Damn, who produced that?
I’ve longed for a time where the producer receives as much recognition as the artist, either singing or rapping over the beat supplied. We’re still not quite there yet. However, we are making some headway. More often, I’m seeing producers being celebrated by the general public on various forms of social media.
Admittedly, publications need to do more collectively to fill the void that is: the lack of exposure given to beatmakers in mainstream media and music journalism specifically. I can’t even begin to express how underrepresented hip-hop producers are, especially in accolades given at popular award ceremonies such as the GRAMMYs. This years nominees for ‘Producer of The Year, Non-Classical’ missed another opportunity to tap into this network of home-grown talent from beatmakers across the world. Instances like this raise the question: how should we measure talent? By the number of chart-topping hits or the range and versatility of one’s skill? Indeed, this is another topic for another article.
The failure to capitalise on the underground talent of beatmakers, strikes me as one of the major pitfalls of music journalism today. The tendency to document talent where there is ‘clout’ or popular appeal. Funnily enough, I always tend to find myself on the other end of the spectrum. These niches markets, is where I find the most spectacular beats. Sounds that leave me thinking – how the f*ck did this manage to go over people’s heads?
We’re in an age where the listener is more likely to be enticed by a memorable beat over meaningful lyrics. While the more analytical of us still continue to decode metaphors and unravel the ambiguous narrative, there is no doubt that rhythm and a catchy beat has a greater significance in today’s music climate. With the demand for head-turning beats, comes a challenge for producers to create music that is definitively their own and not an imitation of someone else’s style.
This year, we have seen a number of new music releases from popular and underground acts. So, now more than ever it is paramount that we really begin to celebrate the individuals responsible for the production of these projects. The masterminds behind the sounds we adore so much. Grammy award-winning producer Knxwledge, Kaytranada and Mndsgn are some of the few who have managed to become a household name. One can only hope that more underrated producers start to become as influential, respected and adored by the public for their craft.
Fresh out of university (having just completed the final year of my degree) I figured what better way to get the ball rolling – than an article, praising ten beatmakers that helped me get through finals. Sidenote: I’ve tried to broaden the horizon a bit by dipping into different sounds, all of which I listened to whilst studying. So, without further ado and in no particular order lets get it popping…
THE UNDERRATED CLASS OF 2018
1. HE’S MORE THAN JUST A RAVE ARTIST
If there’s one thing that’s certain – this man is a beast. Just how does he do it? He is commonly referred to as both a ‘rave artist’ and an ‘electronic producer’. Yet, in many ways, Lone has demonstrated that his abilities pretty much go beyond what such labels entail. Talking with Dummy Magazine, Lone explained how he visualises music.
“…colours and shapes that are the exact shape and size and space. It is like the senses are combined. The highest string will be bright white, and the lowest bass will be black, and everything else is the colours of the spectrum” he described.
His body of work nonetheless proves him to be an illustrator, curator or storyteller even. He’s the brainchild behind several of Azealia Banks’ popular anthems. Acknowledged also by Fact Magazine, Banks sampled Lone’s Pineapple Crush for Liquorice from her critically acclaimed EP 1991. She is clearly a great admirer of his work. Banks continued to use sounds reminiscent of Lone’s style – honouring the Manchester-based beatmaker, whose sound continues to cause various genres of music to intersect.
We see this in the way these hip-hop and techno sounds complement each other. Lone’s brand is euphoric and the dance-like quality of his music is his signature statement. I’d compare his music to an orchestra, as he succeeds in highlighting various instruments within his songs. Different components come together in one big crescendo.
The percussions are well timed, sharp and immense with soft harp-like melodies that result in a unique composition. Beautiful modern-day symphonies, incredible dance tracks, wild experimentation – that’s what Lone fulfils in his music. He just doesn’t miss. It’s safe to say that Lone’s Airglow Fires helped me stay awake and energised through those tough all-nighters at the library. Yes, I sneaked in a couple of dances here and there too.
2. WHEN GRAPHIC DESIGN MEETS HIP-HOP
First and foremost…SHOUTOUT TO NAMELESS FOR THE HEAT CLIP!
Next up, is a Flint, Michigan beatmaker who goes by the name of Nameless. Ironic indeed. Nevertheless, Nameless has proven time and time again that he certainly doesn’t need a name to prove that he is one to watch. For the Michigan beatmaker, the call to music came even before he went to college and you can sense just how passionate he is simply by listening attentively to his music. He has sampled sounds from some of hip-hop’s finest including Detroit legend J Dilla. He successfully expands upon the work of his influences, taking it to new heights. He keeps us on the edge of our seats with consistent releases that caught the attention of pioneers such as Questlove.
He also dabbles in graphic design. From flyers, banners to clothing, Nameless has experimented with it all. His creativity knows no bounds and his skills in graphic design go hand in hand with his music seen in covers which compliment new releases.
He once said in a podcast that the nickname ‘Nameless’ derived from the name assigned to his graphic design company – Nameless Designs. He added that ‘Nameless’ became a nickname that everyone called him and he simply just “ran with it”. There you have it folks – that’s how ‘Nameless’ came to be.
One of the tracks I most like from the beatmaker is his remix of Fred Hammond’s A Closer Walk titled Lawd-A-Merzzy. My Dad used to play Fred Hammond all the time, so naturally I fell in love with the softness of his voice. It was intriguing to hear the song adapted in this way. There’s something about hearing gospel songs sampled and remixed in a quintessentially hip-hop style that does something to me. The end result is usually nothing, but special. I think that’s why I was so drawn to Chance The Rapper’s Blessings 2, Snoop Dogg’s Sunshine Feel Good featuring the phenomenal Kim Burrell or even Tuamie’s Holy Ghost Spirituals v.01. Spiritual hip-hop, that’s a next level feeling.
