2010 was chock full of crazy shit. Teena Marie just died—as did Leslie Nielsen a few weeks back. LeBron made a deal with the devil’s advocate, Pat Riley. There were the Nashville floods no one heard about because of the BP oil spill. Of course, the economy continued to tank, with the politicians too busy circle-jerking each other to get anything of substance passed, besides a half-assed health bill. And even Tron disappointed, for having too much of “The Dude,” for chrissakes.
But there were some bright spots. Christopher Nolan continued to push the boundaries of film for the better. The World Cup justified AM drinking. And “The Dude” won an Oscar.
As always, the (good) music never stopped. The year will best be remembered for Kanye’s second-semester ubiquity, from his tweets to the leaks to his almost-masterpiece. Eminem solidified his comeback, with the only album (besides Taylor Swift) that sold well this year. Dame Dash continued his own resurrection, too, cleverly hopping on the Curren$y bandwagon. Janelle Monae finally released a full-length, which was arguably the year’s best. Big Boi proved his independence worthwhile. B.o.B. went pop, which is good for him, I guess. And Jay-Z rapped over a Pete Rock beat. God is good, sometimes.
If you listened closely, you caught a lot of great music this year. If not, we’ve got you. We gathered our friends to tell us their five favorite beats of the year. DJ Eclipse got to pick six because he’s special. You can find part two here. Forming today’s musical brain trust we have…
DJ Eclipse - DJ, La Coka Nostra, host of Rap is Outta Control on Sirius/XM
Daedelus – underground LA beat man
Will Power – producer of Yelawolf’s Trunk Muzik, the most buzzing mixtape of the year
Block Beattaz – Alabamian monster production duo
DJ Burn One – country rap expert, DJ, producer of Starlito’s Renaissance Gangster
Moss – producer for Ghostface, Raekwon, and this year’s At Last with Eternia
Von Pea – rapper, producer, 1/3 of Tanya Morgan, his album Pea’s Gotta Have It is out now
6th Sense – underground NY producer
And your Metal Lungies editor in chief/youngest in charge, KNOBBZ aka Moose
Ahmir ‘?uestlove’ Thompson
The Roots – Doin’ It Again
6th Sense: How I Got Over is another classic in The Roots catalog. That and Kanye’s album were my favorites this year. I could’ve picked anything from The Roots album but I chose this one cause it’s so big! Sample a live John Legend recording? Sure, why not! And shouts to Jason Goldstein on the mix.
Ahmir ‘?uestlove’ Thompson, Jeremy Grenhart, Karl B. Jenkins
The Roots – Now or Never (ft. Phonte, Dice Raw)
Joey: Let those of us now in the throes of our youth’s twilight take a moment to thank the Roots. A song about the turmoil of change, the ambivalence of growth, the onward march of time did not have to be so generously paced, so dulcetly scored. Ahmir et al. might have opted for a song that was severe and lurching, self-aware and self-indulgent as it sought to lecture and mean something. But the Roots, as usual, were smarter than that. Serious but still fun, and walking swiftly rather than sauntering or sprinting toward the abyss, “Now or Never” is the quintessential grown-folks rap song. Stripped of its poignant rhymes, the track would likely succeed as this kind of champion all the same. The drums are insistent but sparse in a fashion that calls a listener to attention but doesn’t crowd him. We must own up to who we are, but we aren’t going to be judged. These percussive demands echo across a commodious keyboard landscape that is soft enough to be accommodating. The track creates a canvas. Thompson, Grenhart, and Jenkins then fill it with brisk cymbals and an ever waning hint of guitar. Collectively, the elements are a wonderful mixture that captures the pivot for which the song is intended. Luckily, it’s not such a sudden change, nor such a severe referendum.
Theology 3 – IT’S THEO3
DJ Eclipse: This is my sleeper joint of the year. Not as many people are familiar with either the MC or producer compared to the other names on my list, but damn this track bangs! One of those records made for DJs to cut up. Good to see the art form isn’t lost on the youth.
