17. The Format (prod. by DJ Premier)

I could probably start another blog that exclusively features beats by the legendary Preem, but I’ve tried quite hard not to feature a lot of them thus far. I had to cave in with this one though, which shows that he still has it after decades in the game. It may sound like simple, repetitive production, but it features some unreal scratching with not 1, not 2, but 3 samples right after one another on the hook: Method Man & Redman’s “Part II,” Little Vic’s “The Exorcist,” and Hasstyle, Guru, & Selena Cerron’s “Gotta Have You!” Few words to describe DJ Premier’s genius – if that’s not breathtaking already, the track is complemented with the smoothest of flows from AZ, who is very under-appreciated as a rapper in my opinion. It’s easy to forget that he was, after all, the only feature on one of the most iconic rap albums to date (Nas’ Illmatic).


16. Rich Ni**az – prod. by J. Cole

J. Cole is another artist that isn’t shy of shooting for a “triple double no assists” (Kanye on “Monster” to describe the fact that he does both the beats and the rap). Speaking about the production, Cole describes it quite humbly as “just a bounce with a kick and a snare, real simple 808.” It may be simple but it is also very effective, the melody setting Cole up to express his bitterness and jealousy towards those who are born into privilege, unlike him. Interesting fact, Cole was born at a US Army base in Frankfurt (then in West Germany – funner fact, I was born in Western Germany too) to a father who is a former soldier and a German mother who worked as a postal worker for USPS. Cole’s dad went on to abandon the family, so it was his mother who moved to North Carolina and brought him up.  He may be widely known as a great storyteller with his bars, but I think J. Cole is overlooked as a phenomenal producer.

15. Losing Out – prod. by Black Milk

It didn’t take me long to return with another beat by Black Milk, but it’s hard to overlook him with the quality of production he regularly puts out. Sampling British rock band’s The Alan Parsons Project’s “Let’s Talk About Me,” this track is an instant classic with the way it blends the high-pitched vocals with the percussion in the background. Doubling as a rapper on the song, Black Milk spits “let’s talk about […] the most underestimated / plus underrated city in this hip-hop game.” With the likes of Eminem, Royce Da 5’9″, and Black Milk himself all hailing from Detroit, he does have a fair point here. In my opinion, Black Milk is quite underrated in the hip-hop game too, but he makes a case for it by serving up yet another incredible boom-bap beat here.

14. Chum – prod. by RandomBlackDude & Christian Rich

Chum is a fitting track to round out World Mental Health Day, as Earl Sweatshirt not only delivers some very introspective bars (“Get up off the pavement, brush the dirt up off my psyche”), but is also not afraid of discussing the pain of growing up fatherless (“And I just used to say I hate him in dishonest jest / When honestly I miss this n****, like when I was six”). Beyond the thoughtful, solemn lyrics, LA based Earl plates up a simple but mesmerizing beat with the help of Christian Rich, a production duo consisting of twin brothers Taiwo “Christian” Hassan and Kehinde “Rich” Hassan (RandomBlackDude is Earl’s producer alter-ego). As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a sucker for repetitive beats, and this one definitely fits the bill. But there is more to it – touches like the pause before Earl launches into the second verse, and the outro riff by Chad Hugo of The Neptunes make this an addictive song that’s easy to put on repeat.

13. Blue Sky – prod. by No I.D.

This song holds a special place in my heart. Recommended to me by a friend in high school, it served as a gateway into hiphop and the appreciation of beat production for me (along with “Above the Clouds,” which was my first post on the blog). One of the singles from Common’s The Dreamer, The Believer, this masterpiece is produced by No I.D., who is best known for working with Common and serving as a mentor to Kanye West, who is one of my favorite producers/rappers. Not to sound fluffy, but from the production to the lyrics and the music video, the track is uplifting and motivational, referring not only to material (“Aston Marton king”), but spiritual wealth as well (“Luther with dreams”). Sampling Electric Light Orchestra’s 1977 song “Mr. Blue Sky,” the sound perfectly matches the title and theme of the album.

12. Figaro – prod. by Madlib

Next up is an absolutely phenomenal beat by one of my absolute favorite underground producers, Madlib, who you may know from “No More Parties in L.A.” off of Kanye’s new album, or the stellar collaboration with Freddie Gibbs, Piñata. Madlib, or Otis Jackson Jr., grew up in a very musically inclined family, and it shows. His parents were musicians, his younger brother is also a producer and rapper, and his uncle is a jazz trumpeter. The melody has sinister undertones that perfectly fit MF DOOM’s villainous persona, and there are multiple layers to the production, including samples from jazz musician Dr. Lonnie Smith’s “In the Beginning” and “Jeannine.” MF DOOM is also a very intriguing MC. Born in England to Trinidadian and Zimbabwean parents, he has spent most of his life living in the US, and spits incredible bars here. Fantastic pairing, I’m looking forward to whatever projects these two will be releasing in the future.

11. Favor for a Favor – prod. by L.E.S.

It took a while, but we finally have a track with the rapper who I personally consider to be the G.O.A.T., Nasir “Nas” Jones. Although this song may not be among Nas’ best in terms of storytelling, morality, or lyricism, the beat by Leshan Davis Lewis (L.E.S.), who previously worked with Nas on “Life’s A Bitch” from the classic Illmatic, is absolutely stunning. I Am… received its fair share of criticism as an album, but Scarface’s vicious verses and the somber production make this an absolute gem. It’s no wonder that L.E.S. would go on to produce for heavyweights like AZ, LL Cool J, and Will Smith (my roommate giggles as I add the Fresh Prince to this list).