The Current Sound of Atlanta: Metro Boomin, London On Da Track and Southside
Summer On Smash
Get to know Metro Boomin, London On Da Track and Southside, the producers crafting the current sound of Atlanta hip-hop.
Interviews Emmanuel Maduakolam and Dan Rys
Editor’s Note: This story originally appeared in the Fall 2015 issue of of XXL Magazine, on stands now.
The past few years of rap music have been dominated by particular sounds; Young Chop’s drill bangers lifted Chicago’s street rhymers to the mainstream, Mike WiLL Made It’s trap anthems soundtracked countless house parties and DJ Mustard’s ratchet bounce hits lifted the strip clubs back to the top of the charts. Lately, a new crop of producers have emerged to stake their claim. Enter Metro Boomin, London On Da Track and Southside, the young beatsmiths who have been dominating the Atlanta hip-hop scene with their supersonic sounds.
All three producers have been putting in work, backing street records and radio hits from artists such as Gucci Mane, Future, Waka Flocka Flame, Young Thug, Meek Mill, Kid Ink, Big Sean, 2 Chainz, Boosie BadAzz and plenty more while both spreading the gospel of their sonic expertise and honing their craft.
Meet the new wave of hip-hop’s sound evolution.
Gov’t Name: Joshua Luellen
Affiliates: Gucci Mane, Waka Flocka Flame, Future, Meek Mill
Biggest Records Before 2015: Jay Z and Kanye West’s “Illest Motherfucker Alive,” Rich Gang’s “Tapout,” Young Thug’s “Danny Glover” and Meek Mill’s “Racked Up Shawty”
Biggest Records of 2015: Future’s “Fuck Up Some Commas,” “Blow A Bag,” “Slave Master,” “Rich $ex” and “Kno The Meaning” and Meek Mill’s “Jump Out The Face”
The jetpack behind Future’s latest rise in popularity is Southside. The A-Town beatsmith who runs 808 Mafia—one of the best hip-hop production collectives in the business—is the main contributor behind the boards of Future’s latest album, DS2, producing some of the his biggest songs. The scary thing? Southside’s just warming up.
XXL: How’d you get your start?
Southside: Both of my uncles rap. I used to always want to be like both of them. My uncle Pookie, he used to come upon laptops and he gave me one with Fruity Loops 3 one day. I’ve been making beats ever since.
Describe your sound.
My sound is evolving right now. I think I’m one of the only people who you can listen to a beat and you can feel what I’m going through emotionally from what I just made or what I sampled.
How did you develop it?
I taught myself and my style came from my environment. Music is a blessing to me. I grew up around all these streets and all this wild shit, so it was my environment. I try and take all that wild shit and put it into beats. So that’s why I would do records with Waka Flocka, like those guns sounds, it had gunshots in it. Nobody was putting gunshots in their beats until I did. That’s a fact. So we just created a whole new swag and a whole new vibe five or six years ago.
Who did you look up to when you were coming up?
I was a Shawty Redd fanatic, like I used to love Shawty Redd’s beats. Also Lil Jon. I think Lil Jon, he manipulated the game. He did a whole ’nother thing to the game as far as R&B singers and rappers. I also love Pharrell because he’s like a fly nigga to me. The fliest nigga ever and I never met him.
What’s the importance of the Atlanta sound right now?
I think Atlanta’s hip-hop scene is very important. Right now it controls the wave of music. I’m talking about really controls the wave of music. It’s also diverse because it’s not all the same thing. We got kids coming out of Atlanta that rap like J. Cole that’s dope. We got kids that are trying to be the modern day Gucci Mane. We got kids that are Waka. We got kids that think they’re Future. There are all types of music in Atlanta. That’s one thing I love about it. You’re going to get something different everywhere you go.
Who would you like to work with that you haven’t yet?
I’m tryna get into some Rihanna and some Beyoncé stuff. If I can get them to sing on some of this new wave of music that we have right now or even just do their thing on it, I think we’ll make number one records.
What are you most proud of in your career so far?
One of my biggest accomplishments was working with Kanye West and Jay Z. That was dope for me to be on Watch The Throne. That was the first album where they’re together rapping and I was young and able to be a part of it.
I think my other biggest accomplishment is Future’s DS2 because we just got the artist to create a whole second jam like he’s a brand new artist. That’s legendary to me when you can do stuff like that, instead of jumping around to what’s hot. No, let’s turn something up that’s not as hot. Let’s make it scorching hot when nothing else matters. We just did. —Emmanuel Maduakolam
Gov’t Name: Leland Wayne
Reppin': St. Louis
Affiliates: Future, Gucci Mane, iLoveMakonnen, Young Thug, Travi$ Scott, Rich Homie Quan
Biggest Records Before 2015: Lil Wayne and Future’s “Karate Chop,” Future’s “Honest” and iLoveMakonnen and Drake’s “Tuesday”
Biggest Records of 2015: Future’s “Where Ya At” and “Thought It Was A Drought,” Kid Ink’s “Like A Hot Boyy,” Meek Mill’s “Jump Out The Face” and Travi$ Scott’s “3500”
For Metro Boomin, success in the rap game arrived almost overnight. The young producer was just 19 years old and taking business classes at ATL’s Morehouse College when Future unleashed the Metro-produced, Lil Wayne-featuring single “Karate Chop,” shining a spotlight on the St. Louis native. College became an afterthought at that point, and Metro began producing for the biggest rappers in Atlanta, eventually scoring a platinum plaque for producing iLoveMakonnen’s “Tuesday” last year. With an evolving and diversifying sound, doors are opening wide for Metro Boomin.
XXL: How did you come up with your sound?