The Diplomats – Salute
Brandon: Previously known for last year’s screeching, mini-epic, “Get It In Ohio,” off Cam’ron’s Crime Pays, AraabMuzik spent 2010 producing pretty much everything Cam rapped on, and making a name for himself with live MPC performances that are more like avant-garde noise workouts than anything hip-hop-related — or maybe he took rap back to when it was a little closer to avant-garde noise? Sampling Nosferatu’s “The Desolate One,” a chunk of goofy trance that already has New York hip-hop in its sonic DNA (Nas’ “Hate Me Now”), the young producer turns it into the theme from Psycho (love that scream that drops at just the right moment) for the Lex Luger generation: all horror movie atmosphere, with drums that pound like 90s rap and skitter like 2000s rap.
Joell Ortiz – Battle Cry (ft. Just Blaze)
DJ Eclipse: This joint was dope out the box, but the Just Blaze’s mixed version of AMD’s beat just made it stand out that much more. And Joell tears this track up. Blaze’s adlibs hype it up that much more. Good build up of anticipation until Joell starts. Banger for sure.
Baths – ?
Daedelus: Another new sound on the scene was Baths LP Cerulean, wherein his own vocals against never easy beats became quite a blunted uplift.
Beanz N Kornbread
Paul Wall – Round Here (ft. Chamillionaire)
Will Power: This beat is infectious. Paul Wall and Chamillionaire killed the hook.
Katy B – Katy on a Mission
Ronson: Benga and Skream and a few of those other producers have been making underground records for awhile, but I feel like this is probably the first one with a female vocalist and actually becoming a fucking big pop record. I guess you could sort of count Skream’s remix of La Roux as the first dubstep kind of pop remix, whereas Katy B is like an artist to come out of that scene. [The song] basically shows that [Skream and Benga] can make a hit for Britney Spears or anybody. That sound has suddenly become so ripe and it’s certainly the most exciting thing on British radio when it comes on. The first time I heard dubstep, it was hard for me to understand what separated it from other genres, because it’s got elements of hip-hop and drum and bass, but I guess the thing is the throbbing huge sub bassline that makes it special and I guess the style of the drum programming. That was the breakout pop hit of that dubstep scene.
Bink! (additional production by Mike Dean)
Kanye West – Devil in a New Dress (original version)
Zilla Rocca – He might wax his chest and do anthills of cocaine off Icelandic linens now, but at his core Kanye West is still a soulful loudmouth from the suburbs of Chi-town who is a master of utility. Case in point, bringing in Bink! for “Devil in a New Dress.” It’s been almost a decade since The Blueprint, where Bink!’s contributions “The Ruler’s Back,” “All I Need,” and “Momma Loves Me” rivaled anything from young ‘Ye and Just Blaze. My Dark Twisted Fantasy walks the ladder of excess like Bad Boy’s expense account in 1998, but “Devil” is simple, elegant, and gorgeous. The Smokey Robinson sample “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow” takes center stage. It’s drenched in nostalgia and mournful soul. When that beat kicks in, you forgive Kanye for all tantrums and radical impulses and misguided attempts to become a world-turning avante garde rap artiste because he had enough sense to fly Bink! out to Hawaii and snag this effortless banger.
Download from Kanye West: Kanye West – Devil in a New Dress (original version)
Kanye West – Devil in a New Dress (ft. Rick Ross)
6th Sense: Early on in the year, The Kid Daytona brought me over to Bink!’s place ‘cause they were working on some stuff. At some point, Bink! just started playing beats and this beat came on. To this day, I use my reaction to that beat as a litmus for other beats. I started LAUGHING. Hard. That’s how ill the beat was. For months I would tell close peers about this Smokey Robinson beat that Bink! had. Thank you Mr. West for killing that beat and making a classic with Bink! He’s such a talented dude, he can play every instrument, and I’m looking forward to all the new stuff he’s got coming.
