Continued from Part 1.
Freeway and Jake One – Never Gonna Change
Zilla Rocca: When I first heard Jake One’s “Rock Ko.Kane Flow” from De La six year ago, I realized someone had added a new trick to the hip hop production manual–heightened and chopped/screwed effects to a simple four count beat. The last 2 bars of each verse from Doom, Dave, and Pos dictated the MCs to either pick up the pace or yank their voices down into sub-octaves with either dashing kicks and snares or molasses meters that almost stopped the track dead. “Never Gonna Change” takes the same approach without wondering into glitch hop or IDM, where time signatures skip out while you’re still trying to perfect the initial neck snap. It’s a soul sample and drums, diced up, stacked, lit on fire, put out, then bathed in gasoline while awaiting another match to be struck. It’s dramatic without being too busy or pandering to the new genre of Arena Emo Rap Where This is Obviously IMPORTANT sounding. Freeway tells a vivid story in his eager rushed flow, but you get the picture in instrumental form–things are cool, then tension rises, then shit hits the fan. All within Jake One’s new technique of aggressive beatmaking while keeping it boom bap.
Freeway & Jake One – Throw Your Hands Up
Moss: Putting Jake on this list was easy, trying to figure out which beat to pick took a while. Jake One has the sound I take to, so really anything he’s done this year could be on this list.
Freeway & Jake One – One Thing (ft. Raekwon)
DJ Eclipse: Although the whole album was dope, this one right here was definitely a stand out cut. Didn’t hurt that they put Rae on it either. Jake’s use of vocal samples had everybody singing along. More proof that “underground” producers have straight heat that everyone can appreciate.
Ghostface Killah – Troublemakers (ft. Method Man, Redman, and Raekwon)
Joey: In my dreams, this is what hip-hop sounds like: a stiff drum, a horned-up sample that is looped just so that your head nods, and a simplicity that is neither boring nor distracting. That the song serves Wu-Tang masters is all too perfect, because a blazing “W” looms above my own, personal hip-hop utopia.
Kanye West (co-produced by Jeff Bhasker)
Kanye West – All of the Lights
Craig Jenkins: The horn section on this song might just be my favorite musical development of 2010. That coupled with the deceptively simplistic bassline and the industrial percussion make for a beat that’s full of win. Thing is, “All of the Lights” doesn’t just coast on it’s killer melody. The strings and piano under Cudi’s verse, the fuzzed out bass under Fergie, and the plunking synths under Rihanna all give the song a melodic versatility and range of instrumentation not normally heard in modern rap. Heems from Das Racist called this “regal boom bap.” That about sums it up.
Will Power: Because he enlisted eleven guest vocalists, namely Alicia Keys, John Legend, The-Dream, Fergie, Kid Cudi, Elton John, Ryan Leslie, Charlie Wilson, Tony Williams, Elly Jackson, and Rihanna, who sings the song’s chorus.
Kanye West (co-produced by Jeff Bhasker, No I.D.)
Drake – Show Me a Good Time
JLB: Pour out a little liquor for the baby water fowl they stepped on repeatedly to lend its voice to this stellar beat. As usual, Yeezy is a champ with the piano loops and the stuttering drums make spilling your drink to this totally worth it.
Kanye West, Mike Dean, No I.D.
Kanye West – Gorgeous (ft. Raekwon)
Joey: “Gorgeous” is subtle. On the surface, it’s a simple melody underneath assertive rhyming. But the track is textured so expertly that it finds new life upon close inspection. The primary sound is driven by a hazy guitar riff, one that evokes the sense of an aspiring garage band. That looped progression is set atop a somber, grave synthesizer that steadily pushes along until Raekwon comes in. When the Chef arrives, the synthesizer gives way to clarion piano notes, the guitar loop is replaced by a stronger solo, and the clutter leaves the air as a crisp and clean sound takes over. Most impressive might be the scratchy character of the vocals throughout. Both Kanye and Rae sound as though they’re flowing through a computer, only “Gorgeous” has enough restraint to resist amplifying that vocal effect so that it grows beyond ambient. Raekwon’s voice always sounds like he’s been smoking, and the track benefits from both MCs sounding more coarse than one might have expected. It’s a small enhancement, but it multiplies the track’s unique character. The beat and the vocals are as symbiotic as you’ll ever hear.
