The 10 Most Influential Contemporary Hip Hop Producers

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We’ve had a week to digest Until the Quiet Comes, the new Flying Lotus album, and to be honest it still kinda makes our head hurt. FlyLo’s roots lie in hip hop, but this album encompasses everything from weird electronic experimentalism to free jazz, making it the latest installment in a constantly fascinating (if sometimes impenetrable) body of work. These are exciting times for hip hop production — in a weird sort of paradox, while the state of hip hop MCing is largely dismal, the production side of things is more innovative and creative than ever. With the help of resident production whiz and Flavorpill associate Lyle Horowitz, we’ve selected a few of the producers we think are really pushing the creative envelope at the moment — who are your suggestions? (And we’re trying to focus on lesser-known artists here, so please don’t ask us why we haven’t included Kanye West.)

Flying Lotus

It’s interesting to note that today’s most lauded hip hop producer doesn’t really make beats for people to rap over. FlyLo’s own work is largely instrumental, and when he employs vocalists and/or produces for others, it’s usually vocalists whose styles have little to do with conventional hip hop styling — take Gonjasufi, for instance, or Thom Yorke (you may have heard of him). The producer’s style is instantly recognizable — lush, immersive, idiosyncratic, and very, very trippy.

Clams Casino

And while we’re on instrumental hip hop, we also far prefer hearing Clams Casino’s work in instrumental form, mainly because his remarkable sounds are usually far more interesting than whatever’s being said over the top of them. His beats are slow and subtle, using vocal samples and lots of reverb to create a dreamy, spacey atmosphere, and his Instrumentals mixtape was one of our favorite releases of last year.

Hudson Mohawke

Like Flying Lotus, Glaswegian producer Hudson Mohawke is signed to iconic UK electronic label Warp, which makes perfect sense given how much his beats take from the world of cerebral electronic music. His 2009 debut album Butter was a most excellent piece of work, and while he’s certainly not been idle since then — we particularly liked his work with Lunice as TNGHT — surely it’s time for another album, eh?

Mike Will Made It

Sean “Diddy” Combs is an insufferable blowhard, but he does know a good producer when he hears one, so his pronouncement that “All the important shit that you about to hear over the next couple of decades: Mike motherfucking Will made it” — as featured at the start of the producer’s Est. In 1989 mixtape — seemed like a pretty significant endorsement, even if it came in the middle of a rambling and largely incoherent speech about “regular white bitches” and “niggas who don’t use lotion.” Will’s baroque, bass-heavy beats surfaced pretty much everywhere in 2011 — most notably on 2Chainz and Drake’s “No Lie” (above), which, come on, just try to focus on the beat — expect to hear a lot more about him in months to come.

Illangelo / Doc McKinney

The late-night nihilism of The Weeknd’s Echoes of Silence owed as much to the brushed-metal production of Illangelo and fellow Canadian producer Doc McKinney as it did to Abel Tesfaye’s lyrics and dispassionate style. The beats did a fine job of evoking the world about that Tesfaye depicted — alienation, ennui, and way too many drugs, searching for some flicker of real feeling in the void.

SKYWLKR

He just sits at home and makes beats, really. That’s his shit. And he does it rather well, no? We particularly like the decidedly strange horn sounds of “30,” a track originally for Danny Brown, which sound more like a weird old Bollywood record being played at the wrong speed than a hip hop track.

Sounwave

As in-house producer for Top Dawg Entertainment — home to Kendrick Lamar, amongst others — LA producer Sounwave is on a pretty damn good wicket, and he’s most definitely making a name for himself. Like long-time collaborator Lamar, who proclaimed on his debut album that he’s on a mission not to let Tupac Shakur’s mission die, Sounwave’s loping beats are steeped in the sound of West Coast luminaries past, but he’s versatile enough to avoid pure pastiche — check the restrained production on “ADHD” above, for instance.

Noah “40” Shebib

He’s best known for his work with Drake, and before you start sneering, consider that “influential” means wielding an influence, and that means reaching people — so what better way to do that than via multiple chart hits? Whatever you think of Drake’s merits as a vocalist — and we argue about this at Flavorpill a lot — there are some genuinely interesting tracks on Take Care. Take the mournful strings that underpin “Marvin’s Room,” for instance (while Drake is complaining about having had sex four times in a week — ha) and the way the whole song grinds to a halt, mirroring exactly what happens when you really have had one too many vodkas and you’re drunk-dialing your ex.

Exile

Aleksander Manfredi’s style is something of a throwback in today’s world of bass-heavy, überdramatic beats — his style is relatively breezy and often relies on old-school instrumental samples, creating a sound that evokes old-school hip hop while still sounding completely contemporary. We’d be happy to see more producers adopt a similar approach.

Lex Luger

We have to admit to not being massive fans of Luger’s productions, but there’s no doubt that his work has been influential over the last couple of years, kicking the portentous, dramatic sound favored by large, blunt-toting rappers up yet another level by marrying it to trance-style buildups. Gangsta trance? Why did no one think of this before? Oh. Yeah.