Big K.R.I.T. – Now Or Neva
DJ Burn One: The epitome of country rap tunes in 2010. K.R.I.T. has been honing his production the past few years and joints like this prove just how cold he is. 80s inspired funk over southern drums. What more could you ask for?
Big K.R.I.T. – Country Shit
Will Power: I love this beat. I’m a Big K.R.I.T. fan for the beats and rhymes!
Black Milk – Deadly Medley (ft. Royce da 5’9″, Elzhi)
Joey: The twang in the melody sounds as though someone made a mistake while playing. Only, this is a rap track produced by a masterful sampler. The music is not original, nor was it re-created in studio. Within those re-calibrated parameters, then, that notable fissure in the music’s purity instead might suggest that the plastic of a tape got stretched out ever so slightly, and this contaminated the sound as it was transferred from a tape deck to a computer. A tape would make sense; “Deadly Medley” is dusty. It sounds like you’d need a pencil to fix. Only, that wouldn’t be right, either, because the original Blackrock joint from whence this music comes is just as screwy. Once you learn that, the track’s brilliance finally comes into focus. Stretched across booming drums in a fashion that makes the melody seem like a hide set out for tanning, those distorted notes absorb punishment and emerge well worn. Accommodating intense rapping from Detroit’s finest, “Deadly Medley” sounds old but new, and passive but powerful, almost like the city, itself. “Medley” also stands as a microcosm for Black Milk’s singular talent: no one is as adept at imbuing creaky soul with modern vitality.
Black Milk – Black and Brown (ft. Danny Brown)
HL: I was once told by a stoner that Album of the Year blew his high due to “all those fuckin’ drums”. Although I don’t indulge in the funny cigarettes (D.A.R.E. class of 1993), I can definitely identify with the critique. That’s not to say the instrumentals are horrible (individually they’re each admittedly well crafted), but as a collective the beats become quite repetitive with the exception of “Black & Brown”. The kicks on this song are indeed thunderous, but in a good way. Not in the way that gives me the urge to jump through a wormhole, travel back to September 2009, and jam at least half the pads on Black Milk’s MPC.
Jackie Chain – This is Not Enough (ft. Assasyn, Mali Boy)
Jackie: Who was that sample by? Tots or tits or toto or tutu or something? But that “This is Not Enough” beat is one of the hardest beats I’ve heard this year.
Drake – 9 AM in Dallas
Moss: The best song on Drake’s album to my ears. I have to tip my hat to what 1da managed to do this year.
G-Side – I’m Sorry
Block Beattaz: Used vocals as an instrument. Low tight bass with great track and vocal manipulation.
Wiz Khalifa – Mezmorized
DJ Burn One: More cowbell. Every beat could use more cowbell. Apparently Cardo agrees, because he mixed one up on here with a fuzzy synth lead and a jamming sub bassline. The perfect backdrop for Wiz Khalifa’s blunted melodic tales.
Block Beattaz: Great album opener. Laid back, but aggressive. He delivered the verses as designed by the track.
Christolph & Free
The Niceguys – Toast
Craig Jenkins: I have always wanted my own superhero theme music, but I could never find a band that was willing to be paid in french fries and PBRs. Sucks, right? Luckily the Niceguys came out with this banger. Those horns sound downright triumphant, and the more attentive listener will notice how the keys play a quiet melodic counterpoint to the epic brass. Also, the marching band rendition of Steely Dan’s “Do It Again” that’s folded into the fray pleases my inner 70s pop fan greatly. I would love to see a picture of what my face does whenever this song comes on. I must look ridiculous.
Daft Punk, Pharrell Williams
N.E.R.D. – God Bless Us All
Ronson: I was doing a photoshoot for some French magazine with Pharrell and he took me in the back room and [they were] trying to finish the N.E.R.D. record. So he played me some stuff and I was pretty blown away. And I’m surprised it hasn’t made a bit more of a splash. I think it’s just more of a sign of how fucking horrible and homogeneous radio has become. The thing about N.E.R.D. records is, usually that’s where they indulge their sort of live side and they usually have a lot of musicality. What I like about this record is that it has a lot of the musicality, but it has those hard drums that remind me of the Clipse records like “Cot Damn” or “What Happened to that Boy.” The beat is kind of hard and it’s got beautiful chord changes and stuff.
