It's rare to see producers become as visible as the rappers they make beats for, but in recent years some have been able to brand themselves to the point of being stars in their own right. Metro Boomin is the perfect example; with the advent of producer tags for mostly southern beatmakers, guys like Metro, Zaytoven and Mike WiLL Made-It don't leave any room for guesswork—their signatures are unavoidable at the start of nearly every song they create.
That's helped bring awareness to the fact that producers work just as hard, if not harder, than the rappers whose hits they help make. That should seem obvious, but being "behind the boards" means being behind the faces of the songs too, even if some producers are helping rappers with their hooks as well.
This year, XXL takes a look at some of the best producers of the year, people who toiled behind the scenes to make the beats your favorite rappers spit over. They aren't all as self-branded as the guys mentioned above—though some, like June Onna Beat, DJ Fresh and Wheezy also use their own subtle signatures—but they all have emerged as being instrumental to the success of the songs they made. Here 30 of the Best Hip-Hop Producers of 2016.
In 2012-13, Mike WiLL Made-It was the game's go-to producer, but when the tide shifted to favor DJ Mustard instead, Mike kept working. Now he's back on top, thanks to Rae Sremmurd's No. 1 hit single "Black Beatles," Beyoncé's "Formation," Thugger's "F Cancer" and Tity Boi's "MFN Right." The list goes on and on as the Atlanta producer continues to fine tune his sound. Now can we get Ransom 2?
OVO's secret weapon, Nineteen85 had his name ringing with Drake's "Hotline Bling" last year, and he didn't waste any time capitalizing on the attention. He helped produce the biggest song of Drake's career so far, "One Dance," which was also one of the biggest tracks this year, as well as a couple other joints off Views. He steered the direction for dvsn's debut album Sept 5th too and now he's up for a Grammy next year.
This man is a beast. He used to be part of the core in-house production team for Wiz (Big Jerm, I.D. Labs, Johnny Juliano), but he's since gone on to work with everyone from Kendrick to Hov. This year he ran the gamut again, landing beats on Travis Scott's Birds in the Trap Sing McKnight ("Goosebumps"), Kendrick's untitled unmastered ("untitled 02") and D.R.A.M.'s Big Baby D.R.A.M. ("In a Minute / In House"), to name a few, as well as completely producing one of the hardest tapes of the year—Payroll Giovanni's Big Bossin Vol. 1. Look out for Cardo's solo album Lost in a World coming in 2017.
Who else in hip-hop would release one of the best albums of the year... and then continue to tweak it once it went up for sale? At first it seemed like a terrible rollout; in retrospect, it was just a mad genius refusing to finish his work.
Zaytoven produced for everybody this year—Gucci Mane, Lil Uzi Vert, Young Dolph, Future and Lil Durk. Zaytiggy was as much a part of Guwop's return as Mr. Zone 6 himself, helping to improve his longevity and show the world his chemistry with Gucci hasn't gone anywhere.
The leader of Atlanta's new school of producers had another monster year, fueled by 21 Savage's Savage Mode, a project Metro rightfully gets artist credit on. 2016 solidified his status as the most instantly recognizable producer in the game, serving as a testament to the power of personal branding. Now wait until his track with Kodak drops.
Thugger fans know all about Wheezy. He was the mastermind behind the production on Barter 6 and he doubled down this year, producing mutant beats for Thug like "Gangster Shit," "King TROUP" and "Swizz Beatz." But, his most slept-on contributions of the year are on the wrongly-ignored Bankroll Mafia album.
YG's Still Brazy is one of the best-produced albums of the year, and it's largely thanks to DJ Swish, the guy behind centerpieces like “Don’t Come To L.A.,” “Who Shot Me,” “Gimmie Got Shot” and “Fuck Donald Trump.” Probably helps that he got an assist or two from production genius Terrace Martin on the album as well.
Everybody knew before even hearing the new Tribe Called Quest album that at the very least, the beats would be banging. Turns out the whole project was fire, but Tip made the old sound new and breathed life into a group that rap fans had all but given up hope on.
Not only did Frank Dukes have his hands on everything released this year, but he also innovated the way producers can access sampling by playing original material and offering it up for other beatmakers to purchase. Views, The Life of Pablo, Stoney, Jeffery and Starboy are just some of the LPs Frank lent his magic to this year.
The legendary Mike Dean has been in the game for nearly 25 years now, and he's still amongst the cream of the crop when it comes to production. But his experience behind the boards has also gifted him with a golden ear, allowing him to become a mixing and mastering guru as well. He even plays live guitar and keys; dude is a pure virtuoso.
The smartest thing Drake (or was it 40?) has done in the past couple years is adding this guy to his production arsenal. Vinylz produced "U With Me?" off Views, "4PM in Calabasas" and "Fake Love" from the forthcoming More Life project, which you can expect him to be all over.
Kamaiyah broke out last year with "How Does It Feel," produced by CT Beats, and she went back to the Oakland producer for four more cuts on one of the best projects of the year, A Good Night in the Ghetto. His beats are so dope, even YG had to cop one for "Why You Always Hating?"
Kodak Black's got a sound all his own, but Dubba-AA helps him craft it. Songs like "Everything 1k," "Vibin in This Bih" and "Slayed" were all done by the Florida producer, who also made his way on NBA YoungBoy's 38 Baby mixtape (they've got an entire project on the way). Dubba-AA is so dependable, he brought his studio equipment over to Kodak's house to cook up new music when the MC got out of jail a couple weeks ago.
