beat to beat in 2010. Sadly, I predict this will be “A Milli” 2010.
SimpleSteve: All I can say about this work of art is that it’s simply amazing… Just Blaze really outdone himself on this one, boy… I would have been satisfied if all it was was the intro with the tinging guitar, but then it proceeds to blow your mind with the beautiful arrangement of flutes and some-what funky backing guitar that seem to mesh flawlessly with the ever-so simple drum loop. Although this has yet to be released as a full song (or even a legit snippet), It’s safe to say that if this can’t be considered my favorite beat of 09, it sure as hell is gonna be my pick for 2010.
Kanye West, No I.D.
Download: Jay-Z – Run This Town
RTC: I wanted to stay away from picking a Kanye joint or a heavy-heavy radio joint, but there is no denying this song. Kanye and No I.D. made a rallying cry, and the perfect soundscape for a true anthem. The subtle and repeating echo is a detail that puts it over the edge, and creates a real inspiring tone. I know it can be hard to separate the beat from the finished song, but either way, this was one of the year’s best.
Brandon: The way the whole thing kinda quiets down for Kanye West’s scene-stealing verse and casually builds back up, piece by piece is thrilling. The military march drums, the scrunched-up guitars, and the best use of a bird squawk since The W’s “Protect Ya Neck (The Jump Off)” make this the radio track of the year.
Justin4Q: This was my personal anthem of 2009. A slow, melodic beat provided by the Los Angeles Unified Sound District with a seemingly effortless flow by LA’s own Dom Kennedy sets the mood for this track. BJ the Chicago Kid provided a soulful harmony for the chorus and paints the perfect scenario. Picture me cruising down Sunset Blvd on a sunny Cali day, both windows rolled down, all black shaded on, and blasting this song from my speakers. Yep. Perfect.
Download: DOOM – Absolutely
Rostam: We’ve heard a lot of great work from the Loop Digger this year, but this beat stands out among the best he has ever done. The samples are on point and really mesh with DOOM’s depressing lyrics on this song. I’ve been looking like a fool for this instrumental since I first heard it and I don’t even rap!
Download: Madlib & Guilty Simpson – The Paper
Knobbz: A master of exotic samples, Madlib turned some African tribal shit into a Guilty Simpson Detroit banger. Even if another producer found this sample first, they wouldn’t have thought to add the finger snaps after each bar or cut the gong sound short. It’s considerations like these that set Madlib apart from every other hip-hop producer. If I ever get five minutes alone with Ahmadinejad, I’m going to play this while I go Bear Jew on his ass.
Joey: Surely, Madlib’s done nothing groundbreaking here. He’s taken a drum pattern, he’s looped some samples on top of themselves, and he’s added in that good ol’ Madlib filler. But…that’s hip-hop. He’s created a wholly new song out of disparate parts. “Chittlins” has that dusty, worn feeling, like an old couch on which you’re ambivalent about lounging. The cushions are soft but the threads are pilled up and it has the smell of a expired fabric. On the one hand, it’s comfortable, and there is the meta reinforcement the comes from knowing that sitting on such a couch is kind of funny in the first place. So you go with it, even though, on the other hand, you probably aren’t doing your hygiene any favors. This beat channels that experience; it’s technically proficient and experientially goofy. And that, too, is sort of hip-hop.
Download: Rhymefest – Pulls Me Back
Brandon: Rhymefest’s about to cry flow rubs up against 80s cheese and a go-for-broke reggae hook and it’s as deeply moving as it ridiculous. Subtle details counter-act and justify the Puffy-like excess: the way the “Africa” sample slowly fades-in, those random spurts of expanding and contracting electronics. Somehow, it makes sense that ‘Fest would rap about lost jobs and the shorty that shot the mall up, over a crucial flip of Toto’s “Africa”.
Mos Def, Preservation
Download: Mos Def – Casa Bey
Jorge: Casa Bey is the third single from Mos’ latest album effort, The Ecstatic. From Mos’ flow on the first 8 bars I was hooked and over the next 4 minutes the track just evolves into a grandiose musical affair complete with horns, keys and everything in between. It’s a very masterful progression from hip hop to full-on soul. I had the opportunity to hear Mos perform it live and it was huge.