Kanye West, No I.D. (co-produced by Mike Dean)
Kanye West – So Appalled (ft. Jay-Z, Pusha T, Cyhi da Prynce, Swizz Beatz, RZA)
Ivan: Bolstered by fuckin’ redickyuliss synths and strings courtesy of a bridge portion from Manfred Mann’s “You Are – I Am” (1979), “So Appalled” takes the term “epic” to new, um, epic proportions. This isn’t just a beat – it’s more like the soundtrack to an undiscovered planet.
Kanye West, No I.D., RZA (additional production by Jeff Bhasker & Mike Dean)
Kanye West – Dark Fantasy
JLB: It seems that RZA has finally mastered this sample-free formula he’s been tinkering with over the past few years. The shadowy ciello strings duel with synth stabs that sport a decidedly Wu-Tang menace but with a buttoned-up posture. This is RZA in a suit. James Word Is Bond.
Kanye West, S1 (additional production by Andrew Dawson, Jeff Bhasker, Mike Dean)
Kanye West – Power
6th Sense: I’m talking about the finished, mastered, masterpiece that’s on the album. This beat has so many colors. S1 brought “Cold Grits”, King Crimson, and Afromerica. We don’t get sample collages like that in this day and age anymore, it just doesn’t happen. And then all of the crazy guitars, pianos, strings, and the synth outro that Kanye brought to the table. The beat is a true masterpiece. Oftentimes, before a show backstage, Outasight’ll put “Power” on even a laptop speaker and it gets us pumped up to rock a show. I also remember Elliot Wilson wanting the Afromerica sample, and me telling Marley Marl in person about the Afromerica sample.
HaLo – Nevermind (Remix) (ft. Big Remo, Sundown)
DJ Eclipise: If I had to narrow down my choices to one producer for the year it would have to be Khrysis. I probably could have listed him for all of my top five beats of 2010. This joint here is ridiculous. Original version was dope too, but this one just brings the MC out a rapper. A great freestyle beat to throw on.
Little Brother – 24 (ft. Torae)
Brandon: Other than big, stupid nostalgia, there’s no reason to keep on mourning 9th Wonder’s split from Little Brother. One of the things Phonte and Big Pooh immediately did upon the exit of the Fruity Loops king was find beats that quietly reinvented and hyper-modernized their soul loop sound and there’s no better example of this than “24,” the last track on the last Little Brother album we’re ever gonna get. For “24” (a twenty-four bar rapping exercise), Khrysis gave the guys a stuttering, underground glitch-hop track, with three or four different drums thumping through it, and integrated into the loop, a bunch of weird whoops, wheezes, and coughs. Then, it’s just over. No fade-out or anything. The end.
H.I.S.D. – Rockin aka Space Up
Von Pea: When I heard this I was being a beat snob and hoping it was going to do what I thought it was going to do…am I making sense? There are multiple snares and a second before the next one would hit I was like “isitgonnabeYES…isitgonnabeYES…isitgonnaTHISISTHESHIT!!!!” As a producer this is the kind of track I would be afraid to play for people if I’d made it. It’s perfectly choppy yet fluid and brilliantly random. I haven’t heard this in a car yet and I have to do that ASAP.
LA Riot Music
Freddie Gibbs – National Anthem (Fuck the World)
Joey: Tearing and languor prevail, with the string narrative that carries the track allowing the bubbling drums and the building layers to only explode during the chorus. Even then, the track feels pained and desperate. The mood is perfect for a song about the struggle, and for a rapper whose entire persona evokes the staple images of indigence.
Lee Bannon & Chuuwee – Need That (ft. C Plus)
Moss: If you don’t know, you better learn quick. Sacramento’s the home for both these guys. Lee has mastered that boom bap sound everyone’s looking for and Chuuwee just has “it”. Dope EP, filthy song.
KNOBBZ: Without a doubt, this is my favorite beat of the year. Lee Bannon took Dilla and Madlib’s raw lo-fi sound to a new place. You can hear where he chopped the sample and you can hear the white noise before Chuuwee goes in. Bannon shows you the strings holding up the actors, but that just makes it so much more mesmerizing. The electric guitar loop exudes nostalgia. I’ve listened to this song every day since it dropped.
