Kanye's collabing with Beatles. Wayne is sorry for the wait again. Rae Sremmurd's swag is unlocked. 2015 is off to the races, expanding in a million directions every step of the way. Rap's unpredictable and hard to pin down as ever this year, but generally speaking, where producers go, the game goes. We've gone ahead and rounded up some of the new blood poised to make waves in the coming year, from New Atlanta eccentrics to rising Chicago bop legends to Cali ratchet music scenesters and everything in between. We've spotlighted promising indie rapper/producers, future mixtape kings, emergent mainstream heavyweights, and more. Like we always do at this time, here are your producers to watch out for in 2015. Get familiar, and as usual, get at us in the comments.
Craig Jenkins is a writer living in New York. Follow him @CraigSJ.
Notable production credits: Ty Dolla $ign “Paranoid,” Big Sean f/ E-40 “IDFWU”
If you’re a rap fan with functioning ears you’ve heard a DJ Mustard song. He’s masterminded slinky, danceable rap and R&B hits for everyone from longtime associates YG and Ty Dolla $ign to unexpected collaborators like T.I. and Fergie since his meteoric rise post-“Rack City.” What isn’t commonly known is that he’s done a lot of his production work with a co-producer. Mustard’s lesser-known partner Mike Free says he helped out behind the boards on a number of the West Coast producer’s most memorable beats, and he’s ready to step out from behind the shadows and claim some of the spotlight for himself. For Free that’s meant a lot of branching out—he’s taking more solo production jobs lately—but it’s also meant a lawsuit alleging that Mustard, a childhood friend, shorted him songwriting credits and royalties. The proceedings have yet to begin, but one hopes the pair can settle their differences, as Mustard and YG did after a recent row, and get back to the music as soon as possible.
Notable production credits: OG Maco “U Guessed It,” OG Maco and Key! “Give 'Em Hell”
Atlanta shouter OG Maco’s delightfully deranged “U Guessed It” became a viral sensation this summer thanks to the madcap, unpredictable energy the rapper brought to the proceedings. Half the magic of “U Guessed It” is the beat, though, which somehow manages to be thick and lumbering without ever really drawing attention off center stage. The low end smacks, but the melody is thin, a hollowed-out playground structure for Maco to swing around and yell from. It’s the work of up-and-coming Georgia producer Brandon Thomas, who’s worked extensively with Maco and Key! to assemble a sound as grisly and forbidding as it is hooky and spacious. Thomas’ work on the duo’s collaborative EP, Give ‘Em Hell, as well as Maco’s self-titled EP last year are the work of a producer sneakily toying with trap formulas, and what’s more, he’s quietly planning a project of his own as well.
SykSense and Ducko McFli
Notable production credits: Drake “Draft Day” and “6 God,” Audio Push “Heavy,” OG Maco f/ Migos “FuckEmx3”
Drake’s triumphant NFL celebration “Draft Day” dropped last year loaded with a '90s hip-hop flair that fit the Toronto star’s nostalgic personal brand hand in glove. The ghostly flip of the breakdown in Lauryn Hill’s 1998 classic “Doo Wop (That Thing)” came courtesy of Nashville-based production duo the Fam, comprising friends and roommates SykSense and Ducko McFli alongside Toronto rap mainstay Boi-1da. A Drake cosign is only as lucrative as whatever you do afterward, and the Fam hit the ground running. Ducko tossed the brutal “FuckEmx3” to OG Maco and the Migos and turned back to Lauryn for the just-released “Fu-Gee-La” sampling Audio Push cut “Heavy,” while SykSense popped up in the producer credits of Drake’s chest-beating anthem “6 God.” Together as well as apart, blessed with a versatile repertoire of sounds that stretch from throwback boom bap to trap house thump, the Fam got next.
Notable production credits: Kari Faux “No Small Talk” and “Gahdamn”
From: Little Rock, Ark.
Childish Gambino’s Atlanta-repping jacking-for-beats tape STN MTN gave the comic turned actor turned rapper a chance to step outside the creatively ornate stylings of his production team into some popular party rap beats last year. The curveball selection on the Gambino Gangsta Grillz was “No Small Talk,” a flighty swag rap over Arkansas rapper Kari Faux’s song of the same name. The Gambino nod drew well-earned attention to Kari’s breezy summer EP, Laugh Now, Die Later, a quick-hit succession of throwback Southern-sounding floss raps over quirky, skeletal beats. A glance at the tracklist shows Faux produced half of it herself, a rarity in an era frustratingly short on shine for women who rap and embarrassingly deficient when it comes to women in production roles. Refreshingly weird and fearlessly bold, Kari Faux makes it all seem effortless, but more importantly, fun.
