When you are asked to name any hip hop musician, the first that comes to mind, who will you name? Probably a rapper, right? When it comes to artists that make hip hop music, it is the rappers that get the greatest commercial success, and most credits are given to those who rap. And for some of them, obviously, rightfully so.
In the world of hip hop music, of course, there are other roles. One kind of hip hop artist that tends to get overshadowed by rappers is the producer: he who creates the beats. Apart from a very well-known few (such as RZA, Dr. Dre, Pete Rock and DJ Premier), the craftsmen who make the beats don’t always get the recognition they deserve. I will place the producer in the spotlight by looking at five relatively unknown producer albums from the last decade – five albums that originate from all over the globe.
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From Cergy-Pontoise, France: Dela’s Changes of Atmosphere (2008)
As the album cover predicts, the beats on this album emit a warm and positive vibe. Dela creates and amplifies this through his use of summerish samples, soulful sounds, and (although the Lord’s name shall not be used in vein) drums that remind me of the late great J Dilla. The features, selected from a wide range of both anonymous and relatively well-known rappers, are well picked: artists such as Blu, Talib Kweli, J-Live and Large Professor obviously feel at home on this cheerful gem.
Example track – The City (ft. J-Live & Surreal)
From Seattle, Washington: White Van Music by Jake One (2008)
Jake One has worked with rappers of all sorts and sizes, and this broad experience shows in the features on his solo album White Van Music. A small selection from the guest list: DOOM, Little Brother, M.O.P., Slug, Young Buck, Evidence, Busta Rhymes and Royce da 5’9″. This diversity means that there will always be a few features you don’t particularly like, but since Jake’s beats are influenced by both underground and mainstream producers, they seem to suit rappers from both realms. And that, on itself, is an admirable achievement.
Example track – I’m Coming (ft. Black Milk & Nottz)
From the Russian city of Saint Petersburg: Long Arm’s The Branches (2011)
In contrast to the previous two albums, Long Arm makes hip hop that works very well on its own, without the addition of raps. Like it’s album cover, The Branches is graceful, and thanks to the Russian’s skilled use of samples – with tweaked vocals, amazing harmonies and well-timed breaks – this is one of my favorite instrumental hip hop albums of all times.
Example track – When Children Sleep
From Tokio, capital of Japan: DJ Krush and his Stepping Stones Self-Remixed Best: -lyricism- (2006)
The Japanese hip hop scene is much more alive than an ignorant Western person such as myself might expect, and DJ Krush is one of the founding fathers of the scene. Active since the 80’s, he is undeniably among the best hip hop producers from the land of the rising sun. His album -lyricism- is a great first look at Krush’ works, since it contains remixes that he did of his own songs from the previous twenty years. He adds beats, all in his typical raw flavor (you could call it ‘sushi style’), to raps by Mos Def, C.L. Smooth, Black Thought, Company Flow, and more.
Example track – Zen Approach (ft. Black Thought) [Cradle Mix]
From Utrecht, the Netherlands: Transitions (2007) by Arts the Beatdoctor
Last but not least, an artist from my home country: Arts the Beatdoctor. On Transitions, Arts (a clever pun, since ‘arts’ actually means ‘doctor’ in Dutch) mashes samples into soothing beats and jazzy soundscapes, occasionally joined by a rapper. This kind of hip hop does not invite you to turn up the volume to the max, but to sit back and chill out.
Example track – Fragments
This article is written by Joe King →
Writing about music has always been one of Joe’s passions. In his studies, majoring in Media & Culture at the University of Amsterdam, he draws from fields that observe cultural dynamics, such as identity theory, film studies and philosophy. When it comes to hip hop music, he is into spacey, (self)conscious and straightforward hip hop. Think DOOM, Cannibal Ox, CYNE, Atmosphere, De La Soul and The Roots.