Rick Ross – B.M.F. (Blowin’ Money Fast) (ft. Styles P)
Block Beattaz: Only a few beats exist that can move everybody! Simple, but everything is placed properly.
Will Power: Self explanatory. Straight jammin.
Jackie Chain: Lex Luger’s been killing the game. Especially for Lex to be 19 years old, I think that B.M.F. beat was super, super hard. He just came with some heat. When that song comes on in the club, it’s like the whole club gets geeked off it. That shit rocks the club.
Big Boi – Hustle Blood (ft. Jamie Foxx)
Aaron: All about that bass line, alternately swerving liquidly and slamming and pounding. The chiming guitars float over the mix while the buzzing synths smoothly with Foxx’s chorus. Those slaps and thunderous heartbeat 808s have a way for knocking their way into your synapses. The weirder parts are all Daddy Fat Sax – even the moaning breakdown works. Who knew the mastermind behind “Yeah!” had this in him?
Low Limit – Trapper Keeper
Daedelus: Low Limit is one half of Lazer Sword, a truly formidable duo, this beat just rocks out something special. From their Numbers label release.
Madlib – London
Paul White: Hey, he called a beat ‘London’!
Marco Polo & Ruste Juxx – Death Penalty (ft. DJ Revolution)
DJ Eclipse: Marco has basically taken the boom bap sound and improved on it. He makes sure his samples and drums are loud and aggressive as demonstrated here. This song is the trifecta. Producer meets MC meets DJ. Quality product.
Marco Polo & Ruste Juxx – Wings On Your Back (ft. Sean Price)
Aaron: Marco Polo absolutely killed this entire record but “Wings” stands out most to me for its utter sonic weirdness. Polo loops up a tightly wound Morricone guitar and alternates it with three note synth buzzes. There’s a great sense of space, that one second pause between the guitar and the synths creates a real momentum that keeps the listener’s attention without a chorus.The beat drops out for Sean Price’s shit talking, while those thick, steady drums ideally set the backdrop for Juxx’s verbal massacre.
Mark Ronson & The Business Int’l – Circuit Breaker
KNOBBZ: Give it up for Mark Ronson for putting this epic space battle instrumental on his album. So many sounds, colors, and textures, it sounds like the final boss level of every video game ever put together. I wish the radio sounded like this.
Mo Kolours – Syncro System
Paul White: Lovely natural vibe, its all about the feel!
My Dry Wet Mess
My Dry Wet Mess – Yours Truly
Daedelus: Not from Cali, but Barcelona. Not to be outdone, he channels plenty of the swagger that makes the region a focus whilst borrowing more of the restraint in the minimal dubstep sounds. I’m a fan first and for disclosure, I’m releasing his sounds on my Magical Properties label.
Nottz – Fair Warning
Von Pea: I don’t even know how Nottz does this. I mean, technically its about where the drums fall, but feeling-wise it’s more than that. And this is the type of track this brother can make in his sleep! Insanity. The drum selection and how they swing, the flute sound that should sound corny but is FAR from it because of how he did it, and at this point in the game we don’t even have to mention the Nottz bassline. I want to make it sound effortless like him when I grow up.
Rick Ross – Mafia Music 2 (ft. Chrisette Michele)
HL: Over the last two calendars Rick Ross, Reakwon, and Roc Marciano have managed to triple handedly stabilize the waning pulse of Mafioso rap. When properly executed the sub-genre almost always offers excess of some sort (usually shellfish), but let’s just say you know when you hear it. The Olympicks’ “Mafia Music II” composition is unmistakably Mafioso. Nothing says La Cosa Nostra like beautiful, soothing violins. Unfortunately, this track was inexplicably excluded from the retail version of Teflon Don. Shame on Def Jam.
Gangrene – Freshest Rhymes
*Ed. note: We’re guessing Oh No produced this. If anyone knows for sure, please tell us in the comments.
