Last week, hip-hop Twitter collectively lost its mind in (mostly) equal parts disgust and congratulations for the latest round of cover stars for XXL's annual Freshman cover. Every year, the magazine seeks to pick out the next generation of hip-hop stars, and though each edition has its fair share of misses and more than its fair share of controversy, many of hip-hop's reigning superstars—Kendrick, Cole, Future, Chance, OJ Da Juiceman—have graced the cover.
Whether these artists turn out to be a success or a spectacular failure, the Freshman selections all share one thing in common: they are rappers (and every so often, singers).
But what about the individuals behind the boards? You know, the talented producers who make up half the product?
For far too long, producers have continuously failed to get the proper respect they deserve, whether it's not getting paid for their work, being left off of credits entirely, or simply not getting the shine they've earned—especially these days, when it's often a hot beat that causes a song to pop off more so than the voice overtop it.
It's time to change all that, though. Looking at the next generation of great producers, the people responsible for much of your favorite music from many of your favorite artists, we've selected 10 individuals who haven't quite blown up to their full potential, but have built up enough buzz and produced enough quality work to warrant your ears for the foreseeable future.
If you don't see your favorite producer below, know that there are plenty of deserving names we'd love to include but chose not to, either because they've been established as a high-profile presence for too long (WondaGurl, Frank Dukes, Vinylz), or they've blown up to stardom too rapidly (Murda Beatz, Nineteen85). Oh, and there will be a Part 2.
Here are 10 hip-hop producers leading hip-hop into the next generation, in no particular order.
Cam O'Bi (@iamCam)
Hometown: Las Vegas, NV
Produced For: Big Sean, Chance The Rapper, J. Cole, Lil Wayne
Cam O’Bi’s work is bigger than his name. It’s a rare circumstance in an era where the limelight can burn upon producers the way it beams down on rock stars. Despite co-producing renowned records such as Chance’s “Cocoa Butter Kisses,” Big Sean's “Living Single,” SZA's "Doves In The Wind" and J. Cole’s “High For Hours,” Cam's name hasn’t reached the same profile as his placements. These are just a few, though. There are countless beloved beats that you wouldn’t know his name is attached to like “Israel (Sparring),” “Blessings” and “Too High To Riot.” His lush, bright, ethereal instrumentation—picture your ears swimming in a sea of sunflowers—is slowly getting more attention. Being behind the boards and executive producing Noname’s critically acclaimed album, Telefone, only solidified his future was as bright as hers. If Cam's able to release his debut album this year, a project that’s supposed to feature the viral leak “Grown Ass Kids,” the world will have no choice but to notice. — Yoh
Pi'erre Bourne (@pierrebourne)
Hometown: Queens, NY
Produced For: Playboi Carti, Lil Yachty, Young Nudy, Pi'erre Bourne
With one project, Pi’erre Bourne rocketed from virtual unknown to hip-hop household name, and it wasn’t even his own. The Atlanta-based producer and rapper linked up with Playboi Carti earlier this year with a handful of beats he had just made and ended up becoming the main sonic contributor to Carti’s eponymous, years-in-the-making debut. With six total project placements, including the two standout singles, production that perfectly balanced ethereal eccentricity with buoyant, party-ready trap, and an undeniably perfect tag (“Yo Pi’erre…”), Bourne's been able to use Carti’s star-turning project and smash hit “Magnolia" (which he made in his friend's Mustang on the way to Zaxby's) into a launchpad for his own success. A special guest slot on Carti's tour, teased collabs with 21 Savage and other Atlanta upstarts, and a progression-focused work ethic should see to Pi'erre's now infamous tag being heard a lot more in the coming months. — Brendan
Teddy Walton (@teddywalton)
Hometown: Memphis, TN
Produced For: A$AP Rocky, Bryson Tiller, GoldLink, Kendrick Lamar
Since Yeezus, producers have been more comfortable utilizing the space between sounds. Sparse can have a negative connotation, but not when used to describe Teddy Walton's smooth production. The Memphis-born beatsmith is carving out his niche somewhere between the Southern grit in his genes and his chosen affinity for classical psychedelic sounds. He's just as comfortable making "trap soul" for Bryson Tiller as he is adding strings to a Freddie Gibbs cut or soundtracking A$AP Rocky’s journeys to the extremes of consciousness. His most popular placements to date ("Crew," "LOVE.") show his range, but are both still infused with the indelible bounce only a childhood in the South can produce. — Miguel
Hometown: Chicago, IL
Produced For: Divine Council ($ILKMONEY, Cyrax!, Lord Linco), Madeintyo, A$AP Ant
One of the marks of a great producer is an immediately identifiable sound, and ICYTWAT, the only Chicago-sourced member of Epic Records’ Virginia-based group Divine Council, has found his. He and the Council dub their style “audio pastel”—a sort of synesthesia-esque way of seeing colors through sound. Distilling influences ranging from Tyler, The Creator to old-school Cash Money through the lens of nostalgia-fueled internet aesthetic, the 19-year-old producer crafts beats that are stark, cold and emotionally distant, yet glimmer and twinkle with a luxurious polish. Bass-heavy, blunted and strangely unnerving, ICY’s work gives off the sort of eerie, hypnotic qualities of a dream state. It's a dream as perfectly accented by his visual direction, driven by porn and throwback imagery, as it is by his Council cohorts' raps about smoking weed and not fucking with anyone else. — Brendan