Download: The Clipse – Showing Out and Door Man
Devin: Both cuts are easily the Clipse’s illest bangers since “Grindin’.” With that crescendo on “Showing Out”—as the horns are piled on—Chad must’ve had DMX or M.O.P. in mind when he was making the beat. And on “Door Man,” the quick trombone before the explosion of other horns is too perfect. La, la, la, la, la, la, la, la, la, laaaaaa…..
Download: Jay-Z – D.O.A. (Death of Auto-Tune)
Riggs: The sour face joint of 09. This was the only aggressive cut an otherwise mellow album and was the only beat wearing brass knuckles and a black hoodie on day time radio. It’s one thing to find the sample, yet another thing to do something with it in a way that makes it untouchable for years to come. Break diggers chased down the sample in record time and NO ID reminded everyone why he’s the Yoda of this hip-hop beat shit.
Jerome: I’m a sucker for obscure samples and an even bigger fan of NO I.D., and his production. This is just hip hop production at its finest to me: sampling the drums, reworking parts of the song to make it an even better production and letting the horn play just a second to long.
Travis: No I.D. and Jay-Z? Hell five years ago, I would have taken it as a sign of the apocalypse was approaching. My how things have changed. I love tracks that provide a lot of energy, and No ID brings the energy on “D.O.A.” Forgot the message, which I agreed with, No I.D.brings a mix of whiney sax and bluesy guitar riffs all layered over a slammin’ drum kick. Sampled from a fairly obscure 1970′s record, No I.D. hooked up a nice soundscape for Jay to deliver his message. Problem is, the package took away from the message. Oh well, get that break, No I.D.
Dom: This was undoubtedly the biggest and best of ’09. When Funk Flex debuted “D.O.A.” on Hot 97, I sat in my car for the entire half hour presentation going absolutely crazy. Not for what Jay was saying as much as the beat snapped my neck from the first clarinet blast then had me nodding more than a fiend for the duration.
Khal: I had to do it. The beauty of this track is not the anthem Jigga penned over it; it’s the fact that, this could’ve been an instrumental and had the same title. Niggas don’t really auto-tune over chopped samples like this (hat tip to Ivan for the ID), and when you hear the original and see how No I.D. fleshed this one out? Murder. I was rockin’ with Flex and Mister C and their rewinds, not even for Hov’s lines… just for that BEAT!
Download: Diamond District – Who I Be
Quan: This beat’s like 95% low end bass thump, real menacing, like everything’s lurking in the shadows waiting to beat the crap out of you with billy clubs. The ODB sample and all the siren-y background noises add an appropriate touch of “crazy” to that menace. The DMV sounds like a scary place.
Young H: In case you were in a cave or a coma this past spring the Diamond District’s In The Ruff project shook up the internet, showing us the grittier flipside of the DMV coin that Wale doesn’t represent. The group is spearheaded by Oddisee who is their main producer as well as the rapping go between for the battle rap styling of yU and the street realism contributed by X.O. “Streets Wont Let Me Chill” is a rousing number that takes no prisoners, with horns that accentuate the track, allowing each of the group’s members to wax poetic in their own unique fashion.
RTC: What’s great about this beat is that from the beginning it has a sense of urgency. There’s a creepy/errie tone that makes me imagine a gritty alley, or an empty Chicago street at like 4AM. The vocal sample jumps in and adds to the franticness of everything. Oddisee’s drums are his classic boom-bap style, and all together it’s one my favorite beats of ’09.
Download: Diamond District – In The Ruff
Brandon: This Oddisee beat sounds claustrophobic, and walls closing-in but it’s elegant (that gauzy loop of bells, voice, and maybe guitar) and damned catchy too. Just like all the 90s boom-bap Diamond District are talking to, this is dusted, angular, sideways pop. And man, that foggy, vinyl fuzz coda is worthy of the interludes on Mecca & The Soul Brother or something. No really, it is.