KNOBBZ: You could sum up Gangrene’s disease and squalor motif as an exercise in gross out humor, but “Freshest Rhymes” from the Sawblade EP belongs under the label of black comedy. The overbearing orchestral sample and pounding bass call up images of destruction and people running for safety. But Alchemist and Oh No mock Armageddon. The song starts with a clip from an ad for a collection of kids stories which launches into some of the most evil sounding hip-hop found anywhere. The duo stand on a pile of lesion-covered bodies and tell you that theirs are the freshest rhymes in the world. This kind of left-field boom bap is the most exciting school of hip-hop production and Alchemist and Oh No are best in class.
Danny Brown – Re-Up
“Re-Up” was my introduction to Danny Brown’s music. The easiest way to convince me to listen to a new artist is by proclaiming “it sounds like some old Wu-Tang shit”. Although it does indeed sound like some old Wu-Tang shit, Quelle’s Rza-esque production would be more at home as the c-side to Royal Fam’s “Something’s Got To Give/I Declare War” release, rather than Liquid Swords. Perhaps my love for this instrumental is driven by nostalgia, but it possesses an intangible quality that makes it work.
Shad K – Listen
Moss: The most slept on producer from Toronto. This guy’s got more talent in his fingers then most have in their entire bodies. Shad’s arguably one of the most slept on Canadian artists. Together they made this heat. When you can combine “lyrics” with music that sounds like this you’ll get my money every time.
E-40 – The Server
Aaron: Rick Rock is a fucking genius. Sampling what sounds like Afrobeat chants for the chorus and playing them off Emergency Broadcast horns. The drums come out like bursts of machine gun fire. Rock throws shuddering bass under the verses and drops sci-fi Theremins that rotate around the percussion every couple beats. E-40’s thick, syrupy flow bounces off it perfectly, a production that no other rapper could handle. “The Server” places you in an alternate reality where Fela Kuti is fighting aliens in the hood. Extra points for the bananas video that makes the sample literal.
Roc Marciano – Panic
Von Pea: Where is Rap City when we need it? I heard this for the first time on someone LAPTOP from across the room and it made me ball my face up and nod like a madman. Riot music if I ever heard it. I mean come on.
HL: One of the most impressive elements of Roc Marciano’s debut effort was his sparse yet cinematic approach to production. Marcberg provided an alternative to the rich soundscapes found on many of the other notable albums released in 2010 (Teflon Don, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, Pilot Talk, etc). “Panic”, however, stands in stark contrast to the rest of the record. Heavy synths, faint organs, and literally more cowbell successfully create an apocalyptic atmosphere.
Roc Marciano – Pop
Zilla Rocca – Like most of the beats off Marcberg, “Pop” hovers on a single filthy drum break and a chilling four bar sample that you’ve never heard before. Call it the Havoc Method, and Roc Marciano is the star pupil on the boards. “Pop” is the distant cousin of “G.O.D. Pt III”, younger, more distressing, pissing in the parking lot, staying out late, and ready to to blam up ya man’s for nothin’. It sounds like the moment before a man with leather gloves, lithely stepping behind you with drug store rope, chokes you to death for dipping your fingers into city poison that has no antidote.
Miguel – All I Want Is You (ft. J. Cole)
6th Sense: I must say that at this point I am so sick and tired of hearing this song on the radio. But when the song first dropped, you couldn’t deny it. The beat is ridiculous, and Miguel’s vocal performance was top notch as well as the awesome effects on his background harmonies. I don’t think anyone could disagree, that even as an “R&B” joint, this was one of the best beats this year.
Fat Joe – (Ha Ha) Slow Down (ft. Young Jeezy)
6th Sense: I really wish this song could’ve been bigger for Fat Joe. I wish he could’ve got to perform it at Summer Jam. Regardless this joint kinda put a little spark in New York. Just a dope beat, with the Soul 2 Soul sample flip, hard drums, and a deep sub every couple bars. Fire.
Curren$y & Stalley – Address
HL: Ski Beatz really knocked this one out the park. “Address” is an absolutely angelic piece of music. You almost feel as if Curren$y and his co-pilot are actually navigating through the clouds in the troposphere as they deliver their verses.
