So, let me just qualify this list. Briefly. As of right now, I’m slightly more than a blip of nobody on the hip hop radar. My opinion, while valuable enough to qualify me to write for the Bloglin, doesn’t carry weight in the public sphere. While they should, the New York Times isn’t calling and asking for my input, Red Bull isn’t asking me to host Music Academy events, and I don’t get invited to Combat Jack or other popular radio shows. And so, I’m not writing this list as someone who observes rap, and orchestrates stuff off the page. I’m writing this list as a very excited artist, and fine tuning it as a uniquely informed critic (are there any other rapper/critics out there?).
Most of these folks are my friends, and I’ve made music with several of them. I’m sure there are tons of totally unknown producers out there making dope tunes, and making moves, but I don’t know that I should be watching them in 2012. Likewise I’m sure there are tons of equally-watchable producers out there who are more widely known, but I don’t know who they are. MP†C asked me to make a list of the folks to watch, and so as a rapper/producer/critic my take on this is informed by my own work as much my own observations.
These are the folks doing stuff that I’m excited about, and who have gotten enough of a buzz in 2011 that they could take off in 2012. But even if they don’t take off in 2012, these are all folks who will be delivering music in 2012 that will likely continue to raise the Wave and change the tide (with the exception of Mike Dean and Ken Lewis cause those dudes are way too big to be Wave).
• Beautiful Lou (San Antonio, Texas)
What do you get for the man who has everything? New gear. It’s going to be an interesting year for Beautiful Lou. He’s been gaining steam steadily through 2011, as his beats on Live.Love.A$AP seem to have spread his name even further. His work with Tink has been nothing short of amazing and I’m pretty sure 2012 is going to show him a lot of love.
But the real question is what is his music gonna sound like as his rig changes? It’s not one of those “Will he still be dope when he’s not super lo-fi,” type of things because you can hear so much variety in his music that it’s clear his brilliance isn’t embedded strictly in the process. Get on it now, because once dude really hits next year it’s probably gonna be tough to keep up.
• Skywlkr (Detroit, Michigan)
Skywlkr is in a very similar position as Lou, except without the A$AP features, so he’s not quite as fast-tracked. But again, the gear is going to play a role. I know he just got an MPC, and he’s got more new gear coming, so it’ll be interesting to see where it all takes him. Skywlkr is really good at sampling. He has a great ear for engaging samples, and he knows how to do the least that will do the most. And that’s what really good sampling is about: discovering amazing moments in sound, and finessing those moments into new soundscapes.
And with collabs from at least a half dozen Wave People already completed it’s gonna be tough not hearing his name next year.
• SpaceGhostPurrp (Miami, Florida)
I think SGP and Lou are in very similar boats. While you can draw some comparisons in their sounds, they are very different, but the both seem to be equally well-positioned for some heavy hitting in 2012. 2011 was definitely Purrp’s year low key. He was brought on to ensure the rise of the A$AP crew, and then promptly returned to Miami, where he has continued to mine the darker and more sinister side of Miami’s musical heritage.
Hip hop is nothing new at the bottom of the USA, but Purrp’s take on it is certainly a break from what the world might expect. And yet, with all the intrigue that has been sparked, it would seem that we haven’t even gotten the slightest clue of what he’s capable of. Yet. Expect that to change in 2012.
• Nem270 (Ottawa, Canada)
I still don’t know much about Nem, aside from the the fact that he is grindin’ it the fuck out, and slowly building a rep as one of the hardest working dudes on the Wave. His sound is super-polished, and perhaps a bit more accessible than some of the other dudes on this list, but it’s still every bit as unique.
Nem takes very familiar sounds and rolls them out in unpredictable ways. It’s like he moved into the house of hip hop and totally renovated. Actually, no. It’s more like they tore down the house of hip hop and Nem got ahold of the best pieces of the house. And then he took them somewhere totally foreign, and used them to build something new.
