The 10 Best Rap Producers Right Now

Find out who is the best behind the boards in hip-hop right now.

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Complex Original

Image via Complex Original

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When you listen to rap music these days (especially is you only listen to the radio) it's all too easy to dismiss current hip-hop production as being nothing but monochromatic trap drums and the oversized bombast popularized by Lex Luger—sounds that have become ubiquitous these past few years. But take a closer look. Sure, trends rise and fall, and there's as much copy-catting and bandwagon jumping in hip-hop as there is anywhere else. But there is always so much happening with the music at any given time.

Listen to some of the biggest albums from this year and last, from Kanye West's Yeezus to Drake's Nothing Was The Same to Kendrick Lamar's good kid, m.A.A.d. city, and you'll see those albums don't share a lot of similarities, even if the names on their production credits overlap. Meanwhile, there's a whole gang of other sounds developing concurrently, from the Cali-based "ratchet" sound to Odd Future to the futuristic boom-bap of "underground" acts like El-P. Talented newcomers are making the beats that shape the genre while wily veterans are finding new ways to stay relevant.

We put together a list of the The 10 Best Rap Producers Right Now to highlight all of those things. What you'll find is a mix of young and old producers who hail from all over and have slowly but surely carved out their own own lane and their own sound. 

Written by Craig Jenkins (@CraigSJ)

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10. randomblackdude a.k.a. Earl Sweatshirt

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From: Los Angeles, CA
Recent bangers: Earl Sweatshirt "Hive" (2013), Earl Sweatshirt "Chum," (2012) Mac Miller "The Star Room" (2013),
We've primarily known Odd Future lieutenant Earl Sweatshirt as a rapper since he arrived with 2010's "EARL." But he began dabbling in production after coming home from a Samoan facility for troubled youth a year ago. His major label debut, Doris arrived this summer with a grip of self-produced tracks attributed to a "randomblackdude." Earl seemed to hit the ground running as a producer, churning out a series of intriguing beats both on his own and with the assistance of Frank Ocean and the Cali production duo Christian Rich.

Earl's productions affixed a classicist rap air to the bleak sound blueprinted by Sweatshirt's cohort Tyler, the Creator. "Chum" centers around a loping piano figure, wrapping it in clattering boom bap drums and a faint wobbling vocal sample. "Hive" pairs swinging drums with a rubbery, sinister bassline. "Guild" lays barely audible synth drone over hyperactive drums.

Earl has shown promise in his first year as a producer, and it's exciting to see what he'll accomplish as his talents refine with time.

9. DJ Dahi

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From: Los Angeles, CA
Recent bangers: Drake "Worst Behavior" (2013), Kendrick Lamar "Money Trees" (2013), Dom Kennedy "My Type Of Party" (2012)

Cali's DJ Dahi tip-toed into rap production after discovering a love of the form while moonlighting as a DJ in college. He got a little buzz producing for local luminaries like Pac Div, TiRon, and Fashawn. But his first big break was "My Kind of Party," a key cut off Dom Kennedy's beloved summer 2012 project, The Yellow Album. "My Kind of Party" laid cloudy layers of synth haze over wonky, synthetic drums for a beat that matched Dom's giddy party raps for faded bliss.

Dahi also blessed Schoolboy Q with the frenetic soundscape for Habits and Contradictions' "Sexting," which led to his next breakthrough: "Money Trees" off Kendrick Lamar's now-platinum good kid, m.A.A.d city. The barely recognizable flip of the indie rock group Beach House's "Silver Soul" at the heart of the song showcased both Dahi's wide-roaming ear for sounds and ha knack for clever manipulation of off-beat source material, and it surely got him the attention of all the industry heads he's currently entertaining this year.

Dahi's 2013 is looking great. He got called to work with Drake on Nothing Was the Same and turned in the quirky stop-start synth and click underpinning for "Worst Behavior," a standout track on an album whose production exhibits the subtlest touch of any rap project released this year. Dahi's currently rumored to be doing sessions with everyone from Big K.R.I.T. to Elle Varner, and if his rocket-like rise over the last two years is any indication, we'll be hearing a lot more from him in the months to come.

8. El-P

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From: Brooklyn, NY
Recent bangers: Run the Jewels "Run the Jewels," Killer Mike "Big Beast," El-P "The Full Retard"
El-P is a hip-hop veteran whose reputation for progressive rap excellence stretches back through his tenure in the seminal underground rap group Company Flow, his creation of the New York indie rap institution Definitive Jux and a critically acclaimed solo career. El had one of the most productive years in all of rap last year with the release of his third solo album Cancer 4 Cure and his gig producing Killer Mike's well-received R.A.P. Music album.

