Producers have long been the architects of hip-hop's biggest hits. But this year, they took center stage in a way perhaps unseen. Mike WiLL Made-It took the helm of the Creed II soundtrack. Swizz Beatz and Metro Boomin crafted their own fan- and critic-beloved albums. And Kanye West—always the center of attention—generated excitement by producing the entirety of five anticipated albums in five consecutive weeks of the spring and summer (Pusha-T's Daytona, Kids See Ghosts with Kid Cudi, Nas' Nasir, Teyana Taylor's K.T.S.E. and his own Ye).
While the aforementioned hip-hop superproducers have proven to reign supreme, even dipping into other genres (shoutout to Mustard and Pharrell Williams), newer beatmakers have also staked their claims. CashMoneyAp went from a type-beat purveyor to one of hip-hop's most in-demand young producers. Tay Keith brought about one of the most energizing producer tags—and some fire beats to match. And TrapMoneyBenny came out of nowhere to craft one of the beat songs of 2018, Drake's "In My Feelings," and was rewarded handedly with a shoutout by the megastar rapper on the track.
Old school met new school with OGs like Cool & Dre, Scott Storch, and Irv Gotti making comebacks. John Cunningham helped XXXTentacion etch his musical legacy while J. Cole furthered his own, both lyrically and musically. Murda Beatz became a heavyweight while Boi-1da and Hit-Boy maintained their respected vet statuses.
XXL highlighted the work of 50 producers who were responsible for crafting the sonic backdrops that soundtracked hip-hop in 2018.
After stacking hits like “Rake It Up” and “Bartier Cardi” in 2017, 30 Roc continued making bangers in 2018. Aside from executive producing Lil Yachty’s sophomore set, Lil Boat 2, the Bronx-bred beatmaker also worked on Jay Rock’s “King’s Dead,” Bhad Bhabie's "Gucci Flip Flops" and Travis Scott's "Stargazing."
Allen Ritter's fingerprint could be found all over hip-hop tracks in 2018—from Jay Rock’s Redemption to Drake’s Scorpion. The New York native also co-produced multiple records on Metro Boomin’s epic Not All Heroes Wear Capes and Travis Scott’s Astroworld.
With grooves that transcend pop, hip-hop, dance, R&B and everything in between, Benny Blanco managed to land tracks on albums released by an eclectic group of artists, including Keith Urban, Cardi B, Nas, Trill Sammy, Juice Wrld, Kanye West and Lil Dicky. Lil Dicky's multi-platinum track “Freaky Friday,” which Blanco co-produced with Mustard, peaked at No. 8 on Billboard's Hot 100 chart.
Boi-1da has been one of hip-hop's elite producers for nearly a decade now, and that stronghold showed no sign of slipping up this year.. A 2019 Grammy nominee (Producer of the Year, Non-Classical), 1da laid down heat for the likes of Drake ("God's Plan"), Eminem ("Lucky You"), The Carters ("Friends") and Jay Rock ("Win").
Cardo got hits—and his biggest came in 2018. After collaborating with Boi-1da on "God's Plan" for Drake, the Grammy-nominated producer put in work on two of the year's most anticipated albums: Culture II by Migos and Black Panther: The Album soundtrack. His beats were front and center on Big Bossin Vol. 2, his Def Jam-distributed joint project with Payroll Giovanni.
CashMoneyAp first garnered attention as an unknown beatmaker leasing “type beat” instrumentals via YouTube. Now established, he's been recognized for his placements with the likes of Ty Dolla $ign, A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie, YoungBoy Never Broke Again and Lil Skies. His high-pitched producer tag is pretty memorable, too.
While J. Cole and J.I.D trade bars on "Off Deez"—the second single from the Dreamville neophyte's DiCaprio 2—it's the ChaseTheMoney-produced beat that sets the stage for the lyrical acrobatics. It's just one of a handful of fire instrumentals for which the St. Louis-bred producer is to blame. He's also laced Ski Mask The Slump God, Lil Yachty, Smokepurpp and Valee.
