Rapper-producer duos have long been a staple in hip-hop. From Eric B. and Rakim to Snoop and Dre all the way to Sir Michael Rocks and Chuck Inglish, some of the best and most groundbreaking rap music has been built on creative partnerships between MCs and producers.
Though official duos like Gang Starr and Reflection Eternal are largely a thing of the past (with the exception of Run The Jewels, of course), there are plenty of rappers and producers coming together, honing that chemistry and creating magic right now. Here are the 10 best.
10. Cousin Stizz & Tee-WaTT
Despite hailing from Richmond, VA, Tee-WaTT has forged a special relationship with rising Boston rapper Cousin Stizz. Since 2015’s Suffolk County, Tee, along with DumDrumz, has been one of Stizz’s go-to producers—and it’s not hard to see why. From mixtape standouts like “Dirty Bands” and “Lambo” to loose cuts like “Living Like Khaled,” which was recently handpicked for the NBA 2K18 soundtrack, Tee’s woozy melodies and crunchy trap textures capture Stizz’s rock star lifestyle in high definition; they’re like the sonic equivalent of his trademark gold grill. Expect more heat from this pair on Cousin Stizz’s next project.
9. Playboi Carti & Pi’erre Bourne
A rapper who barks out ad-libs like Ryu throwing uppercuts and a producer who studied the Street Fighter soundtrack; Playboi Carti and Pi’erre Bourne is one of the best new tag-teams to emerge this year. Despite only meeting in February, the pair quickly cooked up six of the 15 songs on Carti’s self-titled debut project, led by the hypnotic milly rock anthem “Magnolia,” which even JAY-Z thinks is incredible. Though Pi’erre is also the go-to producer for another buzzing Atlanta rapper, Young Nudy, A$AP Mob’s Cozy Tapes Vol. 2 posse cut “Blowin’ Minds (Skateboard)” proves that Playboi and Pi’erre have plenty more punches to throw.
8. Westside Gunn & Daringer
Westside Gunn and Daringer are cut from the same cloth—a Polo Snow Beach jacket, to be exact. The Buffalo, NY natives have released enough material to fill a Hermes duffle bag, but last year’s FLYGOD—packed with high-pitched pistol whipping and gloriously gritty production—is a potent enough sample to get you hooked like the fiends Gunn used to serve. Sprinkling blue magic on the classic NYC rap blueprint, Westside Gunn and Daringer—along with fellow Griselda Records dignitary Conway—are building a real movement out in Buffalo. It’s about to get even bigger with backing of Eminem and Shady Records.
7. 21 Savage & Metro Boomin
Despite scoring hits for everyone from Migos and Future to Big Sean and Post Malone, some of Metro Boomin’s most consistent output over the last year has come with 21 Savage. Combining cold-hearted street tales with skeletal, spine-chilling production, last year’s Savage Mode pitted Metro Boomin as the Christopher Young to 21 Savage’s Michael Myers. Though 21’s latest album Issa contains slightly more heart, that doesn’t diminish the pair’s chemistry on introspective cuts like “Nothin New” and “Whole Lot.”
6. Smino & Monte Booker
Smino and Monte Booker operate on such a wildly different frequency from everyone else you’d swear they descended from Jupiter itself. Since the universe brought them together in 2013 (“it was so instant,” says Smino), the St. Louis and Chicago pair have harnessed a truly unique connection that blossomed in full color on this year’s blkswn. The way Smino’s dexterous drawl seeps into every nook and cranny of Monte’s vibrant, skittering production is what finding your musical soulmate sounds like. Smino still can’t get over how cold Monte is—and neither can we.
5. Drake & Noah “40” Shebib
What would a list of the best rapper-producer duos be without Drake and Noah “40” Shebib? Since their sounds first synthesized on So Far Gone, Aubrey and 40 have not only transformed Toronto into a hotbed of hip-hop and R&B but defined the producer-rapper partnership for this generation. While this year’s More Life gave more space to grime, trap and dancehall producers, best believe 40 still oversaw its creation while supplying that classic feel on underrated cuts like “Jorja’s Interlude,” “Lose You” and the Kanye West-assisted “Glow.” Beyond the record-breaking music and culture-shifting moments, Drake and 40 share a bond that has only become stronger as the envy and jealousy have grown. It’s no surprise 40 is currently holed up with Drake in Toronto working on that new album.
4. Killer Mike & El-P
A burly street rapper from Atlanta who repped Dungeon Family and Grand Hustle, and a white guy from New York best known for making experimental underground rap; Killer Mike and El-P are the unlikeliest of duos. But after being introduced by Adult Swim’s Jason DeMarco in 2011, the two hit it off immediately, bonding over good weed and mutual struggles in the rap game. “Within ten minutes of knowing each other, they were both high, they were both laughing,” DeMarco remembers. That chemistry seamlessly transferred over to wax on Mike’s blistering 2012 album R.A.P. Music, and the seeds for Run The Jewels were sown. Three projects later, Killer Mike and El-P are still out here snatching chains in broad daylight.
3. JAY-Z & No I.D.
JAY-Z has been rapping on No I.D. beats since The Blueprint 2, but can anyone say they expected him to do only that on his 13th studio album? In a complete 180 from his superproducer-stacked—and super underwhelming—Magna Carta…Holy Grail, Hov hunkered down with the veteran Chicago producer and delivered his best album since the first Blueprint. Built on elegant production and familiar samples that cleverly enhanced Hov’s intimate stories, 4:44 finds two hip-hop OGs hitting rare, late-career form in unison. Aging gracefully never sounded this good.
2. Rapsody & 9th Wonder
9th Wonder has been at the heart of Rapsody’s career even before it began beating. On early projects like Return of the B-Girl and Thank H.E.R. Now, it was immediately clear that Rap’s slick rhymes and 9th’s soulful production went together like Mike Krzyzewski and Duke basketball. But as Rapsody’s excellent new albumLaila’s Wisdom demonstrates, this North Carolina duo still has another gear to hit. From the heartfelt bounce of “Black & Ugly” to the G-Funk grooves of “U Used 2 Love Me,” 9th produces some of the best work of his career and, in turn, gives Rapsody the canvas on which to create the album you always knew she could make.
1. Kendrick Lamar & Mike WiLL Made-It
Had we made this list at any other time in Kendrick Lamar’s career, the first-choice candidate would be Sounwave, whose fingerprints have been all over Kendrick's work since 2009’s Kendrick Lamar EP. But on DAMN., Mike WiLL Made-It, who had unsuccessfully submitted beats for both good kid, m.A.A.d city and To Pimp a Butterfly, stepped in like Jules from Pulp Fiction and sent blood splattering all over the studio walls in a way that screamed “BAD MOTHERFUCKER.” Between “DNA.,” “HUMBLE.” and “XXX.,” the combination of Kendrick’s ferocious, almost feral raps and Mike WiLL’s heart-racing, earth-scorching production feels like a hollow-point bullet piercing a 500-gallon propane tank. The explosion lit up the charts—and arenas—like never before in Kendrick’s career.