K Swisha (@k_swisha)
Hometown: Merrimack, NH
Produced For: Madeintyo, 2 Chainz, Lil Yachty, 24hrs
When Madeintyo’s “Uber Everywhere” went Platinum last December, K Swisha was still studying Computer Science at the University of New Hampshire. That may be a far cry from the trap rap world he double dips in, but Swisha’s course selection makes complete sense when you hear his beats. A blend of synthetic drums, cloudy synths and video game sound effects, K Swisha’s production is bright and buoyant but still bangs; his most recent placement, 2 Chainz and Migos’ “Blue Cheese,” feels like playing Super Mario with a jet pack cheat on (or maybe Mario and Luigi finally discovered another use for those giant mushrooms). K Swisha has become a favorite among Atlanta rappers like Madeintyo, Lil Yachty and Tity Boi, but more importantly, he’s honed in on a distinct sound that sets him apart from the rest of the new school. — Andy
Knox Fortune (@knoxfortune)
Hometown: Chicago, IL
Produced For: Joey Purp, KAMI, Vic Mensa
Chicagoan prodigy Knox Fortune may have made his mainstream debut as the featured singer on Chance The Rapper’s “All Night,” but the multi-talented youngster has been the production powerhouse behind his city’s brightest talents for years. His sound is hard to define; the industrial, spasmodic aesthetic he created in Leather Corduroy’s Season is a far cry from Vic Mensa's “There’s Alot Going On,” and farther still from the '80s vibe-tronica of KAMI’s Just Like the Movies, his first executive production credit. Even more disparate in tone is his solo work—his all-too-relatable single “Help Myself” is full-blown indie rock—but despite his eclectic taste, his growing discography has yet to disappoint. Like Nico Segal before him, Knox Fortune is now a principal tastemaker for Chicago’s ongoing musical renaissance, and with tomorrow’s teenagers growing up under his influence, it’s difficult to overestimate his career’s potential. — Kareem
Monte Booker (@montebooker)
Hometown: Chicago, IL
Produced For: Smino, Mick Jenkins, Noname, Saba
While many producers pride themselves on hit singles and high-profile collaborations, Monte Booker’s biggest strength lies in his synergy with Smino. The St. Louis rapper’s rise has been almost singlehandedly soundtracked by his fellow Zero Fatigue member, whose soulful textures and bouncy grooves accentuate Smino’s colorful eccentricities like an Instagram filter; if MF DOOM raps as “weird” as Mos Def feels, Monte and Smino practically share DNA. With credits for fellow Chicago natives Mick Jenkins (“Angles”), Noname (“Sunny Duet”) and Saba (“California”), plus a growing solo catalog under Soulection, Monte Booker can still stand on his own two feet—even with all that wobbly bass underneath. — Andy
Syk Sense (@SykSense)
Hometown: Nashville, TN
Produced For: Bryston Tiller, Drake, Khalid, Travis Scott
It's easy to get caught up in the energy of Drake's "Know Yourself" before considering who brought it to life behind the boards. Handpicked by Boi-1da back in 2010, Nashville's Syk Sense has since turned an ear for sampling and his synth-bending powers into production gold. He's added melancholy to Khalid's "Location," muted bop to Kendrick's "The Heart Part IV" and booming bombast to Bryson Tiller's "Let 'Em Know" and GoldLink's "Pray Everyday (Survivor's Guilt)." The sonic difference between those songs speaks to the Nashville native's skills. Versatility is a weapon in today's music world, and Syk is more than well equipped to become its next star. — Cinemasai
Ronny J (@RONNYJLISTENUP)
Hometown: Woodbury, NJ
Produced For: Denzel Curry, Smokepurrp, XXXTentacion, The Underachievers
Though he hails from New Jersey, Ronny J is a name synonymous with the internet-fueled wellspring of 2017 rap prominence, South Florida. For the last few years, the 24-year-old producer/rapper has been providing the sonic backdrop to an underground that has very recently and rapidly taken hold of the hip-hop spotlight. Known best for his work with frequent collaborator Denzel Curry—he produced breakout hit “Threatz,” most of Curry’s Imperial album last year, and the meme-fueled punch to the throat “Ultimate”—Ronny has struck viral gold with newer acts Lil Pump, Smokepurrp, Ski Mask the Slump God and the not-at-all controversial XXXTentacion. Love or hate the distorted, lo-fi wave of which he's at the forefront, Ronny J recently signed a deal with Atlantic Records and looks to be primed to continue churning out speaker-blowing production and racking up millions of streams. — Brendan
Hometown: Buffalo, NY
Produced For: Conway, Westside Gunn
For the past several years, Buffalo rappers Westside Gunn and Conway have been secretly re-energizing the East Coast mafia rap scene of the '90s. Yet, for as menacing and powerful as each of their lyrics can be, it is Daringer, essentially their in-house producer, that has boosted that aesthetic to something beyond just nostalgic sounds for the old heads. Consisting of flipped soul and jazz samples, and boom bap drum kits that could make DJ Premier blush, Daringer’s production feels like Goodfellas on wax. Listening to Daringer feels like escaping a heist. What more could a hip-hop head want than that? — Matt