2015 was such a great year for rap that 2016 is looking like a good year too just off the promise that we'll finally get to see all of the heavily hyped albums last year neglected to deliver. On the horizon still are new albums by Kanye West (Feb. 11!), Frank Ocean, Vic Mensa, Pusha T, Drake, Young Thug, Rihanna, and, one would hope, Chance the Rapper. There's three Lupe Fiasco albums on the way, if that's your thing, Future promised us a tape or two in addition to Purple Reign, and there's that weird rumor about a secret J. Cole and Kendrick Lamar project to contend with. Personally, I don't believe it.
Just about all the big names we're expecting to bless us with new music are eagle-eyed talent scouts in their own right; Jay Z taught us that in order to stay on top, it helps to be mindful of and accessible to who's got next. This inevitably means cool placements for up-and-coming talents from big dogs looking to keep their ear to the streets. The game is wide open for smart, offbeat producers right now.
Below you'll find a list of names you're bound to hear more out of in the coming year on the production end of things, present and future East Coast hitmakers, Cali underground soldiers, Toronto dons, UK tech wizards, and much more. Like we always do at this time, here are 10 producers to watch out for in 2016.
Young Thug had a supremely productive 2015, thanks to April’s very strong Barter 6 and the two Slime Season mixtapes engineer Alex Tumay helped cull from the wealth of material in Thugger’s vaults. If you paid close attention to production credits you’d see a new name all over the tracklist beside usual suspects like London on da Track: Mississippi-born beatmaker Wheezy is responsible for a good half of Barter 6’s tracks, among them, the very best, as well as loosies on both Slime Season tapes. That’s him with the pillowy bass on “Constantly Hating” and the gangly bounce on “Amazing,” the soothing calm of Slime Season’s “Wood Would” and SS2’s “She Notice.” Wheezy told Complex he visited Atlanta a bunch with family growing up, eventually moving there and connecting first with T.I.’s Hustle Gang before migrating over to Thug’s camp. With a direct line to one of the game’s sharpest, most unpredictable rhymers, Wheezy’s bound to make major waves in 2016.
Amaire Johnson is a church pianist from riverside Philly and Wilmington tributary Chester whose talent carried him to bigger and better ventures when he picked up and moved to Los Angeles to hone his craft. By 2013 he’d earned a spot backing an opener on a Maroon 5 tour, and the next year, he’d land in Big Sean’s touring band. Johnson’s only getting his feet wet as producer, but the track he scored on Sean’s Dark Sky Paradise, the rousing, inspirational, Kanye West and John Legend assisted ballad “One Man Can Change the World,” sold half a million copies and netted an MTV Video Music Award and a Grammy nomination. The list of producers who can say they landed a Kanye feature on one of their first proper production jobs is exceedingly short; Amaire’s future looks bright.
Drake used last winter’s “mixtape” If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late to branch out from his go-to production team and work with younger names many might not have heard of (ourselves excluded, ha). One of those was Toronto producer Daxz, who linked up with Noah “40” Shebib to provide the drums for the Lou Williams tribute “6 Man” after Drake’s right hand caught wind of the newcomer’s production chops on Instagram. As Daxz told Complex over the summer, he continued sending beats to 40, and one fateful night, he was called into the studio to find Drake writing a response to Meek Mill’s ill-fated Twitter diss over one of his. The fruit of the session was the menacing “Back to Back,” which would tumble out of car stereos from coast to coast alongside the sunnier “Hotline Bling,” unfurling a campaign of terror that ended in a meme-filled anti-Meek OVO Fest pep rally and a Grammy nomination. Things pick up fast when you can count your city’s biggest stars as collaborators.
Brian “Peoples” Garcia
While 2015’s year-end hip-hop wrap-up revolved around Drake, Future, and Kendrick, for much of the year the singles chart belonged to Fetty Wap. The New Jersey native’s record-breaking string of singles carried him from obscurity to nationwide fame at a remarkable speed, and if you peek through the credits of his hits-collection-as-debut-album, Fetty Wap, you’ll note producer/engineer Brian “Peoples” Garcia as the guiding hand on the production end. In addition to mixing the album in full, Peoples produced half of it, from underrated slaps like “I Wonder” and “Time” to hits “679” and “Again.” His productions present a vision of trap somehow airy and heavy, spacious and busy at the same time. It was Peoples who saw hit potential in “Trap Queen,” rearranging Fetty’s quick vamp over the Tony Ladd beat into the world-beating chart monster we know today. Peoples’ skill and proximity to a chart-topping dynamo like Fetty ensures a promising 2016.
Toronto mainstay Tory Lanez pulled a rare feat on Christmas day last month and released two mixtapes in two lanes at the same time: Chixtape 3 featured Lanez’s delicate singing over deconstructed R&B classics, and The New Toronto showcased his coarse but still melodic bars over louche trap joints. It’s a rare feat for each to sound like a million bucks in its own way, and it’s a testament both to Tory’s skills as rapper, singer, and producer, and to his chief collaborator Play Picasso’s production genius. Play (formerly PlayBack) can bring operatic intrigue, as he does on The New Toronto should-be smash “Makaveli” and Meek Mill’s Dreams Worth More Than Money opener “Lord Knows,” or he can pitch in spectral late night longing like on Chixtape 3’s “N.A.M.E,” a shipwrecked redux of Alicia Keys and Kanye’s “You Don’t Know My Name.” Play and Tory have been making strikingly weird rap and R&B together for a minute, but the laser-like focus of the new tapes will blow both names sky high if there’s any justice in the world.