Hate it or love it, Cool & Dre are back on top. The veteran tandem—go-to guys throughout the mid-2000s—made some big noise by contributing several tracks to Everything Is Love, the surprise joint album from Jay-Z and Beyoncé. The Miami duo also went all the way up to Detroit to team up with Royce da 5’9” for his J. Cole-featured Book of Ryan single, "Boblo Boat.”
Cubeatz kept busy in 2018, cuing up beats for everyone from Logic ("Everybody Dies") to 6ix9ine ("Fefe"). Their tracks were some real Billboard monsters: The Nicki Minaj-assisted “Fefe” at No. 4 on the pop charts, while Cubeatz's work on Travis Scott’s “Sicko Mode” gave the producers their first No. 1 song.
In 2018, Tyga proved that his hit-making prowess has not dulled, thanks in part to a pair of singles produced by D.A. Doman. "Taste" and "Swish" both have a distinctive summery, sample-distorted sound—hallmarks of the Illinois beatmaker's aesthetic. His steel drum-driven beat for "Zeze," Kodak Black's current chart climber, is nothing but net.
Splitting time between being the official DJ for Migos and crafting beats alongside Quavo, DJ Durel helps the Migos get the party started, one way or another. Aside from working on 10 songs on Culture II (including the infectious "Narcos") and another three on Takeoff's The Last Rocket, Durel dropped his own Migos-guested heater, "Hot Summer," in July.
Mustard hit the jackpot when he signed Ella Mae to his 10 Summers imprint. While the R&B songstress’ triple-platinum “Boo’d Up” was released in 2017, the Mustard-produced track really made its mark in 2018 earning a couple of Grammy nominations. But Mustard also extended his Midas touch to legends like Lil Wayne, T-Pain and Mariah Carey, as well as leaders of the new school like Cardi B and frequent collaborator, YG. The Los Angeles native also co-produced Lil Dicky’s smash hit, “Freaky Friday.”
Following early placements with street rappers like Joell Ortiz and Ghostface Killah, Frank Dukes has gone on to conquer the pop charts. An executive producer on both The Weeknd’s My Dear Melancholy and the self-titled debut from Camila Cabello, the multi-platinum Dukes also made sure his presence was felt on the hip-hop charts with instrumentals made for Kendrick Lamar, Nicki Minaj, Gunna, Mozzy and Cardi B.
“Sicko Mode” is Travis Scott’s first single to top the Billboard Hot 100. It’s a first as well for Hit-Boy, who aside from contributing production on the track also worked with Jay Rock, Lecrae and Ariana Grande this year.
Like a quiet assassin, Illmind! has been killing it on the low. A secret weapon of sorts, he has racked up placements with some of the biggest names in rap. Drake’s Scorpion, Nicki Minaj’s Queen, The Carters' Everything Is Love, Royce da 5’9”’s Book of Ryan and Denzel Curry’s TA13OO are just some of the projects released this year that feature Illmind! production.
While J. Cole has had a banner year as a featured artist, his production has also been A1 in 2018. He laced the lion's share of his critically acclaimed KOD album, and showed growth while working on songs for other artists (see Bas' upbeat track "Sanufa," which Cole produced after experiencing a set by South African DJ Black Coffee). Cole displayed his abilities behind the boards on Mac Miller's Swimming, Wale's Free Lunch and J.I.D's DiCaprio 2, while also serving in a hands-off capacity as executive producer of Swizz Beatz's stellar Poison album.
J White Did It lived up to his name in 2018. Making more money moves with Cardi B, the “Bodak Yellow” producer crafted her latest single, “Money,” Invasion of Privacy’s “Money Bag” and one of her biggest money-makers to date, the Latin-flavored Bad Bunny and J Balvin collaboration, “I Like It.” J White also did joints for Tinashe and Iggy Azalea to cap the year off.