Download: Diamond District – I Mean Business
Jerry: Oddisee is so sick on that ASR-X and this single is just one of the reasons In The Ruff is one of my favorite albums of 2009.The organs, the drums…the sprinkling of the Vic Juris sample from Gang Starr’s “Mass Appeal” was a great wink to Preemo. When soldiers in Iraq write you telling you how good a song motivates them you’ve done your job.
Download: Paten Locke – Ventilation
Travis: Paten Locke aka Therapy of the AB’s and Smile Rays hooks an dreamy like beat. Equipped with piano keys, airy strings, scratching, a hypnotic vocal sample and a flute like sample, this beat would make a mean dream sequence for some movie. It really captures the essence of the song, making the lyrics mean more and producing a feeling of euphoria. Sounds like some crazy trip, but it won’t show up on a drug test.
Download: Red Cafe – Hottest In Da Hood
Ivan: If Red Cafe was as popular as Lil Wayne, “Hottest In Da Hood” would’ve been the ’09 version of “A Milli”. This is the kind of infectious beat that everyone would want to hop on, and indeed many remixes were born from this Reefa heat rock. I even found myself nodding off some freestyle bars to this one. “Hottest In Da Hood” is the front runner for the best mixtape beat of ’09 in my book.
Download: U-N-I – Hollywood Hiatus
Josh: Ro Blvd flipped New Edition’s 80s hit “Cool It Now” to give U-N-I an unusual, yet addictive, uptempo hit. You wonder what made him sample that particular song until you actually hear what he was able to do with it.
Ivan: Wu-Tang is forever and “New Wu” is the proof in the pudding. Released sixteen years after the Clan’s debut, it’s a marvel that such a perfect sample for a Wu track would still be hiding in the crates. Enter 2009. It’s not just the great dig and loop that’s worth mentioning. RZA’s slicing snares and his keen ear to detail make this a head bopper worthy of the repeat button.
Franchise: New Wu? Ironically, this song sounded so much like the old Wu that the “Wu Ohh” title would’ve fit better. Like most hip-hop heads, knowing that RZA produced this beat brought back the nostalgia and excitement for the energy that a strong Wu record can only bring. With a haunting soul sample and ear-shattering drums, I can see DJ Khalil going back to studio to see how he can keep up with RZA.
Sa-Ra Creative Partners
Download: Sa-Ra Creative Partners – Love Czars
Sweeney: Sa-Ra (Shafiq Husayn, Om’Mas Keith and Taz Arnold) have been ahead of their time for a few years now, it finally seems like the masses are catching up. This is my favorite off their latest album, the beat is ridiculous, the way the drums drive it is amazing. The remix with Jay and Ta’Raach was dope too, but in my opinion wasn’t fucking with the original. If we’re lucky they’ll leak the original version of the remix with Jay’s verse over the OG beat.
Download: Sa-Ra – Love Czars II
Knobbz: Jay Elect’s monotone suits this beat especially well. It’s soulful and abstract without the cliche wailing vocal sample and the bass pounds especially nice. Sa-Ra are pushing a unique, lavish production style full of live instrumentation. Their mainstream equivalent would have to be J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League and there’s no question who’s iller in that comparison.
Travis: A beat so nice, that they used it twice. Sabzi who is in both Blue Scholars and Common Market, hooked up a piano centered beat reportedly during a rare Northwest snow storm. Both MCs, Geologic of Blue Scholars and RA Scion of wrote to, with Geologic getting his version out first. The beautiful piano melodies provide a simple, yet effective harmony that causes one to just close ones eyes and just nod along calmly to the beat. Who said that hip-hop can’t be good music? And for the record, I’ve always favored the Blue Scholars version, more into Geologic as an MC than I am Scion, who is nice as well.
Download: Samiyam – Ridin Dirty
Sweeney: Samiyam is the most underrated producer in hip hop. I say hip hop because his beats are just that, beats. They have a slump and quirkiness to them that makes them unique, but really it’s just a natural evolution of the DJ Premiere, early 90′s east coast sound. This beat is one of his more straight-forward ones. I can’t wait till MC’s start doing justice over his beats, one already started–Blu.