Nas & Damian Marley – As We Enter
Ronson: It says it’s produced by Damian Marley, which, I mean, I don’t know if he was hunched over an MPC or cracking the whip on some little kid producer Puffy style, but it doesn’t matter really. It’s just a fucking great beat. There’s a certain kind of hip-hop beat that’s dying a slow death. When you think of like a great sample and some tough drums – it doesn’t have to sound like a golden era record, but I feel like “As We Enter” kind of did that. It’s like tough drums, got that horn break — it doesn’t hurt, of course, that Nas and Damian Marley are going back and forth and they’re in two completely different dialects, but they sound like they could be EPMD or Smif-N-Wessun. They’re obviously supposed to be going back and forth. They just go so well together. I just love that track. That’s probably the record I played out the most in my DJ sets this year as well.
DJ Burn One
Starlito – GH
Brandon: Like Curren$y and Ski Beatz’s Pilot Talk series, Starlito and DJ Burn One’s Renaissance Gangster is what happens when a casually brilliant rapper and a quietly experimental producer enter collaborative mind-meld mode. “GH” is closing credits music with somber Quincy Jones chords pulsing through a haze of almost in-the-red Aphex Twin-like electronics. The drum programming is elaborate and full of counterpoints and quiet shifts in tone — it’s more like Burn One’s composing than beatmaking here. In the same year that Kanye West sampled Aphex Twin (“Avril 14th” on “Blame Game”), Burn One just made his own melancholy, melodic rap beat in the vein of Richard D. James.
DJ Clark Kent & the Remedy
Rick Ross – Super High (ft. Ne-Yo)
JLB: With so many people eating off of the sample-resurgence it was nice to see one of the original don-dadas get his due on the radio. The way he put some octane to a sliver of Enchantment’s “Silly Love Song” to help RAWSE make a…silly love song is just perfect.
DJ Burn One: Hear that bassline? yeah – best of the year.
Big Shug – Spit Six
DJ Eclipse: I don’t think any year could go by without having a Premier beat in the top 5. Many joints to choose from of his catalog this past year as well, but this one he gave Shug is definitely a head nodder. Different from a lot of the other Premo produced joints he put out this past year.
Joell Ortiz – Project Boy
KNOBBZ: I breathe differently when I listen to this song. The beat constantly builds toward a violent outburst, but never reaches it. It’s definitely not bombastic enough for a killing spree. Rather, “Project Boy” is for when you’re twirling the blade in your pocket, trying to picture your landlord with the lower half of his face missing. Tense. Menacing. And I grew up in the burbs!
STS – Fuck A Hook
JLB: Jay-Z must be kicking himself for passing on this one. Electric guitar has been a punchline in hip-hop thanks to the GZA bus, but cannon seamlessly layers it with piano, synth, and alternating kicks and claps to make one of the most slept on beats of 2010.
Young Jeezy – Stop Playing With Me
Brandon: All that party rave trash from your favorite hipster DJ or cornball South African joke-rap duo should sound this ruthless and indefatigably A.D.D. There’s your typical Jeezy track hidden inside of this one (the booming synths, the epic simple drums), but Dready just piles on the sounds, while folding it all into a loop, so there’s still something for your ears to latch onto, and enough open space for a groaning, monstrous rapper like Jeezy to fit-in his talk-raps. Sci-fi movie sounds squeak and wail, a dying battery keyboard provides melody every once in a while, and a chipmunk vocal climbs to the top of the mountain of noises before then falling back into the mix. There’s maybe an e-mail alert sound in there too?
Dom Kennedy – Me Again
Ivan: Produced by L.A. beatsmith Drew Byrd, “Me Again” is a fitting outro to Dom Kennedy’s From the Westside with Love, one of the year’s greatest mixtapes. The beat really resonates with me as Dom’s nostalgic lyrics and delivery are perfectly complimented by wistful soundscapes and a sonant soul sample. It’s beautiful.