C4C continued El's push through the cacaphonous grit of early solo work into more melodic territory, while his work with Killer Mike belnded spare golden-era sounds and a mutant strain of the Southern funk Mike graced in his tenure in Atlanta's Dungeon Family collective. The collaboration was so mutually beneficial that the two linked up again this year for a group album under the name Run the Jewels. Their self-titled debut is one of the year's best; it matches the moody sonics of El's recent solo work with the retro-leaning sounds he gave Mike last year.

With three of the most uncompromising platters of breakneck boom bap in recent rap history under his belt, El and his army of synths deserve a place among the movers and shakers of modern hip-hop.

7. Zaytoven

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From: Atlanta, GA
Recent bangers: Migos "Versace" (2013), Migos "FEMA" (2013)

A number of his contemporaries have come and gone, but Atlanta producer Zaytoven has endured, crafting beats on the city's trap circuit at a clip that would leave hardened veterans struggling to keep pace. Much of Zaytoven's best work has been for Gucci Mane. In 2005, he produced "Icy," the hit that put Gucci on the map commercially speaking (and tipped off the long-smoldering feud between Gucci & the song's guest Young Jeezy) and a little something on just about every Gucci project since. He's also worked with Future, Waka Flocka Flame, OJ da Juiceman, Rocko, Plies, and more.

Zaytoven's sound runs layers of interlocking synth melodies through sound textures that are often wilfully bizarre. The result is always both infectiously hooky but always somewhat off-putting. He solos all over Usher's 2009 Top 40 hit "Papers" but does so in a high-pitched synthetic tone that sounds like 8-bit soul music. On Nicki Minaj's 2010 non-album cut "Ice Cream Man" squelching keys bleat out a lullaby, giving the effect of Lil Jon gone Kidz Bop.

Zaytoven seems to prefer the freedom of the mixtape circuit, but his support of Atlanta's trap tape cottage industry scored him a win this year after work with the up-and-coming trio Migos. Zaytoven gave the group a handful of beats for their Young Rich Niggas mixtape, including the mournful "R.I.P." and "Versace," the summer smash made ubiquitous by a guest verse from Drake. Zaytoven may not have the catalog of Billboard hits other producers on this list have logged, but his eye for talent is astounding. You can't name an Atlanta rap superstar without coming across a handful of songs he did with them before they were a household name.

6. No ID

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From: Chicago, IL
Recent bangers: Kanye West "Bound 2" (2013), Big Sean f/ Kendrick Lamar & Jay Electronica "Control" (2013), Jay Z f/ Justin Timberlake "Holy Grail" (2013)

When Kanye West first broke big it seemed like he tried to carry his whole team to the top with him. This involved a lot of footing the bill for critically revered but commercially underperforming albums by guys like Consequence and GLC, but the Kanye team member who has had the best career is his mentor No ID His work on Common's 1994 classic Resurrection and the underrated follow-up One Day It'll All Make Sense led to quality work under the radar producing a handful of mid-2000s bangers (like G-Unit's "Smile" or Ghostface Killah's "Metal Lungies"), but he experienced a major windfall after his work on the scorching Jay-Z/Nas reunion "Success" off 2007's American Gangster.

No ID took off after that, scoring tracks on 808s & Heartbreak, The Blueprint 3, Thank Me Later, Teflon Don and more. In 2011, he executive produced Big Sean's debut Finally Famous and reunited with Common for The Dreamer/The Believer, releases that touted the soulful, too-lush-to-not-have-live-players boom bap that inspired Kanye's chipmunk soul period.

Last year, he produced many of the best cuts off Nas' comeback album Life Is Good (including the single "Daughters"). This year, he worked with Sean again on Hall of Fame and produced a handful of songs, including "Control" (which didn't even make the album but shook up the rap game). He also provided co-production on Kanye's Yeezus and Jay's Magna Carta... Holy Grail.

When No ID's not blessing the game's finest with thick, soulful beats, he's at work with his Cocaine 80s collective, which counts Common, songwriter-to-the-stars James Fauntleroy & TDE associate Jhené Aiko as members. No ID hasn't spent a minute of his miraculous second act resting on his laurels, and he's one of an ever-dwindling group of active rap producers who can claim timeless beats over three different decades.