Download: Snoop Dogg – I Wanna Rock
Riggs: This is a really dope, contemporary twist on “the intro” of a timeless hip-hop record…that bangs. I’ve heard some other attempts at that sample from other producers, but this one had mass appeal. The balance between simplicity, creative and a tempo that’s part head-nodding, part body movin’ made this THE joint every rapper wishes he had, as evidenced by the “A Milli” treatment its getting from every rapper who wishes he had it.
Buhizzle: For the years of anticipation that pegged Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… Pt. II as a sort of Wu-Tang/Aftermath joint effort, neither RZA nor Dr. Dre really stole the show with their production efforts. I’d personally give that honor to the late J Dilla, an ML first-ballothall-of-famer, who was some sort of three-headed monster on this album — evoking pure emotion on the ODB tribute “Ason Jones”, channeling the headache-inducing dopeness of “Liquid Swords” on “10 Bricks”, and leading a musical death march on “House Of The Flying Daggers”. If this were the last we ever hear of James Yancey’s work, then no doubt he left us on a high note. I couldn’t argue with giving the honor to Scram Jones, though, and while his work on the closer “Kiss The Ring” and the bonus track “Walk Wit Me” were both stellar, it was “Broken Safety” that’s received the most replays from me. I love how the beat (which is so dusty you could cough) drops in with its ghostly echoes right as Jada kicks in with his flawless opening verse — the rawest track on ’09′s rawest album.
Travis: Another energy packed track, the Small Professor remix for “Bottom Feeders” is chock full of fuzzy guitars, guitar loops and horns. It’s one of those beats that makes me want to run through a wall while throwing haymakers and guzzling down a bottle of Jim Beam. Small Pro, a Philly producer, added a new twist to an already dope track from Zilla Rocca and Douglas Martin.
Ian: This record kind of gives me the feeling of what it might have sounded like if 9th Wonder had produced OC’s “Times Up.” The track is so soulful I was surprised it had been produced by Statik Selektah. Dude is definitely an underrated beatmaker but to me always came off in the past as a producer who made grimy, no-nonsense, classic East Coast-style hardcore hip hop in a vein similar to his fellow DJ-turned-producer, Green Lantern. With its sunny, throwback feel, like something off a BBE or Ubiquity records compilation album, this is a track I could listen to on repeat all day.
Download: Royce Da 5’9″ – New Money
Knobbz: Streetrunner provided the perfect beat for Royce to flex his lyrical muscle. The ascending chords and rapid drums push Royce to rap harder and stronger while the hook in the middle of each verse gives him a reprieve before he dives in again. The result is a marathon track that would be perfect for a Nike commercial if it weren’t about stacking cash.
Download: Slaughterhouse – Sound Off
Joey: When I first heard the Stylistics’s “It’s Too Late” flipped in a hip-hop context, the result was Ed O.G.’s “Just Call My Name.” Ed O.G. made a proud, meandering track that was content to ride the escalating horn sample and little else. It was a great record, with the horns given room to breathe alongside Ed’s clarion vocals. Then I heard the same horns this year, their free-range accommodation replaced with a claustrophobic hi-hat, intermittent snares, and an endless, subtle electronic ribbet. The beat was the same and yet totally new. Rather than relying on the horns to defiantly ring out on their own terms, “Sound Off” recasts what it borrows from the Stylistics as a counterweight to the strength of the Slaugterhouse vocals and the energy of the piped-in noise. No longer do the horns soar, taking the track higher. Instead, they pull it back up to level, lest it furiously bore into the surface, compelled by the energy of its many other elements.
Download: Rich Boy – Put Me In The Game
Rostam: This beat is the perfect mix of Sample, Bass, and BUMP! The drums really make this song the banger that it is, but the sample makes it an anthem for victory. Hopefully we’ll see a lot of Supa Villain tracks on Rich Boy’s album which drops in Neveruary.