The late XXXTentacion dropped two No. 1 albums in 2018 with March’s ? and this month’s Skins. Largely produced by John Cunningham, both projects have helped cement the “Sad!” artist as a leading voice of his generation.
Despite all of his antics both online and off, Kanye West got in his production bag in 2018. He pushed the limits of his creative drive by handling the beats on a series of G.O.O.D. Music-affiliated projects—five releases over the course of five weeks in May and June. He channelled his inner RZA for Nas' Nasir album, helped realize Teyana Taylor's retro R&B ambitions, made the moody Kid Cudi collaborative project that fans have wanted for years and partnered with Pusha-T to make the instant classic Daytona. Somehow Ye still had gas in the tank to make Ye, making him, if nothing else, one of the hardest working producers of the year.
“We did seven songs in three days,” Kenny Beats told XXL earlier this year, as he discussed 777, his joint-project with Key!. “That was the project, then we kept working.”
The grind continued over the course of 2018 for the Los Angeles-based producer, as he locked in with Rico Nasty for her Nasty tape and Freddie Gibbs for his fourth album, Freddie. Beats also made beats for the likes of JPEGMAFIA, UnoTheActivist, YoungBoy Never Broke Again and others.
A native of Sweden, Ludwig Göransson earned his hip-hop and R&B stripes after forging a creative partnership with Childish Gambino, who he met while working on the NBC comedy, Community. Since then, they've completed a series of projects, including 2018's chart-topping “This Is America” and "Feels Like Summer." Göransson, who doubles as a film composer, also collaborated with Vince Staples for the soundtrack to Black Panther—he scored the blockbuster movie, too.
Life after Love & Hip Hop hasn’t been too bad for Mally Mall. Post-reality TV, he clocked studio time with the Rae Sremmurd boys, which resulted in several contributions to the platinum duo's third album, SR3MM, including singles “Powerglide” and "Guatemala." Mall and Swae Lee joined forces again for “Arms Around You,” the collaboration between XXXTentacion and Lil Pump that also features Maluma.
Here to save the day, Metro Boomin proved that heroes really don’t need capes. After 2017’s run of joint-projects with Offset, 21 Savage and Big Sean, Metro finally dropped his debut album, Not All Heroes Wear Capes, which captured the top spot on the Billboard 200.
Outside of his work on projects such as Daytona, Nasir, K.T.S.E., Kids See Ghost and Ye, Mike Dean lent his production expertise to the likes of The Carters, Migos and Travis Scott.
Undertaking one of his biggest projects yet, Mike WiLL Made-It curated the soundtrack that accompanied the blockbuster film, Creed II. He had a hand in 12 of the 15 songs on the dope project, also rounding out his 2018 by producing Nicki Minaj’s latest single “Good Form,” a couple of Kamikaze records for Eminem and several joints that appear on Rae Sremmurd’s SR3MM. Mike WiLL even reconnected with Miley Cyrus.
Not only did Murda Beatz bless the trap alongside the likes of Smokepurpp (the joint project Bless Yo Trap) and Don Q, he also flexed his chart-topping muscle. The 24-year old with a label deal in place at Interscope Records has gotten cozy on the Billboard Hot 100, thanks to Drake’s eight-week chart-ruler “Nice for What,” 2Chainz's "Bigger Than You" and 6ix9ine's “Fefe.”
It’s one thing to produce a hit record. It's an entirely different thing to craft a record that receives praise from an iconic artist like Sting. Nick Mira has experienced both. He even knows what it’s like to beef with an icon. All of this is due his creative chemistry with Juice Wrld. Mira—who produced half of the emerging artist’s Goodbye & Good Riddance, including the album’s breakaway hit, "Lucid Dreams"—also made waves with productions for Yung Bans, Lil Gnar and Lil Skies.