A mentee of Zaytoven and self-proclaimed "Trap Sinatra," Cassius Jay has been making all the right noise for himself this year. He's built up his production resume by working with the ATL's A-listers (Future, Gucci Mane and Migos just to name a few). Cash doubled down on the summer heat when he dropped the six-track mixtape Trap Sinatra in August which included features from Peewee Longway and Quavo. Fans were especially receptive to Cassius' and Longway's musical match up and were even more pleased when the two announced the joint project Longway Sinatra, which they unleashed in November. Cassius Jay is increasingly becoming Southern rap's go-to for trap-laden beats. Keep an ear out for that boy Cash in the new year.
Cannon and Maaly are responsible for two of Lil Uzi Vert’s biggest hits of the year—“Money Longer” and “Do What I Want.” It’s an interesting pairing; Maaly is one of Uzi’s main producers, along with Metro, Slade, Cubeatz and others, while Cannon has been instrumental behind the scenes (along with DJ Drama) in getting Uzi into the right positions to succeed. Nonetheless, Cannon’s always had a nice touch behind the boards, and together with Maaly he’s been showing he’s still got it.
The 808 Mafia member remains one of the hardest working producers in the business, providing ear-splintering beats for rappers all over the industry. He did a whole project for Wiz and Juicy J, gave Juicy six joints for his solo tape Lit in Ceylon and had placements on projects by 2 Chainz, YFN Lucci, Young Thug and more.
Not only did Quik produce one of the most slept-on projects of the year with Problem's Rosecrans EP, but he also released a beautiful solo track that flew under the radar.
Daringer is the man behind the beats for recent rap sensations Westside Gunn and Conway. Those two rappers can spit, but it's Daringer who always gives them the right easel to paint over.
Nobody is as consistent as Boi-1da these days. This year alone he worked on Kanye, Drake, J. Cole and Travis Scott's album, as well as helping to produce Rihanna's "Work."
Toronto producer Murda Beatz has been the guy responsible for some of the Migos' best songs. This year he not only worked with Drake, Gucci and PartyNextDoor, but he also dropped a star-studded debut mixtape.
Kaytranada gave us two dope projects this year—99.9% and 0.001% ?? But he also gave Chance The Rapper, Mick Jenkins and GoldLink top-notch beats as well, cementing his status as one of the most unique producers in all of music right now.
You've probably heard Danny Brown's Atrocity Exhibition, a deranged but startling album produced entirely by the U.K.'s Paul White. And though that LP alone might have put White on this list, it's his work on Open Mike Eagle's Hella Personal Film Festival that's the hidden treat.
Southside is that dude production-wise. He's responsible for two of Future's biggest songs of the year—"Wicked" and "Perkys Calling"—and spread his talents across albums like The Life of Pablo, Woptober, Savage Mode and EVOL, to name a few. Plus, he gave us a taste of what to expect from his forthcoming full-length collab with G Herbo on "Eastside Story."
The Trenchwerk duo of Nard & B have been two of Future's best producers for years now, and even though they laced him with one of his best songs of the year ("Inside the Mattress"), they also produced an entire tape for Jose Guapo (Extravagant Trench Shit) and standout tracks from Trouble's phenomenal Skoobzilla tape. Plus, they hit Skooly with one of the best beats he's gotten in a while.
Denzel Curry's Imperial was a crowning achievement for the 2016 Freshman, but while his lyrical prowess was lauded, his core producers Ronny J & FNZ hardly got the love they deserved. Their beats go from mellow to adrenaline-injected, allowing Denzel to traverse the full range of human emotions in his raps.
For years, DJ Fresh has been grinding it out in the Bay Area with his Tonite Show series, inviting an MC to command each entry while Fresh produces the entire thing. This year he did two: one with a rising Oakland MC named Ezale, and another with Mozzy affiliate Celly Ru. Both are masterfully produced, blending soul samples with thick 808 drums to make for some of the best west coast hip-hop 2016 has been hiding from you.
D.R.A.M.’s “Broccoli” was a national sensation this year, topping the Billboard rap chart thanks to the Virginia MC’s carefree delivery and Lil Yachty’s energy. But as huge as that song was, it was another song J Gramm produced called “Too Many Years” by Kodak Black and PnB Rock that showed how the L.A. producer had a penchant for working with Atlantic artists (see A Boogie’s “Ransom” as well) can take a street rapper like Kodak and give him a pop-leaning palette that’ll help him appeal to a larger audience.
It should be no secret by now: Sounwave is TDE’s go-to producer. He had a hand in some of the best cuts from both Kendrick Lamar’s untitled. unmastered. and ScHoolboy Q’s Blank Face LP, as well as “Lonely Soul // / The Law (Prelude)” from Ab-Soul’s Do What Thou Wilt. He is an essential part of why Top Dawg has been able to cultivate such a unique sound within hip-hop in recent times and 2016 was one of his strongest years yet.
As prolific as Sacramento rapper Mozzy is, his producer June Onna Beat deserves just as much as credit. While expanding his palette to produce for rappers like E-40 and Lil Yase, he also managed to release his own handful of compilations featuring a host of Bay Area rappers. Mozzy’s regional success has allowed June to even release a solo project complete with his own vocals, but his moody production is as important to Mozzy’s music as the lyrics are.