5. Pharrell

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From: Virginia Beach, VA
Recent bangers: 2 Chainz f/ Pharrell "Feds Watching" (2013), Nelly f/ Nicki Minaj & Pharrell "Get Like Me" (2013), Jay Z f/ Frank Ocean "Oceans" (2013)

Pharrell Williams' smooth falsetto and out-of-the-box production techniques have weathered multiple generations of paradigm shifts in hip-hop culture, but he somehow managed to land another best year ever this year after appearing on not one, but two of the 2013's biggest hits: Robin Thicke's "Blurred Lines" and Daft Punk's "Get Lucky." Both of those songs deserve mention just because they were massive hits, but this is a rap producers list, and Pharrell is here because of his Zelig-like presence in the rap game.

He's placed beats on practically every event album of the last few years, high and low, from the brash "Oceans" and "BBC" off Jay-Z's Magna Carta... Holy Grail to the butter soft "Presidential" on Rick Ross' God Forgives, I Don't to the Roy Ayers tribute of Kendrick Lamar's debut album title track good kid, m.A.A.d. city. Pharrell is everywhere, and he rarely repeats himself. This summer alone he gave the muted, jazzy "Objects in the Mirror" to Mac Miller, the horn-laced reggae of "Feds Watching" to 2 Chainz and the 8-bit meltdown "Twerk It" to Busta Rhymes and Nicki Minaj. He even practically resurrect Nelly with "Get Like Me."

Pharrell's a master at what he does, but as the years go on, it's starting to look like his primary talent is adaptability. His contemporaries have scored bigger rap hits lately, but few of them can match the sheer breadth of Pharrell's musicality. Respect is due to the once and future Neptune, who is, at 40, still finding new sounds to conquer.

4. Kanye West

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From: Chicago, IL
Recent bangers: Kanye West "Black Skinhead" (2013), Kanye West "Blood On The Leaves" (2013), Kanye West "Send It Up" (2013)

Kanye West's tenure as hip-hop's most influential rapper/producer since Dr. Dre rounded its tenth year with this summer's Yeezus, the album where he finally stretched out in that rarefied space he's entered where he makes music he expects will challenge his fanbase but still ends up pleasing them. Though West has often worked with a football team worth of producers on recent projects, the sonic footprints of each piece—the gilded grandiloquence and intricate musicality of his 2010 solo album My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy and the G.O.O.D. Music compilation Cruel Summer, the race-conscious, funk homage and stadium rap of Watch the Throne and the apocalyptic dancehall and death disco of Yeezus—are unmistakably his own.

Kanye is as much a beatsmith as he is a producer in the traditional sense; he's the visionary who corrals and combines talents, arranging disparate strengths into something better than the sum of its parts. For proof, look to Yeezus' "Blood on the Leaves," which sits the brash horns of TNGHT's electro-trap burner "R U Ready" dangerously close to a sample of Billie Holiday's timeless, heavy "Strange Fruit." Or look at "Mercy" which fused dancehall sounds to trap drums and still found time for an ominous electro breakdown nicked from the Giorgio Moroder songbook.

Kanye does weird well, but he can still play it straight when he wants to. The RZA-esque "Try a Little Tenderness" chop of Watch the Throne's near-ubiquitous "Otis" and the Ponderosa Twins Plus One flip on Yeezus' closer "Bound 2" both showed that although Kanye's boundless talent and drive have rocketed him far beyond traditional rap's city limits, home is only an MPC away.

3. DJ Mustard

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From: Los Angeles, CA
Recent bangers: Young Jeezy f/ 2 Chainz "R.I.P." (2012), 2 Chainz "I'm Different" (2012), FiNaTTicZ "Don't Drop That Thun Thun!"

TDE notwithstanding, ratchet is the new sound of the West Coast, and DJ Mustard is both its chief architect and ambassador. Like others in his profession, Mustard (real name Dijon, no lie!) started out as a DJ, where he developed an ear for the sounds that move a crowd. Mustard eventually took to making beats (though he never gave up DJing) and linked up with Compton rapper YG on a series of mixtapes informed by the high BPM Cali dance music favored by the jerk and hyphy scenes of the mid-to late-2000s.