Drake’s Scorpion was another milestone for the OVO crew. Operating as Drizzy’s creative guru, Noah “40” helped orchestrate the record-breaking, Grammy-nominated blockbuster, producing 10 of 25 tracks on the double album.
Several OG Parker-produced songs received gold and platinum certifications in 2018: Chris Brown’s "Pills and Automobiles,” Tory Lanez’s "B.I.D” and Migos' multi-plat “Walk It Talk It,” featuring Drake. Looking to add to the plaques on the wall, Quality Control Music's in-house producer created tracks for Gucci Mane, Jeremih & Ty Dolla $ign, Lil Durk and the self-proclaimed king of R&B, Jacquees.
A contender for the coveted Producer of the Year Grammy award, Pharrell Williams had a pretty standard year that included hit records and platinum plaques. On the R&B and pop side of things, he contributed to a substantial amount of the production on both Justin Timberlake’s comeback album, Man of the Woods, and Ariana Grande’s Sweetener. Skateboard P also cooked up a funky production for Migos with “Stir Fry” and landed a couple of beats on The Carters' Everything Is Love.
Pi’erre Bourne, who just last year helped us to get reacquainted with the Milly Rock, kept the party going in 2018. He provided the sonic backdrop for the bulk of Playboi Carti’s surprise release, Die Lit. He also connected with Kanye West on a couple of occasions, producing for Ye on “Yikes” and Travis Scott’s “Watch,” which also features Lil Uzi Vert.
Lil Baby and Gunna might be a dynamic duo, but that doesn’t mean Baby’s Drip Harder collaborator is his only tag-team partner. Quay Global and the “My Dawg” rapper have joined forces a bunch of times this year alone, like on Street Gossip, where Global handled the production for nine of the mixtape’s 13 tracks.
A longtime creative cohort of Denzel Curry, Ronny J expanded his reach a few years ago after getting looped in with upstarts like Lil Pump, XXXTentacion, Smokepurpp and Ski Mask The Slump God. A triple threat, the producer, songwriter and artist now supplies sonics to everyone from Bhad Bhabie to Eminem.
Hailing from Watts, Calif., 22-year old Ron-Ron was influenced by West Coast pillars like Snoop Dogg and Tha Dogg Pound coming up. So it makes perfect sense that his new-age street-productions for New West rappers Shoreline Mafia, 03 Greedo and Drakeo The Ruler has kept him at the forefront of Cali’s underground circuit all 2018.
A blast from the past, Scott Storch is back like he never left. Having had launched his career as a producer under the watch of the likes of The Roots and Dr. Dre in the 1990s, Storch has been crafting modern sounds for the next generation as of late. Some of the superproducer’s more recent clients have been 6ix9ine, Russ, Trippie Redd and T.I.
Although Kendrick Lamar and the TDE label are often credited for the vision behind Black Panther: The Album, the team’s in-house producer, Sounwave, should be given some props, too. The soundtrack that accompanied the massively successful film lists him as a co-producer on nine of its 14 tracks, including the Golden Globe-nominated SZA and Kendrick Lamar collab, “All the Stars.”
Southside swerved on ‘em in 2018. He dropped his Trap Ye: Season 2 mixtape and Swervo, his album with G Herbo, back to back. When in producer mode, he spazzed on a couple of Lil Baby’s Harder Than Ever records and contributed several bangers to projects from Moneybagg Yo and Young Thug.
2018 was showtime for Swizz Beatz. The multifaceted creative seemed hungrier than he's been in a while, dropping his sterling Poison album in November, which featured the best bars from lyricists like Nas, Pusha-T and Lil Wayne, who gave his best performances in recent memory on the lead single "Pistol on My Side (P.O.M.S.)." That synergy helped to bring about "Uproar," another fire collaboration with Weezy that appears on his own Tha Carter V.