So, in Lawd-A-Merzzy when that beat drops at 0:17 seconds, I felt the melody and bass in my soul. If only you knew how much this song helped me to persevere through my final exams. Some more of my favourites include Killa.Killa.Heel, Why [feat MAHD] and Get It 2Getha / Eye – Yie which has a switch up at 1:18 seconds that is just beautiful. If I have managed to peak your interest, why not start by adding this beatmaker to your playlists!
3. DAD. VINYL LOVER. CURATOR. BEAT CREATOR.
Next we’ve got Richmond, VA beatmaker Ohbliv. ‘Dad. Vinyl Lover. Curator. Beat Creator’ as his Instagram bio reads. Let me start by saying Ohbliv and popular Mutant Academy member Fly Anakin, put out a collaborative album recently titled Backyard Boogie which you need to listen to if you haven’t already.
It was after stumbling across Piqueable that I realised I hadn’t been paying as much attention to Ohbliv as I should have. Triplet flow on a hip-hop beat. I mean, do you hear how wild this sounds? I’d listened to Ohbliv many times before (courteousy of GodsConnect). However, I wasn’t completely familiar with his discography. So, I headed over to Bandcamp for a tour. During those late nights in the library, I became hooked on Rugged Tranquility a timeless collection of smooth beats released in 2009. One of his earlier projects. Ohbliv has made a name for himself by reworking slow and mellow samples to produce some otherworldly sounds. I would definitely recommend starting here and working your way down, to see just how his sound has progressed through the years.
Hearing Rugged Tranquillity for the first time whilst writing my dissertation is how I became hooked on Send It On Down. The song, backed with the groovy sounds of The Clark Sisters is as smooth as butter and I mean that quite literally.
It reminded me so much of another song I enjoyed, I couldn’t quite put my finger on it at the time. I soon remembered. It was a track called WRK by Baltimore emcee UllNevaNo and is also produced by Ohbliv. Emcee UllNevaNo, though underrated shouldn’t be cast out. He is steadily making a name for himself with songs like TIME WASTED and BLANK CANVAS (produced by MANHE), which tap into issues facing African American men in today’s society. So, whilst you’re looking into Ohbliv today, why not get acquainted with some UllNevaNo.
Man, I just love how cyclical music is. Everything is experimented with, remixed and reworked.
4. JAZZ AND ALT-RAP’S BEST KEPT SECRET?
San Diego-born and L.A.-based beatmaker Kiefer Shackelford also goes by Kiefer, ‘Kiefer on keys’ and ‘Kiefdaddysupreme’ on his social media accounts. In an interview with Bandcamp, he was dubbed as ‘The Best Kept Secret in Jazz and Alt-Rap’. This skilled keyboardist and beatmaker has toured with the likes of Mndsgn and Swarvy.
When Kiefer touches a keyboard…that’s it he’s got you mesmerised. You’ll find yourself lost in those soft harmonies, reminiscing about a past love or an unrequited one even. Kiefer spoke to Bandcamp about Ghosted – a song that represents an “emotional climax” as he put it. It stemmed from losing contact with his ex, a “best friend for three years…the person I talked to every day” he said. “We had nothing to do with each other anymore” he added. Kiefer both honest and vulnerable expressed his feelings in a song that speaks to all who struggle with being “alone”. Kiefer’s music takes you to places unknown, it’s calming, soothing and exactly what I needed to relieve exam stress. His undeniable love for those intricate sounds shines through his work.
The multi-instrumentalist regularly showcases his work through Instagram videos, which are often adapted by other music lovers. One adaptation that stood out to me was by an artist who goes by the name of Basi Vibe. Catch the soothing joint below.
His project HAPPYSAD dropped 8th June and is available to listen to on all platforms. On Instagram, Kiefer shared that making the project helped him to feel happy at a time when he was ‘struggling’ and hopes that it will encourage and uplift others. A message to all who may be feeling down today: open your hearts with some Kiefer.
Finally, chop it up to his rework of this Dilla classic!
5. IF YOU’RE LOOKING TO KEEP IT CHILL
Number five is Ahwlee (prounouned Ahw-lee). He’s supa chill and effortlessly cool with it.
With 18k followers on SoundCloud, this beatmaker isn’t one you want to forget. Let me quickly drop this 0:42 second track of his. I can’t quite get enough of it at the moment.
0:42 seconds, yes you read that right – I’m as gutted as you are. Ahwlee, if you’re reading this…can we get a longer version? It’s worth a try, right. Well, Ahwlee was another beatmaker that helped to keep me grounded during my final exams. I’d like to personally thank him for sustaining these ultra chill vibes. Lots_wife was a track that resonated with me deeply; it made me reminisce my three years spent at university. The good times, the bad times and the extremely awkward times. This and Cure3. made me realise that a vital chapter of my life had come to an end and a new one was just around the corner. Thinking about it now does make me slightly teary-eyed. It’s amazing how music can take you to such deep places and force you to get to the core of those unresolved feelings.
On a lighter note, here’s some head nod sh*t that will make you break your neck
I mean GAWD DAMN Ahwlee. This is hard.
Ahwlee doing what he does best somewhere in Los Angeles (2016)…