YG and Mustard's series of collaborative mixtapes led SoCal MC and new Young Money signee Tyga come calling in 2011. The duo linked up on Tyga's YMCMB debut Careless World: Rise of the Last King and came out with "Rack City," the inescapable Hot 100 success that brought Mustard's sound to the nation. (Tyga's labelmate Drake liked what he heard and scored a bigger hit with the YOLO anthem "The Motto", though he went with T-Minus for the beat instead.) The success of "Rack City" put DJ Mustard in high demand in mainstream rap circles, and he recouped on the interest with a string of burners from 2 Chainz' "I'm Different" to Jeezy's "R.I.P." to B.o.B's "HeadBand" and a left-field Top 40 showing for FiNNaTicZ's three year old "Don't Drop That Thun Thun."

DJ Mustard's army of spindly synth hooks, cavernous basslines, fast-paced 808s and handclaps are poised to continue their domination of rap radio if the last year has been any indication, and Mustard's ascendance has also garnered attention for other talented Cali artists. With Ty Dolla $ign, Problem, and IAMSU! and his Heartbreak Gang gaining a measure of success in Mustard's wake, it's starting to look like another West Coast commercial renaissance is underway.

2. Noah "40" Shebib

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From: Toronto, Ontatio, Canada
Recent bangers: Drake f/ Majid Jordan "Hold On We're Going Home" (2013), DJ Khaled f/ Drake, Lil Wayne & Rick Ross "No New Friends" (2013), A$AP Rocky f/ Drake, Kendrick Lamar & 2 Chainz "Fuckin' Problems" (2012)

Since meeting Drake in the mid-2000s, Canadian producer 40 has built an inimitable body of work characterized by ephemeral tracks full of muted drums and gaunt synth sounds. His moody ambience fit Drake's self-effacing introspection hand in glove, and the two have proceeded to turn mainstream rap on its ear, developing somber soundscapes that ran diametrically opposed to nearly everything on the radio.

Born Noah Shebib, 40 first found work as a child actor playing bit roles in sitcoms and movies (perhaps most notably in Sofia Coppola's Virgin Suicides) before diving into a career in hip-hop, DJing first and then producing with such a fervor that it earned him the nickname "40 Days/40 Nights." Most of his production work has been for Drake; he scored and executive produced Drake's breakthrough mixtape So Far Gone as well as his retail albums Thank Me Later, Take Care and this year's Nothing Was the Same. The duo made unlikely hits out of songs like the sleepy drunk texting anthem "Marvin's Room."

40's role as the producer in residence for one of modern rap's biggest MCs was enough to land him on this list alone, but he also deserves credit for his occasional work outside the OVO fold, most recently on Nas' Aaron Hall sampling "Bye Baby", a highlight on the Queens rapper's 2012 comeback album Life Is Good, and A$AP Rocky's platinum selling Billboard Top 10 posse cut "Fuckin' Problems" with help from Drake. We're still letting Nothing Was the Same sink in, but so far, we can definitely say that album is as much 40's as it is Drake's. 

1. Mike Will Made It

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From: Atlanta, GA
Recent bangers: Ace Hood f/ Future & Rick Ross "Bugatti" (2013), Juicy J f/ Big Sean & Young Jeezy "Show Out" (2013), Lil Wayne f/ Drake "Love Me" (2013)

Atlanta trap architect Mike WiLL Made It came from a musical background, but he got into hip-hop on a whim. As he told Complex last year, he discovered a knack for making beats as a teenager after walking into a local music store and fooling around on the MPC to the amusement of gobsmacked store employees. Years of refining his talent paid off in 2011 when he produced a stream of tracks for Atlanta trap dignitaries Gucci Mane, Future, and 2 Chainz that got the attention of Rick Ross and his Maybach Music Group, who tapped Will for "Tupac Back," one of the biggest singles off their inaugural Self Made compilation and Will's first showing on the charts.

After that came a stream of hits—Future's soul-searching "Turn on the Lights," Lil' Wayne's platinum smash "Bitches Love Me," Ace Hood's inescapable "Bugatti," Juicy J's career resurrecting "Bandz a Make Her Dance"—each subverting the bombast of trap with dramatic loud-quiet dynamics as spectral, aquatic synths, and muted drums break up otherwise booming 808 concoctions for an overall effect akin to listeners bobbing their heads in and out of open water.

Mike WiLL Made It's namesake producer drop has been ubiquitous on rap radio for nearly two years, and he recently parlayed his hip-hop acumen into a full-on assault on mainstream pop radio this year via songs like Rihanna's "Pour It Up," Ciara's "Body Party," and the Miley Cyrus' controversial "We Can't Stop." Mike WiLL made it from local renown to total radio domination in just a few short years, and there's the sense that what we've heard from him so far is only the tip of the iceberg of what he's capable of creating.

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