Aleon Craft – Donkey Kong
Aaron: I’ve always enjoyed songs that know how to freak a videogame sample properly and “Donkey Kong” is no exception. SMKA deserves serious dap converting the titular theme song of the Arcade game into a minimalistic booty anthem. Aleon’s warped Beach Boys harmonies wrap brilliantly around the analog bass line and 808s and soundchip percussion. “Donkey Kong” is way too offkilter to actually work in a club context and that’s exactly what makes this song so appealing.
Smoke DZA – Divine Music / Bishop Lamont – Hollow Eyes (ft. Anjulie)
Ivan: What impresses me most is the evocation of dual tones: the track is both somber and intimidating. The synths and woodwind chirps are as carefree as a light gust, hovering above some of the meanest, most ominous low frequency sounds in recent memory. Props to L.A.’s own Soul Nana for unleashing this monster. Real talk, I thought it was a Dr. Dre beat ’til I was informed otherwise.
Killa Kyleon – Swang Real Wide (ft. Z-Ro)
Aaron: Pealing, melancholy violins mingle with fiery organs. Rolling bongos drive the whole composition. There’s an incredible attention to detail, to the keys that come in for Z-Ro’s verse to the organ spurts that punctuate Kyleon’s words every few bars. “Swang” sounds a blend of ‘98 Pimp C and a Roc-era Just Blaze production played at half speed. The epitome of country rap music, this song bleeds Houston, drank and all.
Teebs – Anchor Steam
Daedelus: A treasure released on the Los Angeles 10″ series from All City, it is just as atmospheric as the gorgeous Ardour (Brainfeeder) whilst showing off some tempo tricks as well.
Tightface – During The Pop Crackle
Paul White: Dope producer, always keeps me on my toes!
Tobacco – TV All Greasy
Zilla Rocca: Tobacco makes synth-based hip hop inspired beats like David Lynch makes clean American melodramas–fucked the fuck up. Maniac Meat is his second solo LP and his twisted interpretation of what pop music sounds like. Tobacco is from the same town as Wiz Khalifa and Girl Talk, but ain’t shit sweet when he makes music for the radio. It is not “Black and Yellow” nor ironic floor-rushing getdowns for the trust funders. It is knocking drums and melodic sweeps born from soundbanks of bitcrushed machines. “TV All Greasy” is J Dilla scoring The Terminator or Mantronix stuck in Herbie Hancock’s “Rockit” video for eternity. Oddly, Tobacco could probably work well with Wiz Khalifa down the road. But “TV All Greasy” is the kind of beat that would get an A&R at Atlantic Records thumbs broken, which means it’s one of the best beats of 2010.
KRS-One & True Master – One of Them Days
Ivan: Basement boom bap at some of its finest! Hearing KRS over grimy Wu-Tang-ish beats was one of the most pleasant surprises of 2010, which begs the question: why didn’t The Teacha think of this earlier? Turn this up!!
Yelawolf – Box Chevy (ft. Rittz The Rapper)
DJ Burn One: Will Power expertly combines a spaced out rhodes riff with an 808 that would make DJ Magic Mike proud.
Yelawolf – In This Club
Block Beattaz: The Southern Hospitality team threw this on in the club in Norway. This song was absolutely electric. Properly placed synths, bass and hi hats. Good song.
Yelawolf – I Just Wanna Party (ft. Gucci Mane)
Jackie Chain: That was definitely a hard beat. I actually was on that song at first. It’s just a real good song. Just like the title says, it was a real good party song. A lot of the house parties I went to, they would play that and they would go nuts. I think it’s a good party record. He picked the perfect beat for a party record. It definitely gets the ladies on the floor. He gives me a shoutout in the song and I’m in the video.
Kele Okereke – Tenderoni
Ronson: Bloc Party were this huge huge huge British indie band that I think sold a million copies on their first album. Indie rock fans can be especially kind of… he definitely did something brave: he came out of the closet and he made a dance record this year, which was a super brave thing. I just love this song. It’s not often I get to play a that’s like a 150 beats per minute up there in that super-heavy dance energy set, but whenever I can get away with it, I play this record. It’s just dope. The melody is fucking great, the track is really good. It’s kind of progressive-ish. It’s progressive enough dance production, but mainly it’s just like a hard bassline and when it breaks into the chorus, it’s super-huge.