• Friendzone (San Francisco, California)
This odd duo manages to crank out a steady stream of music that is anything but odd. But perhaps it’s odd that their beats have the majority of the hip hop blogs using word like “dreamy” and “peaceful”. But it’s accurate. Friendzone makes music for people who don’t like stress. Unlike a lot of other folks on this list these dudes went to school for music, and they clearly have roots in electronic musics that are not hip hop. But, that don’t mean shit because hip hop doesn’t care where you’ve been as long as you can drop bass. And drop bass they do.
But they have created a uniquely tempered sound that has played a noticeable role in the Green Ova sound. And, if everything is everything, they’ve got collabs coming with _________ and _________. The suspense could kill you, I know, so stay with these cloud seeding dudes and see what kind of weather the year brings.
• L.W.H. (Dallas, Texas)
Imagine if you could give your video game LSD. Now hold that thought, sample it, and put some bangin drums under it. Now you’re ridin’ with L.W.H., AKA Aerobiz, aka the dude behind the camera for Unforgivable. While unexpected is a word I’d use to describe a lot of producers on this list, unpredictable seems to be more suited for Aerobiz.
His knowledge of music runs very deep, his sample library is filled with obscurities, and he can go from beats that were barely finessed into existence, right over to intensely composed works. If you like music that sounds good, you should be checking up on dude. It. Is. Just. That. Simple.
I don’t know for sure, but something tells me it’s gonna be an interesting year for these guys. The wild pursuits of something outside the frame of reference that led to the original Anticon music seem like the distant past these days. It was 12 years ago that the world really began to attempt to understand (or write off) Anticon, but not a day has passed in the closure of the conundrum they opened. Still misrepresented, and still misunderstood these guys have a whole other ethos that really hasn’t been widely exposed.
Jel and Nosdam have a very deep commitment to golden era hip hop. But they also have a very deep commitment to making honest art. Unfortunately for them balancing the two never had a great audience. But now that folks are willing to listen a little differently, it will be very interesting to see how Jel and Nosdam respond.
• DJ Burn One (Atlanta, Georgia)
Did you read the interview we did with him? DJ Burn One is a a bonafide hustler, and a musician who came to fruition of the most natural means. His relationship to music is deep, and inclusive. Beyond being just a producer Burn One also has his own label, and a longstanding reputation as a Georgia tastemaker. So, as he makes moves this year you can believe that it’s all part of a plan.
He’s got a dope team together, and with all the pieces in place it seems like Burn One could likely be the dude on this list who takes it the furthest. And while we’ll have to wait to find out what the year brings, we can rest assured that it’s gonna smooth and dope whatever it is.
• Keyboard Kid (Seattle, Washington)
I’m pretty sure Keyboard Kid was the hardest-working dude on this list this year, at least if we go by the number of releases. Lots of people make music, but very few people understand how to build world in sound. Keyboard Kid however, has inherent understanding of that. Each of his songs, and to a greater degree his records, are like another piece in the slow reveal of Based World. The line between Keyboard Kid’s mind and reality grows fuzzier and fuzzier with each release, and eventually the two will merge.
2012 will most likely be the year that Keyboard Kid completely erases that line, and ushers in the era of Based World. Whether he’s working with samples, synths, or both, Keyboard Kid has a natural competency when it comes to composing, and a direct line on the vibe.
• Black Noi$e (Detroit, Michigan)
In the shadows of the Bruiser Brigade lurks another producer not unlike Skywlkr who is also doing his thing. While he has less releases to his name than most folks on the list, and he’s still relatively unknown, he may not be the dude to blow up this year, but he’ll be one of the dudes emerging on the Wave.
His sound is another one that is largely dependent on samples, and so the work he makes is as much about listening as it is about doing. But that also means that the results wind up with a unique patina. And while there are some similarities between Skywlkr and Black Noi$e they have entirely different ears on their respective heads. It will be especially interesting to see how these two grow simultaneously and distinguish themselves from one another, but even without that novelty Black Noi$e’s beats alone are enough to pay attention to where this uniquely haunted gentleman will wind up.