Ian: Swizz may never get his props for being the great producer or innovator he truly is despite all the hits he’s put on the board. But its inarguable that he was one of the first NY/East Coast producers to embrace the new keyboard-based hip hop sound pioneered by Southern producers like Mannie Fresh and Lil Jon as enthusiastically as he did dusty samples dug out the crates. His brand of hook-heavy, militaristic synth-driven rap production has helped ensure that NY hip hop didn’t become the rap equivalent of Delta Blues music: revered and respected but dated and irrelevant. “Who’s Real” was the embodiment of that aesthetic: enough knock to satisfy East Coast heads but fresh enough to appeal to ears in the south and the rest of country and fit the flow of one of their new heroes, OJ Da Juiceman who guested on the track.
Buhizzle: I’ll be the first to admit that Swizzy’s music can be pretty formulaic, but that shouldn’t prevent him from getting praise when warranted. This track took me back to high school, circa 1998 — back then, if you weren’t talking about DMX or Juvenile, no one was listening. The call-and-response energy and aggression is reminiscent of classic Ruff Ryder records like “Ruff Ryders Anthem”, “Get At Me Dog”, “Wild Out” and “Ryde Or Die” (and, yes, I know Swizz only produced 2 of those 4). I think OJ’s useless 8 bars in the middle drew people away from what should’ve been a much more strongly-received record.
Download: Wale – Rhyme N Reason
Jerome: SUUUUUUUUUPER sparse head nodder from my dude Warren G (I’ve been a fan since his first album when you were probably 8). Literally, the bass kick and drum are highlights of the song and the keys that come in every 4 bars give you a reminder that simplicity can work better than a screaming sample or badly played keys. The beat also works because without all of the audible distractions, you get a chance to hear what Wale is saying and digest it.
Download: De La Soul – Forever
Ian: From their 45 minute Nike + Run: Are You In? mix, this is another track I could listen to on repeat all day. In fact, I copied Pos from De La on a tweet saying I needed a 30 minute instrumental mix of this track and he replied, “Yeah, RJ really put his foot in that one. The chop of the original is serious.” Given the fact that De La Soul were one of the first established groups to work with a young J. Dilla (I remember the first time I met the quiet kid with the magical MPC at a session for the “Stakes is High” remix at the now-defunct Platinum Island studios), its fitting to now hear them spitting over a beat by one of his proteges, Young RJ.
Download: Slum Village – Dope Man
Joey: You know a Detroit record when you hear one, and usually it’s something pretty powerful. “Dope Man” stands on these shoulders. Admittedly. It’s a great beat, but it’s made even better because the continuous groove that vacillates in emotional tenor and incorporates powerful down beats, haunting synths, and even a bubbling drum kit is so very much Detroit. Young RJ has authored another step in evolution. Divorced from context, the beat remains strong. As noted, it’s melange of sounds makes it interesting but not busy, and the control exerted over these disparate elements is impressive. “Dope Man” is powerful music, not only for its pounding percussion, but for its ability to convey emotion through tempo changes and its melodic hardening and softening. To use an imperfect metaphor, the beat is almost like a T-1000, this metallic composition that seamlessly flows from shape to shape, always itself but also able to assimilate.
Download: Gucci Mane – First Day Out
Brandon: Usually, a great beat brings together a bunch of disparate chunks of sound into a dope, cohesive whole. This beat by Zaytoven does the opposite: It stacks the same sound (a ping-ponging Zombie movie synth) on top of itself until it’s a crawling mess of bleeps, bloops, and whines, all up in your speakers. It’s deceptively simple and the power comes from the like, casual chaos of it all…the seemingly accidental rhythms and syncopations that stem from this sound-stacking.
Download: Skyzoo – Metal Hearts
Jerry: While “For What It’s Worth” is my favorite cut from The Salvation as beats go I was just impressed with 9ths Barry White chop for Metal Hearts. I didn’t think anything would dethrone his laceration of Bob James for Murs but the way he programmed the original snares had my neck bobbin for real.