J. Cole’s “Kevin’s Heart” peaked at No. 8 on the Billboard Hot 100. The only non-Cole-produced track to make the Dreamville general’s fifth solo album, the single was crafted by T-Minus. As a result of his work on 2 Chainz’s “Proud” and Drake’s controversial “March 14,” as well as tracks for 6lack and Rich the Kid, T-Minus continued to add to his long list of buzzworthy records.
NYC-based duo TakeADayTrip took no days off in 2018. The “Mo Bamba” producers put in more work, which resulted in records like "Kung Fu" and "Target" for YBN Cordae, "Dummy" for 6ix9ine and “Legends,” Juice Wrld’s tribute to fallen comrades XXXTentacion and Lil Peep
2018 saw Tay Keith graduate from local beatmaker to one of hip-hop’s most in-demand producers. The recent college graduate began his breakthrough year with BlocBoy JB and Drake’s amped-up “Look Alive,” which peaked at No. 5 on the Billboard Hot 100 and helped set the tone for the year of Drizzy, while also introducing the Memphis rookie. Similarly, records like the 6ix God’s “Non Stop,” the Travis Scott's No. 1 hit “Sicko Mode,” “Never Recover” with Lil Baby, Gunna and Drake (again), the 6ix9ine and Bobby Shmurda collab, “Stoopid” and Eminem’s Royce 5’9"-featured “Not Alike” kept Tay Keith’s momentum going.
The son of a drummer, Taz Taylor has a connection to music that runs deep. All about his Internet Money, the savvy beat slanger has paired his passion with a hustler’s spirit. This year, he laced several marquee artists with sounds, including Drake, Young Thug and Young Nudy.
Several Grammy-nominated albums released this year, including Black Panther: The Album, Post Malone’s Beerbongs & Bentleys and Nipsey Hussle’s Victory Lap feature Teddy Walton productions. The Memphis producer's sound also appeared on critically acclaimed projects by Key Glock and Jay Rock.
TM88 crafted beats for Lil Uzi Vert, XXXTentacion, Wiz Khalifa, Doe Boy and others in 2018. Stepping out from behind the boards, the producer behind Uzi’s “XO Tour Llif3” also spent the year prepping the release of his debut for Capitol Records.
Through a few key connections, a track produced by a relatively unknown producer from Cleveland made its way to Drake. That music became the foundation for the Toronto rapper's mega-hit "In My Feelings," and in the wake of that song's success, TrapMoneyBenny's stock is higher than ever.
“It was one of the biggest roles I've had this year,” Turbo told Billboard, as he discussed his work on Drip Harder, the joint effort from Lil Baby and Gunna. The sole producer of the tandem’s “Drip Too Hard,” Turbo functioned as the project’s executive producer.
Known for his work with Drake, Chris Brown Travis Scott and many others, Vinylz has been a go-to guy for the hits for a while. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the Washington Heights-bred producer crafted tracks housed on several of this year’s most-anticipated albums. He’s partially responsible for The Carter’s “Heard About Us,” Jay Rock’s “Win” and Cardi B’s “Be Careful.”
Yes indeed, Wheezy was out of here in 2018. In what could be considered his breakthrough season, the Atlanta native scored several major placements on projects from Migos, Young Thug and Nav. He also locked in two top 10 hits with Meek Mill and Drake’s first post-beef collab, “Going Bad,” and Lil Baby’s Drizzy-assisted “Yes Indeed.”
WondaGurl is a young OG. Credited as a producer on tracks by Jay-Z, Drake and Rihanna, she’s been building her impressive résumé since her teenage years. This year’s additions to the 21-year-old producer's lengthy catalog include Rich The Kid’s Khalid-accompanied track “Too Gone” and Astroworld cuts like “No Bystanders” and “Can't Say.”
Zaytoven further diversified his portfolio in 2018. The trap god played host for his own gangsta party, the appropriately titled Trapholizay, while also playing maestro for others. Zay’s link ups resulted in Usher’s surprise project, A, Let The Trap Say Amen with Christian rapper Lecrae and the sequel to Future’s cult-classic, Beast Mode.