E-40 – Back in Business
Brandon: Droop-E hands his dad some nutty Bay Area slap with film noir movie clips in lieu of a chorus. Those samples could’ve been finely-chopped, EQ’d, and whatever else until that Cagney-esque “we’re back in business” was all we hear, but Droop-E lets some of the melodramatic, doom-filled Hollywood score and the grit of the aged audio sneak into the track. This is a legendary streetwise rapper and his tripped-out, beatmaker son (who got to be a producer weirdo because his dad was a streetwise rapper) in concert with one another: That gloomy gangster movie score snippet is a weird sonic flourish and a subtle way to hint at the sort of dread E-40 has always sneaked into his crime rhymes.
Waka Flocka Flame – No Hands (ft. Roscoe Dash, Wale)
Jackie Chain: I thought that beat was real hard. I always liked the song, I like Waka, I like Roscoe Dash, I like Wale, so I thought it was an usual and good collabo. I thought they all complemented that beat pretty good. My homies the Motion Fam shot the video. The beat, the song, the whole package – I thought it was a real good look this year. I fuck with Drumma Boy too.
El-P – Meanstreak (In Three Parts)
Zilla Rocca: El-Producto makes future pain funk, but 2010 saw him start whipping cats from the BDP boombox with a dash of reasonable radio, and dare I say accessible, options. His remix of Justin Bieber’s “Baby” proved what we all feared–this guy could one day potentially rule the minds of unconscious pop lovers if his mass damper was tuned into that frequency. “Meanstreak” is a cat batting around a helpless mouse: Part 1 sounds like a hectic train-dodging outtake from I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead. Part 2 lifts the Zapp drums we grew up on from “Bounce to the Ounce” and instead of EPMD-ing with moooree bounce or paying homage to Biggie’s favorite west coast destination, he spills a rolling synth from “Lost in Space” everywhere. Part 3 finds the Rick Rubin/LL Cool J tribute in full swing, but instead of “Going Back to Cali”, El-P takes us to Dune in a drop-top with Dade County donks rattling the nightmare strip. Yeah, just another go ’round from the pioneer of indie hip hop who slips absinthe and paranoia in the party punch.
El-P – Drunk with a Loaded Pistol
Craig Jenkins: El-P has always had a knack for dense, cinematic beats, and he really put his foot in “Drunk with a Loaded Pistol.” I like how the music here resembles the title. The ticking clock, the somber synths, the chunky bass, the frantic double-timed snares, all these things on top of one another sound like a kind of personal hell. A word of advice: go out, get bombed, put this track on, bug the fuck out.
Elvis Williams, Polow da Don
Usher – Lil Freak (ft. Nicki Minaj)
Block Beattaz: Stevie wonder sample used perfectly. Track is intense and suspenseful. Low end bubbles during the whole ride.
Ronson: I think the way that they flipped the Stevie Wonder sample is really clever. It’s weird because, that sample that they used is just the turnaround in the Stevie song. But out of context, it’s something that sounds all sinister and kind of Middle Eastern. It almost sounds like it was lifted from “Kashmir” by Led Zeppelin or something. It’s just dope. I like Polow da Don, I like his drums. This was the first time I ever heard him flip a familiar sample and taking Stevie Wonder, it better be fucking seriously dope or it seems like a bit of a waste. It’s definitely stacking it up against you when you’re sampling Stevie, because it’s gotta be so different from the original that it’s great. You don’t wanna just loop up the horns from “Sir Duke” and have someone rap over it. It would be fucking horrible.
Fly Union – We Out
Von Pea: Speaking of Car Music, I can’t NOT nod my head to this. I’ve tried and it’s impossible. Fly U is really good at making cool music for you to ride to…even if you’re on the train. In a perfect world this would be a hit song and I’d be tired of hearing it by now, but instead I’m on listen 100 in my iTunes.