• Silky Johnson (Boston, Massachusetts)
Silky. Silky. Silky. I’ve seen Silky Johnson Studios, and it’s no wonder dude’s music sounds how it does. He’s resourceful as fuck, and the fact that he’s able to make such great sounding stuff is really a testament to his ability. But, he has a great ear too. Much like Skywlkr, or Lou, Silky’s music is largely based in samples. And so, having a good ear for samples is the difference between making awesome music, and ignorable music.
With collabs out the wazoo, and a great work ethic I’m sure we’ll be seeing more of Silky. And as he finishes up his _________ degree at the respectable Ivy League University ___________ I’m sure we’ll be hearing more and more of his great art.
• AHYVE (Berkeley, California)
It seems like most folks are starting to recognize Main Attrakionz as the sound of Oakland. But, if you hang a right off the block and head a few minutes up San Pablo into Berkeley you can find another sound distilling. And while AHYVE and the On Task Fam are frequent collaborators with Green Ova, what they do on their own records is different. It seems almost novel to say it, but it’s too accurate to not say it. While there is a lot that AHYVE and Squadda have in common, the difference is their music is much like the difference between Oakland and Berkeley. Same land, same weather, but different worlds.
AHYVE’s music is a brighter and more upbeat take on what’s happening in Bay Area hip hop right now. Where Squadda’s beats might take you into a place of isolation to contemplate, AHYVE’s take you into a bright place to celebrate. That’s not to say that Squadda’s music isn’t bright and celebratory, and AHYVE’s isn’t isolational (made up word, but that’s the beauty of English being a user-friendly language) and contemplative. The beat for “Bossalinis and Fooliyones Pt. 2″ was one of my favorites this year, and I think AHYVE is going to be a force to be reckoned with in 2012.
Perhaps the only names on here that you’ve never heard, yet these are the dudes whose music you know the best. These are the unseen ears and minds behind Watch the Throne, and My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, and countless hip hop milestones. While they aren’t billed as producers in the sense that anyone else on this list is, they are incomparable architects of sound.
There isn’t much to say about them. Exactly what they do in the studio is between them and their clients, but if you check the tracklist for any record either of them are on, you will undoubtedly find that the best tracks on that record, are the tracks that they were involved in. Rarest wizard status without a doubt, these are two names that you’ll really have to do some work to keep up with. But, if you can manage to get a handle on it, your understanding of “hit” hip hop records will change forever.
• Zachg (San Francisco, California)
Welcome to the future of hip hop. Rappers aren’t just rappers anymore. And rappers aren’t even just beatmakers and rappers anymore either. We’re also the dudes makin’ the videos, makin’ the art, and even doing the journalism. And wouldn’t I be remiss to back down in my own column, and not big up myself? It would be a foul against every freedom that hip hop is predicated upon if I didn’t take this opportunity to shout myself out. I’m out here starving in a city where no one gives a fuck about my art, and this is the closest thing I got to a subway line to tag, or a block party to rock.
I worked hard this year, and I’m working harder next year. I started learning music on fruity loops, then went to a dr. sample, then started playing drums, studied tabla, studied John Cage and minimalism, earned an MA researching the history of sampling, spent a long stint as a field recordist, and through it all I never stopped making beats. I have some incredible stuff coming out this year, and I know you’re gonna like it.
And since I’m including myself that only leads us to our final entry…
• You & Ableton (Any Bedroom, USA)
That’s that Time magazine type flow. But it’s for real yo. If you follow my writing on the Bloglin then you know how I feel about Ableton. It has not only created an amazingly egalitarian playing field for musicians, it has also vaporized any of the restraints we previously knew in making music. Ableton is about emancipation, and soaring freedom.
If you have a thought, you can use Ableton to turn that thought into a sound. And if the recent past has shown us anything it’s that the music-consuming public is hungry for new styles, and it only takes a few days for word to get out. So as much as this year belongs to the names above, it’s also anyone’s game. So which one of yall gon bring the upset?- Zachg