Notable production credits: Migos “All Good” and “Young Rich Niggas,” Lloyd f/ Wale “All of Me,” Young Scooter “World Wide”
While the Mike Wills of the trap scene continue to dominate the streets and the charts alike with ever-increasing mainstream visibility, Atlanta producer Cassius Jay moves a few degrees more quietly. After a chance meeting with trap architect Zaytoven at a church, where he played organ, Jay became something of an apprentice to the longtime Gucci Mane associate. Now, with placements on recent releases from Gucc, Peewee Longway, Young Scooter, Migos, and more, Cassius Jay is making waves on his own, blessing the ATL mixtape circuit with catchy beats to match its trademark grit. Jay’s productions occasionally get their MCs singing (peep the Migos’ “All Good” or Scooter’s “World Wide”), and his studied melodicism is a hit on the R&B side as well, where artists from August Alsina to Lloyd to Justin Bieber have come calling. Cassius Jay might not be a household name yet, but he’s developed a formidable catalog from behind the scenes, and a big break would seem to be just a hook away.
Notable production credits: Sicko Mobb “Oochie” and “Lately,” Lil Kemo “KemoStep”
Chicago bop’s hyper-driven, hook-first disposition is a sunny alternative to the brutal but singsong riffs of the city’s drill scene and, one would think, catnip for hit-hungry rap radio, so it’s a wonder the sound hasn’t popped nationwide yet. Chitown brother duo Sicko Mobb seems close; they just cut a deal with production heavyweight Stargate off the strength of their debut mixtape, Super Saiyan Vol. 1, a breakout for both the group and the form. Super Saiyan’s secret weapon is producer Mudd Gang on da Track, whiz kid producer of half the mixtape’s highlights and various tracks for bop luminaries from Lil Kemo’s seminal dance instructional “KemoStep” to cuts for Chicago Bop King Dlow and more. Mudd Gang’s productions are light but driving, pretty but tough, the perfect launchpad for bop’s carefree dance floor wizardry.
Notable production credits: DeJ Loaf “Try Me” and “Bird Call”
Detroit rapper Dej Loaf’s smash “Try Me” was the only rap song this summer as obsessed with food as murder, but most listeners missed the killing part thanks to the smoothness of Dej’s voice and the airy synth swells underneath. The production on “Try Me,” along with a number of cuts on the accompanying mixtape $ell Sole, came courtesy of Michigan producer DDS, who at 22 is already developing something of a signature sound. Paired with DDS’ gossamer, hypnotic synth creations, Dej’s plaintive, singsong bars come off sedate and bedroomy. You can get lost in the drift if you’re not paying hard attention to the lyrics, and that’s how Dej floated onto terrestrial radio with a pop rap hit more adroitly about illegalities than the next nearest trap brawler. Half of the game dropped their own version of “Try Me” last year. DDS’ phone’s gotta be ringing off the hook.
Notable production credits: Cozz “Dreams” and “Ya Know It”
J. Cole’s Dreamville Records had a banner 2014 amid something of an off year for mainstream and mainstream adjacent rap, from Cole’s own gold-selling 2014 Forest Hills Drive through quality releases from Dreamville soldiers Bas and Cozz. Early in the year South Central L.A. spitter Cozz’s heady, bleak “Dreams” won him an audience with J. Cole and a record deal pretty much out of the gate, and hearing the remainder of the album, it’s not hard to understand what Cole saw. The meat of Cozz’s debut, Cozz n Effect, is the chemistry between Cozz and producer and friend Meez, who blesses “Dreams” and a few others with heavy, mournful sounds that bathe the rapper’s hard luck narratives in melodies without detracting from the seriousness and urgency of the storytelling. Good haul for a kid who wasn’t really rapping even this time two years ago.
Notable production credits: Shy Glizzy “Awwsome” and “Mula”
From: Washington, D.C.
D.C. rapper Shy Glizzy is on the rise after a string of promising mixtapes culminating in last year’s Young Jefe and its carrying card “Awwsome,” one of the purest expressions of the swaggier end of Glizzy’s songwriting. “Awwsome” along with a few highlights on Young Jefe and its recently released follow-up, LAW 3, were produced by Glizzy Gang-affiliated producer EA Glizzy. EA’s haunted house synths on Shy’s breakout hit play off the straightforward flossing in the lyrics in a manner that adds a subtle element of humor to the proceeding. (Here’s this deadly serious, even depressing beat, and here’s a guy using it to say he’s much cooler than you). The twinkling music box keys and spectral bass of Young Jefe’s Glizzy Gang cut “Mula” carries a similarly ghostly quality. As Glizzy’s star tips ever toward mainstream recognition, so grows EA’s own visibility.
Notable production credits: Father f/ iLOVEMAKONNEN and Key! “Look at Wrist,” Father “Hot Young Ebony”
Awful Records’ 2014 takeover found the New Atlanta collective of rappers and producer popping in a dozen different directions, together and individually, but perhaps none more brightly than de facto crewleader Father. Father’s whimsical style was captured memorably on his solo release, Young Hot Ebony, nine tracks of largely self-produced DIY swag rap. Father’s beats snake along like misfit toys, bits of melodies that don’t seem like they should jibe, coupled with booming bass and drums to keep time, and yet there’s a certain oddball charm to their pairing with the rapper’s slight, conversational vocal tone. There isn’t a rap-loving crowd that doesn’t descend into bedlam at the drop of Young Hot Ebony’s “Look at Wrist,” which paired Father with Tuesday-loving OVO jester iLOVEMAKONNEN before the Drake co-sign. With a great ear both for beats, rhymes, and blossoming talent, Father and the Awful Records team are bound to have a good year.