Flying Lotus – Do The Astral Plane
Daedelus: More housed then the rest of the fantastic Cosmogramma, Flylo’s jacked swing was my summer soundtrack.
Flying Lotus – Computer Face//Pure Being
Craig Jenkins: The week Cosmogramma dropped, I could be heard for miles around declaring it to be the album of the decade. I’ve eased off the trigger a bit since, but I’m no less blown away by the way Flying Lotus blends so many genres together and still manages to sound so effortlessly good in the process. “Computer Face//Pure Being” is full of seemingly incongruous sounds: skittering, rickety dubstep drums, airy 8-bit synths, cartoon sound effects, and beats with shifting accents. It shouldn’t work, but it really does.
Frank Dukes or Statik Selktah
Reks – This or That
Ghostface Killah – Purified Thoughts
Moss: Tie because both used the same sample almost the same way. Just a dope sample.
Gonjasufi – I’ve Given
KNOBBZ: A lot of great albums fizzle at the end but A Sufi and a Killer wraps with a psychedelic dirge about unrequited love, punctuating the album with a wild eastern melody and beautiful instrumentation. Don’t get antsy and skip because of the long intro. “I’ve Given” is well worth the wait.
Georgia Anne Muldrow
Georgia Anne Muldrow – The Language of the Flame
Paul White: Love Muldrow’s magic music, really inspiring for live stuff!
Skyzoo & Illmind – Speakers On Blast
JLB: It was hard for me to pick just one beat from this album, but anyone that can take filtered chimes and and bit crunch them on an AKAI s20 to make it sound like a sample should be applying for for MENSA membership post haste.
Big Boi – General Patton
Craig Jenkins: OK, so the whole 808s-and-a-sample thing has been done to death by now, (see: the Lil Wayne, Gucci Mane, and Young Jeezy catalogs for evidence), but “General Patton” seriously knocks. I like how J Beatz lets the drums function as the bassline, while the orchestral hits and compressed horns smack you in the eardrums. This is some old storming Normandy shit, some real hostile takeover music. How could Big Boi not spit acid on this?
J Dilla – Bars & Twists
Paul White: Stupid ill beat, the imagination and creativity here is amazing!
Rick Ross – Aston Martin Music (ft. Chrisette Michele, Drake
Will Power: Real classy shit.
Jackie Chain: I mess with J.U.S.T.I.C.E. hard too. Everything I’ve heard from J.U.S.T.I.C.E League pretty much is good. They’re real talented cats. They was on my DJ Smallz mixtape. They’re real musical. They use a lot of intricate sounds and they go a route a lot of producers don’t go. A lot of their beats could be R&B songs. It was just something I could really ride to. I actually had that as my ringtone for awhile and I only use my own shit for my ringtones. When it comes on, it just makes you feel good. If I had an Aston Martin, that would be my theme song. Even when I was rolling in the Jag. Usually I like the hard BMF style beats, but that’s a real nice riding song. Something when the sun’s out, roll the windows down, roll the windows down, roll one up and just ride out. You could play it back to back.
Mann – Buzzin’ (ft. 50 Cent)
Ivan: What can I say? This one’s a guilty pleasure. Who else would’ve thought of sampling Nu Shooz? No, really. All bets seem to indicate that J.R. Rotem is the rightful heir to Puff Daddy’s “take hits from the 80s” throne (who’s Diddy?). And the track’s fire. I dare you to stop yourself from bopping your head and snapping your fingers to this one.
Jack Sample Pros
Pac Div – Don’t Mention It
Von Pea: The groove of this track is just so damn cool. Pac Div is probably best known for the 808 old school Cali beats, but on this project there was a little bit of everything and the closing/title track was my absolute favorite. I don’t know if that lead trumpet is a sample or a well EQ’d keyboard, but it’s hypnotizing. The bassline is like the audio version of sitting in a hot tub. Add in the drum track borrowed from Mr. Yanceys “African Rhythms” (fellow Dilla heads be quiet, he sampled and he can be sampled, it’s all good) and it all makes for a great finale.
Check out part two here.