Makonnen’s new weird Atlanta trap got extra rare last year as he tightened up the kooky based styles of Drink More Water 5 in and around his iLoveMakonnen 2 EP. A common name you might’ve noticed among the loosies he’d release through the year is Richie Souf. The Atlanta producer provided soundscapes for all the year’s brashest Makonnen cuts, from the disrespectful philanderer’s anthem “Where Your Girl At?” (HEUUUGHHH!) to “Flippin All Night” and the 10/17 Day Guwop tribute “Big Gucci.” Souf’s mad scientist sound feeds quirky and sometimes downright dark keys and sound effects through booming 808s, making him a natural fit for an oddball like Makonnen or a florid counterpoint to more laid back MCs, like on Two-9’s “Get Thru This.” He can also tone it down and sculpt a melodic pop-minded nugget when he wants; for more of this, check out Souf’s work with ATL singer Villa on his debut project, Vertical. Richie Souf’s ear and versatility know no bounds, and that’s a priceless look in a town brimming with rappers desperate to stand out from the pack.
If you’re an underground hip-hop head who keeps up with beat tapes at all you’ve probably heard like 20 tapes from the East Coast-raised, West Coast-based producer Knxwledge, who’s been making heads nod with his Hexual Sealings series and others for some time. Last year marked a turning point for him, though, as he found footing with a number of powerful allies in the Cali rap scene, from dedicated Los Angeles indie Stones Throw, who’d release his formidable instrumental studio album Hud Dreems, to TDE ringleader Kendrick Lamar, whose bars over Knxw’s syrupy Lalah Hathaway chop for To Pimp a Butterfly’s “Momma” made for this writer’s enduring favorite TPAB cut, and in-demand singer Anderson .Paak, who parlayed a star turn on Dr. Dre’s swansong Compton into a hotly anticipated solo album, all the while stepping out with the producer as NxWorries to fry up crispy hip-hop soul in boiling fish grease. For these reasons, 2016 looks bright for Knxwledge.
Bongo the Drum Gahd
Born in Nigeria and raised in New England, Bongo got his start producing and writing with his cousin as the duo L&F (Lost and Found), the team behind cuts on recent albums from Big Sean, Omarion, Trey Songz, and others. They recently parted ways to pursue solo ventures, and Bongo hit the ground running, linking up in Los Angeles with the Game as the Compton MC readied the sequel to his breakout debut album, The Documentary. Bongo ended up producing 10 cuts across The Documentary 2 and 2.5, from the Erykah Badu-inspired Kendrick Lamar collab “On Me” to the Gang Starr and Brandy homage of “Step Up” to the soulful he said/she said story song “Circles.” Bongo’s style is very much informed by his early work with singers; no matter how hard the track might be, it’s couched in a confident musicality and melodicism. Chops like that are always in demand, and Bongo’s strong resume will no doubt keep him working well through the year.
Brooklyn beatsmith Deputy’s rise is a network of unpredictable turns: Looking for a good job out of college, he first landed in finance at Morgan Stanley before plotting a more personally rewarding career pivot toward hip-hop that would lead to production placements on records from Wale and French Montana. Signing with Roc Nation, he’d gain access to the top tier of hip-hop radio stars, pitching a mammoth industrial trap banger toward Rihanna that we all know now as “Bitch Better Have My Money.” He also scored his Roc Nation neighbor Vic Mensa’s “Married to the King Freestyle” and claims credit for the sultry “Tinashe Checks In” from DJ Mustard’s 10 Summers. A producer with great connects and a fantastic ear for sound and song structure is a beast. As one who marries both talents to a working understanding of the nebulous business and publishing aspects of the music world, Deputy is a problem.
English producer Alex Crossan is barely 20 years old, but his work as Mura Masa is accomplished beyond his years. Like the legendary Japanese sword maker his name invokes, Crossan’s works are marvels of precision, chopped-up vocals, drum tracks comprising armies of moving, interlocking parts, and melodies gleaned from tiny bits of things scattered throughout the mix. All these skills and more come into play on Mura Masa’s 2015 Someday Somewhere EP, the follow-up to his debut Soundtrack to a Death mixtape from the year prior. In under half an hour, he swings from soulful house through a beat-less choral interlude, a foreboding hip-hop track, and back, shifting sounds and guises but holding onto a unifying sense of the intricacy of his building blocks. This is saying nothing of the bangers: The Nao-assisted “Firefly” has lodged well over 2 million YouTube views, and the recently released Shura collab “Love for That,” with its breathtakingly choreographed music video, is steady on the rise. International renown feels just a hit away.