Metro Boomin: I feel like, whenever you start making beats and producing or whatever, a lot of your shit initially is just gonna sound like what you like and what you’re a fan of. And at that time I listened to a lot of Gucci Mane, a lot of Jeezy, Drumma Boy; stuff like that that sounded kind of dark. I listened to a lot of Three 6 Mafia coming up, that was a huge part of it. Even the way they put their beats together, if you go back and look at their music you could see like, “Okay, he was definitely inspired by them.”
Can you describe it?
I like to look at it as versatile; that’s how it is in my eyes. But I feel like a lot of the beats every year... I want to always bring something different and try something different. So describing the sound, I guess the best word would be broad.
How do you put a beat together?
Really I just sit down, mess around and play with sounds. And it’s kinda like a thing now where you just start hearing things and it just makes itself. I took a [piano] class in 10th grade and that’s when I think my beats got a lot better than they used to be. Because before that, I didn’t know anything about music theory, about chords or anything, so after I did that it was a whole new ballgame and I never stopped learning and getting better.
How important is understanding music theory as a producer?
I feel like it’s very important as a producer. A lot of beat-makers can go without it, but I look at myself as a producer. Like, I like making beats and getting songs done and everything, but it’s about looking forward. Now I’m looking at putting albums together, executive producing albums, really helping artists make these good songs hands-on. And you understand that with music theory, you’re really gonna know and fully understand as a producer what goes where, what needs to chill, or when this does this, you know? You just need the ear. But the ear is something, I guess, that you can’t buy. And I can’t play the piano fluently, but I feel like my ear is my strong point.
Why is the sound of Atlanta important to hip-hop now?
I feel like it’s very important, man, even the rest of the country taking bits and pieces of the influence. Not in a negative way, but I feel like it’s very important, especially when you look at everything that’s influenced by what’s going on down here. It’s crazy; it reaches out so far, even to how everybody started rapping like the Migos. They started doing that in pop songs. That’s huge.
What’s your biggest musical accomplishment?
That’s hard to say. “Tuesday” just went platinum, I got my first plaque for that. That and executive producing Future’s DS2. Man, that was great; it’s really what we’ve been doing, me and DJ Esco just putting everything together. Future, he really just raps, and he’ll be in the studio or whatever. But me and Esco, we’ll be in the studio every night. —Dan Rys
London On Da Track
Gov’t Name: London Holmes
Affiliates: Young Thug, T.I., Birdman, Rich Homie Quan, Lil Wayne, Boosie BadAzz
Biggest Records Before 2015: Tyga’s “Hookah,” Rich Gang’s “Lifestyle,” T.I.’s “About The Money”
Biggest Records of 2015: Young Thug’s “Check” and “With That,” Boosie BadAzz’s “Retaliation” and Lil Durk’s “Why Me”
At one point in the fall of 2014, London On Da Track’s eponymous producer tag seemed like it was everywhere. The upstart from Memphis very quickly went from being the man behind a slew of Atlanta street records to having three songs—T.I.’s “About The Money,” Tyga’s “Hookah” and Rich Gang’s “Lifestyle”—on the Billboard Hot 100 simultaneously. Less than a year later, London is now one of the most sought after producers in hip-hop with no plans of slowing down.
XXL: How would you describe your sound?
London On Da Track: Church, man. Church is my sound. You’re gonna hear pianos, you’re gonna hear organs, you’re gonna hear bells and drums, real live sounds that still have a trap feel to it. When I was at the church when I was younger, before I had moved to Atlanta, I would practice on the piano. Nobody ever taught me how, I taught myself how to do it.
How did you develop it?
In the beginning, there’s always a sound that you look up to, that you wanna be like or you wanna be better than. So when I first started, me being a musician and looking up to people who make beats, I was like, I wanna do what they’re doing. This was when I was like 16, in my younger stages of making beats. So I had to figure out that being original is worth more than a copy. I had to figure out that people are only gonna respect you for being original, not for being like everybody else. So when I was 17 or 18, that’s when I started getting used to it and kind of creating my own sound. In this game, to be the legendary person that you want to be in your craft, you have to ￼be original. That’s the only way you’re gonna have longevity.
What producers have you been influenced by?
Drumma Boy is a guy I looked up to. Tennessee is a small state, so if you were from anywhere—Nashville, Memphis, anywhere—if you were from those cities, that’s who I looked up to.
What’s your approach to crafting a beat?
The first thing is post-production. Every time I present a song to an artist, it’s post-production. It’s not an unfinished version of my beat. I’ll know the attack and the approach the artist wants in the music before I even get to them. I do all my research, listen to all their records, listen to the hottest records the most, the ones on Billboard charts, the top five records they have, and I make it off those records or I make it better. I do it in my own sound, though, and it’ll sound completely different. But I’ll study the certain key that the person raps in or sings in and just know what they’re looking for.
It’s all about research in this producing world. That’s the difference between me and a beat-maker; I actually study the sound. Every time I go in the studio with an artist, they’re gonna like the beat, because I studied them. First time I got in the studio with Usher, first two beats I played, we did two records together. Only played him two beats and he did both of them, same time. Rihanna, same way. Jeremih. It’s every time. I know what the people want.
What has been the biggest accomplishment in your career so far?
Thug giving me the opportunity. Thug brought me along with him and he didn’t have to do that. I feel like he created the situation and he made the best situation for me.
Atlanta’s hip-hop scene is very diverse right now. Why?
It’s a lot of people that pick up lingo, a lot of flavor here, that’s the only way I can explain it. There’s a lot of swag in this city and people are finding them every day or every other day. All they gotta do is come out with a hit. It’s easy for us, man, it’s like it’s just in us. —Dan Rys